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Sunday, 2 August 2015

The Harvest Customs and Traditions in Dorset


John Symonds Udal wrote about the customs and traditions of Harvest Home in Dorset in his book 'Dorsetshire Folklore' published in 1922:-
Dorset Folklorist,
HAY-MAKING

The season of hay-making would seem never to have been such a period of gaiety and festivity in Dorsetshire as was the case with the "harvest-home" gatherings later in the year. The success of the hay harvest, however, was a very important matter to so large a pastoral community as the county comprised; and without doubt some celebration by way of reward for and appreciation of services loyally rendered, often in long extended hours of work when the weather was uncertain, was indulged in at the conclusion of that harvest. Extra money payments, as in the corn harvest, have largely taken the place of social gatherings and festivities amongst the labourers in which their employers once freely joined. Still in many places at the ingathering of the hay an extra jar of cider or ale would be brought out, and the men would sit down and have a chat amongst themselves and, perhaps, a song or two ; whilst at the close hats would be raised and " hip, hip, hurrahs " would be given.


In later years, both in hay and corn harvesting, machinery has taken a very active part in reducing the amount of manual labour employed in these operations, which at its introduction went sorely against the conservative feelings of the Dorset peasant. This feeling was just as strongly expressed as in the great industrial centres in the North where labour-saving appliances were ever on the increase; and sometimes took the form of reprisals by way of burning hay and corn ricks as well as the occasional destruction of the offending machinery.
 

Under these influences in course of time the very names of the old haymakers' several occupations would be lost. In William Barnes's early days—a century ago—these were numerous and distinctive. We are fortunate in having him to record what they were. Here is a description which he gives in his Glossary (1863) of what haymaking was like in his time (s.v. Häymeäken).

"Hay-making consists of several operations which with fine weather, commonly follow each other in Dorsetshire, thus : The mown grass—in zwath, swath,—is thrown abroad—tedded, and afterwards turned once or twice ; in the evening it is raked up into little ridges—rollers,—single or double, as they may be formed by one raker, or by two raking against each other ; and sometimes put up into small cones or heaps, called cocks. On the following morning the rollers or cocks are thrown abroad in passels—parcels,—which, after being turned, are in the evening put up into large ridges—weals ; and the weals are sometimes pooked, put up into larger cones—pooks,—in which the hay is loaded. In raking grass into double rollers, or pushing hay into weals, the fore raker or pickman is said to rake in or push in, or row or roo, and the other to close."


Barnes had already preserved many of these terms in two of his charming dialect poems, one on "Häymeäken ", and the other on "Häy-carrén" (pp. 51-2), which afford so delightful a picture of rustic life in the hay-field that one feels inclined to say, too:

"I do long to toss a pick, 
A pitchén or a-meäkén rick."
HARVEST HOME

The celebration of the ingathering of the corn harvest is common to all our counties and to most countries. Full accounts of these festivals and their significance may be found in Brand's, Hone's, and Chambers's works, as well as in those of less known writers.
 

It is to the late William Barnes that we might expect to look for a fitting description of a Dorset harvest-home feast, or supper, and we find it in an account,—as particular and as life-like as a painting of an old Dutch interior—of what usually took place on these occasions, which he contributed to Hone's Year Book (p. 586), from which I take the following extract:—

"Harvest Home, formerly celebrated with great mirth but now a declining usage, was a feast given by the farmer at the end of harvest, or when his hay and corn were got in ... Some years ago the ' harvest home ' in my native county, Dorset, was kept up with good old English hospitality.


"When the last load was ricked the labourers, male and female, the swarthy reaper and the sun-burnt hay-maker, the saucy boy who had not seen twelve summers and the stiff horny-handed old mower who had borne the toil of fifty, all made a happy groupe, and went with singing and loud-laughing to the harvest-home supper at the farmhouse, where they were expected by the good mistress, dressed in a quilted petticoat and a linsey-wolsey apron, with shoes fastened by large silver buckles which extended over her foot like a pack-saddle on a donkey.
 

