Picture of William Cobbett

William Cobbett

places mentioned

Sept. 25th to 29th, 1822: Kensington to Uphusband

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Wednesday, Sept . 25th 1822

THIS morning I set of, in rather a drizzling rain, from Kensington, on horseback, accompanied by my son, with an intention of going to Uphusband, near Andover, which is situated in the north-west corner of Hampshire. It is very true that I could have gone to Uphusband by travelling only about sixty-six miles, and in the space of about eight hours. But my object was, not to see inns and turnpike roads, but to see the country ; to see the farmers at home, and to see the labourers in the fields; and to do this you must go either on foot or on horseback. With a gig you cannot get about amongst bye-lanes and across fields, through bridle-ways and hunting-gates; and to tramp it is too slow, leaving the labour out of the question and that is not a trifle. We went through the turnpike gate at Kensington, and immediately turned down the lane to our left, proceeded on to Fulham, crossed Putney bridge into Surrey, went over Barnes Common, and then, going on the upper side of Richmond, got again into Middlesex, by crossing Richmond bridge. All Middlesex is ugly , notwithstanding the millions upon millions which it is continually sucking up from the rest of the kingdom; and, though the Thames and its meadows now and then are seen from the road, the country is not less ugly from Richmond to Chertsey bridge, through Twickenham, Hampton, Sunbury and Shepperton, than it is elsewhere. The soil is a gravel at bottom with a black loam at top near the Thames; further back it is a sort of spewy gravel; and the buildings consist generally of tax-eaters' showy, tea-garden-like boxes, and of shabby dwellings of labouring people who, in this part of the country, look to be about half Saint Giles's : dirty, and have every appearance of drinking gin.

At Chertsey, where we came into Surrey again, there was a fair for horses, cattle and pigs. I did nor see any sheep. Everything was exceedingly dull . Cart colts, two and three years old, were selling for less than a third of what they sold for in 1813. The cattle were of an inferior description to be sure; but the price was low almost beyond belief. Cows, which would have sold for ?15 in I 813, did not get buyers at ?3. I had no time to inquire much about the pigs, but a man told me that they were dirt-cheap. Near Chertsey is Saint Anne's Hill and some other pretty spots.

This country of Surrey presents to the eye of the traveller a greater contrast than any other county in England. It has some of the very best and some of the worst lands, not only in England, but in the world. We were here upon those of the latter description. For five miles on the road towards Guildford the land is a rascally common covered with poor heath, except where the gravel is so near the top as not to suffer even the heath to grow. Here we entered the enclosed lands, which have the gravel at bottom, but a nice light, black mould at top; in which the trees grow very well. Through bye-lanes and bridle-ways we came out into the London road, between Ripley and Guildford, and immediately crossing that road, came on towards a village called Merrow. We came our into the road just mentioned, at the lodge-gates of a Mr. Weston, whose mansion and estate have just passed (as to occupancy) into the hands of some new man.

Lord Onslow lives near Merrow. This is the man that was for many years so famous as a driver of four-in-hand. He used to be called Tommy Onslow . He has the character of being a very good landlord. I know he called me "a d----d Jacobin " several years ago, only, I presume, because I was labouring to preserve to him the means of still driving four-in-hand, while he, and others like him, and their yeomanry cavalry, were working as hard to defeat my wishes and endeavours. They say here, that, some little time back, his lordship, who has, at any rate, had the courage to retrench in all sorts of ways, was at Guildford in a gig with one horse, at the very moment when Spicer, the stockbroker, who was a chairman of the committee for prosecuting Lord Cochrane, and who lives at Esher, came rattling in with four horses and a couple of out-riders! To come to Chilworth, which lies on the south side of St. Martha's Hill, most people would have gone along the level road to Guildford, and come round through Shawford under the hills; but we, having seen enough of streets and turnpikes, took across over Merrow Down, where the Guildford racecourse is, and then mounted the "Surrey Hills," so famous for the prospects they afford. Here we looked back over Middlesex, and into Buckinghamshire and Berkshire, away towards the north-west, into Essex and Kent towards the east, over part of Sussex to the south, and over part of Hampshire to the west and south-west. We are here upon a bed of chalk, where the downs always afford good sheep food. We steered for St. Martha's Chapel, and went round at the foot of the lofty hill on which it stands. This brought us down the side of a steep hill, and along a bridle-way, into the narrow and exquisitely beautiful vale of Chilworth, where we were to stop for the night. This vale is skirted partly by woodlands and partly by sides of hills tilled as cornfields. The land is excellent, particularly towards the bottom. Even the arable fields are in some places, towards their tops, nearly as steep as the roof of a tiled house; and where the ground is covered with woods the ground is still more steep. Down the middle of the vale there is a series of ponds, or small lakes , which meet your eye, here and there, through the trees. Here are some very fine farms, a little strip of meadows, some hop-gardens, and the lakes have given rise to the establishment of powder-mills and paper-mills. The trees of all sorts grow well here; and coppices yield poles for the hop-gardens and wood to make charcoal for the powder-mills.

