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Matthew (1854-05-09)

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“The People’s Roads”. Dundee, Perth, and Cupar Advertiser, Tuesday 9 May 1854, p.3 col.4-5 (pdf image)

(Letter written May 5 1854, published May 9 1854)
Matthew complains that the lack of public footpaths on the sides of the district roads in the Carse of Gowrie is both uncivilized and unsafe. He supposes that a stranger would ask: “Are the leading classes of this district absolute barbarians, unfitted for a civilized country? Why do the District Road Commissioners of so rich and valuable a district not do their duty, in causing footpaths to be made?”
He ends in typical bombastic style against the “landlord proprietors”: “To conclude, nothing presents a greater contrast than the liberality of propitious nature in this most fruitful vale, and the illiberality, as here evinced, of the ungrateful landlord possessors towards the less fortunate portion of their brethren, the landless population. These landlords seem to forget that it is this very population, so much despised, to whom they stand indebted for the great value of their fertile acres, not only as industrious land cultivators, but as consumers — expert manufacturers bringing in revenue from the foreign lands: for what purpose, in the case of extensive estates, would fertility serve without a dense population to consume the produce, and afford hands to work the ground?”

Full text follows:

THE PEOPLE’S ROADS.

TO THE EDITOR OF THE DUNDEE ADVERTISER.

SIR,— The eastern shores of Scotland present generally a bleak and barren aspect, partly from the high latitude, partly from the uninteresting configuration of the land, but more from the keen blasting severity of the north-east breeze to which they are subject, especially in the spring. There is, however, one fair valley retreating a little inward from the coast of a different character — the sheltered rich Carse of Gowrie, which (like a walled garden) is walled in and protected by two ranges of the most beautiful and fertile variety of hill, the trap hill, and being itself mostly flat as a bowling green brings out these hills with a much more picturesque effect, than if they rose from a rolling country. This vale, with the exception of several inches (formerly islands) consists of the rich alluvion of a river lake, of the Tay, when its waters, from a comparatively higher level of the sea, were spread over the valley from hill to hill, and the salt-water entered every flowing tide. Wherever the sea-water meets the river-water, there is always the richest alluvial deposit of rivers and river-lakes, as myriads of fresh water animalcules are killed every tide as they flow down, where the saltwater intermixes with the fresh, and subside. These, with the vegetable remains and mud brought down also by the river, form the deposit — thus consisting partly of animal and vegetable remains, partly of an advantageous admixture of earths, brought from every quarter from whence the river gathers. This accounts for the high fertility of the Carae of Gowrie, and the great value of the land property,— where the Carse is widest between Errol and Inchture, being worth about 200,000l. per lineal mile of length of valley.

To strangers travelling through this rich valley, the absence of footpath-ways at the side of most of the public carriage roads presents a rather peculiar feature, indicative of the character of the leading class of this district, under whose management what is termed the district roads are. Their admiration is, that in this rich and beautiful and highly peopled valley, under the circumstance of extremely dirty roads in winter, from the silt-clay nature of the soil, this necessary portion of a road should be wanting,— the great body of the people, when they walk out, being obliged to trudge through the mud of the carriage way. Such, indeed, is the effect of the miry nature of the Carse soil, that people of the Carse of Gowrie are said to be known from their lowtish walk. The stranger asks — Are the leading classes of this district absolute barbarians, unfitted for civilised country? Why do the District Road Commissioners of so rich and valuable a district not do their duty, in causing footpaths to made? Why should so great wealth of land property, taxable for roads for the community, and this barbarous neglect of common decency exist together?

