Picture of William Cobbett

William Cobbett

places mentioned

Jan. 8th to 11th, 1822: Sussex Journal

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Tuesday, Jan . 8 , 1822.

FROM London to Croydon is as ugly a bit of country as any in England. A poor spewy gravel with some clay. Few trees but elms, and those generally stripped up and villainously ugly. Croydon is a good market-town; but is, by the funds, swelled out into a Wen . Upon quitting Croydon for Godstone, you come to the chalk hills, the juniper shrubs and the yew trees. This is an extension westward of the vein of chalk which I have before noticed (see page 44) between Bromley and Seven-Oaks. To the westward here lies Epsom Downs, which lead on to Merrow Downs and St. Margaret's Hill, then, skipping over you come to the Hog's Back, which is still of chalk, and at the west end of which lies Farnham. With the Hog's Back this vein of chalk seems to end ; for then the valleys become rich loam, and the hills sand and gravel till you approach the Winchester Downs by the way of Alresford. Godstone, which is in Surrey also, is a beautiful village, chiefly of one street, with a fine large green before it and with a pond in the green. A little way to the right (going from London) lies the vile rotten Borough of Blechingley ; but, happily for Godstone, out of sight. At and near Godstone the gardens are all very neat; and, at the inn, there is a nice garden well stocked with beautiful flowers in the season. I here saw, last summer, some double violets as large as small pinks, and the lady of the house was kind enough to give me some of the roots. From Godstone you go up a long hill of clay and sand, and then descend into a level country of stiff loam at top, clay at bottom, corn-fields, pastures, broad hedge-rows, coppices, and oak woods, which country continues till you quit Surrey about two miles before you reach East-Grinstead. The woods and coppices are very fine here. It is the genuine oak-soil ; a bottom of yellow clay to any depth, I dare say, that man can go. No moss on the oaks. No dead tops. Straight as larches. The bark of the young trees with dark spots in it; sure sign of free growth and great depth of clay beneath. The wheat is here sown on five-turn ridges, and the ploughing is amongst the best that I ever saw. At East-Grinstead, which is a rotten borough and a very shabby place, you come to stiff loam at top with sand-stone beneath. To the south of the place the land is fine, and the vale on both sides a very beautiful intermixture of woodland and corn-fields and pastures. At about three miles from Grinstead you come to a pretty village, called Forest-Row, and then, on the road to Uckfield, you cross Ashurst Forest, which is a heath, with here and there a few birch scrubs upon it, verily the most villainously ugly spot I ever saw in England. This lasts you for five miles, getting, if possible, uglier and uglier all the way, till, at last, as if barren soil, nasty spewy gravel, heath and even that stunted, were not enough, you see some rising spots, which instead of trees, present you with black, ragged, hideous rocks. There may be Englishmen who wish to see the coast of Nova Scotia . They need not go to sea; for here it is to the life. If I had been in a long trance (as our nobility seem to have been), and had been waked up here, I should have begun to look about for the Indians and the squaws, and to have heaved a sigh at the thought of being so far from England. From the end of this forest without trees you come into a country of but poorish wettish land. Passing through the village of Uckfield, you find an enclosed country, with a soil of a clay cast all the way to within about three miles of Lewes, when you get to a chalk bottom, and rich land. I was at Lewes at the beginning of last harvest, and saw the fine farms of the Ellmans, very justly renowned for their improvement of the breed of South-Down sheep , and the younger Mr. John Ellman not less justly blamed for the part he had taken in propagating the errors of Webb Hall, and thereby, however unintentionally, assisting to lead thousands to cherish those false hopes that have been the cause of their ruin. Mr. Ellman may say, that he thought he was right; but if he had read my New Year's gift to the farmers, published in the preceding January, he could not think that he was right. If he had not read it, he ought to have read it, before he appeared in print. At any rate, if no other person had a right to censure his publications, I had that right. I will here notice a calumny, to which the above visit to Lewes gave rise; namely, that I went into the neighbourhood of the Ellmans, to find out whether they ill-treated their labourers! No man that knows me will believe this. The facts are these: the Ellmans, celebrated farmers, had made a great figure in the evidence taken before the committee. I was at Worth, about twenty miles from Lewes. The harvest was begun. Worth is a woodland country. I wished to know the state of the crops; for, I was, at that very time, as will be seen by referring to the date, beginning to write my First Letter to the Landlords. Without knowing anything of the matter myself, I asked my host, Mr. Brazier, what good corn country was nearest to us. He said Lewes. Off I went, and he with me, in post-chaise. We had twenty miles to go, and twenty back in the same chaise. A bad road, and rain all the day. We put up at the White Hart, took another chaise, went round, and saw the farms, through the window of the chaise, having stopped at a little public-house to ask which were they, and having stopped now and then to get a sample out of the sheaves of wheat, came back to the White Hart, after being absent only about an hour and a half, got our dinner, and got back to Worth before it was dark; and never asked, and never intended to ask, one single question of any human being as to the conduct or character of the Ellmans. Indeed the evidence of the elder Mr. Ellman was so fair, so honest, and so useful, particularly as relating to the labourers , that I could not possibly suspect him of being a cruel or hard master. He told the committee that when he began business, forty-five years ago, every man in the parish brewed his own beer, and that now, not one man did it, unless he gave him the malt! Why, here was by far the most valuable part of the whole volume of evidence. Then, Mr. Ellman did not present a parcel of estimates and God knows what; but a plain and honest statement of facts, the rate of day wages, of job wages, for a long series of years, by which it clearly appeared how the labourer had been robbed and reduced to misery, and how the poor-rates had been increased. He did not, like Mr. George and other Bull-frogs, sink these interesting facts; but honestly told the truth. Therefore, whatever I might think of his endeavours to uphold the mischievous errors of Webb Hall, I could have no suspicion that he was a hard master.

