Towards Reform

From the time he came into his inheritance of the Brandsby and Coulton Estate, Hugh was very concerned about social ideals and both the need for and the inevitability of social change. There was no sudden break from his work for social change in London to social change in Yorkshire, he adopted a new approach to his role as a squire from the beginning, and though his ideas about social change were still developing.

“I definitely decided to give up the life I had been brought up to, and the friends I had made at Oxford and the society of my neighbours and give up my life to what is called “Social Work.” At the time I believed that destruction of the old fashioned country life of the squires was a necessary part of the new social order, but I had no clear idea of what was to come. At the same time I was strongly prejudiced against the establishment of a peasant proprietorship. I remember it was a struggle to make up my mind to abandon life at the hall to which I was devoted from childhood.”

Hugh recounts an interesting anecdote which illustrates his beginnings of working out this struggle:-

“That summer (1889) I was at once confronted with the beginnings of the problem of adjusting the old regime to the new. I remember one Sunday a foolish police constable we had came to me as soon as I came out of Chapel and told me he had two farm servants, he had caught poaching fish in the little beck that ran through the old fishpond at Stearsby. I was annoyed at having to deal at once with a matter I had no time to think about and about which I could not consult any sympathetic friend. But there were the lads, two loutish looking fellows sitting locked up in the saddle room in a terrible fright.

I walked across the yard feeling very foolish, because I did not want to appear in a prosecution for poaching and at the same time knew that order must be kept. I reached the saddle room in an awfully short time, it seemed to me, and had to begin at once. The policeman repeated the charge pompously and I thought the lads were just about to tell some lie, when I chipped in saying reproachfully “what do you mean by poaching in this way? It is against the law to tickle trout in any case, no-one is allowed to do that. If you want to fish why don’t you get a rod like decent fellows and come and ask for leave to fish? You can go away this time and next time you want to fish mind you get leave and fish in the proper way.”

The lads went off immensely relieved and I believe they never poached again. When in after years I started a fishing club with a small subscription and met with some opposition over it, one of the first supporters was a man who I found had been one of these lads.

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The Mill Pond, Brandsby, used for fishing.

The policeman was very much disgusted and made me feel very uncomfortable afterwards by coming to me and explaining that I had made a fool of him and that the lads had laughed at him. However, I found comfort among my friends in London, when I told the story and they laughed about it and turned it into a joke against me. Of course now I have experience I know i did well enough and should have no hesitation about doing the same again. But in those days it was very different, especially when everyone around prophesied evil if I did not uphold “law and order”.”

In a similar vein, Hugh refused a request from, Pearson, his estate manager to evict a Coulton poacher. Such actions would have provoked much comment and unease in the locality as threats to the established order.