Thursday, Sept . 26.

We started from Chilworth this morning, came down the vale, left the village of Shawford to our right, and that of Wonersh to our left, and crossing the river Wey, got into the turnpike road between Guildford and Godalming, went on through Godalming, and got to Lea, which lies to the north-east snugly under Hindhead, about 11 o'clock. This was coming only about eight miles, a sort of rest after the thirty-two miles of the day before.

We got into free-quarter again at Lea; and there is nothing like free-quarter, as soldiers well know. Lea is situated on the edge of that immense heath which sweeps down from the summit of Hindhead, across to the north over innumerable hills of minor altitude and of an infinite variety of shapes towards Farnham, to the north-east, towards the Hog's Back, leading from Farnham to Guildford, and to the east, or neatly so, towards Godalming. Nevertheless, the enclosed lands at Lea are very good and singularly beautiful. The timber of all sorts grows well; the land is light, and being free from stones, very pleasant to work. If you go southward from Lea about a mile you get down into what is called, in the old Acts of Parliament, the Weald of Surrey. Here the land is a stiff tenacious loam at top with blue and yellow clay beneath. This weald continues on eastward, and gets into Sussex neat East Grinstead: thence it winds about under the hills, into Kent. Here the oak grows finer than in any part of England. The trees are more spiral in their form. They grow much faster than upon any other land. Yet the timber must be better; for, in some of the Acts of Queen Elizabeth's reign, it is provided that the oak for the royal navy shall come out of the Wealds of Surrey, Sussex, or Kent.

Friday, Sept . 27.

From Lea we set of this morning about six o'clock to get free-quarter again at a worthy old friend's at this nice little plain market town. Our direct road was right over the heath through Tilfordto Farnham; but we veered a little to the left after we came to Tilford, at which place on the green we stopped to look at an oak-tree , which, when I was a little boy, was but a very little tree, comparatively, and which is now, take it altogether, by far the finest tree that I ever saw in my life. The stem or shaft is short; that is to say, it is short before you come to the first limbs; but it is full thirty feet round , at about eight or ten feet from the ground. Out of the stem there come not less than fifteen or sixteen limbs, many of which are from five to ten feet round, and each of which would, in fact, be considered a decent stick of timber. I am not judge enough of timber to say anything about the quantity in the whole tree, but my son stepped the ground, and as neatly as we could judge, the diameter of the extent of the branches was upwards of ninety feet, which would make a circumference of about three hundred feet. The tree is in full growth at this moment. There is a little hole in one of the limbs; but with that exception, there appears not the smallest sign of decay. The tree had made great shoots in all parts of it this last summer and spring; and there are no appearances of white upon the trunk, such as are regarded as the symptoms of full growth. There are many sorts of oak in England; two very distinct; one with a pale leaf, and one with a dark leaf: this is of the pale leaf. The tree stands upon TilfordGreen, the soil of which is a light loam with a hard sand stone a good way beneath, and, probably, day beneath that. The spot where the tree stands is about a hundred and twenty feet from the edge of a little river, and the ground on which it stands may be about ten feet higher than the bed of that river.

