In 1901, the author, Rider Haggard, best known for his adventure fiction set in exotic locations, began a tour of England and Wales looking at agricultural methods and writing articles for the Daily Express. He had served on a number of royal commissions and, in managing an estate in Norfolk, he had become a recognised expert on agricultural matters. He arrived in the Vale of Evesham in June 1901 and stayed for a few days with John Idiens at Wickhamford Manor. An article appeared in The Worcestershire Chronicle of 6th July 1901 about his visit.
The following year, a book, Rural England: Being an Account of Agricultural and Social Researches Carried Out in the Years 1901 and 1902, was published. The Vale of Evesham featured in pages 343-362 of the book, with various local people being mentioned – not only John Idiens of Wickhamford, but also George Jones and Henry Masters of Bengeworth, Arthur Herbert Savory of Aldington Manor and William Mustoe of Badsey.
The book describes a picture of agriculture in poor condition, and suggests reforms which would improve matters (although he was optimistic about the future for the Vale of Evesham). The book was well received, and subsequently many of Rider Haggard’s suggestions were included in the Development Act of 1909. He favoured co-operative societies such as were found in Denmark, an increase in the number of smallholdings, and a national forestry commission.
Excerpt from Rural England
….. Another place in Worcestershire where I spent several days as the guest of Mr John Idiens, a member of the well-known fruit firm, and himself a large grower of fruit, is the beautiful and fertile valley of Evesham.
From quite early times Evesham has been the home of gardening. When Arthur Young passed that way in 1770 he found that between 300 and 400 acres of land in its neighbourhood were cultivated as gardens. Now the area must cover thousands of acres – how many I do not know as yet – and their number is still growing. All of this increase has taken place since about 1853, and may for the most part be attributed to the invention and development of railways, which make it possible for produce to be placed upon the market in London and other great towns. The usual results of high culture on small-holdings are not wanting in this instance – general prosperity and an increase of population. Thus the census returns for 1901 of the Evesham Union show that the population has grown from 13,891 in 1841 to 17, 629 in 1901, the increase over the return of 1891 being 1,560, and this in the face of the fact that a good many of the purely rural parishes show a decrease. The general prosperity cannot be doubted – it is borne witness to by the numbers of comfortable homesteads and the thousands of plots of highly-tended gardens.
Here, as elsewhere, the seeker after information hears, it is true, many grumbles at the competition and the low price of produce. It seems probable that this last evil might be met, or at any rate ameliorated, by a better system of co-operation which would enable growers to lay their stuff into shops of their own, and thus save some of the profits of the middleman, or in other ways to regulate distribution. When I was at Evesham spring cabbages were selling at 9d a pot of 2½ dozen, whereas householders know well that the town greengrocer charges them three half-pence or twopence for a single cabbage, which represents, at the lower figure, a difference of about 400% between the sum received by the producer and the sum received by the ultimate retailer. That this thing is not as it should be is obvious.
Another misfortune from which the district suffers is the present prevalence of asparagus blight, probably because the land is growing sick of asparagus, which used to be a great mainstay. Still, I am personally convinced, and have the highest authority for saying, that on the whole of the fruit and vegetable cultivators of Evesham and its neighbourhood are doing well. Indeed, as in the case of Guernsey and Jersey, with which it may be compared, it is by no means uncommon to meet men there who, beginning with nothing, have realised considerable fortunes out of the produce of the soil.
The crop of 1900, to take an example, was an exceedingly good one, and quite 50% of the total amount of fruit sold to jam makers is said to have been bought by the Government to be consumed by our soldiers in South Africa. More trees and bushes are being planted every year, and it is indeed a pleasure to see land that some five seasons since was not worth 10s an acre for agricultural purposes now returning I know not how much, from currants and other small fruit, and increasing annually in value as the plums and apples get their growth.