"The dame and her husband welcomed them to a supper of good wholesome food, a round of beef, and a piece of bacon; and perhaps the host and hostess had gone so far as to kill a fowl or two, or stick a turkey, which they had fattened in the wheat-yard. The plain English fare was eaten from wooden trenchers, by the side of which were put little cups of horn filled with beer or cider. When the cloth was removed one of the men, putting forth his large hand like the gauntlet of an armed knight, would grasp his horn of beer, and standing up on a pair of legs which had long out-grown the largest holes of the village stocks, and with a voice which, if he had not been speaking a dialect of the English language, you might have thought came from the deep-seated lungs of a lion, he would propose the health of the farmer in the following lines :—
'Here's a health unto our miaster
The founder of the feast, 
And I hope to God wi' all my heart
His soul in heaven mid rest;
 

That everything mid prosper
That ever he tiak in hand,
Vor we be all his sarvants, 
And all at his command.'
"After this would follow a course of jokes, anecdotes, and songs, in some of which the whole company joined, without attention to the technicalities of counterpoint, bass, tenor, and treble, common chords and major thirds; but each singing the air and pitching in at the key that best fitted his voice, making a medley of big and little sounds, like the lowings of oxen and the low beatings of old ewes, mixed up with the shrill pipings of the lambs at a fair.

"The conversation commonly turned on the incidents of the summer ; how the hay-makers overtook the mowers, or how the rain kept the labour back ; how they all crept in a heap under the waggon in a thunderstorm ; how nearly some of them were crushed under the load that was upset; who was the best mower or reaper in the village ; which field yielded the best crop ; and which stack was most likely to heat."


Later Barnes devoted two of his charming dialect poems to a similar description, which form such a delightful complement to the whole subject that I have no hesitation in reproducing them here in full. They are to be found at pp. 78-80 of the first collected edition of the poems published by Kcgan Paul & Co. in 1879, and again in 1888. (The first edition of Poems of Rural Life in the Dorset Dialect was in 1844, whilst the earlier edition of Hone's Year Book in which Barnes's contribution first appeared was published in 1832. A change of spelling in some of the dialect words,—particularly the '"vowel sounds ",— (e.g. " ia ", in " miaster ", or " tiak ", to " eä, ") will be noticed in the earlier and later editions of the poems ; a scheme not involving so much a change of pronunciation» perhaps, but, as justified by Barnes in the preface to the third edition of his " first collection" of poems, published in 1862, on the ground that " while it affords the Dorset forms of the words to Dorset readers it may make them of more English look and more legible to others ".)
 

HARVEST HWOME

The vu'st peärt. The Supper.
"Since we wer striplèns naïghbour John,
The good wold merry times be gone:
But we do like to think upon
What we've a-zeed an' done.

When I wer up a hardish lad,
At harvest hwome the work-vo'k had

Sich suppers, they wer jumpèn mad
Wi' feästèn an' wi' fun.

At uncle's, I do mind, woone year,

I zeed a vill o' hearty cheer;
Fat beef an' puddèn, eäle an' beer,
Vor ev'ry workman's crop
An' after they'd a-gie'd God thanks,
They all zot down, in two long ranks,
Along a teäble-bwoard o' planks,
Wi' uncle at the top.

An' there, in platters, big and brown,

Wer red fat beäcon, an' a roun'
O' beef wi' gravy that would drown
A little rwoastèn pig;
Wi' beäns an' teäties vull a zack,
An' cabbage that would meäke a stack,
An' puddèns brown, a-speckled black
Wi' figs, so big's my wig.

An' uncle, wi' his elbows out,

Did carve, an' meäke the gravy spout;
An' aunt did gi'e the mugs about

A-frothèn to the brim.
Pleätes werden then ov e'then ware,
They ate off pewter, that would bear
A knock; or wooden trenchers, square,
Wi' zalt-holes at the rim.

An' zoo they munch'd their hearty cheer,

An' dipp'd their beards in frothy-beer,
An' laugh'd, an' jok'd--they couldden hear
What woone another zaid.
An' all o'm drink'd, wi' woone accword,
The wold vo'k's health: an' beät the bwoard,
An' swung their eärms about, an' roar'd,
Enough to crack woone's head.
Second Peärt. What they did after Supper.
Zoo after supper wer a-done,
They clear'd the teäbles, an' begun
To have a little bit o' fun,
As long as they mid stop.
The wold woones took their pipes to smoke,
An' tell their teäles, an' laugh an' joke,
A-lookèn at the younger vo'k,
That got up vor a hop.

Woone screäp'd away, wi' merry grin,
A fiddle stuck below his chin;
An' woone o'm took the rollèn pin,
An' beät the fryèn pan.
An' tothers, dancèn to the soun',
Went in an' out, an' droo an' roun',
An' kick'd, an' beät the tuèn down,
A-laughèn, maïd an' man.

An' then a maïd, all up tip-tooe,
Vell down; an' woone o'm wi' his shoe
Slit down her pocket-hole in two,
Vrom top a-most to bottom.
An' when they had a-danc'd enough,
They got a-plaÿèn blindman's buff,
An' sard the maïdens pretty rough,
When woonce they had a-got em.

