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Scotland and the Scots, 1707-2007

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Christian Auer

Living Conditions

64. Living in a Bothy, 1832

Texte intégral

  • 12 The Gagging Acts of 1817 banned meetings of over fifty people and instructed magistrates to arrest (...)

1William Cobbett (1763-1835), a politician and journalist, was deeply concerned about the conditions of the working classes. His Political Register, begun in 1802, was one of the greatest reform journals of the period and achieved an unparalleled influence among the working classes. Because of his criticism of the government’s handling of an army mutiny, Cobbett was convicted of sedition in 1810 and imprisoned for two years. After the passage of the Gagging Acts12 Cobbett fled to the United States. He returned to England in 1819 to become a central figure in the agitation for parliamentary reform. After the Reform Bill was passed in 1832, Cobbett was elected to Parliament, where he became a member of the Radical minority.

2In this passage, taken from A Tour in Scotland, he describes a bothy (spelled boothie in the text), a type of dwelling that was particularly common in the Scottish Highlands. The conditions in which these people lived and the salaries they got roused his indignation.

3William Cobbett, Tour in Scotland, 1832, London: 1833, p. 130-133.

  • 13 A unit of volume or capacity in the British Imperial System, used in dry and liquid measure and eq (...)

I went to the ‘boothie’ between twelve and one o’clock, in order that I might find the men at home, and see what they had for their dinner. I found the ‘boothie’ to be a shed, with a fire-place in it to burn coals in, with one doorway, and one little window. The floor was the ground. There were three wooden bedsteads, nailed together like the berths in a barrack-room, with boards for the bottom of them. The bedding seemed to be very coarse sheeting with coarse woollen things at the top; and all seemed to be such as similar things must be where there is nobody but men to look after them. There were six men, all at home; one sitting upon a stool, four upon the sides of the berths, and one standing talking to me. Though it was Monday, their beards, especially of two of them, appeared to be some days old. There were ten or twelve bushels13 of coals lying in a heap in one corner of the place, which was, as nearly as I could guess, about sixteen or eighteen feet square. There was no back-door to the place, and no privy. There were some loose potatoes lying under one of the berths.

  • 14 A dry measure equal to 537.6 cubic inches or 8.81 litres.
  • 15 A chopin is equivalent to 0.848 litres (spelled ‘choppin’ in the text).
  • 16 A quart is equivalent to 11.136 litres.
  • 17 A porridge made by stirring boiling liquid into oatmeal or other meal.

Now, for the wages of these men. In the first place the average wages of these single farming men are about ten pounds a year, or not quite four shillings a week. Then, they are found provisions in the following manner: each has allowed him two pecks14 of coarse oatmeal a week, and three ‘choppins15of milk a day, and a ‘choppin’ is, I believe, equal to an English quart16. They have to use this meal, which weighs about seventeen pounds, either by mixing it with cold water or with hot; they put some of it into a bowl, pour some boiling water upon it, then stir it about and eat it; and they call this brose17; and you will be sure to remember that name. When they use milk with the meal, they use it in the same way that they do the water. I saw some of the brose mixed up ready to eat; and this is by no means bad stuff, only there ought to be half-a-pound of good meat to eat along with it. The Americans make ‘brose’ of the corn-meal; but, then, they make their brose with milk instead of water, and they send it down their throats in company with buttered beef-steaks. And if here was some bacon along with the brose, I should think the brose very proper; because, in this country, oats are more easily grown in some parts than the wheat is. These men were not troubled with cooking utensils. They had a large iron saucepan and five or six brose-bowls; and are never troubled with those clattering things, knives, forks, plates, vinegar-cruets, salt-cellars, pepper-boxes, mustard-pots, tablecloths, or tables.

Now, I shall not attempt any general description of this treatment of those who make all the crops to come; but I advise you to look well at it; and I recommend to you to do everything within your power that it is lawful for you to do, in order to show your hatred of, and to cause to suffer, any one that shall attempt to reduce you to this state. The meal and the milk are not worth more than eighteen-pence a week; the shed is worth nothing; and here are these men, who work for so many hours in a day, who are so laborious, so obedient, so civil, so honest, and amongst the best people in the world, receiving for a whole week less than an American labourer receives for one day’s work not half so hard as the work of these men. This shed is stuck up generally away from the farmyard, which is surrounded with good buildings, in which the cattle are lodged quite as well as these men, and in which young pigs are fed a great deal better. There were three sacks of meal standing in this shed, just as you see them standing in our farmhouses filled with barley-meal for the feeding of pigs. The farm-house, standing on one side of the yard, is always a sort of gentle-man’s house, in which there are several maids to wait upon the gentleman and lady, and a boy to wait upon them too. There is, generally, a bailiff upon these farms, who is very often a relation of the farmer; and, if he be a single man, he has either a small ‘boothie’ to himself, or a place boarded off in a larger ‘boothie’; and he is a sort of sergeant or corporal over the common men, who are continually under his eye day and night; and who being firmly bound for the year, cannot quit their service till the year be out.

Notes

12 The Gagging Acts of 1817 banned meetings of over fifty people and instructed magistrates to arrest everyone suspected of spreading seditious libel.

13 A unit of volume or capacity in the British Imperial System, used in dry and liquid measure and equal to 2,219.36 cubic inches or 36.37 litres.

14 A dry measure equal to 537.6 cubic inches or 8.81 litres.

15 A chopin is equivalent to 0.848 litres (spelled ‘choppin’ in the text).

16 A quart is equivalent to 11.136 litres.

17 A porridge made by stirring boiling liquid into oatmeal or other meal.

© Presses universitaires de Strasbourg, 2013

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