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John Meads 2017
The Agricultural Question:

Labourers' Cottages

Burton Latimer village inn 1872

The following complimentary but somewhat idealistic view of life in villages like Burton Latimer was published in The Graphic in 1872 and reproduced in the Leicester Chronicle. We shall never know how it was received by Burton Latimer's "peasants" but it does give us a glimpse of how their life was perceived by The Graphic's feature writer. The village inn sketch, above, is thought to be of The Thatcher's Arms, which stood on the corner of Meeting Lane and Church Street and is now a domestic residence.

From the Leicester Chronicle 15 June 1872 - KETTERING - The Agricultural Question - Labourers' Cottages

"The Graphic of Saturday last presented its readers with sketches of an old labourer's cottage near Kettering, old and new cottages at Warkton, cottages and blacksmith's forge at Geddington, labourer's cottages and garden near Stanion, cottages at Kettering, cottages at Burton Latimer, interior of the village inn at Burton Latimer, and interiors of labourer's cottages at Cranford - all most cleverly drawn, and occupying a page of this now increasingly popular illustration paper. Under the heading of a ramble in an agricultural district, the Graphic says:- If we desired to select a true type of the English agricultural labourer, we should, without hesitation, choose a Northamptonshire peasant. In the famous county of "squires and spires" the labourer - unlike his less fortunate bretheren in Wiltshire, Dorsetshire, and other counties in which a low rate of wages has so long prevailed - possesses comparitively few inducements to combine against his employers in the hope of extorting better terms from them, the ordinary Northamptonshire labourer receiving from 10s. to 12s. per week, shepherds obtaining about 14s. In addition to this there are many little perquisites, which materially assist in eking out the labourer's income. A few years ago there seemed the probability of the supply of labour being in excess of the demand; but the singularly prosperous condition of the Northamptonshire boot and shoe trade, the establishment of large iron smelting works, and the successful introduction of new branches of industry, have completely absorbed the surplus labour of the country, that no labourer who is willing to work need long remain without employment. True, twelve shillings a week is not a very large amount on which to support a family, but in Northamptonshire the labour of females and young persons is continually in request; consequently the moment that the labourer's children leave school they find their way into the workshop or factory, in circumstances which explains the absence of the gang system in this part of the Midland agricultural district, for child labour is here too valuable to be wasted in the fields. But, as elsewhere, the great difficulty of the labourer is the want of proper cottage accommodation. In too many instances the cottages are of the meanest possible description, constructed without the least regard to the requirements of drainage. There are, however, indications of an improved feeling in respect on the part of the principle landlords, who are beginning to perceive the economical importance of providing dwellings of a more suitable character for their labourers. A notable instance of this is to be seen at Warkton, a charming little village near Kettering; where the Duke of Buccleuch is having erected a number of well-built comfortable cottages, of tasteful design, in place of the picturesque but unwholesome dwellings with which the villagers have been so long content. In visiting Northamptonshire, Kettering, prettily situated on the Midland railway, a line which runs through a beautiful country district , forms a capital starting point, from which a number of pleasant excursions may be made to Thorpe Malsor, Rushton, Barton and other villages within easy walking distance, and during these rambles we continually come across bits of rural scenery which would make the fortune of a landscape painter were he wise enough to avail himself of the opportunity, the the village constitutes the priciple charm of the country. They are very compact, the cottages nestling round the village church; the dwellings of farmers and labourers are grouped together with almost Republican impartiality. The cottages are of a picturesque character, being generally built of a yellowish freestone, very old, and having thatched or slate roofs, with square stone chimneys, mullioned windows and occasionally gabled dormers.
The groups of cottages near Kettering, at Burton Latimer, and Geddington, afford a fair idea of the external appearance of most of the labourers' cottages; the internal view of the cottage at Cranford furnishing a glimpse of the labourer's indoor life. One feature of Northamptonshire cottage life is its cleanliness. Inside and out there is observed a love of soap and water which would gladden the heart of a Dutch housewife. The deal table, rush covered chairs, old-fashioned bureau, and even the ancient spinning wheel yet preserved in some houses are kept scrupulously clean, no matter how poor may be the family. There is none of the dirt or squalor of Bethnal Green or Seven Dials. Hodge may be hard worked, he may find it difficult to save a few shillings out of his limited earnings, but neither he nor Dolly loose their self-respect. He has always a clean shirt and a decent coat for Sunday wear, which is more that can be said of those that are continually urging him to be disconted with his condition. The introduction of the garden allotment system was a great boon to the labourers. It not only afforded them a means of profitably employing their liesure time, but it also kept them from wasting their time at the village ale-house. So beneficial has been the result of enabling the labourer to obtain, at a low rental, a patch of garden ground, that there are few villages which do not possess a field or two divided into small lots for the use of the villagers who sometimes produce fruit and vegeatbles of a superior quality, which would not discredit a Crystal Palace show. In some instances the labourer's cottage is situated in a large garden, such as that represented in our illustration, the original of which is situated near Stanion. In such cases we find the wife entrusted with the duty of selling the surplus crop of fruit and vegetables in the neighbouring market. In this way the labourer is sometimes enabled gradually to improve his condition, and rise to the rank of small farmer. a serious deficiency of village life is the almost utter absence of intellectual amusement or recreation. the village public-house is the only resort at the command of the labourer, its taproom forming the greatest renezvous of the male villagers, who here drink their ale and indulge in that idle gossip so well described in the verse of Crabbe. Spiret-drinking is not a vice of the Northamptonshire labourer; his beverage is ale, large quantities of which are brewed in the county, especially at Northampton, where there is a brewery on a most extensive scale. At holiday time the partiality for beer is apt to lead the labourer into serious scrapes, for it has the effect of rendering him extremely bellicose, a failing which makes a large hole in his earnings , should he commit himself so far as to render it necessary to appear at the Petty Sessions. Fortunately, our unpaid magistrates are not quite so black as painted, and so long as the labourer steers clear of the - in their eyes - heinous crime of poaching, he finds them generally inclined to temper justice with mercy.

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