An' zome did drink, an' laugh, an' roar,
An' lots o' teäles they had in store,
O' things that happen'd years avore
To them, or vo'k they know'd.
An' zome did joke, an' zome did zing,
An' meäke the girt wold kitchen ring;
Till uncle's cock, wi' flappèn wing,
Stratch'd out his neck an' crow'd.

To these Barnes has added " A Zong of the Harvest Home " (p. 80), of which the refrain to each of the six verses is:
"The happy zight—the merry night—
The men's delight—the Harvest Hwome."
Again, many years later, in his " Fore-say " to this work, Barnes speaks of the decline of the old-time celebrations of this festival. He says: "The feasts of Harvest-Home in which the work-folk were invited to
'the hall
where beards wagged all,—'(Thomas Tusser: Five Hundred Points of Husbandry)
 to share of mirth and meat under the smiles of the master and mistress, as tokens of approbation of their work, are now less customary than they formerly were, as in these commercial days it seems to be felt that the clock measures all the workman owes his master and the paytable all that the master owes to him."

As Brand says (i, 443), " Different places adopt different ceremonies " ; but that which seems to me to conform most to the Dorset ritual on these occasions is that of " crying the knack ", or " neck ", in the neighbouring counties of Devon and Cornwall, and in which there seems not only a strong affinity but traces of considerable antiquity. (Conf. Shropshire Folk-lore, pp372-3)


In 1873 I contributed an article to Notes and Queries (Ser. iv, xii, 491), describing " A Dorsetshire Harvest-Home " in West Dorset, which I had recently attended, and this I now reproduce :

"It was my good fortune to be present in September last at one of those old-fashioned gatherings in the West of Dorset, a harvest-home, and I thought that perhaps an account of such a quaint and time-honoured custom might not be unacceptable to some among the readers of ' N. and Q.', especially as these congenial meetings are becoming scarcer year by year and ere long bid fair to rank amongst the things that have been. Small sums of money are now in many places given to the men, women, and boys instead of the usual supper, a practice that I am sorry to say seems to be on the increase, and which I here offer up my voice to protest against.


" I say 'sorry', first, because it denotes a departure from old customs, and, secondly, because the purpose for which the alteration is intended is, it seems to me, but very imperfectly carried out. At the time of such a general holiday in the parish the labourers of one farm do not seem willing to disperse quietly to their own homes and husband the few shillings they may have received as 'largess', whilst their fellows are enjoying themselves on another farm ; but rather to keep up a harvest-home of their own in the village ale-house, though, I need scarcely say, not of so orderly a character as that of the bond fide supper ; and which, to tell the truth, they themselves much prefer, for a ' Dorsetshire labourer ', though he may be poor, is none the less Conservative.

"On the day appointed for the celebration of the harvest, the labourers from the several farms attended afternoon service in the parish church, dressed in their best clothes, the church being decorated in the usually seasonable manner. The entrance-gates of the principal farms were likewise decorated with an arch of evergreen, flowers, corn, etc., crowned with a sickle and scythe swathed in bands of wheat barley, the whole surmounted by appropriate mottoes.
 

"In the evening tables were laid out in the kitchen of a size sufficient to accommodate the men, women, boys and girls employed on the farm, the ' master ', assisted by such members of his family as might be, sitting at their head and carving a grand rump of Old English beef.
 

"As soon as the company had partaken of as much beef and plum-pudding as was considered desirable an adjournment was made to a large tree that stood near the homestead, where the following quaint custom—peculiar, I was informed, to the west of Dorset—took place. (it would seem to be somewhat similiar to the custom of 'crying the knack', which obtains to Devon and Cornwall)

"The men formed themselves into a circle, and each taking off his hat and holding it out in front of him, stooped to the ground; then, led by one standing in the centre, chanted the words : ' We have 'em ' (or ' 'en'). The first word, ' We/ is commenced in a very low tone, the men the while slowly and gradually raising themselves up, and so prolonged till they have almost reached their full height. They close the sentence by saying ' have 'em ' more quickly. This is done three times. They then shout ' Huzza ! ' once. Again they stoop down and go the same performance ; finishing up this time with two ' huzzas'. This is repeated once more, and finally wound up by huzzaing three times. As soon as the men have finished the women come forward and go through the same ceremony. This, when well performed, a not altogether unimpressive or unmusical effect. The words, I believe, bear reference to the conclusion of the harvest and the sheaves of corn being satisfactorily ' had ' in.


"The discharge of small cannon, (the peculiar care of the boys) likewise gave considerable éclat to the whole proceeding. This over, the party returned to the house and entered upon a course of singing and drinking, not unmixed with dancing in the back kitchen.
 

