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18 September 2014
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Making the Most of Memory: Farm Lads' Tales

By Stephen Caunce
Farm lads - a case study

Image of a waggon with horses
A three-horse team and pole waggon delivering corn sacks at Burdale station, in East Yorkshire, c.1900 
Because William ranged over many subjects, I could have followed up a wide range of topics with him, but I was interested in his time on farms, working with horses.

What was most surprising was the revelation that single lads were then still hired by the year as servants living on the farm, with their board and lodging as part of their wages. They did not go home at night, as the married labourers did. This was a system associated with early modern England, which was generally believed to have died out by the early 19th century.

'I taped oral testimony from many East Yorkshire farm workers ...'

I taped oral testimony from many East Yorkshire farm workers, all of whom have since died. Taken together, I built up a substantial archive that contradicted the generally accepted idea that horsemen were always skilled, older workers, promoted on merit. Instead, they were often young men not long out of their teens.

Image of Wold's waggoner circa 1800
A Wolds waggoner, circa 1800. The way the horses are yoked was peculiar to the East Riding. The similarities with the Burdale station photograph (above), taken 100 years later, are striking. 

Published: 2005-01-31

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