Wickhamford Manor, where we were the guests of Mr John Idiens, of the firm of John Idiens & Sons, is one of those beautiful old houses for which Worcestershire and the neighbouring counties are famous, half-timbered in black oak, and standing upon the edge of a moat of clear water, in which on sunny days it is reflected as in a glass. The place is historical also, for in the little church which almost joins the house was buried, in the year 1697, a certain Penelope Washington, who married one of the Sandys family. On the gravestone of this Penelope, if I remember right, are cut her arms, which contain stripes and three five-pointed starts, from which arms, I was informed, is supposed to originate the world-famous banner of the United States of America, whose great general, Washington, is said to have descended from this family. In that church also are very beautiful monuments to two of the Sandys family – father and son – who died within a few days of each other in the Elizabethen period, and their wives.
Mr Idiens gave me a great deal of interesting information, of which I quote a few items. He said that the rent of agricultural land had fallen heavily in that district, in some instances as much as 60%, and mentioned a stiff clay farm which used to bring in £700 a year, and at that date was let for under £200. The ordinary agricultural wage was 15s a week and a cottage, but on the fruit farms the men earned 16s in winter and 18s in the summer, the average number employed being one hand to three acres of ground. The local fruit output was enormous; thus one buyer took seven hundred tons of strawberries, and another great firm dealt with three thousand tons of English fruit during 1900, though I did not understand that all of this came from the Evesham district.
Mr Idiens spoke with enthusiasm of the Pershore plum, of which this neighbourhood was the original home. The parent tree was found growing in a wood at Pershore about fifty or sixty years ago, and from it have sprung all the countless thousands in cultivation. Although it is a wild plum, yellow and egg-shaped, both its quality and colour are good, and there is no plum so suitable for jam making and bottling. It can be picked in good hard condition for bottling, or partly yellow for preserving, and it is so great a cropper that often the fruit hangs on the trees ' like rigs of onions.' This plum is now widely disseminated about England. Thus I myself have found it planted in Essex; but the Evesham growers declare that it will not really thrive outside their district. They have an interesting saying about it, that 'the good old Pershore will buy the horse and cart while the fancy sorts are paying for the harness’.
Average crops seem to be two tons to the acre of plums and raspberries, and five to eight tons to the acre of gooseberries. Mr Idiens said that the land in the fruit orchards is never without a crop. Thus in the winter it can be planted with winter cabbage. Then come radishes, lettuce, and peas, with cucumbers and marrows between. Of course, to produce so much the soil must be heavily manured and with strange substances. Thus leather dust from London—that from the chamois-leather factories for preference—is a favourite fertiliser for cabbage, while horse-parings are good for all kinds of fruit trees, as are also Peruvian guano, nitrate of soda, and shoddy from the cloth mills. He did not consider that the Evesham fruit output was overdone at present.
Mrs Idiens gave me a receipt for preserving fruit in bottles which, to judge from the results as I tasted them, is well worthy of the notice of my readers. The fruit to be treated should be placed in wide-mouthed bottles that are filled up with water, corked, and wired so as to make them air-tight. The bottles must then be set in a copper or other vessel in cold water in such fashion that the necks stand above its level. The water must then be raised to a temperature of 160 degrees, after which it should be allowed to cool, with the bottles still standing in it. Treated thus the fruit will keep for any length of time and preserve its flavour so well that when cooked it can scarcely be distinguished from that which has been fresh gathered. Mr Idiens—and there can be few greater authorities—considered that the three best apples grown in that part of England are Cox's Orange Pippin and Worcester Pearmain for eating purposes, and Warner's King for cooking. Wellington also, he said, is an excellent keeping cooker.
Before I describe various fruit farms which I visited in this district I will set down some general information that I gathered from sundry authorities in and about Evesham. Among other gentlemen I saw Mr F. P. Webb, the well-known land agent in that town, with whom I had a long and interesting conversation. He told me that the great failure in the Evesham asparagus crop, owing to the blight of 1899, combined with the poor prices realised for all garden produce in 1900, had proved a heavy blow to the further development of the local fruit industry, and that unless lower rents were accepted by owners he expected that considerable difficulty would be experienced in letting out fresh lands for at least two years to come. Mr Webb kindly furnished me with detailed schedules of certain farms which had been cut up into lots and leased to fruit growers during the previous twelve years. These are too long to print in full, but I give the summaries.
