GENERAL BOOTH is fond of forlorn-hopes,
and the first impression derived from a walk over the land which he has purchased for his Farm Colony near Leigh, in Essex, is that he has unnecessarily undertaken a great deal of up-hill work through a mistaken selection.
Indeed, if it were not for the great advantage which a frontage to the River Thames will give him, in cheap water-carriage to London, there could scarcely be any hesitation in condemning his choice.
The farms, five in number, consist of 1,250 acres, about four- hundred acres of which are arable, and the rest more or less rough pasture, marshes, saltings, and plantations. Some of the arable land is a nice loam on a gravel sub-soil ; but nearly all the pasture is a stiff clay, even on the surface.
The cost of the land purchased for the Salvation Army, including all expenses, was about £20 an acre, and considering how large a proportion of it consists of pure clay pasture and saltings, it cannot be considered cheap, as prices are now.
An experienced fruit-grower has declared the apparently hopeless clay side-hills, which for the most part slope towards the south, well suited for the growth of fruit, with which, accordingly, they are to be planted shortly.
Possession of the estate was not obtained until May last, and already considerable progress has been made in fitting it for its purpose. About a hundred and fifty men from the London refuges are employed, helping local workmen to construct the necessary buildings, getting in the crops of corn purchased with the land, and cultivating the cabbages, beet, potatoes, and roots planted in the spring.
A wharf, on an arm of the Thames which runs along one side of the estate at a short distance from the main channel, is nearly finished. From it a steam-tramway is to be laid up to the central portion of the estate, where market-gardening and other industries will be carried on.
One advantage we have not yet credited to the estate,—namely, the existence of plenty of brick-earth upon it.
“Major” Stitt, who is at present in command of the colony, is very obliging in affording information to visitors, though his patience must be tried by the number of persons who call upon him, busy man as he is. In answer to the important question whether the men employed in the various industries that are to be established will be kept on permanently or not, he says :—” We shall endeavour to pass them on to situations as quickly as possible.”
A very interesting piece of information was brought out by our inquiries concerning the men now in the colony.
Seeing some of them engaged in harvesting, and others in hoeing, the natural conclusion was, that men who had been agricultural labourers would be selected, as far as possible, to send from the refuges to the colony ; and one of the officers was asked if this was the case. ” Only one man in the colony,” he replied, ” has been a farm-labourer. In fact, we scarcely ever find that any of the men who come to our refuges have been farm workmen.”
We shall watch the progress of the experiment with much interest, and with a lively hope of its adding largely to philanthropic experience.
Following is the complete report.