Chapter 6 Rural England


Rider Haggard:  His Extraordinary Life and Colonial Work. A Literary Critical Biography.

The Online Publication

By Geoffrey Clarke.

Chapter 6 Rural England



There is another great change of theme at this stage of Haggard's biography.  For some time after the death of his son, Jock, he had not felt fulfilled by the task of romance writing:

...the unrealities of fiction writing greatly wearied me, oddly enough much more than they do at present, when they have become a kind of amusement and set-off to the more serious things and thoughts with which my life is occupied.


The “serious things and thoughts” [1]  were more to do with a wish to explore rural England and to become involved with the land, agricultural reform and the colonies.

 He ”grew to think”[2]  that he was destined (destiny playing a large part in his thinking) to play a part in the research of agricultural affairs.  Haggard commenced  in 1898 a book entitled “A Farmer’s Year”.[3]  It was to be a record of the lives and state of being of people engaged in agriculture in England at the very end of the nineteenth-century.

A Farmer’s Year
was subtitled “Being the Commonplace Book for 1898.” Haggard remained, after all, an expert in farming – he had farmed for many years at Ditchingham on land of 365 acres purchased for six thousand pounds in 1865 by Major John Margitson (Louisa’s father).  As such, he had a good understanding of the agricultural life of England.  His work is radical in that it proposed changes to farming methods that had been established over centuries – more rotation of crops, better drainage of fields (he called for his agricultural labourers to “lay drainage pipes in the ditch”)[4]  and improved husbandry of cattle.  Haggard promoted the use of footpaths and hedgerows to encourage the spread of wild life.  He was concerned about the rural depopulation starting to increase at the turn of the century due to the population escape to the towns and competition from foreign imports of cereals.  It was such that “a neighbouring farm of nearly two hundred acres had been reduced to that of the bailiff in charge of it and one horseman through the winter months.”[5]

Haggard introduced better methods of remunerating agricultural labourers[6]  and paid his own workers a good rate for the time.  He mildly supported the spread of mechanised farming that was being introduced into East Anglia making farming of cereals on an industrial scale.  He believed in the manuring of crops for he spent “about two shillings (10p) the load as it lies upon the heap.”[7]

But Rider would be amazed to see the conditions of cattle today where an artificially inseminated heifer neither sees the bull, nor is even allowed to suckle her offspring.  He would have been revolted at the conditions in English farming, including feed for ruminants containing animal material, that persists to this day and caused the outbreak of mad cow disease in the eighties which led to the slaughter and burning of tens of thousands of cows.

Modern agriculture has changed the whole character of East Anglia, altering the landscape, destroying hedges and wildlife and generally contributing to a deleterious environment, plagued by pesticides and genetic plant breeding and promoted by huge, unaccountable corporations like Monsanto.[8]  Stuck with second world war (1939 - 1945) ideas of silage, which is basically rotten vegetation subject to disease, the modern (?) method of rolling up the hay into a giant roll, where the centre rots, cannot be sustained environmentally. Cube shaped bundles of wheat and corn are no better, since they rot at the interior where no oxygen can reach. Forced by the mechanisation of farm production, these methods need total revision by farmers in this country.

Nevertheless as one (much later) balanced and fairly appreciative, American comment on A Farmer's Year enthused:

“How entertainingly passes along Mr. Rider Haggard's "A Farmer's Year' in Longman's Magazine. You read of corn, of beets, potatoes, of horses, cows, sheep, of rabbits, foxes, of crows, swallow, and then there are absurd comments on landlords, publicans, and farm laborers. (sic) You get an insight into English rural politics. Then Mr. Rider Haggard tells you of old churches…”[9]

And then …parsnips, peas and pollen…probably (ed.).

Ditchingham, his home village, is described, too, giving details as in a census:

“I turn now to describe the land I farm here at Ditchingham. Ditchingham is a parish of about eleven hundred inhabitants, containing something over two thousand acres of land. In shape it is large and straggling, but the most of the population live at the Bungay end, for the village and the town meet at the bridge over the Waveney;”[10] 

It is little changed today, (ed.).

Rider Haggard, with his trust in God, believed that the farmer had a divine duty to plant, nourish and garner his crops and if he had a bumper crop, he was not to be subjective about it to the extent that it was his own work – it was the work of the Almighty.

