Botley, home of William Cobbett, Hampshire village.
“Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did.”
So declared the physician-eccentric Dr. William Butler (1535-1618), according to Izaak Walton, of Compleat Angler fame, when the good Doctor described the strawberry. And the folk of Botley, on the river Hamble to the east of Southampton, will not disagree — for commercial as well as for gastronomic reasons — because the district is celebrated for the quantity and quality of its strawberries, and for the length of period of their harvesting.
Botley itself, unremarkable except for a small and ancient church tucked away in a rural setting, down a charming lane, nevertheless has an abiding place in social history because of its association with William Cobbett (1762-1835), the author of Rural Rides. He was a knowledgeable agriculturist, skilful journalist and fearless campaigner for social justice.
Targets for his wrath included the harshness of the penal laws, the plight of agricultural labourers and the brutal punishments meted out to recalcitrant soldiers and sailors.
The Cobbetts lived at Fairthorn Farm and his wife — a local woman — was much respected and loved in the town. As a result of his violent protests against flogging, the Government brought a libel action against him and he was fined £1,000 and imprisoned for two years. His welcome home to Botley was triumphal.
As well as his Rural Rides and many other publications Cobbett (who was once M.P. for Oldham) found time from his Botley farm and garden to produce Parliamentary Debates — the forerunners of Hansard.