THE RURAL COTTAGE PROBLEM.
[To TILE EDITOR OF THE "SPECTATOR."]
Sin,—Among the pressing questions in regard to housing in the rural districts, that of men employed by highway authorities is becoming more and more urgent.
The authorities are County Councils and Rural District Councils, the extent of highway under the two authorities varying much in different counties. In Hertfordshire, for example, where the County Council has taken over all the highways with the exception of a very small mileage, the County Council may be regarded as the sole employer. The problem is equally important to the men who work on the highway and to the agricultural labourers, whose proper dwellings are occupied by roadmen.
Even with their existing defects, the condition of English highways has greatly improved in the last decade, and the labour employed on them has necessarily become more exten- sive, more permanent, and better organized. The casual rural labourer is being replaced by roadmen continually employed, but, on the other hand, highway authorities have not made any efforts to house a body of men who are becoming more and more a considerable element in rural society, and whose numbers and condition must necessarily improve with a more systematic management of highways.
Properly housed and adequately paid highway workmen will form a substantial and contented nucleus of the best kind in rural society, and it is essential that highway authorities should awake to the responsibility which lies upon them to supply proper dwellings to their employees. Now, in many instances, these men have to walk long distances to and from their daily labour, and their houses are not, as they should be, near a stretch of highway, for which in time of storm or snow they should be responsible. The neglect to repair at once damage done by storm on slopes and hillsides is a cause of waste of labour and of imperfect roads, a neglect which will not be entirely overcome until highway authorities take proper measures to house their workmen.
The indifference of the middle and upper classes to the proper housing of the working classes in the English counties cannot be better exemplified than by the fact that neither County nor District Councils have yet made any attempt to supply cottages for their roadmen. Instead of endeavouring to form a body of prosperous and well-housed rural labourers, a nucleus of healthy members of the country community, highway authorities have been content to utilize the already insufficient supply of cottages, thus adding to the difficulties of the problem of rural housing, instead of helping to solve it. It is high time that the Local Government Board obtained an estimate of the number of men employed permanently by the highway authorities of Great Britain, and that the Highway Acts were amended by making it obligatory on highway authorities to supply cottages for their permanent workmen at reasonable rents. The subject is one of national as well as of local importance, and a heavy responsibility rests upon highway authorities in regard to it.—I am, Sir, ,Stc., E. S. R.