Work

WORK

 

In 1855, Eaton Bishop, like most other villages, was run on practically a feudal system. There were three chief landowners, J.S.Gowland at Cagebrook, Richard Snead Cox who had left the Manor House two years before, and Mr G.Percival Smith of Lower Eaton, plus a few smallholders and the traders mentioned in the previous chapter. All the rest were tenant farmers or cottagers who worked on the land.

Diaries kept by Mr Cox give a picture of life the gentlemen led - shooting in Dopley Wood and by Lane Head, walking over Perry Hill to Allansmore, dining out at Cagebrook, visiting with the Rector and his wife, travelling to visit relatives and inspect estates in other parts of the country, and holding rent days at the Comet Inn.

These rent days were apparently changed in character later, for by 1879 the Snead-Cox tenants were going to the solicitor’s office at 35 Bridge Street, Hereford twice a year to pay their rent, and there are some interesting entries in a book owned by Col. R.Snead Cox of Broxwood, near Pembridge showing rents received for the properties until 1889.

James Hancorn paid £270 a year for Wormhill, George Jones £150 for Green Court and 101 acres, Charles Beavan £102 for Ruckhall Mill and 22 acres of land, Sophia Morgan £100 for New Barns and 62 acres. One Lewis Powell who had taken over a house and garden at £5 a year never paid at all, having “absconded, said to be gone to America”.

School rates were allowed against some rents - Mr Hancorn paid £1.11.2d. one year and “repairs to fence 2/6d.” and “large pane window 2/-“ are other items. Joseph Pulley was renting the Manor House for £35, later increased to £40. Allowances for dinner were also made according to the amount of  rent paid, some receiving 3/6d, others 2/6d. and a few only 6d. for “refreshments”.

The gentlemen had their horses and carriages, the villagers had donkeys. The donkey was in fact one of the most important animals in Eaton Bishop for about 70 of the 100 years with which we are dealing. Many of the cottagers had their own donkey and carts and those who hadn’t hired them when necessary from “Donkey” Davies of Bank House, who at one time had as many as 27 there.

We are fortunate in having first hand information of those days from this gentleman’s grandson, Mr Edgar Davies, who spent his first 16 years in Eaton Bishop and has the most vivid memories of those days: 1881-97.

“The donkeys” he writes, “were used for all kinds of hauling and general work; some at the ‘Bank’ were used to plough and do the other work on the fields around; they were also used to take things into Hereford, such as eggs, poultry, pigs, sheep or anything that was too heavy to carry, and of course they would be loaded up with corn, meals, grains and anything else that was wanted.”

“I believe the charge for hiring the donkey and cart for a day was 9d. or 1/-.”

“I’m afraid the donkeys, like their owners, had to live very rough. They were certainly given, during the winter anyway, a feed consisting of hay and chaff with a handful of oats or perhaps Indian corn and bran; otherwise they had to get what they could by roaming about the Commons or River banks. They were also given a very rough kind of hay which was cut from around the hedges or verges of fields and in many cases from the sides of the roads.”

“A large track of wood had been cut down at Orcop and my grandfather and some of my uncles used to leave Bank House at 4 in the morning to go to Orcop with the donkeys and haul the small timber from this wood to Hereford.”

The donkeys’ names were often an indication of the owner’s trade - Mr Jones the blacksmith called his Pig Iron, Thomas Mason the Postman’s was called Letter Bag, but there is no explanation of John Watkins’ Gas Pipes.

Joseph Davies had one called Fly-by-Night and Jimmy Williams’ was Butter Tub. It was appropriate that James Holder of the Camp Inn christened his Beer Barrel and Mr Wall the Shepherd, Sheep Shears.

“Any old shed was good enough to house the donkeys, perhaps one open side and the other three being made with gorse and the roof with hedge trimmings. When my father (born 1856) got his pony he rented a portion of an orchard for £l.0.1d. a year to graze it from Sir Joseph who always gave him the penny back again.”

“Donkeys also worked the smaller cider presses, one at the Apple Tree Inn and another at the house next to Brooky Villa (now Wood View).”

The donkeys certainly improved the landscape in those days, for the river banks and the island were cropped by them like a lawn, whereas today the river bank paths are impenetrable for about nine months of the year because of shoulder high nettles and balsam, while the island is covered with trees and a dense undergrowth which makes a trip across it a major adventure, though a few intrepid boys still camp there from time

to time.

