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Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Workday Wednesday - Down on the Farm

Most of us will have had farm workers in our family history and here is a picture of  farming in days gone by in  Earlston in the Scottish Borders,  with photographs from the Auld Earlston collection - my local heritage group. 

The Statistical Account of Scotland for 1791 in the chapter on Earlston gives us an early description of farming around the village. 
"The farmers rear a considerable number of black cattle...which they fatten on turnips.  The most common crops in this parish are  oats, barley and peas.  There is also some wheat.  The oats that grow on the grounds at Fans are much esteemed. There is now a greet quantity of clover and of  rye grass sown." 
The account also noted that two fairs were held in Earlston  - on the 28th June  for sheep, black cattle and horses, reckoned to be "the second best fair in the south of Scotland".  The other fair was held on the third  Thursday of October. 

 Hiring Fair 1909
Hiring Fairs, held in the Market Square,  were important events where men and women  farm workers, ag.labs (agricultural labourers), hinds*, shepherds, dairy maids, domestic servants etc.)  would gather to bargain with prospective farmers for work, and hopefully secure a position for the following 6-12 months.  

*The Scottish National Dictionary defines a "hind" in  Southern Scotland and Northumberland as  "a married skilled farm worker who occupies a cottage on the farm and is granted certain perquisites in addition to wages. 

Hiring Fairs were also social occasions with a rare opportunity for friends and family to meet and enjoy side shows and stalls - as can be seen in the two photographs featured. below dated 1909 and 193o's, and a contemporary account from 1883 that appeared in the local press.   


"The Southern Reporter":  1st March 1883

 Hiring Fairs lost their importance in the First World War and had largely died out by the late 1930's. 

Bondagers were female farm workers in south east Scotland and Northumberland.   As part of their husband's contract (or bond) with the farmer, he would undertake to  provide another worker (usually his wife) to help as and when  required. The women  wore a distinctive dress with bonnet, described as the "last remaining peasant costume" in Britain. 

"Horses are absolutely necessary in this part of the country, for it is by them the farmers labour their farms and drive their corn to market.  They never work with oxen now as they did formerly." - a quote from the 1791 Statistical Account. 
Oxen feature in this old photograph which is described as on the  "Road between Earlston and Melrose".   This is now the busy A68 route through the central Borders linking Edinburgh and Newcastle.

My great great grandfather was a carter - an essential occupation in transporting farmers' goods around.  


A local directory published in 1866 gives us a further picture of the scale of farming in the parish.  ["Rutherfurd’s Southern Counties Register and Directory containing  much useful and interesting information and very complete lists connected with the Counties of Roxburgh, Berwick and Selkirk", published by Rutherfurd Printers, Kelso in 1866}.

28 farmers were listed with associated trades -  1 farrier, 1 saddler, 3 blacksmiths, 3 cattle dealers,  2 fleshers (butchers), and 3 carriers. 

Sheep grazing above the village.
Sheep passing  the Smithy on Station Road - 
on the way to the Auction Mart by the railway. 
Sheep Shearing


Note the woman on the left  helping with the hay-making

      Building a Haystack

More haymaking with a lovely view over the Earlston countryside.

Thank you to Auld Earlston for the use of these photographs. 

"Workday Wednesday"  is one of many daily prompts from Geneabloggers.com to encourage bloggers to write a about different aspects of their family history  

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