A Challenge to the Poor

Below is a letter to The Times ($,rr,academic) , January 2, 1855; Page 9 col b:


Sir,--I have lately noticed in your journal several letters from persons complaining of the high price of food and the comparatively low rate of wages; among others, one from "A Poor Parson," living near Colchester; where "a labourer with anything like a family requires a bushel of flour a week, costing 13s. 4d.," and where "the tip-top price of labour is 12s. a week."

The "Poor Parson" expresses his opinion that the labourer should be as well off now with 12s. as he was formerly with 7s. per week, and he asks you to use your powerful advocacy in obtaining for these poor people "the common necessaries of life.

Now, Sir, I beg to hint to this gentleman that he lays the saddle on the wrong horse when he blames the farmer for receiving the market price for his produce and for paying his workmen at the market price of labour. He should rather blame the absense of a spirit of enterprise and improvement in the district in which he lives, which I think is fully proved to apply to landlord, tenant, and labourer by the "Poor Parson's" statement that wages are now only 12s., and were formerly only 7s. per week--the maximum in that county being below the minimum in the border counties of England and Scotland. Were the landlords and tenants enterprising improvers, wages would soon rise above the shamefully low rate stated above, or were the labourers enterprising on their part, they would find their way, as do the poor Irish, to more improving counties, such as this is, where I am able to state that, out of many hundreds of men at present cutting drains under my inspection, not one able-bodied man makes less than 18s., and some superior workmen as much as 24s. per week, and even at these prices half the required number of hands cannot be obtained.

I may further state, for the information of the "Poor Parson" of Colchester and the insolvent labourers for whom he asks charity, that if they can find their way, by Government train or otherwise (with draining spade and scoop), to this county, I shall be able to set them to work at once in the vicinity of some of the stations on the York, Newcastle, and Berwick Railway.

Your Obedient Servant,
G. A. Grey
Assistant Drainage Commissioner
Milfield-hill, Northumberland


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