QUESTION: Could you let me know the origin of Chesterton’s famous “3 acres and a cow” slogan, please?
ANSWER: The slogan “three acres and a cow” dates back to the 1880s and was usually associated with Jesse Collings, a Devonshire MP and radical agrarian who promoted small holdings and land allocations. Collings became known derisively as “Three Acres and a Cow Collings.” The coining of the actual phrase has long been attributed to Joseph Chamberlain, a Cabinet Minister in the 1880s who promoted land reform. However, the American Chesterton Society has recently learned that the quotation was first used by Eli Hamshire, a rustic philosopher who lived in the village of Ewhurst in Surrey, England. Hamshire used the phrase in letters written to Chamberlain and Collings in the early 1880s. He was the author of two short books, and he actually farmed three acres as had his father before him. An account of his life can be found in the book, Three Acres and a Cow: The Life and Works of Eli Hamshire, written by David Stemp, the great-great-grandson of Hamshire.
The phrase continued to be associated with the “Back to the Land” movement after the turn of the century, and eventually with Chesterton’s Distributists in the 1920s.