• Farming and Agriculture

    In the 18th and early 19th century the vast majority of the population worked in agriculture, so it is rare not to find your ancestors working on the land during this period!

    This page gives you an idea of how their lives were organised.

    The FTF Online Magazine ~ January 2008 focused on the life of the agricultural labourer.

    Working the land in the East Riding

    During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, those working on the land could be categorised as:

    1. Farmers and their male relatives working on the land
    2. Owner occupiers
    3. Tenant farmers
    4. Farm servants
    5. Agricultural labourers
    6. Casual workers


    Agricultural labourers were, generally, those who were married or had dependants. They were paid daily or on a weekly basis, or at busy times (such as harvest) by piece work rates. They lived in their own homes and made up 43% of the farming workforce.

    Casual workers, (including women and children) were hired as additional, supplementary help at busy times in the farming calendar, such as shearing, haymaking and the corn and potato harvest. In the East Riding, lots of the casual labour force were itinerants from the Dales or Ireland.

    Farm servants were unmarried, or occasionally widowers with no dependant family members, who were hired and paid on an annual basis and who received their board and lodging as a part of their annual wage. In the 1850’s, this group provided 33% of the East Riding farming population.

    They were subject to legally enforceable contracts of employment, and in East Yorkshire, these contracts ran from Martinmas (23rd November) to Martinmas.

    Annual statute Hirings were held at Beverley, Bridlington, Driffield, Hedon, Hornsea, Howden, Hull, Hunmanby, Malton, Market Weighton, Patrington, Pocklington, Scarborough, Selby and York.


    Farm servants - The Hirings

    Male and female servants would gather at the hiring venue to bargain with prospective employers and so secure a position for the coming year.


    “Driffield Times” 15th November 1873

    “Early in the morning, the great stream of humanity rolled into the town, conveyed thither in every conceivable appliance that could be obtained for the occasion; but conspicuous amongst the rest were the heavy waggons with their living freight, which were deposited amid the greetings of those who had chanced to outstrip them in the drive to town. Other vehicles, from heavy waggons to the humble donkey and cart were to be seen threading their way through the streets, to their several destinations. The Railway Company, too, brought hundreds into the town by special and regular trains, which were literally packed. At about nine o’clock, the bustle was commenced in earnest, for by that time most of the servants had congregated”

    If a bargain was struck, the farmer gave the Lad a “fest”, or fastening money – a small sum in recognition of the hiring. The amount of the fest varied; usually 5s for a waggoner and 2/6d for other workers.

    The whole range of working conditions was subject to an implicit informal agreement, which both the farmer and the worker assumed to automatically be part of the agreement – hours of work, holidays, sick pay.
    Once the fest money had changed hands, a legally binding agreement had been entered into. If either party withdrew before the year was up, magistrates and judges had special powers to enforce the contract.
    Contracts were usually oral.

    What few written contracts there were rarely specified more than the agreed wage and the termination date, e.g. “I Samuel Ellwood engage to Mr Francis Johnson as waggoner from Martinmas 1897 to Martinmas 1898 for £19 – nineteen pounds. Signed ……


    Farm Servants - Wages

    "Malton Messenger" 1874

    • Girls 12 – 18 yrs £6 - £8


    • Upper servants & housekeepers £13 - £15


    • Boys 13 –15 yrs £10 - £12


    • Boys 16 – 18 yrs £18 - £20


    • Good shepherds, experienced foremen £20 - £30 (Some asked for and were engaged for more)


    "Driffield Times" 14 Nov 1874

    • Young foreman £25


    • Experienced foreman £30


    • Young waggoner £18


    • Experienced waggoner £20


    • Strong ploughboy £13 - £15


    • Young maid-of-all-work £9 - £12


    • Housemaid £12 - £14


    • Experienced cook £20


    Farm servants were paid annually, on the completion of their year, minus any subsidies they had been given.

    The wage of an agricultural servant was divided equally between a cash payment and his keep e.g. 1900, an average waggoner’s wage was £25 cash & 5s fest £25 board and lodging Total – £50-5s


    Counting sheep - East Yorkshire

    Maternal grandfather and his father were shepherds. Grandad passed this on to Mum and she to me. There are many deviations on the count to 20, and each area of Yorkshire has it's own version, especially each of the Yorkshire dales. The land there is often hilly and impossible to cultivate, so sheepfarming is one way of utilising the land. The word pattern is usually based on groupings of five, to correspond with the digits on one hand.
    yar tar tethera methera pip
    teeza leeza catra nova dick
    yardick tardick tetheradick metheradick bumper
    yardibumper tardibumper tetherabumper metherabumper jigger

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