Women and Children in Agriculture


The following extract comes from Reports of special assistant poor law commissioners on the employment of women and children in agriculture, pp. 71-91, 1843 (510) XII.1.


No. 13.

Letter from the Hon. and Rev. S. Godolphin Osborne, Rector of Bryanston-cum-Durweston, Dorsetshire

Bryanston, Dec. 26, 1842.

MY DEAR SIR, I have great pleasure in submitting to your attention the result of my observation upon the moral and physical condition of the women and children employed in agriculture.

I have now, for more than 11 years, been actively engaged as a clergyman in agricultural districts, for seven years I have acted as a magistrate and ex-officio guardian; my opportunity for observation in the matter in question has thus been great.

As to the physical effect of field-labour on women, whatever injury may result from it to their bodily health is, I think, purely accidental. It cannot be denied that exposure to excess of wet or heat is, in many cases, prejudicial, as well to young unmarried women as to those who are wives and more advanced in years. To both classes there are seasons when the quiet and shelter of home would be preferable to exposure to the weather, and to fatigue of body abroad. That women will work too hard up to the hour of their confinement, and too soon afterwards, and that we frequently see serious injury following upon such imprudence, is very true; but I question, if no field-labour existed, whether the same imprudence would not be shown, though in some other form.

I have often known women hard at work at the washing tub, in their own or a neighbour’s house, within a few hours of their delivery.

Occasional instances of severe illness occur from over-work in the gleaning season, both to the women and children: but, it must be remembered, this is employment of their own seeking, guided as to its extent by their own will; and as it is always a species of scramble, there is a jealousy in its performance, which, whether the end it seeks be considered praiseworthy or not, is productive of too great and too prolonged exertion at a season when the weather is most trying to the physical powers.

As to the reaping and binding corn; where a woman is thus employed, it is seldom as a hired servant of the farmer; but her husband, being paid by the acre, she works with him, and virtually for him. If she over-works herself it cannot fairly be said that the owner of the farm is to blame.

With regard to “hoeing,” or weed-picking, there is exposure to the weather, and perhaps weariness from many hours of stooping, but the women are in general clad for field-work, and I have never known any complaint of the severity of such work.

Hay-making is not severe work; it requires from the women no great exertion of manual strength, and does not generally commence so early in the day, and it is more subject to interruption than other harvest-work.

In dairy countries [sic] women are, I fear, often worked beyond their strength. Many of the operations in a large dairy require great muscular exertion, and the women are exposed to damp within doors, as well as to more or less wet without; but I cannot call to my mind any instance in which I have known serious injury to women so employed.

With regard to children, except for bird-keeping or watching cattle, &c., in the field I do not think that very young children are often employed by farmers; but it frequently happens that a labourer takes wood-cutting, hedging, and thatching by the piece – he then has one or more of his children to assist him, or rather, I should say, to wait on him with his tools. I do not think the child is injured by the amount of labour required of him, but I have seen injury down to children from their having to go with their parents too great distances from home, especially when the circumstances of the parents have not permitted them to give their children sufficient and proper food.

As to bird-keeping, it may appear cruel that a child should have to pass some eight or ten hours a-day apart from all human society, its sole employment the frightening birds from the corn; but I have never yet had any reason to believe that the boys so employed in any way suffer injury from it. Towards the end of the day, they are, doubtless, anxious to return home, and their inquiries of passers-by as to “what o’clock it is,” prove how gladly they watch for the hour that is to release them from their day’s labour; but this, after all, is no more than any schoolboy feels, who is anxious for the hour when business for the day concludes, and he is released from his books and invited to his evening meal. That these juvenile watchmen do contrive to mix up amusement with their toil, no one who has observed their labyrinths cut in turf, or their carving on gates, trees, or sticks, can doubt; for my part, I think the importance of their trust, and the knowledge that they are earning wages, goes far to lighten the effect of the monotony of their employment.

Bird-keeping is the earliest work at which boys are employed. Their next stage in labour is the watching cattle or poultry in the field; for this purpose more personal activity is required. Their next step in life is driving the plough, and assisting the carter in the stable, &c.; and then comes the actual holding plough, mowing, ditching, and the usual work of a regular farm-labourer.

I cannot say that, in my experience, I have ever known any of these stages of schooling in out-door employment to tax too heavily the physical powers of the age at which it is entered on, except in cases where, from the parents’ neglect or poverty, the constitution has not been dealt fairly with in the way of food.

I have seen the effects of lace-making, straw-plating, and button-making, and I have not hesitation in saying that there are many diseases directly proceeding from the confinement of young persons in crowded rooms, the keeping the body constantly in an unnatural position, and the incessant call upon the utmost power of the eye, which these trades require. Thousands of children of agricultural labourers are employed at these species of work. However much I am opposed to field labour for females, I must add that, in my opinion, there is infinitely less physical injury to be feared from it than from employments of the nature spoken of above.

As to the moral condition of the wives and children of agricultural labourers, I must at once affirm that it is far below what it ought to be, but it is not worse than, under the circumstances, we have a right to expect. The rent of a cottage, so constructed as to enable a labourer to rear his family with attention to the common decencies of life, is far beyond what his wages will allow him to give.

To say nothing of the physical injury done to himself and family from the want, in most instances, of anything like proper drainage without his dwelling, and the foul air which they are compelled to breathe from the too confined space of the dwelling within, from infancy to puberty, his children, for the most part, sleep in the same room with his wife and himself; and whatever attempts at decency may be made—and I have seen many most ingenious and praiseworthy attempt—still there is the fact of the old and young, married and unmarried, of both sexes, all herded together in one and the same sleeping apartment. Within this last year I saw in a room about 13 feet square three beds: on the first lay the mother, a widow, dying of consumption; on the second, two unmarried daughters, one 18 years of age, the other 12; on the third, a young married couple, whom I myself had married two days before. A married woman, of thorough good character, told me, a few weeks ago, that on her confinement, so crowded with children is her one room, they are obliged to put her on the floor in the middle of the room, that they may pay her the requisite attention. She spoke of this as, to her, the most painful part of that hour of trial. I do not choose to put on paper the disgusting scenes that I have known to occur from this promiscuous crowding of the sexes together. Seeing, however, to what the mind of the young female is exposed from her very childhood, I have long ceased to wonder at the otherwise seeming precocious licentiousness of conversation which may be heard in every field where many of the young are at work together. Early robbed by circumstances of much of that purity which is her honour’s safest guard, field-work lends a finish to the mischief.

Few persons will take a woman of known laxity of character as a domestic servant, but of out-door work it is rare to find any other qualification required, beyond punctuality to time and activity in the work undertaken; so that the worst characters in a parish are in general the chief leaders in the conversation, as they are the most accustomed to the different kinds of labour in the fields in which the women are employed. I once spoke to a rather wealthy farmer on the impropriety of giving so much beer to the young of both sexes employed in the hay fields, and the allowing unchecked the grossness of their conversation, and the indecency of many of their acts. His answer was to this effect:-“Those young ones would never stick to their work if it was not for the beer I find them, and the fun they make for themselves.” I have no hesitation in affirming that field-work for women, let it be overlooked how it may, is liable to great moral abuse; that little overlooked, as it mostly is, it is one of the greatest sources of immorality that I know.

I know that every farthing that can be earned by any member of a labourer’s family is of importance to him; but I also believe that the habits gained by this species of employment are of a nature directly leading to a course of life in which far more is eventually squandered in evil than was ever saved for good purposes.