Farm No 1, of 217 acres, of which 162 acres had been let in 1901 in lots for fruit and vegetable growing, the remainder being still devoted to ordinary agricultural purposes. In 1884 this farm was rented at £300. From that day forward various fields were taken from it, as shown in the schedule, a corresponding reduction in the rent of the farm being made as these lands were subtracted from its acreage. The rent in 1901 for all the land, agricultural and fruit-bearing, was £463 9s 6d. The cost of making good roads to the various fruit and vegetable lots, with necessary gates, inclusive of alterations to farmhouse and buildings to make them suitable to the requirements of the present tenant, was at least £2,000. In addition four new cottages had been erected for various tenants at a cost of £800, which at present rentals paid about 3% net. Also the smallholders, owing to the bad prices of 1900, had all received an allowance of 10%, on their rentals. It will be seen, therefore, that the gross increase of rent of £163 9s 6d, in fact, only meant a very small actual gain to the owner of the land.
Farm No 2, of 78 acres, was let for £180 in 1890, and having been cut up into lots brought in £249 in 1901. Being close to a station and very early land, this farm is exceptionally suitable to gardening purposes. The cost of road-making, alteration of buildings, etc, had been a little over £800.
Farm No 3, of unusually good land close to a village, used to be let as a farm at £200. The best rent it had ever realised for gardening purposes was £245; but in 1901, owing to a number of the lots being unoccupied, it only brought in £199. In his note upon it Mr Webb said: “You will notice the number of void lots. This is entirely owing to the failure of the asparagus crop from blight.” He feared that much more of this land would be given up at the following Michaelmas, as there was great difficulty in collecting the rents of the lots that were left. The whole was subject to an allowance of 10%, owing to failure of crops, etc.
If the above can be taken as fair samples, as I doubt not is the case, it may be argued that, whatever profit fruit farming has brought to the small-holder and the district, it has at present added but little to the income of the landowners. If an increase in population is any test, however, the benefit of the system to the neighbourhood cannot be questioned, since the parishes in the Evesham Union, where market gardening is practised, have most of them added to their numbers. Thus Hinton-on-the-Green numbered 175 in 1891, and in 1901 209; Badsey, 574 in 1891, in 1901 775; Great and Little Hampton, 742 in 1891, 977 in 1901; All Saints, Evesham, 1,917 in 1891, 2,642 in 1901; St. Lawrence, 2,547 in 1891, 2,711 in 1901; St Peter's, Bengeworth, 1,372 in 1891, 1,748 in 1901.
Mr Jones, the well-known Evesham fruit expert, whom I saw, is, I believe I am right in saying, a gentleman who during the last forty-five years has worked his way up from small beginnings. Indeed, he told me that he began work at a wage of 4d a day. He said that the district was undoubtedly prosperous, but “ever such a little bit of a depression made the growers complain”. They were apt to think that a fortune was to be made at once, but, as in every other business, this took time. He thought that, owing to the opening up of the country by the railways, the demand for their produce was increasing, and that cultivators had a better chance of doing well than ever was the case before. The charges of the middleman were very oppressive to the small grower, and sometimes made it almost impossible for him to live. Personally he paid nothing for commission, as all his goods were sent direct to shops in towns. In his day, Mr Jones said, he had sold stuff in pennyworths and in £1,000 lots, and had got rid of it all, with a great deal more belonging to others as well, without the help of middlemen.
