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Subject: ‘Farming’

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England’s wealthy had no intention of sharing their riches

Posted in Farming, Historical articles, History, Industry, Institutions, Law, Politics on Friday, 21 February 2014

This edited article about the Tolpuddle Martyrs first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 562 published on 21 October 1972.

Tolpuddle Martyrs shunned,  picture, image, illustration
Even when the Tolpuddle Martyrs were pardoned, their neighbours regarded them as convicts and avoided them, by Ken Petts

The picture of death, with its grim, gaunt features, was six feet high and awesome, terrifying. It seemed to fill the cramped room of the cottage at Tolpuddle, Dorset, glowering down upon the two initiates who knelt cringing before it.

For John Lock and Edward Legg, the sight increased the fears already fostered by the atmosphere of secrecy, and the solemn, white-robed figures of George Loveless and his brother James.

“Remember your fate!” James warned them, pointing to the picture, and it was in trembling awareness of exactly that, that Legg and Lock then took an oath never to reveal to outsiders anything of the agricultural workers’ union they were about to join.

Scenes like this deliberately designed to appeal to primitive fears and stir deep-rooted superstition, were not uncommon in the forming of trade unions. Intelligent men like George Loveless, founder of the Tolpuddle union in December 1833, disliked such ritual, but in the circumstances there was little alternative.

It was virtually the only way to impress illiterate workers, whose spirits had been withered into apathy by endless labour and absolute poverty.

As far as rural England was concerned, the myth persisted of the sturdy industrious peasant happily labouring in fresh fields and unpolluted air. This was indeed a myth, as George Loveless and his fellow unionists knew only too well, for a wage that never exceeded nine shillings a week offered nothing but despair.

There was little health or happiness to be found in the wretched insanitary hovels most employers grudgingly provided, nor in the constant presence of children, hollow-eyed and gaunt from lack of food. There could be nothing industrious about men who knew that however hard and long they worked, they could never earn enough to give their families any hope of anything better.

It was little wonder that in such circumstances, many were tempted into crime and some into violence. A few, like George Loveless, turned to the idea of forming trades unions to bargain with employers for better conditions.

Though this seems the most intelligent reaction, it was, apart from violent revolution, the most dangerous.

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Tiny African quelea birds can destroy entire plantations

Posted in Africa, Animals, Birds, Farming, Nature, Wildlife on Friday, 21 February 2014

This edited article about birds first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 561 published on 14 October 1972.

Quelea and other animals,  picture, image, illustration
The Quelea among other creatures by A Oxenham

Large areas of Africa are covered by savannah country. They reach from Senegal and the Sudan in the north, through East Africa to South Africa. Savannahs are grasslands with scattered woods and solitary trees. For most of the year savannahs are dry, except around lakes and swamps and in river valleys. They form the most familiar African countryside because they are the home of the big game animals – the antelope, zebra, giraffe and elephants.

The mixture of grass and trees reminds one of an English park, especially after the rainy season when the vegetation is green and fresh, but the last 20 or 30 years have seen a great change come over much of the African savannah. Large areas have been ploughed up so that crops can be grown to support the rapidly increasing human population. Millet, rice and wheat have replaced the natural grasses.

The disappearance of the original plants has also led to the disappearance of many of the native animals. Antelope and elephants are not appreciated in agricultural regions, but there is one small bird that readily eats the ears of cultivated grasses and descends on the crops in such vast numbers that it is a major pest. This is the black-faced dioch, or quelea, as it is now generally called from its scientific name Quelea quelea.

The quelea is a relative of our common house sparrow. It is the same size as a house sparrow and has similar, generally dull, plumage but the conical bill is red. Queleas are nomads; it is possible to travel many miles through the savannahs without seeing a single specimen. Then a flock is encountered, feeding on grass seeds, drinking at a waterhole or roosting in a clump of trees. A couple of weeks later, the flock disappears; it has eaten all the grass seeds and has flown off in search of new feeding grounds.

The quelea flocks are so large it is impossible to count the birds in them. When feeding, a flock is continually on the move. As the birds find themselves at the back of the flock, they fly over the heads of their comrades and land at the front. The effect has been described as looking like “a great black cloud rolling steadily forward across the plain.” When the flock goes to roost in the evening, it may need several acres of trees to provide perching space for the tens of thousands of birds, and stout branches may break under their weight.

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The Cattle Kings of America fed the world with beef

Posted in America, Animals, Farming, Historical articles, History, Trade on Thursday, 6 February 2014

This edited article about America first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 545 published on 24 June 1972.

