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By Marion Tait

William Barnes insight into Social Change and upheaval in the 1830's can be found in the following eclogues. The eclogues present discussions and at least two viewpoints. They give a detailed picture of social conditions and the society of the land folk.

Barnes showed real sympathy for the rural poor and often expressed this in a radical manner. Where he did suggest alternatives these would usually pertain to traditional virtues and to traditional rural society. Barnes often followed his public lectures in reading a selection of poems including eclogues which proved very popular.

Father Come Hwome. Mother, father/John an' child.

The poem tells of real rural poverty where a family just about exist by living on potatoes, ceake and a little apple. The father is a casual labourer. Their standard of living could only be improved by the daughter picking up stones for the farmer-3d a day, and the boy scaring of birds for 2d a day.

O mother, mother! be the teaties done?
Here's father now a-comen down the track.
He's got his nitch o'wood upon his back,
An' such a speaker in en! I'll be bound,
He's long enough to reach vrom ground
Up to the top ov ouer tun;
'Tis jist the very thing vor Jack an'I
To goo a-colepecksen wi'.by an' by.

Labourers hedging were permitted to take home every night a faggot of fuel which they carried on the back by a stick through it passing over the shoulder, the stick was called a speaker/spiker

Tun-top of the chimney above the roof ridge.

Searching for and beating down the last few apples which might have been left after the main crop had been taken. Colepecksen/cullpecks

Barnes had the chance to reiterate how rural poverty absolutely forced parents to put their young children out to work, when he gave evidence to the Royal Commission on the Employment of Children, Young Persons and Women (set up in 1867)

A family with 4, 5 or 6 children and only the father's wage to feed and clothe them depended on the eldest boy to earn a shilling or two to help the household.

In his evidence he went further and stated that some employers actually demand that the boy shall go to work or that the father shall be dismissed, since there are jobs and kinds of work to which,
if there were no boys to take them at low pay, men must be put at much higher wages, and in such
a case it is a gain to the employers that the boy should be put as high in the scale of heavier work as his powers can reach.

Women mostly went out to field work for extra earnings and the will of the master who hires a man with the condition that his wife shall go to work whenever she is wanted eg hay making and harvesting.Field earnings are very poor and the children would miss the love and care of their mother and the husband would miss the clean hearth, his chair by the fire and evening meal plus his expectations from his wife.

Barnes was hostile to enclosing as it ended one means whereby the poor could supplement their main source of income. He had first hand experience of enclosures as his father had lost his commoners' rights with the Bagber Enclosures. In his eclogue 'The Common A-Took In'(a poem probably inspired by the enclosing in at Bagber) a rustic is forced to sell off his geese-and expects to have to sell his cow as well-as the creatures 'wooon't have any groun' to run upon when the commons are enclosed. In the past the geese could be taken to the market vor to zell/To gentlevo'ks-and the families of the poor had had the money and feasted on the giblets.

Now unless there is a remedy, such poor folk are even more likely to end up in the work-house. The poem expresses the poor's bitterness at their plight.

The Common A -Took In, Thomas an' John

First appeared in 1834 as Rusticus Dolens-Inclosures of Common.

The use of commons had been free. The suggestion here is that there should be a way of letting bits of ground out to the poor. Thomas says that John may get 'a lotment', but this, says John, would not be 'so handy' as use of the common. They agree that the advantages of common land were fuel, fodder and giblets. Thomas laments:
'if a poor man got a bit o' bread They'll try to tiake it vrom en.'

Ees, Thomas, ees.
Why, I'm a-getten rid ov ev'ry goose
An' goslen I've a-got:
an' what is woose,
I fear that I must zell my little cow.

But I've a-zeed, I,ve a-zaid,
That if a poor man got a bit o' bread
They'll try to teake it vrom en.
But, I wer twold back tother day,
That they be got into a way
O' leten bits o'groun' out to the poor

Well, I do hope 'tis true, I'm sure;
An' I do hope that they will do it here,
Or I must goo to workhouse, I do fear.

