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William Cobbett

places mentioned

Jan. 2nd, 1822: Sussex Journal

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Wednesday, Jan . 2, 1822.

CAME here to-day from Kensington, in order to see what goes on at the meeting to be held here to-morrow, of the "gentry, clergy, freeholders, and occupiers of land in the Rape of Hastings, to take into consideration the distressed state of the agricultural interest." I shall, of course, give an account of this meeting after it has taken place. You come through part of Kent to get to Battle from the Great Wen on the Surrey side of the Thames. The first town is Bromley, the next Seven-Oaks, the next Tunbridge, and between Tunbridge and this place you cross the boundaries of the two counties. From the Surrey Wen to Bromley the land is generally a deep loam on a gravel, and you see few trees except elm. A very ugly country. On quitting Bromley the land gets poorer; clay at bottom; the wheat sown on five, or seven, turn lands ; the furrows shining with wet; rushes on the wastes on the sides of the road. Here there is a common, part of which has been enclosed and thrown out again, or, rather, the fences carried away. There is a frost this morning, some ice, and the women look rosy-cheeked. There is a very great variety of soil along this road; bottom of yellow clay; then of sand; then of sandstone; then of solider stone; then (for about five miles) of chalk; then of red clay; then chalk again; here (before you come to Seven-Oaks) is a most beautiful and rich valley, extending from east to west, with rich corn-fields and fine trees; then comes sand-stone again; and the hop-gardens near Seven-Oaks, which is a pretty little town with beautiful environs, part of which consists of the park of Knowle , the seat of the Duchess of Dorset. It is a very fine place. And there is another park, on the other side of the town. So that this is a delightful place, and the land appears to be very good. The gardens and houses all look neat and nice. On quitting Seven-Oaks you come to a bottom of gravel for a short distance, and to a clay for many miles. When I say that I saw teams carting gravel from this spot to a distance of nearly ten miles along the road, the reader will be at no loss to know what sort of bottom the land has all along here. The bottom then becomes sand-stone again. This vein of land runs all along through the county of Sussex, and the clay runs into Hampshire, across the forests of Bere and Waltham, then across the parishes of Ouslebury, Stoke, and passing between the sand hills of Southampton and chalk hills of Winchester, goes westward till stopped by the chalky downs between Romsey and Salisbury. Tunbridge is a small but very nice town, and has some fine meadows and a navigable river. The rest of the way to Battle presents, alternately, clay and sand-stone. Of course the coppices and oak woods are very frequent. There is now and then a hop-garden spot, and now and than an orchard of apples or cherries; but these are poor indeed compared with what you see about Canterbury and Maidstone. The agricultural state of the country or, rather, the quality of the land, from Bromley to Battle, may be judged of from the fact, that I did not see, as I came along, more than thirty acres of swedes during the fifty-six miles! In Norfolk I should, in the same distance, have seen five hundred acres! However, man was not the maker of the land; and, as to human happiness, I am of opinion that as much, and even more, falls to the lot of the leather-legged chaps that live in and rove about amongst those clays and woods as to the more regularly disciplined labourers of the rich and prime parts of England. As "God has made the back to the burthen," so the clay and coppice people make the dress to the stubs and bushes. Under the sole of the shoe is iron ; from sole six inches upwards is a high-low; then comes a leather bam to the knee; then comes a pair of leather breeches; then comes a stout doublet; over this comes a smock-frock; and the wearer sets brush and stubs and thorns and mire at defiance. I have always observed that woodland and forest labourers are best off in the main. The coppices give them pleasant and profitable work in winter. If they have not so great a corn-harvest, they have a three weeks' harvest in April or May; that is to say, in the season of barking, which in Hampshire is called stripping , and in Sussex flaying , which employs women and children as well as men. And then in the great article of fuel ! They buy none. It is miserable work where this is to be bought, and where, as at Salisbury, the poor take by turns the making of fires at their houses to boil four or five tea-kettles. What a winter-life must those lead, whose turn it is not to make the fire! At Launceston in Cornwall a man, a tradesman too, told me, that the people in general could not afford to have fire in ordinary, and that he himself paid threepence for boiling a leg of mutton at another man's fire! The leather-legged-race know none of these miseries, at any rate. They literally get their fuel "by hook or by crook ," whence, doubtless, comes that old and very expressive saying, which is applied to those cases where people will have a thing by one means or another.

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

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