Three acres and a cow

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Self-portrait of G. K. Chesterton based on the distributist slogan "Three acres and a cow". Three acres and a cow.JPG
Self-portrait of G. K. Chesterton based on the distributist slogan "Three acres and a cow".

Three acres and a cow was a slogan used by British land reform campaigners of the 1880s, and revived by the distributists of the 1920s. It refers to an ideal land holding for every citizen.

Land reform changes to land ownership

Land reform involves the changing of laws, regulations or customs regarding land ownership. Land reform may consist of a government-initiated or government-backed property redistribution, generally of agricultural land. Land reform can, therefore, refer to transfer of ownership from the more powerful to the less powerful, such as from a relatively small number of wealthy owners with extensive land holdings to individual ownership by those who work the land. Such transfers of ownership may be with or without compensation; compensation may vary from token amounts to the full value of the land.

The phrase was invented by Eli Hamshire in letters written to Joseph Chamberlain and Jesse Collings during the early 1880s. [1] Hamshire did, in fact, own 3 acre s (1.2 hectares). Collings used the phrase as a slogan for his 1885 land reform campaign, and it became used as part of the political struggle against rural poverty. [2] He became derisively known as "Three Acres and a Cow Collings."

Joseph Chamberlain British businessman, politician, and statesman

Joseph Chamberlain was a British statesman who was first a radical Liberal, then, after opposing home rule for Ireland, a Liberal Unionist, and eventually served as a leading imperialist in coalition with the Conservatives. He split both major British parties in the course of his career.

Jesse Collings British politician

Jesse Collings was Mayor of Birmingham, England, a Liberal member of Parliament, but was best known nationally in the UK as an advocate of educational reform and land reform.

Acre Unit of area

The acre is a unit of land area used in the imperial and US customary systems. It is traditionally defined as the area of one chain by one furlong, which is exactly equal to 10 square chains, ​1640 of a square mile, or 43,560 square feet, and approximately 4,047 m2, or about 40% of a hectare. Based upon the International yard and pound agreement of 1959, an acre may be declared as exactly 4,046.8564224 square metres. The acre is a statute measure in the United States and was formerly one in the United Kingdom and almost all countries of the former British Empire, although informal use continues.

Jesse Collings was caricatured in Vanity Fair as a result of his slogan, "Three acres and a cow," which was the caption of this work. Collings in Vanity Fair.jpg
Jesse Collings was caricatured in Vanity Fair as a result of his slogan, "Three acres and a cow," which was the caption of this work.

Chamberlain used the slogan for his own "Radical Programme": he urged the purchase by local authorities of land to provide garden and field allotments for all labourers who might desire them, to be let at fair rents in plots of up to 1 acre (0.40 ha) of arable land and up to 4 acres (1.6 ha) of pasture. [3]

Arable land Land capable of being ploughed and used to grow crops

Arable land is, according to one definition, land capable of being ploughed and used to grow crops. In Britain, it was traditionally contrasted with pasturable land such as heaths which could be used for sheep-rearing but not farmland.

Pasture land used for grazing

Pasture is a concrete spatial area where farmers keep livestock for grazing.

In What's Wrong With the World, G. K. Chesterton used the phrase to summarise his own distributist opinions. [4]

G. K. Chesterton English mystery novelist and Christian apologist

Gilbert Keith Chesterton, KC*SG, was an English writer, poet, philosopher, dramatist, journalist, orator, lay theologian, biographer, and literary and art critic. Chesterton is often referred to as the "prince of paradox". Time magazine has observed of his writing style: "Whenever possible Chesterton made his points with popular sayings, proverbs, allegories—first carefully turning them inside out."

See also

Forty acres and a mule is part of Special Field Orders No. 15, a promise made by executive officials of the United States government for agrarian reform to aid formerly enslaved black farmers. Approved by President Abraham Lincoln, the field orders were written by Union General William Tecumseh Sherman on January 16, 1865, and specifically allotted each family a plot of land no larger than 40 acres (16 ha). Sherman later ordered the army to lend mules for the agrarian reform effort. The field orders followed a series of conversations between Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and Radical Republican abolitionists Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens following disruptions to the institution of slavery provoked by the American Civil War. Many freed people believed and were told by various political figures that they had a right to own the land they had long worked as slaves, and were eager to control their own property. Freed people widely expected to legally claim 40 acres of land and a mule after the end of the war, long after proclamations such as Special Field Orders No. 15 and the Freedmen's Bureau Act were explicitly reversed by Lincoln's successor, Andrew Johnson.

