22nd October 1822 - William Cobbett visits Salisbury, addresses 500 farmers

William Cobbett.JPG

On the 22nd October 1822, William Cobbett visited Salisbury for the first time on his Rural Rides. He spoke at a meeting of 500 farmers, touching on a recent fire on a local farm

He wrote this in his ‘Rural Rides‘:[1]

Went to dine with the farmers at Salisbury, and got back to Uphusband by ten o'clock at night, two hours later than I have been out of bed for a great many months.

In quitting Andover to go to Salisbury (17 miles from each other) you cross the beautiful valley that goes winding down amongst the hills to Stockbridge. You then rise into the open country that very soon becomes a part of that large tract of downs, called Salisbury Plain. You are not in Wiltshire, however, till you are about half the way to Salisbury. You leave Tidworth away to your right.

This is the seat of Asheton Smith; and the fine coursing that I once saw there I should have called to recollection with pleasure, if I could have forgotten the hanging of the men at Winchester last Spring for resisting one of this Smith's game-keepers! This Smith's son and a Sir John Pollen are the members for Andover. They are chosen by the Corporation. One of the Corporation, an Attorney, named Etwall, is a Commissioner of the Lottery, or something in that way. It would be a curious thing to ascertain how large a portion of the "public services" is performed by the voters in Boroughs and their relations. These persons are singularly kind to the nation. They not only choose a large part of the "representatives of the people;" but they come in person, or by deputy, and perform a very considerable part of the "public services." I should like to know how many of them are employed about the Salt-Tax, for instance. A list of these public-spirited persons might be produced to show the benefit of the Boroughs.

Before you get to Salisbury, you cross the valley that brings down a little river from Amesbury. It is a very beautiful valley. There is a chain of farmhouses and little churches all the way up it. The farms consist of the land on the flats on each side of the river, running out to a greater or less extent, at different places, towards the hills and downs. Not far above Amesbury is a little village called Netherhaven,[2] where I once saw an acre of hares. We were coursing at Everly, a few miles off; and one of the party happening to say, that he had seen "an acre of hares" at Mr. Hicks Beech's at Netherhaven, we, who wanted to see the same, or to detect our informant, sent a messenger to beg a day's coursing, which being granted, we went over the next day. Mr. Beech received us very politely. He took us into a wheat stubble close by his paddock; his son took a gallop round, cracking his whip at the same time; the hares (which were very thickly in sight before) started all over the field, ran into a flock like sheep; and we all agreed, that the flock did cover an acre of ground. Mr. Beech had an old greyhound, that I saw lying down in the shrubbery close by the house, while several hares were sitting and skipping about, with just as much confidence as cats sit by a dog in a kitchen or a parlour. Was this instinct in either dog or hares? Then, mind, this same greyhound went amongst the rest to course with us out upon the distant hills and lands; and then he ran as eagerly as the rest, and killed the hares with as little remorse. Philosophers will talk a long while before they will make men believe, that this was instinct alone.[3]

In crossing this valley to go to Salisbury, I thought of Mr. Beech's hares; but I really have neither thought of nor seen any game with pleasure, since the hanging of the two men at Winchester. If no other man will petition for the repeal of the law, under which those poor fellows suffered, I will. But let us hope, that there will be no need of petitioning. Let us hope, that it will be repealed without any express application for it. It is curious enough that laws of this sort should increase, while Sir James Mackintosh is so resolutely bent on "softening the criminal code!"

The company at Salisbury was very numerous; not less than 500 farmers were present. They were very attentive to what I said, and, which rather surprised me, they received very docilely what I said against squeezing the labourers. A fire in a farmyard had lately taken place near Salisbury; so that the subject was a ticklish one. But it was my very first duty to treat of it, and I was resolved, be the consequence what it might, not to neglect that duty.


[1] Title: Rural Rides

Author: William Cobbett

Release Date: November 8, 2010 [EBook #34238]

Language: English

Page: 109 URL: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/34238/34238-h/34238-h.htm

[2] It’s now spelt and pronounced ‘Netheravon’

[3] I’ve removed a sentence at this point. It was racist.