Out of print but still farming’s most popular commentator
The name AG Street was well‑known in the fifties and sixties. As well as commenting on the agricultural issues of the day in the farming press he also appealed to a wider audience. Peter Inson looks at the man and his enduring fame.
August 7th 1998
ARTHUR George Street grew up on his father’s holding Ditchampton Farm near Wilton in Wiltshire the farm which he describes in the first and most enduring of his novels, Farmer’s Glory.
He began farming on his own account in 1917 after the death of his father. At that time he followed the pattern of mixed downland farming that he describes so well in this first novel; a strict rotation of crops was followed.
The system of dairying which he later adopted involved milking out of doors all year round in what could be described as an abreast parlour on skids; there was at least one still in use in Essex in 1968! Having started milking at about four in the morning Street carted the churns back to the dairy cooled and bottled the milk had breakfast then set out on his retail round.
Efforts to reduce the amount of food that had to be imported during the U‑boat campaigns of the Second World War saw the formation of War Ag committees. These tried to ensure that as much grassland as possible was ploughed up to increase the home‑based provision of arable crops. It gave Street a chance to set forth with the plough and tap into a wealth of fertility that had built up under the grassland regime.
In the post‑war years Street continued to farm with a mixture of stock and crops but like many other farmers in that era he sold up his dairy herd. His only child, a daughter, Pamela, also became a writer.
Street continued farming in this way for the rest of his life: he died in hospital in May 1966 and it was from his bed there that he wrote his final column for the Farmer’s Weekly which appeared on May 13. An appreciation of the man and his life was published in the FW edition of July 19 1966 and included the following words:
“His views were not always ours but, on the page which was his special preserve we allowed him absolute freedom to comment on the farming scene as he saw it, to air his highly individualistic views, to ride his pet hobby horses and to delight or provoke as he wished.
Prejudiced poetic testy loveable Arthur Street put down his pen for the last time two months ago.”
Street’s column covered a range of topics. Observations on the state of farming, the weather, farms seen on his travels, farming politics and markets all were grist to his mill. Street however went beyond this to consider wider issues ‑ village schools for example.
Perhaps unusually for a farmer of his time he challenged the need for men to carry sacks weighing more than half a hundredweight (25kg). A sack of wheat it should be remembered weighed two and a quarter hundredweight (112kg) and was carried single‑handed. On another occasion he suggested that the best way to preserve beauty spots was to make them less accessible.
In July 1938 he thanked the then prime minister Neville Chamberlain for being straight with farmers and making it clear that in peace or war “farming is comparatively a side‑issue.”
It was not surprising than that he found himself on the panel of Any Questions? the popular radio programme. Shortly after the war he also took part in some of the BBC’s early outside television broadcasts which were intended to explain the production of food to a wider audience.
Street was not the only writer on rural matters when Farmer’s Glory established him so quickly as a writer. But he was of the land and was concerned with sustaining that very precious natural resource although he would have not expressed his concern quite like that. To bring home his points he used a warm sense of humour often making fun of himself and a boldness in his opinions. All this was delivered in an engaging manner that encouraged people to read or listen
His 34 titles include fiction and non‑fiction. The fiction often enjoys a rural connection or interest and the non‑fiction includes much writing about farming and collections of short pieces and articles. Farmer’s Glory was still in print a few years ago but today the only sources of his books are dealers in second‑hand books. I would recommend Hedge Trimmings published by Faber and Faber in 1933, a collection of various aspects of his writing.