Sunday, 25 August 2019

Three Acres And A Cow


Dear Reader,

Amidst all the hurly-burly and puff of the 19th c. Industrial Revolution, there was - in case you didn't know - a serious interest in the welfare of the country 'ag lab' by a proposal to provide him with a smallholding of three acres and a cow. This was in response to the effect of the Enclosure Laws and severe reduction of 'ag lab' wages. His material condition had reduced greatly since the 18th c.

This movement to create a smallholding for the 'ag lab' got as far as the attention of the great Birmingham industrialist and politician Joe Chamberlain, who saw to it that it was included in a set of radical party policies for consideration by the Liberal Party. But with Chamberlain's move to the Tory benches on the matter of the Home Rule for Ireland question, those radical proposals got left behind.

A protest song of the mid-1800s reveals the disgust of the rustic labourers that they were not being taken seriously enough, with one of its verses stating:
There’s a certain class in England that is holding fortune great
Yet they give a man a starving wage to work on their estate
The land’s been stolen from the poor and those that hold it now
They do not want to give a man three acres and a cow
And the song went on...
If all the land in England was divided up quite fair
There would be some for everyone to earn an honest share
Well some have thousand acre farms which they have got somehow
But I’ll be satisfied to get [just] three acres and a cow
Now the reason why I bring up this ancient matter is that it's a theme that has been resurrected again and again since Norman times whenever times are hard. The theme is, of course, that those at the bottom of the social scale should receive equal consideration, and in today's world - after 40 years of everyone being cajoled that they can make it by working hard and grabbing what they can - we are in some ways again returning to the state of affairs that existed in former centuries. The narrative of the story may have changed, but the principles of the Normans haven't: there's "we" and there's "they".

OK, by comparison, those at the bottom of the social scale today may, thanks to the power of electronics, be living like kings compared to how things often were 100 or even 70 years ago, but the situation now seems to prove that no matter how hard the 'underling' tries, there are forces in control of the wealth of the country - and of the world - that seem to see to it that he never quite makes it. It's a bit like one of those pyramid 'get rich' schemes that seem plausible and can get you going but are in fact full of pitfalls.

In place of "Three Acres And A Cow" read now a need for "A Place For My Family To Affordably Live In".

The underlying issue I wish to state is that there are plenty of resources for everyone to share, but rather than it being equitably shared out, the world's 26 richest people own as much as the poorest 50% in a world population of 7.7bn. That situation - of a few people dictating the world's economy - might move people to tears and to the streets to take action, but it won't. 

I only live in the hope that justice will soon reign in this world of sorrow, a world which has been treated so very badly. Despite a worsening world situation, our sincere actions and prayers stand every chance in helping to make that happen.

I finish with a remembrance of a period in the 1960s when I would make my weekly visit to the 'Jug o' Punch' folk club at Digbeth Civic Hall, where lovely Scots folk named Ian Campbell and sister Lorna led a folk quintet of high calibre to re-tell the old tales of the downtrodden, in music. Ian's two sons later became successful in the UB40 band and Ian himself sadly passed away in 2012. Anyhow, please click here to listen to and enjoy one of their songs about the 'ag lab' of the early-mid 19th c. 

Please note that this song was recorded just before UK decimalisation in 1971 (I think); so the song title reference to "Eight Shillings A Week" should be converted to modern day parlance, which is 40 pence. Multiply by 70 (inflation rate) to convert into a modern figure of £28. Even though we're talking of Victorian wages, it is hard to imagine how people survived on that weekly wage.

Thank you for reading this.