The Victorian English Hiring Fair

Hiring fairs also called mop fairs or statue fairs took place throughout England in the 19th century and although by the end of this period they were on the wane, they still provided an important means to employ regular farm workers or farm servants.

These hiring fairs were for the hiring of farm servants who were different than general agricultural labourers.  Farm servants were hired for a fixed period, often six months or a year and were paid at the end of this period.  They lived on the farm itself and received bed and board as part of the package.  This meant that farm servants and therefore those attending the hiring fair, were young and unmarried.

At the old mops the occupations of the agricultural labourers and the domestic servants were indicated by badges:[i]

Carter – a piece of whipcord

Cowman- a lock of cow hair

Those employed in the fields- flowers

Shepherds – a crook

Farmers would approach the worker that they liked the look of and enquire about their skills and experience.  Negotiations over pay would follow and when an agreement was made a fest or fastening penny was given by the employer to seal the bargain.[ii]

This was seen as legally binding although in some places it was a convention that if the fest was returned up to a fortnight after then the worker was free to find another job.[iii]  If the worker left his employer during the period of six months or whatever had been agreed then it was up to the employer whether they were paid anything at all. [iv]

Problems with the system

At hiring fairs the two sides of the bargain were often strangers to each other and no written character or reference was required.  This led to abuses on both sides.  It was said that servants of bad character could rob his or her employer and run off before the employer realised that they had taken on someone who had no intention of working.

Some servants would take the deposit from a potential employer and not show up for work.  Others collected deposits from more than one employer and not turn up for any of them.

Some Masters adopted a system where they asked potential servants to give them a certain sum as surety for their appearance.  This did give the Master more security but at the same time made the servant more vulnerable.  An example was given in 1861.[v] of a “Master” who obtained 5 shillings from a potential servant and then took him into a public house to treat him.  Some gambling was going on and the Master regretted that after hiring his servants he didn’t have enough money in his pocket to join in.  The servant, thinking that it would get him in the Masters good books lent him the £3 he had of last year’s wages.  The Master was then never seen again.

A talk given to the Wenlock Farmers’ club by the Reverend Edward Jacson of Thruxton and Kingstone in January 1861 was reflective of the general mood of some farmers and “upstanding” members of society that hiring fairs or “mops” gave rise to many moral evils as well as being out of touch with modern ways of doing business.

Some servants remained drinking and enjoying themselves for several days and were summoned in front of the Magistrate by their masters in neglect of work.  If the Master agreed then the servant would need to pay costs out of their wages.  However, if the Master so wished then the “the fun of the fair ends on the treadmill”.[vi]

Mr Davies of Webton court in Herefordshire “Why, on the 1st May , all servantdom is let loose on the world and they refuse to enter upon a fresh contract until the 19th to the great inconvenience of the employer who is quite at their mercy and is often compelled to do the work himself if he gets it done at all.”[vii]

Registration

It was argued that by 1861 domestic servants were mainly employed through word of mouth/ references or employment agencies and therefore farm servants should be engaged in the same way.  Mr Nash Stephenson in his talk on Statute fairs in a meeting at Liverpool in 1858 even likened hiring fairs to American slave markets saying that “The character of the servant does not enter the bargain but that it is decided by the strength of the body”.[viii]

The registration system would work with a central office in the large town of the neighbourhood and have a resident manager.  It would open perhaps once or twice a week including market and fair days and there would be branch offices in some of the main surrounding villages.

The registration scheme did take off in certain areas such as Worcestershire[ix] but in 1878 the President of the Breconshire Chamber of Agriculture was “sorry to inform the Chamber that the register scheme had proved a failure as they could induce neither employers or servants to go to them..”[x]

There was a charge for using the registration offices and servants at the Presteigne office were charged one shilling whether they were hired or not.  This was thought to be the main reason they didn’t take off but a Mr Morriss of Talgarth had opened a registration office with no fees and still had little uptake. [xi]

The Herefordshire Domestic and Farm Servants’ Registration Society, of which J.H. Arkwright was secretary and treasurer, was founded in 1867 under the title of the Herefordshire Domestic and General Farm Servants’ Registration Society.[xii]  However like schemes elsewhere this seems to have been poorly recieved and  stopped operating by 1869.

