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THE RURAL EXODUS AND A REMEDY.

HODGE is disappearing.

Fortu- with material for their progress, and nately, or perhaps I should say unfor- to push our work successfully in comtunately, there is no difference of petition with that of other nations, we

, opinion as to this. In the debateable must retain a large rural population area of economic questions nothing is and consequently a prosperous rural more certain than the deplenitude of industry to maintain it ? Yet the the country-side. The exodus from exact converse obtains; the population the rural districts and the comparative is rapidly decreasing and the industry depopulation of wide areas are hard has long ceased to be anything and solid facts, and now,-or later, approaching the prosperous. Little when perhaps it will be too late—the wonder that far-seeing politicians are practical Englishman must face them. asking how much longer it is to pre

They are not only hard and solid vail, and what, peradventure, will stay facts; they are also melancholy facts. the exodus. Both questions are of the Both political parties, again, agree as highest political importance, and I to this. If the vigorous, hardy popu. propose now to attempt some considerlation which lives on the land and the ation of each. industries associated with the land, And, first, I will be a trifle statisand such a population is composed of tical, for arithmetic may be a short healthy social groups in addition to cut to the truth. Looking back over that of our sturdy peasantry — be this last century,—just that much further reduced in number, where are and no more-I find that the populawe to look for the physical backbone tion of England and Wales has turned of the nation? What becomes of our a complete somersault. The life and best recruiting ground for the military occupations of the English people have and industrial armies of the State? undergone a radical change. In 1801 Where are we to seek that continuous not more than thirty-six per cent. of flow of vigour to make up for the con- the entire population lived in towns tinuous sap of strength? For while and embarked in urban industries; the country invigorates the town ex- to day they who dwell in cities form hausts; and it is precisely what the more than sixty-six per cent. of the country supplies that the city demands. whole. On the other hand, in 1801 Our well-being as a people rests on the the percentage of the nation who lived basis of our healthy reproduction ; and in strictly rural districts and was the modern life of great cities, in spite occupied in agricultural and rural of the triumphs of sanitation, drains pursuits amounted to fifty-three per and dries the physical and mental cent. of the whole population ; to-day vigour which the wholesome country it has descended to the alarming level brought into being and on which the of not more than eighteen per cent. supremacy of the nation must ulti- What, in plain words, do these figures mately rest.

mean? They mean nothing else than Is it not agreed, then, that in order that a nation composed in the main of to feed our towns and their industries & healthy rural population, closely connected with or subsisting on agri- It would be absurd to deny that culture, has become a nation chiefly of the causes of the exodus are many townsmen, connected with industrial and complicated, but I have little and commercial pursuits; a nation for hesitation in saying that there are the present vastly richer and more four main-springs from which it flows. progressive, let it be granted, but in They are, first, the want of work in precise proportion to that increase of the country; next, the attraction of wealth and industry, demanding an the higher wages of the towns; third, increased supply of vigour to replace the state of cottage-accommodation; that exhausted in the struggle.

and fourth, the glamour of town life. It may be worth while to look at The want of work in the country this even a little closer. Is England began with the downfall of the price becoming a country of streets, of urban of corn and has been maintained by or, at least, suburban areas ? That the continuously increasing use of was prophesied, we know, as far back labour-saving machinery. Population as the days of Smollett, but it always statistics curiously confirm this, for

, was and still is immensely far from between 1850 and 1870 the rural the truth. London embraced in 1801 population (which had been increasing some forty-four thousand acres ; at previously) became almost stationary; the last census they had increased to that is to say, the natural increase one hundred and thirty thousand. almost exactly balanced the emigraOne hundred and twelve of our largest tion; and from 1870 to the present towns covered one hundred and twelve time it has been rapidly decreasing. thousand acres in 1801; to day four This period has embraced an unbroken hundred thousand acres lie within series of lean years for the agricultural their borders. The next group of interest,--the price of corn constantly towns, some three hundred and ninety dwindling, the use of machinery and in all, have during the last hundred every possible labour - saving conyears added about one hundred thou- trivance constantly developing, sand acres to their area. Seventy new and the area of cultivated land with. towns have swallowed up, say, eighty out exception decreasing. I thousand acres ; and densely populous remember when, at hay-harvest, the areas, surrounding towns or embracing whole village went out to “ted the mines, have sprung into being on some hay," when men, women, and children two million acres. But, after all, went up and down the long rows, there are scarcely five million acres with rake and pick and song and which are now urbanised or sub-urban- merry jest, and the whole countryised, and against these there are still side was alive with the happiness of thirty-two million of acres shouting work in which all equally shared. for work and people to give it them. What do I see to-day? A man, The people of England have changed, taciturn because solitary, driving two but the face of England is practically horses from his perch on a steel still the same.

