If you can’t get enough of how things were done in the Old Days, George Ewart Evans is the man for you. Beginning with his best title, Ask the Fellows Who Cut the Hay, 1956, through The Crooked Scythe, 1993, he wrote eleven books of oral history on the farming and rural culture of England, primarily in East Anglia.
From Tools of Their Trades:
Farming and the Depth of Oral Testimony
The importance of the testimony of the older generation that took part in East Anglian farming prior to the introduction of the self-propelled machine needs no emphasis. Arable farming has been here the main line of farming since the beginning of the historical period; and farming itself has been both the mother and the nurse of the East Anglian culture. It has given this culture its individual stamp and is responsible for its remarkable continuity up to the beginning of this century. The older generation that reached manhood before the First World War are in a true sense historical “documents” in that they can teach us some of the techniques of the age-old farming that mechanization displaced and communicate to us the cultural atmosphere and attitudes within the society which was the old farming’s context. p. 87
So great was the interest in ploughing a well-finished stretch with mathematically straight furrows…and so keen was the rivalry between horseman that, even after they had spent an autumn day ploughing an acre in the field, they would spend the rest of it ploughing the land over once again in the cosiness of the inn bar. And on a Sunday morning they walked around the parish inspecting their neighbors’ week of work to see if it measured up to the high claims made for it during the detailed preliminary examination at the bar. p. 64
From The Farm and the Village:
…farmers used the following practice to control the gleaning….After the farm-workers has cleared a field of the crop they left one sheaf standing on it. This last sheaf was called the Policeman, and…as soon as the farmer took it away, the gleaners were free to enter. p. 80
From Where Beards Wag All:
When John Tollemache wanted a new coachman…his own experiences in driving, and possibly his own rather dangerous pretensions, prompted the question he asked each applicant: ‘How near can you take the carriage to a post without hitting it?’ He got various answers, each designed to illustrate the coachman’s extraordinary skill, for example: ‘I can stick a match into the side of the post, my Lord, and hit the match without hitting the post.’ But one man gave the answer he had been waiting for: ‘I don’t know about being near to it, your Lordship. I reckon to keep as far from the post as I can.’ ‘Right. You’re then man for the job.’ p. 125
Social relations in “closed” or estate-dominated villages. These were physically well-ordered and maintained, and the landed proprietor might at times intervene on behalf of the farm workers in disputes with their farmer employers.
We must beware of ascribing present-day standards of what social relations ought to be to a Suffolk village of a century ago, when a Victorian authoritarianism was the dominant pattern, especially in rural areas. Possibly some inhabitants did not feel the paternalism of the squire in any way oppressive and would blithely sing of ‘the rich man in his castle and the poor man at his gate’. Some, too, would probably feel—as some still do—the cosy warmth of aristocratic contact….Yet there was alongside this an underlying, smouldering resentment whose depth and intensity can be gauged by the fact that it has lasted until the present when the overt conditions which gave rise to it have been to a great extent removed.
‘You were under and you dussn’t say anything. The old Lord used to come round to look at the house, the garden and the allotment just as he did the farms; and the farmers were as afraid of him as you were.’
‘You had to go to church on Sunday and the farmers had to see that you went, too.’
Herman Biddell, a Suffolk farmer, used to proceed down the aisle at the end of service while the rest of the congregation remained seated. He cast an experienced eye and if there was a gap in the pew of one of his tenants he leaned over and asked, ‘Where’s Charlie? How is it he’s not in church this morning?’
Thanks to my friend Taylor Stoehr, I have eight of these titles, and will gladly loan them out.
Chip Planck, Wheatland Vegetable Farms, email@example.com