Picture of William Cobbett

William Cobbett

places mentioned

May 5th to 7th, 1823: Kensington to Worth

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Monday, May 5, 1823.

From London to Reigate, through Sutton, is about as villainous a tract as England contains. The soil is a mixture of gravel and clay, with big yellow stones in it, sure sign of really bad land. Before you descend the hill to go into Reigate, you pass Gatton ("Gatton and Old Sarum"), which is a very rascally spot of earth. The trees are here a week later than they are at Tooting. At Reigate they are (in order to save a few hundred yards length of road) cutting through a hill. They have lowered a little hill on the London side of Sutton. Thus is the money of the country actually thrown away: the produce of labour is taken from the industrious, and given to the idlers. The blackthorns are in full bloom, and make a grand show. When you quit Reigate to go towards Crawley, you enter on what is called the Weald of Surrey . It is a level country, and the soil a very, very strong loam, with clay beneath to a great depth. The fields are small, and about a third of the land covered with oak-woods and coppice-woods. This is a country of wheat and beans; the latter of which are about three inches high, the former about seven, and both looking very well. I did not see a field of bad-looking wheat from Reigate Hill foot to Crawley, nor from Crawley across to this place, where, though the whole country is but poorish, the wheat looks very well; and if this weather hold about twelve days, we shall recover the lost time. They have been stripping trees (taking the bark off) about five or six days. The nightingales sing very much, which is a sign of warm weather. The housemartins and the swallows are come in abundance; and they seldom do come until the weather be set in for mild.

Wednesday, May 7.

The weather is very fine and warm; the leaves of the Oaks are coming out very fast: some of the trees are nearly in half-leaf. The Birches are out in leaf. I do not think that I ever saw the wheat look, take it all together, so well as it does at this time. I see, in the stiff land, no signs of worm or slug. The winter, which destroyed so many turnips, must, at any rate, have destroyed these mischievous things. The oats look well. The barley is very young; but I do not see anything amiss with regard to it. The land between this place and Reigate is stiff. How the corn may be, in other places, I know not; but, in coming down, I met with a farmer of Bedfordshire, who said that the wheat looked very well in that county; which is not a county of clay, like the Weald of Surrey. I saw a Southdown farmer, who told me that the wheat is good there, and that is a fine corn-country. The bloom of the fruit-trees is the finest I ever saw in England. The pear-bloom is, at a distance, like that of the Gueldre Rose ; so large and bold are the bunches. The plum is equally fine; and even the blackthorn (which is the hedge-plum) has a bloom finer than I ever saw it have before. It is rather early to offer any opinion as to the crop of corn; but if I were compelled to bet upon it, I would bet upon a good crop. Frosts frequently come after this time; and, if they come in May, they cause "things to come about" very fast. But if we have no more frosts, in short, if we have, after this, a good summer, we shall have a fine laugh at the Quakers' and the Jews' press. Fifteen days' sun will bring things about in reality. The wages of labour, in the country, have taken a rise, and the poor-rates an increase, since first of March. I am glad to hear that the Straw Bonnet affair has excited a good deal of attention. In answer to applications upon the subject, I have to observe, that all the information on the subject will be published in the first week of June. Specimens of the straw and plat will then be to be seen at No. 183, Fleet Street.

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

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