Before replying to the comments, I would like to tell of an occurrence which has a bearing. A friend of very long standing, started life as a tea planter in Assam,, only to have to return to takeover the family business. Within a short time he had expanded what had been a fairly large grocery shop in County Down, to become a wide ranging business which included mobile shops travelling the countryside, selling them wares, while at the same time collecting eggs and other produce for sale in the shop. In due course he retired and to show his appreciation of the men working for him, he offered to those who had been driving the mobile shops, a gift of the shops fully stocked for them to take over and run themselves. I know for certain that at least one of the men refused, because he had not the confidence to do the buying necessary.
I received comments from someone called Wyn, who is puzzled by my comments about landed gentry, and feels that their wealth was at the expense of generations of tenants. In the early 30s, I spent a lot of holidays on farms and in the country, in areas where there were large estates, and I lived for a year in Sussex in 1939, mixing with the local farmers, gentlemen farmers and going to school with their children. In retrospect, while in the 30s we called all the land owners ‘landed gentry’, a generic term for people whose ancestry on specific tracts of land goes back hundreds of years, we used it for anyone who had a large estate, many of whom had become wealthy through business, and had purchased the land from choice. I don’t remember any resentment such as Wyn seems to have, on the contrary we enjoyed walking over their land, knew some of the tenants and helped at harvest time. From my own experience I saw there was a balance between the tenant farmers, the labourers on the farms, the locals and the landowner, each had its place in the system, and the system seemed to work. The point I was making in the piece I wrote, was, there were occasions when successive deaths created levels of taxation that impoverished the landowner, and in consequence the system could be disrupted. Because I had seen this happen, with a big house empty and deteriorating, it made me feel sad for the loss of a system of which I was only at the periphery, but was convinced was working. Like the driver of the mobile shop, not everyone who works on the land wishes to be his own boss and take responsibility for all that implies. A high proportion prefer to be wage earners, if possible have a tied cottage, and love the land because it’s inherent in their upbringing. Wyn states that my land has appreciated over the years through the efforts and presence of my entire community. I feel it is more likely that financial pressures enhance the value of land, and some of these have nothing to do with the land nor all the people on it, but is purely speculative. The piece I wrote was really about the problems that we might face once the government started its building programme, which in itself will enhance the value of land, and inheritance tax was a side issue.
Wyn, I’m afraid, is out of date, as I probably am. His rhetoric reminds me of the sort of things uni students were repeating from Communist leaflets at the end of WW2 when Russia was popular. There are very few Landed Gentry now, but a vast number of millionaires. Some I have come across, started humbly, but are now buying up the estates of landowners who have gone broke, either through taxes, changes in legislation or mismanagement, and the millionaires are selling off parcels of the land to other millionaires for development and a few more millions. The entertainment industry, football, television, the cinema and promotion, has created a legion of millionaires, while the poor people he is so worried about, are building a level of debt, as in the US, which will crash quite a few of these millionaires if they have invested in the Market, so once again we will be back to that old adage of the Victorian era, ‘Clogs to clogs in three generations!’
There is one rider, however, if these poor people go on spending and the market does crash, not only they will suffer, the pension funds will crash too, and other poor people will be disadvantaged as well as the spenders and the millionaires.