The present depression would doubtless cause a check, but this, he thought, would right itself in another year or so. The market for apples and pears was splendid, and it was only lately that they had come to appreciate the value of their soil, both as regards aspect and protection from the east. Also the average price of fruit during the last ten years was higher than it had ever been before. Mr Jones added that he introduced tomato-growing for market purposes into Evesham in 1887, and had grown them ever since with but one failure. I was informed in the neighbourhood that there is no one there whose opinion is so valuable in all matters connected with fruit culture, or who understood better how to lay out an orchard so as to secure the best possible results from the local conditions of soil and exposure. The apples which he recommended as the very best to grow were Cox's Orange Pippin, Worcester Pearmain, Devonshire Quarrenden, Lord Grosvenor, Warner's King, Bramley's Seedling, Eclingville Seedling, and Stirling Castle.
Another gentleman, who, I suppose, knows as much about the fruit trade as anyone in the Evesham district, also obliged me with his views, of which the following is a summary. He said that fruit, etc, is sent from the Vale of Evesham to all parts of the United Kingdom, the district being well supplied with railway communications. Both the Midland and Great Western lines run special produce trains from May till the end of September. In the year 1900 about 20,000 tons of fruit and vegetables were sent away from the two Evesham stations, in addition to large quantities collected at all the small railway stations within a radius of ten miles of Evesham. Upon this point my informant said that the special cheap rates granted for the carriage of fruit and vegetables under the new Great Western scale had proved of great benefit, and that if this mileage scale was adopted by all railways it would be an enormous boon to English fruit growers. Already the special cheap rates had enabled the Evesham producer to despatch to the large towns, in competition with the foreigner, great quantities of fruit which he believed otherwise would have been unsaleable, especially in seasons of glut. He considered that this matter was most important to the industry, and that the Great Western Railway Company, by setting the example of introducing such a scale, had really helped fruit growers. He trusted that other companies would follow suit before long, and thought that it only needed combination on the part of those interested in the various districts to induce them to do so.
When the markets and shops were supplied the surplus Evesham fruits were, he said, sold direct to the jam makers in every part of the United Kingdom, a good supply of Pershore plums being sent yearly even to the preserving houses in the Kentish towns, which, to those unacquainted with the mysteries of the trade, sounds rather like despatching coals to Newcastle. Three years previously, a single factory had made 700 tons of black-currant jam, and in the clock tower of this establishment alone could be stored no fewer than 200,000 pots. Also there were other large factories, such as that of Messrs Liptons, capable of dealing with as much as 4,000 tons of fruit each during a single season. In the year 1900 large importations of Dutch strawberries and raspberries, of which it is estimated that 3,000 tons were annually shipped to London alone, were kept out of this country because of the unsatisfactory condition of the cargoes received in the year 1899. Owing to the cancelling of these foreign orders in 1900 the demand for English strawberries far exceeded the supply, with the result that the price of this fruit advanced to £28 per ton.
This authority said that there was no reason whatever to prevent England from supplying all the soft fruit required by the jam makers. By way of example of his statement he quoted the case of Mr William Porter, of Stoke Edith, near Hereford, who a few years ago was manager to Mr Riley, of Putley Court, whose farm, it will be remembered, has already been described in this book. Mr Porter rented ordinary farmland between Ledbury and Hereford for strawberry growing only, and in 1901 had nearly 200 acres of fine strawberries in a splendid state of cultivation. His crops in 1899 and 1900 were excellent, and, indeed, could not be beaten in England. Almost all his produce was purchased by a single firm. It might be asked, how did he manage for labour? The answer was simple. If 500 hands were required for picking, he sent his labour agents into the thickly populated districts, where the demand was readily met. When the hands arrived he erected bell-shaped tents in the fields, each of which accommodated six or seven persons, and was provided with a portable wooden floor and out-places for boiling water and cooking.
The strawberries were all “plugged”, that is, cleaned from the stalks, on the farm, packed into small tubs with a capacity of about forty pounds, and sent straight by train to the factory, where they arrived perfectly fresh. In Evesham Vale itself, he said, there were four local factories, of which that of Messrs Beach & Sons, of Toddington, was the largest, that between them dealt with about 3,000 tons of fruit each season. Most of the fruits sent to the factories were made into jam at once, but any surplus, after partial boiling, was laid down into three-gallon jars or freshly emptied wine casks and hermetically sealed, to be used as required. When treated thus the fruit would, if necessary, keep fresh for two years. Large quantities of small sour apples were also purchased by the jam makers for the manufacture of jelly and of cheap jams, which were in great demand among the working classes.
