[From T.Quayle Agriculture of IoM, 1812]
IN the contract made between the farmer and his laborer, in former days, many peculiarities existed, and some still remain. By the insular statute-book, the authority of a species of rural tribunal is recognised, which is termed " A jury for servants," and which appears to have possessed the power of compelling the service in agriculture, of persons whom they considered as unemployed. The Deemsters, or common law judges, the coroners, the serjeants, and the moars, or persons employed in collecting the manorial rents, appear also to have been in possession of a privilege, of compelling to enter into their own service, for one year, a certain number of servants of both sexes, by a ceremony called yarding. Both these institutions, particularly the latter, were capable of great abuse; were, in fact, much abused; and have deservedly gone into oblivion, or been abolished.
A large portion of the peasantry, living at present in a considerable degree of independence, a custom has been introduced in the larger farms of securing the service of a regular set of laborers by assigning annually to each family a cottage, and a few acres of land, without payment of rent, or at a rent less than the value, on a compact that the individuals of that family shall work for their landlord, and receive throughout the year, wages somewhat lower, than at their ordinary rate. To these laborers, the provincial name is given of " Cottlers." Sometimes for the labor of the family at harvest only, a small quantity of land is assigned without a cottage. For example, a farmer at a distance from a town, gives to a laborer a potatoe butt, and the muck necessary for it; in return for which he gives his labor at harvest, each day's labor being valued as equal to 60 feet in length and 4 feet in width of potatoe butt, hand labour to the potatoes and setts being found by the cottager.
In case of regular wages being paid, besides the possession of land, sometimes 10d. per day are given; sometimes 4d per day and board. The continuance of this custom, notwithstanding the inconveniences so obviously attending it, may, in some degree, be attributed to the season of the herring fishery clashing with the harvest, and making it indispensible to attach to the farm the necessary laborers. The principal part of field labor is indeed, at that time, performed by women. By them the corn is almost exclusively cut; the binding being done by men, in the proportion of one man to six or seven women: after cutting, it is immediately bound and stocked; seven women, with one man to bind after them, finish an acre in the day. In this fickle climate, the farmer thinks it imprudent to hazard his crop in the swath a single night.
Since the introduction of threshing mills, the convenience of laying corn neatly in bands, has given to the sickle a still more decided preference over the scythe, which is here rarely employed in cutting corn. Except on dry well-aired spots, the cutting or binding early in the morning is not practised. The reaper's labour commences about seven or eight; two hours being allowed for dinner: it ceases at six; but if the evening is favorable, occasionally continues later, without their requiring any other recompense than a little beer. The yearly wages of a farming manservant, boarding in the house, varies from 12l. to 20l. per annum. If married, and not living in the house, a good ploughman has sometimes a cottage furnished to him, and provisions: In one Instance, these proved, on enquiry, to be two quarts of skimmed milk per day. 17½ lb. of oatmeal by the week; 4 bolls, about 1350 lb. of potatoes; and a ton of coals by the year. Women servants in the house have from 5l. to 8l. per annum. A good mower receives 3s. a day, and an allowance of at least a quart of ale. The weekly wages of an unattached laborer, in the neighbourhood of a town, are about 9s. in winter, 12s. in summer; and 15s. at harvest, with an allowance each day of a quart of beer. Near the mountain, about 8s. in winter, and 9s. in summer, without beer. A woman's wages are from 10d. in ordinary times, to 1s. 6d. per day in harvest. One gentleman, who farms extensively within two miles of Douglas, gives his men regular wages of 10s. a week through the whole year, with no allowance of beer. His hours of labour are from six to eleven, and from one to six in summer; from eight to twelve, and from half-past one to night, in winter; but he observe that there it not in the island any other person, who can induce his laborers to commence work constantly at so early an hour in the morning.
The Manks peasants being much attached to dancing, it is a constant practice on the evening of the day on which the last corn is cut, for the farmer to call in a fiddler or two. Laborers, young and old, then assemble; and often the family and friends of the farmer himself join in the merry dance. The reason of fixing the period of this festivity, which is called the mellow, not at harvest home, but an the day when the last corn is cut, is probably because the females' share of the labour then ceases, and they disperse. During the dance, a diminutive sheaf, formed of the last cut corn, bound with ribbands, which had been borne in procession from the field by the queen of the mellow, passes from hand to hand among the young women, and in dancing is waved above the head. English country-dancing are still unknown to them. Jigs and reels, in which four or five couple join, take their place, the fiddler changing his tune, and often playing one of the few national lively airs, preserved from early times, resembling strongly in character the Irish.
