THE KING AS COUNTRYMAN
By SIR W. BEACH THOMAS
BUCKINGHAM PALACE has become almost a new place within living memory, and all the world -recognized the fart of its ' renovation. Much more • essential changes or rather developments have taken place at Sandringham, and few people are so much as aware Of them. Indeed, in a recent account of the twenty-five years of the King's reign Sandringham does not find even a casual mention. So often does it • happen that - urban publicity excels rural. It is of course natural, • it is inevitable, that the King's central and metropolitan • activities should in some measure belong to the public and be directly national, while his life in his favourite country house and the county of his choice, and of his father's, should be private. At Sandringham the King is "aloof from the mutations and unrest" of London ; but did not some German historian write that it was impossible to understand England or the English till you had opened the covers of White's Selborne? "In this book and others of its sort," so he argued, "we are introduced into the nursery of English thought, poetry— nay science itself." So perhaps you cannot wholly understand that English quality of English kingship represented by our Royal Family, without recognition of the affairs of Sandringham and, in less salient degree, of Windsor, as well as of -Buckingham' Palace.
Our kings have often been in some sort farmers ; but the heavy horse, about which Edward III made laws, in which Henry VIII took personal- note, has changed from a war horse into a farm horse. Our Kings were turning the sword into a ploughshare before the League of Nations was born ; and Sandringham has its influence on the beneficent work at Geneva.
• The Sandringham farms are among the best and most typical in England. Norfolk was always a pioneer county Since Coke of Norfolk and " Turnip " Townshend helped to make our native stock famous and to create the rota- tions that refertilized the half-barren land. The King is. a successor of such pioneers in several branches of their joint activities. It is at least possible that he has added a new harvest to our island list. Flax was grown in England during the War and is, of course, the standard crop in North Ireland, where the • climate exactly supplied the conditions once held to be necessary for maturing and separating the root fibres. But a synthetic climate, so to say, can now be supplied, by science, by much the same methods as are employed at Rothamsted for pro- ducing a "tropical climate " in the research glasshouses. The flax plant grows well in Norfolk ; and in order to test, we may say, to prove the appropriateness of the crop to Eastern England, the King had a flax factory built and arranged for the growing of considerable quantities of the plant on the Sandringham estate. The experiment promises well ; but whatever may be its future the trial is evidence that the King is a country gentleman, beneficently interested in the industry of the country, which is still the greatest of industries ; and of course more truly productive of real wealth than any other, especially in our too industrial civilization.
We often enough read and hear of the King as sports- man. We know that he has a peculiar and particular affection for his yacht 'Britannia,' on board which he may practise his natural and native gifts as a sailor. We are told again and again that he is one of the three or four best game-shots in England. In this regard his skill has perhaps been over-praised, because wrongly praised. He is, of course, a first-rate shot in any company, quick and clean, and almost perfect in style. But a sportsman is very much more than a good marksman ; and the very form and lay-out of the woods by Sandringham rightly indicate knowledge and skill and art in the sport of shooting. Indeed, we hear so often of the King as a famous shot that his interest in the larger denizens of the Sandringham estate is apt to be forgotten. Sandringham is one of the greatest, in some respects quite the greatest, of stock farms in the world. Of- course, not all the land is directly farmed by the King and his Norfolk agents. A great deal is let to tenant farmers in whose fortunes the King takes keen personal interest. Indeed it was said not long since by the very largest farmer • within England, whose courageous energy is known in many counties, that he would not be content till he became a tenant of the King. That was his proper ambition.
- The prime distinction of the royal farms themselves is the variety of pure-bred stock that is bred there or • reared there ; and it is in the direct tradition prevailing 'among the better county landowners of Britain that the royal farms particularly excel in the more typical of -Norfolk and East Anglian breeds. The King's Redpolls, especially the young stock, are probably the best in the world. • The breed is rapidly acquiring a world-wide • -reputation, and the export trade in pure-bred stock (in -which this island has no rival) has received no little 'stimulus from the royal farms within the last few years.
• Most landowners doubtless specialize in one breed. -The :King, for national reasons, has transcended other landowners, and has been at pains to keep as many as • possible of the most characteristic British breeds ; and his two very different farms, at Windsor and Sandringham, are of great assistance to this end. What more typical • than the Shorthorn and Highland cattle, the Southdown sheep and Shire horse, all of which are bred in high quality on the royal farms and make their regular appear- ance both at the agricultural shows of the summer and the fat stock shows of the winter ? The King wins every year a fair number of championships, but far more than a usual proportion of lesser prizes and commendations. This indicates the national value of the Royal Farms. They are not so specialistic or costly as to put them out of fair competition with breeders and farmers who are in a small way ; and the King comes into the lists with • • them, to their great satisfaction, at both the county and the_Royal-shows. English judges of stock (compared with any others that I have seen at work) are immacu- . -lately. judicial ; but I have sometimes wondered whether this did not suffer a little from fear of favouring the 'King. The more stock he shows, the better pleased are his competitors as well as the managers of the shows. These shows are .very English, socially as well as bio- logically. I have seen a duke, acting as steward in a judging ring, timidly apologetic towards a yeoman farmer who was judging and—to the confusion of the steward— obviously knew his difficult business very much better than the steward knew his most simple job. The King has almost always attended in person the Royal Show (and the society keeps a Royal Pavilion of no little solidity used only on the-one occasion). Often the King is the chief exhibitor ; and of late years produce from the. Sandring- ham dairies as well as stock from the Windsor and Sandringham farms has appeared in the catalogue and indeed in the prize list. His annual visit to the Royal Show is something more than a formal occasion. The King is recognized as the head of a great, indeed the greatest industry, as an English country gentleman, if one may say so, who has organized his estate in the most characteristic of all, agricultural counties, for the encouragement of production from the land. .The visitor to Sandringham finds this conception carried out to the letter. The normal rents are asked and the standard wages of the neighbourhood paid to workers on the home farm. One difference from similar country estates is perhaps that more care and interest have been expended on the making of clubs for those living on the estate.
The estate, like other great estates, was inherited, • though . the ownership is comparatively new. A great deal was done there, both in regard to husbandry and sport and other attributes of a landed property, by King Edward, and, in a social reference, by Queen Alexandra. Within the twenty-five years of the King's reign, in spite of the interruption of the War, a great tradition has been - - established, and Sandringham has become a type of the best sort of landed estate. The experiments in growing 'flax and converting it into linen have added a new flourish: In more than one regard the Royal Family have acted as pioneers. We Prince of \Vales (who often meets the King in close competition in the judging rings) has three farms. On one of them in the Duchy, valuable national work has been done in the art and science of land reclamation. The Prince has helped to prove that some of the most barren soil, as it seemed, may be brought into fruitful production by no mote elaborate or costly means than the common processes of tillage with. the addition of sand and triturated shells from the sea shore: The tradition of royal husbandry promises to be fruitful and continuous.