The Dutch Government, recognising the importance of keeping their people on the land and the danger of losing the English markets owing to the increased acreage of fruit grown in this country, had, he said, decided some four years before to give a bounty of about £2 a ton on all fruit kept in their own country and manufactured into jam, or put down, partly boiled, into hermetically sealed casks. More fruit also was being dealt with in France for manufacturing purposes, that is, by drying or crystallising.
This gentleman added that it was common to read letters and suggestions from individuals asking why English fruit growers did not wake up and go in for fruit drying. His answer was that the great bulk of dried fruit sent into this country was grown in the South of France, Bosnia, and the Australian colonies, places where they have the advantage of hot sun, which enables them to dry out the fruit on wooden trays in the open. Some eight or nine years ago machinery of this kind was tried on Lord Sudeley's fruit farm at Toddington under the superintendence of Messrs Beach & Sons. It was then found that the English fruit, and especially the plum, retained 15-20%, more moisture than fruit grown in the foreign countries which have been named; also that the utmost quantity that could be dried in twenty-four hours in one machine was 10 cwt, and that it took 7 lb of good apples to produce 1 lb of dried fruit. Further, he might point out that so long as we have our present fruit factories and a growing population who will consume fruit in an ever-increasing degree it would not pay to risk capital in such a very doubtful enterprise.
By way of comment upon this piece of evidence I ask the reader to turn back and consider what has been written about the new fruit-drying experiments at Bewdley. At the date of my interviews with him my informant of course did not know of this new invention, which may very possibly answer some of his objections in a satisfactory way. With regard to others of them I may remark that what will not pay in certain conditions in some districts, may pay in different conditions in other districts. Thus an enterprise which large growers in Evesham would not think profitable may possibly produce good returns to the little holders at Bewdley. In truth the market is large enough to consume every kind of product connected with fruit if only means can be found of manufacturing it at a profit, and of as good quality as that which is turned out abroad.
This gentleman said, moreover, he had seen it alleged that in some years hundreds of tons of apples were wasted, but, for his part, he did not believe that the statement would bear investigation. In this country there was always a good demand for the best sorts of large apples, while the sour small ones were saleable to jam makers, and all that were sweet and inferior could be crushed into cider, for which the market was increasing. But shortly before he had been in conversation with a small holder of land in Somersetshire who had ten acres of grass and two acres of orcharding, all cider fruit. This man from an average crop could make fifty hogsheads of cider, of sixty gallons to the hogshead, off the two acres. Now, if the selling price of cider were put at 6d. the gallon, and the cost of manufacture at 4s per hogshead, he would be glad to know what better return a man could get from this common fruit, which certainly would not pay him so well if dried. Again, assuming all to be of a cooking class, only large, sound, good apples were suitable for drying, and, as he had said, such fruit was already in demand in the present market.
Speaking of the future of fruit growing in England, he was of opinion that there were at present sufficient gooseberries and plums planted to meet the requirements of the country for some years to come, but that there was still room for more black currants, raspberries, and strawberries. Indeed, the demand for this last fruit was continually on the increase, and it must be remembered that the plants only lasted five years. To succeed, the strawberry grower must reset on fresh ground after that period, which necessitated the taking up of a large acreage every year.
