Ag Labs

Many of the families on both the paternal and maternal sides of my family tree were agricultural labourers. Much of what is written below would also apply to general labourers, although industrial labour paid a little better, generally, than agricultural.

Ag Labs

Mostly, the farm labourer did not share in the general prosperity of farmers and landowners in the 19th century. Wages were kept low and the general standard of housing was very bad. The working life was long, and after 1834 the threat of the workhouse overshadowed old age or disability

"meat was beyond the labourer's family. Their diet...was bread and potatoes with a little cheese and, more rarely, butter; in Bishop's Castle dripping was used instead of butter. Munslow parish no labourer's family kept a pig, brewed beer, or bought butcher's meat; they managed to get a little cheese when the family was small but the wheat or flour for a large family took all the man's wages. In some parishes a large labouring family could not survive without parish pay added regularly to the man's wage.

...the farm labourer's wife and children could earn something to add to the family income. Nevertheless in the late 18th and early 19th century, and for long after, the countrywoman's earnings were small and unreliable, and many Shropshire women sought summer work in the market gardens around London, picking fruit and carrying it to market. The carrying was 'unparalleled slavery', but the 8s. or 9s. a day they earned was unobtainable at home...

A labourer's sons were generally taken off his hands (aged c. 11) before they could earn by being informally apprenticed (unpaid until perhaps the last year of service) to farmers who kept them until they could earn; then they were normally allowed to go, or they ran away. Girls went into farm service younger than their brothers, and owing (as one commentator remarked in 1869) to 'the great evil' of a want of female chastity farm service often led to bastardy.

The poverty and bad housing of most labouring parents made them indifferent to their children's schooling...and it was found that the best paid labourers were the illiterate ones, [so] labourers' children were encouraged to begin farm work 'as young as possible' (about 10 years old) and 'by this means it is hoped that the children of the smaller farmers will keep ahead of their labourers in respect of education'

...the poor had been largely shifted out of Lydham parish by the demolition of cottages and by 1869 there were no labourers' cottages there and none in the neighbouring townships of Lea and Oakeley. Thus many farm labourers had to live in Bishop's Castle and walk to and from their work. Their conditions combined the disadvantages of an urban slum with low agricultural wages. Their houses were of the worst kind: most had only one bedroom and gardens hardly amounted to clothes-drying space. One farm labourer's house in the town, let for 1s. 6d. a week in 1869, had only one room upstairs and one down and no back door; it was only 9 ft. Square.

Even the most industrious labourer, it was claimed, could not in the long run avoid the workhouse. Such had been the fears of a generation or more of labouring men, since the formation of the poor-law unions in 1836-7"

All the text within quotation marks is from the Shropshire pages of, which has a huge amount of information.

Brick Making

Many members of the Essex branch of the family worked in the brickfields of Great Wakering and a thoroughly readable description of the process is at Barling and Wakering Villages Plus

Great Wakering brickfields


The Jefferies line from Gravesend were watermen, who were much in demand for ferrying passengers along and across the Thames at a time when roads were slow and uncomfortable and bridges were fewer. Lightermen were licensed to carry goods as well, which made their apprenticeship longer than the ordinary waterman's. Both had to be registered with The Company of Watermen and Lightermen of the River Thames

GravesendCrest of Watermen & Lightermen