Blaker Family of Sussex - Reminiscences



IN a purely agricultural district haying and harvest were the two great events of the year. In former days there was no machinery beyond the very primitive scythe and rake and prong or fork as it was sometimes called; everything was done by hand labour, and, of course, occupied a much longer time than at present, and mowers varied in number according to the extent of the land and the size of the grass to be mowed. They took the greatest pride in their work and in laying the swathes exactly even. Then came the hay making, and this was looked upon with great pleasure and almost a holiday, and in fine weather it was a very happy time. The men loaded the wagon, the women and girls drew the rakes and one of the boys drove the horses; it was pleasant to hear his shrill "standfast" each time before starting his team, while the smaller children and babies rolled in the hay. The work was very hard and the men were liberally supplied with small beer, probably the same as that alluded to in Shakespeare in Othello, "Suckle fools and chronicle small beer," and in other passages. The beer was always brewed at home from pure malt and hops. Three sorts of beer were made : small, ale and strong beer. This last, a very potent liquor, was generally brewed in October and was kept a year before being drunk, usually in very small glasses. A gentleman I knew, living at Henfield, always kept a good supply of this, and guests leaving his house sometimes found the road not only long and tortuous, but much too narrow. The "ale beer," as it was called, was a very mild table beer. It contained scarcely any alcohol, and could be drunk to any extent without producing the least unpleasant effect. The "small beer" was less potent even than this. It was made by adding a small quantity of fresh malt to that from which the ale had been brewed, and fermenting the liquor with yeast. Neither this nor the ale in hot weather would keep more than a month or six weeks and had to be freshly brewed, but it was admirably adapted for the purpose for which it was intended. It quenched the thirst of the men who worked hard with the sun pouring down on them; the water it was made with, having been boiled for some time, was free from deleterious germs and produced no injurious after effects however much had been imbibed. The men themselves objected to beer brought from the brewers because they said its after effect was to make them more thirsty and almost unable to work. Were the Government wise when they made it impossible to brew this very mild and harmless beer, and compelled men to drink the much more potent compound supplied by brewers, which they did not like, saying it made them thirsty and sleepy and unable to work? In those days, one heard nothing of people over 40 being unable to drink beer.

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