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Freehold Land Societies.


whom the Constitution contemplates as its possessors, but whom the collateral impediments, we have spoken of debar from its acquisition. They scarcely can be said to offer a channel for investments, properly so called; since the investments they offer might be suspected of having been sought less for the sake of the interest they may yield, than for that of the political influence they promise. At least so we should have thought from appearances and from the nature of the principal appeals made in their favour. On the other hand we are assured by parties and others acquainted with the details, that mercantile motives have had greater influence than political with the existing members.


'Their object is simple enough and easily understood. Proceeding on the principle that land, when sold in the gross, fetches a lower price per acre than when sold in small portions, particularly in the vicinity of large towns, these societies purchase, with money obtained from external sources, considerable estates, and divide the same among members in allotments sufficiently large to constitute 40s. freeholds. These freeholds may thus be allotted at a price which any skilled artisan in steady employment may easily accumulate in the course of five or six years, by laying aside Is. 6d. a week out of his wages for that purpose. The scheme was first tried in Birmingham, in a society formed by Mr. J. Taylor of that town. The workmen there had heard of the efforts of the Anti-CornLaw League, to carry South Lancashire by registering as many of their members as could be persuaded to purchase 40s. freeholds. The average price of such freeholds was separately 701.; and it occurred to them that by combining the principles of accumulating a considerable fund through moderate weekly subscriptions, with that of buying land at a wholesale cost, and by dividing it in allotments to subscribers at the same price, 40s. freeholds might be brought within the reach of workmen, or at least of the sober and steady members of the skilled artisan class. Persuading others to join them, and securing the countenance and co-operation of several members of Parliament, the first Freehold Land Society was founded in Birmingham in 1847.' (Scratchley, p. 158.)

It is obvious that by this system of procedure another great economy is effected, besides that of the difference between the wholesale and the retail price of land. One original investigation of title the costly part of conveyancing - will suffice for all the subsequent subdivisions of the estate. Under the combined influence of these causes, the freeholders in this Society appear to have obtained their lots at about 207. each. This success was so remarkable and unexpected that similar societies rapidly sprang up in every part of the country-in Derby, Coventry, London, Leicester, Wolverhampton, Worcester, Leeds, Halifax, Gloucester, and many other places. It was moreover formally decided in the highest law courts that

votes thus acquired were perfectly good; that the conveyance of land for a bonâ fide consideration was valid, even though the avowed object of the vendor is to extend, and that of the purchasers to acquire, the right of voting; and that the endeavour thus to multiply the possessors of the county franchise was entirely consonant to law, morality, and sound policy. Under this encouragement these associations multiplied so fast, that at the end of 1849, the total number of members, in the aggregate, amounted to 14,281, and the shares to 20,475. A later return in October, 150, states that there were then eighty Societies in operation, with numerous branches; and that 170,0007. had been contributed upon 30,000 shares of the ultimate value of nearly one million sterling. In November, 1851, the number of societies were upwards of 100; the number of members, 45,000; the shares subscribed for, 65,000; the amount actually paid up, 400,0007.; and the total sum subscribed for, upwards of 2,000,000l.

Notwithstanding this rapid popularity, however,-notwithstanding also the high authorities which have pronounced in their behalf,-we cannot look upon these associations with unmixed favour; and we shall be surprised if any long time elapses without well-grounded disappointment and discontent arising among their members. However desirable it may be for a peasant or artisan to be possessor of the garden which he cultivates, and the house he dwells in, however clear and great the gain to him in this case,—it is by no means equally certain that he can derive any adequate pecuniary advantage from the possession of a plot of land which is too far from his daily work for him either to erect a dwelling on it, or to cultivate it as an allotment, and which from its diminutive size he will find it very difficult to let to a tenant for any sufficient remuneration. In many cases a barren vote will be his only reward for 501. of · savings; and however he may value this in times of excitement, it will, in three elections out of four, be of little real interest or moment to him. Moreover elections do not come very often: contested elections in counties are still rarer. So that it will only be perhaps once in twenty years that he will really congratulate himself on his position as a county voter. Then, it must be very seldom, and only under most peculiar and rarely-recurring combinations that a 40s. freehold can be purchased (as it was said to be at Birmingham) for 201. This would be to suppose that land can often yield 10 per cent. In the great majority of cases 507. (or an investment at 4 per cent.) will be nearer the mark. If therefore the aspirant has been led into. the scheme from a false estimate, and finds himself called upon,

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Objections to these Associations.


to pay two or three times as much as he had calculated on, disappointment and reproach must ensue.

Again, when the land is purchased it will be utterly useless in a pecuniary sense to the owner, unless four or five can join together to let their fractions of territory to one tenant; or unless the purchaser contemplates building thereon for his own purposes. A mechanic in a manufacturing town cannot himself make any use of his land; he is ignorant of its management, and can only make a profit from his purchase by letting it to others [at a considerable legal cost]; and even then the expense of employing an agent, with the uncertainty of collecting his small rent regularly, would diminish the advantage of his purchase. Hence it appears probable that much discontent will shortly arise among the poorer members of these societies, who have entered under the impression that in addition to the influence acquired by the possession of a county vote, they would be making a highly lucrative profit from their savings. The comparatively rich member, who can take up several shares, will reap benefit, not only from the greater certainty of being able to turn his land to account, but also from the increase in the general profits of the association, that must accrue through the forfeited shares of those members whose means of existence are too limited or precarious to enable them to be regular in their payments.' (Scratchley, p. 168.)