"The first song was, of course, in honour of the ' meäster ', and unenriched by the Dorset vernacular indulged in by the toast-master, was in the following words :—
'Here's a health unto our master, 
The founder of the feast,
And when that he is dead and gone,
I hope his soul may rest.
I wish all things may prosper,
Whatever he takes in hand.
For we are all his servants
And serve at his command.
So drink, boys, drink!

And see that you do not spill.
For if you do,
You shall drink two,

"Tis by your master's will.'
 "This song is repeated till everybody present has drunk the health.

"Then follow the ' healths' of the mistress and various members of the family, to the following words :—

'Here's Mrs' (or Mr's) good health !
Let the glass go round
And the trumpet sound,—
Huzza !  huzza !  huzza !
Down fall all the re-bels,
We long to see the day,—
Con-fusion unto them
That set 'em up again !
Huzza I huzza i  huzza !
Confusion etc.'
"This, like the last, was repeated till all had drunk.

"Then followed the curious and laughable custom of' drinking to your love over the left arm '. Each man, while the following verse was being sung, was obliged to drain his mug or horn-cup of ale by holding it in his right hand, and passing it outside of and over his left arm, which would be thrown across the chest. Great merriment was afforded when some of the older hands, through age or other infirmities failed to accomplish this in a satisfactory manner. The words sung were the following :—

' As I was a-riding over a mountain so high
I saw a pretty girl that plea-sed my eye,
She plea-sed my eye, but pla-gued my heart;
From this cup of liquor we never will part;
'Twill do us no good,—'twill do us no harm.
"Here's a health to my love, over left arm, over left arm! "
Here's a health etc.'
"This was continued till all had satisfactorily passed the crucial test. Songs of a more general character and sundry speeches followed; and eventually the proceedings were brought to a close about midnight by the whole company joining in the National Anthem, ' God Save the Queen.' "

The following version, similar but less ornate, of the " whooping " ceremony,—as it was called in the district,—was given me as having been performed at a farmhouse in the same neighbourhood as the last. At the end of the harvest a jar of cider or ale and two small cups were taken just outside the yard, when all the labourers would gather in a circle round the jar, which is presided over by the oldest man amongst them, and, taking off their hats and standing in a stooping position, would bow slowly down to the ground, whilst singing in a low, guttural, drawling tone, " We-e-e-e have 'en ! " They then stand upright again and holloa " hurrah " once. This is gone through a second time, when the " hurrah" is given twice. Again, a third repetition, when three " hurrahs " are given. They then have a drink all round; after which they return mostly for songs or dances after supper. I have been told that these cheers were often heard at a distance of a mile or two!

At the time I sent the above account to Notes and Queries I was not acquainted with Jacob Grimm's Teutonic Mythology—or, rather, Stallybrass's translation of it,—in four volumes, which were not published till 1880-8. After I had read it I was struck by the very strong resemblance to the Dorset " whooping ", as it is called, that exists in the custom of the people in Lower Saxony invoking their great god Woden at the conclusion of the harvest. Grimm states (i, 154) that it is usual to leave a clump of corn standing in a field to Woden for his horse.


He then describes (p. 156) a custom in Schaumburg where the people, having finished the mowing of the corn, or having purposely left only a small strip standing which they could cut down at a stroke, then at the finish would raise their implements aloft, beating the blades three times with the strop, while each would spill a small quantity of beer on the ground and then drink himself. They would then wave their hats and beat their scythes three times and cry aloud, " Wôld-wôld-wôld" which, Grimm says, a Schaumburg man pronounced as " wauden ". They would then march home shouting and singing. If the ceremony were omitted the next year would bring bad crops of hay and corn.


It is a pity that Grimm did not know of the custom as existing in western Dorsetshire, which I have described above. I wonder whether he would have agreed with the suggestion that I now venture to make, that the Dorset labourers' cry in this corner of old Wessex of  "We hav'en ", repeated three times, is but a survival of the old invocation to the great god Woden of their Saxon ancestors, still continued from time immemorial at these harvest celebrations but of which the real significance and meaning have been lost.