Haggard was aware that he was farming on land that had been there for thousands of years, and he wonders, in passing, about the previous tenants of the land - who they were, and what had become of them.  He saw it in a spiritual way, its antiquity being its finest recommendation.  The soil at Bodingham was harsh and unworkable, making the farmer’s life a difficult one.  And, since he had lived out of England, he relished the opportunity to return home to the epicentre of traditional social groups that had been joined together by their unchanged lineage, because:


We learn to take a kind of comfort in the contemplation of communities linked together from century to century by an unbroken bond of blood, and moulded to a fixed type of character by surroundings and daily occupations which have scarcely varied since the days of Harold.[11]


Haggard was on the bench at Bungay magistrates for many years.  He carried out his duties as a magistrate in an exemplary fashion, even being called out from church while reading the Lesson, to interview a woman with mental problems and to certify and sanction her to the appropriate authorities, demonstrating his sensitive and sympathetic nature.[12]

Now well in to his farming career, Haggard was harbouring some doubts.  Leaving the writing of novels and returning to farming were not as easy as supposed, for Haggard regretted that:


“Ploughing, I can assure the reader, is one of those things that look a great deal easier than they are, like the writing of romances, which is supposed by the uninstructed to be a facile art.”[13]

Again full of intellectual vigour and prolific mental energy and not content with writing A Farmer’s Year, he commenced forthwith A Gardener’s Year (1903).  As a dedicated orchid grower, he was able to give his help and support to other gardeners on this exotic flower.  A flower that thrives in wet conditions, such as those we have experienced in twenty-twelve, he produced them in his greenhouses at Ditchingham.  Ancient boilers and pipes kept the flowers warm, and even grapes were produced by this method.  From orchids to amaryllis, from angreoum Sesquipedale to anthurium, from primrose to daffodil, he goes on to describe the flowers in his garden.  Each month in the garden is chronicled, and homilies to gardeners abound from a polymath of literature and rural life in England.

 Declaring that he “had earned the bread of (my)self and others”[14]  by writing romances, even though he was more interested in “administration, politics or even law”, [15]  Haggard turned to government work. In 1905, when he was 49, Haggard was asked by the Secretary of State for the Colonies to work in the United States with the Salvation Army.  The Colonial Office organised “assisted passages” to Canada and Australia to help people dwell on land for farming.  Both Canada and Australia wanted only “white” settlers with skills, money and enterprise to colonise their areas felt to be underdeveloped.

The Empire Settlement Act legislated for migrants to get allowances, ‘assisted’ travel and training to enable them to settle down in those lands.[16]  The Salvation Army ran “Labour Colonies” in the United States of America to help men and women to work as farmers or domestic servants [you guess which was which] to try to alleviate the poverty and unemployment in cities like Glasgow.  This movement, with its insistence on “white” emigration, has a eugenics feel about it.  From a present day standpoint, it smacks of reactionary and top down government involvement in social engineering.

Haggard visited Philadelphia, looking at the Liberty Bell in Liberty Hall, and Washington where he met President Roosevelt on the banks of the Potomac at the White House.  The President had read Rural England, [i]  Haggard’s (1902) account of agricultural counties of England and expressed his view that he remained in accord with the ideas and intentions outlined in the work.  Later meeting him again in London on a hurried visit, Haggard was praised in person by Roosevelt for his book entitled “Regeneration” (1910) his account of the social work of the Salvation Army in England.  Of its origin, Haggard explains that:

Before going further, it may, perhaps, be well that I should explain how it is that I come to write these pages. First, I ought to state that my personal acquaintance with the Salvation Army dates back a good many years, from the time, indeed, when I was writing 'Rural England,' in connexion with which work I had a long and interesting interview with General Booth that is already published. Subsequently I was appointed by the British Government as a Commissioner to investigate and report upon the Land Colonies of the Salvation Army in the United States.[ii]

During the First World War he assisted the Royal Colonial Institute by travelling to South Africa, Malaysia, Australia and Canada with the work of settling former British soldiers onto land in the colonies.  A member of the nongovernmental Commission, he sailed to South Africa from Plymouth, and from Capetown to Tasmania on the SS Turakina to West Australia on the Katoomba and on to Vancouver, Canada on the SS Niagara.  The voyages took place during the war, so he was risking his life for his duties as a commissioner.  Even on board the SS Kenilworth Castle in February 1916 he was required to wear lifebelts at dinner for fear of torpedo attack from German submarines.[iii]  The champagne and oysters were a little unsettling on the tummy in the circumstances.

