Page 13 of 19
A Walk Through Hilton in the 1930s, continued
June was hay time. The grass would be cut by a horse drawn mower which was an iron frame mounted on two wheels. It had a seat on top and a scissor action cutting bar, about six foot long, protruding from one side. The cutting action was activated by gearing from the wheels.
The length of time required to dry the cut grass depended on the weather. In really good weather, the grass could be cut one day, turned the next and gathered the next. The loose hay would be loaded onto a horse drawn cart, usually by two men with pitch forks and a third would be on the cart spreading it evenly. When fully loaded it would be taken to the farm, made into a neat stack with an apex roof and thatched.
Before the corn harvest, which usually started about the third week of July, the farm workers would meet with the farmer to agree a bonus for getting in the harvest. For this bonus, the men would work overtime for a month, sometimes quite late in the evening. They would usually get home for a midday meal but tea would be packed and taken back to be eaten in the fields. Sometimes their wives or children would take their tea into the fields to eat with their menfolk. The children loved this; to them it was a picnic!
Some of the fields were several miles away from the village. The men working in these fields would take enough food for all day, having their main meal when they got home in the evening, sometimes quite late. It was hard work during the harvest month.
No one worked on Sundays and most but not all attended either church or chapel. At evensong the church would be full and at this time there was also a large choir.
The harvest was usually completed by mid-September but if the weather had been bad it could go on to October. Several of the farm workers would always go to the Michaelmas Fair at St Ives to buy boots and clothes for winter. Boots were leather with leather laces and hobnails, trousers would be either serge or corduroy. Some men preferred breaches and either leather leggings or puttees. (puttees were strips of cloth which would be wound around the leg from ankle to knee). After harvest the whole cycle of work would begin again.
I often visit an old friend who was a farmer and we often reminisce about the old methods of farming and we agree that it was often the boys who had the worst jobs. When ploughing, the boy would lead the horses often over very rough ground whilst the ploughman would walk in a nice flat furrow and he would also be holding the handles of the plough.
The ploughman that I usually led the horses for would insist that I led them right up to the boundary of the field. The boundary was usually either a ditch or a hedge and when turning the horses, I would be either pushed into the hedge or stumble along the bank of the ditch.
I remember on one occasion when ploughing a stubble field in the autumn that we ploughed out a wasps nest. Of course the ploughman walked over the exposed nest and the wasps went up his trousers, in his shirt and in his hair. He was very badly stung, his face was swollen and he was off work for a couple of days. The wasps also attacked the horses and they bolted with the plough. I got well out of the way and was the only one of our little party that did not get stung!