Condition of the Peasantry in Dorsetshire

In 1846, The Times newspaper published a series of ‘letters’ describing wages and living conditions in different parts of Dorset.  The articles were written in the context of the newspaper’s support for the anti-Corn Law campaign.


The Times, Thursday, 18 June, 1846, page 5




The recent debates in the House of Commons, in which the condition of the agricultural labourer of Dorsetshire was made the subject of discussion, have, naturally enough, produced a considerable degree of excitement in the public mind.  The startling assertion of a member of that house, that the distress existing in the county of Dorset rivalled that of Ireland, was one not calculated to pass unremarked, the more especially as the unhappy state of the sister island has been so ably and so graphically set before us by the talent and exertions of your Irish “Commissioner.”  Assertions on the one hand have been met by contradiction on the other, and hitherto the scale has perhaps been equally poised between the sceptic and believer.

In the performance of the duty with which you have been pleased to honour me, namely, that of investigation and transmitting to you the state of the peasantry of this district, it is my intention and determination to deal only with facts; facts in support of which evidence the most conclusive, testimony the most unimpeachable, may be adduced, should it be found necessary to substantiate them.  The opposition your commissioner had to content with during his researches in Ireland, and the abuse which was so plentifully and so unmercifully heaped upon him, and from which I have no reason to suppose I shall be exempt, convinces me that this is the only safe course open to me in the prosecution of my inquiries; and it shall therefore be my endeavour in this and my subsequent letters, by the avoidance of everything approaching conjecture or hearsay, to leave as little room as possible for cavil and objection.  “Quae sunt oculis subjecta fidelibus” is a test as infallible as it is severe; and this, during my sojourn in Dorset, I adopt as my motto.

Despite my short acquaintance with the county and the state of its peasantry, I am prepared to say that there is, in those parts at least which I have hitherto had an opportunity of visiting, but too much foundation for the comparison which has been drawn between the condition of the Irish and Dorsetshire labourer, and perhaps in one respect the Irishman has the advantage.  Neglected though he may be by an absentee landlord—left to the tender mercies of a grasping agent, and feeling most acutely the consequence of such desertion, he is yet accessory to at least one half of his misery.  Put the materials for comfort in his hands, and he knows not how to render them available; he is but slightly acquainted with the sensation, and the absence of it can therefore cause him, comparatively speaking, but a small amount of inconvenience.  Surely, then, in this respect, his lot is preferable to that of the English labourer, who not only knows, but is capable of highly appreciating comfort, and so long as hard labour is the price at which it is to be purchased, will spare neither sinew nor muscle to secure it.  The misery of the one may be partly traced to himself; if want and wretchedness are the companions of the other, their sources must be looked for elsewhere.  Depend upon it, the fault does not laugh at his door.  We will now endeavour to trace the cause of his present unhappy situation.

The origin of the evils he has to endure is, I think, but too plain.  His exertions are ill and insufficiently rewarded, and he is, as I can testify, in some instances lodged more vilely than the beast in his master’s farm-yard.  His house is often crowded to such a degree that everything like decency must be entirely disregarded, and yet, crammed to suffocation as his dwelling is, huddled together as his sons and daughters are during the hours of repose, and large as has been the increase of population, it is in but few parishes that new houses for his accommodation have of late years been erected.  On the contrary, there seems rather to be a disposition to allow those which do exist to run to ruin for lack of the ordinary and necessary repair.  The average amount of his wages has been estimated at 8s. per week, but I do not hesitate to say that, so far as I have proceeded in my researches, this is a flattering picture.  The general run of wages for an ablebodied man is 7s., and it is but rarely that I have met with 8s.  The best course would perhaps be to give some instances to confirm what I have asserted.  I have just returned from the investigation of the parishes of Hilton and Milton Abbas, and they shall furnish me with examples:-

William Hart. – Wages 7s. per week.  One bed-room.  Has a daughter 17 years old, and a son 14.  Altogether eight in family.

Thomas Maine.—8s. per week.  Nine in family.  Two bed-rooms.

John Drake.—Has lately been working for 6s. 3d. per week, but refused to do so any longer, and now gets 7s.  There are nine in family.  Two bed-rooms.  The wife of this man showed me a novelty in the shape of bedding.  The bed and pillow were stuffed with what they term “oat dust,” being the refuse of oats which they collect from barn floors.  The bed-clothes were perfect rags.

I received information that a man named Nicholas Trass, an inhabitant of this parish, was in a most wretched state of destitution, and I consequently determined to visit him.  On arriving at his dwelling, which in misery and squalor exceeded anything  I have yet seen, and the mud floor of which presented a most uninviting appearance, I found his wife, an emaciated, unhealthy-looking woman, engaged in peeling some suspicious-looking potatoes, while a boy, apparently about eight or nine years of age, was employed in nursing an infant child.  One of the children was running about without shoes or stockings, and altogether the scene was perfectly Irish.  She informed me that her husband had been working for 7s., but had just got a fresh master, and thought he might possibly get 8s. at his new place.  There were seven in family.  The rent of the house in which they live is 52s.  I was credibly informed that the father of this man, an aged person, who received a weekly allowance of bread from the parish, was supposed to have deprived himself of the necessary quantity of food in order to enable him to administer to the wants of his grandchildren, and that it was strongly suspected that this death was ultimately the consequence of his continual self-denial.  The above examples I have selected from the parish of Hilton.

In the parish of Milton Abbas distress and destitution are equally prevalent.  In passing through the village you are forcibly struck with its picturesque appearance.  The cottages, all of which are detached, with their whitewashed fronts, present a most clean and comfortable appearance; but, if you desire to maintain the illusion, do not look inside them.  What has been said of Hilton is equally applicable to this parish; but it would be an unnecessary waste of space to give examples.  There is here, however, an instance of harshness and cruelty practised by a master towards his labourer which deserves publication.  Although I have no doubt of the correctness of my information, I abstain from giving it, as I have hitherto been unable to authenticate it, but I think the case is a sufficiently glaring one to demand attention, and I may possibly furnish you with the details hereafter.  In this parish I did not find a single instance of a labourer receiving 8s. per week; I will not, however, deny that such may be found.  There appears to be much difficulty in “screwing” out the eighth coin.

In my future letters I propose to give you the dimensions of some of the sleeping apartments of the labourers’ cottages.  At first sight one is sometimes almost provoked to mirth at their diminutive and pigmy appearance; but the sensation is speedily checked by the consideration that in them so many unfortunates of each sex are nightly herded together, to the hazard of health and the total destruction of both decency and morality.

I have also visited Stourpain; but the observations I shall have to make on the state of that village would necessarily force me to exceed my limits, did I venture upon them in my present letter.  This place shall therefore form the subject of my next communication.


The Times, Thursday, 25 June, 1846, page 3



In pursuance of the duty assigned me, I shall today lay before your the result of my inquiries in Stourpain, a parish about two miles distant from Blandford, and forming part of the district to which the public attention has been drawn.

The first feature which attracts the attention of a stranger on entering the village, is the total want of cleanliness which pervades it.  A stream, composed of the matter which constantly escapes from pigsties and receptacles of filth, meanders down each street, being here and there collected into standing pools, which lie festering and rotting in the sun so as to create wonder that the place is not the continual abode of pestilence—indeed the worst malignant fevers have raged here at different times.  It may be sufficient to add for the present that the inside of the cottages in every respect corresponds with the external appearance of the place.  I will, however, come to the consideration of that point hereafter.

As the subject of “grist” will form a prominent feature in this letter, it is necessary that I should give an explanation of the term.  “Grist,” or “tailings” as it is usually called in other counties, is that portion of the wheat which remains after the best, which is designed for the market, has been separated from the mass.  It then undergoes a second separation, and the dirt and useless stuff is removed.  It is the custom in several parts of the county for the farmer to allow his labourer to take a bushel of this article as often as his wants require it, at 1s. below the market price of the best wheat.  This is one of the “advantages,” as it is termed, of the labourer, and I am ready to admit that when conducted on fair principles, it may deserve the name.  My researches in Stourpain have, however, taught me that in the village at least, so far from “grist” being an advantage to the labourer, he pays for it a sum equal to, if not exceeding, the price of the best wheat, and in support of this assertion I will now enter into an examination of the “grist” system as practised in this parish.

