Blaker Family of Sussex - Reminiscences


Harvest Supper.

THE Harvest Home or Supper was somewhat on the same lines as the sheep-shearing. The farm men assembled generally in the brewhouse belonging to, or a part of, the farm house (every farm house in those days had a brew house), at about 5 p.m. They first of all had a supper, consisting of boiled beef, Sussex pudding and vegetable, followed by plum pudding, the Master or bailiff presiding and carving. After supper the Master's health was drunk, everyone singing the following lines :

" Here's a health unto our Master, the founder of the feast,
   I wish with all my heart, sir, your soul in heaven may rest,
   That all your works may prosper, whate'er you take in hand,
   For we are all your servants, and all at your command.
   Then drink, boys, drink, and see you do not spill,
   For if you do, you shall drink for two, for it is our Master's will."

The Mistress' health next followed, and was sung in the following words, doubtless handed down from the time of the Spanish Armada :

" This is our Mistress' health, merrily singing,
   Bonfires in every town and the bells ringing;
   Hark ! How the Spaniards cry, bullets are flying,
   Now then away they run, for fear of dying."

" Here's a good health in the merry bright fountain,
   I would have pledged to you had it been mountain,
   We'd drink the ocean dry, were it sack and canary,
   This is our Mistress' health, drink and be merry."

The beer, rather potent ale, was placed on the table in buckets, and horns, not glasses, were used for drinking, and as there were generally three or four of these, the song was sung over and over again several times. Later on, after two or three more toasts were gone through in the same manner, the principal event of the evening, turning the cup over, was commenced. This amusement consisted in one of the men holding by the brim and with both hands a hat, on the top of which a cup made of horn, holding about as much as a common teacup, was balanced. The rest sang the following doggerel verse :

" I've been to Plymouth and I've been to Dover,
   I've been a rambling, boys, all the world over,
   Over, over, over, and over,
   Drink up your liquor and turn the bowl over."

The man then raised the hat with the cup on it to his lips, drank the beer, and then with a jerk tossed up the cup, turned the hat over, and caught the cup as it fell, a feat not always easy, especially after dinner. It was sometimes thought a great joke to put the hat, which usually contained an ounce or two of beer, on someone's head. These rough customs may appear almost barbarous to men of the present day, but at the time they were much appreciated. I am informed that they, as well as the names of almost everything connected with husbandry such as plough, rake, gate, trug, etc., which are almost all words of one syllable, and were pronounced with a very broad accent, ga-ate, ra-ake, etc., and also the names of places ending in "ing" and "ton," of which there are numbers in this county, point strongly to a Saxon origin. These men, though few of them could read or write, were men of good common sense, and knew well what was important to them to know, namely, the management and feeding of animals, the nature of soils, and all sorts of agricultural work. They had a keen sense of humour. "Where do you think drunkards will go to, Mrs Souch?" said the Rector of Poynings to an old lady whom he met returning from the public-house, and for whom the road was scarcely wide enough. "Where there's a drop of good liquor to be had, sir," was the prompt reply. The farm men's great failing was drink, but this they could not indulge in much, with wages at ten or twelve shillings a week. Taken altogether, they were a simple kind-hearted and honest set of men, and in sincerity and good nature would compare favourably with others more highly polished. The women were industrious and kept their houses scrupulously clean and looked well after their children, whom they always suckled. They had a prejudice against cow's milk, and, when a few months old, their children were fed on boiled bread, pap, as it was called. The women generally spent the evening at needlework, making and mending the family linen, which they did with great neatness. The girls did a curious kind of very primitive embroidery called samplers, specimens of which may even now occasionally be found in old country cottages. My nurse had one of these which she greatly prized; it consisted of a piece of canvas, fixed in a frame, the letters of the alphabet were worked in variously coloured threads in two rows at the top, below them came the numerals in a row, and beneath these was the following verse :

" Charlotte Paine is my name,
   England is my nation;
   Fulking is my dwelling place,
   And Christ is my salvation."

At the bottom came the date. They had a habit of wearing long scarlet cloaks which, when wander-ing in the lanes or on the hillside, gave them a particularly pleasing and picturesque appearance. Those cloaks formed parts of the stores sold after the war which ended with the battle of Waterloo.

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