Happisburgh – Farming
Stand outside, under the tower of Happisburgh church, and gaze around. You will see the sea, the countryside and the fields. Beyond the cluster of dwellings and gardens, which make up the centre of the village, stretches land which has been cultivated and cropped for centuries. Fields, separated by hedges and narrow roads, dotted here and there with trees, are home to our insects, birds and small mammals.
Arthur Young, in his work entitled ‘General View of the Architecture of the County of Norfolk’, which was drawn up for the consideration of the Board of Agriculture and published in 1804, thought that Happisburgh, Walcott and Bacton had ”the finest soil, perhaps, in the county: a rich, deep mellow, friable loam on a clay loam bottom, some on brick-earth and sand; all good”. In 1800, land near Happisburgh sold for £30 or £40 an acre, but the best in the village made £50. Farms in this area varied in size between 50 and 300 acres. However, the majority of the villagers kept a few pigs, poultry and perhaps a cow; and grew fodder for their livestock.
Happisburgh – Bringing in the Harvest
The mowers with their scythes and rubs (sharpening stones) arrived at the field at 6 a.m. They moved forward in an oblique line mowing the crop, taking their time from the leader. Each man was followed by two women who gathered up the corn and tied it into small sheaves. A team of men followed them shocking (stooking) the corn. Whole families came, bringing food to supplement any food and drink that the farmer supplied. A favourite was harvest pancakes. These were made of dough mixed with dripping and a few currants, and baked on both sides in a frying pan.
Each harvest wagon had a ‘holdger-boy’. This lad sat on the back of the horse and was responsible for driving the wagon from shock to shock. Every time he was about to move, he yelled ‘Holdger!’ warning the men on the load to ‘hold tight’. When the last load had been gathered, it was a Norfolk custom for the pitcher to pick up the holdger-boy by putting the tines of his pitch fork under the boy’s arms and pitch him up on to the load. From there he rode to the barn. The evening saw the harvest supper and much rejoicing.
In parts of the Happing Hundred, 2 shillings a day was paid in winter and summer alike for agricultural work. A lump sum of £2.12.6 was paid for harvest, with board. Wheat could be bought by the workers at a reduced price of 5 shillings a bushel.
At North Walsham, according to Arthur Young, the wages were as follows:
• 1752 1 shilling and 3 pints of good strong beer a day.
• 1772 1 shilling and 2 pints of tolerable good beer.
• 1792 1s.2d, and 1 pint of miserable small beer.
In 1792 Arthur Young made the following observation:
“A custom is coming in … of allowing board-wages to farm servants, instead of the old way of funding in the house. This is one material cause of an increased neglect of the Sabbath, and looseness of morals: they are free from the master’s eye, sleep where and when they please, and are rarely seen at church. A most pernicious practice …”
By contrast, William Cobbett, writing in ‘Rural Rides’ in 1830 noted that:
“The Norfolk people are quick and smart in their motions and in their speaking. Very neat and trim in all their Farming concerns, and very skilful … and in short it is a county of excellent cultivation.”