Moral dangers

As the majority of hiring fairs or statue fairs were also combined with attractions and funfairs, in the minds of some they led to dangers of both the physical and moral kind. Tales abounded of inexperienced workers with their pay newly in their pockets being lured into public houses where “even the very devils in hell would delight and be satisfied with the orgies and revels that follow” [xiii]

Mr Humphries, Superintendent of Police in Kings Heath said in 1861 that “I have seen married and single conducting themselves with the greatest impropriety and young girls or rather children stopping all night dancing and drinking and allowing most indecent liberties to be taken.”[xiv]

Mr James Isaac, Chief Constable of Warwickshire in whose district in the 1860s 27 statute fairs were held, “on female servants they have a most baleful effect:  many cases of bastardy resulted from improper intimacies at or returning from Statutes”.[xv]

It was also said that on the following morning after the Mop that the police courts were full of people either answering charges of disorder and drunkenness or appearing penniless with their pockets emptied and sometimes even the shirt off their backs.[xvi]  Some men were described as being “ pot valiant” in that in the throes of drink they signed up for the army. In the morning, when sober, they needed to use the previous year’s wages to buy themselves out of their commitment. [xvii]

Although these comments and attitudes on hiring fairs did contain some genuine concern for those involved, it is hard not to see their attitude as rather patronising.  With the time around the hiring fairs being the only time in the year when farm servants had a proper holiday, it seems harsh to begrudge them time to let off steam before a new year of hard work will begin.

Attractions

Over time, many hiring fairs became less about hiring servants and more about attractions and having fun.

By 1903 the Leominster May Fair had moved from primarily being a hiring one to a pleasure one.  The first rides for the children of the National British Schools was paid for by the Mayor and attractions included:[xviii]

  • Coconut alley
  • Biddall’s menageries
  • Shooting galleries
  • Giant Lady
  • Zara the witch and her thought reading

In Broad Street Hereford in 1862: “Adjoining the swing boats was Leon’s Circus where ladies.. made themselves conspicuous to our country cousins by their not over refined contortions”[xix]

Broad street also had[xx] :

  • Photographic studios
  • A talking pig
  • Performing canaries
  • Fortune telling horses

High Town had attractions including:[xxi]

  • Peep shows
  • Cabinets of curiosities
  • Wombwell’s famed menagerie with a Burmese elephant and a lion tamer.

Decline

As the 19th century progressed the hiring fair was in decline for a number of reasons.

The agricultural depression of the 1870s onwards meant the farmers were reducing the number of regular workers they hired, relying more on casual, seasonal workers around times such as harvest.  Rural depopulation was also an issue as travel links improved attracting rural workers to the cities and industrial conurbations.  The decline however was not evenly spread and some hiring fairs were still happening after WW1, despite being on a much smaller scale.

In 1878 the Presteigne hiring fair “has of late years very much deteriorated and this year the number offering themselves for hire was exceedingly scanty.”[xxii]

As was noted before, by 1908 Leominster was now predominantly a pleasure fair.  In article of the time, it was said the there was a time when the hiring fair was the day of the year for the local Savings Bank, there being a steady stream of all kinds of servants who had received their wages and wished to deposit some to be saved.  By 1908, the business on the day of the hiring fair was the same as any other day.[xxiii]

A noticeable trend at the beginning of the 20th century was the reluctance of female servants to re- engage for service at farmhouses.  It was said that they found domestic service in an urban or suburban setting to be more attractive as well as having more to entertain them in their rationed free time.  [xxiv]    In 1910 at the Sleaford May fair, one of the largest hiring fairs in England “not one girl in a hundred who accepted a situation in a farm houses would undertake duties of milking and the men will have to do their work.” [xxv]

Many farmers were also increasingly reluctant to employ regular male labour owing to the high wages demanded.  This is again because young men were finding work in urban and industrial districts to be better paid and more attractive.[xxvi]]

In a telling aside on the decline of the Mops, an article in 1903 said “it was stated in last week’s issue that there was no evidence of the old hiring fair but we understand a farmer form Malvern visited the t town and was successful in hiring a servant.“ [xxvii]

Records of some hiring fairs are also available in local record offices.  For example, Chippenham Hiring Fair records at Swindon History Centre include a register of persons hired, where born, ages, duties, wages, last employer, and other details.  Some fairs have more detailed records than others depending in the how efficient the market clerk was.