When, too, as in the case of the hog-growing counties, the children of the agricultural labourers are mixed for weeks together with the population that yearly immigrates for the purpose of hop-picking, from London and other large towns, I can see no bounds to the mischief. I wish I could see a remedy for it which would stand any chance of general adoption.

I am well aware of the commonly received opinion, that children are taken too early from school to go to work; but the necessity lady on the parent of obtaining all the help he can towards the support of his family cannot be denied, and this it is that forces him to get them, as soon as he can, into regular employment.

For my own part, as soon as a boy is capable of taking any situation, which whilst it may afford him some wages at the same time initiates him into the calling by which he is in the end to gain his bread, and gradually inures him to that exposure to the weather which must form a part of his lot, I am glad to see him obtain one. Bird-keeping boys are not, however, removed from school altogether, but are generally “out on leave” for this particular purpose: their education is interrupted, not ended.

The plough-drivers, and those whose strength and age enables them either to work regularly with their father, or take a regular situation on a farm, have in general arrived at a time of life for many reasons I think it unadvisable to retain them in the day school.

Girls, when taken from school altogether, are mostly either sent to service, or needed at home to assist the mother in the care of the younger children and other household duties. If the parents are of good character I do not much regret this, as it is to be hoped they have been already well grounded at school in religious truth, been taught to read with ease to themselves, and probably to write and sum enough for the situation of life in which they are likely to be placed. If girls are well looked after at home, a few months there between leaving school and going into service is advantageous to them, as they thus pick up some knowledge of household work, and get some experience in the care of young children. If children, as is now usually the case, are, after leaving the day school, allowed to attend the Sunday school, further opportunity is afforded them of advancing in religious knowledge. I cannot but think that children are in most places kept at the day school as long as is advisable, but I am also strongly of opinion that they should be put to school at the earliest possible age. The system pursued at a good infant school gives to a child before it is seven years old as much knowledge as used to be obtained in the old day schools at the age of 12. Let a child on leaving an infant school at seven enter and continue in a good day school, say from two to three years: this, followed up by instruction in the Sunday school to the age of 13 or 14, and I imagine that the result will be, that enough of religious and general knowledge will have been obtained to lead the mind through life to profit by what it has already learned, and to seize every opportunity of procuring for itself more experience as well in spiritual as in secular things.

The habits of order and cleanliness, the habit of strict obedience maintained in every good infant school; the fact that the children are taken at the very earliest moment they can be taught anything, and instructed in a manner adapted to their age in things that shall profit them as well in this as the next world; the getting them away for so many hours from the crowded cottage, its impure air, and too often its unprofitable examples,—all this has made me feel from experience that the infant school, when it is well managed, is of all instruments in our hands one of the most powerful in improving the moral character of the poorer classes of society.

In some parishes there are evening schools for adults: they proved most useful, giving as they do the opportunity to many young persons who wish to improve themselves of snatching an hour or two hours’ instruction after their day’s work; they should receive every encouragement.

There are also adult schools for young women, to which, after they have left the day school, they are admitted for a part of the day to learn the art of cutting out clothes and the various aspects of needlework which may be required of them in “good service:” they are also further instructed in religious knowledge. Under proper management these school are most valuable: without taking the young female entirely from home, thus permitting her there to acquire a practical knowledge of many things required in “service,” they still keep her under the eye of her superiors, within reach of the advice of those who are best qualified to advise, and this at an age when proper superintendence is most valuable, and a word of friendly advice from those she has been taught to love and respect will often rescue from habits tending to ruin. There can be no question but that the sooner young women can be fitted for and get out into service the better for them, and I know in no way in which the higher classes can better direct their charity than in promoting every means of fitting the female children of the village poor for respectable service.

Let me now call your attention to one of the most destructive sources of evil to which the character of the young female is exposed in the agricultural districts. In many counties it is the custom to hire lads and girls for farm-work at what are called “Statute Fairs,” known amongst the poor as “Staties,” “Mops,” or “Wakes.” Some second-rate country town is in general the scene of these assemblages: a few shows, a few stalls for the sale of toys, &c.; a good many itinerant singers and sellers of ballads, many of which are of the most obscene character; a certain number of fiddlers in a certain number of public-houses and beer-shops, comprise the chief attractions of the fair. The business part of it consists in the exhibition of a large number of young lads and girls, dressed in all the finery they can muster, that they may be seen, as they think, to the best advantage, and be hired on the spot by those masters or mistress who come to such places to seek for servants. Apparent strength and health are the only requisites, with the exception of a professed knowledge to a greater or less degree of the duties of the situation for which they propose themselves. Mothers with a girl of bad character at home will often say, “Well, she must go to the next staties, and as she is stout and healthy she’ll be hired fast enough.” Accordingly such girls are cleaned and dressed up for the fair, are often at once hired, and as often within a few months have to appear on summons before a bench of magistrates, that the said hiring may, for some dishonest or profligate conduct, be terminated. Those only who have witnessed them can form any idea of the scenes of vice which these fairs become late in the day: I know no language of reproach too strong to apply to them, and I think one of the first duties of the legislator, who seeks to throw the protection of the law over the moral character of the young in country districts, will be either to put an end to, or at least appoint some efficient superintendence over, these fairs.

As to the crimes most common amongst the class we have been considering, wood-stealing is the most common overt act of crime they commit: it is practised in some districts to an immense extent by women and young children. The boys at an early age but too often take to turnip-stealing and poaching.

As a magistrate I have frequently found these crimes to originate in a great measure from circumstances of a local character. Where there is a poor straggling village, with few, if any, resident gentry, at a distance from any market at which fuel could be purchased at a price within the poor man’s means; where wages are low and work difficult to be got—and these two things are in general indicative of a population too large for the locality, which again is a cause of house rent being high from the number of dwelling being disproportioned to the population,–in such a district I am not surprised if fuel and food are both obtained dishonestly.

We are too apt to forget that the poor are often so situated that they have no market within their reach at which they can procure many of the absolute necessities of life, and this is especially the case with regard to fuel. Unless they have a right of turf-cutting, or the proprietors of woods will sell fuel on the spot, they are often wholly without the means of procuring it honestly. If a market for fuel is within the labourer’s reach, I have never found any difficulty in getting him to lay by, in small instalments through the summer, sufficient money to purchase his winter’s stock of that article, but the expense of its carriage from any distance is a complete bar to his obtaining it at all. From no limited experience I can say, that the only way in which wood-stealing can be successfully checked is by first placing fuel at a fair price within reach of the poor man, and then showing a firm determination to prosecute in every case in which the stealing it is detected. There is, however, a very great disinclination on the part of the farmers, generally speaking, to prosecute a labourer, let him be discovered in what theft he may. This may arise from the expense and trouble of a prosecution: it does, I know, often arise from fear of injury to their property by the associates of the criminal, or from himself, should he be acquitted, or only sentenced to some short term of imprisonment. I think, too, instances might be found of this feeling arising from a cause which you may gather from the following argument of a farmer:-“I know Will — is a thief; he has robbed me. He robs us all in turn—something from one, something form another. However, he has a large family: they cost us nothing not out of the rates: but if we put him in prison we must put them in the union, and that would cost us a pretty deal.” Whilst I trace the immorality of the labouring classes to defective education, the want of means to preserve decency in their families, and the temptations to intemperance which are to be found in the manner in which the beer-shop keepers, unchecked by legal interference, offer at every hour of the day, and almost every hour of the night, all the inducements likely to draw the labourer from home, and to fix him in a love of drink and bad company, I trace much of the crime he commits to absolute want. I am satisfied that the law should, under any and every circumstance, be enforced against offenders when detected, and that every mans should be used for their detection; but is it not the bounden duty of the higher and middling classes of society to endeavour at any cost to place the labourer, as far as possible, in such a condition as shall afford him the option of acquiring for himself and children right principles of action towards his fellow-men, and the means of obtaining by his own industry all that is necessary for his own and his children’s support? The law must be held in respect; but who shall justify us in placing any of our fellow-creatures in a position in which, whilst they have little encouragement to do right, they have every temptation to do wrong.