His final visit to South Africa over, he continues to Tasmania where he meets the Premier Mr Earle, who is sympathetic to the Commission’s cause and offers him an agreement for the resettlement of three hundred soldiers in Australia after the war.[iv]  This was less than Haggard had anticipated, but he accepted that, under the conditions of the political infighting that went on, he would need to be satisfied.  In Queensland he secured a promise of a million acres of land for the returning solders and their families, ‘sweethearts’ etc.  In Sydney, a now tired Haggard receives from a generous Labour government a letter offering one thousand farms in Yarroo, Queensland. 

On to Vancouver where he is met on the quayside by his brother Andrew whom Haggard found aged and thin.[v]  Home at last via Liverpool and Euston Station, with Louie and Angie, via the Waveney Valley line and then by car from Beccles “(15/-!)” to Ditchingham, only to be bombarded by German airships dropping bombs nearby: “…it is odd that I should have emerged from all risks of a round the world trip in these days to run into Zeppelins at home”, he sighs.[vi]  And looking back in his diaries for 1917 he comments that, despite whatever judgment the press would make of it: “At any rate we have worked hard, gratuitously and disinterestedly, for five years on behalf of the Empire.”[vii]  A great imperial servant satisfied with his untiring work, and happy in the knowledge that he has done his best for his nation’s red colouring-in book.




69 Gunterstone Road Google images

En route to Madeira on this round the world trip he was taken up in his imagination with a story that evolved from seeing Madeira from a distance and being intrigued with the skyline and the wake of the ship forming an unbroken link.  The albatrosses that followed the ship day and night were woven into the original title as: The Fatal Albatross 1916.  It was eventually published posthumously in 1929 by Hutchinson with only three thousand copies being printed.

Andrew Atherton is a modern type of chap who is duped by his senior medical specialist who marries Andrew’s lover Rose behind his back.  Andrew prefers to work for little pay in an East End hospital rather than obtaining a good salary as a doctor in a fashionable practice.

Rose is the doctor’s daughter and is described in what sets out as a domestic tale with strong descriptive writing as formidably beautiful:

Anywhere Rose Watson would have been reckoned a beautiful woman, one among ten thousand.  She had all the points of beauty; an exquisitely tinted face, large blue eyes, a shapely head on which her plentiful golden hair was coiled like a crown, a sweet mouth, a well cut nose not too sharp, and long delicate hands and feet.  Also her voice was low and gentle and her movements were full of native grace.  In short, she was lovely, a perfect type of the Eternal Feminine.[viii]

Andrew out of his socialist principles likes to lodge in Whitechapel with Mrs Josky.  He eventually marries Clara instead and is sent as the Governor General of Oceana.  In the adventure story part of the novel, and then because he believed Clara drowned in their shipwreck, takes up with another shipwrecked local lady, Mary of Marion Isle. 

Mary is a native girl who speaks in the third person: “Mary she love you. She never leave you, Andrew.”  They have a child and only then Andrew is saved by the resurrected Clara whilst taking refuge in a cave on the desert island, the news of his survival from the shipwreck having been transmitted by means of a metal dinner plate attached to the neck of a ‘fated albatross.’ Yet it is not Mary who drowns to assuage moral proprieties, but indeed Clara who does not survive her trip in an open boat.

The modern moral of the tale is that a couple can live together as partners without wedlock and for the time can be considered as morally groundbreaking, for Haggard seems to allow for an alternative society not to emerge until the post war period.

Billed by Morning Post as being as good as his African tales, it went on to say that it is: ”Worthy of the author of She and King Solomon’s Mines.”  The journal added “Those who read it will recapture something of the rapturous interest with which they followed the doings of his African adventurers.”