The crowded areas, it device which cuts down the nodding is true, have crept into the green grasses and lays out the long swaths fields ; but in the whole century they as he passes quickly along. And have gained only a small

to-morrow his young son will come compared with their immense growth with a horse and a rake on wheels, of population. Our rural districts are a sort of revolving spider armed with still intact; but their populous villages many claws, which in a short morning have disappeared.

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thirty years ago brought out the worse ; but one has to consider that whole village. Apply the

if he has children, his position is method to every department of rural probably improved. By living in the life, and add to it the enormous towns he has undoubtedly a better acreage of land that was once arable prospect of getting them into callings and is now permanent pasture, and of more variety and greater value, the reason for the want of work is and their contribution to the total obvious. And the farm itself suffers income of the home is not negligible. by the change. The men who could Still, the fact remains that there quickset a hedge, who could drain

are many men who could find work and trench, who could sink a well in the country and would prefer to and thatch a rick—they are sadly to remain the land, if only the seek. The technical skill, the most cottages obtainable were in a better ancient of the arts of agriculture, is state, and sometimes, indeed, if any almost lost to-day; but prices compel cottages at all were obtainable ; for the farmer to cut down at all cost it is perfectly true that in thousands the bill for labour, and his aim is to of our villages there are no cottages make two half-bred mechanics do the available for the natural increase of work or, at least, take the place of a the population. I know a Devondozen skilled agricultural labourers. shire village where a score of cottages What wonder the young people long have been pulled down, or allowed since set their faces townward, and to fall down, during the last twenty that their fathers are following them? years, but never a new cottage built. Then there are the higher wages

I know a Kentish village where six of the town; these are held to be a new cottages were built, and forty main cause for the coming hither of applications were immediately made the unskilled labourer of the shires. for them. I know a Sussex village Undoubtedly they are a great attrac- where in the last few years nearly tion, and at first sight seem a sound thirty young men, anxious to marry one.

For the current wages of the and settle down, have gone away for agricultural labourer appear very low, good because there was no cottage ranging as they do (to take the mean for them to start life in. The want average rather than either extreme) of cottages of any kind is unquestionfrom 14s. 9d. in Norfolk to 15s. in ably a cause of the exodus, and this Wiltshire, 159. 2d. in Buckingham- fact, involving as it does the overshire, 15s. 6d. in Essex, 158. 10d. in crowding by grown children of existSomersetshire and 16s. 2d. in War- ing cottages, emphasises the very wickshire, when compared with the serious defects which, in spite of 258. a week which even the un- much rebuilding and many good skilled labourer expects to command landlords, still exist on every hand. in the towns. But when his 78. 6d. It is a fact that the majority of the rent in London is set off against the labourers' cottages in the country 1s. 3d. and 1s. 6d. rent of the country, are grossly inadequate in accommothe dear food against the cheap, the dation and defective in structure. cost of going to and from his work, This matter of cottages deserves and the higher general cost of living emphasis, and I will ask leave to and dressing, I do not think that the emphasise it. labourer finds his financial position Beginning with the overcrowding much, if any, better. In fact, if we aspect of it, I recall a village in the take his case by itself, it is probably Midlands where there are no fewer

No. 539,--VOL. XC.

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than thirty cottages with but one whistling wind, while sacking is bedroom each. The father, mother,

The father, mother, spread over the beds to try to keep and eight children sleep in one of them dry. I am not exaggerating these bedrooms; in another, the the picture; anyone who has an parents and six children ; while in intimate knowledge of country life another, in addition to the father can bear me out and support this and mother, there are three daughters evidence and my contention that of thirteen, sixteen, and twenty-two herein lies another fruitful source of years of age and two sons of eleven the rural exodus. and eighteen. In a fourth case four Lastly, there is the fourth cause of children were found in one bed, the exodus,—the glamour of the towns. --all of them with measles ! In a Probably the late Lord Salisbury did Cambridgeshire village, I find eleven not expect to be taken quite seriously people sleeping in one bedroom, in a when he said that all the country Wiltshire village nine.

