A Grand Spell of Sunshine - The Life and Legacy of Francis FrithA Grand Spell of Sunshine - The Life and Legacy of Francis Frith

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Bringing in the harvest

Published on August 16th, 2021

"Now harvest's done and ended, the corn secure from harm,
All for to go to market, boys, we must thresh in the barn.
Here's a health to all you farmers, likewise to all you men,
I wish you health and happiness till harvest comes again."

This charming verse is from a traditional song called 'The Reaphook and Sickle'. In our nostalgic blog post we celebrate the season of harvest with a selection of our photographs and your memories about this special time of year in UK countryside communities.

Photo: Llanelidan, Steam Threshing Gang c.1910.

Haymaking old-style could take three or four days, and fields around every village were busy with workers labouring with scythe, rake and pitchfork. New inventions for agricultural machinery, such as the horse-drawn mower and hay-rake hastened the process, but robbed haymaking of much of its romance and sense of community.

Photo: Hawes, Haymaking 1924.

"Still on my travels on Memory Lane I browsed past St Helens. Harvest Festival seemed to be an exercise in pyramids of tins of things your mum didn’t need urgently. The Mayans would have been proud of our ironically, heathen ziggurats of Spam, tuna, pineapple chunks, and fruit salad!"

Photo: Ashby De La Zouch, St Helen's Church c.1955.
Memory: Christmas Is Coming

A major part of Kent's economy in the past was the growing of hops, used for flavouring and preserving beer. Hops produce long stems each year, called 'bines', which appear in May and are trained up a trellis-work of poles and wires, to an overhead gantry of wire. In early September the hops are ready for picking. Harvesting the hops is now done by machines, but formerly the cones were handpicked by seasonal labourers, either local families or poor people from London taking an annual working holiday.

Photo: Goudhurst, Hop Pickers 1904.

"This brings back memories of wonderful vegetable, fruit and bread arrangements at the Harvest Festivals. I attended the old primary school from 1955 to 1961."
Harvest Festivals at All Saints Church in Marlborough remembered by Jill Adair.

Photo: Malborough, All Saints Church 1927.
Memory: Harvest Festivals

"My abiding memory is of the harvest festival service when all the village children would arrive at Sunday school with fruit and veg which would be auctioned off afterwards. My father and grandfather were farmers, farming Woodburn Farm and Mill Hill Farm, so it would not be unusual for myself and brothers and sisters to turn up carrying sacks of produce which we bid for, much to the consternation of our parents."
Thank you to Colin Walker for this memory of his childhood in Middleton, Lancashire.

Memory: Middleton Methodist Chapel My

Photo: Weare Giffard, The Harvest Field 1890.

Helped by improved fertilizers, increased yields made farming on the Sussex Downs more profitable by the end of the Victorian period; however, arable farming on the chalky downland soils remains difficult. This fascinating photograph shows a rare sight, that of oxen being used to help with the harvest.

Photo: Jevington, Building A Cornstack 1888.

"I remember the Harvest Festivals of my childhood in the 1950s, which were held in the Methodist Chapel. Women of the village spring cleaned the chapel before decorating it with produce, flowers and greenery. The displays were splendid, and central was the produce around the pulpit - this was added to with the children's baskets given during the festival. The chapel would be full and voices and organ belted out the traditional hymns - 'Come ye thankful people, come' and 'We plough the fields and scatter'. We were a farming community so this really meant something. On Monday night this was followed by a sale of the produce and baskets. The items were auctioned off, and half way through the proceedings we would stop for a break - it was then that the sausage rolls and cream horns were brought out. Maud Pollyn had originally made these, and then her daughter Phyllis took over - tray loads were made - and they were very good! The first ones were auctioned to set the price (a very generous one) and then the rest were sold and eaten. Then it was back to business. The climax of the sale was the children's baskets - whose would make the most? Happy days."

Memory: Harvest Festival

This classic farming scene depicts an age now long gone. Sheaves of wheat are heaped in wind-blown stocks, and a white-bearded farmer, resplendent in smock and battered hat, poses with his granddaughter.

Photo: Coltishall, A Cornfield 1902.

Photo: Garboldisham, Harvest Time c.1955.

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If you liked our "Bringing in the harvest" Blog Feature, you might like to see and follow this Francis Frith board over on Pinterest.

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