As the wages in this place in very few instances exceed 7s. per week, it may readily be seen that under such circumstances the labourer is often without food or money.  What is to be done?  He cannot allow his wife and children to starve.  The shopkeeper will not trust him.  In such a place the shopkeeper himself is generally a needy man, and his customer has 7s. a week and a family.  He takes the only course open to him.  He goes to his master, and as the phrase is, “gets a grist,” the price of which is generally 7s. a bushel, which is stopped from his wages on the ensuing Saturday.  In some few instances I have found the price to be 6s.6. per bushel.  Thus it will be seen that in most cases the whole amount of his wages is at the end of the week withheld in payment for his bushel of “grist.”

I have before me a weekly return of the prices of the best wheat in Blandford-market for the last two years, ending Lady-day, 1846, by which it appears that in 1844 the average price of a bushel of wheat was 5s. 11 ½ d., and in 1845, 6s. 7d.  Thus it is clear that the labourer, pressed by want and necessity, of which the farmer takes an undue and dishonest advantage, pays for this second or third-rate article a sum exceeding the average price of the best corn during the last two years.  So much for the price of “grist”; the quality now demands attention.

A few days since I had a conversation with a miller who resides and carries on his trade near the place, and to whom the labourer is in the habit of bringing his “grist” to be ground.  I will give you his description of it, as nearly as I can recollect, in his own words:-

“Some of the stuff they bring is very bad; I do not think it is worth 3s. a bushel.  I don’t much like having anything to do with it, for I am obliged to keep a separate pair of stones to grind it.  If it is ground by the same stones that I use for the finer sort of wheat, it fouls the better sort and spoils it.”

With this remark of the miller’s I close my observation for the present on “grist” and its “advantages.”

Although it must be apparent to every one how dreadfully insufficient the usual amount of wages in these parts must be for the support of a labouring family, the following extract from Mr. Austin’s “Report on the Counties of Wilts, Dorset, Devon and Somerset” (p. 59) will perhaps render that clearer which was but too obvious before.  A gentleman of Wiltshire (his remarks will apply equally well to this county), in his examination, says,—

“The wages are certainly insufficient.  Even when there are only two children it requires good management to keep them decently out of 8s. a week.  Take any standard of comparison, and it will show the insufficiency.  Perhaps the fairest is the cost of the paupers’ food in the union workhouses, where the articles are such as usually form the poor man’s food at home—bacon, bread, and potatoes, without beer or other luxuries, and where the quantity is supposed to be absolutely necessary to keep the inmates in health.  If the labourer has not so much food as the pauper, he ought to have.  In our union the cost of each individual, taking the average of men, women, and children, is 1s. 6d. for food only; and buying by tender and in large quantities, we buy at least 10 per cent. cheaper than the labouring man can.  But without considering this advantage, apply the scale to the poor man’s family.  A man, his wife, and two children will require, if properly fed, 6s. weekly, then rent, at least 1s., and fuel will very nearly swallow up the remainder.  But there are yet many things to provide—soap, candles, clothes, and shoes.  Shoes to a poor man are a serious expense, as he must have them strong, coating about 12s. a pair, and he will need at least one pair in the year.  When I reckon up these things in detail, I am always more and more astonished how the labourer contrives to live at all.”

Another witness says—

“I never could make out how they live with their present earnings, for after examining accurately the accounts of their necessary weekly expenditure, and trying to compare it with their weekly earnings, in all cases that I have tried their expense seems to exceed their earnings.  This problem several of us have tried, but without success.”

In the above extracts a man is supposed to be earning 8s. a week, which is to support a family of two children.  In Stourpain unfortunately the families are generally much larger, and the rate of wages a shilling a week lower.  The conclusion which, therefore, must necessarily be drawn is, that during a part of the week at least the labourer must be starving.  A labourer’s wife, in the course of my progress through the village, told me she had eaten nothing since the previous morning.  It was about 11 a.m. when she gave me the information.

Another fruitful source of misery, as well as immorality, is the great inadequacy of the number and size of the houses to the number of the population, and the consequently crowded state of their habitations, which in Dorsetshire generally, and in Stourpain particularly, afford the most limited accommodation.  It is by no means an uncommon thing for the whole family to sleep in the same room, without the slightest regard to age or sex, and without a curtain or the slightest attempt at separation between the beds.  In one instance which came under my notice, a family, consisting of nine persons, occupied three beds in the same bedroom, which was the only one the house afforded.  The eldest daughter is 23 years of age, the eldest son 21.  I am enabled to give you the dimensions of the room into which these nine persons are nightly crammed.  It is 10 feet square, not reckoning two small recesses by the sides of the chimney, about 18 inches deep.  In some few instances, when circumstances admitted of it, I have seen most ingenious and laudable attempts to effect a barrier between the sexes, but in general there does not appear to exist any anxiety on the subject; and indeed in most instances the size and form of the rooms, and the number of beds required for the accommodation of the family, render all such attempts futile.  It will be easily imagined that the nightly and promiscuous herding together of young people of both sexes is productive of the most demoralizing effects, and it is no matter of wonder that there are more illegitimate children in Stourpain than in any village of equal size in the Union of Blandford.  In case of a death occurring in a family , should there be but one bedroom, which is, I think, generally the case, the inmates of the house are compelled to pass their nights in the same room with the corpse until the time of burial.  A gentleman informed me that he once inquired whether, in such cases, there was not much difficulty in reconciling the children to such an arrangement.  The answer he received, from the deep tone of philosophy which pervades it, is particularly deserving of attention:-

“Why, Sir, in such cases we let the children get dead asleep before we take them to bed, and in the morning we pull them out of bed and hurry them down stairs before they are properly awake.  It is worse for the grown folks than for them.”

The rent of these hovels vary, with few exceptions, from 1s. a week up to 3l. and even 4l. per annum; but it should here be stated that the rent of all cottages belonging to the chief landed proprietor have lately been considerably reduced.

It may be useful to give a few examples of the miserable and degraded state in which the inhabitants of this village pass their lives.  I should premise that every case came under my own personal observation, and that I generally obtained my information from the labourer’s wife, but sometimes from himself.

Silas Upward.—Has 7s. a week, out of which house-rent takes a shilling weekly.  There are seven in family.  This man’s house was a miracle of littleness.  John Allen.—Has eight in family; wages 7s. a week; house-rent, 3l. per annum.  William Hew.—Has six children, all under 14 years of age; wages, 8s. a week; rent, 3l.; one bedroom in which all the family sleep; pays 7s. for grist.  Robert Hayter.—Wages 7s.; gives 7s. for grist; has four children living, and has buried five; rent, 1l. 5s. a year.  George Ball.—Has six children under 12 years of age; wages 7s. a week; pays 7s. for grist; one bed-room.  James Ainsworth.—Pays 4l. rent; 7s.; has six in family; the eldest girl is 15 years of age, and the eldest boy 14; all these sleep in one room; pays 6s. 9d. for grist.—Jeans.—Has 11 in family; two bedrooms in the house; in the first the husband, wife and 6 daughters sleep; the eldest daughter will soon be 20; in the smaller room three boys occupy the same bed, the eldest of whom is 19, the next 16, and the youngest 7 years of age; wages, 8s.; rent, 2l.  William Jeans.—Family consists of seven persons; there is one bedroom, which contains three beds, in one of which the husband and wife sleep; the second is occupied by three boys, the eldest of whom is 15; and the third by two girls, of the respective ages of 19 and 16; pays 2l. rent; wages 7s.

These are a few of the numerous examples I am enabled to produce, but I think these are amply sufficient to illustrate the horrible mode of existence which prevails here.  I could also produce instances of the most frightful depravity, which it must be evident is the inevitable consequence of this disgusting and indiscriminate herding together of so many persons of both sexes into one common and confined sleeping apartment, but I prefer suppressing them, more especially as they may be easily imagined.  The want of proper ventilation in these houses must be to the last degree detrimental to the health of the inhabitants; the atmosphere, especially of the sleeping apartments, to an unpractised nose is almost insupportable.  It is perhaps worthy of remark that dishes, plates, and other articles of crockery, seem almost unknown; there is, however, the less need for them, as grist bread forms the principal, and I believe only kind of food which falls to the labourer’s lot.  In no single instance did I observe meat of any kind durnig my progress through the parish.  The furniture is such as may be expected from the description I have given of the place –a rickety table and two or three foundered chairs generally forming the extent of the upholstery.  Want, famine, and misery are the features of the village, and yet I am credibly informed that the peasant of the Vale of Blackmore and the western parts of the country is as hungry, emaciated and squalid a being as the denizen of Stourpain.