His agricultural work, Rural England (1902) is a survey of agricultural counties of England – Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire (now defunct and part of Cambridgeshire), Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire, Lincolnshire, Rutland (the smallest unitary authority in England) Nottinghamshire, Suffolk and Haggard’s own Norfolk.  It contains the names, and very little detail, of people long gone like Mr A Tuck of Ditchingham Lodge, Mr C P Allix of Swaffam Prior and his neighbour, Mr Hall.  Also mentioned are Mr Robert Stephenson of Burwell Cambridgeshire, Mr T B Potter of Blackstone House, Bewdley, Mr A P Turner, Mr Williams of Knebworth, Hertfordshire (notice the Welsh connection ed .) Mr Wright, Mr Yerburgh and Mr Young.[19]  These would have been gentlemen farmers on a great scale, and they would have been in the forefront of agricultural life in South east England.  His fears, however, were of a return to forest and grassland in Cambridgeshire, and that there would be a chance of civil strife over the issue of Protectionism of food imports by the imposition of taxes on foreign food.  Haggard’s opinion was that “among the remedies for our evils the hope of Protection cannot be reckoned.”[20]

Haggard was also concerned about what he termed ‘the price of labour’, wondering whether agricultural wages were too high, and that the supply of labour was diminishing due to the competition of other industries likes ports, fishing, brick making, building and construction and so on.  Furthermore, rural depopulation was having a devastating effect on the farming industry because men were leaving the farms to work in more congenial jobs in towns and cities.  He apologises for his “earnestness” over this problem because he felt that the flight of people from the land would be the ruin of England.  He claims in his Conclusion that, if advancing civilisation required the movement away from the land, “then it is of a truth that broad road that leads to the destruction of advanced peoples.”[21]

Haggard has fame and renown for his work with Norfolk coast erosion.  He did not know where coast began or where "the outrageous flowing surges of the sea”[22]  would leave the shoreline.  For centuries the East Anglian coast had been sometimes inundated, sometimes deposited with sand, shale and gravel causing a great ebb and flow of cliff and beach erosion, revival or restoration.  Houses, churches, lighthouses and huts toppled into the sea on a regular basis; land returned to beach and cliff.  He had, as we saw, retained Kessingland Grange near Lowestoft, and, to prevent the incursion of the sea and the winds, had sloped the cliff faces, using marram grass to concretise the sand, with the result that the height of the cliff below the Grange increased.  Riding back and forth from Lowestoft by cycle[23],  Haggard collected much information about the condition of agriculture, coastline, farm and field.

Haggard was by general inclination, heredity and opinion a conservative in politics.  He had opposed the protection of imports in earlier life and upheld socialist farming principles at the same time as supporting the increase of landholding by small farmers, tenants and smallholders on the vast expanse of land available in England.  He had no truck with the Bolshevism arising in Russia which was threatening the lives of the imperial family there, even joining the Anti-Bolshevik League in London.  He felt that it would involve a lot of his time but, "if only I can manage to live somehow, I would not grudge that if thereby I could help my country in this hour of its peril." 12 April 1922

He went on to the hustings in East Norfolk and heard catcalls and booing for the first time at close hand.  There were even scuffles between his supporters and left leaning demonstrators and activists at meetings and around the orators' platform at Stalham.  His carriage was almost turned over and the horses were distraught where they landed in the ditch.  Lord Wodehouse and a worker named only as Saul were summonsed to appear on 20 July for a ‘common assault’.[i]  Being of a nervous temperament, this would have been deeply troubling to him.  At the election that was held in the Eastern Division of Norfolk in the summer of 1895, he came very close to victory, losing in the ballot by only one hundred and ninety-eight votes.

 Commissioned to produce a report on the Salvation Army Colonies in the United States, Rider Haggard produced in 1905, at the age of 49, The Poor and the Land, Being a Report on the Salvation Army Colonies in the United States and at Hadleigh, England, with Scheme of National Land Settlement.[24]  Settlements were established at Fort Romie, Fort Amity, and Fort Herrick in Ohio.  A number of objections to the scheme could be raised he says in the Introduction, being that the people recruited would become “Salvationists” and that it would take too many people out of England.  Enterprisingly, he counters both arguments with a confident statement in favour of State supported loans, which would encourage the project.  They took 360 square miles of land to cultivate, and there was also work for the cure of “inebriates”.  The land selected turned out to be inadequate in places, and as a result the Salvation Army had to pay tens of thousands of pounds for remedial drainage work.  A profit was turned in most cases, and many of the settlers were successful in terms of their financial probity.

