Picture of William Cobbett

William Cobbett

places mentioned

Oct. 11th to 16th, 1826: Burghclere to Lyndhurst

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"The reformers have yet many and powerful foes; we have to contend against a host, such as never existed before in the world. Nine-tenths of the press; all the channels of speedy communication of sentiment; all the pulpits; all the associations of rich people; all the taxing-people; all the military and naval establishments; all the yeomanry cavalry tribes. Your allies are endless in number and mighty in influence. But we have one ally worth the whole of them put together, namely, the DEBT! This is an ally whom no honours or rewards can seduce from us. She is a steady, unrelaxing, persevering, incorruptible ally. An ally that is proof against all blandishments, all intrigues, all temptations, and all open attacks. She sets at defiance all 'military ,' all 'yeomanry cavalry .' They may as well fire at a ghost. She cares no more for the sabres of the yeomanry or the Life Guards than Milton's angels did for the swords of Satan's myrmidons. This ally cares not a straw about spies and informers . She laughs at the employment of secret-service money . She is always erect, day and night, and is always firmly moving on in our cause, in spite of all the terrors of gaols, dungeons, halters and axes. Therefore, Mr. Jabet, be not so pert. The combat is not so unequal as you seem to imagine; and, confident and insolent as you now are, the day of your humiliation may not be far distant.--LETTER To MR. JABET, of Birmingham, Register , v, 3I , p. 477 (Nov. 1816).

Wednesday, October 11, 1826.

WHEN quarters are good you are apt to lurk in them; but really it was so wet that we could not get away from Burghclere till Monday evening. Being here, there were many reasons for our going to the great fair at Weyhill, which began yesterday, and, indeed, the day before at Appleshaw. These two days are allotted for the selling of sheep only, though the horse-fair begins on the 10th. To Appleshaw they bring nothing but those fine curled-horned and long-tailed ewes, which bring the house-lambs and the early Easter-lambs; and these, which, to my taste, are the finest and most beautiful animals of the sheep kind, come exclusively out of Dorsetshire and out of the part of Somersetshire bordering on that county.

To Weyhill, which is a village of half a dozen houses on a down just above Appleshaw, they bring from the down-farms in Wiltshire and Hampshire, where they are bred, the South Down sheep; ewes to go away into the pasture and turnip countries to have lambs, wethers to be fatted and killed, and lambs (nine months old) to be kept to be sheep. At both fairs there is supposed to be about two hundred thousand sheep. It was of some consequence to ascertain how the price of these had been affected by "late panic," which ended the "respite" of 1822; or by the "plethora of money" as loan-man Baring called it. I can assure this political doctor, that there was no such "plethora" at Weyhill yesterday, where, while I viewed the long faces of the farmers, while I saw consciousness of ruin painted on their countenances, I could not help saying to myself, "the loan-mongers think they are cunning ; but, by --, they will never escape the ultimate consequences of this horrible ruin!" The prices, take them on a fair average, were, at both fairs, just about one-half what they were last year. So that my friend Mr. Thwaites of the Herald , who had a lying Irish reporter at Preston, was rather hasty, about three months ago, when he told his well-informed readers that, "those politicians were deceived who had supposed that prices of farm produce would fall in consequence of 'late panic' and the subsequent measures!" There were Dorsetshire ewes that sold last year for 50s. a head. We could hear of none this year that exceeded 25s. And only think of 25s. for one of these fine, large ewes, nearly fit to kill, and having two lambs in her, ready to be brought forth in, on an average, six weeks' time! The average is three lambs to two of these ewes . In 1812 these ewes were from 55s. to 72s. each, at this same Appleshaw fair; and in that year I bought South Down ewes at 45s. each, just such as were, yesterday, sold for 18s. Yet the sheep and grass and all things are the same in real value . What a false, what a deceptious, what an infamous thing, this paper-money system is!

