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Record number: WCP2628

Sent by:
James William Barclay
Sent to:
Henry George Atkinson
4 December 1881

Sent by James William Barclay, Reform Club, Pall Mall, S.W. to Henry George Atkinson Godalming, Surrey on 4 December 1881.

Record created:
30 November 2011 by Mayer, Anna


No summary available at this time.

Record contains:

  • letter (1)

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LETTER (WCP2628.2518)

A typical letter handwritten by author in English and signed by author.

Held by:
British Library, The
Finding number:
BL Add. 46440 ff. 30-33
Copyright owner:
Copyright of the James William Barclay Literary Estate.

Physical description

Transcription information






Dec[e]m[ber] - 4 - [18]812

A. R Wallace Esqu[ire]


Dear Sir

Mr Crop3 of Glasgow asks me to reply to your letter to him of 26th Nov[e]m[ber] regarding the state of farm servants in Scotland.

My experience is rather limited, but I am confident there is a great improvement in their position since 1870. [[2]] The great demand for labour in towns advanced wages very much -- about 50% in three years & of course so far as farmers could do it[,] better wages were supplemented by better accommodation -- In Aberdeenshire & Forfarshire -- a married farm servant gets about £30 per annum & in addition as much oatmeal, milk & potatoes as will keep a family [[3]]4 & of course house accommodation free -- with perhaps5 a small garden included.

The unmarried men get about £25 - £30 with as much meal & milk as will keep them & lodging in addition -- that is the bothy system. The men seem to like it for a few years but naturally tire of it like bachelors generally. Much remains to be done to improve the Condition of the farm labourers as of artisans in towns6 [[4]]7 but speaking I think impartially I believe their position is not relatively [sic] in Scotland more than any other class -- This is evident from the physique of the men & by the healthy appearance of the children[.]

The farm labourers in Scotland are a very intelligent class -- I sh[oul]d not think there is a single labourer[']s cottage or farm kitchen where there is not at least [[5]]8 one good newspaper taken weekly.

Then the men readily move from place to place & from country to town9 so that the rate of wages for town work & country work is very [sic] closely equalised very quickly.10 Women used to work a good deal out, but that has fallen off very much -- women [[6]] have got scarce. The wages they get in harvest & at turnip hoeing -- the almost the only work they are now employed at [sic] -- is about 1/- p[er] day & kept [sic] --

Young boys are not prematurely set to work & it is very rare to see a boy under twelve on a farm -- Even at 12 to 14 they are seldom employed except herding cattle in summer -- [[7]]11 Such in a general way are my opinions of the position of the farm labourer in Scotland. It is very different From the English labourer I have met in Kent[,] Surrey & Sussex.

Some years ago I compared the cost of labour on my farm in Aberdeenshire with that of C S Read12 in Norfolk -- Our farms [[8]] were about the same size & involved about the same quantities of labour --

My wages per man were about 50% above his, but his labour bill for the farm exceeded mine by I think 50%13,14.

The explanation which occurs to me is that the best of the agri[culture]al labour is drawn away by the higher wages in towns -- & only the worst left -- the reverse process of natural selection --

Yours very truly | James. W. Barclay15 [signature]


1. Page numbered 30 in pencil in top RH corner.

2. Year ascertained from birth and death dates of author.

3. Not identified.

4. Page numbered 31 in pencil in top RH corner.

5. The word "perhaps" underlined twice in blue pencil.

6. The passage from "Much remains to be done….artisans in towns" is highlighted by a single vertical blue pencil stroke in the LH margin.

7. "Jas W Barklay" [sic] written in pencil across the top of the page.

8. Page numbered 32 in pencil in top RH corner.

9. The words "place to place" and "country to town" underlined in blue pencil.

10. The passage from "…the rate of wages ….equalised very quickly" is highlighted by a single vertical blue pencil stroke in the LH margin.

11. Page numbered 33 in pencil in top RH corner.

12. Read, Clare Sewell (1826-1905) British agriculturist and Conservative politician.

13. The words "50% above his" and "50%" underlined in blue pencil.

14. The passage from "…about 50% above his….I think 50%" is highlighted by a single vertical blue pencil stroke in the LH margin.

15. Barclay, James William (1832-1907) Scottish businessman, farmer and politician, Member of Parliament for Forfarshire for 19 years.

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