04/05/2008 13:52

The harvest

 

Farm work

If it appears from the above that we lived in a land of plenty well we didn't. Downham was mainly farming and the vast majoirty of its inhabitants derived their income from the land. Compared with industry, farm wages have always been low. There was always a long list of sitautions vacant for farm labourers in the local press. "General Farm Worker required. Free hosue, coal and potatoes found, ability to milk an advantage".

 

Many a young couple started their married life by this arrangement. Mortgages were unheard of; you got married and moved into a tied house. Lose your job and you lost your house was the order of the day. Your wife was expected to work for the farmer when needed and woe betide her if she took a job for someone else. It was soon pointe dout that the wife like you belonged to the boss and you either liked it or lumped it! This situation came to an end with the abolition of tied cottages-the drift from the land was the in-thing. Farm workers in their thousands left the land for better pay in factories and the building trade. Anything was better than the land. They joined the union and were protected from all sides. Gone was the boss who told whither they should go; the shop steward reigned supreme.

 

I was going to mention harvest pay. I will. Agriculture didn't provide many bonuses to the worker apart from stiff legs and backache.

 

Harvest was different- piece rates applied and hard workers were well rewarded for their toil. Before the days of the instant harvest which came with the combined, the work was all manual. The scythe was but a memory, save for mowing around a field of corn to make access for the tractor drawn binder. Following the binder wich tied the sheaves were the farmworkers who built "shocks" of ten or a dozen sheaves to facilitate carting to ensure that the corn was dry enough to put in a stack. shocking was painful , the ears of the corn scratched the skin off the forearms, making the nightly wash feel like an acid bath. But it was worth 30 pence an acre. Carting the corn and the subsequent threshing was also at enhanced rates. A threshing day was 7 am to 7 pm. with half an hour breaks for breakfast, dockey and tea. The rest of the day was all go.

 

There wasn't a good job in a threshing gang but some were better than others. I graduated from chaff carrying, via the corn stack to corn carrying. It was a kind of status symbol. It took a man to carry a coomb of corn-18 stones of wheat for some ten hours a day, often to a distant barn and having to run back before the next bag was full. But we earned three bob an hour (15 pence now!). I remember buying my first wrist watch from this ill-gotten gain at the Co-op on a buying spree in Cambridge to get rid of surplus funds. The watch went very well for a week, then it stopped-it was probably as tired as I was.

 

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Parish magazine 1897

04/05/2008 12:54

January 1897

  January 1897   ANOTHER year is gone...

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04/05/2008 12:56

February 1897

  February 1897 ONE great white sheet of...

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04/05/2008 12:59

March 1897

  March FLOODS owing to the sudden thaw, and...

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04/05/2008 13:00

April 1897

  April THE CEMETERY.—-On Monday evening,...

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04/05/2008 13:02

May 1897

  May OUR first words must be those of...

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04/05/2008 13:03

June 1897

  June THE sixtieth year of Her Majesty the...

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04/05/2008 13:05

July 1897

  July THE past month has been one of varied...

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04/05/2008 13:06

August 1897

  August   RARELY have the crops looked...

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04/05/2008 13:07

September 1897

  September THE past has been a month almost...

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04/05/2008 13:08

October 1897

  October Two more Harvest Festivals have...

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Littledownham


Parish Magazine 1898

04/05/2008 13:16

January 1898

  January DURING the last month we have been...

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04/05/2008 13:20

February 1898

  February FORTUNATELY the great dark war...

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04/05/2008 13:21

March 1898

  March OUR first words in this month's...

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04/05/2008 13:22

April 1898

  April WAR at all times is a very terrible...

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04/05/2008 13:22

May 1898

  May FLOWER SHow.-A meeting of the...

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04/05/2008 13:23

June 1898

  June THE Jumble Sale in behalf of the...

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04/05/2008 13:25

July 1898

  July THE last month has been an eventful...

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04/05/2008 13:26

August 1898

  August ALL over England men are now busy...

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04/05/2008 13:27

September 1898

  September THE Harvest Thanksgiving at...

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04/05/2008 13:28

October 1898

  OCTOBER BITS ABOUT TEMPERANCE.-Some very...

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04/05/2008 13:29

November 1898

  November THE Annual Tea at Downham, was...

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