AA Book of Britain's Countryside

Chapters from the Agrarian History of England and Wales

Work and Workers in Rural England,
Page 3 of 13

Women in the Fields

Women in the Fields.

In strange contrast with the slow bullock teams, so suggestive of antiquity, one is surprised to find that he cannot travel far in the English country without seeing in some wide field a steam plough at work, or a steam thresher established next a “corn” rick. Sometimes you meet the engines with all their apparatus in tow steaming along the highway; or they will come rattling and panting through the midst of the village where you happen to be stopping. They are formidable affairs, and it takes five men to make a working crew.

Every farm has its flock of sheep. In some parts of the country there are moors and commons and rough uplands where the sheep are turned loose to graze; but more often they occupy the ordinary farm fields. Many farmers keep them still further confined within a basket-work fencing woven from split hazel. These hurdles, as they are called, are made in light detachments, that allow them to be readily moved, and as soon as the sheep have grazed one space clean, their fence is transferred to enclose new ground. All this was explained to me one day by a shepherd with whom I stopped to talk as he was at his work in a roadside field. Then he drifted into personal reminiscence and said that he had been brought up to tend sheep. He tried something else for a while, but it didn’t suit him, and he took up his old work again. He declared that it was the “dirtiest, nastiest, hardest” work there was. None of his eight children would take it up; no, nor any other young people.

“Children goes to school now till they gets to be thirteen or fourteen years old,” he added deprecatingly, “and they gets cunning, you know.’

The shepherd had a dog with him, but the dog did not know much, and never would, in his master’s opinion,—he “wa’n’t the right kind.” But he “had a dog afore him that was as sensible as a Christian. Seemed like he knew just what I said. If there was some sheep way round that hill you see there, a mile off, that dog ’d go for ’em, if I told him to, and I could keep on with my work, and he’d be comin’ with ’em by and by. I never had more ’n to speak to him or make a motion with my hand, he’d understand. I had him ten year, but he died last January. I wouldn't ’a’ felt it so much if I’d lost one of my children.”


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