Picture of William Cobbett

William Cobbett

places mentioned

Nov. 9th to 21st, 1821: Gloucester to Berghclere

Next Selection Previous Selection


Friday, Nov . 9, 1821.

I GOT to this beautiful place (Mr. William Palmer's) yesterday, from Gloucester. This is in the parish of Weston , two miles on the Gloucester side of Ross, and, if not the first, nearly the first, parish in Herefordshire upon leaving Gloucester to go on through Ross to Hereford. On quitting Gloucester I crossed the Severne, which had overflowed its banks and covered the meadows with water. The soil good but stiff. The coppices and woods very much like those upon the clays in the south of Hampshire and in Sussex; but the land better for corn and grass. The goodness of the land is shown by the apple-trees, and by the sort of sheep and cattle fed here. The sheep are a cross between the Ryland and Leicester, and the cattle of the Herefordshire kind. These would starve in the pastures of any part of Hampshire or Sussex that I have ever seen. At about seven miles from Gloucester I came to hills, and the land changed from the whitish soil, which I had hitherto seen, to a red brown, with layers of flat stone of a reddish cast under it. Thus it continued to Bollitree. The trees of all kinds are very fine on the hills as well as in the bottoms. The spot where I now am is peculiarly well situated in all respects. The land very rich, the pastures the finest I ever saw, the trees of all kinds surpassing upon an average any that I have before seen in England. From the house, you see, in front and winding round to the left, a lofty hill, called Penyard Hill , at about a mile and a half distance, covered with oaks of the finest growth; along at the foot of this wood are fields and orchards continuing the slope of the hill down for a considerable distance, and, as the ground lies in a sort of ridges from the wood to the foot of the slope, the hill-and-dell is very beautiful. One of these dells with the two adjoining sides of hills is an orchard belonging to Mr Palmer, and the trees, the ground, and everything belonging to it, put me in mind of the most beautiful of the spots in the North of Long Island. Sheltered by a lofty wood; the grass fine beneath the fruit trees; the soil dry under foot though the rain had scarcely ceased to fall; no moss on the trees; the leaves of many of them yet green; everything brought to my mind the beautiful orchard near Bayside, Little Neck, Mosquito Cove, and Oyster Bay, in Long Island. No wonder that this is a country of cider and perry ; but what a shame it is, that here, at any rate, the owners and cultivators of the soil, not content with these, should, for mere fashion's sake, waste their substance on wine and spirits ! They really deserve the contempt of mankind and the curses of their children. The woody hill mentioned before, winds away to the left, and carries the eye on to the Forest of Dean , from which it is divided by a narrow and very deep valley. Away to the right of Penyard Hill lies, in the bottom, at two miles distance, and on the bank of the river Wye, the town of Ross, over which we look down the vale to Monmouth and see the Welsh hills beyond it. Beneath Penyard Hill, and on one of the ridges before mentioned, is the parish church of Weston, with some pretty white cottages near it, peeping through the orchard and other trees; and coming to the paddock before the house, are some of the largest and loftiest trees in the country, standing singly here and there, among which is the very largest and loftiest walnut-tree that I believe I ever saw, either in America or in England. In short, there wants nothing but the autumnal colours of the American trees to make this the most beautiful spot I ever beheld. I was much amused for an hour after daylight this morning in looking at the clouds , rising, at intervals, from the dells on the side of Penyard Hill, and flying to the top, and then over the hill. Some of the clouds. went up in a roundish and compact form. Others rose in a sort of string or stream, the tops of them going over the hill before the bottoms were clear of the place whence they had arisen. Sometimes the clouds gathered themselves together along the top of the hill, and seemed to connect the topmost trees with the sky.

Wednesday, Nov . 14.

