A Peasant's Voice to Landowners. By John Denson of Waterbeach. The views of a smallholder on poor rates, enclosure, and social change.Also Master's A Short Account of Waterbeach (1795).
A Peasant's Voice to Landowners. By John Denson of Waterbeach
Introduction by J. R. Ravensdale
For political and economic theorists the plight of the urban and rural masses in the wake of the industrial and agricultural revolutions was a central issue. The eloquent writings of Bentham, Mill, Ricardo, Malthus and others on the subject are well known. To this debate a Cambridgeshire smallholder, John Denson, proclaiming his humble standpoint as a peasant, ventured to make his own contribution, first in a series of letters to local newspapers, then gathered together with an 'appendix of corroborative facts and views' in a long pamphlet under the title A Peasant's Voice to Landowners. This extended pamphlet, which is here reprinted, argues for the best means of benefiting agricultural labourers and of reducing the poor rates. It is valuable for the light it throws on the rural economy of Denson's home village of Waterbeach; the detailed practicalities of agricultural innovation: the condition of the labouring poor: It reveals attitudes to landowners, to the enclosure of the open fields and to social change, and demonstrates the economic and political awareness that existed within Cambridgeshire rural society.
With the pamphlet is reprinted most of Robert Masters' Short Account of Waterbeach (1795), the earliest printed history of a Cambridgeshire parish. Whilst Masters' writes chiefly about the common concerns of an 18th-century clergyman-antiquary such as the church and local charities, between the lines may be read Masters' own intimate knowledge of the village's agricultural economy.
Further appendices publish for the first time documents related to the open fields and commons of the parish.