Thursday, Jan . 10 , 1822.

Lewes is in a valley of the South Downs , this town is at eight miles distance, to the south-south-west or thereabouts. There is a great extent of rich meadows above and below Lewes. The town itself is a model of solidity and neatness. The buildings all substantial to the very outskirts; the pavements good and complete; the shops nice and clean; the people well-dressed; and, though last not least, the girls remarkably pretty, as, indeed, they are in most parts of Sussex; round faces, features small, little hands and wrists, plump arms, and bright eyes. The Sussex men, too, are remarkable for their good looks. A Mr. Baxter, a stationer at Lewes, showed me a farmer's account book , which is a very complete thing of the kind. The inns are good at Lewes, the people civil and not servile, and the charges really (considering the taxes) far below what one could reasonably expect. From Lewes to Brighton the road winds along between the hills of the South Downs, which, in this mild weather, are mostly beautifully green even at this season, with flocks of sheep feeding on them. Brighton itself lies in a valley cut across at one end by the sea, and its extension, or wen , has swelled up the sides of the hills and has run some distance up the valley. The first thing you see in approaching Brighton from Lewes, is a splendid horse-barrack on one side of the road, and a heap of low, shabby, nasty houses, irregularly built, on the other side. This is always the case where there is a barrack. How soon a reformed parliament would make both disappear! Brighton is a very pleasant place. For a wen remarkably so. The Kremlin , the very name of which has so long been a subject of laughter all over the country, lies in the gorge of the valley, and amongst the old houses of the town. The grounds, which cannot, I think, exceed a couple or three acres, are surrounded by a wall neither lofty nor good-looking. Above this rise some trees, bad in sorts, stunted in growth, and dirty with smoke. As to the "palace" as the Brighton newspapers call it, the apartments appear to be all upon the ground floor; and, when you see the thing from a distance, you think you see a parcel of cradle-spits , of various dimensions, sticking up out of the mouths of so many enormous squat decanters. Take a square box, the sides of which are three feet and a half, and the height a foot and a half. Take a large Norfolk-turnip, cut off the green of the leaves, leave the stalks nine inches long, tie these round with a string three inches from the top, and put the turnip on the middle of the top of the box. Then take four turnips of half the size, treat them in the same way, and put them on the corners of the box. Then take a considerable number of bulbs of the crown-imperial, the narcissus, the hyacinth, the tulip, the crocus, and others; let the leaves of each have sprouted to about an inch, more or less according to the size of the bulb; put all these, pretty promiscuously, but pretty thickly, on the top of the box. Then stand off and look at your architecture. There! That's "a Kremlin !" Only you must cut some church-looking windows in the sides of the box. As to what you ought to put into the box, that is a subject far above my cut. Brighton is naturally a place of resort for expectants , and a shifty ugly-looking swarm is, of course, assembled here. Some of the fellows, who had endeavoured to disturb our harmony at the dinner at Lewes, were parading, amongst this swarm, on the cliff. You may always know them by their lank jaws, the stiffeners round their necks, their hidden or no shirts, their stays, their false shoulders, hips and haunches, their half-whiskers, and by their skins, colour of veal kidney-suet, warmed a little, and then powdered with dirty dust. These vermin excepted, the people at Brighton make a very fine figure. The trades-people are very nice in all their concerns. The houses are excellent, built chiefly with a blue or purple brick; and bow-windows appear to be the general taste. I can easily believe this to be a very healthy place : the open downs on the one side and the open sea on the other. No inlet, cove, or river; and, of course, no swamps. I have spent this evening very pleasantly in a company of reformers, who, though plain tradesmen and mechanics, know I am quite satisfied more about the questions that agitate the country than any equal number of lords.

Friday, January 11, 1822.

Came home by the way of Cuckfield, Worth, and Red-Hill, instead of by Uckfield, Grinstead and Godstone, and got into the same road again at Croydon. The roads being nearly parallel lines and at no great distance from each other, the soil is nearly the same, with the exception of the fine oak country between Godstone and Grinstead, which does not go so far westward as my homeward bound road, where the land opposite the spot just spoken of, becomes more of a moor than a clay, and though there are oaks, they are not nearly so fine as those on the other road. The tops are flatter; the side shoots are sometimes higher than the middle shoot; a certain proof that the tap-root has met with something that it does not like.

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

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