The custom of working by the job has not yet been generally introduced. Reaping and binding is sometimes let by the acre, at about 10s.; sometimes by the stook, at 2d. each; in each case the farmers own servants making up the stook. This latter operation is carefully performed. On account of the high winds prevalent towards the end of harvest, it is thought dangerous to set up single sheaves.
Drains are usually made by contract: those three feet wide at the surface, three feet deep, diminishing to the width of a foot at bottom, cost 3d. per yard. If four feet at the surface, four feet deep, and the width of two feet at the bottom, 4½d. per yard. When the stones are immediately laid into the drain which some persons prefer, the width on the surface is of less importance; but the same prices are paid. This work is generally performed by Irish labourers. Several farmers, natives of the north of Ireland, have of late established themselves in the island, and are remarked for industry and good conduct.
Stone walling is also paid by measurement. Where the quarry is conveniently situated, for a drier wall, five feet ten inches high, well coped, the charge is from 1s. 5d. to 2s. per yard, for the whole labour of quarrying, drawing the stones; and walling. Where the stones are delivered on the spot by the proprietor, for waller's work only, from 1s. to 1s. 2d. per yard.
It is observed by settlers from other countries, that the characteristic of Marks servants is indolence; but that they are tractable, and readily adopt any new practice. Several of them have become good ploughmen: As mowers, they are more expert than their neighbours in Cumberland; equalling them in quantity; but excelling them in goodness of work.
It is not unpardonable in the Manks legislature, if they have gone astray, with their neighbours in countries more enlightened, in their attempt to settle by law the wages of artizans and laborers. In 1609, the Governor, Council, and Keys, pass an ordinance, by which they fix a ploughman's yearly wages at 13s. 4d. a driver's at 10s. and a horseman's at 8s 1. The wages of most mechanics are fixed at 4d. a day, with board: a blacksmith is limited to 1d. for making a coulter, 2d for making a sock, and one halfpenny for making and laying the wing of a sock. In case of any farmer contravening these regulations, a penalty is imposed to the amount of wages paid. In 1667, a ploughman's wages were raised to 15s; a household-fisherman's (an employment now never heard of), fixed at 13s.; and those of a maid servant of ability at 9s. Again, in 1691, alterations and additions to these rates are made; the mechanics are allowed 8d. a day, or 4d. with board. " All common laborers, as gardeners, hedgers, reapers "of corn, hay-makers, and such like," shall have, with meat and drink, at. per day; without meat and drink 4d. and not above. But a mower doing his work sufficiently, two to an acre, or one to a daymouth 2,. shall receive for his day's work, with sufficient meat and drink, 4d. and without meat and drink, 12d. and not above; and that to be in the farmer's choice which to give. Why a mower's food should be valued at twice the amount of a mechanic's, and at four times the amount of a common husbandman's, is difficult to conjecture. From Lady-day to Michaelmas, the workng hours are fixed from six to six; from Michaelmas to Lady-day, they are to continue from sun-rise to sun-set.
So recently as in 1763, the oppressive practice of yarding servants, which had in the year 1747, been suspended for three years, appears to have been still in existence. The legislature admits that the wages then by law payable to those persons were very insufficient: An augmentation is given; and in their liberality, they enact that a man-servant shall receive in future 40s. and a maid-servant 20s. for a year's servitude.