With regard to the general condition of the agricultural labourer, I believe the public to be less informed, or worse informed, than about that of any other class of society. His most common vices are, it is true, pretty well known, for they have ben exposed with no hesitating pens, have been officially proclaimed throughout the length and breadth of the land; but the hardships of his life at best; its temptations the hindrances to its improvement, the scanty remuneration afforded for his hardest labour, the ingenious methods used to hold him in thraldom, permitting him neither to work where he likes, at the wages he could obtain, or to spend those he does obtain where he chooses; the manner in which he often sees the welfare of the beast he drives more valued than his own, and his own welfare often sacrificed to some caprice of his employer—threatened with the “Union House” if he refuses them, his wages are settled by the combined interest or opinion of the employers around him, forced to pay an exorbitant rent for a dwelling in which he cannot decently rear his family: if he is single, he is to receive less for the sweat of his brow than if he was married; if he does marry, every ingenuity is used to make him feel that he is regarded as one about to increase the burdens of the parish, to say nothing of the ingenuity used to shift him into some other parish,—these are parts of his condition on which the public are not so well informed, or at least of which they seem to act in perfect ignorance. Let the charitable do what they will to increase the comforts and elevate the character of the poor of a parish, alas! but too often because Parish A is thus more favoured than parish B, it is made the pretext for raising the rent of the labourer’s dwelling, and diminishing the amount of his wages.

I do, Sir, sincerely hope that this your present commission may be but the forerunner of one that shall thoroughly investigate the condition of the labourer—his moral, social, and physical condition. Let the public have bona fide evidence of the labourer’s condition, and I feel confident the wonder will be,—not that this class of the community have from time to time shown a disaffected spirit,—not that evidence of their immorality, dishonesty, and extravagance abounded,—not that they are daily becoming more and more burdensome upon the poor-rates, but that they have borne so long the hardships of their condition, have not been urged to greater crimes—that any of them can at all, at the prices they have to pay for rent, fuel, and food, honestly support their families out of the wages they receive. I cannot say that their wives and children are subject to any physical injury from the nature of the employments in agriculture in which they engage, but I do assert, of the agricultural labourers as a class, that they have found few friends of any weight to contend for their rights in high places, and more enemies to their moral and physical improvement at their own doors, than any other class of society. Attachment to their superiors, respect for their employers, loyalty to their rulers, is fast passing away; they have found themselves made the subjects of experiments, the smart of which they have felt, but the intention of which they could not understand. Their education has occupied the mind of the public chiefly as a scene for party strife; their relief in age or sickness has been discussed in a philosophical tone, of which the most forbidding features were the only ones they could appreciate. Pamphlets on cottage husbandry, plans for cottage buildings, tracts on morality, treatises on economy, have been sent forth with no sparing hand; but in nine villages out of ten the cottage is still nothing but a slightly improved hovel, morality is borne down by the pressure of temptation on minds unfortified by education in good principles, and the wages of the stoutest and most industrious scarce find the coarsest food, the smallest sufficiency of fuel. In my opinion, unless those above them soon determine to give up some of their own luxuries, that they may give to the labourer such wages as shall enable him to rear his family in comfort in a dwelling in which decency can be preserved, and within reach of a school, and a church in which he and his may be taught the learning fitted for their station here, and tending to place them in the way to heaven hereafter—unless some great effort is made to obtain these objects, our peasantry will become not the support they should be to the country, but a pregnant source of all that can tend to subvert its best institutions.

Yours truly,


To Alfred Austin, Esq.,

Assistant Poor Law Commissioner


No. 14.

Statement of the Rev. Henry Austen, Curate of Pimperne, Dorset

I have held the curacy of Pimperne 23 years. We have a good school for the children of the labouring classes, with nearly 100 boys and girls. Each child pays 1d. a-week, which is returned, with an extra shilling for good behaviour, at the end of the year. The boys are taken from school to go to farm-work from 11 to 12 years old. I think that is not too early to make them skilful labourers. We have had a few instances of boys kept at the school till they were seventeen, and it was found that they could not at that age, and after habits acquired in attending school so long, turn to that kind of labour. They continue to loiter about the village, and become idle. Girls generally leave school at about 15 or 16, now and then remaining until 17.

Since I have been here, I have had the opportunity of seeing children grow up, who were in the school: I find them always thankful for having received an education; and they are better fathers and mothers, and superior in all respects, when compared with others who have received no education, or with those who went before them. The parish has been extremely benefited by the school. I find the strongest desire always on the part of parents in the parish to send their children to the school; and I find a corresponding increase of attendance at church and at the sacrament.

Mrs. Austen, who has always given her personal attention to the poor, visiting their cottages, and watching over the conduct of the children, observes a considerable improvement in their habits, particularly amongst the women, which she cannot but attribute to their better education.

A few years since I established an evening school for boys and young men whose time during the day was taken up by their work, and I have much reason to be satisfied with the result. They formerly paid 4d. a-week. I am happy to say that I am now enabled to let them come free, the expenses being made up by subscriptions. I observe that the young lads who were inattentive at the day-school now attend the evening school, and are most anxious for instruction. The school is open from six to eight, and the young people who come home tired at five o’clock from their work, take their meal and hasten to their school with manifest pleasure. This evening school is open for the four winter months, beginning in November; and I feel it has a most important advantage in one respect, it keeps the young man out of the beer-shop, and other mischief, and finds him a rational and instructive pursuit. It is held in the National school-room; and the scholars have the use of the books, desks, &c., supplied to the day-school, the master of which superintends for a little additional gratuity. They are divided into classes, according to their proficiency in reading; they read some chapters from the Scriptures, and other books of religious instruction, write, and those who have been at the day-school resume their arithmetic. The number of scholars of course varies; sometimes we have had between 40 and 50; another year not more than 30. Their ages from 11 to 20. Seeing the change produced by the schools in this village, I should consider it a most lamentable case for any parish to be without them.

I should say that the constant employment of women in field-labour tends to degrade them extremely. They get into the company of young men, and often hear improper language, and become very bold; indeed few if any of our younger females seek such employment, except in the hay and corn-harvest. The poor people have to struggle with the want of proper accommodation in their dwellings, which I fear is too general in our rural districts. A man and his wife, with a large family of children, have in most cases only two bed-rooms. There are instances of a man and wife, and several children, sleeping in one bed-room. But, as they grow up, neighbours, for their mutual accommodation, sometimes arrange so that the boys and girls of two families shall occupy separate apartments.

I think 11 years old a very proper age for boys to begin farm-work, and do not think that it need at all obstruct their religious or moral improvement with a punctual attendance at the Sunday and evening schools, both of which many readily avail themselves of after they are so employed: I do not think that even their mental improvement is too much interfered with by their being employed at that age.


No. 15.

Extract from Communication from the Rev. J. C. Prattent, Curate of Stourpaine, Dorset.