In quitting TilfordFarnham, veered away to the left towards Wrecklesham, in order to cross the Farnham and Alton turnpike road, and to come on by the side of Crondall to Oldham. We went a little out of the way to go to a place called the Bourn , which lies in the heath at about a mile from Farnham. It is a winding narrow valley, down which, during the wet season of the year, there runs a stream beginning at the Holt Forest , and emptying itself into the Wey just below Moor Park, which was the seat of Sit William Temple when Swift was residing with him. We went to this bourn in order that I might show my son the spot where I received the rudiments of my education. There is a little hop-garden in which I used to work when from eight to ten years old; from which I have scores of times run to follow the hounds, leaving the hoe to do the best it could to destroy the weeds; but the most interesting thing was a sand-hill , which goes from a part of the heath down to the rivulet. As a due mixture of pleasure with toil, I, with two brothers, used occasionally to desport ourselves, as the lawyers call it, at this sand-hill. Our diversion was this: we used to go to the top of the hill, which was steeper than the roof of a house; one used to draw his arms out of the sleeves of his smock-frock, and lay himself down with his arms by his sides; and then the others, one at head and the other at feet, sent him tolling down the hill like a barrel or a log of wood. By the time he got to the bottom, his hair, eyes, eats, nose, and mouth were all full of this loose sand; then the others took their turn, and at every toll there was a monstrous spell of laughter. I had often told my sons of this while they were very little, and I now took one of them to see the spot. But that was not all. This was the spot where I was receiving my education ; and this was the sort of education; and I am perfectly satisfied that if I had not received such an education, or something very much like it; that, if I had been brought up a milksop, with a nursery-maid everlastingly at my heels, I should have been at this day as great a fool, as inefficient a mortal, as any of those frivolous idiots that are turned out from Winchester and Westminster School, or from any of those dens of dunces called colleges and universities. It is impossible to say how much I owe to that sand-hill; and I went to return it my thanks for the ability which it probably gave me to be one of the greatest terrors to one of the greatest and most powerful bodies of knaves and fools that ever were permitted to afflict this or any other country.

From the Bourn we proceeded on to Wrecklesham, at the end of which we crossed what is called the river Wey. Here we found a parcel of labourers at parish-work. Amongst them was an old playmate of mine. The account they gave of their situation was very dismal. The harvest was over early. The hop-picking is now over; and now they are employed by the parish ; that is to say, not absolutely digging holes one day and filling them up the next; but at the expense of half-ruined farmers and tradesmen and landlords, to break stones into very small pieces to make nice smooth roads lest the jolting, in going along them, should create bile in the stomach of the over-fed tax-eaters. I call upon mankind to witness this scene; and to say, whether ever the like of this was heard of before. It is a stare of things, where all is out of order; where self-preservation, that great law of nature, seems to be set at defiance; for here are farmers unable to pay men for working for them, and yet compelled to pay them for working in doing that which is really of no use to any human being. There lie the hop-poles unstripped. You see a hundred things in the neighbouring fields that want doing. The fences are not neatly what they ought to be. The very meadows, to our right and our left in crossing this little valley, would occupy these men advantageously until the setting in of the frost; and here are they, not, as I said before, actually digging holes one day and filling them up the next; but, to all intents and purposes, as uselessly employed.

We left these poor fellows, after having given them, not "religious tracts," which would, if they could, make the labourer content with half starvation, but something to get them some bread and cheese and beer, being firmly convinced that it is the body that wants filling and nor the mind. However, in speaking of their low wages, I told them that the farmers and hop-planters were as much objects of compassion as themselves, which they acknowledged. We immediately, after this, crossed the road, and went on towards Crondall upon a soil that soon became stiff loam and flint at top with a bed of chalk beneath. We did not go to Crondall; but kept along over Slade Heath, and through a very pretty place called Well. We arrived at Oldham about half after eleven, at the end of a beautiful ride of about seventeen miles, in a very fine and pleasant day.

Saturday, September 28th .

Just after day-light we started for this place. By the turnpike we could have come through Basingstoke by turning of to the right, or through Alton and Alresford by turning of to the left. Being naturally disposed towards a middle course, we chose to wind down through Upton-Gray, Preston-Candover, Chilton-Candover, Brown-Candover, then down to Ovington, and into Winchester by the north entrance. From Wrecklesham to Winchester we have come over roads and lanes of flint and chalk. The weather being dry again, the ground under you, as solid as iton, makes a great rattling with the horses' feet. The country where the soil is stiff loam upon chalk is never bad for corn. Not rich, but never poor. There is at no time anything deserving to be called dirt in the roads. The buildings last a long time, from the absence of fogs and also the absence of humidity in the ground. The absence of dirt makes the people habitually cleanly; and all along through this country the people appear in general to be very neat. It is a country for sheep, which are always sound and good upon this iron soil. The trees grow well, where there are trees. The woods and coppices are not numerous; but they are good, particularly the ash, which always grows well upon the chalk. The oaks, though they do not grow in the spiral form, as upon the clays, are by no means stunted; and some of them very fine trees; I take it, that they requite a much greater number of years to bring them to perfection than in the Wealds . The wood, perhaps, may be harder; but I have heard that the oak, which grows upon these hard bottoms, is very frequently what the carpenters call shaky . The under-woods here consist, almost entirely, of hazel, which is very fine, and much tougher and more durable than that which grows on soils with a moist bottom. This hazel is a thing of great utility here. It furnishes rods wherewith to make fences; but its principal use is to make wattles for the folding of sheep in the fields. These things are made much more neatly here than in the south of Hampshire and in Sussex, or in any other part that I have seen. Chalk is the favourite soil of the yew-tree ; and at Preston-Candover there is an avenue of yew-trees, probably a mile long, each tree containing, as neatly as I can guess, from twelve to twenty feet of timber, which, as the reader knows, implies a tree of considerable size. They have probably been a century or two in growing; but, in any way that timber can be used, the timber of the yew will last, perhaps, ten times as long as the timber of any other tree that we grow in England.