[i] Hereford Times. 13 May 1911. P. 05. Col. 7

[ii] CAUNCE, Stephen. (Autumn 1975) East Riding Fairs. Oral History. Vol. 03. Volume 02. P 46.

[iii] CAUNCE, Stephen. (Autumn 1975) East Riding Fairs. Oral History. Vol. 03. Volume 02. P 46.

[iv] CAUNCE, Stephen. (Autumn 1975) East Riding Fairs. Oral History. Vol. 03. Volume 02. P 46.

[v] Hereford Journal. 30 January 1861. Hiring Fairs. P.3. Col.2

[vi] Hereford Journal. 30 January 1861. Hiring Fairs. P.3. Col.2

[vii] Hereford Journal. 30 January 1861. Hiring Fairs. P.3. Col.2

[viii] Hereford Journal. 30 January 1861. Hiring Fairs. P.3. Col.1

[ix] Hereford Times. 12 Oct 1867. Gloucester: Statute Fairs. Page 10. Col. 4

[x] Gratis double supplement to the Hereford Times. 23 Nov 1878.  Breconshire Chamber of Agriculture: Hiring at Fairs. Page 19. Col.6

[xi] Gratis double supplement to the Hereford Times. 23 Nov 1878.  Breconshire Chamber of Agriculture: Hiring at Fairs. Page 19. Col.6

[xii] National Archives. Herefordshire domestic and farm servants’ registration society.

https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/b4b7f809-c36e-4790-846f-928e0c9e132b

[xiii] Hereford Journal. 30 January 1861. Hiring Fairs. P.3. Col.1

[xiv] Hereford Journal. 30 January 1861. Hiring Fairs. P.3. Col.1

[xv] Hereford Journal. 30 January 1861. Hiring Fairs. P.3. Col.1

 

[xvi] Hereford Journal. 30 January 1861. Hiring Fairs. P.3. Col.2

[xvii] Hereford Journal. 30 January 1861. Hiring Fairs. P.3. Col.2

[xviii] Leominster News and Northwest Herefordshire and Radnorshire Advertiser. 08 May 1903. Leominster May Fair.  Page 08. Col 03.

[xix] Hereford Journal. 24 May 1862. The Hiring Fair. P 5. Col 1.

[xx] Hereford Journal. 24 May 1862. The Hiring Fair. P 5. Col 1.

 

[xxi] Hereford Journal. 24 May 1862. The Hiring Fair. P 5. Col 1.

[xxii] Hereford Journal. 18 may 1878.  Presteign May Fair. Page 08. Col. 4

[xxiii] Leominster news and North West Herefordshire and Radnorshire Advertiser. 08 May 1908.  Leominster may Fair.  P. 08. Col. 4

[xxiv] Hereford Journal. 01 June 1907. Hay: Decline of Hiring fair. Page 06. Col 4.

[xxv] Hereford Journal. 28 may 1910. P. 02. Col. 7

[xxvi] Hereford Journal. 01 June 1907. Hay: Decline of Hiring fair. Page 06. Col 4.

[xxvii] Bromyard news.  02 April 1903. P. 05. Col. 2

Introduction to Post Medieval Deeds

After recently completeing an online course with Pharos Tutors on Deeds and Disputes with Susan Moore, I have written an Introduction to post Medieval deeds.

Deeds are some of the most widely available and useful records held in archives.  Some can even date back as far as the 12th century.[i]  They are, however, often neglected partly because the legal language can be difficult to understand and partly due to the fact that before 1733 they were written in Latin.

Deeds are legal documents which are concerned with the ownership or possession of property, usually land or houses but can also include marriage settlements and mortgages.  You might be tempted to think that your ancestors would not have been rich enough to own property but even people of the most humble origin would have a little land such as a cottage and a field  and many people would have leased such property.  Even yeoman farmers might rent their farms for generations.[ii]

To read the rest of the article, email me and I will send you it in pdf format

 

[i] Durie. P. 239

[ii] Alcock. P. 20

Poor Relief Records

Want to find out more about using Poor Relief Records in England before 1834?