Rode to the Forest of Dean, up a very steep hill. The lanes here are between high banks, and, on the sides of the hills, the road is a rock, the water having, long ago, washed all the earth away. Pretty works are, I find, carried on here is as the case in all the other public forests ! Are these things always to be carried on in this way ? Here is a domain of thirty thousand acres of the finest timber-land in the world, and with coal-mines endless! Is this worth nothing ? Cannot each acre yield ten trees a year? Are not these trees worth a pound a piece? Is not the estate worth three or four hundred thousand pounds a year? And does it yield anything to the public , to whom it belongs ? But it is useless to waste one's breath in this way. We must have a reform of the Parliament : without it the whole thing will fall to pieces. The only good purpose that these forests answer is that of furnishing a place of being to labourers' families on their skirts ; and here their cottages are very neat, and the people look hearty and well, just as they do round the forests in Hampshire. Every cottage has a pig, or two. These graze in the forest, and, in the fall, eat acorns and beech-nuts and the seed of the ash; for, these last, as well as the others, are very full of oil, and a pig that is put to his shifts will pick the seed very nicely out from the husks. Some of these foresters keep cows, and all of them have bits of ground, cribbed, of course, at different times, from the forest: and to what better use can the ground be put? I saw several wheat stubbles From 40 rods to 10 rods. I asked one man how much wheat he had from about 10 rods. He said more than two bushels. Here is bread for three weeks, or more, perhaps; and a winter's straw for the pig besides. Are these things nothing? The dead limbs and old roots of the forest give fuel ; and how happy are these people, compared with the poor creatures about Great Bedwin and Cricklade, where they have neither land nor shelter, and where I saw the girls carrying home bean and wheat stubble for fuel! Those countries, always but badly furnished with fuel, the desolating and damnable system of paper-money, by sweeping away small homesteads, and laying ten farms into one, has literally stripped of all shelter for the labourer. A farmer, in such cases, has a whole domain in his hands, and this, not only to the manifest injury of the public at large, but in open violation of positive law . The poor forger is hanged; but where is the prosecutor of the monopolizing farmer, though the law is as clear in the one case as in the other? But it required this infernal system to render every wholesome regulation nugatory; and to reduce to such abject misery a people famed in all ages for the goodness of their food and their dress. There is one farmer, in the North of Hampshire, who has nearly eight thousand acres of land in his hands; who grows fourteen hundred acres of wheat and two thousand acres of barley! He occupies what was formerly forty farms! Is it any wonder that paupers increase ? And is there not here cause enough for the increase of poor , without resorting to the doctrine of the barbarous and impious Malthus and his assistants, the feelosofers of the Edinburgh Review , those eulogists and understrappers of the Whig-Oligarchy? "This farmer has done nothing unlawful ," some one will say. I say he has; for there is a law to forbid him thus to monopolize land. But no matter; the laws, the management of the affairs of a nation, ought to be such as to prevent the existence of the temptation to such monopoly . And, even now, the evil ought to be remedied, and could be remedied, in the space of half a dozen years. The disappearance of the paper-money would do the thing in time; but this might be assisted by legislative measures. In returning from the forest we were overtaken by my son, whom I had begged to come from London to see this beautiful country. On the road-side we saw two lazy-looking fellows, in long great coats and bundles in their hands, going into a cottage. "What do you deal in?" said I, to one of them, who had not yet entered the house. "In the medical way ," said he. And, I find, that vagabonds of this description are seen all over the country with tea-licences in their pockets. They vend tea, drugs , and religious tracts . The first to bring the body into a debilitated state; the second to finish the corporeal part of the business; and the third to prepare the spirit for its separation from the clay! Never was a system so well calculated as the present to degrade, debase, and enslave a people! Law, and, as if that were not sufficient, enormous subscriptions are made; everything that can be done is done to favour these perambulatory imposters in their depredations on the ignorant. While everything that can be done is done, to prevent them from reading, or from hearing of, anything that has a tendency to give them rational notions, or to better their lot. However, all is not buried in ignorance. Down the deep and beautiful valley between Penyard Hill and the hills on the side of the Forest of Dean, there runs a stream of water. On that stream of water there is a paper-mill . In that paper-mill there is a set of workmen. That set of workmen do, I am told, take the Register , and have taken it for years! It was to these good and sensible men, it is supposed, that the ringing of the bells of Weston church, upon my arrival, was to be ascribed; for nobody that I visited had any knowledge of the cause. What a subject for lamentation with corrupt hypocrites! That even on this secluded spot there should be a leaven of common sense! No: all is not enveloped in brute ignorance yet, in spite of every artifice that hellish Corruption has been able to employ; in spite of all her menaces and all her brutalities and cruelties.

Thursday, Nov . 15.

