THE RURAL POOR
1844

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BUCKINGHAM POVERTY SO BAD, ONLOOKERS ASSUME THE PLAGUE HAS STRUCK

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'I took some interest in observing the condition of the agricultural labourers in that neighbourhood.'

From the Banbury Guardian 24.10.1844. 

A reprint of a column in the Wilts Independent.

 

Having lately visited a part of the country on the borders of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire, and only a few miles from the Duke of Buckingham's, I took some interest in observing the condition of the agricultural labourers in that neighbourhood.

Had I not beheld these poor people, I could not have credited a true description of their state.

 

Where the manufacture of straw plait is carried on, you will now see a great many of the grown-up lads, and even the men, engaged in it, in consequence of the want of employment  on the farms.

 

And yet that business is overdone; the men and the lads are evidently not all wanted in it, but turn to the employment merely from having nothing else to do. Their next move is into the Union-house.

It is a difficult thing to depict, in few words, the appearances of the misery here depicted.

 

We may say “very, very poor,” "excessively poor,” and so forth, using any general terms you please, which, after all, can only express such depth of distress might occur to anybody from accidental circumstances and in a short time.

 

It needs minuteness of description, to those who have not beheld it, to represent the character of the poverty seen here, which approaches very nearly to, if it does not quite equal, the lowest depths of wretchedness which you find in the most despotic states on the continent of Europe.

 

The mud-made huts or hovels are only fit for pigs to live in, and the existence of such dwellings, for human beings, is a disgrace to our common country, more especially to that part it where such things are seen ; and still more especially to those great lords of the soil who inhabit that part, and who make so many loud pretensions of solicitude for the people on the land. 

The raggedness and the filth of that people are surpassed, I should suppose, nowhere but in Ireland. But it was the lords of the land who brought Ireland to her present state, and therefore why may we not expect them to produce the same here, if they are allowed ?

 

There is a squalidness which looks almost like the plague—denotes the suffering either of dreadful disease or long-continued famine.

 

And this is in England! And in Bedford! and Buckingham!

 

Two of the counties most exclusively possessed by those who call themselves “farmers’ friends,” and who demand “protection!” In the country to which I allude, and where the people are thus suffering, the land is nothing like fully cultivated, and it requires no more than for the people to be allowed to till it properly to furnish them all with abundance of food. 

23 years later, in 1867, the village of Gawcott (neighbouring Buckingham) was the centre of the agricultural riots. 

Image:
Woman from RawPixel Ltd under CC Attribution (CC BY 4.0).

Illustration of market-woman from Picturesque Representations of the Dress and Manners of the English(1814) by William Alexander (1767-1816).