He believed that the market for good apples and pears in this country was unlimited. For apples alone we were paying to America and other countries £1,500,000 per annum, while thousands of acres of land in England, now almost derelict, could be utilised for orchards planted out on the Tasmanian principle. A help to such orchards would be the light implements invented by the Americans, which greatly facilitated their working and saved an enormous amount of manual labour. In Tasmania there were orchards that covered 200 acres of ground, and in America some of them were four times as large. The English climate was quite as suitable for apple growing as that of Tasmania or America, and taking into consideration our measureless market, there was no reason why the cultivation should not be on a similar scale. It should be remembered that pyramid apple trees, if well grown and grafted on a Paradise stock, would commence to bear good fruit in the second season after planting. He was glad to say that in the Evesham district progress was being made in the cultivation of this fruit, and there was no doubt that the acreage under it would increase year by year. In this matter he was speaking from practical experience, as one who had tested the capabilities of the soil. Indeed, as an experiment, he had planted apples on fifteen acres of land which would not pay under corn, and was now arranging to plant another thirty acres during the following autumn.
Since I visited the Evesham district, another gentleman, who said that he had thirty years' experience in the fruit market business, has written to me alleging that “for years past the jam houses have practically dictated their own terms to English fruit growers”. This correspondent also complained bitterly of the deceptive labelling of jams as “made of best selected fruit”, whereas many of them are the product of foreign fruit, which frequently arrived in bad condition as deck cargo, and is soaked with rain or sea water. He stated that on one day in 1901 he had seen no less than ten tons of such fruit condemned and dumped into a barge for removal. Much of it, however, escaped this fate, and the sum of his argument was that jams manufactured from foreign fruit should be specified as such.
The first small-holder I visited at Evesham owned a pretty and charming little house, different indeed from the ordinary labourer's cottage, which I understood he had built in the year 1889 out of profits made in the cultivation of asparagus. Of this vegetable he said, however, that “it was no use now; there is rust in it; the land is sick. You must start elsewhere; it will never do in Evesham”. He informed us that he bought his land at £80 the acre, but “if I wished to sell now I should want a lot of money”.
A good typical fruit-holding was that of Mr Masters, which I saw. Here the soil was a stony “brash”, with a stiff blue clay subsoil, upon which, curiously enough, the almost universal Pershore plum did not flourish very well. Fine plum trees, however, there were in abundance, planted about twelve feet apart, with two lines of gooseberries, which seemed to me rather crowded, between each row of them. Under the trees were broad beans, lettuces, parsley, potatoes, cabbages, and radishes, but of this last crop Mr Masters said the land was “going sick”. The artificial manures that he used, which had to be applied every year, were soot, fish guano, and leather dust for cabbage, at the rate of about a ton an acre. The lettuces were sown and planted out in the orchard, and stood under the trees all the winter until the spring, when they are cut and sold “in pots” of from three to four dozen. A pot of plums, by the way, seems to contain 72 lb, of cherries 63 or 64 lb, of gooseberries 641b., and of radishes fourteen dozen bunches. The vegetables that are grown in such gardens under the shade of closely planted fruit trees must be early, and, for the most part, off the ground before the leaf is full out upon the trees, otherwise they do not pay.
Mr Masters still grew asparagus, but said that the local stock was worn out and that new seed ought to be obtained. In this respect Americans were most particular, always selecting the seed from the best and strongest canes, and he thought that perhaps their troubles in Evesham arose from a lack of similar care. I think that the sort he grew was called Palmetto, a giant, but not very prolific variety, imported from America. The practice seemed to be to sow the seed in beds, and at one year old to plant out the roots in single rows upon land that had been well sooted, but not otherwise prepared. These rows were set 2 ft 6 in apart, and would be ridged up the following year. Till this was done the space between them was being utilised for the growing of peas. Here we saw some asparagus that had stood for twenty years and was unblighted, whereas other beds which had been planted only five years were blighted and would have to be dug up. I noted that in this orchard all the trees were grease-banded as a protection against the winter moth. This grease banding used to be done by smearing the material direct on to the tree, which, to judge from its rough and unhealthy appearance, appeared to injure the bark. Now that practice has been given up in most orchards, and the grease is spread on paper, which is fastened round the tree with string, at a height of about two feet above the ground.
Mr Masters seemed to think highly of the Victoria plum, which he said was strong and a good bearer. Certainly the fruit on the trees of that variety in his orchard had set wonderfully well.
