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Before we left Llanbister my cousin, Percy Wilson, who was preparing for ordination after taking his degree at Oxford, came to stay a short time with us, and partly to see again the estate of Abbey-Cwm-Hir, which his father had purchased in the days of his prosperity and which was only a few miles distant, being, in fact, an adjoining parish. I and he walked over to see it one day, and found it to be situated in a lonely wild valley bounded by lofty and rather picturesque mountains. It was a small country house built by my uncle, partly from the heaped-up ruins of the ancient Cistercian monastery, the lower portion of the church still remaining, the walls having the remains of clustered columns attached to them. It would have made a charming summer residence in a few years, when the shrubs and trees had grown, and the whole surroundings had been somewhat modified by judicious planting, especially as Mr. Wilson had purchased, I believe, the entire estate, comprising the greater part of the parish, and including the whole valley and its surrounding mountains.
Two pencil sketches by my brother, made in a surveyor's field-book while at this place, have been preserved and are here copied, as examples of his delicacy of touch and power of giving artistic effect to the simplest objects. The upper one is the village taken from the house we lodged in, showing the low church at the end of the street, and the queer little house just opposite us, occupied then by the village shoemaker, but showing some architectural pretensions as compared with the usual cottages in a small Welsh village. The lower one is a small and lonely chapel in a remote part of the parish, to which the local builder has given character, while the dreary surroundings are well indicated in the sketch.
When we had finished at Llanbister, we went about ten miles south to a piece of work that was new to me—the making of a survey and plans for the enclosure of common lands. This was at Llandrindod Wells, where there was then a large extent of moor and mountain surrounded by scattered cottages with their gardens and small fields, which,
with their rights of common, enabled the occupants to keep a horse, cow, or a few sheep, and thus make a living. All this was now to be taken away from them, and the whole of this open land divided among the landowners of the parish or manor in proportion to the size or value of their estates. To those that had much, much was to be given, while from the poor their rights were taken away; for though nominally those that owned a little land had some compensation, it was so small as to be of no use to them in comparison with the grazing rights they before possessed. In the case of all cottagers who were tenants or leaseholders, it was simple robbery, as they had no compensation whatever, and were left wholly dependent on farmers for employment. And this was all done—as similar enclosures are almost always done—under false pretences. The “General Inclosure Act” states in its preamble, “Whereas it is expedient to facilitate the inclosure and improvement of commons and other lands now subject to the rights of property which obstruct cultivation and the productive employment of labour, be it enacted,” etc. But in hundreds of cases, when the commons, heaths, and mountains have been partitioned out among the landowners, the land remains as little cultivated as before. It is either thrown into adjacent farms as rough pasture at a nominal rent, or is used for game-coverts, and often continues in this waste and unproductive state for half a century or more, till any portions of it are required for railroads, or for building upon, when a price equal to that of the best land in the district is often demanded and obtained. I know of thousands of acres in many parts of the south of England to which these remarks will apply, and if this is not obtaining land under false pretences—a legalized robbery of the poor for the aggrandisement of the rich, who were the law-makers—words have no meaning. In this particular case the same course has been pursued. While writing these pages a friend was staying at Llandrindod for his wife's health, and I took the opportunity of asking him what was the present condition of the land more than sixty years after its inclosure. He informs me that, by inquiries among old inhabitants, he finds that at the time nothing whatever was done except to enclose the portions allotted to each landlord with turf banks or other rough fencing; and that to this day almost all the great boggy moor, with the mountain slopes and summits, have not been improved in any way, either by draining, cultivation, or planting, but is still wild, rough pasture. But about thirty years after the inclosure the railway from Shrewsbury through South Wales passed through the place, and immediately afterwards a few villas and boarding-houses were built, and some of the enclosed land was sold at building prices. This has gone on year by year, and though the resident population is still only about 2000, it is said that Io,000 visitors (more or less) come every summer, and the chief increase of houses has been for their accommodation. My friend tells me that, except close to the village and railway, the whole country which was enclosed— many hundreds of acres—is still bare and uncultivated, with hardly any animals to be seen upon it. Milk is scanty and poor, and the only butter is Cornish or Australian, so that the inclosure has not led to the supply of the simplest agricultural needs of the population. Even the piece of common that was reserved for the use of the inhabitants is now used for golf-links! Here, then, as in so many other cases, the express purpose for which alone the legislature permitted the inclosure has not been fulfilled, and in equity the whole of the land, and the whole money proceeds of the sale of such portions as have been built upon, should revert to the public. The prices now realized by this almost worthless land, agriculturally, are enormous. In or near the village it sells for £1500 an acre, or even more, while quite outside these limits it is from £300 to £400. All this value is the creation of the community, and it has only been diverted to the pockets of private persons by false pretences. And to carry out this cruel robbery, how many of the poor have suffered 2 how many families have been reduced from comfort to penury, or have been forced to emigrate to the overcrowded towns and cities, while the old have been driven to the workhouse, have become law-created paupers ?