The 'Lotments John an' Richard

This eclogue shows John less fortunate than Richard in having failed to rent a patch of land from the squire. They talk of the store of food that even a small plot can give. The children can help on the land too. Richard believe he is well in pocket but John says that his family is nearly starving and would go to America if they had enough to take them. Again in this eclogue it is reiterated that the 'lotments is an alternative for the poor instead of ending up in the workhouse.

O tis a goodish help to woone, I'm sure o't
If I had not a got it , me poor bwones
Would now ha' each'd a-cracken stwones
Upon the road; I wish I had zome mwore o't.

I wish the girt woones a-got the greace
To let out land lik' this ouer pleace;But I do feare there'll never be nwone for us,
An I can't tell whatever we should do:
We be a'most a-starven, an wee'd goo, To 'merica, if we'd enough to car us.

Two Farms In Woone Robert an' Thomas

Changes in land tenure points out that where there was once eight farms there will soon be three.

Some farmers had been forced down the social scale to become labourers. There was less employment under the new organisation through mechanisation.

At one time fourteen men had kept the 'thrashen' all winter through but now the work was being done by a thrashing machine.
Barnes deplored the changes in British agriculture, the spread of capitalist farming which maximised output and profits through better organisation, mechanisation and more efficient use of labour, at the expense of the traditional rural community.

That's it. In thease here pleace there used to be
Eight farms avore they were a-drow'd together,
An'eight farm-housen. Now how many be there?
Why after this, you know, there'll be but dree.

Thomas Thomas's employer is to be turned out of his farm by the landlord
An' now they don't imploy so many men
Upon the land as work'd upon it then,
Vor all they midden crop it worse , nor stock it.
The lan'lord to be sure, is in pocket

Rusticus Emigrams-Emigration Over Sea to Settle Robert an' Richard

Richard has sent his family by wagon to London to join a boat and he is about to beg lifts on the road to join them. He loves his birth place: his hut where he was born and bred, the ground where he worked and played, the church where he prayed and the church yard where his family were buried, his friends, the trees and streams, but there is no work for him.

In 1834 Barnes wrote of emigrating to Van Dieman's Land. In 1830 the convicts of the riots had been shipped there and the Tolpuddle Martyrs had been sent to Australia in the year of the eclogue

The farm workers unions supported emigration and gave assistance to large numbers of workers and their families to enable them to go abroad to work.

Well Richard, 'tis true what I do hear
That you be guoin to Dieman's Land to-year.

Ees , I shall never eat another pound
O'zalt in England here, where I wer barn;
Nor dig another spit o' English ground;
Not cut a bit muore English graa or carn.
Ees, we must getto Lobndon npw nextb Zunday
Abuoard the Ship that is to car us.
We shall put out to sea o' Monday

Tis hard a man can't get a luoaf to vee den
Tis hard that if he'd work there's noo work var'in,
Or that his work woon't bring enough o' money
To keep en, though the land is vull a carn
And cattle; and do flow wi' milk and honey.

There's noo work here at huome that I can at,
And zoa I'll goo abroad and try war some'hat

Rusticus Res Politicas Animadvertens. The New Poor Law. Thomas an' John

The law of 1834 was an attempt to cut the poor rate, the only way a poor person could get relief was by entering the union which was a workhouse serving the union of parishes and was known as the Bastille. There was to be no talking or beer at meals and wives and husbands were to be separate. Two neigbours discuss the system of the new Poor Law and hope that they can keep out of the work-house.

Well, what d'ye think o' theise new laes they got
Amiade about the parishes an' poor?

Why I da hardly know, I'm sure,
Wether tha'l do the naytion good or not.
But I da hope, drough GOD, the workhouse leas
Wull miake but little odds to I.

Tha'l tiake an' put n up into a cart,
An' car en out o' parish like a thief.

That's very right; a honest man woul d vvind
Al that a little gallen to his mind.
But then, ya know, hard worken men
Wull kip therzelves awoy, nine out o' ten.

