N. COURANT. FRI. JAN. 14. 1859.


This Society held its annual meeting on Tuesday last at the “Bird -and Bush”, in Hexham; Mr. Wm. Trotter, of Bywell, in the Chair. After auditing the accounts, Mr, John Grey, of Dilston, was re-elected president of the Association; and Mr. Jos. Lee, Dilston, Secretary. The following new members were elected; Mr. Henry Dodd, Riding House; Mr. Matthew Lee, Wester Hall; Mr. William Charlton, Linnels; Mr. John Shanks, Styford High Barns; Mr. John Crawford, Beaufront Hill Head; Mr. Robert Little, Harewood Shield; Mr. Jos. Glover, Dilston; Mr. William Taylor, Mill Hills; Mr. John Kaye, Bretton; Mr. John. Walker, Bradley Hall. The Tyneside Agricultural Society then held their annual Meeting at the same place. The business, however, was mere routine, and was terminated by the election of officers for the year.

The Dinner. The Annual dinner of the Hexham Farmers’ Club took place in the long room of the " Bird and Bush ", Mr. John Grey presiding, supported on his right by the Revd. C. Bird, Chollerton, J. Errington Esq., Warden, the Revd. Mr. Shield, Warden, Mr. Nicholson, Surgeon, Hexham; and on his left by W. B. Grey Esq., Styford, Mr. Ed. Loraine, the Riding, Mr. M. Stephenson, Fourstones; among the company present were observed Mr. Jos. Lee, Dilston, Mr. Wm. Trotter, Bywell, Mr. W. Thompson, Dilston Haugh; Mr. Wylam Walker; Mr. Smith, Loughbrow; Mr. C. Stephenson, Fourstones; Mr. J. Walker, Bradley Hall; Mr. F. T. Burdue, Lindon; and several other gentlemen who take a deep interest in agricultural affairs. About 70 gentlemen sat down to a sumptuous repast, and after the cloth had been withdrawn, The Chairman gave “The Queen” They had on all previous occasions had the pleasure of drinking the health of our excellent Queen, but on that occasion they were able to drink her good health in a different capacity from that which they had ever done before, because since they last met she had been proclaimed Queen of a very extended empire in the East. They had every reason to hope, that, as the proclamation of the Queen had been received so well throughout the length and breadth of that land, peace would at length dawn upon those districts where till late there has been only the destruction of War and the atrocities of cruelty; and that the resources of that empire would be developed in a manner which would reflect wealth and prosperity upon all that part of the world. (Applause). There was another extraordinary feature connected with the present times with regard to the eastern part of the world. They knew not as yet where Lord Elgin had found the key with which he had opened the door to the heart of that fusty old Chinaman who from age to age had locked himself up as superior in antiquity, in wisdom, and in power to all other nations, and who looked down upon the inhabitants of the western hemisphere as barbarians, and as uncivilised and ignorant; but they did knew that certain treaties had been obtained, not only with China but with Japan, so that if they should ever live to see them cordially carried out, they might produce an extraordinary revolution in the commerce and trade of the world - (Applause) -and we in this country would come in for a great share. Whenever that day came, he conceived that Lord Elgin would be looked to as one of the greatest benefactors of the present age. (Applause).

- ½ a column of minor agenda here -

Recent Improvements and Future Prospects of Agriculture. The Chairman then rose and said:-

