Well you were warned – today I begin to wend my way through the alphabet for the month of April, as part of the A to Z blogging challenge. Hopefully I can provide useful information and add to the debate amongst fellow history addicts, interspersed with non-alphabetical general happenings. So……..
A is for Agricultural Labourers
Every family tree has them, the ubiquitous Ag Labs and we tend to treat them as an amorphous group, frequently neglecting to find out more about their lives. How often do we hear, ‘My family tree is really boring, it is all Ag Labs’? As with any ancestor’s occupation, we owe it to those ancestors to find out more about what the job entailed. What tools were used? What clothes were worn What innovations or processes took place in their field (no pun intended) during their working lives?
Not all agricultural labourers are the same. Use maps, local sources and Google Street View to find out about the terrain. Can you discover what the soil type is in the area? Tithe Maps of the 1830s and 1840s will tell you about the land use on the farms where your ancestor may have worked. The National Farm Survey of 1941, held at The National Archives, will give a more up to date picture. Look at the books by Charles Vancouver, written in the early nineteenth century. Here is the volume for Devon but other counties were also covered. Another excellent book about West Country Agriculture is The Husbandry of Devon and Cornwall by Robin Staines, Andrew Jewell and Richard Bass (Stanes 2008).
The DVDs and books that resulted from the Victorian, Edwardian, World War II and Tudor Monastery Farm television programmes are invaluable. As a result of the Victorian Farm series, The Book of the Farm that the team used as a source, has been reprinted, with an introduction by Alex Langlands. This is a great insight into Victorian Farming techniques.
Visit if you can The Museum of English Rural Life or its Scottish equivalent. See also the Rural Museums’ Network. Find exhibitions of old farm implements or best of all spend time doing some of the tasks your ancestor would have done. There is nothing like a day spent picking stones or weeding potatoes in the rain to bring home just how difficult life was.
Follow up some of these suggestions, read some of the books below, then decide if your agricultural labourers really are boring.
Waller, Ian My Ancestor Was an Agricultural Labourer (SOG 2008).
Handford, Kay The Agricultural Labourer in 19th Century England (Grosvenor House Publishing 2011).
Brown, Jonathan Tracing Your Rural Ancestors: a guide for family historians (Pen & Sword 2011).
Hammond, John & Barbara The Village Labourer (The History Press 2005).
Porter, Valerie Yesterday’s Farm: a taste of rural life from the past (David and Charles 2008).
Rogers, J Thorold A History of Agriculture and Prices in England (Oxford University Press 1882).
Reay, Barry Rural Englands (Palgrave MacMillan 2004).
Humphries, Steve and Hopwood, Beverley Green and Pleasant Land: the untold story if country life in twentieth century Britain (Channel 4 Books 1999).
Fussell, G E The English Rural Labourer; his home, furniture, clothing & food, from Tudor to Victorian times Batchworth Press 1949.