From this picture of a Dorsetshire parish, it may be readily gathered that apathy and indifference on the part of the landed proprietor, and the grasping and closefisted policy of the farmer, are the causes of the prevailing distress.  The default of the one is apparent in his neglect to provide proper habitations in which the labourer may bring up his family in comfort and decency.  In no country, notwithstanding the universal increase of population, is the want of new cottages so apparent, and the neglect of the landlord, in this point at least, so conspicuous.  The latter, in witholding from the man who serves him a just and reasonable reward for his services, is acting neither wisely nor honourably.  Both seem to have forgotten, or at least have shut their eyes to the undoubted fact, that one of the surest methods of consulting the public advantage is to secure to the lower class comfort and competence.


The Times, Thursday, 2 July, 1846, page 6





Since my last communication I have visited several parishes in the union of Blandford, as well as many other places which are not comprehended within its limited.  My observations have now been extended over a pretty wide district, and have been such as fully to confirm the impression I formed on my first acquaintance with Dorsetshire – namely, that the distress prevalent among the labouring classes had been neither highly coloured or exaggerated.  At every fresh advance the more urgent, because more general, do the “ripe wants” of the labourer appear, and the more pressing seems the necessity for immediate and decided measures for his relief.  The remedy is unfortunately in unwilling hands.  During my inquiries I have been often met with the observation, “The labourer does not complain, where is the necessity for troubling yourself to alter his situation so long as he is satisfied?”  What can be said of the harsh as well mistaken policy which allows him to consume his whole life in one continual and protracted struggle with famine and misery, steeped to the lips in poverty, and lodged in a hovel to which even Lear’s daughters would have felt compunction in consigning him, because he does not complain?  You may, with equal propriety, standing on the brink of a river, with your hands deep in your pockets, calmly and complacently regard the desperate efforts of a drowning man, and withhold your assistance, because he does not call you by name, and implore your aid.  Complain, however, he does, and that bitterly.  The remark savours as little of truth as it does of proper feeling.  He is a patient and much-enduring being, but his murmurs, if not loud, are sufficiently deep to make it evident that he is quite aware of the injustice of which he is the victim, and that he is not so dull as to be blind to the fact that custom and combination have fixed the reward of his daily toil at a miserable and insufficient sum, which can barely procure him the necessaries, none of the comforts and decencies, of life.  At this period of the year, when the beneficial result of his exertions is everywhere to be traced in the luxuriant crops with which the whole country teems, the reflection that he will be the last to fell the benefit of the forthcoming plenty is doubly painful.  As a grayheaded old labourer observed to me to-day, “There will be plenty, if everybody could only get a share of it.”

Perhaps the most effectual way of laying before your readers the real condition of the district will be to give the usual amount of the labourer’s wages, the rent he pays for his cottage, and the other such information as I have been enabled to collect throughout those parishes I have visited.  I will commence the dreary list with Spetisbury, a parish situate about three miles from Blandford, which, though it would scarcely pass current in most other counties, is perhaps the most favourable specimen of a Dorsetshire village which has hitherto come under my observations.  In this parish the wages have lately been raised from 7s. to 8s.; out of this sum, however, 1s. per week is deducted for rent, so that 7s. in money is all that finds its way to the pocket of the labourer.  Here the cottages are for the most part let with the farms, so that, with respect to the labourer, the farmer may be considered as a kind of “middleman.”  This, in a district where house accommodation is so scarce, gives the farmer a most undue advantage over his servants, as it is in his power upon the slightest disagreement between them, either on the score of wages or any other subject, at once to deprive him of the shelter of a roof, thus compelling him to seek refuge in the nearest town, and perhaps forcing upon him the necessity of walking two, four, and even six miles to and from his work each day.  In the back streets of Blandford, I am credibly informed that there are living at this present time as many as 90 labouring families, who have been drive into the town by reason of the impossibility of procuring dwellings in the country.  It may be here remarked that in few instances have I discovered a labourer whose clear wages exceed 7s.  In this village it has been seen that out of 8s., the amount of his weekly earnings, 1s. is appropriated to the payment of house rent.  It should also be mentioned that in Spetisbury those house which are not attached to the farms are usually let at a much higher rate.  In one instance I found a man who was in the weekly receipt of 8s. paying 6/. per annum for his cottage.  In the parish of Sturminster Marshall, things wear a worse aspect.  Here wages do not exceed 7s., and out of this he has often to pay 3/. or 4/. and sometimes even more, for his rent.  The trust system also prevails here to a most shameful extent.  In one instance a farmer, who occupies a considerable number of acres in the parish, at the end of the week, instead of paying his men in money, gives to each man a ticket, which is taken to the shop of his (the farmer’s) mother, and then exchanged for provisions and other such necessaries as the labourer stands in need of.  To use his own phrase, “he is paid across the counter.”  In some instances here the labourer has a small allotment of potato ground, for which I think the general price is 6d. per “lug.”  The next parish is Almer.  Here the usual run of wages is 7s., but in general the cottages are rent-free.  There is, however, ab exception to the usual amount of wages in the case of men in the employ of the principal landed proprietor, who are paid at the rate of 9s. or 10s. per week, but under such circumstances as to render is extremely doubtful whether the increased rate of wages gives them much advantage over their brethren.  It is notorious that the labourers in the employ of this gentleman are sometimes suffered to remain unpaid for 12 or 18 months, and sometimes even two years have elapsed before a final settlement could be procured.  During the whole of this time they live as they best may, either by trust at the shop, or by any other means that lie in their power.  It is, however, due to this gentleman to state, that I have seen a declaration signed by the men in his e employ, expressing their full and entire satisfaction with his mode of payment, and all his other arrangements with respect to themselves.  In Winterbourne Zelston the labourer’s wages are 7s., out of which he has to pay rent, the amount of which varies from 1s. per week up to 3/. 10s. per annum.  Here “grist” is generally 6s. per bushel, and it is a privilege of the [carter] to be allowed to take it at 5s.  In some instances the labourer has his potato ground rent-free; in some other cases he is allowed a certain number of “lug,” provided he will agree to take a like quantity at the rent of 1s. per lug, or 8/. per acre.  At Anderson wages are 7s., but the labourer does not pay house rent, and he has generally a fair allotment of potato ground.  Grist 6s. per bushel.  At Kingston the usual amount of wages is 8s,. out of which rent generally takes 1s. to 1s. 6d. a week, in some cases more.  Grist from 5s. to 7s.  In Milbourne wages are generally 8s., and the houses are for the most part rent-free; they are, however, of the very worst description, and the way in which whole families are in this village packed together is truly frightful.  In two instances I found two large families living together in the same house; in both cases the single bedroom, which is somewhat larger than usual, has been divided by a wooden partition, which, however, does not reach to the thatch, and perhaps may be with more propriety termed a boundary than a partition.  Each of these divisions is occupied by a whole family, the separation thus being between families, and not sexes.  One of the families inhabiting the first of these houses consists of seven persons; in the second a family of nine unfortunate beings are nightly rammed into one of the divisions they are forced to consider a bedroom.  It will easily be conceived that the atmosphere of these dens is most offensive.  In both instances the earth forms the pavement of the lower room, which is the common property of both families.  Both of these houses are the property of the principal land proprietor.  The usual price of grist is here 7s.  In Maiden Newton wages vary from 7s. to 8s.; the latter sum, however, is but seldom paid.  Rent generally 1s. per week; in one instance I found it 5/. per annum.  I will conclude the list with the parish of Handley, which, though last, is not the least deserving of attention as well as animadversion.  The usual run of wages is 7s., but in some few instances 8s.  Some of the cottages in the village, from continual neglect and the total absence of repair, are rendered to that degree that the inmates must be in a continual state of “fear and trembling.”  One of these tenements, which is the property of the parish, deserves particular attention.  A labourer and his family, in all eight person, are the occupiers of this hovel, in which there is but one bedroom for their accommodation.  There is a small opening, about a foot square, in this apartment, which is unglazed, and serves the purpose of a window.  The numerous cracks and fissures in the walls, which on every side present themselves, denote that at no very distant period this disgrace to the parish in which it stands will effectually remove itself.  The furniture in the lower room, which in every respect corresponds with the upper one, consists of one chair of most antique and unsafe appearance, two tables which may be referred to an equally remote period, and a rude wooden bench about four feet long.  The rents of most of the houses in this parish vary from 1s. to 1s. 6d per week.  The labourer here, as in other places, enjoys the “advantage” of grist.