About forty year's ago, the daily wages of a husbandman were but 7d. or 8d. Manks, without any allowance. So recently as in 1794, they were rising from 8d. to 1s.; and a ploughman's wages are stated by the Report made in that year to the Board, to have risen from three to six guineas, the then price. In the same report (page 15), it is also justly observed, that though the daily wages were at that time nominally lower than on the coasts of England, yet that the work done was, from the want of activity and ingenuity in the laborer, quite as costly. The wages have now risen more nearly to an equality; but whether the activity and ingenuity have risen in the same ratio, appears very doubtful. In the payment of debts, servants' wages have here a priority to all other creditors, except landlords for rent in arrear. The fluctuation in the price of provisions has recently been so great, that it is difficult to state their average. In 1810-11, wheat sold from 36s. to 42s. per boll, weighing 256 lb.; barley at about 30s. per boll of six bushels: potatoe oats at about a guinea for the same measure: potatoes at 8d. per boll, of 16 upheaped pecks, weighing nearly 400lb.; butter 10d. to 1s. 2d. per pound; skimmed milk cheese 1d. to 6d. per pound. Fat cattle sold at the end of the year at 6d. per pound, including kidney-fat, but sinking the offal. In spring and summer, about 7d. Fat sheep sell higher than cattle by about 1d. in the pound. In the price of many of these articles, the laboring poor are not directly interested. Their diet is principally potatoes and salt-herrings. Oat, or barley-meal, cooked in different ways, eaten with milk, constitutes their breakfast and often their supper. Either herrings, or some other fish, fresh or salted, with potatoes, their dinner; and potatoes again, Summery, or meal-pottage with milk, their supper. The potatoes are often of their own growth. From 800 to 1000 herrings are laid in from 4s. to 5s. a hundred, of 124 fish to the hundred. This is deemed a good stock for a family of six persons. Salt is at 1s. 8d. to 2s. per bushel retail: not being charged with any duty in England, on export to the Isle of Man.
The established custom of the peasantry, to lay in, before the winter commences the provisions for the coming year, has formerly, in this island, been rather matter of necessity than of choice. In former days, unless their own stores furnished to each family a provision of winter's food, they would have been in danger of not obtaining elsewhere a supply, and of perishing from want.
On the question, whether or not it be for the interest of a workman to lay in beforehand a store of provisions, the authority for the negative is no less than that of Adam Smith himself 3. Were it not temerity to venture an opinion apparently in opposition to one supported by that revered name, it might be observed that he leaves the question undecided, in a case where the workman is in fact enabled, by a surplus of capital beyond that portion which is or can be invested in his instruments of trade and furniture, to lay out a portion in the purchase of provisions: that although the capital so laid out does not yield revenue, yet that it does what is tantamount; it enables the consumer to retain himself, what would otherwise be paid to the retail-trader as profit on the provisions sold from hand to mouth: that it economises all the time, which would otherwise necessarily spent in the obtaining daily supplies: that it must contribute to the ease of mind of the possessor of such stores, that no personal injury happening to himself, no casual dearth, or other accident, can deprive his family of found for several months to come. But, above all, that this habit of storing must be attended with the good effects of teaching the poor, habits of forecast in laying up the sums necessary to effect purchases of provisions beforehand, with discreet economy in their consumption.
Near the ports and creeks, the usual fuel is coal; generally shipped at Whitehaven, or one of the adjacent ports of Cumberland. At Douglas its price is about 30s. per ton. The quantity contained in a ton should be 48 bushels striked measure; but is generally but about 42 bushels.
Near the mountain, peat or turf is burnt; and furze also forms a considerable portion of the fuel of the poor. The latter articles being principally obtained by the cottager's own labor, he does not economize in their consumption; and it is to be regretted, from the habit of cooking on the bare hearth, without having fixed ranges, coppers, or ovens, and with chimneys, if chimneys they can be called, of enormous width, a great waste takes place in the consumption of fuel.
As no surer test seems likely to arise, of the increasing number and wants of the inhabitants of the Island, than that which is furnished by the steadily progressive increase in the quantity of fuel consumed, a statement is inserted in the Appendix, taken from the insular custom-house books, of the quantities of coal imported for the last thirty years. During the latter period of the term, the great increase is, in no small degree, to be attributed to the increased consumption of coal in lime burning. See Appendix C.
+1 It must be remarked that all these sums, and the following, are in the Manks currency, which is one seventh less than sterling
+2 Daymouth, or rather Daymath or Daymowth, a provincial term, signifying so much as may be mown by one man within the day; now usually estimated in the island three fourths of a Statute acre.
+3 If a poor workmen was obliged to purchase a month's or six months provisions at a time, a great part of the stock which he employs as the capital in the instruments of his trade, or in the furniture of his shop, and which yields him a revenue, he would be forced to place in that part of his stock which is reserved for immediate consumption, and which yields him no revenue. Nothing can be more convenient than for such a person to purchase his subsistence from day to day, or even from hour to hour, as he wants it. He is thereby enabled to employ almost his whole stock as a capital, he is thus enabled to furnish work to a greater value; and the profit, which he makes by it in this way, much more than compensates the additional price, which the profit of the retailer imposes on the goods."-Smith's Wealth of Nations, Book 11. c. 5.