Recently I have been researching Nottinghamshire customs, a country even from this blog which has a large number of customs some well known and some unknown out of the county, yet no volume has been done on it. I thought it would worth sharing some of the findings below.
The loss of the custom
Today the demand for food has outstripped any traditions which were associated with its harvest. Mechanism has replaced the hand scything of crops and those the need for large numbers of helpers, together with the considerable effort needed which meant one thing: celebration
The Harvest was a moveable event. If years were poor, the harvest would be done in September, in good weather years, August would be the date.
In the Nottingham Guardian, a correspondent calling themselves North Notts (1887)notes:
“ … 25 or 30 years ago prevailed in the county of Notts…..The last load of corn brought home from the fields was the occasion for the boys of the village to have a ride and to shout ‘Harvest Home’ for the farmers. This load would generally consist of the rakings of the field, and therefore not very valuable. Previous to our mounting the load for our ride we were careful to arm ourselves with branches of trees, the purpose for which will presently appear. On our journey from the field to the farmer’s yard, the usual hurrahs would be lustily given, and at intervals of a few minutes a well-known speech or ditty would be recited by the leading boys, two of which I can yet remember:God bless these horses which trail us home, They’ve had many a wet and weary bone. We’ve rent our clothes, and torn our skin, All for to get this harvest in. So hip, hip, hip hurrah.In another the name of the farmer would be brought in thus:- Mr. Smith he is a good man, He lets us ride home on his harvest van. He gives us bread, and cheese, and ale, And we hope his heart will never fail. So hip, hip, hip hurrah.
Then, Sir, curious and barbarous as it may seem, as we drew near to houses, it was the custom to bring out water and throw it upon us as we passed along, and from which we defended ourselves with the branches of trees. If we arrived safely home without a dowsing of water, the occasion was shorn of half the fun for the boys, but that was not the worst calamity. It was supposed that farmer Smith’s yield of corn would not be so good. After arrival home apples would be distributed to the boys for their labour in shouting ‘Harvest Home.’”
Another account notes a longer song:
“It is the custom in Nottinghamshire to make the last sheaf of the harvest big in order to ensure a good crop the next year. The youngest boys in the village ride home on the last load of wheat, the wagon being decorated with branches of trees. Apples and buckets of cold water are thrown over the boys as they ride home singing the following harvest song : Mr. is a good man, He lets us ride his harvest home, He gives us apples, he gives us ale, We wish his heart may never fail. (Chorus) With a hip, hip, hurrah, A dry wagon, adry wagon, A sup of cold water To keep it from swagging. God bless these horses that trail us home, For they’ve had many a weary bone, They’ve rent their clothes and torn their skin, All for to get this harvest in. (Chorus as before.)”
A correspondent to the Guardian’s Local notes and queries in 1903 notes a Sneinton Harvest Custom:
“I may say that when a boy I have frequently ridden on the last load of corn, brought to the late Benjamin Morley Esq of Sneinton Manor….The following ditty, having been rehearsed in the harvest field, would be shouted by the boys from the top of the load, at intervals during the journey to the stackyard:- Mr Morley’s got the corn, Well sheared and well shorn, Never turned over, nor yet set fast, The harvest load’s come home at last..Hurrah!”
Mr. Morley met the load at the stackyard and the boys were given 6 pence by him. In Caunton they sung:
“Mr Barlow has got his corn, Well mown and well shorn, Never hurled over, and never stuck fast, He has his harvest home at last. Hip Hip Hurray.”
In Blidworth the workers rode back with the last harvest and the villagers threw buckets of water over them as they sang:
“Ne’er o’er holled (hurled) And ne’er stuck fast, We’ve got our harvest in at last”
This covering of the returning last load and its workers appears to have been done in East Bridgford: as a correspondent to Guardian Local notes and queries in 1903:
“It was general custom also, when the load reached the village, for the people to drench the lads with water, and many a wet shirt I had had. The last load was generally rakings so that the farmers had no objection, in fact they very often prepared quite a deluge, by having a place close to a stack where they could pour water down on the harvest home lads.”
The same correspondent notes in a memory dating back to 1883 that:
“The waggoner would trim his team with ribbons, bells, flowers and evergreens and also there was stuck in the load, at the top, large ash branches, until the load looked almost like a moving tree, The verse they sang was quite similar to the one mentioned in the paper (reference to Sneinton) only that it was not quite so grammatical….”
In Nottinghamshire, a Harvest king or ‘queen’ was often seen. One traveller recorded seeing a man dressed in women’s clothing, his face lavishly painted and his head decorated with ears of corn, being borne on a cart amid plaudits from the crowd. Upon enquiring they were told they were drawing the Harvest queen.
Sadly it appears by 1875 many of the harvest home customs had died out and all that is done now is the Harvest festival.