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

By Stephen Caunce
Soup, suet and boiled beef

Image of a horse-drawn dray
A 'Lawson wagon' at Broadgate Farm near Beverley, East Yorkshire, 1920s ©
Another surprise about the farm lads' lives was that, though they worked very hard, they ate far better than they ever could have at home, and far better than youngsters did in town jobs with higher wages.

Mr Johnson gave a graphic description of the typical diet:

You had cold meat for breakfast - I never knew a farm have fried bacon for breakfast. You had - there was generally a joint of beef and bread. And there was - they used to make pies, you know, fruit pies, apple pies, plum pies, jam pies. You filled up with that.
Now for dinner, you always had hot dinner: it may be, Sunday anyway, you had roast beef and Yorkshire pudding and vegetables. Now and then you had what they called 'pot days'. That was broth days. Some of them had, say, roast beef for dinner on a Sunday.
Monday - broth day, that used to be; you had soup, suet puddings, boiled beef, vegetables. Now then, next day was pie day: meat pie, vegetables, meat and that in ... Wednesday, pot on again, Thursday pie day, and then for some of them - that was six days - pot on and pie day and then roast beef on a Sunday.
But some used to vary it a bit: fried beef or such as that for dinner, you know, slices off the roast beef and, you know, fried up. They used to call that "resurrection". Really it was old beef warmed up, but it made a change.

This may sound like a fantasy but all other accounts of farm lads' meals agree with Mr Johnson's. In 1864, a Medical Officer of the Privy Council recorded his opinion that they were the best-fed working-class group in the country.

Oral testimony needs to be checked in this way against other accounts, in exactly the same way as you would check any other kind of historical source. Thus, I also used data from the Census to confirm the age of horsemen, and their tendency to change farms between contracts. The two types of evidence complemented each other perfectly.

About the author

Dr Stephen Caunce is a senior lecturer in history at the University of Central Lancashire, Preston. The oral testimony used here was gathered for two books: Amongst Farm Horses: Farm Servants in East Yorkshire (Alan Sutton, 1991) and Oral History and the Local Historian (Longmans, 1994).


Published: 2005-01-31

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