Then email me for a copy of my latest article.

Here is the first parargraph:

Parish records do not consist solely of registers of baptisms, marriages and burials.  There is a wealth of information that can be gleaned from the documents used by the parishes to administer themselves efficiently.  In this article I will briefly touch upon the work of the parish and then concentrate on how documents relating to poor relief can be invaluable when researching your ancestors.

Records of UK Civil Internment in WWII

Last night I attended a webinar held by The National Archives on civil internment during World War 2.  Recently, in collaboration with FindmyPast, the archives have digitised and released their collection so it is much easier to discover more about any relatives that may be involved.  133,908 people from World War Two are included.

Enemy Aliens were people who were born in or had family connections to those countries that were allied against Britain in World War 2.  These included people from Germany, Italy, Japan, Austria, Finland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and more.  British women who had married men from these countries were also classed as enemy aliens.

120 tribunals took place across the UK, with 11 in North West London alone.  They were usually headed by judges, magistrates or other prominent members of the community.  Individuals were interviewed and then classed as one of three categories:

Category A                They would be interned in a camp

Category B                They would not be interned but special restrictions would be placed.

Category C                No internment and no restrictions.

The typical tribunal index card produced for enemy aliens contains the following information:

Full name

Place and date of birth

Nationality

Police card reg. number.  All aliens had to register with their local police force and were issued a card.  Many do not survive but if they do they will be held at local records offices or police archives.  TNA has cards for the London Metropolitan area.

Home Office reference number.  This can be really important as it will link to their Home Office file which has more information on the individual.  If you have a reference then type it into in the National Archives catalogue search and any records surviving will be listed.

Address

Occupation

Name and address of employer

Decision of tribunal and date

The back of the card explains reasons for the decision, which camp they were sent too and other details such as family background.  This is usually closed until 100 years after they were discharged as enemy aliens.  This can be as late as 1959.  If the person is deceased, you can however make a Freedom of Information request to have it opened.

Using UK Historical Directories for Family History

Did you know that a Herring Curer operated in Herefordshire in 1913?  Or that in St. Owen’s street Hereford you could find an artificial arm & leg manufacturer in 1890?  Fascinating details like this can be found in historical directories which as well as helping to identify individuals can also give a context to the life of your ancestor.

Historical directories comprise of two distinct types of publication: Trade directories and postal directories.  As the 19th century progressed these types of directories became identical in format but there are significant differences especially when the first trade directories were produced.

The first directory of London merchants was published in 1677 and London directories were published annually from 1734.[1]  A directory for Birmingham was produced in 1763 and the first county directory (for Hampshire) was published in 1784.[2]

Early directories were usually aimed at commercial travellers and typically contained general descriptions of a city, town or village and its communications (stagecoach and later, railway connections).  An entry for a place then listed its churches, inns, prominent residents, farmers, shopkeepers and other traders.  These trade directories included only the wealthier (or notable) residents.  Research has shown that a typical early 19th century trade directory contained only about 6% of the population of the area.[3]  As the 19th century progressed trade directories began to include more names and addresses of private residents whether or not they were wealthy.

The names in many early directories were obtained by personal visits or through local agents paid for the task.[4]  Those involved were often local printers and booksellers, tax and post office officials and agents for insurance companies.[5]  The number of directories increased greatly in the 19th century due to the abolition of the paper tax and a rise in general literacy, covering a county, a range of counties or a city.

Directories with names and addresses of private citizens also helped with the addressing of post and Kelly & Co started to produce Post Office directories of provincial towns and counties in 1845.[6]  The publication of these directories carried on until the 1970s when they were superseded by telephone directories.[7]

 

Directories and the Census Returns

Directories were published more frequently than the census and so they can be used to complement census information.  Information that can be found includes:

  • Confirmation of a person’s address
  • Additional details relating to craftsmen, traders and businessmen who had set up a business on their own account
  • The fortunes of an individual family through several generations
  • Lists of secondary occupations of male householders, such as part-time or seasonal work
  • Relatively comprehensive records of male householders in directories from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries
  • A series of directories can show changes in the name of the business, perhaps when it was formed and indeed when it was dissolved. This could lead onto a search in the London or Edinburgh Gazette for either bankruptcy or dissolution of a partnership.
  • An advert in a directory may give details about the actual business, sometimes even picturing the premises and examples of its products
  • A directory’s description of cities, towns or large villages can provide context for the lives of your ancestors. It can provide details about local industries, population, charities, postal deliveries, transport links and schools.[8]

By 1850 the directories were becoming larger and larger and were usually divided into the following sections:[9]

  • Alphabetical lists for particular trades or businesses.
  • Lists of tradesmen and residents arranged by streets.
  • Listing local government and court officials or dignitaries.

