Womens' Contribution To Farming In The Early 19th Century

from The Barwicker No.42
June 1996

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Among the few documents available about local farming in the last century there is an account and day book from the Gascoigne Estate at Parlington for the year 1800. It gives a rare and valuable insight into the working year of local farm. It records amongst other things the type of work done and the distribution of work between men, women and boys and the use of contractors.
The role of women in agriculture is seldom referred to in the few sources which have come down to us across the years. We are heavily reliant upon the literature of people who never carried out manual work and wrote of the 'romance' of the ploughboy or the gathering of the harvest. The Parlington records show a different side of farming life however particularly of the role of women.
The record for one week is set out verbatim below. With its strange spelling, the record demonstrates clearly the status of women. While men are not given the dignity of their individual names, they are referred to as '1 man' and are paid on a daily basis. The women are hourly paid and the total hours of all women are added together for the week. Even boys were paid on a daily basis. We can calculate from the weeks when only one woman was employed that women were generally paid 8d (about 3.3p) a day although this did vary. Men were paid 1s 4d (about 6.6p) a day and boys 6d (2p) a day.

Verbatim extract from the Parlington Estate Farm Book in the year 1800
Wages from March the 22 to the 29
1 Man in Brewhouse 1 D Harrowing 1 D Jobing 4
1 Man in Brewhouse 1 D Harrowing 1 D Jobing 4
1 Man in Brewhouse 1 D Plowing 1 D Jobing 4
1 Man in Brewhouse 1 D Plowing 1 D Jobing 4
1 Man in Brewhouse 1 D Plowing 1 D Jobing 4
1 Man in Brewhouse 1 D Harrowing 1 D Jobing 4
Paid to The Women for Gathering Dung and Sods 19
Paid to a Boy for Serving Pigs 6 Days 3
2 60
Paid to John Birkinshaw for 33 Threaves of straw at 2s and 6d per Threave 426
Paid to John Braithwaite for 11 Threaves of straw at 2s and 6d per Threave 1 7 6
Received of Saml. Carter the above account7160
(signed)Joseph Britton

Aside from the anonymity of women in the accounts the type of work on which women were employed is specified in the record. While one man seems to be comfortably employed in the Brewhouse away from the cold winds of winter or the heat of the summer, the women were outside in the fields on the following work:
The women's work was back-breaking, monotonous and irregular. The weekly wages bill for women varied from nothing to 3-12-7 (about 92 days work occupying the full time equivalent of 15-16 women) at the height of the hay making and crop weeding season. The total wages for women for the 39 weeks recorded in the book was 35-12-3 (an average of about 18s. a week) the equivalent of over four women employed full time. There was a maximum of three men employed full time during this period. In spite of their dominant contribution to the work of the farm women received only one third of the 115-3-0 paid out for all labour including contract labour.
Harold Smith

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