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Help: bondagers - female farm workers

Steve Parkes 20 Feb 01 - 09:28 AM
GUEST,Roger the skiffler 20 Feb 01 - 10:49 AM
Malcolm Douglas 20 Feb 01 - 11:01 AM
GUEST,Dinah Iredale 31 Mar 12 - 04:28 PM
Paul Burke 31 Mar 12 - 05:11 PM
Seayaker 01 Apr 12 - 06:18 AM
GUEST,Dinah Iredale 02 Apr 12 - 05:44 PM
Jack Campin 02 Apr 12 - 06:37 PM
wysiwyg 02 Apr 12 - 08:28 PM
GUEST 02 Apr 12 - 08:31 PM
Jack Campin 02 Apr 12 - 08:58 PM
Jack Campin 03 Apr 12 - 09:27 PM
Van 04 Apr 12 - 04:39 AM
GUEST,Dinah Iredale 07 Apr 12 - 04:06 PM
GUEST,GUEST Lesley Abernethy 08 Apr 12 - 02:32 PM
GUEST,Dinah Iredale 09 Apr 12 - 08:09 AM
GUEST,gutcher 12 Apr 12 - 11:50 AM
wysiwyg 12 Apr 12 - 02:01 PM
Phil Edwards 12 Apr 12 - 02:51 PM
GUEST,gutcher 12 Apr 12 - 03:46 PM
GUEST,Dinah Iredale 14 Apr 12 - 06:24 PM
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Subject: bondagers - female farm workers
From: Steve Parkes
Date: 20 Feb 01 - 09:28 AM

I've just read an article in 'Freelance Informer' magazine about bondagers - 'a form of agricultural slavery [that] persisted in Britain till the early 1940s'. On the Scottish Borders hiring fairs were held annually, for farmers to take on farm labourers for the coming year. This is common knowledge among self-respecting folk people, of course.

What I hadn't heard of was that the hired man, or hind, was expected to bring a woman with him -- the bondager. Essentially, she was a slave, the article explained; she would work in the fields, keep the hind's living quarters clean, and keep his bed warm if he was single. Her children would be born in a ditch, behind a hedge, or wherever she could find a bit of shelter; she'd have to be back at work the next day. The children would become slaves themselves.

These unfortunate women were virtually on the same social level as Untouchables in India. The practice was only ended when the Women's Land Army came into being during WWII, when the bondagers drifted off into the towns to end up, in all likelihood, as prostitutes.



Is this true? If so, is it an exaggerated account? And why haven't I heard of it? Well, thae answer to that last may just be that I've led a sheltered life, but I'd be surprised if there were no songs on the subject, or if I've never heard any of them. Put me out of my misery, please!

Steve


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Subject: RE: Help: bondagers - female farm workers
From: GUEST,Roger the skiffler
Date: 20 Feb 01 - 10:49 AM

I would be surprised if the practice lasted as long as the 1940s, Steve. I would have thought all the jobs that became open to women as a result of the lost generation that died in WW1 would have ended the practice before the 1920s, if it hadn't died out earlier.
But then I have been known to be wrong...
Even today in the fruit/veg picking areas of Kent and East Anglia gangmasters are bringing over what are virtually refugee slaves (Kurds, Bosnians etc)to work illegally on some farms for a pittance.
RtS


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Subject: RE: Help: bondagers - female farm workers
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 20 Feb 01 - 11:01 AM

The custom certainly existed in the South-East of Scotland, in despite of continued efforts to stamp it out.  Apparantly, the Great War pretty much put an end to it.  David Kerr Cameron mentions this in The Ballad and the Plough (1978) but only briefly; he was mainly concerned with the farmtouns further North.

Malcolm


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Subject: RE: Help: bondagers - female farm workers
From: GUEST,Dinah Iredale
Date: 31 Mar 12 - 04:28 PM

I may be far too late in replying but a friend has only just brought your questions to my attention. In 2008 I published a book about the Bondagers and it would answer your questions. My website would also help. It has lots of photographs, short film items and written information. There are also reviews of my book. Sadly the bondagers are too often misrepresented and they deserve better.


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Subject: RE: Help: bondagers - female farm workers
From: Paul Burke
Date: 31 Mar 12 - 05:11 PM

Good site Dinah. When did the practice die out? Are there any bondagers still living? And do any songs mention them?


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Subject: RE: Help: bondagers - female farm workers
From: Seayaker
Date: 01 Apr 12 - 06:18 AM

Great website.

A really interesting piece of social history


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Subject: RE: Help: bondagers - female farm workers
From: GUEST,Dinah Iredale
Date: 02 Apr 12 - 05:44 PM

Very glad you found the website well worth a visit. It is diffficult to say when the Bondage System died out although the dispute in 1866 certainly made a difference it wasn't abolished. To be a true bondager a woman worker would have to be part of the hind's bond but the general trend was to refer to these workers as bondagers even when they were employed in their own right. A general opinion I have come accross is that it had die out by 1890 but not sure about this. I have been privileged to talk to many people who were bondagers or they remembered them from childhood but obviously not many around now. One gentleman who lived till he was 100 and who sadly died last December recounted a hiring in 1928 (in Wooler) where he plus his dad and two sisters and two brothers were seeking employment. They secured work at Brandon White House near Powburn and this would be on a family contract - farmers were often on the look out for what they called a 'good family'. The father would make the bond or agreement with the farmer.

