2 March 2001

Book Review

Cobbett, first good lifer…

IN the 1960s and 1970s there was quite a boom in books and programmes for people seeking the "good life" – Utopian self-sufficiency where good husbandry and barter would negate the need for money and the holding down of a 9-5 job to provide it.

Unfortunately, dropping out of the rat race and setting up a smallholding in some idyllic village was a dream more readily realised by the well-heeled rather than the down-trodden, but the original classic* on self-sufficiency was written purely with the labouring classes in mind. William Cobbett, a farmer and a radical who aired his views in print, first published Cottage Economy as a series of pamphlets in 1821-22. He was a champion of the rural poor and his intention was to show "how a large part of the food of even a large family may be raised… From 40 rod, or a quarter of an acre."

He detailed how to brew beer, which he advocated as a better use of time than making tea, make bread, keep cows, pigs, bees, rabbits, poultry and even how to build an ice-house. By following his advice, the cottage dweller not only grew food but in freedom, self-reliance and dignity – self reliance and dignity being something advocates of todays "father-feed-them-all" welfare state might do well to ponder on.

Cottage Economy is back in print and, rather appropriately, its publishers have a cottage address, grow their own fruit and veg and keep sheep and chickens. TG

*Cottage Economy, William Cobbet, Verey and Von Kanitz Publishing, £7.99 (paperback).