A fruit farm that struck me as particularly interesting was that held by Messrs Idiens, and owned, I think—but of this I am not sure—by the Duke of Orleans, who has a fine place on the outskirts of Evesham. The soil of this farm, which covers thirty acres, strikes the observer as of an exceedingly unpromising nature, being of the stiffest and poorest clay, lying rather high—land that would scarcely be worth 7s 6d an acre for the growth of ordinary farm crops, at which rent, I believe, it was originally let. It is this circumstance which makes the results obtained by Messrs Idiens during their first four or five years of tenancy—I do not think they had held it longer—so very remarkable.
Land, I should explain, which the tenant proposes to plant with permanent fruit trees is taken under the provisions of the Market Gardeners' Compensation Act of 1895, which, to the woe and grief of many such cultivators, has been held by the House of Lords not to be retrospective. The principal provision of this Act is to the effect that in the case of tenancies commencing after January 1896, where there is an agreement in writing that the ground is to be let or treated as a market garden, on the expiration of the said tenancy the tenant has a right to claim from the landlord compensation for the value of the trees planted by him as they stand, and for certain other improvements. This clause is of very great importance. Thus the rent of this holding of Messrs Idiens is about £40 a year, but it is probable that if their tenancy should terminate, say twenty years hence, the value of the trees upon the thirty acres will amount to a large sum, perhaps thousands of pounds, which sum they would be entitled to recover from the landlord, or to receive by private agreement as tenant right from the incoming occupier. To take an example, I was told of a case where a man hired land some ten years before at 30s. an acre, and after he had held it for seven or eight years sold his tenant-right to another man for £80 an acre, that is, for a good deal more than the fee-simple value of the land.
After deep cultivation, I think with a steam plough, which cost about £10 an acre, such portions of this farm as were, when I saw it, already under fruit had been planted with plums, currant, and gooseberry bushes, (200 plums, and 1,000 currants or gooseberries, costing in all about £20 to the acre). The plums were set fifteen feet from row to row, and twelve feet from tree to tree. Two rows of black currants were planted between each row of plums, and one row of currants along the line of the plums in the spaces left between the trees, which, as these grow big, can, if necessary, be cut out. The black currant used was Lea's Prolific, which is supposed to have the power of resisting the fatal disease known as 'big bud,' and the plums, which are best planted with an eastern aspect and when one year old from the graft, were Early Orleans, Prolific, Czar, Monarque, King of the Damsons, Pershore, and Victoria, the last being one of the most excellent and vigorous known. Although the trees were quite young, their growth and condition were splendid; indeed I would not have believed that it was possible on such poor, cracking, cakey clay soil for slow growing trees like damsons to attain such dimensions in four years, or to bear such crops of fruit as I saw forming upon them. It must be remembered, however, that the cooler the bottom the better is the soil suited to the needs of the plum.
I noted in walking through the orchard that the variety known as Prolific makes a great deal of wood, whereas that called Czar did not make much wood but was loaded with fruit. The gooseberries used were Wynan's Industry and Keepsake. The custom is to prune them up well for the first two or three years, and to cut out the centres so as to let the light and sun into the heart of the bush. Most people who grow this fruit will be aware how rarely the gardener thinks it worthwhile to adopt such an obvious and common sense method. But my experience of this class is that most of them have much to learn from business men who, not being paid a weekly wage, have their wits sharpened by the necessity of making a living from their gardens.
I saw also another holding of sixty acres, of which twenty-six were orchard and the rest grass, in the occupation of one of the Brothers Idiens, some of the orcharding being on grass land where sheep and fowls were allowed to run, to the great advantage of the ground. This farm had a charming house on it, recently built by the Duke of Orleans, on the cost of which the tenant paid interest at the rate of 5%. Opposite to it was a holding of ten acres planted in the usual fashion. Its occupier was a gardener who used to earn but 15s a week, and I mention the instance to show how men may rise by thrift and industry in the happy Vale of Evesham. Indeed, while driving back to the town I noticed on its outskirts a number of commodious and well-constructed villas which, I was told, had all been built by successful market-gardeners.