I am of opinion, nay, I am certain, because I can prove it, that the employment of children in agriculture is attended with the worst effects in a moral and religious point of view. The frequent absence of the children from school, in most instances required by the necessitous condition of the their parents or friends, is productive of bad effects. But as regards the total removal of the boys from school at the above-named early ages, eleven to thirteen, the evil of so doing is very great. The boys are employed as helpers in stables, or at ploughing, or to a shepherd; they feel it an emancipation from school discipline, a considerable step towards manhood: they now come under the influence of the carter, ploughman, or shepherd, and also of other boys somewhat their seniors,—an influence of a very different, and generally of a much worse kind, than that of the schoolmaster or mistress. They imitate the more matured accomplishments of their new master in obscene and foul language, profane swearing and drinking, and are thus directly on the road to becoming very bad characters. Most of these boys might attend the Sunday school; but I never knew of an instance of a boy being wholly taken away from the day school and continuing to attend the Sunday school afterwards. Among the peasantry, I should say that generally the parents not only do not exercise their parental authority, but do not even possess it. Ignorant and vicious themselves, what notion of the parental duties can they have? What authority can they possess? Such is the state of things at present in Stourpaine, and I am certain in hundreds of other rural parishes, and for which I can divine no other remedy than that the owner or owners of lands or of houses should strenuously support parish and Sunday schools, and exercise that influence which the sense of interest on the part of their tenants gives them over such tenants for the promotion of good morals and religion. Let the labouring class see that they depend upon the observance of the decencies of life, and moral and religious conduct for employment and the means of comfortable living—let them thus experience the respective consequences of virtue and vice. Till this take place, ministers will labour, and schools will exist, and be attended to with little permanent good effect. Let everything be done, that in fairness can be done, for the temporal comfort of the labouring classes; and then let them be made to feel that their comfort depends on their own conduct.


No. 16.

Communication received from [Henry St. Andrew St. John] the Vicar of the parish of Hilton, Dorset.

There is no regular charity or free day school for the children of the poor at Hilton, but there is a pay school kept, in which the children of small farmers and shop-keepers, &c., of Hilton and other adjoining parishes are educated, at the cost of their parents. Into this school the Vicar of Hilton at present puts twelve poor boys, from the age of six to twelve years, who, in addition to 5l. per annum paid for them by the vicar, and 1l. 1s. by the Rev. H. Boucher, lessee of the rectorial tithes, pay one penny each per week to the master, for which they are taught to read, the rudiments of religion, and to write words and arithmetical figures on slates.

The population of Hilton being about seven hundred, consisting almost entirely of very poor agricultural labourers, a daily charity school, free to all, is greatly needed, though there is no prospect of obtaining voluntary support for one in the parish beyond what might be expected from the vicar, the lessee of the rectorial tithes, and the chief landed proprietor, who at present is a minor.

The children of the parish are generally engaged very young to follow the plough, waggon, or tend birds and sheep, in preference to lads from twelve to sixteen years of age, who between these ages are left very much in idleness for want of employment, or if they obtain it, it is at a rate of wages which scarce procures them bread alone. Very bad habits are consequently acquired by many of the youths of the parish from their being so much out of employment. Were there a day school, the children from ten to thirteen years of age would, I fear, be very much hindered the benefits of it by their being employed as above stated.

There is a Sunday school at Hilton, in which from eighty to ninety children are taught to read, and the rudiments of the Christian religion, &c., by the master of the private daily pay school, who receives for his trouble only 5l. per annum,—a very inadequate remuneration for so many children.

The age of the children attending the Sunday school is from five to fifteen years, the elder assisting as teachers. I am not aware that any are hindered attending the Sunday school by parish apprenticeship, ad believe there are none such in the parish. But many boys are hindered in part, if not entirely, from coming to the school or church, by being employed to attend on farm-horses in the stable, or birds and sheep in the fields, on Sunday, which, if it does not necessarily prevent their attendance during the whole day, of either school or church, yet affords them an excuse, which they are too apt to take advantage of, for staying away altogether. This, however, might be prevented if their masters were careful in regulating their time, and requiring their attendance at school and church. Many children are also hindered in their attendance for want of decent clothes or shoes, owing to the extreme poverty of the parents, their wages generally being only seven or eight shillings per week, and many of them frequently out of employment.

The children generally are apt and quick in learning, and the people mostly anxious for education and knowledge, which is evinced by the old lamenting their want of instruction in youth, and those of all ages eagerly taking advantage of a lending library, consisting of one hundred and eighty volumes of useful and religious knowledge, established last spring by the vicar, and from which about one hundred volumes are in constant use among the people, and exchanged by them every month.

I consider that the system of education best adapted for the poor of this parish would be an infant school, in which children from five to twelve years only might be admitted; unless youths of from twelve to fifteen years (whose services are now required, when they can procure work, towards the support of the family,) were to be kept at school. If the younger children, however, were not employed at all in the fields till after twelve or thirteen years old, but kept entirely at school, it would be better for their moral education and habits. At present they are kept at work, and sometimes hard work, though earning no more, I believe, than 1s. per week for the benefit of the family.

The character of the people is patient, enduring, thankful, and civil, but either from extreme poverty, or the habit from earliest youth of seeking their fuel in the woods or fields, they are rather given to pilfering.


No. 17.

Communication from Henry F. King, Esq., of Blandford, Dorsetshire, Surgeon, one of the Medical Officers of the Blandford Union.

Blandford, Feb. 16, 1843

DEAR SIR,—I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 14th, and feel obliged to you for furnishing me with an excuse for my neglect; but, in truth, I have been most fully engaged, and equally true that the memoranda you left with me escaped my memory. I yesterday visited several parishes in my district, and have, as far as I could, made the necessary inquiries. I was pretty well acquainted with them before, but I wished to be as correct as I could. First, with regard to the average wages of ablebodied men. I find the wages are generally 7s. and 8s. per week, in some cases 9s. They occasionally earn more for a short time by task-work, but I believe the average per week will not exceed 8s. or 9s. In this place and neighbourhood women are not much employed in out-door work, but when they are it is chiefly in weeding and hacking turnips. I certainly think that women ought not to be employed in agricultural labour in the winter, for they must be necessarily exposed to the vicissitudes of the weather, and, from the nature of their employment, must be very frequently wet about the feet and legs, which often proves very injurious to the general health. In the summer the work is of a different sort, and I do not consider that much (if any) mischief would result from it, and I believe that they look forward to the hay and corn harvest with pleasure. I should add that women, when they are employed in out-door labour, do not work on wet days, as the farmers well know that on these days they cannot get their quid pro quo. During the winter a woman’s wages is 8d. a-day; in summer the same, with the addition of drink, and sometimes food. I find that the hours of work, on the average of winter and summer, will be about 11 hours a-day,—of course allowing a short time for meals. With regard to the children, they are generally sent out to work at the ages of eight or nine, and some as young as seven years of age. They assist occasionally in ploughing, but more generally in bird-keeping, attending cows, pigs, and horses, when at field. The labour of these infants is seven days a-week, for the same duties (excepting plough) continue on Sundays. The consequence is, they seldom, if ever, enter a place of worship, and leave the parish schools much too early to obtain, in my opinion, any religious ideas. Morally speaking, I should say it is a miserably bad system to prevent these children from attending daily and Sunday schools, and the church; for by degrees it insensibly, but as certainly, leads to the formation of loose, bad characters. Physically speaking, I think it does, in children so young, produce severe chills and colds, &c., &c., which occasionally terminate in other diseases which prove injurious in after-life (I have known such instances). They are, during the most severe weather, constantly exposed to its vicissitudes, and at an age much too young, when much more advantage, morally as well as physically speaking, would have been derived by their being at school, and attending more regularly a place of worship. But I find, on investigation, this is not so much the fault of the employers as of the parents, who are too glad to add a small sum to their weekly income. The average pay of these children is, as nearly as I can find out, as follows:- From 8 to 12 years, 1s. and 1s. 6d. per week; after 12, to 14 or 15 years, from 2s. to 2s. 6d. I now proceed to the females. Young females generally attend schools daily; very few are employed in agricultural pursuits. At school they are employed in needle-work, reading, and writing; and generally three or four days a-week are allowed for making buttons, which in this neighbourhood is a considerable trade. But then children, whilst at school, do not earn more than 3d. or 4d. a week; some not more than 1 ½d. In regard to the employment of young females in out-door work, it is, in my opinion, improper that, during the winter season (at any rate), they should be exposed to the weather , and most probably just at the age of puberty, when the general health is of the greatest importance, the work during this season being hoeing turnips, &c., &c., in which employment they must be necessarily much exposed to wet and cold. The daily and Sunday schools are, I believe, well conducted. Many of them are gratuitous, and few pay more than 1d. or 1½ d. per week, and this is repaid by buttoning. I should also mention, that in some parishes the unmarried able-bodied labourer receives less wages than the married; this is, in my opinion, wrong, and tends to early marriages, with their consequences. I should also add, that I find from my own experience, and from those of whom I have made inquiries, that where there are most cider and beer houses, there is most poverty, with its consequent distress.