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William Cobbett English pamphleteer, farmer and journalist

William Cobbett was an English pamphleteer, farmer, journalist and member of parliament born in Farnham, Surrey. He believed that reforming Parliament, including abolishing "rotten boroughs", would ease the poverty of farm labourers. Relentlessly he sought an end to borough-mongers, sinecurists and "tax-eaters". He opposed the Corn Laws, which imposed a tax on imported grain. Early in life he was a loyal devotee of King and Country, but he later pushed for radicalism, which helped the Reform Act 1832 and his election that year as one of two MPs for the newly enfranchised borough of Oldham. He strongly advocated of Catholic Emancipation. His polemics cover subjects from political reform to religion. His best known book is Rural Rides.

Cliché idea which has become overused to the point of losing its original meaning or being irritating

A cliché or cliche is an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has become overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, even to the point of being trite or irritating, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel.

University Parks parkland area northeast of the city centre in Oxford, England

The Oxford University Parks, commonly referred to locally as the University Parks, the Uni Parks or just The Parks, is a large parkland area slightly northeast of the city centre in Oxford, England. The park is bounded to the east by the River Cherwell, though a small plot of land called Mesopotamia sits between the upper and lower levels of the river. To the north of the parks is Norham Gardens and Lady Margaret Hall, to the west the Parks Road, and the Science Area on South Parks Road to the south. The park is open to the public during the day, and has gardens, large sports fields, and exotic plants. It includes a cricket ground used by Oxford University Cricket Club.

Petticoat skirt-like undergarment, sometimes intended to show, worn under a skirt or dress

A petticoat or underskirt is an article of clothing, a type of undergarment worn under a skirt or a dress. Its precise meaning varies over centuries and between countries.

Mrs Grundy is a figurative name for an extremely conventional or priggish person, a personification of the tyranny of conventional propriety. A tendency to be overly fearful of what others might think is sometimes referred to as grundyism.

Harry Douglas Clark Pepler (1878–1951), known as Hilary Pepler, was an English printer, writer and poet. He was an associate of both Eric Gill and G. K. Chesterton, working on publications in which they had an interest. He was also a founder with Gill and Desmond Chute in 1920 of a Catholic community of craftsmen at Ditchling, Sussex, called The Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic.

The Marconi scandal was a British political scandal that broke in mid-1912. Allegations were made that highly placed members of the Liberal government under the Prime Minister H. H. Asquith had profited by improper use of information about the Government's intentions with respect to the Marconi Company. They had known that the government was about to issue a lucrative contract to the British Marconi company for the Imperial Wireless Chain, and had bought shares in an American subsidiary.

G. K.'s Weekly was a British publication founded in 1925 by seminal writer G. K. Chesterton, continuing until his death in 1936. Its articles typically discussed topical cultural, political, and socio-economic issues yet the publication also ran poems, cartoons, and other such material that piqued Chesterton's interest. It contained much of his journalistic work done in the latter part of his life, and extracts from it were published as the book The Outline of Sanity. Precursor publications existed by the names of The Eye-Witness and The New Witness, the former being a weekly newspaper started by Hilaire Belloc in 1911, the latter Belloc took over from Cecil Chesterton, Gilbert's brother, who died in World War I: and a revamped version of G. K.'s Weekly continued some years after Chesterton's death by the name of The Weekly Review.

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Henry Slesser British politician

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Agricultural land land used for agricultural purposes

Agricultural land is typically land devoted to agriculture, the systematic and controlled use of other forms of life—particularly the rearing of livestock and production of crops—to produce food for humans. It is thus generally synonymous with both farmland or cropland, as well as pasture or rangeland.

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The Saffron Walden by-election, 1901 was a by-election held on 31 May 1901 for the British House of Commons constituency of Saffron Walden in Essex.

Martin Young House

Martin Young shows up in the abstracts of several significant real estate transactions that provided for the growth of the town of Chesterton. He does not appear to have had a major role in the development on the town, except it apparently provided him with the means to build the Italianate home on Second Street. Young's prominence in the community began with the death of Cornelia Woods. She owned numerous acres on the south and southeast sides of downtown Chesterton since 1872. When she died in 1891, her five children from two marriages could not agree of the dispensation of the estate. In October, 1891 they reached a settlement and allowed Commissioner George Morgan to sell the property to Martin Young for $5,400. Young bought two parcels, one of 42.52 acres (17.21 ha) and the other of 14 acres (5.7 ha). “except one acre conveyed by grantors April 30, 1894 to the Chesterton Paint Manufacturing company”, this was the complete estate of Cornelia Woods. In 1907, the Chesterton Realty Company purchased the area east of Coffee Creek and platted the Morgan Park development. Martin Young received $8,220 for his land.

Peace, Retrenchment and Reform was a political slogan used in early-19th-century British politics by Whigs, Radicals and Liberals.


  1. American Chesterton Society, "Origin of 3 Acres and a Cow"
  2. A. W. Ashby, "Jesse Collings," in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. 12, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) 668-669.
  3. Dennis Hardy, Utopian England: Community Experiments 1900-1945. London: Routledge, 2000.
  4. G. K. Chesterton, What's Wrong With the World.