people want is a circus; but it is a Then there is the insanitary state half-truth none the less. Yet this of the cottages. This is the story glamour is not so much the social satiswhich the vicar of a Cornish parish faction of the crowded street or the has to tell of the cottages in his own cheap forms of amusement,—though neighbouring villages : “There are each and all exercise some force, -as twenty empty, only two fit to live in, it is the feeling that in the big towns eight inhabited ones unfit to live in.' there is to be found a panacea for the It is no uncommon sight to see open grinding poverty of the country. sewer ditches running behind a row The labourer, be he ever so thrifty, of cottages; I have even seen them cannot save much on 14s. or 15s. & running down the village street. week; he sees no remission of his Drainage, where it does exist, is

years of toil, no escape, at the end of usually and grossly defective. I a long industrious life of honourable know of one rural district where in labour, from the high grey walls of 1898 there were no fewer than two the unwelcome workhouse. On the hundred and two cases of diphtheria, other hand, he dreams dreams of the and little wonder, for where you wealth of the great metropolis, and found a pump-well there, too, you he at least realises the fact that his generally found a cess-pit. I remem- children will have innumerable opporber seven cottages in Norfolk where tunities which are not to be found in the water-supply came from a ditch. the country. Thus the town draws There are thousands of cottages him, often, unhappily, to

, a bitter whose inmates have to go a quarter awakening. of a mile or more for water and are And now remains the remedy for thankful to get it then. And, this great exodus from the countryadded to these insanitary arrange- side,-from the combes and downs ments, there are other preventible and green fields of Wessex, from the defects,—such as tiny windows which wide plains of East Anglia, and the cannot be opened, dark and depressing wooded meadows of the Midlands. I rooms not six feet high, rooms that profess no panacea for an economic are open to the thatch, cases where disturbance which is partly inevitable, part of the roof itself has actually nor can I support the policy which fallen in, where rain is coming commends itself to some politicians, through the roof and rags are stuffed a reversion to Protection. But born into the mud walls to keep out the and bred in the country as I was and

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knowing the country as I do, I venture fitted by nature to grapple with the to suggest out of my own experience peculiar difficulties of a small holding ; that in a great measure the plague but, on the average, in every village may be stayed by three remedial there are two or three men to be measures, -by providing better cot- found who might be expected to do tages, by enabling the labourer to well with them. I do not advocate a obtain small holdings, and by the leap in the dark ; the system has been establishment of organisations for tried in counties so remote and marketing small products; and I will diverse as Cheshire and Devonshire' indicate in the briefest way the lead- and with equal success.

I do not ing points of each remedy.

suggest everyone being a small holder, I do not hesitate to assert that even were he fit for it, for an excess more and better cottages will keep of small holders in any one district more people on the land. A well

would, in the absence of a co-operative known sanitary expert, Miss Coch- organisation for marketing produce, rane, received out of a hundred and lead to disastrous competition and one returns from rural districts to failure. The small holder is not a the question, how many good cottages man of fortune; but in his wife and are unoccupied ? ninety answers affirm- growing family he has his most valuing there were none, and stating able asset. They, with him, can look that if more were built they would after the small stock, which when be immediately inhabited. A Rural

A Rural kept in comparatively restricted numDistrict Councillor reported from six bers costs disproportionately less for villages in Berkshire that no cottages food, and is then, especially in the were empty, but that more case of poultry, most productive of wanted. A report from Wiltshire, profit. They, with him, too, can and another from Sussex, run to the manage the dairy, the garden, the same purpose.

A sanitary inspector root-crops, and the hay-harvest; and writes from the next county: “The while he earns some hard cash in pressing want here, as all over the occasionally helping the neighbouring country, is labourers' cottages." And farmer (who is always wanting a good a clergyman writes to me: “Several man for hedging, ditching, and labourers have left this village and trenching and is thankful for a hardgone to the towns because the cottages worker at harvest-time) they can are not fit for habitation and none carry on the routine work of the better are procurable.” Moreover, small holding There is no space the sanitary inspection of many

to go into this question in detail, villages is a farce. To take a con but I may mention, as showing its crete instance : out of a specified dis bearing on the repopulation of the trict of sixty-five villages, the medical country districts, that I know of a officers and inspectors of nuisances village in Devonshire which was so have only inspected once in from five depopulated in 1871 as to number to ten years in as many as forty-four two hundred and seventy people, of them. The sanitary authorities while to-day, owing to the introducare not often in evidence in the tion of small holdings on a judicious villages, and the Public Health Acts and fair basis, the population has are too frequently waste paper. risen to four hundred.

Then, again, with regard to small And finally, there is the establishholdings, of, say, from ten to thirty ment of organisations for marketing acres. It is not every man who is small products, which is a matter of

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