I remain, dear Sir,

Your obedient servant,


To Alfred Austin, Esq.

&c. &c. &c.


No. 18.

Edward Oke Spooner, Esq., Blandford, Surgeon, examined.

I have been one of the medical officers of the Board of Guardians for the Union of Blandford, from the formation of the union.

I attend the district of the union comprising the parishes of Charlton, Speterburgh [sic, Spetisbury], Langton, Pimperne, Crawford, Glanville, Hinton, Keyneston, Launceston, Monkton, Rawston, and Rushton, together containing an area of 22,000 acres, and a population of 3625 souls, according to the last census.

If women avoid exposure to wet, especially at certain critical times, I am of opinion that employment in agricultural labour is not injurious to them. Of course, the labour is understood to be the ordinary light kind of labour they perform in the spring and at harvest.

I have found much more disease in women of sedentary habits of the same class, such as those employed in button making and household service. Where women have no out-door exercise, chlorosis, constipation, and indigestion are found, which are very uncommon with women who labour in the fields.

Women who labour in the fields like men are, if exposed to too much wet and cold, subject to rheumatism and catarrhs. Women in particular should, especially at certain times, avoid such exposure. Exercise in the open air, under proper limitations, renders people less susceptible of the morbid effects of atmospheric changes.

I think that girls, under the age of puberty, ought not to be subjected to labour, and that, moreover, they should not be exposed to cold and wet. Girls, before they arrive at the age in question, are much more liable to contract diseases from the same causes than afterwards, when they are full grown and functionally perfect.

I am of opinion that, generally speaking, boys above 12 years of age are the better for employment in agricultural labour: it tends to develop their persons and strength. Generally they are strong and hearty, and better in health from the employment. I have known, however, cases of boys having inflammation of the knee-joint, periostitis, and rheumatism, from being over-fatigued, and working exposed to cold and wet in the open air. I have at the present time, under my care, a boy with knee inflamed, from being too much on his legs all day, from over-walking at an early age. It is like over-working a young horse, which produces diseases known by the names of splents, and spavins, and joint lamenesses. These things happen sufficiently often to make it necessary that care should be taken in working boys. Sometimes their work is very hard—too fatiguing for their years. Scrofula is frequently developed by exposure to cold and wet; it appears in such cases in the form of consumption, glandular enlargements, and diseases of the bones and joints. Boys of a scrofulous habit are occasionally exposed to a degree of wet and cold injurious to them which would not produce any ill consequences in a healthy boy.

Generally the cottages are too small for the families living in them, and tend to produce and aggravate disease from the inmates living so closely together. Two years ago typhus fever occurred in a neighbouring parish, which I attend. There was one cottage I attended, which consisted of one room on the ground-floor, and two small bed-rooms up stairs. In this cottage lived an old man, with his wife, his two daughters, middle-aged women, and his son and wife, with their children—in all, ten individuals. The whole family had the fever, some of them very severely. The son’s wife, with two of her children, were on a bed in an out-house. In the out-house was a well, and a large tub containing pigs’ victuals, and was the general receptacle for everything. The floor was earthen, with no ceiling but the thatch of the roof. In the same village there were more than 40 cases of typhus, and the spread of the disease must be attributed to the people living so closely packed together.

I have had opportunities, in my professional practice, of knowing that immoralities take place at harvest-time, from the opportunities offered by the way in which men and women are employed together; but there are many instances where women behave with propriety, though engaged a good deal in the fields. Still the nature of the employment must offer opportunities which men and women will avail themselves of. The free intercourse at such times between men and women, and the conversation that is carried on too frequently, must be dangerous to young females, and make them yield more easily. Generally speaking, the women who go from the town of Blandford, and villages in the immediate neighbourhood, to work in the fields, are not so steady as those who stay at home, engaged about other things; but in the more distant villages that is not the case.

The club-feasts in the villages are also other opportunities for immorality. These festivals occur generally in Whitsun-week, and I have known men drunk every day, from the beginning to the end of the week, going about from one club to another. The festivals are often attended by prostitutes from a little distance. I am often consulted after the clubs by men for a certain disease contracted at such times. I have known cases of married women diseased in the same way, the disease derived from their husbands, who have been at these clubs.

Too often, young women of the agricultural class are pregnant before marriage, and marriage takes place in consequence of it. I think that this arises from the mingled employment of men and women in the hay and harvest fields, and often in consequence of the immorality attending the festivals of the clubs. The married women I should consider generally chaste, and remarkable for sobriety, fond of their children, and attentive to their husbands, on whose labour they depend.

A great cause of the present state of the labourer’s cottage and way of life is the want of instruction of the women of that class in domestic economy. The women have no knowledge of cooking, or of anything else to increase the comforts of their lives; the ignorance of the majority in common culinary management and economy is excessive.

The food of the labourer’s family is bread and potatoes, with a little cheese and bacon. I know many families who do not taste butcher’s meat from one year’s end to the other. I do not think that there is a deficiency of food, except in special cases of distress arising most frequently from drunken habits, and such a general loss of character as to interfere with profitable employment; or in cases of very large families, where the children are young; but I think the quality of the food is too low.


No. 19.

Thomas Fox, Esq., Solicitor, of Beaminster, Dorset, examined.

Are you acquainted with the condition and habits of agricultural labourers?—I have for the last 40 years had the care of several of the largest estates in Dorset, viz.: those of Mr. Damer, of Milton Abbey; of Mr. Compton, the member for South Hants; of Sir William Oglander, and several others; and, during the greater part of that time, clerk to the magistrates for this division.

What are the parishes of Dorsetshire with the labouring population of which you are best acquainted?—Beaminster, Netherbey [sic, Netherbury], Mapperton, Milton Abbas, Whitechurch, Stickland, and Hilton.

In these parishes, or in which of them, are women employed in field or farm labour?—In all.

Is such employment for the whole, or the greater part, of the year, or only during hay-time and harvest?—Chiefly in hay-making and in harvest; some few in hoeing turnips and weeding wheat.

