Jefferies' future world is no utopia, however picturesque it may seem on the surface. It is riven by intercenine conflict between the former 'United Kingdom': the Cymry (the Welsh), the Hibernians (the Irish), and the Western Scots seek to reclaim land taken by the hated English and settle ancient scores. Brigands and mercenaries prey upon the merchant traffic of the Lake (hired muscle, like the Saxons recruited by Vortigern who have long since slipped the leash of their would-be masters, turning lawless and opportunist). The respective armies of each baron fight for dominance – there is conflict enough between nobility, let alone the ever constant threat of the Bushman, the Bandit and the Gipsy in the wildwood.
Slavery is common, because the punishment for even the slightest of offences is enslavement:
'The laws are framed for the object of reducing the greater part of the people to servitude.' (p29)
Slaves, or 'bondsmen' as they are called, are forced to wear the 'brazen bracelet': a stout brass wire, tightened by a bar of iron, tight against the arm, which 'forms a smaller ring at the outside. By this smaller ring a score of bondsmen may be seen strung together with a rope.'
Slaves are not sold openly on the market, but are 'leased' between owners. A 'bondsmen' is meant to earn his freedom by a protracted period of enforced labour, but the truth is few ever manage to do so, so low is their labour valued. Many die in servitude, their debt unpaid and inherited by their offspring:
'Debt alone under their laws must crowd the land with slaves, for, as wages are scarcely known, a child from its birth is often declared to be in debt.' (p31)
This might have echoed Jefferies' own predicament. The dairy farm he grew up on was very small, with 39 acres (160,000 m2) of pasture. His parents struggled to make it pay for itself, and a mortgage of £1,500 would later begin a slide into debt for his father, who lost the farm in 1877 and became a jobbing gardener (mirrored by Felix's father, Baron Aquila, who is treated like a 'mere gardener').
The Environment Agency website states: 'Over 5 million people in England and Wales live and work in properties that are at risk of flooding from rivers or the sea'.
There have been many devastating floods in the history of Britain. Those of recent memory have overshadowed earlier floods (Lynmouth; Canvey Island). With Climate Change causing extreme weather events, flooding promises to become an increasingly common fact of life.
The Great Flood of 1607 Described as the worst natural disaster to hit Britain, the flood of 1607 killed 2,000 people across Somerset and Monmouthshire. It is estimated 200 square miles (520 sq km) of land were covered by water. Eyewitness accounts of the disaster told of "huge and mighty hills of water" advancing at a speed "faster than a greyhound can run".
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1952 Lynmouth Flood Disaster: The worst post-war flooding disaster in Britain took place in the North Devon village of Lynmouth in 1952, in a tragedy which claimed 34 lives. The flooding occurred on 15 August 1952, after nine inches of rain fell in the space of 24 hours.
1953 East Coast Floods: Exceptional weather conditions combined with a spring tide produced one of the worst floods in living memory for the east coast of England. Over 300 people lost their lives and damage in today's money was estimated at over £5 billion.