"The farmer and the labourer", 1879

This poem was published in the Oxfordshire (Bicester) Telegraph (30 April) and Bicester Herald (2 May). It was probably by the same author as "The landlords' response to the wail and woe of the tenant farmer". It was signed "A Bucks Resident, Winslow". It appeared under the headline National Agricultural Labourers' Union.

The NALU was formed in 1872. An agricultural labourers' strike at Gawcott in 1867 had previously achieved some results (see Pamela L.R. Horn, "The Gawcott revolt of 1867", Records of Bucks 19 (1973) 298-301). NALU members took part in an unsuccessful strike at Swanbourne in 1873 (see Swanbourne History website). The leading local figure at the time was Joseph Tattam of Swanbourne, a smallholder's son. Buckingham magistrates on 21 March 1874 dealt with an alleged assault (the case was dismissed) by union members on a Thornborough farmer, Richard Farebrother, who allegedly "had a row with a man named Tattam" about the union at Whaddon on election day (Bicester Herald, 27 March 1874). This was in fact a serious assault in which Tattam sustained a broken nose, and the union's solicitors successfully sued the farmers for damages. In April Tattam addressed a public meeting at Leighton Buzzard which ended in violence and was given very hostile reports by the Conservative local press. It was reported that Sam Hopkins of Hoggeston, secretary of the Winslow branch, had emigrated to Queensland (Bicester Herald, 9 Oct 1874). On 19 November, an outdoor meeting at Botolph Claydon was offered the use of the schoolroom by Sir Harry Verney (Bicester Herald, 4 Dec 1874).

On 29 April 1876, 50 delegates of the Wolverton branch met at the King's Head with Henry Taylor, union general secretary, in the chair; afterwards he spoke to 500 people at a public meeting in the Market Square (Buckingham Advertiser, 6 May 1876). The Bucks District held its annual meeting at the King's Head on 7 April 1877, reporting between 1,700 and 1,800 members. Lewis Clarke of Winslow was District Secretary. A public meeting was then held at the Baptist Tabernacle, attended by about 150. This included a speech by Clarke supporting the establishment of a School Board in Winslow (Oxfordshire Telegraph, 11 April 1877). The main national issue discussed was the extension of the franchise in county constituencies to labourers (which happened, to some extent, in 1884). It was reported that labourers had been attending parish vestries as they had the right to do: the vicar of North Marston, Mr James, had appointed a labourer as churchwarden, and two supporters of the NALU were elected churchwardens at Wavendon.

By 1879 the union was struggling (not helped by an agricultural depression) and the newspapers reported that the Long Crendon branch had seceded, although the Herald also gave details of a speech made by the union's leader Joseph Arch at Bodicote. The Telegraph had a regular section of news about the NALU. Lewis Clarke of Winslow was District Secretary for Bucks & Northants in early 1879, when there was much internal dissension about Arch's leadership which he opposed, and he seems to have provided information for the Telegraph as well as regular letters in his own name. The District committee met at an office at Winslow.

There was a meeting of NALU branch representatives at Winslow on 19 May 1879 at which it was decided to start a new society, the National Land and Labour Union. Mr T. Bayliss of Oxford was President and Clarke was General Secretary. It was intended to be a national organisation, and for most of the remainder of 1879 the Bicester Herald reported successful meetings around the area, but the reports ceased in November and the new union seems to have died out by the end of the year. The Bicester Herald reported that a meeting at Oxford on 31 Jan 1880 of delegates who had broken away from the NALU decided to join the "Labour League" (the Amalgamated Labour League founded in 1871). In the 1881 Census Clarke was back in his original job of currier and leather seller. He died in 1889.

Many thanks to Ed Grimsdale for finding and transcribing the poem and providing background information.

The farmer and the labourer
A song for the times

The sons of toil that till our fields,
And brave the winter's cold,
No prospect of a better time.
When they're infirm and old.
The farmer bends beneath high rents,
And feels the bitter past,
The son of toil worn out with age,
A Pauper sinks at last.
Tumble him in, tumble him in,
He's only a pauper both ragged and thin.
Tumble him in, tumble him in.

He's only a pauper, both ragged and thin.
He works and toils throughout the year,
For thirteen bob a week,
And though he try the country round,
Better times he'll vainly seek.
And when his strength is gone and spent,
The workhouse is his way,
And when kind Death releases him,
They'll dig his grave and say,
CHORUS--Tumble, etc.

Ye landlords who your thousands spend,
In luxury and ease,
Care nothing for the farmers' woes,
Though we fall like autumn leaves.
And those who do your work and will,
And feed you by their toil,
A pauper's grave awaits the man,
That's work'd on British soil.
CHORUS—Then, Tumble, &c.

With hounds and horn you cross our fields,
And break our fences down,
And if we compensation seek,
We meet with many a frown,
The times indeed are very hard,
No prospect can we see,
But poverty and a pauper's grave,
And then the cry will be:
CHORUS, Then Tumble & etc.

The foreigner he sends his corn,
And gluts us with his meat,
How can we under present rents,
With foreigners compete
No ten per cent, nor twenty now,
Can save us in the strife:
The farmer sinks in poverty,
Thus ends his troubled life,
Then Tumble him in, tumble him in,
He's only a pauper both ragged and thin.
Tumble him in, tumble him in.

The last two verses are about tenant farmers rather than farm labourers. The author was clearly a Liberal Free Trader. The Buckingham newspapers were less likely to be sympathetic to his viewpoint, which is why the poem was published in Bicester. The Winslow baker William Turnham became a well-known local poet and seems a likely candidate for authorship. Another is Silvanus Jones who was a tenant farmer himself.

See also:

Copyright 4 January, 2021