After the hungry years of the 1840ís that had bad harvests, wet summers and the potato blight (mainly in Ireland) things began to improve.
During the mid-Victorian decades farming appeared to be blessed with an unstoppable prosperity in many parts of the world. Growing cities, railways, steamships, and more modern machinery provided rich and expanding markets. Improved plant strains increased the harvests.
The collapse in the industry came in about the early 1880's with bad harvests, outbreaks of disease in livestock and falling wheat prices especially in Europe. Many farmers who had farmed the same land for years went out of business.
It wasn't until around the end of the 1880's that things began to again improve.
The romantic view of rural life in England in lots of cases was far from true. Farm labourerís cottages were very often cramped and cold with leaking roofs and broken windows. Their diet was often very poor and their clothing was often handed down from father to son.
It depended on whom the farm workers were employed by as to what their accommodation was like. Some wealthy landowners built decent cottages for their workers and they were generally free but some landowners didn't really care how poor and dirty the farm workers cottages were.
Many workers relied on their small gardens to grow vegetables and maybe keep a pig. They would make their own ale, cider and fruit wines. The corn gleanings collected after harvest would enable them to make bread.
FARM LABOURERS - WAGES AND DIET
A Dorset farm worker in the 1850's earned six shillings a week and described his daily diet as follows:
After attending the horses, ate a breakfast consisting of flour and butter with water poured over it, worked in the fields until midday then ate a piece of bread and occasionally cheese. Supper consisted of bread or potatoes and water, sometimes a little bacon (a luxury for many). At harvest time his master gave him an allowance of beer.
Other diets mentioned in (English Life in the Nineteenth Century)of some case reports collected by a Dr Edward Smith in 1863 were:
DEVON - Breakfast and supper: teakettle broth (bread, hot water, salt and half a pint of milk), bread and treacle. Dinner:pudding (flour, salt and water), vegetables and fresh meat. No bread.
DORSET - Breakfast: water broth, bread and butter, tea with milk. Dinner: husband has bread and cheese, family take tea besides. Supper: fried bacon and cabbage, or bread and cheese.
LINCOLNSHIRE - Breakfast: milk gruel or bread and water, or tea and bread. Dinner: meat for husband only, others vegetables only. Tea and supper: bread or potatoes.
A FAMILY BUDGET
A report in 1843 gave an example of a weekly family budget:
Total Earnings:13s.9d - Total Expenditure: 13s.9d
The blacksmith was an important figure in the village. As well as forging all the bars, hooks, nails hinges and other ironwork needed, his main task was to shoe the horses.
It was the wheelwright who made the carts and wagons for local use.
Many men earned their living as woodworkers of one kind or another, making chair legs, poles and pegs on their lathes, or shaping wooden bowls, spoons, walking sticks, fence posts or clogs to which the blacksmith added iron tips.
The Thatcher covered the roofs of village houses with straw thatch of wheat, rye or reeds.
Basket making was performed by many cottagers who grew their own osiers (native or cultivated kinds of willow trees or shrubs), cutting and stripping the rods themselves, seasoning them, peeling and preparing them from the point of view of appearance. Sometimes baskets were made of rushes instead of osiers.
The Mason worked on the stonework in the village like churches and bridges etc. The Monumental Mason made the gravestones.
Other self explanatory workers were:
Coachman - Cooper (barrel makers) - Shoemaker - Innkeeper - General Store Keeper - Saddler - Baker