Otherwise the entries are usually listed alphabetically by name of settlement.

Beware!

It would be wrong to think of directories as either precise or wholly accurate.  Directories could be out of date usually by about a year by the time they were published.[10]  Added to this some publishers reprinted information from the previous year’s directory without checking it first.  Some even found their entries from other firm’s directories so mistakes could be compounded over time.

In the early directories the general introduction to each town is then followed by listings of the local bigwigs – landowners and gentry; clergy; doctors and lawyers and possibly their widows.  Only then do you get the lists of people in trade.  Unless your ancestors fit into one of these categories their names are unlikely to appear in the early directories, as they don’t include any labourers, servants, shop assistants, clerks or other employees.  As you move through the 19th century however, directories start to include street directories and surname listings for heads of households and so gradually included a much wider section of the population.

Villages and hamlets also had limited coverage in early directories, often receiving only a brief mention with one or two names, attached to the entry for the nearest sizeable town.

 

Accessing Directories

Herefordshire libraries have a range of directories both to borrow and to use as reference.  These range from the beginning of the 19th century to approximately the end of the 1930’s and can include Herefordshire as its own volume or as a combination with other counties such as Shropshire and Gloucestershire.  Ledbury library also has a range of Tilley’s almanacs that were produced just for Ledbury and its surroundings.  Herefordshire Archive and Record centre also has a good range of directories on its open shelves that can be accessed freely.

Online

Although the University of Leicester’s wonderful Historical Directories website was withdrawn in March 2014, the information is still available for free as part of their Special Collections online. The directories cover England and Wales from the 1760s to the 1910s and although a little cumbersome to use, are still a great resource.  The directories can be browsed by location and either viewed online one page at a time or downloaded and accessed via a PDF viewer such as Adobe Reader.  You can also search the directories for  names, towns, villages and occupations but if you are looking for a common name it is much easier to look at the actual directories themselves.

Ancestry also has a number of City and County Directories available from 1766 – 1946 including a limited number from the Channel Islands, Wales and Scotland.  Individual Herefordshire directories on Ancestry begin in 1830 and are available at regular intervals until 1913.  There is also a 1934 directory available.  However caution must be used when searching these directories as the index was created using text recognition software. i.e. the records were not transcribed.  This can sometimes give interesting returns to a search especially on some of the earlier directories.

Scottish Post Office directories

Scottish Post Office directories are available for free from the National Library of Scotland’s website.    Online you can now access 694 directories for the period 1773 to 1911, covering 28 of Scotland’s towns and counties.

In each directory you can:

  • View page by page
  • View a PDF of the complete book
  • Search the full PDF text
  • Download files for free within our copyright regulations

Irish Post Office Directories

Street directories for Ulster begin to appear in the early 19th century and are available to search and browse for free on the website of the PRONI (http://www.proni.gov.uk).

FindmyPast has a wide range of Irish directories for the other provinces from the early 19th century onwards.

 

[1] Herber, Mark. ( 2004) Ancestral Trails. P.159. Sutton Publishing.

[2] Ibid. P.163.

[3] Ibid.. P.159

[4] FamilySearch. Directories in England & Wales. https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Directories_in_England_and_Wales

[5] Ibid.

[6] Herber, Mark. ( 2004) Ancestral Trails. P.163. Sutton Publishing.

[7] Ibid. P.159.

[8] Ibid. P.165.

[9] Herber, Mark. ( 2004) Ancestral Trails. P.160. Sutton Publishing.

[10] Ibid. P.163.

Futurelearn course on Irish history

I have just completed a free online course facilitated by Trinity College Dublin on Irish lives in War and Revolution: exploring Irish history 1912-23.