Can you state the number of hours in the day during which women are employed at the different seasons of the year?—In hay-making, commonly from eight in the morning until six in the evening; occasionally , when carting the hay, later. In weeding wheat, from eight to six; and in hoeing turnips, at their own will, the work being generally done at a price agreed on by the acre.

Which of the kinds of labour, of these you have mentioned, do you consider the most fatiguing for women?—Hay-making.

Which do you consider the most calculated to affect the health of women?—I do not consider either of those employments at all likely to affect their health.

Do you know of any instances of women being injured by any one of he kinds of labour in question?—Certainly not.

Has the amount or nature of the employment of women in agricultural labour varied of late years?—I think it has lessened; for wherever a spinning mill has been erected, the young women all seek employment therein, and cannot be prevailed to take any out-door walk.

Generally, do you think that the best employment of women in the ways you have mentioned is beneficial or injurious to their health?—I think the out-door labour beneficial.

Are girls employed in the same descriptions of labour?—But few in agricultural labour, chiefly in spinning in this western part of Dorset, either in the mills, or at what is called at the long-turn, out-doors.

At what ages are they employed in agriculture?—From 15 years.

What is the effect (of such labour on their health?—The employment, out-door, either in agriculture or spinning, in my belief, is not injurious; but not so in the mills.

Do you think it would be better for girls, as far as their health is concerned, not to be employed in the work you have mentioned before they reach the age of puberty?—The agricultural labour, and spinning out of doors, being both light, I do not consider it can have any prejudicial effect.

Have you had opportunities of making observations respecting the women and girls occupied in button making in the districts you have mentioned?—I have, in the parish of Milton Abbas, chiefly from my occasional residence there.

Do you think that particular employment affects their health?—I do not.

Do you think their health is worse than that of women and girls, of the same age and circumstances, employed in agriculture?—I do not; a more healthy set of young women cannot be seen than those employed in making buttons, at Milton Abbas and the adjoining parishes.

Have you any reasons to offer for such opinion?—From their good looks, and from the knowledge that but few assemble together at their work—that they work only as long as they please, and take exercise in the open air.

What wages do women and girls receive for the several kinds of employment in agriculture?—The farmers generally give them 8d. per day, other persons 10d.

Have they any advantages besides the wages you mention?—In hay-making they have at least three pints of liquor, either ale or cider.

Have their wages always been the same?—I think of late years the wages have increased 2d. per day.

Are girls employed more or less than formerly in agricultural labour?—No.

Whilst working in the fields, or in farm-labour, are women and girls thrown necessarily into the company of men?—Yes.

Is this circumstance unfavourable to their morality?—No.

Does any immorality arise from the opportunities offered by men and women being thus thrown together for improper conversation and conduct?—Generally I think not.

Do you think that women, whether married or single, are exposed to improper solicitations whilst thus mixing with men in their work?—The employment being so open, and in numbers together, I should think it scarcely occurs.

More so than if they were not employed in such work?—No.

Do you think that there is such an amount of immorality produced by women and girls working in the fields as to make it desirable that such employment should be discontinued?—No.

Have you any means of ascertaining, and can you state, what proportion of married women, unmarried women, and girls are employed in agricultural labour in the districts in this county with which you are acquainted?—I am of opinion that double the number of married women are employed in agricultural labour to the unmarried, and a less proportion of girls.

At what age are boys employed in the districts you are acquainted with?—From 10 years of age.

What age do you think is the best for boys to go out to work, in order to become good farm- labourers?—Boys are unable to do any work profitable to their employer under 14 or 15 years—but they are employed from 10 years, and some under that age, in keeping birds from newly sown corn.

What are your reasons for that opinion?—That they have not sufficient strength to do any labour.

Will you state the various kinds of occupations of boys in farm-labour at different seasons of the year, and at different ages?—The earliest employment of boys is that of keeping birds off the corn—then of keeping sheep during the day feeding on open down lands: and if strong lads, as carters’ boys, and in hay-making.

Do you think any of the employments too laborious for boys at the ages they undertake them?—No.

Are you aware of any ill effects on the health of boys, from any of the employments you have mentioned?—No.

Are boys in such employments on their legs too much in the day?—No.

Are they exposed to too great a degree of cold and wet, or for too long a time?—Those employed in keeping birds from the newly sown corn generally contrive to get a little fire under some sheltered spot in the field, and very often are covered over head with a hurdle; so also do the shepherd’s boys.

What are their usual hours of work at different seasons of the year?—From six to six.

What wages do they get at different ages, and different seasons of the year?—On their first going out to keep birds, from 1s. to 1s. 6d. weekly, rising gradually to about 4s.

Are boys taken from school too early in order to be put to work?—I fear they are.

After they go to work do you think that Sunday schools are sufficient to continue their instruction, both moral and religious?—Yes.

What is the effect upon the morals of a boy from working in company with men or women, or both, in the fields?—I do not think that they are materially injured by it, speaking generally, but much depends on the conduct of the elder.

Does he hear worse language, or is he witness to more improper conduct in the fields than if remaining at home unemployed?—I believe not.

Are there, in your opinion, any bad consequences to the morality of boys working in farm-labour, sufficient to make it desirable to prevent such employment before a certain age?—No.

What, in your opinion, are the chief circumstances which tend to the demoralization of the labouring population?—The curse of the country—beer-shops, chiefly.

Is the want of commodious dwellings one of such circumstances?—It certainly is.

Can you form any opinion as to the cause of the general want of commodious dwellings in the districts you are acquainted with?—The cost of building is the principal cause of the want of commodious dwellings for the labourer’s residence.

Generally speaking, do you not find that there is a very great deficiency in the number and size of the sleeping-rooms occupied by labourers?—Certainly there is. In the erection of new cottages on the estates where I have the management, I invariably so construct the cottage that it contains one sitting-room below, with a pantry, and a place for their fuel, with three bed-rooms over,—one with a fire-place; and no landlord should ever permit a cottage to be built without these accommodations. I regret that I cannot take you to the parish of Hook (near here), the whole parish belonging to the Duke of Cleveland, occupied by a tenant of the name of Rawlings, where the residences of the labourers are as bad as it is possible you can conceive—many of them without chambers—earth floors—not ceiled or plastered,—and the consequence is, that the inhabitants are the poorest and worst off in the country, by far.

Are you of opinion that such a want of proper accommodation for sleeping must tend very much to demoralize the families of the labouring population?—There can be no doubt of it; and the worst of consequences have arisen from it; even between brothers and sisters.


No. 20.

Mr. Joseph Fowler, Farmer, Whitechurch, Dorset.

The regular wages of the farm labourer is 8s. a-week; but he is employed at tut-work nine months in the year, for which he is paid more. I reckon he is engaged between four and five months in threshing, for which he is paid 10s. or 12s. a-week; two months at turnip-hoeing, at which he may earn as much; a month at hay-making, when he can earn from 16s. to 18s. a-week; and another month at harvest, when he earns from 18s. to 20s. a-week. I give my carter, Bustle, every advantage, and besides 1l., which is regular at harvest for the carter, I let him work as he likes after-hours. At the last harvest, I find by my book, I paid him, including the 1l. and his regular wages, 4l. 10s. I pay my shepherds 1l. at harvest, and they have a dinner every day during lambing.

In my opinion the labourers in this neighbourhood are much better off in food, clothing, and lodging, than they were twenty years ago. The women are much engaged in the buttoning in this village; it is with difficulty they can be got to work for 4.s. a-week in harvest; when they are paid by the piece, in the wheat and barley harvest, they can earn 1s. a-day; in hay-making they get 8d. a-day.