We came this morning from Bollitree to Ross Market , and, thence, to this place. Ross is an old-fashioned town; but it is very beautifully situated, and if there is little of finery in the appearance of the inhabitants, there is also little of misery . It is a good, plain country town, or settlement of tradesmen, whose business is that of supplying the wants of the cultivators of the soil. It presents to us nothing of rascality and roguishness of look, which you see on almost every visage in the borough-towns, not excepting the visages of the women. I can tell a borough-town from another upon my entrance into it by the nasty, cunning, leering, designing look of the people; a look between that of a bad (for some are good) Methodist parson and that of a pick-pocket. I remember, and I never shall forget, the horrid looks of the villains in Devonshire and Cornwall. Some people say, "Oh, poor fellows ! It is not their fault." No? Whose fault is it, then? The miscreants who bribe them? True, that these deserve the halter (and some of them may have it yet); but are not the takers of the bribes equally guilty? If we be so very lenient here, pray let us ascribe to the Devil all the acts of thieves and robbers: so we do; but we hang the thieves and robbers, nevertheless. It is no very unprovoking reflection, that from these sinks of atrocious villainy come a very considerable part of the men to fill places of emolument and trust. What a clog upon a minister to have people, bred in such scenes, forced upon him! And why does this curse continue? However, its natural consequences are before us; and are coming on pretty fast upon each other's heels. There are the landlords and farmers in a state of absolute ruin: there is the debt, pulling the nation down like as a stone pulls a dog under water. The system seems to have fairly wound itself up; to have tied itself hand and foot with cords of its own spinning! This is the town to which Pope has given an interest in our minds by his eulogium of the "Man of Ross " a portrait of whom is hanging up in the house in which I now am. The market at Ross was very dull . No wheat in demand. No buyers. It must come down . Lord Liverpool's remedy , a bad harvest, has assuredly failed. Fowls 2s. a couple; a goose from 2s. 6d. to 3s.; a turkey from 3s. to 3s. 6d. Let a turkey come down to a shilling , as in France, and then we shall soon be to rights.

Friday, Nov . 16.

A whole day most delightfully passed a hare-hunting, with a pretty pack of hounds kept here by Messrs. Palmer. They put me upon a horse that seemed to have been made on purpose for me, strong, tall, gentle, and bold; and that carried me either over or through everything. I, who am just the weight of a four-bushel sack of good wheat, actually sat on his back from daylight in the morning to dusk (about nine hours), without once setting my foot on the ground. Our ground was at Orcop, a place about four miles distance from this place. We found a hare in a few minutes after throwing off; and in the course of the day, we had to find four, and were never more than ten minutes in finding. A steep and naked ridge, lying between two flat valleys, having a mixture of pretty large fields and small woods, formed our ground. The hares crossed the ridge forward and backward, and gave us numerous views and very fine sport. I never rode on such steep ground before; and, really, in going up and down some of the craggy places, where the rains had washed the earth from the rocks, I did think, once or twice, of my neck, and how Sidmouth would like to see me. As to the cruelty , as some pretend, of this sport, that point I have, I think, settled, in one of the chapters of my year's Residence in America . As to the expense, a pack, even a full pack of harriers, like this, costs less than two bottles of wine a day with their inseparable concomitants. And as to the time thus spent, hunting is inseparable from early rising ; and with habit of early rising, who ever wanted time for any business?

Saturday, Nov . I7.

We left Old Hall (where we always breakfasted by candle-light) this morning after breakfast; returned to Bollitree; took the Hereford coach as it passed about noon ; and came in it through Gloucester, Cheltenham, Northleach, Burford, Whitney, and on to this city, where we arrived about ten o'clock. I could not leave Herefordshire without bringing with me the most pleasing impressions. It is not for one to descend to particulars in characterizing one's personal friends; and, therefore, I will content myself with saying that the treatment I met with in this beautiful country, where I saw not one single face that I had, to my knowledge, ever seen before, was much more than sufficient to compensate to me, personally, for all the atrocious calumnies, which, for twenty years, I have had to endure; but where is my country, a great part of the present hideous sufferings of which, will, by every reflecting mind, be easily traced to these calumnies, which have been made the ground, or pretext, for rejecting that counsel by listening to which those sufferings would have been prevented; where is my country to find a compensation! At Gloucester (as there were no meals on the road) we furnished ourselves with nuts and apples, which, first a handful of nuts and then an apple, are, I can assure the reader, excellent and most wholesome fare. They say that nuts of all sorts are unwholesome; if they had been, I should never have written Registers, and if they were now, I should have ceased to write ere this; for, upon an average, I have eaten a pint a day since I left home. In short, I could be very well content to live on nuts, milk, and home-baked bread. From Gloucester to Cheltenham the country is level, and the land is rich and good. The fields along here are ploughed in ridges about twenty feet wide, and the angle of this species of roof is pretty nearly as sharp as that of some slated roofs of houses. There is no wet under; it is the top wet only that they aim at keeping from doing mischief. Cheltenham is a nasty, ill-looking place, half clown and half cockney. The town is one street about a mile long; but then, at some distance from this street, there are rows of white tenements, with green balconies, like those inhabited by the tax-eaters round London. Indeed, this place appears to be the residence of and assemblage of tax-eaters. These vermin shift about between London, Cheltenham, Bath, Bognor, Brighton, Tunbridge, Ramsgate, Margate, Worthing, and other spots in England, while some of them get over to France and Italy: just like those body-vermin of different sorts, that are found in different parts of the tormented carcasses at different hours of the day and night, and in different degrees of heat and cold.

