"The farmer and the labourer", 1879

This poem was published in the Oxfordshire (Bicester) Telegraph (30 April) and Bicester Herald (2 May). It was probably by the same author as "The landlords' response to the wail and woe of the tenant farmer". It was signed "A Bucks Resident, Winslow". It appeared under the headline National Agricultural Labourers' Union.

The NALU was formed in 1872. An agricultural labourers' strike at Gawcott in 1867 had previously achieved some results (see Pamela L.R. Horn, "The Gawcott revolt of 1867", Records of Bucks 19 (1973) 298-301). NALU members took part in an unsuccessful strike at Swanbourne in 1874 (see Swanbourne History website). By 1879 it was struggling and the same issues of the newspapers reported that the Long Crendon branch had seceded, although the Herald also gave details of a speech made by the union's leader Joseph Arch at Bodicote. The Telegraph had a regular section of news about the NALU. Lewis Clarke of Winslow was District Secretary for Bucks & Northants in early 1879, when there was much internal dissension about Arch's leadership which he opposed, and he seems to have provided information for the Telegraph as well as regular letters in his own name. The District committee met at an office at Winslow. In May and June Clarke was involved in the establishment of a breakaway National Land and Labour Union, and he wrote to the Telegraph from Winslow as its General Secretary on 9 June, but it seems to have died out by the end of 1879. In the 1881 Census Clarke was back in his original job of currier and leather seller. He died in 1889.

Many thanks to Ed Grimsdale for finding and transcribing the poem and providing background information.

The farmer and the labourer
A song for the times

The sons of toil that till our fields,
And brave the winter's cold,
No prospect of a better time.
When they're infirm and old.
The farmer bends beneath high rents,
And feels the bitter past,
The son of toil worn out with age,
A Pauper sinks at last.
Tumble him in, tumble him in,
He's only a pauper both ragged and thin.
Tumble him in, tumble him in.

He's only a pauper, both ragged and thin.
He works and toils throughout the year,
For thirteen bob a week,
And though he try the country round,
Better times he'll vainly seek.
And when his strength is gone and spent,
The workhouse is his way,
And when kind Death releases him,
They'll dig his grave and say,
CHORUS--Tumble, etc.

Ye landlords who your thousands spend,
In luxury and ease,
Care nothing for the farmers' woes,
Though we fall like autumn leaves.
And those who do your work and will,
And feed you by their toil,
A pauper's grave awaits the man,
That's work'd on British soil.
CHORUS—Then, Tumble, &c.

With hounds and horn you cross our fields,
And break our fences down,
And if we compensation seek,
We meet with many a frown,
The times indeed are very hard,
No prospect can we see,
But poverty and a pauper's grave,
And then the cry will be:
CHORUS, Then Tumble & etc.

The foreigner he sends his corn,
And gluts us with his meat,
How can we under present rents,
With foreigners compete
No ten per cent, nor twenty now,
Can save us in the strife:
The farmer sinks in poverty,
Thus ends his troubled life,
Then Tumble him in, tumble him in,
He's only a pauper both ragged and thin.
Tumble him in, tumble him in.

The last two verses are about tenant farmers rather than farm labourers. The author was clearly a Liberal Free Trader. The Buckingham newspapers were less likely to be sympathetic to his viewpoint, which is why the poem was published in Bicester. The Winslow baker William Turnham became a well-known local poet and seems a likely candidate for authorship. Another is Silvanus Jones who was a tenant farmer himself.

See also:

Copyright 15 April, 2020