Mr. Blount, at whose house (7 miles from Weyhill) I am, went with me to the fair; and we took particular pains to ascertain the prices. We saw, and spoke to, Mr. John Herbert of Stoke (near Uphusband) who was asking 20s., and who did not expect to get it, for South Down ewes, just such as he sold last year (at this fair), for 36s. Mr. Jolliff, of Crux-Easton, was asking 16s. for just such ewes as he sold last year (at this fair) for 32s. Farmer Holdway had sold "for less than half" his last year's price. A farmer that I did not know told us that he had sold to a great sheep-dealer of the name of Smallpiece at the latter's own price! I asked him what that "own price" was; and he said that he was ashamed to say. The horse-fair appeared to have no business at all going on; for, indeed, how were people to purchase horses who had got only half-price for their sheep? In former Rides, and especially in 1821 and 1822, I described very fully this part of Hampshire. The land is a chalk bottom, with a bed of reddish, stiff loam, full of flints at top. In those parts where the bed of loam and flints is deep the land is arable or woods: where the bed of loam and flints is so shallow as to let the plough down to the chalk, the surface is downs. In the deep and long valleys, where there is constantly or occasionally a stream of water, the top soil is blackish and the surface meadows. This has been the distribution from all antiquity, except that, in ancient times, part of that which is now downs and woods was corn-land , as we know from the marks of the plough . And yet the Scotch fellows would persuade us that there were scarcely any inhabitants in England before it had the unspeakable happiness to be united to that fertile, warm, and hospitable country where the people are so well off that they are above having poor-rates!

The tops of the hills here are as good corn-land as any other part; and it is all excellent corn-land, and the fields and woods singularly beautiful. Never was there what may be called a more hilly country, and all in use . Coming from Burghclere you come up nearly a mile of steep hill, from the top of which you can see all over the country, even to the Isle of Wight; to your right a great part of Wiltshire; into Surrey on your left; and turning round, you see lying below you the whole of Berkshire, great part of Oxfordshire, and part of Gloucestershire. This chain of lofty hills was a great favourite with kings and rulers in ancient times. At Highclere, at Combe, and at other places there are remains of great encampments or fortifications; and Kingsclere was a residence of the Saxon kings, and continued to be a royal residence long after the Norman kings came. King John, when residing at Kingsclere, founded one of the charities which still exists in the town of Newbury, which is but a few miles from Kingsclere.

From the top of this lofty chain you come to Uphusband (or the Upper Hurstbourn) over two miles or more of ground, descending in the way that the body of a snake descends (when he is going fast) from the high part, near the head, down to the tail; that is to say, over a series of hill and dell, but the dell part going constantly on increasing upon the hilly part, till you come down to this village; and then you, continuing on (southward) towards Andover, go up, directly, half a mile of hill so steep as to make it very difficult for an ordinary team with a load to take that load up it. So this Up -hurstbourn (called so because higher up the valley than the other Hurstbourns), the flat part of the road to which, from the north, comes in between two side-hills, is in as narrow and deep a dell as any place that I ever saw.

The houses of the village are in great part scattered about, and are amongst very lofty and fine trees; and from many, many points round about, from the hilly fields, now covered with the young wheat, or with scarcely less beautiful sainfoin, the village is a sight worth going many miles to see. The lands, too, are pretty beyond description. These chains of hills make, below them, an endless number of lower hills, of varying shapes and sizes and aspects and of relative state as to each other; while the surface presents, in the size and form of the fields, in the woods, the hedgerows, the sainfoin, the young wheat, the turnips, the tares, the fallows, the sheep-folds and the flocks, and at every turn of your head, a fresh and different set of these; this surface all together presents that which I, at any rate, could look at with pleasure for ever. Not a sort of country that I like so well as when there are downs and a broader valley and more of meadow ; but a sort of country that I like next to that; for here, as there, there are no ditches, no water-furrows, no dirt, and never any drought to cause inconvenience. The chalk is at bottom, and it takes care of all. The crops of wheat have been very good here this year, and those of barley not very bad. The sainfoin has given a fine crop of the finest sort of hay in the world, and this year without a drop of wet.

I wish that, in speaking of this pretty village (which I always return to with additional pleasure), I could give a good account of the state of those without whose labour there would be neither corn nor sainfoin nor sheep . I regret to say that my account of this matter, if I gave it truly, must be a dismal account indeed! For I have, in no part of England, seen the labouring people so badly off as they are here. This has made so much impression on me that I shall enter fully into the matter with names, dates, and all the particulars in the fourth number of the Poor Man's Friend . This is one of the great purposes for which I take these "rides." I am persuaded that before the day shall come when my labours must cease I shall have mended the meals of millions . I may over-rate the effects of my endeavours; but this being my persuasion, I should be guilty of a great neglect of duty were I not to use those endeavours.

Sunday, October 15.