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There are, however, other Societies of which the primary aim has been the acquisition of land simply as a profitable investment for the savings of the poor. It is pleaded, and with a great show of justice, that parties naturally desire to invest in matters of which they have some cognisance; that the various modes resorted to by the artisan of towns for disposing of his savings have no meaning or attraction for the agricultural peasant; that to him land is the great object of desire, and the cultivation of it his most natural, and probably most profitable occupation; that he will lay by with this view when no other motive would be strong enough to tempt him to frugality; and that means should be given him for obtaining the object of his wishes. Considerations of this kind secured a favourable hearing even for the notorious Land Schemes of Mr. Feargus O'Connor; while the eagerness with which shares in his company were sought for, and the absurd premiums given in some cases to the allottees for the possession of their plots, showed how widely spread among the lower classes is the desire of partaking in the actual possession of the soil. It is remarkable, however, that nearly all the shareholders and allottees were town-bred tradesmen shoemakers, tailors, carpenters, shopkeepers, &c. scarcely ever agricultural labourers.

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Into the details of this remarkable scheme our limits will not allow us to enter. Its merits, both as to conduct and concep


tion, were fully examined in 1848 by a Committee of the House of Commons, whose six voluminous Reports, now lying before us, we have conscientiously endeavoured to digest; and we are bound to say, that so much daring illegality so much sanguine misrepresentation-so much wild calculation—so much absurdly golden expectation, combined with unquestionable bona fides, were probably never before crowded into a single project. Every estimate seemed to be made on the supposition of a perpetual miraculous interposition—an untiring special Providence watching over the association. Every acre was to yield on an average such crops as no acre ever did yield except under the rarest combination of favouring climate, consummate skill, and unlimited manure- and then only occasionally. Every cow was to live for ever, was to give more milk than any save the most exceptional kine ever gave before, and was never to be dry. Every pig was to be a prize ox-every goose to be a The allottees were to pay a full rent, and yet to thrive as no men in this island, farming their own unincumbered property, ever yet throve. And to crown the whole, the net residue at the end of the year, after deducting rent, taxes, maintenance of family, and necessary outlay, was to be, on an allotment of. three acres, 447., or two hundred per cent. on the floating capital employed! The company was to raise a capital of 130,000%, on 100,000 shares of 30s. each; and it appears that 70,000 individuals took shares, and that 90,000l. was actually paid. With this money estates were bought, divided into lots of two, three, and four acres respectively, and assigned by lot, as far as they would go, among the shareholders who had completed their payments. The allottees were then put in possession of their lots, established in a good cottage, worth 100%., supplied with capital at the rate of 77. 10s. per acre, charged a rent equal to 41. per cent. on the sums expended (which. amounted, on the three acre allotments, to between 137. and 147.), and then expected to thrive and save at the rate of 30%. or 407. per annum. Five estates were thus purchased and parcelled out more or less completely;-but alas! the capital was insufficient to stock them properly; the labour was insufficient to cultivate them properly; skill and knowledge were alike wanting; the crops were scantier and poorer than those on the neighbouring farms; the rents remained unpaid; the fortunate allottees retired in disgust, or sold their allotments to more sanguine or richer men, to such an extent that at the end of the first twelve months, 25 per cent. of the original possessors had vacated their holdings.


Mr. O'Connor's Land Company.


The failure of this scheme*, to the lamentable extent at least to which its failure is now certain, may no doubt be traced mainly to the originally erroneous and deceptive calculations on which it was founded, and to the fact of nearly all the allottees being parties wholly ignorant of agriculture, and in all respects unfitted to meet the hardships or requirements of a rural life. They appear to have met with great kindness and liberal assistance from the farmers near them, who compassionated their delicacy and incapacity; but they could endure neither the cold of winter, nor the heat of summer, and had frequently to employ hired labour for the hard work they were unable to perform for themselves. Had the allotments been taken by experienced agricultural peasants, the results might in some respects have been very different. But the radical objection would still have remained—that under none but the most favourable and the rarest circumstances could such small properties as two, three, or four acres, support a family in comfort without the expenditure of an amount of capital and labour which is never commanded by the purchasers of such. Without entering into detailed calculations, and fully admitting the enormous produce that may in some cases be obtained off a given acreage, by a proportionate expenditure of manure and toil the dilemma in which such small holders are placed we believe may be stated thus; - If the holdings are small enough to be fully tilled and manured by the labour and capital of one man and his wife and children, the produce is inadequate to their support :-if they are large enough for the adequate maintenance of a family, they require hired labour and borrowed capital, which, together, sweep away profit. In all the instances we have heard of in this country of very large returns from plots of two or three acres, we have found that the result has been due to the unlimited application of capital. It would not be difficult to show why the allottees in Mr. O'Connor's Land Company could not have succeeded with the amount of land assigned them, the amount of capital advanced to them, and the amount of rent demanded from them; but our space prevents our entering into the proof: we can only give the conclusion arrived at by the Commissioner who investigated the matter at great length on behalf of the Poor Law Board, and whose view is confirmed by that of others who visited and examined into the position of the different tenants. 'I think it may be fairly concluded that all those who occupy the Land Company's allotments, with nothing more than the

*It is now being wound up in the Court of Chancery under a special Act obtained for that purpose.

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