Blaker Family of Sussex - Reminiscences



OX-TEAMS, in my younger days, were considered essential and most important, indeed, on the South Downs, at all events, almost as much agricultural work was done by oxen as by horses. Two or three "yoke" or pairs of oxen would, in a day, plough nearly or quite as much as two or three horses, and do other work quite well. When an even steady movement was required, free from jerks, oxen were far superior to horses. In the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, there is a picture of a windmill being removed from Regency Square to the Dyke Road, a distance of two miles, by 86 oxen (two in reserve) in 1797; the whole being under the command of Mr. Thomas Hodson, my great uncle.

An ox was broken in at two years of age and worked to any age up to seven or eight, when he was fattened and sold to the butcher. He was then a very large animal, weighing, perhaps, 160 to 180 stone (8lbs to the stone), indeed, one which belonged to the late Mr. Thos. Coppard of Lanehurst, Twineham, and was shown at Steyning at the Christmas Show about the year 1850, weighed 200 stone or more. The working ox was a most quiet, gentle, patient and sensible animal; he would come and put himself in a convenient position to be yoked (and the yoke was by no means a light or easy burden) and he understood and obeyed the guttural sounds of his driver's voice which told him to go on or stop or back or come to him, or go in the opposite direction.

To drive a team of oxen was by no means an easy matter and required a great deal of practice and experience, in fact, to be a good driver, a man had to be almost "to the manner born." His only means of enforcing his commands was by means of the ox-goad, a thin hazel stick about eight or nine feet long. Into the hole formed by the extraction of the pith at the smaller end, a piece of iron wire about an inch long was forced and allowed to project slightly from the end of the stick, this was then filed into a point and so a spur was formed, certainly not more severe than one of the sharp points on the rowel of an ordinary spur. With this "Magic Wand" and the help of a few guttural phrases, of which I can only remember two (and am not sure that these are quite correct) "Mothawoot," come hither, and "Yahawoot," go thither, the driver would conduct a team of oxen through the most intricate places. To bring a load of corn into a barn was an everyday occurrence.

On soft ground oxen were not shod and did not require it, but on stony ground and where they were required to go on the road shoeing was necessary. The shoes consisted of flat iron plates which were nailed one on each side of the cloven hoof. Oxen were not accustomed to having their feet picked up like horses, and shoeing them was looked on as a somewhat difficult matter. It was sometimes done by throwing the animal on his side with ropes, or by placing him in a strong wooden frame with an apparatus for holding up his feet. It was always a matter of surprise to me that the ox should have disappeared as a beast of burden. This has not been the case in other countries, where he is still greatly esteemed, for the cost of harness and food was less than that of the horse, and he continued to grow while at work. The change was due, doubtless, to the early maturity which is at present aimed at in the management of cattle, the calf, by high feeding and care, being made ready for the butcher at a much earlier age, though, of course, weighing far less.

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