Old Hertfordshire News
From the Hertfordshire Mercury of 7th June 1873
CHAMBER OF AGRICULTURE
THE LABOURERS’ QUESTION
A meeting of this Chamber was held on Saturday “to consider the effect of strikes and unions upon the agricultural interets, and to devise the best means of counteracting the same.” The chair was taken by the Hon. Baron Dimsdale, M.P., the President of the Chamber. There was an unusually large attendance. Among those present were Mr. Abel Smith, M.P., Mr. C. W. Wilshere. Rev. T. Lingley, Messrs C. H. Lattimore, J. B. Brandram, J. Pollard, A. Ransom, W. Anthony, J. Gardener, Woodward, Nible, Roberson, T. Garrett, H. Dorrington, G. Passingham, W. Baker, Riley, Rowlatt, Ward, Odell, Marsh, Ashwell, Foster, T. Brown, W. Wyman, J. Acres, John Acres, Randall Acres, H. Ormond, J. Ormond, J. C. Allen, Abbey, Johnson, Piper, Nash, Phillips, Topham, Coleman, A. E. McMullen, Stephen Austin, T. Chapman, Pigg, Piggott, R. Francis, Hill, C. Chapman, C. Mole, Waddington, Fossey, Fordham, T. Woollatt, Wells, T. Bigg. &c., &c.
The Chairman said he thought that the important question they had met to consider – the effect of strikes and unions upon the agricultural interest – might be well left in the hands of Mr. Charles Lattimore who had undertaken to introduce it. …
Mr Lattimore then said: In bringing forward a motion of this sort it is natural to expect very great difference of opinion even amongst the members of the present Chamber as well as amongst Society at large. Having had upwards of forty-five years experience in dealing with labourers I flatter myself that I have some knowledge of a general character as to the best mode of raising their social position, of giving them a higher standing in society than they have hitherto occupied. …
[Long speech highly critical of the unions. Only passages relevant to Sandridge extracted.]
… Then they have agents appointed in every district, and I will just show you how the agent for Sandridge (my own district) has treated the farmers. The Union men there have been on strike for about five weeks. A notice was served on the farmers ordering them to pay all their labourers two shillings a week more. The notice was received two days before the Friday night from which time the increased rate of wages was to take effect, and the farmers were threatened that if they did not comply with the demand the men would have the whole strength of the Union at their back to enable them to migrate or emigrate. The first notice was dated the 22nd March, 1873:–
Dear Sir, – The agricultural labourers of this branch of the National Agricultural Union, in your employ, beg respectfully to inform you that on and after the 22nd day of March, they will require a rise in their wages of two shillings per week; a week’s work to consist of [blank] hours for the first five days, and on Saturday to leave at four o’clock. Being desirous of retaining good relations between employer and employed and to assure you that no unbecoming feelings prompt us to such a course, we invite you (if our terms are not in accordance with your views) to appoint an early time to meet us, so that we may fairly consider the matter, and arrange our affairs amicably. – Your obedient servants, The Committee.
Sandridge Branch, Address William Paul, Secretary to the above.
The notice was signed by the agent, William Paul, of Sandridge, a man of whom I wish to have nothing to say (laughter). That notice is in very civil terms, but it was followed by a second edition which is dated the 9th of April, 1873. The wages of the labourers had been raised from twelve to thirteen shillings a week, and of shepherds, carters and others to fourteen and sixteen shillings. When the second demand came for an advance of two shillings a week the farmers determined to resist it. They saw that if these notices were to be served by an irresponsible agent every fortnight they would have no power over their labourers, and no command over their own business.
Mr. Ransom: Was the advance of a shilling a week given in consequence of the “amicable meeting” or in consequence of the notice?
A member of the Chamber replied that the extra shilling a week was given before the notice was served.
