chapter  1
9 Pages

The crowded fields

Perhaps the first thing we should say about nineteenth-century harvesting is that it was an immense activity, involving more workers than ever before or since. This was partly because of the growth of population (larger in country districts than it had ever been, even though the towns were growing faster); partly because farms were larger, crop yields heavier, and landless labourers more numerous; above all because the work of the human arm was still of far greater importance than that of the machine. The 1851 census gives a figure of 1,077,627 for agricultural workers in England and Scotland. But the number of people in the harvest fields was certainly more, because at harvest time the Victorian farmer relied not only on his regular workers, but also on their wives and their children, on labourers from the open villages, on migrants from Ireland, and on casual labourers from the towns.