Cattle drive,  picture, image, illustration
Texan cowboys driving cattle north by Ron Embleton

Ranches in America today are a romantic link with the old West, when the cattlemen ruled an empire of thousands of acres of land and huge herds of hard-hided longhorns. Cowboys riding the range in high-powered jeeps are descendants of the legendary figures of the past who made their fortunes astride a saddle with a smoking gun in their hand.

Charlie Goodnight believed in doing things himself. True, when he became the greatest of all the cattle kings, as the major ranchers were called, he took life a little easier and ran his empire from his ranch house, but that was not how he had risen to fame.

That fame dated from the mid-1860s, when he was 30, by which time he was a superb rider with a sense of direction as good as an Indian’s, an expert on everything to do with cows, and a crack shot who had spent the Civil War as a scout with the Texas Rangers, as tough an outfit as any on earth.

He returned to his ranch to find, like most other Texas ranchers, that his stock was running wild or lost to Indians and outlaws. In 1866, he teamed up with 54-year-old Oliver Loving to drive a herd north to the mining camps of Colorado. The direct route was swarming with wild Comanche and Kiowa Indians, so Goodnight decided to head west via New Mexico, then swing north.

They set off with 18 cowboys and 2,000 longhorns, the hard-hided, mean-minded descendants of cattle which the Spaniards had brought to America centuries before, and which were half wild. There had been cattle drives before the war on a small scale, but this one marked the beginning of the real cowboy saga.

It nearly foundered at the start. They had to cross 80 waterless miles and by the third day the cattle were beyond control. Reaching the Pecos River, they plunged in, some being trampled, others stuck in quicksands. But Goodnight got them through, sold some of the herd to the agent of some starving Navajos, then hurried back to Texas to collect more cattle while Loving went up the trail to Colorado.

Meeting again in New Mexico, the pair set out together up their new Goodnight-Loving trail, and though Loving was killed by a Comanche arrow, Goodnight survived to become the cattle king of his day.

It was now 1867 and further east herds began to be driven up the Chisholm Trail to a fast-booming little prairie town called Abilene in Kansas. There a far-sighted trader called Joseph McCoy had realised that with the coming of the railroad to Kansas, a giant opportunity awaited him – and every rancher in Texas.

If he could get the ranchers to send their cattle to the railhead at Abilene, they could then be shipped to the markets of the north and east and both traders and ranchers would make their fortunes. And though many of both professions were to go bankrupt later from ups and downs in market prices, bad winters and sheer bad luck, many did make their fortunes and become cattle kings!

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A day in the life of a young Highland drover

Posted in Animals, British Countryside, Farming, Historical articles, History, Scotland on Wednesday, 29 January 2014

This edited article about Scotland first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 531 published on 18 March 1972.

Highland drovers,  picture, image, illustration
Highland drovers mending the roof and dealing with poachers by Peter Jackson

John Stuart stirred uneasily on his earthen couch, turned over and snuggled down into the warm rug that covered it. It was September now and the mornings were getting colder. The annual migration to the upland pastures, where the grazing was richer for the cattle, would soon be at an end.

The smell of porridge and hot bannocks woke him finally and he joined his father at the table, supping the thick oatmeal from a horn spoon. They ate well: they had a long day ahead of them with nothing but cheese and bannocks to fill their stomachs until nightfall. As his mother cleared away, he set off with his father to the herd.

For most of the eighteenth century, the principal occupation in the Highlands of Scotland was the breeding of cattle; indeed there was little else for which the harsh terrain was suited. The crofters had few other sources of income. If it was a bad year for the cattle-trade, they went hungry and their rent fell into arrears; in a good year they could buy meal and barley and keep themselves out of debt – but only just.

The best part of the grim, monotonous crofting life was the summer visit to the Highlands. In May, crofters and cattle migrated to the upland pastures which were too far away for the cattle to go to and from each day. There they stayed, while the cattle fattened on the rich grazing-land, until September when the drovers came north ready to haggle over prices.

The same thing happened along all the mountain ranges of Europe. The Swiss climbed to their high Alpine pastures. The Norwegians went to their “saeters.”

In 1762, as in the past fifteen years of his life, John Stuart, his parents and the rest of the folk from Kirkmichael in Banffshire, went up to the summer grazings in the Duke of Huntly’s forest of Glenavon. While his father acted as under-forester to the Duke, John tended the herds.

Sometimes, like today, his father could spare a little time to inspect the beasts, so John took him to the fold near the sheal (cottage) where he had “hefted” – fenced in – their cattle for the night. Beasts which strayed from the pastures were impounded and their owners fined, so no one could afford to be careless.

