It's April so it's time for our members to help us blog through the 2020 A-Z Blogging Challenge. Our chosen theme this year is Employment, also the topic of our Shared Endeavour where our members are encouraged to research employment within their one-place study. Today's entry is from Liz Budd.

If your place is anything like mine, employment for much of its history has been largely agricultural; farmers and their wives, ag labs and dairymaids, cattlemen and team-men. In my place, the agricultural workers were the vast majority, supported by a limited cast of regulars including an incumbent, shoemaker, wheelwright, blacksmith, and miller.

An oft-considered 'problem' with rural labourers is the lack of records they are assumed to have left behind. Such was the regular lamentation from researchers when I was working in an archive search room. So, please forgive me a small moment on a soapbox, even though I know I probably preach to the converted here. Agricultural labourers *did* often leave something for us! After all, for the majority of people, rural life was life until relatively recently. The usual caveats about record survival and access remain. However...

Contrary to popular opinion a significant number left wills and other probate. Many more leave mentions in the parish chest (settlement and removal records, rates, overseers' and churchwardens' accounts, bastardy - all sorts of things), as well as emigration records, poor law material, newspaper articles, not to mention the goldmine that is the manorial archive. A lucky few are noted in surviving deposited diaries (and some of course left their own journals and letters). Should it be challenging to find a particular individual in these sources, accessible archives can nonetheless be used to help piece together how another's life may have been lived.

And so, if you haven't realised already, (having hammered home my point), I value the agricultural labourers in my place a great deal. This last year my One-Place Study has necessarily extended from Badingham, Suffolk into neighbouring Cransford. Both have close personal links to me, and the latter is the setting of the book that I'm (very slowly) writing. I've been looking to extend into 'new' sources because, despite the confidence of my earlier paragraph, I am unlucky, and many of the parish records for my place are UFP, that dreaded archivist's abbreviation for 'unfit for production'.

Recently I have found 'the Premiums offered by the East Suffolk Agricultural Association to which are added Rules and Regulations for the present year, together with the names of the officers and a list of the members'. It is the reason I requested 'E' for this blog post. The point of the said premiums was as follows: Excitement. Enterprise. Emulation. Encouragement. Employment!

Agricultural Associations continue today, with Suffolk Agricultural Association aspiring to be 'a force for good and central to all matters food, farming and the countryside'. The Association runs events all year round, headlined with the annual Suffolk Show. But the Association is not new. The East Suffolk Agricultural Association came into being in 1831 when a group of farmers and landowners began meeting at the White Hart in Wickham Market (six miles from my place) with the idea of organising a show. Thenceforth, the East Suffolk group continued until 1856, when it merged with its West Suffolk Equivalent.

One way in which the Association looked to advance agriculture in the area was to offer premiums. In so doing it hoped to create 'Excitement of Enterprise and Emulation among the Owners and Occupiers of Land' and 'Encouragement of Skill, Industry, and Good Conduct among Cottagers, Servants, and Labourers in Husbandry'.

For my place, several years' worth of the Association's prize-givings were published, and some of these are now available as digitised volumes. The great and the good were listed (as subscribers to the Association) as well as the winners of premiums. The premium classes included everything from spade drainage to lambing, ploughing to dairying - and being the labourer bringing up the most legitimate children with the least parochial relief: quite the direction in which the landed Victorians wished their labourers to strive!

On page 16 of the 1843 Premiums, we find Mary Pipe at the top of a list of 'Unmarried Female Dairy Servants' - Class IV of the proceedings that year:

To Mary Pipe, of Cransford, (aged 24) 6 years servitude with Mr. and Mrs. Mayhew, of Cransford; recommended by W. A. Shuldham, Esq. 2L[1] 

Until finding this list, Mary existed as an entry in the census of 1841 and in a further handful of mentions in parish records and later census enumeration books. This premium write-up offers a small window into an otherwise veiled part of her life. It suggests that she wasn't just a brief occupant of the farm in question, but was there for at least six years. One might suggest that she must have been good at her job and quite the asset to her employers!

Having had the privilege of visiting the former manor house where Mary worked, I can see in my mind's eye the route she walked from kitchen to buttery, pantry and dairy. Added in the 17th century, with diamond-mullioned windows and an overhead cheese loft, the dairy must have had a ladder up which Mary climbed time after time. For Mr and Mrs Mayhew, ageing by the 1840s, she was likely much more than 'just' a dairymaid, performing many other duties as the lone female servant living-in at the farm. They perhaps missed her a great deal when she left, possibly not until her marriage in 1846, by which time she would have been at the farm for nearly ten years.

The sum of £2 might have been around 40-50% of Mary's annual wage, so quite a bonus. One wonders whether she went to nearby Framlingham or Saxmundham to spend any of it. Whether it was shared with her family (wheelwrights in the village) or whether perhaps she kept it safe in order to set up home with her intended - a soon-to-be master shoemaker - who would be her husband for fifty years.

A year earlier, in Badingham, one John Adams had received a £2 premium in Class III ('Male Unmarried Yearly Farm Servants'). Oddly enough, some thirty years later he was living-in at the same farm in Cransford as Mary had been previously, along with his wife and daughter, who likely fulfilled other roles on the farm.

Church Road, Cransford
Church Road, Cransford

The Cransford in which Mary worked hard in her dairy was a village in flux. On the face of it, the population as a simple number was very similar between 1841 and 1851, but dig a little deeper and change was afoot. There was not a large-scale movement of whole families at this time (although one family did almost all up-sticks to work on the railway) but young, unmarried workers in their teens and early twenties, both male and female, were leaving. Some went to London to sell ham and beef, to work in coffee houses and bars, others to make boots and sell cloth.

In their place came older married agricultural labourers from neighbouring villages with their wives - and hordes of children! Even if it was not explicitly stated in the reasons for the existence of the premiums, it must have been noted by landowners that a proportion of the most energetic and industrious youngsters were off to pastures new. At a time when (in my place at least) there appears to have been no apparent shortage of work for experienced labourers and dairymaids, it must have seemed reasonable practice to reward them for staying put. Perhaps a financial prize might have gone some way to encourage a few young men and women to remain and for others to raise their game, especially if wages as a whole were otherwise low, the cost of living relatively high, and new opportunities from urban employers were dangling on the horizon.

A quick search for similar records offers up other digitised results for the Highlands and Oxfordshire. I'm sure others exist in local studies collections and record offices up and down the country, as well as in the archives of modern-day Agricultural Associations.

So, I challenge you to find similar records for your place, or to find corresponding write-ups in the local newspapers. Can you find a superlative shepherd, a prize-winning ploughman or, indeed, a dazzling dairymaid like Mary Pipe?

Here's hoping you find someone that radiates precisely the kind of 'Excitement of Enterprise and Emulation among the Owners and Occupiers of Land' that the Association were hoping to find!

[1] Available online: Accessed 30 March 2020

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