There is one custom which prevails among the farmers of this country which seems to me so extraordinary that I cannot refrain from making mention of it.  It is the repugnance they exhibit to regard a young and unmarried man (with respect to his wages) in any other light than that of a mere boy.  Those who, to use the words of Bardolph, are not “accommodated with a wife,” are usually paid at the rate of 5s. or sometimes 6s. per week.  Not that there is any difference in the nature of his employment, or in the amount of exertion expected from him; in this respect at least he is on a par with his married competitor; he works as hard and as many hours in the day, and is at all times and for all purposes considered as a person of mature age, with the exception of the day on which he receives his wages.  On that occasion he descends from man’s estate, dwindles into a mere boy, and is paid accordingly.  A few days since I had an opportunity of conversing with one of this class, who was in the weekly receipt of 5s.  Though not exactly “bearded like the pard,” his chin had long been conscious of the razor, and his square and “set” appearance sufficiently bore out the truth of his assertion, “that he should never be a better man.”  Upon this subject a Mr. Boniface says (3d. Report of Committee on Agricultural Distress, p.200):-“I have no hesitation in saying, that marriages have constantly occurred from the fact of single men being paid less than married men.  I believe the difference of the wages of single and married men has often the effect of inducing men to marry imprudently.”  It is of course easy to recognize the line of reasoning adopted by the farmer in such cases, but how far justice will bear him out is not worth while to inquire.

The shepherds and carters generally, but by no means universally, enjoy some trifling privileges.  In some instances they live rent-free, and have 8s. per week, which is 1s. more than the ordinary run of wages.  This is intended as a compensation for their being debarred from the benefit of “tut-work,” which the nature of their employment, and the additional time required for the performance of their duties, prevent their undertaking.  “Tut-work” is regarded as one of the principal advantages of the Dorsetshire labourer; and here it will be proper to enumerate the privileges he enjoys, first, however, premising that they are similar to those enjoyed by the labourer of other counties, where his exertions meet with a much more substantial reward in “hard money.”  “Tut-work” is, in other words, working by the piece of job, of which the labourer sometimes avails himself, when he has the opportunity, in order to increase his pittance of wages.  It is true that at “tut-work” a man may, by working beyond the usual hours, earn a trifle more weekly, but, in order to render his privilege beneficial, it is necessary that he should work at least two hours each day beyond the ordinary time, or at all events employ as much extra physical exertion during the day as would be equivalent to two extra hours’ labour.  I will suppose the rate of wages to be 8s. per week, or 1s. 4d. per day, and that a man working by the “tut” extends his exertions two hours beyond the twelve.  This in the course of the week will make an extra day, or, in other words, the man works seven days in the week instead of six, and his wages will therefore exceed those of the ordinary labourer by the price of one day’s work, thus bringing his weekly earnings to 9s. 4d.  It will be found, I think, that “tut-work” is at least as much benefit to the farmer as to the labourer it may in many instances, which may be easily imagined, be of consequence to the farmer to have his work done more speedily than it could be performed in the ordinary course of labour, and it is in fact nothing more than paying an extra price for extra exertion, and which that extra exertion well deserves.  Grist is considered another important privilege of the labourer, but what pretensions it has to the character has already been shown.  Even if sold to the labourer at a fair price, the farmer is equally benefited by the transaction.  I have before me a letter written by the steward f one of the principal landed proprietors in this district, who, speaking on this subject says, “thought by our words it is a very great advantage to them, it is at the same time a safe and ready market for us, and I have considered, and do consider, the benefit to be mutual.”  Another advantage is that the labourer has his fuel “carted” for him by his employer.  This is a concession which, at least, costs the farmer nothing.  There are, of course, times when he can without inconvenience to himself spare his team for a few hours for this purpose, and to make a merit of this indulgence, which common and ordinary charity would suggest, strongly reminds one of “straining at a gnat.”  Lastly, in some instances the labourer is allowed a small piece of ground by his master, for the purpose of raising a crop of potatoes, &c.; but this is far from an universal privilege.  In some places the labourer rents an “allotment” from the landowner, for which he pays some small yearly rent-generally about 2d. per “lug;” but when he is not fortunate enough to secure an allotment, he has often to pay 1s. per lug or at the rate of 8/. per acre, for his garden.  Such are the privileges of the Dorsetshire labourer.

It may perhaps be imagined that greediness and avarice on the part of the employer is all the labourer has to contend with.  This may be generally true, but occasionally instance of unnecessary and gratuitous harshness are to be met with, of which the following is an example:-A child, about three years and a half old, the son of a labourer, residing in Milton Abbas, while running across the road was thrown down by the Magnet coach; the boy’s thigh was broken, and he was otherwise severely injured.  The child’s mother being near her confinement, and unable to attend to her family in consequence of fits produced by fright at the child’s accident, it became necessary to call in a nurse to attend the boy; and the father being unwilling to apply to the board for assistance, requested his master to advance him 8s., in order to procure necessaries for the sufferer.  This application met with a rough refusal.  On a late occasion the same man, after mowing for seven days, during the whole of which time his only diet was bread and barley cake, applied to his master for a few shillings, then due to him, to enable him to purchase some cheese, alleging that his strength was impaired by the want of proper and sufficient food.  This also was refused.  This man, who is considered a first-rate labourer, earns 7s. per week, out of which his employer deducts 6d. for the rent of his cottage.

In one of the county newspapers I recently met with the following passage, which is, I think, deserving of notice.  The venue is laid at Corfe Castle and the vicinity:-

“We thought it was a good opportunity to interrogate several of the working labourers as to the wages they received, &c.  To satisfy ourselves we took three or four as an example, and were highly gratified and pleased at the happy and contented manner in which they answered the different questions put to them.  They all said their earnings throughout the year were 8s. per week, and that many in the village earned extra-wages in hay and corn harvest.  They each had a good cottage to dwell in (wind and water tight), and always kept in good repair’ added to this was a good sized piece of garden-ground well-stocked; each had also a quarter of an acre of potato ground, and so much fuel as they could burn by going after it.  For all these comforts they paid but 2/. per annum, and expressed themselves as being perfectly happy and comfortable.”

I feel something like compunction in making the following statement, which is calculated in some measure to spoil the effect of this pleasing and truly Arcadian picture.  It will readily be conceded that an union workhouse is the last place in which to seek for luxury or superfluities of any kind, and it is will not be denied that the able-bodied and hard-working labourer has at least a right to be as well fed and clothed as the inmate of the workhouse.  In the Blandford Union the average weekly cost per head of the indoor paupers (men, women, and children) for the quarter ending March, 1846, was

Feed    …         …         …         …         …        s.           d.

Feed    …         …         …         …         …        2          2¼

Clothing          …         …         …         …       0          5¼


Total   …         …         …         …         …        2          7½

Now, suppose a labourer’s family to consist of four individuals, himself, wife, and two children’ according to the above extract, the man is in the weekly receipt of 8s., or 2s. for the support of each individual; in the union the sum expended upon each person, as above stated, is 2s. 7½d., or 10s. 6d. for four persons.  Thus, in the labourer’s family there is a weekly deficiency of 2s. 6d., and it will be observed that house-rent finds no place in the calculation.

With this letter I conclude the account of my researches in Blandford and its vicinity.


The Times, Thursday, 2 July, 1846, page 6





Previous to quitting Blandford I entertained an idea, and indulged a secret hope, that it had been my fate in the first instance to stumble on the worst part of the county, though I was repeatedly assured by persons who knowledge of the subject and whose means of information entitled their opinions to respect, that the Blandford district was by no means an unfavourable specimen of Dorsetshire and its labouring classes.  My subsequent experience in the neighbourhood of Corfe Castle, and the other parts into which I have extended my inquiries, has shown me the trust of the observations, and convinced me that the distress of which so loud a complaint has been made is not circumscribed or confined to the narrow limits of a few parishes only.

