Working Lives

Lincolnshire Farm Labourer (1957-1990s)

Location: Lincolnshire

In 1957 Doug’s family were living in a tied cottage on a farm in Lincolnshire. Agricultural labour was a reserved occupation and labourers did not have to go into the forces. Farm work was poorly paid and families were reliant on the farmer. Doug worked on the farm until the farmer made many of his labourers redundant. He did many jobs to help increase his income, including working as a gardener.

In our family there were three sons ready to work for the farmer. And then the next one, the fourth one, he didn’t want to be on the land. He wanted to be a carpenter. But dad had to go the farmer and asked him if he minded if one side-stepped him and went to be a carpenter. The boss said,  ‘That’s alright, provided the next one comes’. And I was the next one. So I’d no choice. I wanted to go to be a carpenter with him but dad had committed himself. He either lost his job or I went to work for him. I had my job reserved for me.

If you went into a trade, like joinery or a brick-layer or anything, you had five years apprenticeship and then you had to go in the forces for two years. But on the land you didn’t have to go in the forces at all unless you wanted to do. But if you didn’t, the boss just used to sign a paper and hand it in to government, ‘I require this, such a person,’ and you never went in the forces, you see. This was 1957.

Nearly everybody lived in a tied cottage. They used to pay six shillings a week rent. And then the boss had the trouble of keeping the house up to standard for you, you know? But you had a job getting him to do anything.

You used to work eight hours a day, go home for an hour tea-break, then go back for three hours overtime. But come a wet time like this, you couldn’t do anything, then you didn’t do no overtime. My brother set off on his own, as a carpenter, and I used to go off and work for him in his workshop.

Your land work at school leaving age was the best for pay, out of any job. But once you’d got to twenty years on, you became the worst paid. By then it’s too late to go into apprenticeship. No brick-layer or carpenter will take you on for five years apprenticeship once you’ve done five years’ work somewhere else, because you’ve lost those five years when you should be learning the trade.

Our daughter’s 41 now (2007) and it was a year of torrential rain when she left school. I was stood off in the summer because it was too wet to do any work on the land. And you just had to stop at home. You could sign on, that would give you a quid or two, but not a lot. But with me, I knew one or two small owners, and when I wasn’t working for my own boss, I used to go up to their yard, ‘Do you want owt doing?’ ‘Yeah, we want some cabbages hoeing.’

Because them days, a ten acre field wanted hoeing, around every plant. And they used to find me a job. You weren’t taxed or anything on it because it was beer money. It brought a loaf of bread in.

At the moment, there’s here football argument going on with Boston United but there’s also a team called Boston Town. Well, one of the smallholders I used to work for used to be a director at Boston Town. And he used to get me to go down to the ground with him and have meetings with him and eventually I got on the committee down Boston Town football club. And that got me more work from him, because he thought I was more interested in his football, so he found me more work when I wasn’t working for my boss.

You’ve got to look after your own pocket. And then one day, you see, we were all riddling tates [potatoes]. Tates was in a big heap and you used to put them into a machine and it used to go over a riddle and it used to grade them, see? And we was in a shed doing that one day and another farmer came in the shed and he said, ‘I see your boss is selling all his cattle!’

Well we didn’t know he was. So eventually the boss said, ‘Have you read the paper? I’m selling all the cattle. We’re in trouble.’ So he sold all the cattle. That meant the gaff man what fed all the cows had got redundant, cause that was his job gone. And then one per year he used to make redundant ’til he got rid of us all.

And that’s why I started up gardening. I was the only one what got it planned what he was going to do when the day come the boss said, ‘We’re going to finish you because we’re short of money. There’s no work for you.’ Do you prefer gardening to farming?’ ‘Oh yeah, a lot more interesting. I sit at night watching the tele or reading the paper and all the time my mind’s working: Well, where should I go tomorrow? Should I go to so and so’s house? Oh, hold on a minute, you promised somebody you’d go and do their job!’

My mind’s on gardening all the time, like. Then I get my diary back. ‘When did I go to Nancy’s last? Oh, 14 June! Oh, time you went again.’ You can plan your week. but when you’re on the farm, you turn up in the morning, put your bike in the bike-shed, the boss stands there and, ‘Right, today we’ll do so and so.’ You’ve no choice, duck. You had to just walk out the shed, get on the tractor if he needs a tractor.

The farm work was varied, depending on the season. This time of year, normally, weather permitting, you’d be tatie harvesting day and night but this year with all the rain, they can’t get on the land to pick them up. And if you wasn’t tatie harvesting, once you’d got a field cleared, you’ll drag it or plough it, turn round and set it with plants, cauliflower plants or something like .

And the days when we was on the land, this time of year, that was your two main jobs: waiting for harvest to come. And then, once harvest come, there’d be one man would go off on the combine, another man would go off, carting the corn from the combine to the dryer shed, another man be in there drying it, putting it into the corn shed

Oh, yeah. If you were tates harvesting, there’d be six of you on the harvester. You’d be talking and laughing. The only person what didn’t get to chat was the tractor driver. And I used to sit there, with my eyes shut, asleep half the time. I used to run out the row! But if the harvester broke down, the other man what was on the machine, picking rotten tates out the good tates, or clods out the tates, they wouldn’t get off the harvester and help you mend the machine. You was the tractor driver and that was your job, mate. You did it. They didn’t care two hoots how long you was doing it for!

Submitted by Doug to WISEArchive from Boston, Lincolnshire, in August 2007.

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