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Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

Letter on 'The Trend to the Towns' (S582a: 1900)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A letter to the Editor printed on page 4 of the 28 November 1900 issue of The Morning Leader (London). To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S582A.htm

To the Editor of "The Morning Leader."

    Sir;--I regret to find that both Mr. Fletcher and most of your correspondents on the subject of "The Trend to the Towns" assume that the real and sufficient cause of the fact is the absence of social pleasures and amusements in villages as compared with those in large cities, and that a contributory, but not the most important, cause is the generally low wages of agricultural laborers.

    The true--the fundamental cause--goes much deeper. It is simply the hopelessness of the laborer's life, no secure prospect of advancement let him work as hard as he can, no security even after half a century of labor of a restful and independent old age.

    In the few cases where landowners do allow every kind of worker to have as much land as he wishes or requires, at agricultural rents and on a secure tenure, all the supposed attractions of the towns are powerless, and the rural population increases instead of diminishes.

    One of the best-known cases is that of Lord Carrington, who has estates in Buckinghamshire and Lincolnshire. In the former county, and within 50 miles of London, Lord Carrington has nearly a thousand tenants of small holdings of various sizes; and so far from these people being attracted to London, the demand for these holdings continues to be beyond the supply. The tenants are not only agricultural laborers, but mechanics and small tradesmen, who all find the secure possession of land of the greatest value in their various occupations often making all the difference between success and failure. On the land thus let out the produce is on the average about three times that of the same kind of land when let to tenant-farmers; and Lord Carrington informs us that these small holders almost invariably succeed, hardly ever give up their holdings, but frequently want to increase them, and all pay their rents with the greatest punctuality. We have here, therefore, two enormous gains. The country gains by a threefold amount of produce, especially in wheat, showing that were the people allowed to cultivate the land for themselves we should be quite independent of foreign food; while laborers of all kinds remain prosperous and contented in the country.

    Exactly similar results are described on the Lincolnshire estates; while even more remarkable are those on the late Lord Tollemache's estates in Cheshire, where every laborer has land at an agricultural rent and on a secure tenure, sufficient for the keep of a cow, while additional land is given whenever it can be profitably employed. Outsiders were also encouraged to build upon the estate by being offered leases at low ground rents, with the option of having five or ten acres of pasture for a cow or horse at agricultural rents. Retired tradesmen and professional men thus became settled on the land, all employing a certain amount of labor, and being customers to the various farmers and others for farm and garden produce. A self-sufficing and prosperous community was thus initiated; and even the tenant-farmers, who at first were strongly opposed to Lord Tollemache's system of settling the laborers on the land, as making them too independent and thus raising wages afterwards came to acknowledge that they were mistaken, and that the system was as beneficial to them as to the laborers. This was because a large body of workers of all kinds was retained in the district, and these were always ready to work for good wages in hay-time and harvest, and thus crops were often saved which without such prompt help would have been lost.

    It would require a volume to give every published case of similar results wherever similar causes have been at work, but enough has been said to show what are the fundamental causes of the "drift to the towns," and that the alleged superior attractions of the towns and the supposed "dulness" of the country have the very smallest share in it. If your various correspondents who have adopted the latter view would test its accuracy by putting the case fairly to any young laborers in a number of villages, and accurately record their answers, I have no doubt as to the result.

--Yours, &c.,
Alfred Russell Wallace.

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