« AnteriorContinuar »
the parish authorities, about the year 1852. I cannot suppose that Lady Grenville would have sanctioned the acts which produced so much ill-will in my district, had she been informed of what was going forward. On the few occasions when I have taken the liberty of communicating directly with her Lady. ship, she has always shown a polite readiness to forward my wishes, and an obliging disposition. In the matter of the water supply, for example: a few years ago her steward repeatedly promised that repairs should be made in the conduit pipes on which we depended for our water. But month after month passed over without even a move on his part, and I had no resource but to address a remonstrance to Lady Grenville herself. She replied without delay, in a business-like, courteous letter; ordered the work to be executed, and it was put in hand forthwith, at her cost. This was in Mr. Bowman's time. Of the young man who acted as subordinate steward I never had any cause to complain personally. When I have represented to him any abuse of the privileges of the inhabitants of the Liberty, he has endeavoured to correct it, especially in the case of the herds of hogs which latterly overran the Burnham Beeches, rooting up (as I have stated) many roods of turf in search of beech-mast and acorns, befouling the pathways with their filth, and even molesting timid people by their audacious, defiant approach. Mr. Forbes did try to impound many pigs which were found to be without rings; but the difficulty of driving them out of the woodland was well-nigh insurmountable when once they had got in. The origin of all this lay in the destruction of the eight or ten gates which formerly protected the Liberty against intruding animals, many of which were extant when I first came to East Burnham.* Gates having sufficient latches or nooses would have kept out all unauthorized pigs. It was the duty of the ratepayers to compel the surveyor of the roads to uphold these gates. But as the surveyors were tenants of Lady Grenville, so were the ratepayers, with hardly an exception. Accordingly, every item of expenditure which could be evaded, was evaded: Lady Grenville could have compelled the surveyor to do his duty, for he held his farm as tenant at will. The parish might have appointed a surveyor other than one of Lady Grenville's tenants, it is true; but there was only Mr. Grote who was eligible, as a ratepayer of any consequence. He, however, naturally shrank from this sort of trouble, being, moreover, only an occasional resident in East Burnham; and there remained no other individual at once eligible and capable of discharging the office. Thus the whole system under which the district was administered revolved round Lady Grenville, represented by a paid steward (living 300 miles away in Cornwall), and he again by a young deputy, instructed to keep down expenses above all, and to maintain “rights.” The poor were left without anybody to care for them, except an occasional visit from the curate, all trembling at the nod of “the steward;” whilst the farmers, backed by this functionary, managed the whole of the affairs of the hamlet between them. The labouring people entertained an unpleasant feel
ing towards the farmers, who, as they considered,
* For several years after I first settled in East Burnham, cricket was regularly played during the summer on Sunday afternoons, by all the men and lads of the vicinity. The common, indeed, presented a lively and pleasing aspect, dotted with parties of cheerful lookers-on, with many women and children and old persons, among whom we ourselves, and our servants, not unfrequently mingled. But about the year 1842—3, some boys of our hamlet, having been taken up and carried before the Beaconsfield Bench, for playing cricket on a Sunday, and fined “fifteen shillings each, or six weeks of Aylesbury gaol,” the practice of playing cricket was effectually checked in East Burnham. The young men and boys, having thenceforth no recreative pastime, spent their afternoons in the beershops, or played at skittles in public-houses, or prowled about the lanes looking for birds'-nests, game-haunts, hare “runs,” and the like ; while the common was left lonely and empty of loungers.
humble neighbours, during the period of my residence
among them, was gratefully felt; that they bore me unfeigned respect, and would, I think, have repaid my interest in them by any services in their power to render me. When I quitted the cottage in the Park, never more to return to it, the cottager women were prone to exclaim, “Ah! there will be no one left to care for us when ‘Madam' is gone!”
I disposed of my little property, called (by courtesy) East Burnham Park, in the spring of 1858, after having resided in the hamlet—with one short interval—for twenty years. The oft-recurring vexations incident to the position I occupied—viz., that of a lady residing in the centre of a population dominated by a young servant, armed with the authority of the owner of all the land, manorial privileges, and cottages (nearly all) in my district: from whose arbitrary control no appeal could be made, on account of Lady Grenville's advanced age;—these oft-recurring vexations, I confess, made me feel, latterly, uncomfortable. Being of a temper liable to fret under the spectacle of wrong-doing, without having the smallest power to prevent it; the invariable opposition offered by Lady Grenville's Steward to my endeavours to effect measures of public utility—the grievous neglect of the highways precluding me from taking walking exercise in winter, and the advance of years rendering me less disposed to exert myself, as formerly, in behalf of the general welfare of the place,—all this concurred to make me resolve to retire from the neighbourhood: at the same time, I retain a sincere interest in the prosperity and well-doing of the inhabitants, among whom so large a portion of my life has been spent.
A feeling naturally suggests itself, after learning the circumstances which have been here related (concerning an obscure fraction of rural life in an agricultural province of England), that surely some remedy ought to have been available for the evils set forth ! I am afraid there was none. Mr. Eyre was eighty years old when he died. Mr. Sayer, or “Captain Sayer,” as he was styled, was unmarried, had infirm health, and led a secluded life: letting everything “go its own way” till his death, also at an advanced age. Captain Popple latterly grew full of years, and having only a life-interest in the estates, he, in his turn, cared mighty little about keeping them in order. Thus, for forty years and more, the duties of administration, in regard to this large property, were neglected; mainly owing to the incapacity and indif. ference of its two last possessors. Then comes Lady Grenville, winding up the list with a hireling superintendence, and a nominal government,” resembling that of Irish “absentees” under the old régime. Among the numerous blessings attending on free institutions in a country, some defects naturally coexist. An unbounded control over land or house. property possessed by individuals, leads to equally
* The responsible “deputy” living at the “Land's End.”