ON THE FARM - Part Four

As we have seen in the last three weeks, most Lakeland fell farmers in the early years of the century had a rough sort of routine dictated by what type of farming they did, the season and the weather conditions. But their routine worked out from year to year rather than week in, week out for there were certain annual events, like the pig killing, which whilst being a little out of the ordinary everyday pattern was still very much part of the farm year. Many farmers' wives loathed pig-killing day because of all the extra work it entailed:

"There was a special farmer in the valley who did the pig killing. He used to come in and act like a lord. He had to have a glass of whisky before he started, and a glass of whisky at another interval. He used to kill the pig and I hated it. We hated pig killing day. We got out of the way. We cured the pig's cheeks and the head was boiled for brawn. The work it was - and every bit was used.

"We never smoked any bacon...it was too fat for the average person, but oh dear, the smell of it. Bacon now is nothing to me, it hasn't the flavour. The last few fortnights they gave it something special, oatmeal, to give it a flavour. And then the man came and it was all cut up - chined. And then it was left. It was brought in on the kitchen table and cut into flitches and hams and then it was salted - it was all rubbed with salt and a little salt-petre, and then it was put on straw underneath the sconces - the big stone sconces in the dairy - and it was put underneath there on straw. The cheeks cured first, and it used to run, you were mopping up water as it ran - the salt melted. And then they were all brought out and washed and dried and hung up on the ceiling."

Clipping time, at the beginning of July, was something to look forward to, for it gave neighbours a chance to get together and help each other, and celebrate at the end. Farmers and hands from various farms in the neighbourhood would join forces to go round each farm clipping together; one gang covered an area from Rydal to Patterdale, Kentmere,Wythburn and into Langdale before they returned home to Rydal. The men wore white suits and clipped all day before it was time to enjoy themselves:

"Those clippings were really nice because when they'd finished at night there was a dance in the barn, a proper barn dance, especially the Langdale ones and the one we went to at Wythburn always finished with a dance on the barn floor... there was always a melodian or a fiddle, it was something to look forward to."

At one Rydal farm, they provided a feast for the clippers - half a ham and a round of beef boiled in the "set pot" or washing boiler, with a huge pease pudding, followed by fruit tarts for dinner, and sandwiches and cake for tea before the big dance.

"Some barn dances went on to about three o'clock. I've seen my sister and I walk from Wythburn at three in the morning, and its a long way from there to Rydal."

Similar dances were held after haytiming, a long and laborious process using horses to mow; the two-horse machine would mow the grass and then it had to be raked by hand, turned and scaled, and then, when it was loaded loose, somebody had to fork through it; half the hay might be wet, some dry, and when it rained, the whole process had to be repeated to dry it. Loading was back-breaking; and the whole job from start to finish could take weeks during a wet summer, all through July and August and even up till October. No wonder a dance was called for.

Some farms had a harvest supper, and others held impromptu dances whenever anyone stood up with a fiddle or sang a song; if a farmer visited another to round up stray sheep, there might be a carding party, with a drop of whisky or a bottle of Botanic Beer. But even if there was no special event in sight, there was always Sunday on the farm to break the routine, even though on this farm it meant extra work on Monday:

"We used to put our Sunday clothes on and go to church, we were in the choir, and we used to go home and change into our second clothes and then we'd do all sorts of jobs in the yard, the hens and such like, and then we changed back again at night, never kept our good clothes on all day. We always had a lovely roast for Sunday dinner at midday sharp so the men could get away."

Routine relaxed for the rest of the day - but on Monday, all the Sunday suits had to be brushed and put away by the women. One lady had a father and four brothers, each with a morning suit and a different Sunday evening suit, all to be brushed and folded away till next week. Then there were the shoes to clean and the boots to be brushed with a rabbit's foot dipped in linseed oil. On Monday afternoon, she scrubbed out the animals' water trough and all the feeding buckets in the yard; and when she heard about womens' lib, she wasn't amused.

"There was a letter in the paper a while back from a wife, she was with this womens' lib, and she wasn't going to clean her husband's shoes, either his work shoes or his Sunday shoes or his wellingtons, she said. And I thought, my word, if she'd had to do what I'd to do on a Monday morning, she'd have known she was born, wouldn't she?"

Farming eighty years ago in Westmorland - was it really the Good Old Days, with its unremitting backbreaking toil? For many it was, they said. The neighbourliness, the good-spirited dances and jolly get-togethers leave many of those still alive today with affectionate memories of a way of life which has almost disappeared in our county now.