Cheltenham is at the foot of a part of that chain of hills, which form the sides of that dish which I described as resembling the vale of Gloucester. Soon after quitting this resort of the lame and the lazy, the gormandizing and guzzling, the bilious and the nervous, we proceeded on, between stone walls, over a country little better than that from Cirencester to Burlip-hill.--A very poor, dull, and uninteresting country all the way to Oxford.

Sunday, Nov . 18 .

We left Oxford early, and went on, through Abingdon (Berks) to Market-Ilsley . It is a saying, hereabouts, that, at Oxford, they make the living pay for the dead, which is precisely according to the Pitt System. Having smarted on this account, we were afraid to eat again at an inn; so we pushed on through Ilsley towards Newbury, breakfasting upon the residue of the nuts, aided by a new supply of apples bought from a poor man, who exhibited them in his window. Inspired, like Don Quixote, by the sight of the nuts , and recollecting the last night's bill, I exclaimed: "Happy! thrice happy and blessed, that golden age, when men lived on the simple fruits of the earth and slaked their thirst at the pure and limpid brook! when the trees shed their leaves to form a couch for their repose, and cast their bark to furnish them with a canopy! Happy age; when no Oxford landlord charged two men, who had dropped into a common coach-passenger room, and who had swallowed three pennyworths of food, 'four shillings for teas ,' and 'eighteen pence for cold meat ,' 'two shillings of moulds and fire ' in this common coach-room, and 'five shillings for beds !'" This was a sort of grace before meat to the nuts and apples; and it had much more merit than the harangue of Don Quixote; for he, before he began upon the nuts, had stuffed himself well with goat's flesh and wine, whereas we had absolutely fled from the breakfast-table and blazing fire at Oxford. Upon beholding the masses of buildings, at Oxford, devoted to what they call "learning " I could not help reflecting on the drones that they contain and the wasps they send forth. However, malignant as some are, the great and prevalent characteristic is folly : emptiness of head; want of talent; and one half of the fellows who are what they call educated here, are unfit to be clerks in a grocer's or mercer's shop. As I looked up at what they call University Hall , I could not help reflecting that what I had written, even since I left Kensington on the 29th of October, would produce more effect, and do more good in the world, than all that had, for a hundred years, been written by all the members of this University, who devour, perhaps, not less than a million pounds a year , arising from property, completely at the disposal of the "Great Council of the Nation"; and I could not help exclaiming to myself: "Stand forth, ye big-wigged, ye gloriously feeding Doctors! Stand forth, ye rich of that church whose poor have had given them a hundred thousand pounds a year , not out of your riches, but out of the taxes , raised, in part, from the salt of the labouring man! Stand forth and face me, who have, from the pen of my leisure hours, sent, amongst your flocks, a hundred thousand sermons in ten months! More than you have all done for the last half century!" I exclaimed in vain. I dare say (for it was at peep of day) that not a man of them had yet endeavoured to unclose his eyes. In coming through Abingdon (Berks) I could not help thinking of that great financier, Mr. John Maberly, by whom this place has, I believe, the honour to be represented in the Collective Wisdom of the Nation. In the way to Ilsley we came across a part of that fine tract of land, called the Vale of Berkshire , where they grow wheat and beans , one after another, for many years together. About three miles before we reached Ilsley we came to downs , with, as is always the case, chalk under. Between Ilsley and Newbury the country is enclosed; the land middling, a stony loam ; the woods and coppices frequent, and neither very good till we came within a short distance of Newbury. In going along we saw a piece of wheat with cabbage-leaves laid all over it at the distance, perhaps, of eight or ten feet from each other. It was to catch the slugs . The slugs, which commit their depredations in the night , creep under the leaves in the morning, and by turning up the leaves you come at the slugs, and crush them, or carry them away. But besides the immense daily labour attending this, the slug, in a field sowed with wheat, has a clod to creep under at every foot, and will not go five feet to get under a cabbage-leaf. Then again, if the day be wet , the slug works by day as well as by night. It is the sun and drought that he shuns, and not the light. Therefore the only effectual way to destroy slugs is to sow lime, in dust, and not slaked . The slug is wet, he has hardly any skin, his slime is his covering; the smallest dust of hot lime kills him; and a few bushels to the acre are sufficient. You must sow the lime at dusk ; for then the slugs are sure to be out. Slugs come after a crop that has long afforded a great deal of shelter from the sun; such as peas and vetches. In gardens they are nursed up by strawberry beds, and by weeds; by asparagus beds; or by any thing that remains for a long time to keep the summer-sun from the earth. We got about three o'clock to this nice, snug little farm-house and found our host, Mr. Budd, at home.