I went to Weyhill yesterday, to see the close of the hop and of the cheese fair; for, after the sheep, these are the principal articles. The crop of hops has been, in parts where they are grown, unusually large and of super-excellent quality. The average price of the Farnham hops has been, as nearly as I can ascertain, seven pounds for a hundredweight; that of Kentish hops, five pounds, and that of the Hampshire and Surrey hops (other than those of Farnham), about five pounds also. The prices are, considering the great weight of the crop, very good; but if it had not been for the effects of "late panic" (proceeding, as Baring said, from a "plethora of money"), these prices would have been a full third, if not nearly one-half, higher; for though the crop has been so large and so good, there was hardly any stock on hand; the country was almost wholly without hops.

As to cheese, the price, considering the quantity, has been not one half so high as it was last year. The fall in the positive price has been about 20 per cent, and the quantity made in 1826 has not been above two-thirds as great as that made in 1825. So that here is a fall of one-half in real relative price; that is to say, the farmer, while he has the same rent to pay that he paid last year, has only half as much money to receive for cheese as he received for cheese last year; and observe, on some farms cheese is almost the only saleable produce.

To-morrow morning we set off for the New Forest; and, indeed, we have lounged about here long enough. But, as some apology, I have to state that while I have been in a sort of waiting upon this great fair, where one hears, sees and learns so much, I have been writing No. IV of the Poor Man's Friend , which, price twopence, is published once a month.

I see in the London newspapers accounts of despatches from Canning ! I thought that he went solely "on a party of pleasure!" So the "despatches" come to tell the king how the pleasure party gets on! No: what he is gone to Paris for is to endeavour to prevent the "holy allies" from doing anything which shall sink the English government in the eyes of the world, and thereby favour the radicals , who are enemies of all " regular government," and whose success in England would revive republicanism in France. This is my opinion. The subject, if I be right in my opinion, was too ticklish to be committed to paper: Granville Levison Gower (for that is the man that is now Lord Granville) was, perhaps, not thought quite a match for the French as a talker ; and therefore the Captain of Eton, who, in 1817, said that the "ever living luminary of British prosperity was only hidden behind a cloud"; and who, in 1819, said that "Peel's bill had set the currency question at rest for ever"; therefore the profound captain is gone over to see what he can do.

But, captain, a word in your ear: we do not care for the Bourbons any more than we do for you! My real opinion is, that there is nothing that can put England to rights that will not shake the Bourbon government. This is my opinion; but I defy the Bourbons to save, or to assist in saving, the present system in England, unless they and their friends will subscribe and pay off your debt for you, captain of toad-eating and nonsensical and shoe-licking Eton! Let them pay off your debt for you, captain; let the Bourbons and their allies do that; or they cannot save you; no, nor can they help you, even in the smallest degree.

Monday Noon, Oct . 16.

Like a very great fool, I, out of senseless complaisance, waited this morning to breakfast with the friends at whose house we slept last night at Andover. We thus lost two hours of dry weather, and have been justly punished by about an hour's ride in the rain. I settled on Lyndhurst as the place to lodge at to-night; so we are here, feeding our horses, drying our clothes, and writing the account of our journey. We came, as much as possible, all the way through the villages, and almost all the way avoided the turnpike-roads. From Andover to Stockbridge (about seven or eight miles) is, for the greatest part, an open corn and sheep country, a considerable portion of the land being downs. The wheat and rye and vetch and sainfoin fields look beautiful here; and during the whole of the way from Andover to Rumsey the early turnips of both kinds are not bad, and the stubble turnips very promising. The downs are green as meadows usually are in April. The grass is most abundant in all situations where grass grows.

From Stockbridge to Rumsey we came nearly by the river side, and had to cross the river several times. This, the river Teste, which, as I described in my Ride of last November, begins at Uphusband by springs, bubbling up in March out of the bed of that deep valley. It is at first a bourn, that is to say, a stream that runs only a part of the year, and is the rest of the year as dry as a road. About five miles from this periodical source it becomes a stream all the year round. After winding about between the chalk hills for many miles, first in a general direction towards the south-east and then in a similar direction towards the south-west and south, it is joined by the little stream that rises just above and that passes through the town of Andover. It is, after this, joined by several other little streams with names; and here, at Rumsey, it is a large and very fine river, famous all the way down for trout and eels, and both of the finest quality.

William Cobbett, Rural Rides (Letchworth: Temple Press, 1932)

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