England - An English Rural Community
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
I am always struck in an English rural community with the thought that the farm laborers are not so big and rugged a class as they ought to be; this is noticeable in Kent. They are not at all bold, brawny men. What is the reason? Is it that the stronger and more courageous sons go into the army or navy or emigrate to foreign lands, leaving behind the fearful, the impotent?
I quote from my journal:
"I am learning the most astonishing things about land values in ,Kent, and about taxation and other matters. Taxation is an intricate affair. There are `tithes,' which are taxes on the land, and date from the time when the church owned all the land. Tithes go to the church. Then there are `rates,' which are taxes levied for the ordinary purposes of the parish, and there also are taxes levied on the buildings on a farm and on the carts, wagons and carriages. Moreover, there are other special taxes, so that one finds it a complicated mat-ter. The landlord pays most of the land tax; this may amount to as much as $2.50 per acre ; usually it is less. As he rents the land for about $5 per acre, he does not get very much out of it, as he must also keep the buildings in repair and occasionally erect new ones.
"This must be the reason why one can buy in Kent a fine farm for $75 per acre, or even a good farm for $50, of as good a quality of land as would cost double that sum in Indiana or Ohio. It is yet quite a mystery to me. I am not at all sure that the British farmer has not the best of it when it comes to chances for money-making. His labor costs him much less than ours in America, as very good men work faithfully for less than $4 per week with a cottage furnished, a garden and perhaps fuel. With Mr. Hickman I drove to see a farmer born and bred in New Zealand. He had come to England to take up sheep-farming, much as I should like to do. He had sold his sheep run in New Zealand for $35 per acre and bought 340 acres of land that he says has as great a carrying capacity for $50 per acre. I asked him what he found the most difficult problem in the new environment compared with New Zealand. To my astonishment, he replied that it was the labor. He said that if he set a man to do anything he must have a second man to at-tend him and perhaps a boy to attend the second man. In New Zealand laboring men have the self-reliance that is bred in men in all new countries, where men must "go it alone" or not go. How-ever, our New Zealand friend felt sure that opportunities for money-making were better in Kent than in New Zealand, because being at the threshold of great markets, prices for fat lambs were about double what they were in his old land. It was interesting to see that this New Zealander had taken away a lot of fences and walls, and made about his house a sort of wide lawn, all open to the high-way, much as we do in America. He had thrown the little fields into large enclosures and was busy grubbing out ancient hedgerows and removing pre-historic bushes and other landmarks. Perhaps it is well for the picturesqueness of Kent that few "colonials" return to uproot old traditionary practices and. ways. Mr. Hickman did not approve of this ; it looked so strange to him, although he admitted that it looked well, but he liked the privacy that the wall gave. After all, this man was more like an Englishman than an American in manner, although he had the American way of doing things, and that comes from his having had to attack problems similar to ours and solve them in a similar manner.