Chitterne Now and Then
Blog Archive - June 2013

Thursday 20th June 2013 - Haymaking the Old Way

Not a lot happening on the Chitterne history front at the moment so I thought I'd post another of villager Ernie George's writings and drawings. Ernie lived in Chitterne all his life, except for his army service, and died last year aged 91 years. This piece is pertinent to the time of year, it's called Haymaking.


I can dimly remember three or four men with large scythes strung out across a field cutting swathes of meadow grass. I marvelled at the way they swayed along and half-turned with each step, swung the scythe, and laid the mown grass in long straight lines. The mowers looked to me as though they were performing a dance, with the long-handled scythe as a partner.

Years later, when I went to work, haymaking was quite different. Two horses were hitched to the traces on a two-wheeled mowing machine, the axle of which was geared to a cutting-arm at right angles. Triangular knife blades fixed to the arm chattered back and forth when the cutter was lowered, severing the grass and laying it neatly in flat rows almost the same as the manual mowers, but quicker of course.

When all the grass was cut it lay in the field in the sun for a day, then along would come a hay-turner machine which turned the swathes of hay over to let the sun get at the other side, after the farmer had deemed it dry enough and providing there had been no rain in the meantime. Along would come the horse-rake, a one horse-drawn machine with shavs and a long axle on two high wheels, with a higher beam strutted above the axle to hold the long line of semi-circular iron tines of the rake, which was controlled by a cranked handle raised and lowered by the driver. The driver sat on a cantilvered bucket-seat in the centre and guided his horse with long rope reins. Backwards and forwards across the swathes plodded the horse, the driver raising and lowering the rake-tines at set intervals till there were row upon row of manageable hay right across the field, from end to end.

Then in came the labourers with long-handled, two-grained prongs (or forks), and bundled the rows of hay over and over in sizeable heaps called 'pooks', so they went 'pooking' up and down the hay-field until it was dotted with mounds of hay. On carrying-day horses and wagons and pitchers and loaders arrived on the scene. The pitchers forked the pooks onto the wagon and the loader arranged the load. The full loads were carted to the edge of the field where hay-ricks were built. Two or three wagons would be on-the-go, two loading in the field and one off-loading at the rick.

This hay-making was quite a pleasant job until the sun rose high in the sky, then the men pitching hay onto the wagons, and the man pitching from the wagon to the rick, went through an uncomfortable itchy time, for as they lifted a forkful of hay above their heads to reach up to load or rick, a shower of hayseed, herbage seed and tiny insects cascaded down over their heads and down into their shirts and stuck on hot sweaty bodies. "Gits rite down inter yer socks, so thee cast imagine tother unmentionable parts it gits to on the way!" owd Tomas did say. Poor old Button pitching up to the rick did say "tis turble testin toyo" (it is terrible testing toil).

Still all the men worked with a will and tolerable good humour especially as they could 'wet their whistle' occasionally with a swig from the corked jars of rough cider supplied by the farmer and kept in a shady spot out of the sun.

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