Free Trade and a Free People

Reprint from The North Essex Liberal Monthly, Nov 1909

This handbill has been passed down in the family, and now belongs to Arthur Wombwell's grandson, Revd Douglas Savill

‘Vote for Pease and No Taxes on Food’

This transcript of a fascinating piece of election propaganda, shows Primitive Methodist support for the Liberal party.

Read what this Old Man, who remembers Tariff Reform, has to say about it!

Arthur Wombwell, of Langley

The story which Mr Arthur Wombwell related to our representative is another echo of the Hungry Forties and of the long years of patient suffering endures by English agricultural labourers before the repeal of the Corn Laws. He said in the course of an interesting talk:

‘I was born at Langley in April 1835, so now I am 74 years of age. My father, John Wombwell, was an agricultural labourer and had a family of seven children to keep out of a weekly wage of 7s, so anyone can understand that we youngsters had few luxuries. I began work when I was seven years old and walked two miles to the village of Chrishall, starting early in the morning and returning late at night. My brother and I were employed together in watching a farmer’s cattle and we had 9d a week in wages. I can remember how, when a little boy, I was sent to the village grocer’s to purchase the following supplies for our family of nine: ¼ oz of Tea; 2 ozs of Butter; ¼ lb of Sugar; ¼ peck of Flour; ¼ lb of Pork. At that time Tea was 5s per lb and Sugar 2s per lb. Early in 1844, flour was selling at 16s per bushel, and many of the necessaries of life were twice as dear as they are now.  We seldom saw a butcher’s cart in Langley when I was young because working people could not afford butcher’s meat. The labourer did not begin to feel the great benefit that Free Trade brought to him and his household for some years after the Repeal of the Corn Laws. I can remember as a young man having to work hard on a very little food and sometimes I had to go without breakfast. I used not to see white bread for a fortnight at a time and it was a rare treat if I tasted any! In those days I had a fine set of teeth but very little use for them, now I am old and my teeth have gone and times are much better. Even at my age I can earn sufficient to purchase good food but, unfortunately, I have not a single tooth in my head! I must have been born 50 years too soon!

For 53 years I went every summer to the grass country around Enfield to mow grass, and many a night I have lain in an old cow shed with my wet clothing on. I am proud to belong to the primitive MethodistChurch, and I have travelled thousands of miles, often tired and hungry, to tell the ‘old, Old Story’. I have sometimes walked from Langley to Haverhill, and preached three times there and then walked home again; altogether it was more than 40 miles, but I took pleasure in being able to do it and to be of use.

One of my sons is a Small Holder and in my old age I am cheered to know that my sons and daughters are so much better off than I have ever had the chance to be. It is largely owing to wise Acts of Parliament brought in by Liberal Governments that many thrifty and hard working labourers have been able to improve their lot in life. I hope they and their children will stand by those who have done sso much for them. Every farm worker should remember that no Tory employer can find out how his men have voted, the Ballot box can never give up its secrets.’

The charming picture of Mr Wombwell and his well-cared for donkey will please all our readers and especially those to whom the old gentleman is familiar as he drives cheerily about the countryside. His life story is a simple record of duty done in the service of his fellow men. Of Essex, when he was a young man beginning an arduous life, it was true to say,

‘Here landless labourers, hopeless toil and strive

But taste no portion of the sweets they hive.’

Today times are improving slowly but surely, and we hope to see the next generation of workers living in still better ones with greater opportunities and wider interests. But we could wish nothing better for them than that they in their turn may show that same moral integrity and serene courage with which Mr Wombwell has faced the hardships of his long life.

Vote for Pease, Free Trade and a Free People

Reprint from The North Essex Liberal Monthly, Nov 1909



Printed and published by Hart & Son, King Street, Saffron Walden

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