No. 21

Mr. Malachai Fisher, of Blandford, Dorset, Draper, examined.

The shirt wire-button-making is chiefly carried on in the neighbourhood of this place, also at Shaftesbury; it is carried on in the town, but more in the neighbouring villages and in detached cottages; it is universal just round the neighbourhood, and along the vale from Blandford to Shaftesbury, and from Blandford to Sturminster; it is work that is carried on all the year round. Women, girls, and boys, before they go into the fields, under eight, are employed in buttoning; children under eight can make buttons. After boys have been in the fields to work they can no longer work at buttoning.

A young woman, with her hands clean, and constantly employed, will make 3s. a-week after paying for materials; a girl of nine or ten, on an average, not more than 1s. a-week. I should say that 3s. is far above the average earnings of individuals by this employment. The average earnings of families must depend on the number able to work at the sorts made. A child make three dozen buttons a-day; a young woman wholly employed, six dozen a-day at the utmost. A dozen dozen, or gross of the coarser article, fetches to the maker 3d., for which the materials cost 1½d. The buttons are always bought by the drapers, to whom they are brought by the makers. Upon the makers offering the buttons for sale a price is fixed upon, one-half of which is paid by the draper in money, and the other half is applied in the purchase of fresh materials, and in purchasing articles of linen or clothing from the draper. This mode of dealing between the draper and the button-maker had been in existence as long as the trade of button-making in these parts,—more than a hundred years. Bone lace was formerly made here, but not in my time.

The introduction of the pearl-button has made a serious difference to the button-makers; it has very considerably diminished the demand for the wire-buttons, which were the most profitable to make, whilst it has increased, perhaps, the demand for the coarser articles, upon which the earnings are small. The demand for wire-buttons has diminished perhaps twenty-five per cent., whilst the payments to the makers have diminished perhaps one-half. But the truck has not diminished in proportion, for most of the things worn or used by the labourers being of cotton, and the price of that manufacture having considerably decreased, the quantity of goods the button-makers get in part payment for their buttons has not diminished one-half.

Button-making is carried on by the children at many schools; unless that were so the children would not go to them, their parents not being able to spare their earnings. Button-making is consequently allowed at the schools, but the best teaching is by parents. I have always observed that the best buttons are made where cleanliness and order prevail in the cottage; where families are slovenly they make a bad button. Amongst the worst villages round Blandford, in those that are the dirtiest, and where the people are the worst off, the worst buttons are made. It is so particularly where the women are disposed to bad habits.

I think generally the habits of the people are worse, and the manners of the women especially, where the accommodation of the cottages is bad. Milton Abbas, I think, is a place where the character of the population is decidedly inferior. On the average, at the late census, there were thirty-six persons in each separate house. The houses there are all built on one plan, each containing two dwellings with four rooms. In most of these dwellings there are two families, that is to say, on the average a family of nine to every two rooms. Stourpaine is another village where the population is very thick, the cottages comparatively few, and in a miserable state, and the people crowded together. In that village there are more bastard children than in any other village of the same size in the Union of Winterborne. Kingston is another village where there is a similar want of accommodation, and where you may see open stagnant drains, pools, and filth of all descriptions, and the character of the people is similar to these external appearances.

Throughout the whole Union there appears to me to be a great want of cottages; very few have been built for many years, whilst the population has gone on increasing. The villages are overflowing, which produces great demoralization; the surplus, and that generally the very worst characters, then comes to Blandford, owing to a great many new houses being built within the last few years.

In schools, and particularly in Sunday schools, I can plainly see that the children of those parents who themselves went to school are better behaved and under more discipline generally than the children of those parents who had not that advantage. I am happy to say that schools are increasing all around us.


No. 22.

Mr. Tarver, of Blandford, Dorsetshire, Tallow-chandler and Farmer, examined.

I am 63; I was born in agriculture, and have always had a farm. Women are employed in farm-work, but I consider their labour as dear; they want 8s. a-day, and they don’t come till nine, and are away again at five; I don’t think it can be said that they are much employed here: the work is not proper for women; they get with the men, which leads to filthy talk, and to everything that’s bad; I always keep my sons away where women are employed, and for the same reason I don’t like to employ boys where there are women. If girls go into the fields, after two or three years they are fit for nothing else; they are spoiled for servants; they get immediately into coarse bad ways. I certainly would keep girls out of the fields altogether. Women will earn 8d. a-day in spring at weeding the ground, sometimes perhaps not quite so much; in harvest they get from 10d. to 1s. a –day.

I don’t like to take boys under 12; I like them to have some education first; it makes them better servants, and they work better; a little younger, perhaps, they might be taken without harm; but they certainly ought to have some education before they go into the fields. I have now two boys, they are 14 of 15 years old: I pay them 4s. a-week each. I think the boys mixing with the men at their work has a good effect on the boys, it keeps them steady, and their work is not of much service without men. I have never perceived that the work the boys do is at all injurious to their health; on the contrary, it is beneficial. I took a young boy this year to keep pigs: he was a little chimney-sweeper, and the change soon made a great alteration in his healthy looks. All the boys about here are employed. I think the labourers are better since the disenfranchisement of Cranbourn Chase. The facility there used to be for stealing the deer at night, and disposing of them at as much as 30s. a-head, was a strong temptation to the labouring man. A labourer used to come to work in the morning, when his look would show that he had been up all night, and he couldn’t work. It led to great irregularities. Since the disenfranchisement the labourers have been much steadier.

I pay my carter 9s. a-week; he has two pints of ale a-day, and his breakfast on a Sunday; he has a sovereign extra wages at harvest, as he can’t do task-work like the other men: he has 16 perches of potato-ground, without paying rent; he has 1s. 6d. a journey, which, on the average, is about once a-week; he has also grist of half a bushel of wheat a-week, which is worth 6d. a-week more to him.

I am not against the system of small allotments of about 16 to 20 perches; I think that is as much as a man and his wife and family can fairly manage without his strength being expended so as to make him incapable of working properly for his employer. Larger allotment also lead to thieving; a labourer will grow a little corn, which gives him a reason for having straw in his possession, and then he will sometimes take his master’s, who can’t identify it, for his pig; he will also steal seed, &c. I have known such cases. The labourer gets his fuel cheap, from the coal-clubs, subscriptions, &c., and the farmer drawing it for him; he can get coal at 6d. a cwt.; wood and faggots he has also at half-price from the farmer.


No. 23.

Mr. Burgess, of Tarrant Launceston, Dorsetshire, Farmer, examined.

I employ six to eight women all the year round; in the winter in threshing and hacking turnips for sheep, at other times in hoeing turnips and keeping land clean, in hay-harvest and corn-harvest. In winter they work whilst it is light, and in spring from eight till six, with an hour and a half for dinner: at hay-time and harvest the hours are not so regular. Women reap; I have employed 40 women at a time in reaping. Generally they get 8d. a-day; at harvest 1s., with two quarts of ale or cider; sometimes, if they work at task-work at harvest, they earn 1s. 6d. a-day, besides drink; they also get 1s. 6d. a-day at turnip-hoeing, which is task-work, but with that there is no liquor. Working out of doors is a good thing for women; you may tell at church on Sunday by their size and ruddy looks. Girls, when they work, begin about 15 or 16, and they get 6d. a-day, and soon 8d. a-day; but they don’t go out younger, as they are wanted by their mothers, who are out at work, to take care of the younger children. I don’t think that there is any improper conduct on the part of the women or girls, arising from their being employed in the fields; the master is always about, and his eye keeps everything going on regularly. I think young unmarried women are more moral when employed in field-labour than when sitting at home buttoning. I should say the buttoners have three bastards to one of the women in the fields.