Mr. Lattimore: The farmers very wisely determined to disregard these notices. I myself did not receive a notice because although I occupy land in the parish I do not live in it. In consequence of this refusal there was a general strike which does not appear, however, to have extended to outlying farms, for Sandridge is a very scattered parish; and these outlying farms do not appear to have been served with the notices. Other notices were served, but they are all so much alike that I do not know that I need trouble you with them. Some of the farmers rather doubted the authority of Mr. Paul to send them out, but in answer to an inquiry they made they received the following communication:–
18 Manchester Street, Luton, April 12, 1873.
Mr. Smith, Pound Farm, Sandridge.
This is to certify that the notices which were served on the Farmers by William Paul, the Secretary of the Sandridge Branch of the National Agricultural Labourers Union, is genuine, and was sent by that Union through the Committee of the South Beds and Herts district. This is also to certify that if the terms mentioned in such notices are not complied with steps will immediately be taken to remove men willing to migrate. – N. Judor [?], Wm. Parkes, W. M. Gales, members of the District Committee.
Here is a copy of the notices which were afterwards served on the farmers:–
Mr. J. Cox, Hill End Farm.
Sir, – We, the undersigned labourers in your employ, do hereby give you notice that it is our intention to leave your service on the 11th day of April, 1873, unless on Friday next, from the receipt of this notice, you consent to increase our wages by two shillings per week, and 4 o’clock on Saturdays. Dated this 9th day of April, 1873. – Signed. Wm. Paul, Secretary.
Then followed the signatures of the labourers. The advice give to them was to let the crops rot on the ground if farmers would not comply with their terms. … I for one would rather give up the whole of my occupation as an agriculturist than submit for a single moment to such dictation as that (hear, hear).
Mr. Abel Smith: Will you tell us what happened afterwards?
Mr. Lattimore: We had a meeting at St Albans in consequence, at which I took the chair by the request of the committee. I fully explained to them what I considered they ought to do. I told them that they ought to resist to a man such a system of intimidation, and then I described what I thought was the best mode of encouraging non-unionist labourers. … At the end of the meeting the farmers agreed to assist each other in getting labourers from a distance and the result has been that within one month from the date of that meeting every labourer, almost without exception, has come back to his work. Their wives went to their employers, and begged then to set them on again, and keep them from starvation. The men thought they were going to get fourteen shillings a week from the funds of the Union, and I have a right to complain that the men have had the grossest deception practised upon them. I understand that the men got nine shillings the first week, a trifle the next week, and at the third meeting the hat went round and fivepence-halfpenny was all that was gathered at a large meeting for the labourers. At the next meeting not a single farthing was subscribed, and the men turned round and abused the agent. This does not look as if the funds were likely to hold out long.
Mr Lattimore continued at length. He was followed by Mr. Ransom, who was more conciliatory, Mr Marsh and Mr. Abel Smith. Mr Garrett had attended some of the labourers’ meetings. He remarked that after all that had been said about the agitation amongst the labourers they must not forget that there are two sides to every question, and that this question is no exception to the rule. With regard to the labourers’ meetings of which so much had been said, he (Mr. Garrett) had met his men at their different meetings in that town and at Tewin and he believed that if the masters generally had met their men fairly and openly, there would not have been half so much strong language used and ill-feeling displayed. He had heard some of the labourers say. “Why don’t our masters meet us. They are ashamed to face us because they know we are in the right.” He (Mr. Garrett) told them that if they had anything to say against him he was there to answer it: and they replied they had nothing to say against him. … He must confess, however that when he listened to Mr. Lattimore’s speech he felt tempted to ask “Can this be the same Mr. Lattimore I knew thirty years ago? (laughter) the Mr. Lattimore who advocated the abolition of the Corn Laws and contended in every possible way for the rights and liberties of the people?” How was it that he complained of the conduct of the labourers now that they were determined to act for themselves and to take their labour into the best market. …
Other speakers were Mr. Pollard and Mr. Abbey. The chairman summed up, and the discussion was brought to a close without any formal resolution being proposed.
See Also The Agricultural Workers Strike, Sandridge 1873
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