Sunday, 3 February 2019

Earlston Hiring Fairs in the 1930's


Earlston Hiring Fairs, held in the Market Square,  were important events where men and women  farm  workers, (ag.labs (agricultural labourers), hinds*,  ploughmen,  shepherds, dairy maids.  domestic servants etc.)  would gather to bargain with prospective farmers for work, and hopefully secure a position for the following 6-12 months.  

*The Scottish National  Dictionary defines a "hind" in  Southern Scotland and Northumberland as  "a married skilled farm worker who occupies a cottage on the farm and is granted certain perquisites in addition to wages. 

Special trains were laid on by L.N.E.R. offering cheap days excursions to Earlston for the event.
 Southern Reporter:  20th February 1936

Hiring Fairs were also social occasions with a rare opportunity for friends and family to meet and enjoy side shows and stalls, with often all-day dancing in the Corn Exchange, and a chance to take teas in the Masonic Hall or a dram in one of the public houses.
 Earlston Hiring Fair 1934 

Issue of Wage Rates
But in the 1930's, the depressed state of agricultural wages was a live issue.  A rise after the First World War had seen a fall during the 1920's and a further decrease in the early 1930's.  "The Scotsman" of 24th February 1931 reported on Earlston Hiring Fair,  noting that: 
"As this is one of the first Border hirings in the year, considerable interest was evinced in agricultural circles regarding the question of wages.  There was a large attendance, but hiring was very small, owing presumably to the reluctance of farm servants to accept a reduction in wages.  These showed a decrease of 2s-3s per week compared with last year.  Ploughmen are likely to receive 30s.-33s. per week, with harvest allowance and the usual emoluments;  women workers from 18s-21s; boys according to ability 15s to 20s."
[The 2 shilling per week decrease represented  £4.68 in today's money; 30 shillings per week  -  £68, and  18 shillings  - £24.]  
Source:  National Archives Currency Converter

How Much Did Food Cost?
The Office of National Statistics reported that prices for everyday items such as bread, sugar, tea, cheese, margarine, eggs, potatoes and  flour all increased in price after the First World War, peaking around 1920.  They then fell slightly, but remained above the 1918 level through the 1920s and 1930s.

The local press reported  that in 1935 the price of bread increased from 71/2d to  8d per 4lb loafThe two Galashiels advertisements below from  "The Southern Reporter": 10th December 1936, give an indication of prices at the time, though  no doubt they were promoting many items well above an agricultural worker's pocket.

 An advertisement for James Galbraith, Galashiels

Thomas Rae on Bank Street was advertising gifts

A series of meetings of farm workers  were held across the Borders including St. Boswells  to discuss the issue of pay Then in 1937 an Agricultural Board was established, representing the interests of employers and employees  to  set minimum wages, holiday entitlement, and working conditions for agricultural workers.  A separate body for Scotland was set up in 1949 with representatives from from the  National Farms Union of Scotland and the Scottish Landowners Federation.

Seeking Farm Vacancies  
Times were changing, and increasingly during the 1930s farm vacancies were being advertised in the local press.  Workers were also showing a reluctance to move, especially if they were already living near a town or on a bus route and their farm cottages were being improved.

A typical listing of jobs advertised in "The Southern Reporter" of 10th March 1936.  Note no pay rates are stated, and many vacancies stipulated  along with the man, a wife to look after cows and poultry, and strong boy(s) to assist on farm. 

In the same year, an item in "The Berwickshire News" noted:
"There is reason to believe that in the not too distant future, farm hirings will fall into abeyance."
A report on Kelso Hiring Fair in "The Southern Reporter" 10 January 1938  was typical of the concern.

With  the onset of war in 1939,  hiring fairs died out.  but  in Earlston, "the Shows" remained a tangible link with the past, and continued to come into the Square well into the 1960's. 


Press Cuttings and Press Comments sourced on
"British Newspapers Online 1710 -1963" at Find My Past

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting! The issue of wages is a clue to how careful the workers had to be with their money. Loved reading this.


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