Gentlemen, I beg to express to you the great gratification I feel in having again the honour of presiding at an anniversary meeting of the Hexham Farmers' Club and in having the pleasure of seeing around me so many familiar faces that are in the habit of attending on such occasions. I can congratulate you also most heartily not only upon the continued success and increase of the members of the club, but upon that which I have always considered to be a most important feature in the institution - an increase in the library and an increase in the use which is made of those books, which have been selected with great care. (Applause), Farmers generally have been accused of being a slow and stolid set, and as behind other classes of the community in intelligence and ingenuity. That, gentlemen, it is not very difficult to account for, if we remember that bodies of people who are congregated together in towns, and have the opportunity of continued discussion at their Clubs, their reading-rooms, and their libraries, are much more likely to be alive and to have their senses awakened to what is going on in the world, than the solitary individual who perhaps sees a few of his neighbours once a week if he goes to market, or once a fortnight, and who spends the rest or his time in the industrious labour of his own fields. The only way, gentlemen, in which we can overcome this imputation, which has been rather freely bestowed upon the agricultural classes, is to meet together, as we occasionally do, in makers of discussion, to bring our wits into collision; and above a11 to carry home with us, for employment in the long winter evenings, those books which make us familiar not only with what is going on in our own country, but with distant ages and distant countries of the world. (Applause). This has always been with me a great object of desire in regard to a farming society, and I am very happy to be able now to congratulate this society upon the use which is being made of their Library (Applause). We come together, gentlemen, upon this occasion, not to discuss any peculiar feature or operation of agriculture, such as we are apt to discuss when we meet together on our ordinary occasions, but to discuss something generally connected with the interests of that great subject: and in calling; upon you to give me an indulgence which you have frequently accorded me, of allowing me to appear before you merely to talk upon a subject which is interesting to us individually, as it is highly important to, and deeply connected, with, the welfare of the nation at large. Allow me to talk to you in a plain and humble way upon a subject, because I must plead guilty to this, that I have not found the opportunity or the freedom from interruption, or the time to draw up an essay, such as might have been fit to present to you, to be read on this occasion. You have heard during the course of the last year several very excellent essays on various subjects; you heard one a month ago from our excellent friend, Mr. Loraine, one with which he had taken great pains, and which he had well succeeded in making very perfect; but yet to divide a subject into all its parts, to make that complete, and to write a fair copy and perfect it, is, I confess far beyond the time that I have had to bestow upon it, if I even had the ability to have made such an essay, as that which I adverted to, with your indulgent hearing, I shall introduce to your notice a few remarks connected with the subject of the day, which is "Recent Improvements in Agriculture, and our future Prospects". And, gentlemen, in doing so, allow me to invite not only your attention but your remarks and be good enough to refute, if I say anything that is wrong, or contradict me and put me right. And let me again warn you, gentlemen, of this, - that I have observed that the gentlemen of the club are much less apt to volunteer their remarks on the occasion of our anniversary meeting than I have observed them to be when we are privately met together in our club-room. I do fear, gentlemen, that there is before your eyes a little phantom rising up from those active pencils that I see, before me, that are making certain suspicious-looking hooks with hieroglyphics that are quite unintelligible to us - (laughter) -but which, nevertheless, will come out in clear characters and intelligible English, albeit they have been enunciated here in the strong vernacular of our native province. (Applause).This, gentlemen, ought not to deter you, because you may depend upon it that you will find in very legible sentences whatsoever you may express on this occasion. (Applause).

Gentlemen, as to the subject of discussion, I need not turn your eyes back to the time - the time gone by, happily for us - when the country which we occupy, and which is so richly studded with farm buildings and with full stack-yards and so well cultivated, was almost a barren waste. I need not refer to the time when the countries on both sides of the border were the subjects of devastation from one side or the other - when the fruits of industry were far too precarious to allow of industrious habits among the people - when cattle were carried away, and crops destroyed, by an invading enemy from the other side. But I shall just turn back the thoughts of those who are old enough, with myself, to recollect what things were, about the beginning of this century, and direct your attention to the great changes which have taken place - the change which the farmer could not be blamed for not having anticipated, because what would have been the use of increasing your produce to such an amazing extent as it has been increased, unless there were people to feed, mouths to be filled, and money to pay for it? (Hear, hear). I would rescue the farmers from the imputation of slowness in this, because the moment the impulse was given, the moment remuneration was shown, the moment it was seen we had a population to feed which could afford to buy our beef and mutton as they do now, the farmer put the spur to the wheel, and he has been found to produce that which is sufficient for them (Applause). You will recollect, I dare say, gentlemen, at the time I speak of, when it was the habit to allow young cattle and sheep to go in a very meagre way upon very poor pastures; and after they had attained an age when it was fancied they might be matured and brought to market, they were taken up and fattened. Now, gentlemen, that won’t do in the present day. We had then a scanty fleece of wool every year from the sheep, and when the sheep got to be two or three years old they were fed. But what is the fact now? On high ground, you see that they are taken a year sooner than they were at those times; on low ground you can hardly say that a sheep is allowed to go till he is two years old. We would consider that a perfect waste. Sheep are brought to market at 14 or 15 months old, and you are deriving from sheep of that age as much wool as you derive from sheep that had gone two years longer, and occupied your ground more unprofitable. (Loud Applause). In the same way it is with cattle; and the secret of raising the greatest amount of produce, whether in beef or mutton, I believe to be this - that you never ought to allow the animal to be so pinched or starved that it retrogrades in the least. You should keep it progressing from the first month of its birth, and never let it lose the flesh it has acquired, because if you have an animal losing for one month, it takes another month to make it up, and then a month more to bring it into a regular healthy condition. (Applause) The secret then, I believe is - and it is now pretty well understood - that from their birth forward, the animals ought to be brought forward to the condition which they are intended to be in, without ever losing one day. And thus you see the practice of some of my neighbours of storing their turnips in the fields in heaps, so that the hardest frosts that come will not make the sheep have a hungry day - they have always fresh food to go to. In this way it is, gentlemen, that we find we have it in our power to supply to a considerable degree the greatly increased consumption of the people; but yet we do not find that this is overdone. For when I talk upon the head of stock, I would just turn your view to the different prices which beef and mutton have maintained for a long period, as compared with other articles of farming produce. When I first recollect farming, the common way was for a man to select a portion of his fallow, which was best suited for turnips. That portion got all the manure which was made upon the farm. It was not so much as might have been, I am sorry to say, because we recollect the quantities that were lost, as the stubble of the field, as compared with now-a-days, when the machine cuts it so close that my friends who are sportsmen complain that a partridge cannot find a hiding-place from one end of the farm to another upon a stubble-field. Well, that portion of fallow received the whole of the manure; what was left got perhaps a little scanty dose of lime, and then it was expected to grow a crop of wheat. We know what kind of crops were grown; we know that, as compared with now, there was not two-thirds, or perhaps in many cases not one-half, of the produce of corn. There was not, certainly nearly one-half of the produce of butcher meat, which there is at this moment. (Applause).