Quitting the Candovers, we came along between the two estates of the two Barings. Sir Thomas, who has supplanted the Duke of Bedford, was to our right, while Alexander, who has supplanted Lord Northington, was on our left. The latter has enclosed, as a sort of outwork to his park, a pretty little down called Northington Down, in which he has planted, here and there, a clump of trees. But Mr. Baring, not reflecting that woods are not like funds, to be made at a heat, has planted his trees too large ; so that they are covered with moss, are dying at the top, and are literally growing downward instead of upward. In short, this enclosure and plantation have totally destroyed the beauty of this part of the estate. The down, which was before very beautiful, and formed a sort of glacis up to the park pales, is now a marred, ragged, ugly-looking thing. The dying trees, which have been planted long enough for you not to perceive that they have been planned, excite the idea of sterility in the soil. They do injustice to it; for, as a down, it was excellent. Everything that has been done here is to the injury of the estate, and discovers a most shocking want of taste in the projector. Sit Thomas's plantations, or, rather, those of his father, have been managed more judiciously.

I do not like to be a sort of spy in a man's neighbourhood; but I will tell Sit Thomas Baring what I have heard; and if he be a man of sense I shall have his thanks, rather than his reproaches, for so doing. I may have been misinformed; but this is what I have heard, that he and also Lady Baring are very charitable; that they are very kind and compassionate to their poor neighbours; but that they rack a sort of condition to this charity; that they insist upon the objects of it adopting their notions with regard to religion; or, at least, that where the people are not what they deem pious , they are not objects of their benevolence. I do not say that they are not perfectly sincere themselves, and that their wishes are not the best that can possibly be; but of this I am very certain, that, by pursuing this principle of action, where they make one good man or woman, they will make one hundred hypocrites. It is not little books that can make a people good; that can make them moral; that can restrain them from committing crimes. I believe that books, of any sort, never yet had that tendency. Sir Thomas does, I dare say, think me a very wicked man, since I aim at the destruction of the funding system, and what he would call a robbery of what he calls the public creditor; and yet, God help me, I have read books enough, and amongst the rest, a great part of the religious tracts. Amongst the labouring people, the first thing you have to look after is, common honesty, speaking the truth, and refraining from thieving ; and to secure these, the labourer must have his belly-full and be free from fear ; and this belly-full must come to him from out of his wages, and not from benevolence of any description. Such being my opinion, I think Sir Thomas Baring would do better, that he would discover more real benevolence, by using the influence which he must naturally have in his neighbourhood, to prevent a diminution in the wages of labour.

Sunday morning, Sept . 29.

Yesterday was market-day here. Everything cheap and falling instead of rising. If it were over-production last year that produced the distress , when are our miseries to have an end! They will end when these men cease to have sway, and not before.

I had not been in Winchester long before I heard something very interesting about the manifesto concerning the poor, which was lately issued here, and upon which I remarked in my last Register but one, in my letter to Sit Thomas Baring. Proceeding upon the true military principle, I looked out for free-quarter, which the reader will naturally think difficult for me to find in a town containing a cathedral . Having done this, I went to the Swan Inn to dine with the farmers. This is the manner that I like best of doing the thing. Six-Acts do not, to be sure, prevent us from dining together. They do not authorize justices of the peace to kill us, because we meet to dine without their permission. But I do not like dinner-meetings on my account. I like much better to go and fall in with the lads of the land, or with anybody else, at their own places of resort; and I am going to place myself down at Uphusband, in excellent free-quarter, in the midst of all the great fairs of the west, in order, before the winter campaign begins, that I may see as many farmers as possible, and that they may heat my opinions, and I theirs. I shall be at Weyhill Fair on the 10th of October, and, perhaps, on some of the succeeding days; and, on one or more of those days, I intend to dine at the White Hart, at Andover. What other fairs or places I shall go to I shall notify hereafter. And this I think the frankest and fairest way. I wish to see many people, and to talk to them: and there are a great many people who wish to see and to talk to me. What better reason can be given for a man's going about the country and dining at fairs and markets?

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

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