Tuesday, November 25, 2008

G.K.'s Weekly - The Land Conference

by C. O'Brien Donaghey

The difficulties of Land Settlement may be summed up as follows :-

(a). Existing family units with some knowledge of and love for the work, willing to sacrifice town “amenities” are hard to find, particularly among the professional classes and city dwellers.

(b). Land is very expensive near the large towns and in existing agricultural areas.

(c). The disposal of surplus produce in the ordinary markets is subject to home and foreign competition and is increasingly hedged round by restrictions, boards and so on.

(d). Community life cannot be established quickly; it takes time to grow. The Town or Village should be the focus of rural activities, not merely a dormitory, playground, amusement centre or outlet for the sewers of mass production. “Town” and “Country” should not occupy opposite ends of a see-saw balanced precariously on the shoulders of the middle-man or merchant. Rather, the town or village should be the apex of a pyramid broad based on a country-side providing food and the raw materials of the crafts, an apex radiating a culture in harmony with this construction and providing the necessary administrative centre.

It is suggested, therefore, that the forthcoming Land Conference, to be arranged by the Distributist League in London, initiate an experiment designed to overcome the above difficulties in circumstances which promise best for success, i.e., in one of the special areas, for instance South West Durham. In this area :-

(a). There are derelict villages in mining districts, containing 200 to 1,000 ready-made families, so far little affected by town amenities. The miner is well used to hard work with the spade and has always kept allotments, pigs, goats, poultry and so on. He has never been very far from the soil.

(b). Such villages can be “adopted” by any approved body at a cost of from £50 to £500 per annum, additional grants in aid on at least a £1 for £1 basis being available from various sources. In many cases the surrounding land can be acquired remarkably cheaply. The ideal solution would be to “ransom the village from the Servile State,” in which it is being rapidly absorbed, at a cost of from £1,000 to £2,000. An additional 1,000 acres of land might be purchased in installments. The next stage would be the establishment, on an annuity basis, of small holders, craftsmen and the necessary professions and services roughly the basis of one third of the community constituting each group. In short, development on the lines of Peter Scott’s schemes in Wales, modified in the light of Distributist principles.

(c). The Village Market must be revived on the lines of the scheme outlined by Professor J.W. Scott in his book “Self-subsistence for the Unemployed.” This scheme avoids competition with existing traders and ensures that the community will benefit to the full from its its own initiative and effort, besides solving the money problem. The great advantage such an area as South West Durham is “lndustry” is no longer interested in these places and the bureaucrats are only too grateful to anyone who will assume responsibility for them. To keep down the cost of the scheme, to produce the greatest variety of goods, to give as much employment as possible and for cultural reasons the use of machinery can be reduced, to a minimum. Much land and craft work is already in operation in many of these villages.

(d). Such villages already have a keen sense of their identity and most possess their own schools, institutes and churches. Gamers on the village green are a reality and there are inns. What is lacking is the market, the economic reason for the existence of the village. Simultaneously with the increase in agricultural produce must come a balancing increase in local craft products. The services are usually already represented and need only be encouraged to accept the village token of exchange as explained by Professor Scott. The Parish Council will revive with the resurgence of local economic activity.

There is no reason why some surplus of local produce and products should not be exchanged outside the community for goods that are not manufactured within the Parish but the Townland should aim at supplying all its necessities in food, clothing, shelter and fuel. In Durham County there is the great advantage, unusual for England, of a local supply of fuel. Even when the pit has closed as a commercial concern, there are usually drift workings.

To obtain a picture of the English village as it once was reference should be made to the work J. L. Hammond and his wife. From that picture there is something that can be learnt, however much there may be that must be discarded.

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