They counted the herd, then John turned out the cattle while his father plunged deep into the forest. Now John was free to lie back and sun himself: to admire the black, horned beasts; and to drift into sleep as the bees hummed over the wild flowers among the hill grasses.

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Richard Cobden fought passionately for the rights of the working poor

Posted in Farming, Historical articles, History, Industry, Philanthropy, Politics on Thursday, 2 January 2014

This edited article about politics first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 502 published on 28 August 1971.

Anti-corn law league procession, picture, image, illustration
Richard Cobden helped to form the Anti-Corn Law League for he knew the law was bringing starvation to ordinary people; torchlight processions were organised to ram the message home, by Angus McBride

Richard Cobden loved the land. This son of a poor West Sussex farmer had done so from his earliest days. He enjoyed tending his father’s sheep, milking the cows, and watching the corn grow and ripen in the surrounding fields.

The fact that he and his brothers and sisters rarely had enough bread to eat did not strike him as absurd or unjust. He realised that many country folk were born into poverty and near-starvation, and learnt that although they frequently complained about their hardships, they rarely had the spirit to try and improve the situation.

In 1814, when Richard was ten, the Cobdens moved from their farm at Heyshott to an agricultural settlement in the neighbouring county of Hampshire. Richard did not welcome the change, and was sent to a school in Yorkshire, where he remained until he was fifteen.

Despite his parents’ good intentions, the school was not a happy choice. It provided its students with a scanty education and treated them with callous brutality. In later life Richard could not bring himself to speak of the experience, but in a letter written to his “honoured parents” at the time he said that he looked back on his boyhood at the farm “with more pleasure . . . than to any other part of my life.”

His first job on leaving school was as a clerk in a textile warehouse belonging to one of his uncles. He then worked for two years in the cotton mills of Ghent in Belgium, and returned to England in 1828 determined to sell calico on his own account. Together with two friends, and a joint capital of £600, he opened a business in Manchester, and began to travel throughout England and Ireland in search of custom.

It was then that he became really aware of the terrible poverty that existed in the country districts. He was particularly distressed by conditions in the small East Lancashire village of Sabden, where there was no school for the children to attend. He arranged for twenty pupils to be brought to Sabden from an infants’ school in Manchester, and put on an “exhibition” to help stir the villagers into action.

He believed that there were “many well meaning people in the world who are not so useful as they might be, from not knowing how to go to work.” And he looked upon the people of Sabden to make “a light to lighten the surrounding country . . . carrying civilisation into towns that ought to have shed rays of knowledge upon your village.”

During this time Cobden was also concentrating on his gift for writing – a gift that was soon to bring him to the attention of the entire country. His first composition was a play called The Phrenologist (someone who can tell a person’s character from the shape of his skull). The play was turned down by the manager of the Covent Garden Theatre, and Cobden regarded this as a piece of good luck. “If he had accepted it,” he said, “I should probably have been a vagabond all the rest of my life.”

A few years’ later, in 1835-36, he published his two famous pamphlets, England, Ireland, and America, and Russia. The pamphlets caused a national sensation, and were discussed by every thinking man.

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The wealthy mediaeval Englishman ate like an ox

Posted in Customs, Farming, Historical articles, History, Religion on Monday, 16 December 2013

This edited article about English Feast Days first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 495 published on 10 July 1971.

Church feast and investiture, picture, image, illustration
Feast for the new Archbishop of York in 1467 by Richard Hook

The year is 1467, and in the City of York a new Archbishop is to be installed – meaning literally to be placed in his official “stall,” or upon his throne. The occasion has demanded that there be held a “feast,” for all of six thousand guests. Quite a party for Archbishop Neville and the high-rankers of the land! For in those far-off times it was only the wealthy who could afford to eat and drink themselves into the kind of rollicking stupor which must have been the aftermath of merry-makings such as this one – one of the greatest in recorded medieval social history.

Moreover, practically all jollifications were hooked on to the great church festivals, or special church occasions like the enthronements of Bishops or Archbishops. These were the “Feast Days,” and we may wonder how deeply devout the company were feeling after the first few cups of wine, and at the end of their tremendous feats of stuffing themselves. Not for nothing were the medieval merry-makers dubbed voracious feeders.

