Farm labourers came under a general umbrella, but the range of talent and skills from man to man varied considerably. Good labourers were able to do most jobs on the farm – ploughing and sowing, harvesting and threshing during the Spring and Summer, and maintenance work such as fencing and hedging during the Winter. These men were valuable and were retained from year to year, however others with few skills would find themselves frequently looking for work.
In the nineteenth century many women and children were also employed by farmers to do such work as weeding and stone picking, harvesting vegetables and dairy work. However, in spite of the whole family working from dawn until dusk, the combined wages were simply not enough and very often they had to turn to the Parish for help. One commodity that was freely given in large quantities was cider! The exceptions were perhaps Waggoners and Cattlemen who generally earned rather more.
Hiring time was generally in May, and it was at the Mop Fairs were labourers were looked over by the farmers……skilled labourers would hold whatever item best told the farmer what they were good at – hoe; bridle etc. etc., but if the chap had no skill worth broadcasting then he held up a mop……hence Mop Fair.
News – 19th century Labourers
17th June 1878
“A man named Stringer, described as a Farm Labourer from Herefordshire, has been arrested at Kidderminster on the charge of being concerned with the murder of Miss Jane Hannah Jay aged 32, whose body was found some weeks ago in Dinmore Wood, about seven miles from Hereford, in a state of advanced decomposition. The cause of arrest was certain statements which Stringer made in a public house. At the inquest, Miss Jay’s brother, Edward (a farmer) said that Miss Jay was rational if a little flighty, and that she had had an affair with a farmer. She had been staying at the Kerry Arms Hotel for some months, and it was said that she sometimes stayed out all night and was “strange in her habits”; she also owed the proprieter a large amount of money. On the night of her disappearance, she was seen walking towards the wood.”
“At Weobley police court, Robert George Galliers was charged with impersonating a policeman and entering premises without lawful authority. Mr. Pritchard, a farmer, deposed that the defendant came to him after dark stating that the local policeman being away, he had been telegraphed for to search for a person who had stolen some eggs and dripping fat from the shop of Mrs. Watkins, Bush Bank, and that he was on the scent of a hop-picking woman. He said that he was a policeman, and asked for the witness to accompany him with a light…which he did. They went into a building where some hop pickers employed by a neighbouring farmer, Mr. H. Parry, were sleeping. The defendant assumed a gruff and imperious air, and proceeded to question the women, then removing the headwear from one of them saying that she must be the one. He then said she was not the woman he wanted and left, dispensing with the services of the farmer and his light. The Bench imposed a fine of 28s.”