Shortly before I left England in 1889 I was anxious to test this resemblance still further, so I invited certain of the farm labourers belonging to the same West Dorset parish—Symondsbury— in which the ceremony had been performed in 1873, after they had attended the now usual harvest festival service at the old parish church, to do their " whooping " on the lawn in front of the Manor House close to the church. They went through it all in much the same way as their predecessors had done, and again the close affinity to what Grimm had related was borne in upon me. Out of compliment to him I added a further Teutonic association that was by no means unacceptable to the performers. I made the men drink the healths from a tall seventeenth century pewter tankard, or loving-cup, with covered lid (of which there were one or two similar ones in the Victoria and Albert Museum at South Kensington), of a capacity of several quarts, which had formerly been the property of some civic company or guild in some German town (to judge from the inscription), this being the first opportunity I had had of putting it to anything approaching its former use. It would be a strange but not inappropriate incident if it should again, after so many years, have assisted in the survival of an ancient Teutonic festivity.
 

I have since obtained from locally printed sources and otherwise a few songs or verses that were sung at harvest-home gatherings. Several of these, as I have already pointed out, may also have been sung at sheep-shearing feasts in the days when these feasts were more worthy of the name. The main toasts were evidently the same. In particular the one sent by Mr. T. H. Garland to the Dorset County Chronicle (which had reprinted my paper from Notes and Queries), wherein he added that he was a West Dorset man and had for many years witnessed the old customs to which I had alluded.

The following verse appeared in the Bridport News in 1874 as having been sung at the same place as my account referred to:

"When the wheat is all ripe the harvest begin,
The farmer the fruits of the earth gather in ;
In the mornings as soon as the reap hooks are grind
We repair to the field for to reap and to bind."
Another couplet ran :—
"When the harvest is over to our master's we will steer,
And wet a good supper with a drink of strong beer."
The following toast was given by a farm labourer at a harvest home at Blandford in 1849 (" N. & Q.," Ser. v, x, 306. For a more correctly rhyming Worcestershire variant see the same volume, p. 375) :—
"Horses strong, sheep healthy, 
Barns full, money plenty."
A correspondent in Notes and Queries in 1878 (Ser. v, x, 375) speaks to his having heard, some forty years previously, the same refrain
" Drink, boys, drink, and see you do not spill;
If you do you shall drink two,
For 'tis our master's will."
at a sheep-shearing feast in the lower part of Dorsetshire, when each man was supplied with a small cup of about the third of a pint to drink the customary healths in.

Forfeits.—Amongst the amusements at harvest home suppers forfeits appear to have been sometimes indulged in (though such games were usually set apart for Christmas), when songs or rhythmic jingles were sung with the object of entrapping the unwary. The following were given me as having been used at harvest homes in the parish of Stoke Abbott, also in West Dorset.

One of the company leads off with the following rhythmic jingle, followed by the others :—


"Green grow the leaves on the hawthorn tree,
Some grow high and some grow low;
With my ringo and my jingo
We seldom disagree,
And the tenor of my song goes merrily—
And the tenor of my song goes merrily."

The leader alone then sings :

" Twenty, nineteen, eighteen—"
The next one in rotation :
" Seventeen, sixteen, fifteen—" 
The next, in their order :
" Fourteen, thirteen, twelve—"
" Eleven, ten, nine—"
" Eight, seven, six—"
The last in rotation chimes in with " Five, four, three "—and they all add:
"And the tenor of my song goes merrily."
When this is done the person next to the leader begins it over again, and it goes on as before, except that when he comes to the figures he starts with " Seventeen, sixteen, fifteen "—the next to him taking it up as before, and so on to the end. This over, the third person in rotation commences the strain, beginning the figures at " Fourteen, thirteen, twelve "—and so on as before until the whole is exhausted.
 

Should anyone make a mistake in repeating his portion he must pay forfeit, which, on these occasions, generally consists in being made to drink something.

Here is another one from the same place :— 

"O splice the cable-rope,
The rope it is so fine;*
And with a sugar loaf we'll have
A glass of currant wine ;
And if the wine is sharp
The sugar makes it sweet;
What greater joy in all the world
When two sweethearts do meet!
With my Rider, Ready, Rum,
My Rider, Ready, Rum,
So drink half your liquor, boys,
And say no more than ' Mum '.
So drink off your liquor, boys,
And say no more than ' Mum ' !"
*Possibly a covert allusion to the excellent quality of the hemp grown in the neighbourhood. So highly was it esteemed that a statute, 21 Henry VIII, provided that cables intended for the use of the Royal Navy should be made from hemp grown within a certain radius of Bridport, within which radius the parish of Stoke Abbott is situated.

The above rhyme is sung by all the company together, after which the leader, and any one who may be initiated in the game, endeavour to entrap the person sitting next them into answering more than the permitted " Mum " by accusing him, truly or otherwise, of having made a mistake in singing or in drinking more than half the liquor at the wrong time, so as to entail a forfeit. The verse is then gone through again, and the next person is interrogated with the like object, and so on in rotation until all have been subjected to the ordeal."

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