Blaker Family of Sussex - Reminiscences


Threshing and Winnowing.

IN former days, at the time of my earliest recollection, threshing corn was done during the winter, and at times when the weather or other causes prevented work on land. It was done entirely by hand, with the flail, and the winnowing, in the most primitive way, by creating a draught. In threshing, the wheat sheaves were laid along the barn's floor, in two rows, opposite each other, with the ears almost or quite overlapping, and a man with a flail, commencing at one end (at the barn's door) and moving slowly, threshed the wheat out with his flail, till he reached the opposite door. The straw was removed and the wheat swept on one side and replaced with fresh sheaves. Oats, which were mown, and not put in sheaves, were spread in thin layers on the barn's floor and threshed in the same way. The flail was made of "ground ash," that is, ash sapling, well seasoned. It is a hard, tough, weighty wood, with the grain running straight, and was almost or quite the only wood which would stand the constant impact on the oak floor of the barn. The implement itself consisted of two rods or bars united by a fastening resembling, but not identical with, the fastening of the lash to a hunting crop. One of these rods was about two feet in length or a little more, and an inch or more in diameter. The other rod was somewhat slighter and six or eight inches longer, and this the man held in both hands. As far as my rather hazy recollection carries me, the fastening at the end of this upper rod was made of a band of this ground ash, which had been softened and bent into the form of a bow, and through this the leather connecting it with the lower rod passed. The flail was a somewhat difficult implement to use, a novice finding sometimes that the heavy lower rod came in contact with his head. I well recollect the trouble there was with the labourers when the first threshing machines were introduced (these were small machines worked by a man turning a winch); They threatened to smash up the machines and in some instances carried out their threat, because they thought they would lose some of their work. The winnowing machines were still more primitive, though for wheat there was a small machine consisting of a series of sieves, kept in motion by a winch. When oats had to be winnowed, one or both doors of the barn were thrown open, and at about twelve feet from one, two strong heavy frames were placed, one on each side. These frames were about three or four feet high, and near the top was a hole large enough to receive the ends of a thick wooden pole, to which were attached along nearly its whole length three or four pieces of sail cloth about two feet wide. A winch was attached to one end of this pole, so that when it was rotated rapidly, a strong current of air was produced. Between this and the barn's door, a man stood holding a large sieve on one side, the other being supported by a hazel stick to which it was attached by a string. When the whole was working one man rotated the pole with the sail-cloth, the second kept shaking the sieve and a third threw the oats and chaff into the sieve with a large wooden shovel. The chaff was blown over the sill of the barn into the yard while the corn dropped down under the sieve inside the sill.

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