Another farm of a different class that I went over here was in the occupation of Mr Savory, of Aldington Manor, quite close to Wickhamford, who had held it for many years—I think about twenty-five. This farm comprised 350 acres, of which thirty were under fruit, thirty under hops, eighty let in allotments at about 75s the acre and averaging from one to three acres in size, the balance being half arable, half pasture. The soil was a splendid wheat land upon which the hops that were originally introduced by Mr Savory twenty-five years before, throve to perfection. When we saw his plantation all hands were busily engaged in cutting out superfluous shoots and training the vines up the string, which, by the way, cost £24 a ton, and is used at the rate of a hundredweight per acre. Mr Savory had a beautiful herd of pedigree Jerseys, about forty head in all, of which sixteen or seventeen were in milk. Each cow was expected to earn about £20 gross per annum. They were kept for ten or twelve years and then sold for £8 or £10, either fat or with their last calf. The butter from these cows was of a splendid quality, golden in colour and sweet to the taste. It was disposed of readily at Is. 6d per pound, carriage free.
Mr Savory kindly took us to see some of the allotment holders. The first of these was Mr Grant, whose land was beautifully cultivated, the peas being planted with six feet between the rows, having vegetable marrows set in the intervening space at distances of six feet from plant to plant. These marrows were protected from the cold spring wind by means of very simple and ingenious glass cones that are placed over them, and when the sun is hot either removed or tilted up a little, so that each plant has its own greenhouse, which helps it to early maturity. These excellent little shelters only cost £1 Is. a dozen, and ought, I think, to be more generally used. Mr Grant said that in the past asparagus had been the making of the small man, but owing to blight the crop had deteriorated. He complained that nowadays there was little gain in market-gardening. They used to make money, but the area under cultivation had increased so much that the competition killed the profit. The railway rates also were oppressive and the charges of the middlemen stiff—or so he declared.
Another holding that I saw of very similar character, rented at £4 the acre, was in a splendid state of cultivation, but report said that its owner did not make it pay. Mr Mustoe, who in addition to other occupations, I think, kept a public-house near to Mr Savory's farm, was a gentleman of very wide experience, and gave me some useful information. He said that market-gardening was doing better that season, and so was the asparagus crop, of which the best qualities were fetching a good price, although the average figure for 120 sticks was only 1s 2d. Still, none of it was up to the old mark, and seven years before the crop had been twice as prolific. For instance, Badsey was built on asparagus, but that could not be done now. He thought that if market-gardening was much extended it would mean failure, and that owners were making a great mistake in cutting up more farms for this purpose; indeed, he was afraid that a good many men would throw up their holdings at the following Michaelmas. “We have got to work hard for a little,” he said; “in summer it means from three o'clock in the morning till eight at night.”
He complained that the carriage to London was so much heavier than to other places, and that the Covent Garden charges of 6d a bushel upon all fruit were higher than elsewhere. Also the proceeds varied so much. Thus not long before cabbage on the London market fell Is. a pot in a single day, and beans from 3s 6d to 1s 3d also in one day. The farmers round about, he said, were very short of labour, especially on the hills, and the men were most independent. At Cirencester, recently, he had found the tenants borrowing hands from each other in order to get their ricks thrashed. “It's a very bad thing to see all the people going into the towns,” he added. I remarked that a good many folk about Evesham seemed to be prosperous. He answered, “Oh! yes; some of them are doing pretty well; it is the small men who do badly.”
It must be admitted that such evidence, of which I heard a good deal, is not altogether encouraging. Still I think that it ought to be discounted, since whenever prices happen to rule low the small-holder is apt to take a despondent view of the situation. On the whole, I believe that Evesham is prosperous, and likely to advance in prosperity, and incline to agree with Mr Jones, whose views I have quoted, that, notwithstanding temporary checks, the fruit growers there have today a better chance of nourishing than ever they had before. Also I am sure that their industry is capable of almost indefinite expansion.