CHARACTERISTICS OF AGRICULTURAL LABOURERS AND VILLAGERS.
“My crown is in my heart,
not on my head:
Not deck’d with diamonds and Indian stones,”
—3 Henry VI.
The agricultural labourer, and the countryman generally, does not recognize any form of property beyond land, houses, buildings, farm stock, and visible chattels. A groom whom I questioned concerning a new-comer, a wealthy man, in the neighbourhood, summed him up thus: “Oh, not much account—only one hoss and a brougham!” A railway may run through the parish, worth millions of invested capital, but the labourer does not recognize it as such, and a farmer, employing a few men and with two or three thousand pounds in farm stock, is a bigger man in his eyes than a rich man whose capital is invisible.
The labourer in the days of which I am writing was inclined to be suspicious of savings banks and deposit accounts at a banker’s; his savings represented a vast amount of hard work and self-denial; and he looked askance at security other than an old stocking or a teapot. He had heard of banks breaking, and felt uncomfortable about them. A story was current in my neighbourhood of a Warwickshire bank in difficulties, where a run was in progress. A van appeared, from which many heavy sacks were carried into the bank, in the presence of the crowd waiting outside to draw out their money. Some of the sacks were seen to be open, and apparently full of sovereigns; confidence was restored, and the run ceased. Later, when all danger was over, it transpired that these supposed resources were fictitious, for the open sacks contained only corn with a thin layer of gold on the top.
Formerly it was said of a certain street in Evesham, chiefly inhabited by market-gardeners and their labourers, that the houses contained more gold than both the banks in the town, and I have no doubt that, even at the present day, there is an immense amount of hoarded money in country places. Only a short while ago, long after the commencement of the Great War, the sale of a small property took place in my neighbourhood, when the purchaser paid down in gold a sum of L600, the bulk of which had earned no interest during the years of collection. No doubt people, as a rule, in these days of war bonds and certificates, have a better idea of investment, but probably a vast sum in possible loans has been lost to the Government through want of previous information on the subject. It should have been a simple matter, during the last fifty years of compulsory education, to teach the rudiments of finance in the elementary schools, and I commend the matter as worth the consideration of educational enthusiasts.