Aye they be guain, ya know, to kip asunder
The men volk in the poor house, vrom their wives.
They mid as well, I think, each wi' his bride
Goo back to Church an' have their knt untied.

In commenting on the Poor Law Barnes was more compassionate than most of his contemporaries.

He deplored the housing of orphan children in the grim workhouses. He urged a more humane treatment of deserted and unmarried mothers, calling for greater efforts to extract maintenance money from the fathers. He also deplored the bad effects of administering the Poor Law on a parish basis as it encouraged 'the intentional destruction or unrestrained decay of cottages' with the result that there were not dwellings enough on the lands of the parish employed.

What is wanted or the land labourer is a 'rung' in the ladder of rural life, by which he may hope to raise himself by his industry towards a higher position. He cannot hope ever o step farm day labour to farming. The smallest of our great farms is beyond his wildest hope, and so he toils without the hope that has lead on the poor lad in commercial work on to the honourable estate of the high risen merchant.

The Unioners-This poem was later called The Times. John an' Tom

The struggle for the right to form unions was important in the local history of Dorchester in 1838.

The Tolpuddle Martyrs had already shown action and received their fate.

Barnes shows through his poetry/eclogues that he has an understanding of the social movements of the unioners, leaguers and chartists. The problem was that the rural labour supply was too great for the land being farmed. One solution was emigration.
Barnes' depicted the sorrow of families being forced away from their birth place in order to earn enough to feed their wives and families. He did not mean the farm workers but those who lived on unearned income those who outspend their income and enjoyed the productions of the labour of others.

Ah! We!ll Now there, d'ye know, if I were sure
That theasem men would gi'e me, work to do
All drough the year, an always pay mwore
Than I'm a “earen now. I'd jein em too.
If I wer sure they'd bring down things so cheap,
That would mid but a poind o' mutton now
Would but the hinder quarters, or the sheep.

Why ees they can, though you don't know't,
An' theasem men can meake it clear.
Why vu'st they'd zend up members ev'ry year
To Parli'ment,an' ev'ry man would vote;
Vor if a fellow midden be a squier,
He mid be just so fit to vote, an' goo
To meake the laws at Lon'on, to,
As many that do hold their noses higher.

In the evidence that Barnes gave to the Royal Commission 1869 he observed that the disappearance of the small holdings of land or orchards or rights of common and the upmaking of great farms formed a discouraging gap between farmer and labourer. People began to look for law relief as a right for which they may apply with as much honour as wages. He commented that employers would no longer give charity to their workers: 'the employer now recognises no duty towards his good labourer, but if he is ill for a week or two, he sends him off to the union, with some words such as, I cannot pay two ways, to the union for the man, and to the man himself, and now when a man has spent the strength of his whole life on the land of the parish, the land as soon as his strength was spent casts him off as an encumbrance.

Barnes' was a naturally talented performer and his poetry readings gave more satisfaction than lectures. His mild smile at the boisterous merriment caused by his droll delivery of 'The Shy Man' 'A 'Bit of Sly Coortin' and 'Dick and I' shows his genial character. Barnes could present an extraordinary skilled performance and at a poetry reading to the WMS in Dorchester in 1858, the hall was thronged with rich and poor and seldom has an audience been so excited by the emotions as this was the first time a Dorset audience had heard feelings, language, and daily life portrayed in its own common speech. The eclogues included important social issues: enclosures of the village commons, rural poverty, the Poor Laws and Corn Laws as well as social customs in a common spirit; courtship, competitiveness amongst farm labourers.

Today 2017, audiences still appreciate the wonderful colourful narratives when listening to his Dorset Dialect poems.


  • Humilis Domus by William Barnes 1849 and The Employment of Children, Young Persons and Women in Agriculture by William Barnes 1867
  • The Poems of William Barnes Vol One. Edited by Bernard Jones. Centaur Press
See also
Dorset Dialect
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