Work and Workers in Rural England,
Page 2 of 13
The laborers are at the foot of the industrial ladder and are so dependent on their weekly wages that any interruption which throws them out of work even temporarily brings direfully close the possibility of having to go to the workhouse. Happily things are so arranged that labor on the farms is steady through the year and a helper is never laid off on account of either weather or season.
The daily life of the worker is one of set hours, which are as definite as those of an employee in a factory. If a man works overtime, it is by agreement, and he gets extra pay.
Of all the laborers on a farm, the ploughmen and carters are the earliest risers. They have to be up at four o’clock to feed their horses, though they are not in the fields to begin work till half-past six. About the middle of the afternoon they all return to the farmhouse, the carters in their carts and the ploughmen and ploughboys mounted sidesaddle on their horses, which go clanking along in single file till they reach the farmyard gate; then the riders slide off, and their horses with those that are released from the carts tramp on to their stables, where they are unharnessed and fed and groomed. This done, the day’s work of the carters and the followers of the plough is finished.
The soil in some parts is so heavy that four horses are the rule to each plough. The ploughman does not in this case attempt to guide his own team, but has a boy to walk along beside the horses and urge them on. These boys earn their wages, I think, for they keep shouting to their teams all the time, adding emphasis by an occasional crack of the whip. However, the shouts and the belaboring with the lash seem purely matters of form, and the horses step along perfectly oblivious to them, so far as I could see.
Ploughing With Oxen.
In former days much of the heavy farm work was done with bullocks. Now, a bullock team is comparatively rare. Nothing could be more picturesque. The oxen, instead of wooden neck-yokes, wear simple harnesses made of broad leather bands, and each creature has on a pair of great leather blinders which give it a look truly antediluvian. As it takes four bullocks to one plough, they, with the ploughman and the ploughboy, make a procession that is quite impressive.