Then with regard to wool. Look at the price which wool is maintaining, and the desirability there is for the cultivation of that kind of stock which not only gives you the carcase at the end, but gives you the annual produce of wool. It is said, and may be said truly, with regard to some farms, that it is impossible that the farmer can thrive with the average price of wheat at 40s and below it I saw it stated in one of our periodical papers the other day that the farmer would be ruined by the price of wheat. So say I, if there are farms which have nothing else but wheat to depend upon. That is the case certainly on some small farms of cold land; but it will hardly be the case, as it might have been, if beef and mutton were at 4d a pound instead of 7d and 8d., and had wool been at 18s or 20s the stone instead of 36s., as we have had it formerly, or instead of 42s as if is now, For, gentlemen, it may be of some consequence for you to know and some consolation for those who have, much to sell, that I know of one party who has been offered for his next year's clip of between 200 and 300 stones, 42s a stone, to be paid within a fortnight of his clipping it. (Loud Applause).

I think there is a lesson taught by that when I have directed your attention to the low price ruling for wheat and other grain, though oats and barley are not so depressed. But when I have drawn your attention to the low price of wheat and the high comparative price of butcher meat. I think this lesson meets you - and that you will take it to yourselves, - that there are countries more favourable as to soil and climate for the production of wheat than our own; that wheat is an article which can be transferred from one part of the world, or one part of the country to another, and is of small bulk as compared with its value, but that no one can injure or come up to us either in beef or mutton, or in the growth of wool. We have pastures for summer feed - we have capabilities for rearing root crops, as you all know, to make up the supply when the summer food fails, and we have the opportunity if we have the judgment, the skill, and the liberality to do it, to raise beef and mutton beyond any other country on the face of the globe. It is very astonishing to look at the statistics of France and of this country, and to see the wonderful difference between the amount that is produced in butcher meat here and there. And, to console you in the prospect, look at the consumption of this description of food in this country. For my own part, I think it has ruled rather as much too high as wheat has ruled too low for some time past.

Since I recollect, it was hardly the case that the labouring population of this country were able to indulge themselves with eating butcher's meat at home. The father of a family thought himself very well off if he could feed one or two pigs, and exceedingly well off if he could maintain a cow; but you now see the butcher’s shop in every village, and you are often fit to be trotted over by the butcher's cart, dispensing joints of meat at every cottage door as you go along the road. (Applause and laughter). Then, gentlemen, since these changes have taken place in the improvement and in the increase of the quantity of butcher's meat, which we are now able to take from our farmers to market, has not a corresponding increase taken place in corn? - because the very thing that creates one gives a stimulus to the other. You manure your land that you may rear root crops, and you use guano, bone phosphates, and every kind of combination which can increase the quantity. The quantity increased, in that respect goes again to increase the manure in your fold-yard. You have had the wisdom to adopt a very different plan of reaping your corn and harvesting it from that which prevailed when I first knew this country. At that time you might have gone into the fields, and where the stubble was it would have taken you almost up to the knees, and you would have seen a proportionate amount of heads of corn scattered among it, which could not have been saved in that slovenly mode of harvesting.

