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Book Title:

The Good Old Days: Then and Now


The Good Old Days: Then and Now by S. Box

Published by: S. Box, The Firs, Marden, Hereford

Printed by: Reliance Printing Works, Halesowen, Worcs.

SECTION 2. Chapter 3.



At the Diocesan Conference held in 1913 I wrote the following letter to the Chairman:—

A manifesto issued by your Conference may have great weight among your prominent laymen and be the means of alleviating much of the squalor and misery always rampant during hop-picking. I am exceedingly sorry to tell you that the principal ones at fault are some of your own laymen and churchwardens, which tends to hold up the teaching of Jesus Christ to scorn and contempt by the workers of our country. It reminds me of a prominent layman who pays the lowest wages of any employer, his hops being gathered under the most degrading conditions; yet he is regular at Holy Communion. I have dried hops for him for the last three years; he is also a churchwarden at his village, yet he pays low wages to the pickers and houses them in indescribable filth.

It may shock some of my readers to see my use of such strong expressions, but no language can adequately describe the terrible conditions under which some of our village dwellers lived. I am sorry to say all this was winked at by some of the Clergy—the reason is obvious to all thinking men!

Note: A Herefordshire Clergyman wrote to the Chairman of the Conference, verifying the truth of the above in 1913.

The previous chapters explain, inadequately perhaps, the cold hard facts about wages, and the bitter struggle of the past by the agricultural workers. It would be as well to deal briefly with housing and working conditions in the " Good Old Days," They were only " Good Old Days " for those living in wealth and luxury with hosts of servants to pander to their wants (not needs), and this wealth extracted from the toil and suffering of others. A certain amount of this exists to-day, but I am thankful to say not to the same degree.


Note some of these large houses of the wealthy still in existence to-day with their 10, 20 and 40 bedrooms, and in contrast the miserable hovels still occupied by those who have to do the real work in the world. In both town and country they can still be seen.  I have visited hundreds of them in Herefordshire, Breconshire, Radnor, Monmouth, Worcestershire and Shropshire.  It is true that since the country was aroused to its responsibility by the much maligned agitators of the past, vast improvements are taking place, but the old ideas are not dead, as exemplified by the new reduction in the size of the rooms and any small amount to beautify the cottages under the sacred name of economy.  In these good old days there was one large mansion for the people who spent their lives in toil, grew old often prematurely, and were packed off to these mansions (Workhouses), with their bare walls, cobblestone yards, stone floors, stone stairs outside the building to go to bed—so nice on a cold, frosty morning; day rooms of whitewashed walls on bare brick.  These were the homes of men, women and children not so many years ago— I have spent some time in them myself.  If the old people elected to retain their own home, outside relief was 1/6 to 2/6 per week and a four pound loaf of bread.   If the old people had sons and daughters these were called upon to contribute towards their  maintenance,  and this out of a miserable wage of 12/- per week, even if they were married and had children?

How were they fed in these good old days?

Breakfast, 4ozs. of bread and butter, one pint of tea in a tin mug.

Dinner varied, potatoes boiled in their skins, boiled salt beef, 1oz. bread, some days suet pudding only, no pudding on meat days. 

Supper, same as for breakfast.

The children had one pint of skim milk, a piece of bread, porridge for over eights.  

The aged men were given for breakfast: 4oz. bread with a little salt butter spread on it (margarine was not known at this time), alternatively a pint of tea served in a tin can.

Dinners for these old folks were also varied: Boiled salt beef and potatoes one day, suet pudding the next, stew the next, and so on.  

Before and after the meals all were expected to sing thanks for these blessings and woe betide the boy or girl caught not singing.  The Master was perched up on a high desk, where he could see every person. When a boy or girl was punished the Master administered it with a long cane—thrashing them unmercifully around the shoulders, leaving the poor children with terribly bruised shoulders and back, and they could not sleep at nights, because of the pain and their nerves being upset.

The children were taken for a walk on Sunday afternoons, but had to walk in pairs, a stern old governess with the girls and a porter with the boys. The adults were allowed to go around the vegetable garden or a walk in town if they had permission. In most cases this walk was not much pleasure for the sensitive; because they were shunned as paupers. When there was a death the person was buried with very little ceremony in a poor cheap coffin—hence the lines — Rattle his bones over the stones, he's only a pauper nobody owns.


Who were the Guardians at this time? The parsons, squires, business men and large farmers. During my first term serving on the Hereford County Council I visited the Ledbury Workhouse, which was my home for a short while as a child. There were some slight improvements, but I was disgusted to see some poor old ladies working away in the laundry, the floor of which was a puddle of water. I reported the matter to the County Council, when Miss Ballard took the matter up and succeeded in bringing about some alteration.

The late Dr. Shaw became interested in the diet at the institutions and brought the question before the proper authorities for all the inmates, after which the meals were greatly improved.

It should be remembered that the poor old couples who lived together for so many years were separated when they entered these Mansions of the poor: what cruelty to be tolerated in a supposed Christian country—What a violation of the injunction: " What God hath joined, let no man put asunder! "


This went on, with very little improvement, until the Lloyd George Government allowed a pension of 5/- a week for all contributors to the National Health Scheme. In those days this was known as 9d. for 4d. This pension was given at 65 years of age.


The hours worked by agricultural workers were from 6.0 a.m. to 6.0 p.m. Waggoners, in the Winter, 5.0 a.m. to 7.0 pm, for which they received an extra 1/- to 2/- a week, and they had to spend two hours on Sunday mornings and one Sunday evening feeding the horses.   Cowmen worked practically the same hours as the waggoners, except that the hours on week-days were 6.0 a.m. to 6.0 p.m. A great change has taken place during the past 20 years, due to certain factors. Firstly the growing strength and power in all spheres of life of the Trade Unions, the increasing education of the children, the altered outlook of the people by the easier travelling facilities, the demands of the workers for a larger share of the  production  and  control of the  means  of life.   That powerful force for men experiencing the needs of the people, are now in the House of Commons and even in the House of Lords—that hereditary relic of the " Good Old Days," which has been related in this record of facts, truth and struggles of the past.


Having stated these things for the benefit of the younger generation I would seriously warn them against thinking that this upward trend for their betterment will continue unless they do their share now, because their future will depend on how they act now. They must not forget that eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.

Lord Randolph Churchill

Lord Randolph Churchill (1849–1895) was a British statesman and father of the future wartime Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill


As a result of the awakening of the workers in this sleepy but beautiful county of Herefordshire, we found that while we might make progress by Trade Union effort, much of our work was hindered and frustrated by some of those we had sent to Parliament to represent our interests. We had experienced this by their actions, after they had well and truly misled us at election times by false promises. This set us thinking and we came to the conclusion that the way to do anything for ourselves was to obtain and hold the reins of government in our own hands.   Thus bringing into reality a vision of Lord Randolph Churchill many years ago.  He was speaking in the House of Commons, and stated: " I look into the dim past—what do I see sitting on these benches? Landlords who passed laws in their own interests.  I look again and what do I see?   Industrialists, they framed laws in their own interests. What do I see in the future sitting on these same benches?  The men from behind the plough, the men from the mines, the railway and the factories; they will pass laws in their own interests, and who shall blame them?



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