Doreen’s needed once again to sort out countryside crisis

PUBLISHED: 22:48 07 October 2018

Defiant campaigner Doreen Wallace is held aloft by supporters at Wortham Manor in 1939 after the bankruptcy sale

Defiant campaigner Doreen Wallace is held aloft by supporters at Wortham Manor in 1939 after the bankruptcy sale


If only a woman like ‘latter-day Boadicea’ Doreen Wallace was still around, says Keith Skipper

I look for a cheery lift at the start of each month along my study bookshelves. The latest chance reunion paints an uplifting glimpse of autumn to put a smile on October’s face: “But, ah, today the gold is on the bough and in the stubble field that waits the plough”.

A poetic offering from Doreen Wallace, rural campaigner, teacher, writer and artist, well worth fresh furrows of honest reflection as too much of our precious countryside character and terrain continue to be crushed by marauding armies of Field Eaters.

Such is the pace and power of their jack-booting antics that even comparative newcomers to Norfolk and Suffolk realise stubbled carpet, ploughed patch, rolling meadow or homely green space could well be gone by this time next year. Concrete smothering gold.

A grossly offensive planning system, nurtured by a government blithely bent on desecration of rural areas, ignores local needs and wishes. It insults all who refuse to accept a crass development creed blatantly built on greed.

Where’s the balance in any scheme to double the size of a contented small village in one cruel stroke? Where’s the fairness in local councils feeling too frightened of Westminster to take a stand against oversized and unwanted buildings of embarrassing blandness?

Where’s the sense in sacrificing vital green lungs like the Royal Norwich Golf Club course for housing in an area where hideous traffic congestion is already a major concern? Why are so many “affordable homes” numbers no more than empty promises used to tie up overweight planning packages?

Where will it all end when Liz Truss, a Norfolk MP and cabinet member, calls for more homes to be built in the countryside? What’s the point of a Green Belt if it can’t hold up the miserable march of destruction it was designed to halt In the first place?

Doreen Wallace knew far more about rural life, good and bad, gold and dross, than any cabinet minister, planning expert, building baron or pastoral pontificator operating today. She moved to Norfolk and became a teacher in Diss in 1919 and then nipped into Suffolk on marrying a farmer and stayed there for almost 60 years, mainly in the rambling old manor at Wortham.

On her death at 92 in 1989, the Eastern Daily Press dubbed her a latter-day Boadicea: “Here was no ordinary lady of the manor. She remained a trenchant East Anglian non-conformist of the secular kind”. Her inspiring role in the prolonged battle to abolish “the iniquitous tithe tax” won her national recognition and a place in agricultural history.

In 1934 she and her husband Rowland Rash barricaded their farm during a six-week siege after her refusal to pay the 
Church of England tithe. Eventually, 134 pigs and 14 cattle worth £700 were seized in lieu of the tax. A memorial went up recording the event.

Then, in the summer of 1939, she decided to see if the Church really would make a person bankrupt. She refused to pay again. This time her furniture and bedding were taken from the house and auctioned. But the auctioneer was a close friend and the furniture was bought by other members of the Tithe Payers’ Association.

The payment, traditionally one-tenth of a landowner’s profits, had to be paid to the Church and was later collected by the Inland Revenue. It was abolished in 1967. The tithe system brought ruin to thousands of small farming families, already in the depths of agricultural depression in the inter-war years of the 20th century.

Doreen Wallace wrote nearly 50 novels, in which farming matters and tithe protests often featured, and several works of non-fiction. She was first published as a poet while still a student at Somerville College, Oxford.

She became deeply concerned about the changing face of local life and I recall a typically forthright article in the EDP in 1986 when she lamented: “There are people in villages who have never spoken together, who are not known to the real villagers either by sight or by name.

“The most useless ‘foreigners’ are those whose country retreat is only meant for weekend and summer breaks. They don’t even arrive unless the weather invites. They can never become part of country life”.

That brand of straight talking plus the Wallace protesting zeal are sorely needed to bring a bit of balance to the current countryside crisis debate dominated by the Field Eaters.

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