I was induced to visit Corfe, first, because the distance between it and Blandford affords room for supposition that the prevalent distress, if partial only, would not extend so far, and because the distance between it and Blandford affords room for supposition that the prevalent distress, if partial only, would not extend so far, and because I was anxious to form my judgment of the state of the county in the same way that our lawyers  at a correct notion of the intention and purport of a deed  “by looking at the four corners of it;” and, secondly.  I was allured thither by a somewhat overdrawn picture of the contentment and happiness of the labouring classes in this village, which appeared in one of the county papers a short time since.  It was, however, stated in the paragraph to which I allude, that the usual amount of wages was 8s. per week, and I was curious to ascertain by what cunning contrivances and ingenious devices of the Corfe peasant this sum, so miserably inadequate to the decent and comfortable maintenance of a labouring family in one part of the county, should be found all-sufficient in another.  This problem, I must confess, my visit to Corfe did not enable me to solve.

I found the rate of wages usually paid here to be 8s., as stated in the above-mentioned journal; the carter, in some instances, earning as much as 9s. up to 15s. weekly.  The want of sufficient house accommodation is most severely felt in Corfe.  In one instance, I found a man, who was employed in the clay pits and warning 15s. per week, occupying a garret in the “poor-house,” where, in a single room in which I could barely stand upright, himself and his family, numbering in all eight individuals, are herded together.  In one of the beds a child was lying ill of what the mother termed “slow fever,” and was apparently in a dying state.  She informed me that another of her children died of the same complaint about three weeks previously, and that she had at different times lost three of her family.  This mortality would not be surprising to any one whose nostrils had been offended by the impure and loathsome atmosphere of the den which this man is forced to consider his home.  To my question, how a man in the receipt of 15s. weekly could be content to pass his life in so wretched and unwholesome an abode, and why he did not procure a dwelling more suitable to the number of his family, the ready answer was, that houses were so scarce and difficult “to come by” that they were compelled to remain where they were.  In another part of the same building a man and his family were in the occupation of two rooms, in one of which the whole family slept.  The eldest son is 19 years of age, the eldest daughter 20.  I also visited other houses in the village, and in one instance found two families in the joint occupation of a small cottage.  One of these families numbers seven individuals, two of whom want of space compels to find their night’s lodging at the house of a neighbour which is not so thickly tenanted.  This is by no means the only instance I have observed of the kindly disposition of the labouring classes towards each other, and their keen appreciation of the value of mutual assistance.  The second family in this house consists of four persons.  Both this cottage and some others I visited, which I was given to understand were the property of gentlemen in the neighbourhood, exhibit signs of the most culpable neglect on the part of the owners.  Judging from the filthy appearance of the walls, which are black with age and dirt, one feels disposed to imagine that the art of making whitewash, like that of staining glass, is lost.  Here and there the bare laths of the partitions, which have been long denuded of their coat of plaster, are to be seen, and contribute to the comfortless and wretched appearance of them.  I may here observe, and the remark will apply to every part of the county I have hitherto visited, that nowhere, especially among the younger part of the population, have I met with so many cases of personal deformity, as well as other natural defects, such as deafness, dumbness, and idiocy, the causes of which I think may clearly be traced to the want of proper and sufficient food, and the general mode of life which prevails among the lower classes.

Leaving Corfe, I next visited Beaminster, from which town I date this letter.  The hasty observations one is enabled to make even while travelling from one part of the county to another, are amply sufficient to show that distress and want are by no means confined to particular parishes or districts.  In passing through the different villages which lie scattered along the road, the attention is often arrested by the frail and miserable appearance of the cottages, many of which are supported by props, and, in fact, every contrivance for keeping failing and tottering walls together seems to be resorted to; and occasionally an open door, which reveals a mud floor and the usual heap of squalid half-clothed children rolling upon it, serves to remind you that you are in Dorsetshire.

Since my arrival at Beaminster I had had an opportunity of visiting several places in the neighbourhood; where a separate description is required for each of several places, all of which bear a marked resemblance to each other, it is difficult to avoid tediousness.  Here, as in other places, the same scarcity and inadequate rate of wages “mock the useful toil” of the labourer, and the same comfortless and dirty abode awaits his return from his daily occupation.  The “poor houses” in some parishes in this neighbourhood are particularly deserving of reprehension.  The building in the parish of Yetminster which rejoices in the above title is perhaps as complete a scene of wretchedness as the county is capable of producing.  Within four walls of this place I was informed that upwards of 60 persons are living, and certainly a more neglected and unfit abode for human beings cannot be well imagined.  Dirt and misery are the only features of the place.  In one apartment my attention was drawn to a large aperture in the ceiling, which afforded a partial view the room above.  I inquired of the wife of the occupier if she was not apprehensive of the children falling through it into the lower room; and she explained to me that she was in the habit of covering it with a board to prevent such a catastrophe.  These kind of contrivances are common; in one of the bedrooms I found a large hole in the roof stopped by the remnant of a sack in order to render the room wind and water tight, which, however, I was informed in wet weather it failed to do.  The windows present one mass of rages and similar materials, the use of glass having long been discontinued in repairing them.  Two or three cottages tenanted by labourers, and which I believe are also the property of the parish, stand close to the above edifice, and are in admirable keeping with it.  At Chetnole, the adjourning parish, the “poor houses” are in an equally disgraceful condition.  They consist of a row of four or five mud-built cottages, which, I believe, are for the most part tenanted by aged and infirm labourers.  Here a ladder is generally the means of communication between the upper and lower apartments, in the former of which the thatch forms the ceiling.  One of the inhabitants informed me that he was obliged to sit upon the bed while dressing and undressing himself, and I was convinced of the necessity of so doing by mounting the ladder, and inspecting the height and dimensions of the room.  In both these parishes wages are usually 8s. per week; at certain seasons –haymaking and harvest, for instance – they earn more.  The advantage they reap from the additional sum earned at these times is, however, counterbalanced by their being occasionally out of work.

At Netherbury the amount of wages varies from 7s. to 8s.  Rent is here high; in one instance I found a labourer paying 5/. 10s. for his cottage, to which, however, 20 “gourd” of potato ground was added.  This man has a family of five children, none of whom are capable of earning anything.  His wages are 8s.  Another labourer in this parish pays 4/. rent; wages 7s.  He has a family of six children, some of whom are employed in making fishing nets, the proceeds of which, he considers, will generally cover his rent.  I met with one case here which would have surprised me had it occurred in any county but Dorsetshire.  A labourer who has for some time been invalided and incapable of work, is allowed by the parish the weekly sum of 4s., and four loaves.  Out of this miserable pittance the relieving-officer regularly deducts a certain sum for poor-rates! and I was shown six or seven receipts for money which had for this purpose been stopped from his allowance.  This is, perhaps, as farcical an instance of “close shaving” as can readily be met withal.  I will next take you to Broadwindsor.  Here in several instances barley is substituted for wheat in the manufacture of bread; the usual amount of wages is 7s., and in some cases 8s., and I think rent generally varies from 1s. to 1s. 6d. per week.  I will give you the subject-matter of a conversation I had with a man who keeps huckster’s shop in this parish, which will obviate the necessity of wading through a tedious list of examples of the distress which reigns in this village.  He informed me, that a short time since he reviewed his trade books for the whole time had been in business in Broadwindsor, which is now 11 years.  He found upon the average that he had lost by bad debts the sum of 2s. each and every week during that period.  He did not attribute this deficiency to anything like dishonesty or disinclination to pay on the part of his pauper customers, but to sheer inability.  On one occasion a debtor deposited with him his coat, which, however, he was good-naturedly in the habit of returning on Sundays, in order to enable the owner to make his appearance in church.  At Mosterton rent is as high, wages as low, and families as large, as in other parts of the district.  I have also seen some wretched abodes in the outskirts of Beaminster, the inmates of which are perpetually occupied in endeavouring to discover by what means a family may be supported upon 7s. per week, rent of course forming part of the calculation.  This completes the list of places I have hitherto had an opportunity of visiting in this part of the county.  I am, however, informed that there are yet several places well worthy of attention, and should I discover anything deserving of exposure in my future inquiries, it shall find a place in my next letter.

