13.10. Violence against Farmers

In the years after 1830, there was often friction between the farmers and the labourers, with respect to the standard wages. In many cases, the farmers could not pay the new wages out of their margin, and had to use their capital.

“In what state are the poor?” “They are generally in employ.”

“Have they been so continually?” “Since the year 1831.”

“Were they in employ before 1831?” “No, not so generally employed.”    

“To what do you attribute their being better employed since 1831, than before that?” “One thousand eight hundred and thirty was the time of the riots. We came to an arrangement with the labourers in our neighbourhood, without any difficulty; then, when we found that the great cause of the disturbance was the want of employ, we agreed voluntarily among ourselves to take each so many of the surplus labourers, and by that we set all to work who had nothing to do.”

“Had the riots been occasioned by men being out of employ?” “I fancied at the time that that was the case.”

“Had you rick-burnings in your neighbourhood?” “Yes, we had a considerable number of fires.”

“Did the rick-burnings and riots cease on the men being well employed?” “Yes.”            

“Can you afford, according to the present prices, to employ your labourers and pay them the same wages you are now paying?” “We make it our first object to pay them the amount we think them entitled to, to ensure them necessaries and comforts; but, certainly, we cannot afford to pay our rents of tithes and our labour at the present price for the produce of our farms.”

(Select Committee on Agriculture, 1837, Mr. John Thomas Twynam, Farmer, Hampshire, Q. 574, p. 30)  

“Are the poor dissatisfied in that country?” “They have been much.”

“What rate of wages do they receive?” “Two shillings a day.”

“Have you been obliged to lower them?” “No; we think it dangerous to reduce them.”

“For what reason?” “The fear of damage to the property.”

“Have there been many incendiary fires?” “There have been two fires in our place within the last five months; in the neighbourhood of Maidenhead.”

“What do you think is the occasion of the incendiary fires?” “From the dissatisfaction among the labourers. They have no interest towards their employers at all; they have no energy to work an hour longer without being paid for it, which used to be the case formerly.”

“Are the labourers in a much worse condition now than they were formerly?” “I think not; their wages were high.”

“Can the farmers possibly continue the payment of the present rate of wages?” “Not from the present price of corn.” 

“Would the lowering of the rate of wages produce the consequence you refer to, of  more general dissatisfaction among the labourers?” “I think it would.”

(Select Committee on Agriculture, 1837, Mr. Samuel Kendall, Manager of His Majesty’s farms, Berkshire, p. 60) 

“What is the state of the labourer?” “When they are employed I do not think it can be said to be very bad, but we are paying them double the money we can afford.”

“Can you keep up the present rate of wages?” “It is totally impossible. We do, fearing if we did not we should be burnt down; it is a sort of insurance on property. I am paying 40 per cent. more than I can afford, but not more than I conceive the labourer ought to have.”

“Has there been any apparent uneasiness among the labouring people who are out of employment?” “They are in a most feverish state. I have two men employed for no other reason than that should not rob on the highway, they having declared to me, that rather than go to the poorhouse they would rob. I do not believe there are two more honest men in the village.”

“They are driven to a state of great distress?” “Yes, they are.”

(Select Committee on Agriculture, 1837, Mr. William Thurnall, Farmer and owner, Chairman of the Agricultural Association of Cambridge, p. 123)

“Have you had many fires in Kent?” “Some.”

“Do you think the farmers are at all afraid of reducing the wages of the labourers?” “No, I do not think they are afraid; I think the present rate of wages is continued on principle.”

“Do you think they pay on principle more than they can afford?” “I am sure they do in many cases. It is not pleasant to have a man going away on Saturday night grumbling, and saying that he cannot support his family.”

“Can farmers go on paying these wages?” “They cannot go on, they must be losing their property.”

“What will be the end of that?” “Ruin.”

(Underline by this author)

(Select Committee on Agriculture, 1833, Mr. William Taylor, Farmer, Kent, p. 294)

“Are the wages you mention given on fair competition, or is it found prudent to give that rate of wages to the people?” “I think the probability is, we might get it done at a less price if we were to select our people in the market; but the persons we employ are those that have lived in the parish, and worked on the farm, and we think they cannot live for less.”

 “Does it arise from any fear on the part of the farmers of any acts of outrage?” “Decidedly not.”

“There is none of that apprehension in your part of the country?” “No.”

“Have you had any fires of late?” “No.”

“What do they pay for their cottages?” “About 3 l. a year.”

“Do you think cottage rents in the east of Sussex are generally as low as that?” “That is what I pay at East Dean” 

“Have most of them gardens?” “Yes, small gardens; we hire them of one person at 3 l.; but 1 s. 6 d. a week is a very common rent, with a garden.”

“Do you think the labourers live as well as they used to do?” “They never lived so well.”

“Do they eat as fine bread as they used to do ?” “They eat as fine bread as I do; finer than they used to do.”

(Select Committee on the State of Agriculture, 1837, Mr. James Hudson, Farmer, Sussex, p. 179)

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