Solway Plain - past and present by the Holme St Cuthbert History Group


Farming has always been a family business. Everyone had their own jobs - even the children.

The Lightfoots would have been a typical farming family in pre-war days.

They lived at Southerfield (say it Sowterfield). On the right, young Robert can be seen "helping" his father in the yard.

His sister, Mary, had a year-round job helping her mother look after the hens and, at busy times, like haymaking, the whole family would have to pitch in with the work.
Farmer with small boy sitting in his wheelbarrow
Toddler feeding chickens Haymaking using horse and cart
Pearson Family Tom Pearson and his family (left) farmed at Plasket Lands.

Tom built a potato planter to fix on the back of the tractor. The planter was very simple. It was a large wooden box, big enough to cover three stitches. Tom’s son Jack drove the tractor. Between the box and the tractor, Tom, his wife and daughter sat on a seat with their legs dangling The box was filled with seed potatoes and, using both hands they took the potatoes from the base of the box and dropped them one by one into the stitch.

To keep the seed at the correct planting distance the family sang all the songs they could think of – keeping a strict tempo. Popular songs, music hall numbers even nursery rhymes and hymns. It was all very enjoyable as they were a tuneful family; not like work at all.

Jack also drove the family's Farmall tractor at Haytime (below). His mother, Ida, is standing behind him with her nephew, Raymond, who has arrived to help out during this busy time.
Sketch of Potato Planter

Haymaking at Plasketlands

Jefferson family group with their hens Farmer with horse

The Jeffersons lived at Brow Top Farm in Edderside. The ladies of the family are feeding the hens, with Brow Top in the left background, while father, William, poses proudly with his prize-winning steed 'Bloss'.

Colour postcard of Maryport market and snapshot of ladies shopping

Hired lads and horse
The Jeffersons' Hired Lads at Edderside in the 1930s. Harry Vincent, Tom Creighton and Allan
Although a lot of the work was done by the family, most farmers had to have hired help. A maid was also needed as the farmer’s wife had to feed the hired men and wash all their bedding besides looking after her own family.

These men and maids were hired for six months. At the end of six months, workers and farmers could terminate the contract. Boys and girls might be only fourteen when they first started and often had to move away from their homes to find work. Work was constant. The only time they were free was between milking times on a Sunday. Other days they finished work at around 5.30pm having started at 6.30am.

Hiring fairs were held twice a year at Carlisle, Cockermouth, Penrith and Wigton. During the morning the farm workers would meet with the farmers in the market place. Those wishing to be hired chewed a piece of straw as a sign they were available for hire. Farm workers without straw were known to be “stoppen on”.

A farmer would say, ‘is’ta for hire lad?’ If the lad said ‘aye’, they would start bargaining about a wage. When a deal was struck they would shake hands and the farmer would give the lad a shilling to seal the deal. The shilling was known as a fairing.
Cockermouth fair
Cockermouth Hiring Fair, early 1900s

How well the farmer’s wife would feed the hired help was an important thing. The lads would meet and say to each other, “is ta stoppen on?” and “what swort of a meat shop is’t?” Farmers who didn’t feed their men well soon got known as a bad meat shop.

Washing farm cart wheels in stream
Hired lads washing cart wheels at Lesson Hall

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Like most farmers' wives, Sarah Jefferson made her own butter. She took this to Maryport market each Friday along with any surplus eggs from the family's chickens.
After the market, the farmers' wives would go shopping for the week's groceries and a few little luxuries.
Family life on the farm