For the Archbishop of York’s “feast” there were ordered up to 6 wild bulls, 104 oxen, 1,000 sheep, 304 calves, 400 swans, 2,000 geese, 1,000 capons, 2,000 pigs and 104 peacocks. There were over 13,000 other birds of various sizes, 600 fish, jellies, tarts, custards and marzipan. And, in case anybody wanted the unusual, a dozen porpoises and seals. All was swilled down with 300 tuns of ale and 100 tuns of wine.

The fact was that medieval man of means not only ate monstrously, but also ate practically anything which ran, swam, flew or hopped. And the cooking, by all accounts, was elaborate and crude all at once. They seemed to throw in everything to hand, especially spices to conceal anything a “bit off,” or to make the inedible a bit more appealing. And, really, they would tuck into practically anything – herons, for example, or cranes.

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Caedmon – the Northumbrian peasant-poet from England’s Dark Ages

Posted in English Literature, Farming, Historical articles, History, Religion on Thursday, 12 December 2013

This edited article about Caedmon first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 491 published on 12 June 1971.

Caedmon MSS, picture, image, illustration
An illustration in the C10 Manuscript of Caedmon's Hymn shows Noah's Ark as a Viking ship with a dragon's head on the prow

Soundlessly the young man rose from the dinner table and crept towards the door. No one seemed to notice him go. The drinking, the laughing and the back-slapping among the guests commanded everyone’s attention, and in seconds the young man had slipped unobserved through the open door.

Once outside, he leaned against a post and breathed easier. For Caedmon – that was his name – the habitual agony of the feasting table was over for another day.

Few men in the rural north-east of England in the 7th century worked harder at winnowing and threshing the corn, or carrying milk to the lambs and the calves, than Caedmon. He was strong, but his mind was simple and unlettered. The toil of the village fields was the only work he knew – he had never learned to read or write.

In fact, Caedmon had never learned anything else at all! All his friends loved to feast and drink, and often when the feasting was over they were called upon in turn to sing a song.

Most of them had learned by heart songs and stories that were repeated to them; then, when their turn came, they could sing or say something they had learned. But Caedmon could not memorise, so when his turn came, he would slink out.

On this particular occasion, after leaving the feast he went to a nearby stable, where he had to stay all night to take care of the horses. When darkness came, he settled down among the hay and went to sleep.

At once he began to dream. In his dream a man came and stood before him, saying, “Caedmon, sing some song to me.”

Caedmon replied, “I can’t sing. That’s why I left the feast and came here.”

“All the same,” said the stranger, “you shall sing.”

“What shall I sing about, then?”

“Sing about the beginning of created things,” replied the stranger.

From that moment Caedmon began to sing. He seemed to have no control over himself; he had no idea of the words he sang. But when he awoke next morning he remembered every verse, and was able to add more to them with fluency.

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Tyrannical Jesse Carr’s Great Wall of California was brought down by Congress

Posted in America, Farming, Historical articles, History on Monday, 9 December 2013

This edited article about America first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 482 published on 10 April 1971.

Jesse Carr builds a wall, picture, image, illustration
Jesse Carr created an 80,000-acre empire for himself in California and using Chinese labour had a wall built around the land he claimed, by C L Doughty

“Stay out!” was the message Jesse Carr wanted to convey to all new settlers on the northern California frontier. Saddle tramps, sod-busters and immigrants would meet no welcome here.

Rancher Jesse Carr had staked out more than 80,000 acres of land and marked it for his own. When he mounted a horse to ride the boundaries of his domain, it took him two full days. And wherever he rode, the rancher could gaze off towards the far, blue horizon and know that everything he saw belonged to him.

The grazing herds of cattle and sheep were his; the grass was his; the water was his. Even, presumably, the crisp bright air would have carried the Jesse Carr brand if he could have figured out a way to make it stick.

A harsh and inflexible squire, rancher Carr put out the terse warning: all trespassers in his realm would come to grief. Horse thieves and cattle rustlers would simply be shot on sight. Homesteaders might find their fences cut, their shacks burned, their livestock driven off. The enforcers of Carr’s “Stay Out” edict were his cowhands. They patrolled the vast ranch efficiently and effectively under the cattle king’s directions. But still, Jesse Carr was not satisfied with his frontier security squad.

The settlers continued to arrive along the overland trail which passed through a corner of his land. No sooner had Carr’s strong-arm men driven one wagon train off the ranch than another would appear. The movement westward to the promised lands of Oregon and California was in full swing.

While Jesse Carr did not believe he could stop the westward migration completely, he did conceive a project which would keep his own cattle kingdom free from the encroachment of newcomers.

