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Making the Most of Memory: Farm Lads' Tales

By Stephen Caunce
Boys doing men's work

Image of farm lad with horses and plough
A lad with his horse team at Thixendale Farm, 1890s 
Most of my interviewees were boys at the time they were recalling. I was amazed to hear about 12- or 13-year-olds doing the work that was expected of them.

Mr Walker started work in 1915 at the age of 12. His first job was to bring a cartload of fertiliser from the railway station. 'They helped me to yoke four horses in a waggon, two afront o't'other,' he told me, 'and I went to t'station, with myself, for three ton of phosphate. And I couldn't lift it. T'porters put it onto t'waggon.'

It was Mr Baines who explained to me how the boys knew what to do, when it came to ploughing:

Well nearly every lad in t' East Riding, before he left school, had had hold of a plough, if he were interested in farming. And you know, most on 'em, their brothers or their fathers worked on farms and they used to spend a lot of time on t' farms, you know.
You'd go and - same as my dad, when I were a kid about ten years old - and I used to take his drinkings on a Saturday morning into t' field. And if he were harrowing or rolling or ploughing he used to say, "Now, get on, my lad, and off thou goes. And thou can go round while I get my drinkings" - that was his drink o' tea and his summat to eat.
And same in holiday times - you used to go every morning and take your dad his drinkings. And you learnt by doing little bits here and there. My dad used to say to me when I were at school, "Fetch them beasts up and get 'em in cow house for when I come home out o' t' fields."
I used to get 'em in and I used to be milking. If I hadn't milked two when he came home he used to be wondering what I'd been doing - give me a rousting, you know. So I had to help him to milk. I got nowt for it like!

Published: 2005-01-31



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