During my stay in this town I have had an opportunity of conversing with a gentleman who officiates as steward to Lord Portarlington.  He has called my attention to my first letter from this county, in which, speaking of the parish of Milton Abbas, I stated that 7s. per week was the usual rate of wages.  He has mentioned to me that one farmer in that parish, who has generally 20 men in his employ, pays each 8s. per week without conferring on them the “advantage” of grist.  Those in the employ of his Lordship, the same gentleman informs me, are usually paid from 9s. to 12s. per week.  It will be found, on reference to the above-mentioned letter, that I expressly guarded myself from asserting that 7s. was the highest rate of wages, but it is, nevertheless, the usual sum paid by the farmer, his Lordship and the other gentlemen forming their exceptions.  With regard to the scarcity of cottages in this parish, and their consequently crowded state, no denial was attempted.  To those gentlemen who plume themselves on paying 8s. per week to their labourers I would venture to remark, that I think an advance may be made even on that sum with great benefit to the labourer, and without any material disadvantage to themselves.  From the best information I have been able to collect, I think there are few counties in which rent is so moderate as in Dorsetshire, and by taking this circumstance into consideration when paying his men the price of their weekly toil the farmer would be doing no more than what justice requires of him.  It is also incumbent on me to state, both as an act of justice to his Lordship, and as furnishing an example which other landowners would do well to follow, that he granted to six aged labourers a weekly pension of 6s. for life, thus enabling them to pass the remainder of their days without seeking for the means of supporting life at that common resort of age and infirmity – the union.


The Times, Friday, 24 July 1846, page 5





Since my last communication I have been occupied in an investigation of that unhappy district which lies which lies west of Bridport, and situate between that town and Lyme-Regis.  This region, as well as the whole adjacent country, which I have also traversed, in general wretchedness and misery yields to no part of the county.  The changes must again be rung upon low wages, hunger, starvation, misery, and filth, all of which flourish here with a luxuriance alike peculiar to the western parts of England and disgraceful to those upon whom rank and wealth have conferred the means, but who nevertheless lack the inclination, to check the monstrous and crying evil.  More shortsighted and stupid indifference, both on the part of the landed, proprietor and the farmer, cannot be imagined.  The labourer confines himself to mere complaint – mild and gentle remonstrance is at present the sharpest weapon in his hands.  The farmer, “thrice armed” in the panoply of selfishness and avarice, is secure – his harness is proof against such inefficient artillery.  His drudge is therefore left to pursue his rough and thorny path through life unheeded and uncared for, as he has done for years past, and as, unless some stringent measures be taken in hand, he will continue to do for years to come.

Several times, when alluding to the miserable and filthy abodes which serve to shelter the labourer and his family, I have been told – “Oh! that man is a freeholder; it is no fault of ours if he lives in the wretched hovel you describe.  The remedy is in his own hands.  Why does he not keep his dwelling in a better and more habitable condition?”  The history of the “freehold” will prove a sufficient answer to this objection, and I am induced to give it now, because in that district which will form part of the subject of the present letter there are more freeholds than in any part of the county I have hitherto visited.  It is this:- A young labourer marries, his chief reason for so doing probably being, as I have stated in a former letter, to remove the impression from his master’s mind that he is a mere boy, and to secure himself the wages of a man, to which, in all probability, he has for years been entitled.  For some time after the mysterious ceremony which at once raises him from infancy to the dignity of manhood, he rejoices in a weekly income of 7s., having previously been in receipt of perhaps half that sum.  As time rolls on, however he finds that several other mouths are clamorous for bread besides those of his wife and himself.  His family rapidly increases.  Children crowd thick and fast upon him, and he begins to experience great difficulty in finding the means of subsistence for half a dozen “olive branches”, and in paying rent out of his scanty wages.  He therefore determines at least to relieve himself from the burden of rent, and the only means which present themselves for so doing is to become a “squatter”.  He accordingly goes wandering along the road and through the by-lanes until he finds an unoccupied portion of ground adapted for his purpose.  If the spot he selects will afford him not only room for the proposed building, but also the narrow and wedge-shaped strip of land sometimes attached to these mansions on which a few potatoes may be raised, he is thrice happy.  He then collects a few cart-loads of dirt, a small portion of straw to cut into short lengths, which serves to combine and give adhesiveness to the mud of which the walls of his future dwelling are to consist, and a few planks whereof to form a door complete the catalogue.  He works at his newly-undertaken task a few hours at a stretch as he can find time; “anon out of the earth” the fabric rises; in due season his family is removed to this promising abode; and here, in a single room, ceiled by the straw thatch, one end of which, curtained off by a moth-eaten and tattered blanket, or some similar material, constitutes the sleeping apartment in which the whole family repose, and o the mud floor of which is children pass their infancy-here, in the midst of the filth, squalor, and wretchedness, the man and his family drag on their existence until the lapse of years (if he be not disturbed in the enjoyment of his tenement in the meantime) raises him to the rank and importance of a “freeholder.”  Thus it is necessity in the first place that forces the honour upon him; and I think, as a general rule, “freeholders” in this county are numerous in proportion to the distress which prevails in a district.

The hamlet of Morcombe Lake, in the parish of Whitechurch, is peculiarly rich in “freeholders.”  It is impossible to avoid drawing a comparison between this district and some parts of Ireland.  Poverty and inability to pay rent, or scarcity of houses, here, as in the sister island, compels the peasant to turn “Squatter”.  Here also, as in several other parts of the county, the farmer appropriates small patches of manured land to his labourer’s use, for which he demands and exacts rent at the rate of 8% or 9% per acre, and I have even heard of instances in which the sum of 10% per acre has been paid for the slip of ground on which the peasant raises a few sacks of potatoes to eke out his miserable means of subsistence.  I have often been informed by the labourer that were it not for his potato ground he would have no resource by the union, and I do not think it improbable that they would consent to pay even a higher rent rather than be deprived of it.

The resemblance between this and the “conacre” system in Ireland is of course obvious.  It will be necessary before quitting Morcombe Lake to introduce your readers to a few of the mud-built freeholds with which the place abounds.  In one of them I found an emaciated-looking woman surrounded by children, who gave me a long and minute account of penury and hunger, and finished her recital by begging that I would bestow charity upon here, saying she was in the deepest distress, “and did not know where to turn for 6d.”  She also informed me that her husband was in daily expectation of being summoned for non-payment of poor-rates, which demand he could not by any possibility satisfy.  I was also directed to another of these abodes at some little distance from the one I have just described.  I regret much that the absence of inmates deprived me of an opportunity of conversing with them.  The hovel they inhabit, however, speaks volumes.  It does not boast a chimney, and the smoke, I presume, finds a vet at the door.  The thatch is composed of straw, here and there repaired with faggot-wood, which circumstance perhaps, in some degree obviates the necessity of a chimney.  The door was locked (a most unnecessary precaution on the part of the owner), and I was compelled to seek for information as to the internal accommodation at the window.  The darkness of the interior and the dingy and dirty state of the glass prevented any very clear insight into the domestic arrangements of the owner; but I was enabled, after some time, to distinguish a filthy and unwholesome-looking bed, on which a large leaden dish, containing the remnants of a potato meal, was placed, which induces me to suppose that it sometimes also did duty as a table.  I visited several other of these freeholds, but the example I have furnished will amply suffice to enable you to form a just idea of their merits.  Wages, in both this and the adjoining parishes, are lower than in any part of the county I have yet visited, and it may also be added that distress is by no means confined to the labouring classes.  In passing through Chideock, I observed a number of ragged children playing in front of a miserable-looking dwelling, the mother of whom informed that her husband was a shoemaker.  She gave to understand that his trade was paralyzed, and in fact, ruined by the prevailing scarcity of money, and that he was himself as much the victim of want as the labourer.  Despite the fact of the sire of these little unfortunates being a disciple of St. Crispin, the epithet Homer bestows upon his Greeks was by means applicable to them.  One little wretch was barefooted, and another, a boy whose height was probably something above four fee, was shuffling about in a pair of dilapidated boots, evidently the discarded property of some stalwart and full-sized individual.

The same privations and distress are to be remarked in Hawkchurch : mud hovels, the windows of which are repaired with the remains of disused tin kettles, rags, and, in fact, any thing rather than glass, on every side greet the sight.  The price of labour in this parish, as usual is fixed at the lowest sum on which life can be supported.  At Pilsdon an improvement in the cottages is visible, but with regard to wages no difference is apparent.