He wanted a wall, shoulder-high to a horse, which would encircle his empire completely. He wanted it built of natural lava rock and reinforced with barbed wire. He wanted this barrier to serve notice once and for all that his land was “off limits” to all outsiders.

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The American cowboy was part romantic legend and part itinerant worker

Posted in America, Farming, Historical articles, History on Thursday, 5 December 2013

This edited article about the American West first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 478 published on 13 March 1971.

Cattle drivers, picture, image, illustration
Cowboys driving cattle

He got up around four in the morning and lived most of his days and even some of his nights in the saddle. It was beneath his dignity to go far on foot.

He got used to breathing in clouds of dust behind a trail herd, to crossing treacherous rivers, to enduring blistering summer heat and near arctic conditions in winter. He took stampedes, hostile Indians, cattle rustlers, horse thieves and boredom and loneliness in his stride.

By the 1880s, when the great days of the cattle drives north out of Texas were over and the Indians had been finally subdued, and when the freedom of the open range had given way to ranches hemmed in by new-fangled barbed wire, he sometimes to his intense disgust found himself digging post holes and mending wire, though still doing what he knew best – working in every kind of weather to tend cattle, and seeing that his horse was fit.

His horse! He would put up with loneliness, prairie fires, stampedes or even opening a gate if he could do it on horseback. If he had to dismount he hoped it would be to brand some stock or do some roping in a corral.

When he arrived in town alone or with his fellow cowpunchers, he often went wild. As he had known little company out on the “lone prairie” for as much as four months at a stretch, it was hardly surprising.

Cow-towns, the explosive spots on the map, most of them in Kansas, to which cattle were driven to be sold and shipped by rail to the markets of the East, were no places for weaklings. Until tough marshals – often themselves ex-cowboys, sometimes ex-outlaws, sometimes both – began to “clean them up,” the sound of six-guns was all too familiar.

A lot of the guns, especially the cowboys’, were let off in sheer high spirits, though that was no comfort to the growing number of respectable citizens. A lot were the result of heavy drinking. Some cowboys were dead shots, but many, especially when “liquored up” were not, and were no match for professional gunmen within or without the law. Actually, a cowboy’s first port of call when he came into town was often a barber’s, and he often had his first bath for many months.

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Rising taxes and a wage freeze caused the Peasants’ Revolt

Posted in Farming, Historical articles, History, Politics on Friday, 29 November 2013

This edited article about the Peasant’s Revolt first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 469 published on 9 January 1971.

Peasants' Revolt, picture, image, illustration
The Peasant's Revolt arrives in London by C L Doughty

If ever the people needed a champion, they needed one in the summer of 1381.

In fact, they had needed one for over 300 years, ever since the Norman Conquest when the freemen of England had had the feudal system imposed upon them by their new masters. The farmer and peasant had become a serf, a Middle English way of saying “slave.” He was, indeed, owned by the lord of the manor and was listed in that lord’s possessions along with cows, pigs, forest, farming and grazing land. He was at his master’s beck and call to sow and reap, to plough and hoe, to hew wood, defend the castle in time of attack and march off to any war that the big man cared to join.

In return the serf was given a miserable hovel for which he had to pay rent from the produce he managed to grow in his spare time on a couple of strips of land allotted to him by his master.

There was no way to break the system. If a serf ran away, he was hunted like a criminal, flogged if caught and branded on the forehead. If he were not caught, he dare not seek work on another manor or in a town. He had to live as an outlaw in the grim, dark forests which in those days were fearful, dank and gloomy places of wild animals and wilder unknown terrors. The outlaw’s life was a miserable existence on nuts and berries, not the rich feasts of the king’s venison and good red wine looted from a wealthy abbot’s pack mules by Robin Hood.

However, the system was severely cracked by one of the worst disasters ever to blight Europe. It was the Great Pestilence or Black Death of 1349. According to various estimates, it killed anything between a quarter and a half of the population of England. Suddenly there were not enough men to till all the land. With no produce coming in, the lords had trouble finding the cash to pay their own rents and taxes to the king, so they sold off some of their acreage for cash, often very cheaply.

Some lords, desperate for labourers, offered wages to serfs of another to come and work for them. Gradually, and by no means easily or suddenly, some of the peasants were able to buy their way out of bondage and become small landowners. It became possible, although strictly illegal, for many more to wander from place to place seeking work at the best wages.

The humble English serf was being given a glimpse of freedom.

Sterner laws were hurriedly passed by the nobility to keep the serfs where they belonged, at the bottom of the social pile in their hovels beside the castle walls.

The worst of this bunch of laws was a “wages freeze.”

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