Mr Davies’s father went to work for Sir Joseph (probably about 1860) for 9/6d. a week, and top farm wages up to 1914 are reported by villagers to be 12/6d. - 14/- a week. Later it rose to £1 and upwards in steps which can be discovered from a government White Paper on the subject, to the present £6.0.7d. for a 47 hour week.

Mr George Lloyd who came to Eaton Bishop in 1911 remembers men starting work on the Wye Meadows at six o’clock at night. There was a bonus of 10/- for the harvest and six weeks before and six weeks after Christmas the hours were reduced and the men started at 7.0 am and worked until 5.0 pm

Holidays were Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and Good Friday.

Mr Davies, recalling earlier days says “the harvest used to be cut by hand as there were no machines although I remember the first ‘binder’ coming to Lane Head which was looked upon as something doing us out of a job and therefore wages.”

“As a boy I used to be ‘binding’ after my father, the wages being 6/- per week. Another job I did was singling after a man from 6.0 am until 8.0 am and 4.30 - 8.0 pm. Wages - 2/- per week.”

“Families being larger, it was up to everyone to make the most of the harvest and we were allowed to go into the fields ‘gleaning’, or as I think it was called ‘leasing’. From the result of this I have known a room in some of the cottages being filled from floor to roof with corn. Some people fed this to their poultry while others knocked it out with a flail and separated the chaff by using ordinary bellows. Afterwards the corn would be taken to Ruckhall Mill, Tuck Mill or even Cagebrook Mill to be ground into flour from which we got bread, the likes of which you cannot get today.”

Women, Mr Davies recollects, were paid 7/- for their work on the land, but the majority were busy at home with their families and the livestock. Many more cottagers kept pigs as well as chickens in those days and the lard was used, flavoured with a bit of sage perhaps, instead of butter on bread.

They all had good gardens in which vegetables were grown and, after 1900, workers used to be allowed to plant a row of potatoes for themselves in the fields. Fruit they grew and jammed themselves, making their own cider, about which more later, since it is more often associated with pleasure than work!

Thus, with some of their own flour from the ‘leasings’, vegetables and fruit from their garden, meat from their own pig, eggs from their own chickens, there were not a great many things which needed to be bought for hard cash, so, although there were no luxuries, there was not the same hunger or extreme poverty which factory workers in the cities endured.

For the girls there was service, our oldest inhabitant, Mrs Mitchell, who as Julia Crump was born (1865) in a clay-floored cottage now no more, in the grounds of Bolton’s Bank, now Sunny Bank, being an example. Her father was a waggoner, her mother a dairywoman for Joseph Pulley and after she left the village school she went as a housemaid in the home of the Hon. Mrs Norbury, wife of Col. Norbury at Sherridge, near Malvern. She met and fell in love with the village blacksmith there but came back to Eaton Bishop to be married and has lived here ever since.

Her husband George worked first as a blacksmith in the village, then as a maintenance man for Sir Charles Pulley at 15/- a week, one of his jobs being to keep the private electricity plant going in the pump house along the Grove by the river.

Mrs Mitchell bought from the Rev. Burrough a pony and “dolly” cart and started a little business as a carrier for which she will always be remembered. Each Wednesday and Saturday she would take between three and six people in her cart to town, charging a shilling for the return fare. Her first pony, Dolly was quiet, but the next was Jerry, a good worker but a “wicked one” and the end of Mrs Mitchell’s carrying days came one day in 1925 when the shaft gave way and Jerry dragged her along the ground for several yards. She was 60 then and the incident precipitated her decision to retire.

The business of village carrier was then continued by another woman, Mrs Ellen Wall in the same fashion, but the advent of a regular bus service eventually removed the necessity for this essentially rural profession.

Mrs Kate Lloyd, or Kitty Jinks as she then was, remembers as a schoolgirl going to help at the Rectory on Saturdays for 6d. a day, and both she and Mrs Amy Walker remember working at Clehonger Manor and Eaton Bishop Rectory for 2/- a day.

We have mentioned Mary Daw, blacksmith in 1855 and grandmother of the present postmistress. She ran the business, employing blacksmiths after the death of two husbands, and there were many other women farmers.

The countrywomen then, as now, working beside their husbands in the fields, in the garden and in the home, were too busy to worry about theoretical questions of “status”. Today farmers’ wives and smallholders in Eaton Bishop still help on the land, care for the stock, churn butter, salt bacon, make wine and can, bottle and jam their own fruit.

“Tied” cottage rents were raised from 3/- to 6/- but at Lane Head today no rents are charged and among the perquisites of the workers, are two pints of milk a day, a pig each year and a goose at Christmas.

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