I cannot resist giving you the subject of a conversation I had with a youth 18 years of age, whom I overtook on the road near Morcombe Lake.  He was in conjunction with another lad younger than himself, in charge of a team and waggon, and I inquired of him, among other things, what were his earnings?  He replied, that at present he was in the receipt of 2s. per week, but that sometimes he was enabled to earn an additional sixpence.  Two shillings were, however, the regular amount of his wages.  I expressed some surprise at a person of his age and strength not being able to earn more; to which he answered, “He did earn more, but was not paid it.”  This infant of tender years was nevertheless, at the time of our interview, acting as carter, and was in the performance of duties for which in other counties 16s. or 12s. would not be considered an unreasonable remuneration.  I am, perhaps, in relating the above, laying myself open to the charge of dealing in extreme cases, but several instances similar to the above are to be found throughout the county.  I have in a previous letter remarked upon the numberless cases of idiocy and deformity which have come under my observation.  Nowhere are they so numerous as in this district.  I think I may safely say that one out of every four families contains an instance of this kind.  There seems to be a general prostration of intellect throughout this end of the county.  Continual want and misery seem to have dimmed their powers of perception; and, beyond building a mud hovel and growing a few potatoes, they do not possess an idea.  The necessity of shelter, and hunger, are the only two sources from which all their mental operations arise.

In the immediate vicinity of Sherborne distress does not prevail to the extent it does in other parts of the county.  Within the last 12 months the amount of wages has risen.  The silk factories in the town afford employment to the female portion of the working classes.  A girl 16 years of age can earn from 4s. to 5s. per week, and they look clean and tolerably healthy, qualities not usually found among the labouring classes of Dorsetshire.  This state of things is unfortunately confined within a narrow compass.  A very short walk from the town brings you into the midst of ruinous cottages, low wages, and the usual discontent.  At the Comptons, two villages separated from each other by a small stream, there are some wretched and insecure hovels to be seen, the inmates of which are in the receipt of the lowest wages.  Some of these wretched abodes have fallen down, and several others show most indubitable symptoms of decay; but here, as in other places, no newly built ones are to be seen.  Pointington is another stronghold of distress.  The houses here are in a wretched state, and 7s. is the highest amount of wages.  During hay and corn harvest, when hands are scarce, labourers from the adjoining parishes are allured hither by the offer of 8s. per week; under the thumb of his employer, experiences no increase in his scanty pay.  Rent generally varies from 1s. to 1s. 6d. per week; potato ground is rented at 1s. per “lug,” or at the rate of 8% per acre.  At Lillington the cottages are in some instances disgracefully crowded.  In one case I found a man and a family of eight individuals of all ages crammed into one small sleeping apartment.  At Glanville’s Wooten the same distress is to be found.  I here encountered a journeyman blacksmith who was earning 8s. per week.  The hovel in which this man lives is built of rough unhewn stones, and the interior boasts neither plaster nor whitewash; it is, in fact, four walls and a roof, et proeterea nihil.  It were “tedious as a thrice-told tale” to give you a full and circumstantial account of all the places I have visited.  At Holnest, Folke, and the adjacent villages, but little, if any improvement is visible.   The buildings, yclept “parish houses,” in some of the villages in the district are disgraceful.

It is almost impossible for a stranger to remain a few days in any town of Dorsetshire without discovering some new and ingenious method of straitening the means of the labourer.  On the first day of my arrival in Sherborne I observed, while working through the town, several rakes of most formidable dimensions exposed for sale at a shop door.  Curiosity induced me to inquire the use of these mammoth implements, and the answer to my queries on the subject was, that they were used at corn harvest to rake the fields after the crop had been carried off.  So that the labourer starving on 7s. per week, eating detestable grit bread, badly clothed, and worse lodged, is deprived even of the miserable consolation of gleaning, that privilege which Scripture has expressly declared shall belong to the poor, and which custom and usage from time immemorial have accorded them.

Comment is superfluous.  Elsewhere this might excite surprise.  Here, however, it forms part of the system and is in admirable keeping with the rest of the line of conduct pursued by the farmer towards the labourer.


The Times, Monday, 3 August 1846, page 3




The state of the labouring classes in the vicinity of Cerne Abbas is quite in unison with the rest of this miserable county. In almost every parish instances of misery are to be found such as few would imagine this country could produce. It would be tedious alike to your readers and to myself to attempt and lengthened detail or minute description of all the examples which have come under my observation. Destitution and distress are by this time probably as familiar to them as to myself. It will suffice generally to say that this part of the country is in every respect in strict keeping with that I have already described.

There is, however, one spot in the neighbourhood of Cerne, whose “bad eminence” in scenes of want and hunger demands special attention. This place, which is called Rue, is a small hamlet in the parish of Buckland Newton, and is situated about half a mile from the main village. It contains about 12 or 13 cottages only; but within these narrow boundaries more distress is to be met withal than any one unacquainted with Dorsetshire would readily be disposed to believe. Most of these abodes are the property of the parish, and are tenanted rent free; the remainder are principally the property of a small proprietor, whose means of livelihood are partly derived from this source; the rent of these is generally about 15s. per week. It should also be stated that the latter, thought of the most cramped and confined dimensions, are in much better repair and infinitely more habitable than those belonging to the parish. It is, however, comparison only which makes them passable.

I met with one case here which, though I am by this time tolerably well prepared for any amount of destitution, has nevertheless astonished and puzzled me. A woman whose husband was transported about four years ago is the tenant of one of these cottages, for which she pays 1s. weekly. She has an allowance from the parish of 2s. and four loaves, and her eldest son is in the weekly receipt of 1s. 6d. She is sometimes during the summer months enabled to earn a little herself by working in the hay fields; &c, but this is not often the case. Thus the general income of the family is 3s. 6d. in money, and four loaves per week. On this slender pittance five persons are dependent for support, viz., the mother, three children, and an aged woman, who, I was informed, was “foster mother” to the woman herself. All these occupy one sleeping apartment of the smallest possible dimensions. Deducting 1s. per week for rent from the family income, we have 2s. 6d. and four loaves for their maintenance, being 6d. per week in money (independent of the allowance of bread) for each person. I confess I do not understand how a family of so many individuals can support life on so small a pittance, and I recommend this case to the notice of the parish authorities, who have more tangible means than myself of arriving at the true circumstances of the case. The above is the version I received from the woman herself, and it was given me with every appearance of sincerity and truth. The “Parish houses” here are in a truly disgraceful condition; a few only of them which have lately been newly-thatched are water tight, and of the rest it may truly be said that the inmates may go to bed by starlight. In many instances the sky is visible through the roof of the bedroom, the communication between which apartment and the lower room is generally by means of a ladder. In rainy weather the bedroom is generally untenable in consequence of the water which finds it way through the roof in perfect cataracts. At such times the inmates are obliged to rise, and pass the night in the lower room in the best way circumstances will allow, on the mud floor, in the cavities of which the water after rain stands in pools. The tenant of one of these hovels showed me a large aperture in the floor of the sleeping apartment through which he informed me one of his children had lately fallen, but fortunately was not much injured by the accident. In these houses the beds are generally made up on the floor, a bedstead (as well as shoes and stocking among the younger denizens of the place) being a rare thing, and not commonly seen. A decrepit old woman who has lost a leg in consequence of some painful disease, is, with her two daughters, in the occupation of another of these abodes of wretchedness. Her daughters are both suffering from the same complaint which cost the mother her limb, the eldest of whom is an idiot. How this unfortunate woman, maimed as she is, manages each night to mount the ladder which communicates with the bedroom, and thread the aperture which opens into that apartment, I cannot pretend to explain. It is however a task, which experience has shown me, requires some degree of caution and heed even in a person with the usual complement of limbs. In one or two instances I found two families in the joint occupation of one of these dwellings, and it is almost needless to observe that but little or rather no distinction between the sexes is observable during the hours of repose.