The age at which boys are employed depends on their size a great deal; perhaps I may say they begin generally about 11, when they are set to scare bird. I don’t use plough-boys. Boys get on by degrees. At first I give 1s. 6d. a-week, then 2s. 6d., and when I give 3s. they begin to be of some service. They work, or rather are about busy in something or another, the same hours as men. I let them have a pint of beer a-day with the men. Boys are much better employed young; it is a good thing for their health, and keeps them out of idleness.

All the labourers in this parish are employed; we have hardly enough hands. I pay my labourers 8s. a-week, and, taking task-work in, they get 11s. a-week on the average. A great many have no house-rent to pay, which is a saving of 2l. or 3l. a-year to them; they all get fuel carriage-free, and the mowers have it at half-price. I let my labourers have from 20 to 40 perches of potato-ground, according to their families; and if a labourer of an adjoining parish works for me for 12 months, I also let him have a potato-ground. But they can’t continue to have these wages if wheat keeps at its present price. We generally reckon a bushel of wheat, with 1s. added to it, the wages of a labourer. Carters and shepherds have wheat at 5s. a bushel, whatever the market price may be, for their own consumption: they have this privilege because they have no task-work. My labourers generally keep pigs. I sell them pigs at 20s. or 25s.; they fat them with part of the potatoes and barley grown upon their grounds, and when they kill them, they pay me, or give me a part, disposing of the rest as they like.


No. 24.

Mary Cox, a married Woman in the Union House at Blandford, Dorsetshire.

I am 35; I worked for Mr. Ingram, and then for Mr. Fowler, at Milton Abbas. I first went out to work when I was about 16 or 17. I have done harvest-work, hay-making, couching, picking stones, but no turnip-hoeing or reaping. In harvest my work was tying up corn, which is the hardest kind of work. I have done all this kind of work since I first went out till now. I am married and have had several children. I never found the work hurt me, but I was always better when I was out in the fields at work. I used to make buttons before I went out to work in the fields. I was much better in health when working out of doors than when buttoning. Buttoners are not so healthy as those who stir about at work. I don’t think there is anything wrong takes place in the harvest or hay-field; Mr. Ingram never allowed talking at those times.

In the spring I used to work from eight till five; at hay-making from six till seven; and at harvest from eight till sunset. I have always had 6d. a-day in the spring for weeding; 8d. a-day for hay-making; and 1s. a-day for harvest. I don’t think all the women get 1s. a-day at harvest, but I managed to work hard and earn it.

When I was about 17 I lived with my father and mother, two sisters older than I was, and a brother 14 years old, in a cottage at Milton Abbas. Robert Vacher and his wife, with three children, about 1, 2, and 3 years old, lived in the same cottage. We had the two rooms down stairs, and the Vachers the two rooms up stairs. There were only four rooms in the cottage. There were two cottages in the building. My father and mother, two sisters and young brother, slept in the back room down stairs. There were two beds: my father and mother had one; my sisters and brother had the other. I slept out at my grandmother’s. The Vachers and their children slept in the back room up stairs. The Vachers still live in the same two rooms, and they have six or seven children living with them. My brother and his wife live in the two rooms down stairs; they have five children; the eldest is about 14, and the youngest between 2 and 3. The cottages in Milton Abbas are very crowded: there are many families that live together in one room; they sometimes put up a curtain between the beds. I believe that there are a great many bastards in Milton Abbas.

My father worked for Lady Caroline [Damer]; he had 9s. a-week. My sisters worked as I did; first at buttoning, and afterwards in the fields. My father had high wages; if he had worked for a farmer he would have had perhaps only 7s. a-week.


No. 25.

Mrs. Bustle, Wife of Charles Bustle, Farm-labourer, Whitchurch, Dorset, examined.

My husband is carter to Mr. Fowler. He has 7s. a-week wages. We have also our cottage with a garden, and ten lugs of potato-ground, rent-free; also a bushel of grist corn, if we like as much, a-week; that is, tailings at 5s. per bushel. Every week or ten days my husband goes a journey with the waggon; he has then 1s. for his dinner, and another shilling which he may spend at the public-house where he puts up, which he always does, however. If he carries his victuals with him he has still 2s. every journey. He is out a day and night generally on a journey. Mr. Fowler also gives us furze for firing, and my husband has 1l. at harvest, because he can’t do tut-work like the others; he is wanted for something else. I have five girls and a boy. The three eldest girls, 8, 10, and 12, do buttoning, but I don’t think they earn 2s. a-week between them; they spoil a good deal of cotton, and dirty more; and they don’t get all money for their buttons; it would be better if they did. The boy is too young to work.

The bread we make at home is better than baker’s bread; I make six loaves out of a bushel of corn: we have not quite so much as that every week; but what we have, with a bag of potatoes (240lbs.), is quite as much as we consume at home. Four baker’s loaves, with the potatoes, are not enough. Baker’s bread does not satisfy the children; it is licked away in no time, and they are hungry all day long with it. We never know the taste of butcher’s meat, except when a piece is given to us.


No. 26.

Susan Vacher, Widow, Milton Abbas, Dorset.

Women are employed in the hay-harvest, and at other times of the year, in couching, weeding, and keeping the land clean. Generally the regular hours are from eight to five, but at hay-time and harvest longer; it depends on circumstances. In harvest I have earned 1s. a-day, and have had two quarts. For hay-making I have had 8d. a-day, but it depends on the weather. At other time, for couching, &c., 7d. a-day. Wages for women have always been pretty much the same.

I am now in my fifty-seventh year, and have worked two-and-twenty years in the fields; I am always better when out at work, and prefer it to living at home. I have nine children. I have two grown-up sons,—one 39, the other 27. They went out to work when they were boys,—one at 7 years old, the other at 9. They were always quite healthy and strong. As for young women, I think it is better for them to go into the fields; they are quite as well there as at buttoning, as far as their morals are concerned. Boys don’t want to bide at home when they have once been out. My eldest son now [Dec.] gets 7s. a-week and a grist; he also gets his cottage for 21s. a-year, and has a garden and 10 lugs of potato-ground free. He is not married. He keeps a pig. Most labourers manage to keep some of the pig when they kill it,—nearly always half of it. I know where the whole is kept. The farm-labourers generally manage to have a little bacon by them; and they don’t always go without cheese. The cottages at Milton Abbas are not nearly so full as I have known them.


No. 27.

Rachel Hayward, Wife of John Hayward, Farm-labourer, Stourpaine, Dorset.

There are eleven of us in our family—myself, my husband, three daughters, and six sons. We have two rooms, one down stairs and the other up stairs over it. We all sleep in the bed-room.

My husband gets 8s. or 7s. with a grist, a bushel, a-week; my two eldest daughters get about 3s. 6d. a-week at buttoning, and three of my boys get 5s. a-week together; in all about 16s. 6d. a-week. We have 16½ lugs of potato-ground, on which we grow potatoes and a few vegetables; for that we pay 7s. 7d. a-year rent. We pay 1s. a-week for the cottage, and coal and wood cost us 1s. 8d. a-week at this time of the year (Dec.). We get ¾ cwt. of coal a-week. I buy, besides, every week, ¾ lb. soap, 1 oz. tea, ½ lb bacon. I reckon we eat a pound of bread each day; that with potatoes, gives us enough. My three boys that are out at work went out at nine years old.