Returning from Denmark in October 1910, and sitting in the great study in Ditchingham House (his bulldog Caesar at his side) with the winter approaching, it was time to complete the research for Rural Denmark and Its Lessons.  It appears similar to  A Farmers Year with its names and occupations of the farmers and smallholders of the Danish agricultural industry.  His interest in coast erosion was aroused also by the land reclamation on the River Skalsaa in Jutland.

It notes the varied and subtle differences between Danish and English farming methods and, for such a dry subject, is an absorbing document due to the intensive description and subjective writing that brings, as usual, the romance writer’s work to life in a stimulating and refreshing way.  From cathedrals and churches to agricultural colleges and schools, from milk suppliers to pig farms, from rats and mice to sterilised meat, and fresh fish, it covers the range of Danish farming activities.  

 In his researches around Norfolk, Haggard garnered ideas for a story full of local character, colour and interest. Kipling became involved in the mediation over the plot lines for his  new adventure story, Red Eve [1911].  Thirsting to return to the writing of romances, Haggard produces Ayesha, The Way of the Spirit, Benita, Fair Margaret, The Ghost Kings, and The Yellow  God.  

The collaboration with Kipling continued over the plot construcction of Red Eve, for on visits to each other's houses and by corresspondence they worked  on the construction of the novel.  In a letter of 1909 from his mature period he asks: "Now let's have Murgh put in going order?"  On one side of the Bateman's stationery can  be seen an annotation from Haggard which confirms their collaboration, "Bateman's / Kipling's idea of Murgh, 5. 10. 08."  It is certain that Kipling helped, at least, in the creation of the character, Murgh.  Playing with names for Murgh through Murth, Murg and Morg appears as a ghoulish pastime for the two writers who start with the idea of "Death" and end, by route of the morgue, in Murgh, the name eventually chosen. [1]

The setting of the story is Dunwich where the largest sea port was situated until it was overcome by the sea.  Disaster struck the town in 1347 when a tremendous storm swept away 400 houses and eight churches.  Noyan-sur-Sarthe is situated in the Pays-de-la-Loire region of France and is a small river-side town on the banks of the Loire.  Haggard had also researched into the locations of Avignon and Venice, showing good command of local detail.

Two young local characters in Norfolk, Hugh de Cressi and Red Eve, so called because she wears a red cloak, escape from an arranged marriage with a French lord and wealthy landowner, Sir Edmund Acour.  Eve learns that he is a traitor to the King, and she is afraid that he may overthrow the crown of England.  In the ensuing fight, Hugh kills his assistant, John of Clavering, and the couple escape to a nearby Presbytery of the Knights Templar.  Requesting marriage after the bloody conflict, they are refused: “Be married to the sister with blood on your hands… and she one of the greatest heiresses in East Anglia?”: never!  Again; echoes of the Haggard family life, where Louisa supplanted another lover in Haggard’s matrimonial plans, as she was more richly endowed, and he from a family of ten children.  Haggard was depressed at the time of writing, and it is not fanciful to attribute the sickness of Eve and the results of the Black Death to the problem of Lilly.

Red Eve is a love story between Eve and Hugh with a malicious French noble as their rival in affection. Hugh is enjoined to tell the King in Westminster, and he proceeds to inform the court of the treachery.  He receives a pardon for the killing and straightaway goes to Avignon to meet the Pope to resolve the issue of the marriage, and find Sir Edmund Acour. 

The Battle of Crecy in 1346 is featured as a plot marker for scenes of struggle and war. Hugh forgives a dying Frenchman, spares a Jewish woman from the stake under the Inquisition, which results in her saving Hugh.  Murgh, the Avenger oversees his travels across Europe in the shadow of the Black Death, and his return to Dunwich, as he manages the plot lines that Kipling has created.  Returned to Suffolk, Hugh and Red Eve are reunited, Acour is encountered again and disposed of, and the two protagonists are united in matrimony by the faithful priest, Sir Andrew.