Using video tutorials , newsreels, articles, posters, diaries and songs, it takes you through the material that is availble on this period which is fascinating especially for those with Irish ancestry.  I have discovered many more sources of information that I will use to try and find out more on the O’Gradys.

Futurelearn do all kinds of courses for free including one on genealogy.  To find out more go to their website.

Alfred Watkins Collection of Historic Photographs

Have you ever heard of Alfred Watkins?  If not then you are missing out on some wonderful historical photographs of Herefordshire and its people.

Alfred Watkins (27th January 1855 – 15th April 1935) was a Herefordian businessman, photographer, author, self-taught amateur archaeologist, antiquarian and authority on beekeeping as well as founder member of the Woolhope Naturalist Field Club. He is famous for his work on ley lines.

He travelled extensively around Herefordshire, and took over 3000 photographs of rural life and surroundings.  At the moment there are 919 images aviable to view for free online.

http://www.herefordshirehistory.org.uk/archive/alfred-watkins-collection/alfred-watkins-images

Herefordshire Newspapers Online

I have just discovered this great free resource online.

http://www.herefordshirehistory.org.uk/archive/herefordshire-newspapers

Herefordshire newspapers from around the county from the year 1832 where available.

Titles include:

  • Hereford Times
  • Hereford Journal
  • Kington Reporter
  • Kington Times
  • Ledbury Guardian
  • Leominster News
  • Ross Gazette

They are not searchable at the moment but are fascinating to broswe through – you can easily lose a day!

Using Description of Prisoners Books

For the greater part of the 19th century it was in some cases impossible to identify new prisoners with any certainty just from the prison registers[i] but one of the measures used was the Description of Prisoners book. Prison staff took physical descriptions for each prisoner as they arrived at the gaol and recorded them in books that are arranged in alphabetcial order by surname.

The 1902 Convict Prison Standing Orders gave detailed instructions on how to measure convicts and how to record their physical condition and items such as tattoos, birthmarks and moles.[ii]

The Description of Prisoners Books for Dorset available online through Ancestry range from 1858 – 1879 and are fascinating reading.   When the entries were completed they included stature, complexion, hair, eyes, remarks (i.e. tattoos etc.) and number of children. These details, especially occupation and parish can help to confirm the identity of the prisoner listed in the prison registers.  Later books also included photographs of teh offender.

32439_b079070-00003

A page from a Dorset Description of Prisoners book courtesy of http://www.ancestry.co.uk

 

Unfortunately, for some reason, in the Dorset books women are listed but the columns are left blank. Also, if a man was convicted more than once during this period his details would only be entered on the first conviction but usually this is indicted in subsequent entries.

Findmypast and Ancestry hold some books but the majority are to be found in local archives.  There is also a good range of Australian books available.

[i] Priestley, Phillip. (1985) Victorian Prison Lives. London: Methuen. P. 121.

 

[ii] Ibid. P. 12.

 

Using English Prison Registers

Prior to the 1877 nationalisation of prisons in England and Wales, local prisons kept their own registers and as a result they vary between county and indeed between individual gaol. The number and time-span of registers available also varies from place to place as well as the number of registers that have been digitised. Normally, local prison registers are kept by the corresponding local records centre and are not indexed so you would need to have a very good idea of when your ancestor was convicted before you start searching.

In the case of Dorset, each volume is then sub-divided into type of conviction so again a knowledge of the type of crime committed would be useful. One of the main advantages of digitisation is that on the whole, prison registers are indexed and therefore searchable by name and by date.

Information given in prison registers from the 1850s onwards include the offender’s name and age, the crime they were accused of, place of offence,  where and when they were tried, sentence, religion and degree of education.

Earlier registers will also give a description of the prisoner. The information given by the prison registers on their own is useful but limited. There are no details of the offence itself and if the prisoner has a common name, they are lacking identifiers such as occupation and place of residence that will confirm that you have the right person. The next stage in the research process will be the description of prisoners book which will be the subject of my next blog.

Ancestry has a wide range of criminal records but sometimes this just involves a name, date, offence and sentence.  Findmypast also has a wide range including Home Office calendars of prisoners 1868-1929, after-trial calendars of prisoners 1855-1931 and  Irish prison registers.  Several indexes of prisoners at individual gaols are available at Black sheep ancestry