THE CATSHILL SMALL HOLDINGS AND EVESHAM VALE – BY MR H RIDER HAGGARD
We take the following from the “London Daily Express”. It is one of a series of articles Mr Rider Haggard is contributing under the title “Back to the Land”, and appeared yesterday. Quotation has been facilitated by the courtesy of the Editor in supplying advance proofs …..
IN THE GARDEN OF 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.