William Booth's Boxted experiment

The Boxted Venture

Seventeen years after the successful launch of Booth’s ‘Darkest England Scheme’ at Hadleigh Farm Colony,  Booth embarked on another similar scheme to help those unfortunate people from the East End of London to establish themselves. He chose Boxted, just outside Colchester. This was prompted by a generous donation.

The 1901 census showed Boxted having a population of 680 – a far cry from the great agricultural year of 1863 when the village was home to 935 villagers. Many had left to work in Colchester and surrounding areas but things were about to change as in 1908 the Salvation Army began to build houses on the small holding estate on Straight Road.  Following an  advance of a proposed £100k donation* from Mr George Herring, the Salvation Army had acquired Priory Farm and Old House Farm and 400 acres of land by Straight Road, Horkesley Road and Accommodation Road. 

Many Londoners came to Boxted from the East End and settled in the small holdings and after two years were expected to make the small holding pay, unfortunately many tenants had little experience of working the land and their situation became worse. 

General Booth made a visit in July 1910 with many dignitaries and visited some of the 67 smallholdings, around 50 being occupied. Booth addressed the company of folk on the evils of drink, which in his opinion, led to the necessity to build a mental hospital in Mile End.

The Queens Head public house which was close to the small holdings was seen by Booth as a threat to the sobriety of the men and Booth assured the landlord and his customers of their damnation and the Fires of Hell if they did not repent and give up drink. Many tenants were later seen at the back of the pub filling up their jugs with the best ale. 

Discontent rose to dangerous levels, there were evictions of several tenants, produce was graded and sent to Colchester for sale and a good return was not always achieved.

The Charity Commission was called in because of the evictions;  the Salvation Army was cleared of any maladministration, but there were further evictions and much bad publicity. The scheme was wound up in 1916 and the smallholdings were bought at auction  with houses used to resettle servicemen returning from the Great War, some of the properties were bought on a 999 year lease.

Looking back there was much farming done by the tenants; producing barley, peas, potatoes, beans, cabbages etc. plus fruit from an orchard. There were also cattle, sheep and pigs.  It didn’t work out though and Priory Hall was purchased by the County Council  and later became the village hall and a social club during WW2.

*George Herring  (1833-1906) was described as the greatest London Philanthropist you have NEVER heard of, a modest man who avoided the limelight. He came to Hadleigh Farm Colony in 1905 and there was an  illustrated feature in ‘The London Illustrated News’  on 30th December 1905 with the heading GENERAL BOOTH’S FARM COLONY SCHEME AT HADLEIGH, ESSEX AND ITS BENEFACTOR MR GEORGE HERRING. He visited Boxted shortly before his death, to approve the Boxted venture. Did the Salvation Army ever receive the full £100,000 he proposed to help the disadvantaged? We believe £40,000 was received to get the Boxted Experiment up and running but we are not sure if the rest of the money came through.  There were two codicils in his will made just before Mr Herring’s death which provided for the full amount to be paid.  He was certainly a generous man and his bequests to numerous  charities reached a total of about £900,000.

Fascinating detail of the major investments made at the Hadleigh Farm Colony
ILN / G Cook

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