The district road commissioners of this valley act as if they believed they were appointed by the Government only to procure roads for brute animals and carriages, and not for the British people. About 1-20th part of the expense of the carriage and cattle road would construct a proper foot-path for the people — for that portion of the people who walk on foot, who constitute we may say 9-10ths of the whole. Yet the road commissioners will not allot 1-20th part of the public road money for the necessary accommodation of the people. Is it from thoughtless inadvertency, from ignorance of the necessity of footpaths, and of the wants and feelings of the go-a-foot classes, that the landlords are so negligent? One of the writer’s former servants, before entering his service, drove a cart over a child on a Carse of Gowrie road, and killed it. Another man, while in the writer’s employ, had a child killed by a cart on a Carse district road. Another, still, while his employ, had the head of his boy crushed by a cart on this road so as to render the boy mentally invalid. The writer’s own daughter, also, upon a public road of Perthshire, without a foot-path though not in the Carse of Gowrie, was knocked down, and her hand gone over and crushed by the wheel of a cart. Formerly the female portion of the writer’s family in going or returning on foot from Errol Church, on the public district road, where a foot-path is still wanting, were regularly on Sunday bespattered with mud in winter, when the weather was moist, by a late neighbour’s carriage, which always drove past rapidly. Others have a like tale tell. In danger of being run over by carts and carriages the poor child must drag its little limbs along through the mud to school every morning, and sit in school all day wet up to the knees. The public, the dressed female going to church or railway, is driven every minute from the middle of the carriage road — the only part in winter where a foot passenger can get along — to the miry sides, to escape being rode over or splashed all over by passing carriages. Does not this contemptuous neglect of the health, safety, cleanliness, and comfort of the great body of the people, amount to a complete dereliction of duty on the part of the district road commissioners,— who may be presumed to be thus negligent because they by law assess themselves for this public purpose, and because they themselves ride in carriages.

It is proper to state that some thirty years ago a foot-path was made along a portion of the turnpike betwixt Dundee and Perth, which is under a different management from the district roads. But, recently, the railway has nearly superseded the use of the turnpike road, and rendered some of the district roads (under the management of the district commissioners), especially those near the railway stations, of very much more traffic than the turnpike, and the foot passengers trebled. And on these district roads, even near the stations where the greatest transit of foot-passengers occurs, there are no footpaths.

Under these circumstances, at the annual meeting on Wednesday, the 3d instant, of the district commissioners — that is, the proprietarv of the Carse district — the great utility and necessity of footpaths to these roads in so populous a district, more particularly in the vicinity of the railway stations and kirk village of Errol (Errol contains four churches), was brought before the meeting by the writer, and special petitions were made that a footpath should be formed along the district road from Errol to the Errol and the Inchture railway stations, thus accommodating a great portion of the Carse population in going to church, to school, and market. This proposition of a foot-path along the carriage road from Errol to the two stations was received very coldly by the meeting; and, for not adopting it, a similar reason to the sly little boy’s was given,— “I will not say A, for if I say A, they will require me to say B and C.” The commissioners observed that were the proposed path granted, from its conveniency, footpaths would be required at the side of every district road of the valley, and so the road-money assessment would need to be increased! Here we find a meeting of the leading men of the district — of the land proprietary — the Government commissioners upon a public service — the appointed judges of a question of public utility and duty, avowedly biassed by what must be considered by every one else sordid views, and, instead of deciding upon the confessed utility of the object petitioned, giving the very utility and desirableness the improvement as the reason for not ordering it to be put into execution. In the end, this very necessary and immediately necessary object was shoved off for a year at least, and it was only through the public and more liberal disposition of the chairman (Lord Kinnaird), and of Sir Patrick Murray Thriepland, with the judicious advice of the Clerk (Mr Duncan), that it was got remitted to the consideration of a committee to report it to the next annual meeting.

Seeing that the affair would be indefinitely postponed — at least for a year, and anxious for its completion before next winter, the writer proposed to the meeting that each proprietor should make the footpath along the district road contiguous to his land, offering on his part to make that contiguous to his own — which arrangement would bring him for much more than his share in proportion to his quantity of land. This proposal was not entertained by the meeting — perhaps rightly, as it is the proper business of the District Road Commissioners, who, without delay, ought to call a special meeting to arrange respecting an immediate commencement. Failing this a petition to her Majesty must be got up, stating that said landlord Commissioners fail to perform said duties towards her Majesty’s subjects, incumbent upon them as holders in feu from the Crown of said most fruitful lands — praying her Majesty to order immediate performance.

To conclude, nothing presents a greater contrast than the liberality of propitious nature in this most fruitful vale, and the illiberality, as here evinced, of the ungrateful landlord possessors towards the less fortunate portion of their brethren, the landless population. These landlords seem to forget that it is this very population, so much despised, to whom they stand indebted for the great value of their fertile acres, not only as industrious land cultivators, but as consumers — expert manufacturers bringing in revenue from foreign lands: for what purpose, in the case of extensive estates, would fertility serve without a dense population to consume the produce, and afford hands to work the ground?

PATRICK MATTHEW.
Gourdiehill, May 5, 1854.

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