ON THE FARM - Part Two

Once the new farmhand had found a job at the hiring fair as described last week, his tin trunk would arrive within two days or so, and his new life would begin, fairly early in the morning.

The farm day started at six and sometimes finished late in the evening for the farmer and his hired hands. The girls, who worked as farm servants, often slept in an attic dormitory and the men sometimes curled up in front of the kitchen fire on the flagged floor. This was how the day started for one hand:

"Start six o'clock in the morning. You could hear the old man coming down, there was nine on us hired there; "Come on, me lads, its going to be neet before we get started." It was nobbut six o'clock, and then we had all to milk, clean out and fodder up and then in for breakfast - a bowl of porridge, a big bowl, and then summertime there was a bowl of new milk on the table and you got a basin full of that, and you had some bread and cheese, and on the end of the table there was a share and a bottle for every man; that was your ten o'clocks, you took that out with you."

Food was an important part of life on the farm; hard physical labour required plenty of good food, and a good dinner to look forward to relieved the monotony of much of the work.

Dinner at midday, the main meal, was usually a meat pudding or a stew with plenty of vegetables and suet dumplings, and pudding might be a fruit pie or steamed roly-poly. A prosperous, well run farm would watch with pride at the rate at which their hired lads would grow in just six months with such unaccustomed amounts of food, and a farm was judged by its hands very much on what they were given to eat; porridge with lumps as big as a dog's head was not appreciated:

"I did leave this farm because I was there 12 months and it was a hard spot. We would be working from six in't morning till eight o'clock at night and it was funny, for meals; in the morning you got porridge, but we got "dog eat" porridge. They used to tip all the meal into a girt iron pan on top of the fire and never stir it. And it used to come up like dumplings. Well, when you broke in, eat into them, they were dry. So we called them "dog heads"!... And then you just got your tea in your basin that you'd had your porridge in, there was no cup for you. And at dinner time you had your taties and on went your pudding on't same plate, there was no pudding dish or owt. And through the week you used to get plenty to eat, but you got gingerbread every teatime for six days, and a bit of apple pasty on a Sunday."

That farmer's wife baked forty loaves at a time in a brick oven, and the farmhands were quite sure that the abundance of gingerbread was directly related to the large amounts of "cow" treacle used on the farm ,sprinkled as a sweetener on mouldy hay to make it more palatable for the cows!

Every so often, a visiting tailor or dressmaker would come and stay at the farm to make new clothes for the family, but the hired hands had to supply their own. Farm workers usually wore corduroys, knee britches and leggings, overalls and a good pair of shoes. The cheapest could cost just a few shillings, or for a hand-made pair it might come to two pounds.Old sacking was thrown over the shoulders against the rain as a waterproof, unless a man had his own oilskins, and everybody had a Sunday suit or a set of best clothes.

The younger farm hands, who were under age to go drinking, and had no shops nearby in which to spend their money, actually managed to save a little within six months, and maybe spent it on a new bike; others found it hard-going, especially as there were clothes to buy. The farmer paid his hands at the end of the six months:

"Well, if you hadn't owt before six months you could sub, but it knocked your pay down, you know; I have subbed, but not often. You hadn't much to go on - you see, if you finished at six months end and then you bought yourself maybe a couple of new shirts or some underwear and maybe a new suit - well I know a new suit wasn't a lot of money, it might be three pounds, but still it was three pounds out of your fourteen... and by golly, if you got a hole in your trousers, working among sheep, their old horns would find it. I once mind getting a li'le hole in me knee sorting up amongst sheep and by God it was a great big one before night, they kept getting their horns in!"

The farm hands had to work hard, but so too did the farmer and his family; his wife, with the help of a couple of farm girls, would cook and bake for everybody, make butter and cheese to sell, and do all the cleaning and mending in the farmhouse; the children themselves often had to help with the milking and even deliver the milk before school:

"We supplied Rydal Village with milk twice a day, seven o'clock in the morning and five o'clock at night, three halfpence a pint...and I remember when we wanted to put it up to two pence because we'd to go round with it, the vicar kicked up such a dust about this three halfpence- twopence a pint it shouldn't be!", one lady remembered. She was just seven when she delivered the milk, and this man was the same age when he first learnt to milk:

"I was milking by the time I was seven years old, and thinning turnips at ninepence a row after school. And scratting taties at half a crown an hour. I could load hay and corn when I was eleven... all horses. Haytime, I used to have to take t'empty cart back and meet t'full 'un."

Despite the fourteen hour working day,low wages and spartan living accommodation, there was still plenty of fun to be had on the farm. There were dances and parties at clipping time, haytime and harvest, and plenty more besides:

"No, they always say the bad old days. But I say the good old days because we enjoyed ourselves. You could go out to a dance of a night, a hunt ball, eighteen pence to get into the dance, another shilling you'd get a ham supper, best supper you ever had in your life, and then you could dance all night till t'was morning, and there was never no fights then, everybody was happy, happy as could be."