Monday, Nov . 19.

A thorough wet day, the only day the greater part of which I have not spent out of doors, since I left home.

Wednesday, Nov . 21.

We intended to have a hunt; but the fox-hounds came across and rendered it impracticable. As an instance of the change which rural customs have undergone since the hellish paper-system has been so furiously at work, I need only mention the fact, that, forty years ago, there were five packs of fox-hounds and ten packs of harriers kept within ten miles of Newbury; and that now there is one of the former (kept, too, by subscription) and none of the latter, except the few couple of dogs kept by Mr. Budd! "So much the better," says the shallow fool, who cannot duly estimate the difference between a resident native gentry, attached to the soil, known to every farmer and labourer from their childhood, frequently mixing with them in those pursuits where all artificial distinctions are lost, practising hospitality without ceremony, from habit and not on calculation ; and a gentry, only now and then residing at all, having no relish for country delights, foreign in their manners, distant and haughty in their behaviour; looking to the soil only for its rents; viewing it as a mere object of speculation; unacquainted with its cultivators, despising them and their pursuits, and relying, for influence, not upon the good will of the vicinage, but upon the dread of their power. The war and paper-system has brought in nabobs, negro-drivers, generals, admirals, governors, commissaries, contractors, pensioners, sinecurists, commissioners, loan-jobbers, lottery-dealers, bankers, stock-jobbers ; not to mention the long and black list in gowns and three-tailed wigs. You can see but few good houses not in possession of one or the other of these. These, with the parsons, are now the magistrates. Some of the consequences are before us; but they have not all yet arrived. A taxation that sucks up fifty millions a year must produce a new set of proprietors every twenty years or less; and the proprietors, while they last, can be little better than tax-collectors to the government, and scourgers of the people. I must not quit Burghclere without noticing Mr. Budd's radical swedes and other things. His is but minature farming; but it is very good, and very interesting. Some time in May, he drilled a piece of swedes on four feet ridges. The fly took them off. He had cabbage and mangel-wurzel plants to put in their stead. Unwilling to turn back the ridges, and thereby bring the dung to the top, he planted the cabbages and mangel-wurzel on the ridges where the swedes had been drilled. This was done in June. Late in July, his neighbour, a farmer Hulbert, had a field of swedes that he was hoeing. Mr. Budd now put some manure in the furrows between the ridges, and ploughed a furrow over it from each ridge. On this he planted swedes, taken from farmer Hulbert's field. Thus his plantation consisted of rows of plants two feet apart . The result is a prodigious crop. Of the mangel-wurzel (greens and all) he has not less than twenty tons to the acre. He can acarcely have less of the cabbages, some of which are green savoys as fine as I ever saw. And of the swedes, many of which weigh from five to nine pounds, he certainly has more than twenty tons to the acre. So that here is a crop of, at the very least, forty tons to the acre . This piece is not much more than half an acre; but, he will, perhaps, not find so much cattle food upon any four acres in the country. He is, and long has been, feeding four milch cows, large, fine, and in fine condition, upon cabbages sometimes, and sometimes on mangel-wurzel leaves. The butter is excellent. Not the smallest degree of bitterness or bad taste of any sort. Fine colour and fine taste. And here, upon not three-quarters of an acre of ground, he has, if he manage the thing well, enough food for these four cows to the month of May! Can any system of husbandry equal this? What would he do with these cows, if he had not this crop? He could not keep one of them, except on hay. And he owes all this crop to transplanting. He thinks that the transplanting, fetching the swede plants and all, might cost him ten or twelve shillings. It was done by women, who had never done such a thing before. However, he must get in his crop before the hard weather comes; or my Lord Caernarvon's hares will help him. They have begun already; and, it is curious, that they have begun on the mangel-wurzel roots. So that hares, at any rate, have set the seal of merit upon this root.

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

Next Selection Previous Selection