I am glad to see now that from one end of the Tyne to the other you hardly see a field which, as I said before, would give cover to a partridge. Therefore, the quantity of manure is not only increased in your fold-yards, but you increase it also by the purchase of those foreign and adventitious manures which have had so great an effect in producing your root crops; and those root crops produce to you what all of you who have had experience in farming know is so profitable that is, butcher's meat and wool. (Loud Applause) .

I should like to say one word in the cause of sheep stock. There is a friend of mine, he to whom I have talked for the last 20 years on the subject. I am happy to say I have no cause to change my opinion; and it is this - that the wealth and success of a farmer may be pretty well calculated by the amount of his sheep stock. (Applause). Sheep are said to be the animals with the golden hoofs - that they enrich where they go; and that is true. They not only enrich the master but the soil. Their manure is of a peculiarly efficacious quality; and it is distributed throughout the land in a way very different from that which is left in patches by horned cattle. But there is this also - that while you have mutton, probably as valuable at the end of the sheep’s life as beef, it has given you year after year the fleece, which is of itself so important, and which, in the progress of the manufactures of this country, I think we have no reason to despair of ever seeing again at a very disastrous price.

After enumerating the improvements which had taken place in agriculture for the last 20 years, Mr. Grey continued: -

If, I say, you look at these advantages in the present day, you cannot but with me congratulate yourselves upon having the benefit of all these improvements, and you cannot but, with me, conceive that that progress is not yet at an end. We have no reason to think that the ingenuity of man is exhausted, or that the chemical combinations which science has brought to bear upon the produce of the land are at an end. We need not fear yet, or halt in our progress, we need not look, I think, with any doubt upon the time that is to come. We still have old mother earth to work upon, which has shown herself always grateful for our efforts, -(loud applause)- and you may rely upon it, though I shall not live to see it, there will yet be days of great progress and of great prosperity for the agriculture of this country. (Loud Applause).

I look upon the farmer as the manufacturer of the food of the people; and you may compare him with the manufacturer in any other way. If you look to the ancient mode of thrashing and reaping corn - to the time when a man, from early morning to dewy eve, plied his labour upon a board in a barn, and with two sticks thumped out most imperfectly, first on one side of the sheaf and then on the other, - if you look to that process, and compare it with the expeditious and much more perfect one of the thrashing machine, whether by water or steam, or by the still inferior one of horses, which many are compelled to employ, you will see there is a wonderful difference, not only in the operation but in the intellect that is required to conduct these operations. (Applause).

The manufacture of the food of the people bears an analogy to manufacturer of other descriptions. Some of you may recollect the old village weaver drawing his shuttle from morning to night with his single loom, and then finishing a web after three or four weeks labour. (Hear, hear). That time, however agreeable or arcadian it might be to look back upon, was not a condition that ever had been a happy one, or ever would be a productive one. We saw the result of it a few years ago in Ireland, & whenever the thing is attempted we shall see the same result; and why is it so? Because it is impossible, upon a small scale, to introduce machinery of an expensive character; and there is nothing now but expensive machinery, improved operations in agriculture, and division of labour upon a tolerably extensive scale, which can produce any result that is desirable in a national point of view. The object of the nation is not to load the country with an immense peasantry, but to raise the greatest amount of produce by the smallest number of consumers, and to have the greatest possible disposable amount of food for the ever-increasing population of our towns and manufactories. (Applause).

If we contemplate the increase of population in this country at 360,000 a year, we shall see that, unless from wars and emigration, all the efforts we can use will fall far short of supplying them with food. It is on this ground that I think you must have farms of considerable extent if you intend that the progress of agriculture should continue. It is consistent with theory that it should be so; because on a farm of considerable extent, where all the arrangements are regular, and the operations are conducted with skill and good management, you have skilled hands needful for each kind of work. If you go to the farm of a man who has eight or ten horses, you see as regular a system as in any other manufactory; you see ploughs sent to make the drill rows, you see carts putting the manure into these rows, and followed by another set of ploughs covering that up, and then comes the sow drill to put in the seed; and before night 10 or 12 acres are sown and covered in the most promising way.

