Cowkeeper essays:   Letter from A CONSTANT READER

I found many interesting and relevant newspaper and journal articles during my research, but some of them are a bit too long or wordy to include in the main body of my essay. So I have made them into separate little drill-down pages, and introduced some punctuation in my transcript so you don't get too breathless. My comments are in [blue italics]. Please click any of the links on the left to get back to the essay.

This letter is in favour of small farmers and against monopolies, castigates milk-dealers for watering the milk and overcharging, and demands price control.

These are extracts from a very long think piece from ĎA CONSTANT READERí published by the Evening Mail on Friday 7th November 1800.

"Suppose twenty farms of £50 per ann. each occupied by twenty families, and admit that one-third the common rateable produce is paid for rent, and one-third for charges, and the remaining third is the Farmerís profit of stock and labour. It is perfectly obvious that the family of five or seven people must use all industry, ingenuity and care to find a living out of that third. Whereas the great Farmer, monopolizing those 20 farms, finds at once a great income at hand.

"The former must be constantly bringing to market every little supply they can produce of hogs, poultry, eggs, milk, potatoes, fruits, and vegetables, where by the neighbouring towns are constantly and cheaply supplied, must of which come far too dear when they are the particular trade of men depending on nothing else; but on little farms they are as it were a spontaneous produce; that is, the reuse of one object produces another, and the whole is produced at no rateable expence, by the care of the wife and children of the little Farmer. ... the big monopoly farmer can afford to hold back supplies to increase prices; the small farmer has to trickle small supplies regularly into the market ... exortations to landlords to split up their estates into small farms; small farmers being deprived of their farms have to put their sons to work in trade or manufacture; those sons have to buy their food rather than growing it for themselves so the demand becomes such that imports are necessary... war takes away farm workers Ė from an occupation wherein each manís labour produced food for several, to another wherein each manís consumption costs the labour of several.

"The state of society in this country has undergone a great change. There was a time when there existed a happy gradation from the monarch to the day-labourer. Time was when a London Shopkeeper, by sobriety, industry, and economy, could afford to live on small profits, and save wherewithal to bring up an honest and useful family. His shop employed him through the week, and he took his family to church, and to a healthful walk in the fields on Sunday. His wife was his cook and sempstress, and the nurse of his children. Now he is a puny shop-keeper indeed, who has not his town-house and country house, and carriage, and compleat set of servants and box at the theatre, and lodgings of ten guineas a week for two or three months in the summer at a watering place.

[on the recent milk price uproar] "In the simple article of milk, for instance, the Retailers paid 8d per gallon, and sold at 14d besides publicly and shamelessly increasing it very considerably with water; but putting that quite out of the question, a man and a woman could retail 50 gallons in a day. The utmost that all their labour, profit of stock, and hazard, could possibly be rated at, is perhaps 7s 6d, whereas 50 sixpences are 25s being 17s 6d too much, or above 4d per gallon. So that genuine, unadulterated milk ought probably to be retailed to the inhabitants at 10d per gallon, without reckoning how much the Cowkeepers already overcharge; and yet these very men had the matchless impudence to attempt a rise of milk and water to 18d per gallon.

"There is much reason to believe that the inhabitants of the metropolis now pay nearly half a million sterling per ann. too much for this one simple, apparently insignificant article. This subject has already undergone a good deal of public investigation, and no reasonable doubt remains of great imposition, which the Public suffers, nor will it need indeed further proof than this single fact, that the common Porter of a Milk-pale rapidly advances to be a Cow-keeper and to great opulence; and the Cow-keeper to a princely fortune.

"I am averse to legislative interference with trade whenever the Public can be protected without it : but in respect of supplying the metropolis with an article so important to the health and comfort of the poor as milk, I am utterly as a loss for any other remedy. Three-fourths of the cows are in the hands of a very few men, who are far too rich to be much affected by any clamour or non-consumption agreement of the Public, over which they must finally triumph. To obviate so great an evil, I would beg to propose, that every Cowkeeper should be licensed, and sworn to prevent, to his utmost, all adulteration of milk before it leaves his premises. The Retailers in like manner to be licensed, and bound also by an oath and in penalties neither to adulterate or skim the milk sold as genuine ; that an assize be fixed every three months by the Lord Mayor and Aldermen, according to a table of rates, by the average prices of hay, grains, &c both as to the wholesale and retail prices ; that every tenant of meadow-land, above a certain quantity, within a given distance from town, refusing to keep cows for the public supply, should be obliged to let it to others for that purpose, for at present almost the whole is monopolised by a very few individuals. These are certainly harsh measures Ė but I know of no other adequate remedy for so great an evil.

"I am, Sir, your CONSTANT READER"

Copyright © Marion Hearfield 2009