There is also a parish called Hook, in the neighbourhood of Beaminster, to which my attention has been directed since I left that town, and which I have since had an opportunity of visiting. The nature of the distress which exists here will also justify a few remarks. The wages of the labourer are here the very lowest on which life can be supported, and the dwellings appropriated to him are, in most instances, absolutely ruinous, and demand the assistance of props both inside and out to keep them from the ground. I have some reason to suppose my arrival in this village was in some degree expected and prepared for. In the first house at which I applied for information, I found a young woman of about 20 or 21 years of age, and a child of about eight years, the rest of the family being absent at their daily occupation. She informed me she was the eldest daughter of the inmate of the cottage. I inquired what was the amount of her father’s earnings. She “did not know.” I next asked what rent they paid for their house. To this also she pleaded ignorance. I then ventured to ask how many children her father had. She “could not recollect,” but the child who was present, to the last query, answered in an undertone “six,” for which she was immediately reprimanded and silenced. In general I have found throughout my inquiries no unwillingness to afford information. The labourer generally seems too happy to have an opportunity of relating his grievances, and in general, I think, the chief thing to be guarded against is exaggeration. In the case I have just mentioned I feel little doubt but that strict injunctions of silence had been laid on this man and his family. I, however, discovered others whom want had rendered more communicative, and who afforded me long and minute accounts of distress and poverty. It is impossible to conceive the miserable state in which the inhabitants of this village pass their lives. They are the victims of every evil attendant upon want and insufficient lodging. The almost total absence of furniture is a conspicuous feature in this place. It generally consists of a couple of rough benches and a foundered table, the latter usually set against a wall in order to supply the deficiency of a leg.

I have, in a previous letter, alluded to the immorality and depravity necessarily consequent on the indiscriminate herding together of the sexes during the hours of repose. I am induced  to return to this subject by an account of some of the doings at a “club meeting” which occurred in the parish of Stourpaine shortly after my visit to that place. My information is derived from a quarter on which, unfortunately, too much reliance is to be placed. At this meeting instances of obscenity and depravity occurred which would surpass belief, and which it is impossible to describe. Suffice it to say that in England, and in the nineteenth century, scenes are enacted which can at least rival, if not exceed, the disgusting orgies of antiquity.

It will not be improper, in this my concluding letter on this painful subject, to invite attention to the following list of “friendly societies,” which have been enrolled among the records of the county of Dorset during the period of five years ending March 31, 1846. The object of these societies is in case of the illness of any member, to secure him to the same weekly sum he would be enabled to earn if in health, though sometimes the amount received it 1s. per week under that sum. This will, of course, afford a ready clue to the amount of wages throughout the county, and I think it will be found that they scarcely average 7s. per week.

 Name of Society   Place where established  Allowance to Sick Members
Friendly Society of Tradesmen Cranbourne 10s. per week for the first 8 weeks, and 6s. per week during remainder of illness.
Friendly and Benefit Society . Stourpaine 1s. per day for 6 days; afterwards 7s. per week for 8 weeks; 4s. per week for remainder of illness.
Congregational Benefit Society. Weymouth 5s. 6d. per week.
Friendly Society. Wimborne Minster 6s. per week for first 12 months, and 3s. 6d. for remainder of illness.
Evershot Female Friendly Society. Evershot 4s. per week for first 4 weeks, and 8s. during remainder of illness.
Yetminster Friendly Society. Yetminster 3s. per week for the first month, and 2s. during remainder of illness.
Thomford Union Friendly Society. Thomford
Stalbridge Provident Friendly Society. Stalbridge 1st class, 9s. per week; 2d class, 6s. per week; 3d class, 3s. per week.
Friendly and Benefit Society. Stourpaine 7s. per week for 9 weeks; 4s. per week for 17 weeks; and 2s. 6d. for remainder of illness.
Friendly Society of Foresters. Stalbridge 7s. per week for first 16 weeks; 3s. 6d. per week during remainder of illness.
Hope Tradesmen’s Benefit Society. Shaftesbury 6s. per week for 8 weeks; 4s. per week during remainder of illness.
Beaminster Friendly Society. Beaminster 5s. per week for 4 weeks; 3s per week during remainder of illness.
Friendly Society. Broadminster 5s. per week for first 3 months; 3s. 6d. per week for next 4 months; 1s. 6d. during remainder of illness.
Cerne Friendly Society. Cerne Abbas 7s. per week for first 8 weeks; 6s. per week for next 8 weeks; and 4s. per week for remainder of illness.
Evershot Friendly Society. Evershot 5s. per week for first 4 weeks; 4s. per week for next 8 weeks; and 3s. per week during remainder of illness.
Friendly Society. Wareham 6s. per week for first 6 months; 4s. per week during remainder of illness.
Dorchester Tradesmen’s and Mechanics’ Friendly Society. Dorchester 10s. per week for first 6 months; 7s. per week during remainder of illness.
Friendly and Benefit Society. Strickland 7s. per week for 12 months; 4s. per week during remainder of illness.
Friendly Society for Dorchester, Fordington and neighbourhood Friendly Society. Bero Regis 6s. per week for 6 months; 4s. afterwards during continuation of illness.
Dorchester Benefit and Friendly Society Dorchester 7s. per week for 6 months; 5s. per week during remainder of illness.
Society of Tradesmen and others. Kington Magna 7s. per week for 4 months; 5s. per week during continuance of illness.
Benefit and Friendly Society. Gunville 5s. for first week; 7s. for next 11 weeks; and 4s. per week during remainder of illness.
Blandford Friendly Society. Blandford 8s. per week for 12 weeks; 6s. per week for remainder of illness.
Female Society. Cerne Abbas 4s. per week for first month; 2s. 6d. per week for remainder of illness.
Symondsbury Friendly Society. Symondsbury 5s. per week when confined to bed; 3s. per week when not confined to bed. The amount of such relief not to exceed. 5l.
Longfleet Friendly Society. Longfleet 7s. per week for 12 months; and 4s. per week during remainder of illness.
The Rool Society. Rool 7s. per week for first year, and 4s. per week for remainder of illness.
Shillingstone Friendly and Benefit Society. Shillingstone 4s. for first week, 7s. for eight following weeks; 4s. per week during remainder of illness.
Okeford Fitzpaine Benefit and Friendly Society. Okeford Fitzpaine 4s. for the first week, 7s. for the eight following weeks; 4s. during remainder of illness.
Friendly Society. Litton Cheney 5s. per week for four weeks; 3s. per week during continuation of illness.
Shaftesbury New True Blue Tradesmens’ Friendly and Benefit Society. Shaftesbury 9s. per week for eight weeks; afterwards 4s. per week during remainder of illness.
Friendly Society. Corfe Castle 1s. per day until the sick member has received 15l; afterwards 8d. per day during remainder of illness.
Bere Regis Friendly Society. Bere Regis 6s. per week for first six months; 4s. per week during remainder of illness.

Thus it will be seen that in purely agricultural districts, the sick pay is scarcely an average of 7s. per week. The town clubs, such as those at Dorchester, and other places, are chiefly composed of tradesemen and mechanics; and these, of course, have nothing to do with the question before us.

The following extracts, which I have taken from a book upon agricultural distress, published by the Rev. D. Davies, in 1795, will also, I think, proven interesting; and they will sufficiently show that the state of the day labourer has been gradually growing worse from the middle of the fourteenth century to the present time.


Ordinary price of day labour…    …            0s. 2d.

Price of a quarter of wheat …     …             3s. 4d. to 4s.

Medium…           …            …            …        3s. 8d.

Thus it took 22 days to earn 1 quarter of wheat.


Pay of a labourer, per day…        …            0s. 8d.

Price of a quarter of wheat…      …            5s. to 5s. 6d.

20 to 22 days to earn 1 quarter of wheat.


Pay of a labourer, per day…        …            0s. 3d.

Price of a quarter of wheat…      …            7s. 6d.

26 days to earn 1 quarter of wheat.


Pay of a labourer, per day…        …            13d.

Price of a quarter of wheat…      …            40s.

37 days to earn 1 quarter of wheat.


Pay of a labourer, per day…        …            14d.

Price of a quarter of wheat…      …            48s.

41 days to earn 1 quarter of wheat.


Pay of a labourer, per week…    …            7s.

Price of a bucked of “grist”

“tailings” or “seconds”…               …           7s.

56 days to earn 1 quarter of “grist.”

I now close my mission. The state of the Dorsetshire labourer has been fully displayed in your columns, and surely now that his case is known, it can not fail to awaken the general compassion in his favour, and procure for this deserving class able and zealous advocates who will plead the cause with effect, and rescue him from the miserable and abject state into which he is sunk.