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Making the Most of Memory: Farm Lads' Tales

By Stephen Caunce
Getting a job

Image of a farm worker with a team of horses
Massive horses pulling a heavy roller - used after sowing to compact the soil 
When I started out I was frightened of causing - or feeling - embarrassment, especially because I'd been warned that people were scared of tape recorders. But people liked talking about their past experiences and no one ever minded speaking into a microphone (except for one man with something confidential to say, and that just meant turning it off for a few minutes).

Some interviewers prepare questions in advance, and if you have very precise aims, or are dealing with someone used to being interviewed, that can be essential. However, if you're exploring little-known areas of the past, as I was, you may miss things if you keep to a prepared line of questioning. The main thing is simply to listen to what people say, let them say it in their own words, and ask for explanations when they're needed.

'Now my lad, does tha want hiring? I'll gi you a good home ...'

Mr Baines (born 1908, in Howden) described how the lads found jobs at 'hirings' - large gatherings of farm workers and farmers at local markets.

The farmer used to be walking down t' road, you know, with stick, looking round like this 'ere. They'd sort a big lad out, or a suitable lad, you know, and they'd say, "Now my lad, does tha want hiring?".
You used to say "Yes", and they used to ask you how much you wanted for t' year. You used to tell them and they'd barter with you, you know: "I'll gi you so-and-so", and "I'll gi you a good home", and this and t' other. And "can you do this, and can you do t' other?"
One chap used to go across and he used to say, "Can you swing plough, my lad?" If you were about, you know, 17 or 18 years old, or 19. And you'd say, "No I've never done any swing ploughing". He'd say, "Can you wheel a big barrowful of manure?" You used to say, "Aye". "Well thou can learn to swing plough then!" And he'd probably hire you, you see, then and give you a fastening penny, probably half a crown or five bob, and you used to think you'd gotten the world, like.

Published: 2005-01-31



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