Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The Hiring Fair

The annual hirings of farm and domestic servants took place at what was known as the "Fortnight Market" (more commonly known as the Hiring Fair) on the Wednesday following the 14th. of May. The men's hirings took place in Pump Square and the men wore corn dollies plaited in different ways to distinguish their various crafts, thus enabling the hiring farmers to identify the particular type of worker they were seeking. Living accommodation and food would be included in the agreement and after haggling over the conditions and when agreement was reached, the worker would shake hands and be paid one shilling to seal the bargain.
The women's hiring took place at Shodfriars' Hall, the women wearing an arrangement of white ribbons on their dresses to denote their skills, and young girls were accompanied by their mothers so that their respectability might be judged.
Shodfriars Hall.

The living accommodation for all workers was often extremely primitive, the men often living in the lofts over the stables and feeding in the kitchen of the farm foreman, feeding almost exclusively on a diet of boiled fat bacon, potatoes and bread and boiled puddings. The women might fare a little better as to food, as there would be leftovers from the upstairs table, but the sleeping accommodation was very meagre, in a cold garret room with a candle. Working conditions were very hard, with coal fires and oil lamps, often the coal had to be carried in from outside stores and up stairs. It was always a case of early rising as the rooms occupied by the household had to be cleaned and fires lit before the house came down for breakfast. There would be only a small supply of hot water from the kitchen range, and common yellow soap and stiff scrubbing brushes would be in common use in the days long before electric machines and modern utensils came into use.
These practices of annual hirings ceased with the end of the 1914-1918 war, so a phase of what some called the 'good old days' was over. It should be remembered that years ago families were much larger and the houses generally smaller than today, and there was very often not enough accommodation for the youngsters to live at home, the only alternative was to go out to Service. In general, all young men and women would be given a written character as to their general behaviour and work ability for them to show to prospective employers. A very large number of these young people would only stay at one employment for one year and then be hired again at the next Fortnight Market.

J G Horton.

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