 “Yes, there by the graveside, over the body of the dead Acour, there in the red light of the morning, amidst the lonely snows, was celebrated the strangest marriage the world has ever seen. In nature's church it was celebrated, with the grim, grey Archer for a clerk, and Death's own fearful minister for congregation.”[2]

Presiding over the whole story is Murgh the avenger of Death, whose fierce and awesome countenance pervades the tale; a grim and fabulous, medieval style potboiler on a grand canvas carved from the pens of two specialist romance writers.

The story was published by Hodder and Stoughton in an edition of 13,500 copies in 1911.  It was serialised in the Red Book Magazine in 7 issues from December, 1910 to March 1911 with illustrations by Paul Hardy, including three or four illustrations throughout the text of a modern kind, produced from glass plates by up-to-date technical methods.[1] 


 [1] Rider Haggard, The Days of My Life, Chapter 18.

[2] Rider Haggard, The Days of My Life, Chapter 18.

[3] Rider Haggard, A Farmer’s Year Being the Commonplace Book for 1898. (London: Longmans Green, 1899).

[4] Haggard, A Farmer’s Year, 142.

[5] Haggard, A Farmer’s Year, appendix.

[6] Haggard, A Farmer’s Year, 407.

[7] Haggard, A Farmer’s Year, 47.

[8] Adrian Bell, Men and the Fields (London:1939).

[9]  New York Times, Saturday Book Reviews and Magazine The Times Literary Criticism, 1968. 361.

[10]  Haggard, A Farmer’s Year, 55.

[11]  Haggard, A Farmer’s Year, 7

[12] Rider Haggard, The Days of My Life, Chapter 18.

[13] Haggard, A Farmer’s Year, 106.

[14] Haggard, The Days of My Life, Introduction Written 1911.

[15] Haggard, The Days of My Life, Introduction Written 1911

[16] John Field,, “Exporting ‘People of British Stock’” – Training and Emigration Policy in inter-war Britain”  Institute of Education, University of Stirling, Annual SCUTREA Conference 4- 8 July 2010 University of Warwick.  Available Online Field/Papers/613854/Exporting_people_of_British_stock_training_and_emigration_policy_in_interwar_Britain  Accessed 25.06.2012.

[17]  Haggard, Rural England (London: Longmans Green, 1902).

[18] Rider Haggard, Regeneration: Being an Account of the Social Work of the Salvation Army in Great Britain. (London, 1910) Copyright © BiblioBazaar, LLC.

[19] See Michael Wood, The Story of England, BBC, Available. Online.  Accessed 26. 06. 2012.

[20] Haggard,  Rural England,  539.

[21] Haggard,  Rural England,  575.

[22] Rider Haggard, Introduction to Red Eve. "the outrageous flowing surges of the sea" (I quote the jurists of centuries ago)”.

[23] Haggard, A Farmer’s Year, 477.,

[24]  Introduction. Rider Haggard, The Poor and the Land, Being a Report on the Salvation Army Colonies in the United States and at Hadleigh, England, with Scheme of National Land Settlement (London: Longmans, 1905).

 Haggard, Rural Denmark and Its Lessons (London:Longmans, 1911).

1] Rider Haggard, Red Eve (Leipzig : Bernhard Tauchnitz, 1911).

[2] Haggard, Red Eve, Chapter 19.

[1] D S Whatmore, H Rider Haggard A Bibliography (New York: Greenwood Press, 1987).


i]  Haggard, Rural England (London: Longmans Green, 1902).

[ii] Rider Haggard, Regeneration: Being an Account of the Social Work of the Salvation Army in Great Britain. (London, 1910) Copyright © BiblioBazaar, LLC.

[iii] 19 February, 1916.  D.S. Higgins, (ed.) The Private Diaries of Sir H. Rider Haggard (New York: Stein and Day, 1980) 52.

[iv]  3 April, 1916.  D.S. Higgins, (ed.) The Private Diaries of Sir H. Rider Haggard 57.

[v] 1 July 1916.  D.S. Higgins, (ed.) The Private Diaries of Sir H. Rider Haggard 69.

[vi] 3 August, 1916.  D.S. Higgins, (ed.) The Private Diaries of Sir H. Rider Haggard 76.

[vii] 27 March 1917.  D.S. Higgins, (ed.) The Private Diaries of Sir H. Rider Haggard 100.

[viii] Rider Haggard, Mary of Marion Isle (London: Hutchinson, 1929) Chapter 3.