112lbs of Cheddar a day – a snapshot of 20C farm life

Food – how it’s grown and cultivated, how it gets to the plate, our attitudes to it, the role of retailers in shaping our habits – all of this is coming into focus, presenting a massive opportunity for a bold business to change the dynamics of the food industry for the better.

Tesco have made some bold statements of intent here – and as the leading retailer they really could play a vital part in bridging the gap between consumers and the people who produce our food. Shorter and more transparent food chains, smarter consumption – doing more with less, and re-connecting with the land. Let’s hope so.

So it’s a good time to have a 5 minute peek into how farming was pre industrial retail, in this piece by Kelson Lippiatt talking to the Bath Chronicle in 1974. He’s describing farming in the early 20C in the farms south of Bath. I found this fascinating and wanted to share.

Kelson Lippiatt
Kelson Lippiatt

12 hours a day, 12 shillings a week, no holidays, half a gallon of cider a day

“Farmers in the Bath area with up to 200 acres had teams of four horses, which did the ploughing and the muck hauling, and there were always two teams reserved for mowing in the summer. When there was a really hot summer the workers were up at 4 am and began work at 4.30 am. They had to finish at noon for a break because the horses were really worn out by then. The teams were rested for perhaps two or three hours. The men had one hour for dinner and then followed other pursuits like turning hay with wooden hand rakes. Five of us in my time one night turned 13.5 acres of grass from 6pm to 9pm with hand rakes.

The minimum day’s work on a farm was 6am to 6pm – but it seems that time drifted on and in those days there was no clockwatching. There were no holidays or half days, men used to get on the sick list if they wanted a rest. When they could not manage on their panel pay they soon returned to work.

Skilled farm workers’ pay was between 10 and 12 shillings a week. Shepherds and cowmen were in the top wages bracket. Most workers lived in tied cottages with the rent perhaps about a shilling but not more. They had free milk, turnips from the fields when they wanted a few, and rabbits off the land. Every night workers classed as hedgers went home carrying stacks from the hedges, and this was a blessing in those days when everyone had open fires. On most farms the workers had a daily free beverage of half a gallon of cider in both summer and winter. In haymaking time the workers had as much cider as they could drink, plus bread cheese and onions. It used to be a sight watching the haymakers; it didn’t matter whether they could walk home…

112lbs of Cheddar a day

After a day’s cider making the men used to sit around telling lots of tales – but they had to be at work bang on time at 6am! All the farms at Priston had a couple of orchards and each farm made about 12 pipes of cider – hogs barrels holding 120 gallons apiece. The cider was consumed on the farm and none was sold. In those days when one of the Knights of the Road called at the farm he was given a free sample of the cider. The gipsies were treated just the same.

this is a cow
this is a cow

There were mostly dairy farms in the Bath area a century ago, with the acreage ranging from 100 and 300 acres. Most Bath farmers made cheese and the dealer from Bristol came out to buy it on the spot. The cheese was weighed and then loaded in the barn overnight for the carter to take it off the next morning on a four-wheeled wagon pulled by two horses. My folk used to make two 56lb of Cheddar a day from May until the end of September. It was kept on the farm for a couple of months until it was ready for the dealer. From Bristol the cheese went to London by train.

Cheese making was quite a paying proposition and pigs were fattened in the process with the whey. A Bath butcher walked to Priston and arrived on the farms at 9 am to kill the pigs and he was sometimes there until 3 or 4 in the afternoon. In those summers long ago farmers round Bath used to kill fat pigs for use on the farm. The ham was for haymaking time to supplement the cider drinking by the workers, who needed to have something substantial apart from liquid refreshment.

Fairly well off because they never wasted anything

People used to call at the farms and go to the cowshed and have their jars filled with milk. A pint of skim milk was between a farthing and a half penny. Some farmers used to go into Bath with a horse and cart to deliver milk.

It’s not very often farmers admit publicly they are getting a square deal but long ago they were fairly well off because they never wasted anything. They would make a living out of what the young farmers waste today. I never saw any really hard-up labourers back years ago – their wives could make and mend. They used to keep a couple of pigs and had a large vegetable garden. They also kept fowls in their back garden. When estates were sold the workers often bought the houses where they lived.”

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