But, on the other hand, the poor man on a small farm, with a pair of horses and a hind, how is he to succeed? He makes a few rows in the morning; he changes all the harness of his horses and puts them into the cart, and gets his wife and daughters or whoever he can catch, to help him to put in a little manure; and then he changes his horses again from the cart to the plough, and perhaps, by working an hour or two over, he gets it sown with turnips. But all the time it was exposed to a baking sun, and it might be that unfortunately rain came, and he was laid off altogether for a week. If you compare the probable success and cheapness of management of the one with those of the other, you will find that all the hard work, all the poor hoeing, all the parsimony employed - which is all a poor man has to employ upon a small farm fits not at all adequate to the system, the arrangement, and the skilful operations of a larger establishment (Applause)

I have had through my hands a good many farms of different descriptions; and for the last three years, when I have had a small farm of £100 a year or less to let, I have been obliged to take the same rent, or perhaps less than before; but when I have had a large farm of £500 a year, I have been able to realise a great advance of rent; and if I have had a farm of £1000 or £1200 a year, then I have had 25 or 30 per cent advance, (Hear, hear). I do not say I rejoice in this, but it forces itself on my observation. The only liking I have for a small farm is that it affords a kind of stepping-stone to the industrious labourer to advance himself in society, I have seen instances of this, and I have been very glad to encourage it; but whether we look to individual interest or the national good, I must give my vote for farms of considerable size, where there is abundant capital to employ all the improvements and implements known, to purchase all the manures found to be advantageous, and to make that division of labour which is so essential to the good working of a large establishment. (Applause).

Under all this progress and improvement it is our bounden duty to try to cultivate the minds of our men, as well as to cultivate our land, (Applause). It will be unnecessary to turn your attention to the fact that it is most desirable that we should produce that which the country offers the greatest home market for, and that which will at the same time be most remunerative. I know there is a way of reckoning upon wheat as productive and remunerative; it has been fixed upon to guide the commutation of tithes and various other things; but it is proved to be a fallacious ground for computing the prosperity of a farmer, I have heard many people inveighing against the low market price of wheat at the present moment; and saying “How can a farmer thrive?” But there is a fallacy in this; and many of you will bear me out in saving that, notwithstanding the very low prices, the crop of this year is remunerating you very much better than the crop of the two, former did. (Applause). Therefore the actual price is not a fair criterion of the profit that the farmer is making. Again, if you turn to the remunerating prices that the farmer is receiving for beef and mutton, I need not recommend you to pursue the rearing of beef and mutton; but more especially the enlargement of your flocks of sheep to the utmost extent they are capable of receiving - (Applause) - because this, I do believe, is the great object to which we must look hereafter as the staple commodity of our farms (Applause).

I beg to thank you most sincerely for the kind indulgence which you have bestowed on me; and I beg to conclude with drinking success to “The Hexham Farmers’ Club, and Mr. Lee, the Secretary”. (Loud Applause).

Mr. Lee thanked them sincerely for having drunk his health.

The Chairman, then invited discussion on the subject introduced, Mr. W. B. Grey said the Chairman had made some remarks upon small farms of £100 or less, and stated that on large farms he had got £20 to £30 increase of rents. Perhaps in the larger farms more money was laid out in draining and other improvements; and if the same course were followed on small farms of £100 or less, the rents of these also might then perhaps rise in similar proportion.

The Chairman, in reply, said that there might be fault, as Mr. W. B. Grey had stated, in the landlord not having laid out money; but the landlord, like others, looked for a large return. One of the great objections of having an estate of £1000 divided into ten farms, instead of remaining one large one where every advantage could be combined, was that the landlord was ruined by a multitude of farm buildings. He must put up 10 farm offices instead of one. He must have roads leading to each of these fields proportionably small, and consequently there was not only a great outlay of money, but there was a great waste of land on roads and hedges. (Applause).

The Revd. C. Bird, Vicar of Chollerton; spoke on the propriety of attending to the intellectual developement of the labourer

Mr. Errington proposed the health of "The Founder of the Club". They were his children and scholars as farmers. Much of the improvement he had made was distinguishing the whole of this district, and no doubt it had its effect towards the general improvement of the whole of England. They would all agree in saying that to no one individual in the whole of this country was that progress more directly due than it was to the Chairman of this Society (Applause). It was when such clubs as this were rare, that Mr. Grey first gave the hint to establish one here. He (Mr. Errington) was not able to compare the progress of this club with others that had sprung up in other parts of the country; but he thought it must have been a fortunate club indeed to have the advantage of such an excellent chairman to foster its progress.

John Grey's Speech at the Annual Meeting of the Hexham Farmers' Club. A typed up version copied from the Newcastle Courant Friday, January 14, 1859.