England – The Practice Of Chalking Land

Yesterday we went to see a rich and lovely farm situated in a valley, but running up on a hill at one side. There were great crops of wheat and oats in shock, heavier than we grow in America, and fine Romney sheep in pasture. The great square house had been once rather fine, and it had a pleasant garden and an orchard. The place lay on a main highway to London, a splendid road over which dashed at least 500 automobiles daily, which is no great advantage to the farm, one would think. This farm I was told could be bought for $70 per acre. It is indeed a temptation to go to Kent, if one wishes to raise sheep. Think of the abundant and faithful labor and the ease with which one can have maids in the house and all that. On this farm was a great scar on the hillside, whence had in days past been taken thousands of cartloads of chalk. This material sweetened the land and thus made clovers to grow. The beginning of this practice may have been a thousand years ago. Now the chalk is no more used and the land begins to Reed it again. The advent of commercial fertilizers, they told me, had superseded the use of chalk, and “dearer labor” had made it expensive to get it out.

Kent is a beautiful, fertile, finished and livable land, if there is one anywhere in the world. Driving with Mr. Hickman, we passed a wee hamlet, composed nearly altogether of laborers’ cottages. A deep trench beside the road attracted my attention. Mr. Hickman told me that it was for the new sewers that were being laid; that there was in each parish an inspector of sanitation, and when he found need, he ordered both sewers and water works laid down, even if it may be in so humble a hamlet as this. The cost was in part assessed on the land-owner and in part on the parish. Thus, although the laborer had not a large sum to spend, a large amount was spent for him in giving him a sanitary living place, and in giving him a more perfect road on which to walk, than has many an American city.

On the whole the English agricultural laborer has as happy a time as his American cousin. He is an opportunist, in the kindly sense of the word; he makes the most of the present, spades his garden, grows his vegetables and flowers, competes for prizes at the parish flower show, glories in his success with pansies or mangel-wurzels and works faithfully, but his worst enemy never charged him with overworking. He goes to church and believes solemnly in heaven and hell, marries and rears a large family somehow or other on his $4 per week. His wife helps all she can by ‘doing piece work, thinning turnips or binding grain. The man grows old at last; there is, however, always some old man’s job to be done until he is quite beyond that ; then he goes to live with a married son or daughter—rarely, I think very rarely, in this part of the Kingdom to the parish workhouse to end his days. He can not earn enough ever to rise from being a laborer. Perhaps, therefore, he is happier because it relieves him of strenuous ambitions and the unhappiness that follow these, be they fulfilled or unfulfilled.