The Garden Guide

Book: Gardening tours by J.C. Loudon 1831-1842
Chapter: London to Manchester in the Spring of 1831

Agriculture in the English Midlands

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Agriculture. - Having passed through the same tract of country for the first time in 1806, with the farming of East Lothian fresh in our minds, we well recollect the impression made on us by the wretched state in which the agriculture of England was, in comparison with that of Scotland. Though we did not now expect much change, except in there being a greater quantity of land enclosed, yet we could not help being surprised at the very slight improvement which has taken place in the implements and the processes of culture. We must except a part of Derbyshire and Lancashire, as far as we have yet seen it: but Hertfordshire, Bucks, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire, and Staffordshire, meaning the parts of these counties which we have passed through, seem only to have advanced two steps, viz. those of having a more general introduction of clovers, and a somewhat better Dreed of horned cattle. The same cumbrous implements of every description, large clumsy half-starved horses, shallow ploughing, dirty fallows, and broad-cast turnips, still remain. Will it be believed that we repeatedly saw six horses in a line drawing a heavy wheel plough at the rate of two miles an hour? In only one or two places, exclusive of Derbyshire and Lancashire, did we see improved swing ploughs, turnips on raised drills, or clover mixed with ryegrass; and nowhere single-horse carts, or Finlayson's, Wilkie's, or Kirkwood's improved harrow and grubber; though the improved grubber is an in-strument that might work nine tenths of the turnip and naked follows of England, and one which will sooner or later, and more especially when steam is applied to impel agricultural implements, effect a revolution in the culture of arable lands. Is this, then, the result of the exertions of the Board of Agriculture, and of the 150 county boards that were established all over the country ? Yes: and nothing better would be the result if these boards were recalled into existence and continued for another half century. They were mere playthings for the country gentlemen. Instead of boards, if, in 1796, it had been thought fit to establish schools all over the country, agriculture would by this time have reformed itself; the farmers would have found it to be their interest to adopt improved practices, as they did in Scotland, without the assistance of any board. All that the agricultural societies attempted is to be considered in the light of empiricism or topical remedies; but a system of general scientific education would strike at the root of every disease in agriculture, in gardening, and, indeed, in every thing else. Effectually and permanently to advance, we must begin at the beginning, that is, with the rising generation.