About songs - I haven't come across any traditional songs but at the moment I am busy working on a film project with Shadowcat Films about the bondagers and we have one hind singing part of some verses composed by 'Andrew Wilson an aged ploughman of Lilliesleaf' which were printed in 'Voices from the Plough' in the 1860's. I wrote some verses to be sung by some bondagers for a concert we did here in Wooler in 2006 but I don't think that is what you are looking for. The film is progressing well - almost fully edited and will be available after the end of May. Sorry about the commercial but it is a very exciting project which was exceedingly well undertaken by Shadowcat Films and we had wonderful amateur actors. A very happy experience. Here are some 'flikr' links -
http://www.flickr.com/photos/76963793@N05/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/bambadam/sets/72157629276586189/


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Subject: RE: Help: bondagers - female farm workers
From: Jack Campin
Date: 02 Apr 12 - 06:37 PM

Not sure when bondagers were last used in Scotland, but hiring (or "feeing") fairs still occurred in Scotland after WW2. There was one in Dunbar (East Lothian) in the late 1940s, at least; I've talked to people who watched it.

Women agricultural labourers hired in their own right for short periods continued for much longer. The Lothian potato industry depended on them. Until WW2 Scottish agriculture was a source of seasonal employment for Irish workers, both men and women, who couldn't afford the passage to America. They'd go back to Ireland when the season finished.


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Subject: RE: Help: bondagers - female farm workers
From: wysiwyg
Date: 02 Apr 12 - 08:28 PM

THANK YOU

~S~


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Subject: RE: Help: bondagers - female farm workers
From: GUEST
Date: 02 Apr 12 - 08:31 PM

Dinah--I knew nothing of this til the thread popped up-I checked your site and was quite surprised at what I learned--

I am amazed that I had never heard much about this rather peculiar institution even though it seems to have existed for a long time, and, most likely, was once rather extensive.

Also, it was a bit of a shock to realize that I really had very little understanding of how farming and agriculture really work.


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Subject: RE: Help: bondagers - female farm workers
From: Jack Campin
Date: 02 Apr 12 - 08:58 PM

Incidentally, that weird costume (with the bonnets called "uglies") continued in use by the potato pickers of the Lothians until well after WW2. You can find out more in the book "Hard work, ye ken": Midlothian Women Farmworkers, ed. Ian McDougall, Canongate, Edinburgh 1993. When that book came out, many of the women who'd done that work were still alive, and there was a community drama about them, "Hoggie's Angels", which I was part of as a musician (in a sort of in-character onstage band made up of farmworkers). There were several of those former potato pickers in the audience.

One of them gave us an anecdote about that costume that MacDougall probably heard but didn't print, and certainly didn't get depicted on stage. One of the Dalkeith-based pickers was a notoriously filthy slob. The skirt was full enough that she could surreptitously pee on the freshly dug potatoes standing up.


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Subject: RE: Help: bondagers - female farm workers
From: Jack Campin
Date: 03 Apr 12 - 09:27 PM

Forgot to mention an expanded edition of the book about the Midlothian potato pickers:

Hoggie's Angels

at Abebooks


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Subject: RE: Help: bondagers - female farm workers
From: Van
Date: 04 Apr 12 - 04:39 AM

As I am originaly from Lilliesleaf could you post the lyrics of Andrew Wilson's song for me? (Perhaps as a PM.)


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Subject: RE: Help: bondagers - female farm workers
From: GUEST,Dinah Iredale
Date: 07 Apr 12 - 04:06 PM

The hats are very interesting. When I began researching in the 1970's and was living in Berwickshire and later in Edinburgh I was able speak to a number of ladies who had been bondagers. They talked about two distinct hats - the East Lothian Ugly and the Berwickshire Hat. The East Lothian Ugly was a cotton bonnet supported by strips of cane which gave the worker's face a lot of shade under the exaggerated brim. It was likened to a covered waggon. The Berwickshire Hat was a black straw hat traditionally lined with red material and the crown decorated with black and red ruching (strips of black and red material pleated or gathered round the crown with the addition of beads, flowers and buttons as decoration). Again this hat gave the worker's face a considerable amount of shade.

Another interesting book by Ian Mcdougall is 'Bondagers' The memories of eight Scots women farm workers. Tuckwell Press

The Andrew Wilson verses:-
This is the verse I chose as it is the only one of nine that mentions locations.

Then come, all ye ploughmen these lines who may read,
By the braes of the Ettrick and banks of the Tweed,
Around by Mid-Lothian, where'er ye may be,
Join the loud chorus, and sing it with me.

Chorus
Then away with Old Bondage - away with it now!
To this old feudal system we never can bow.
We'll march to the station, take Liberty's train,
For we ne'er will be burdened with Bondage again.

For all the verses -
Voices From the Plough - Reference Bor. Pam. 5 (5762/ F.
I obtained my copy from Hawick Library.


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Subject: RE: Help: bondagers - female farm workers
From: GUEST,GUEST Lesley Abernethy
Date: 08 Apr 12 - 02:32 PM

Thanks for your input, Dinah.
I have had your book since publication, and was very pleased to find out about your excellent website. I look forward to seeing the film!

Does the Andrew Wilson song mention 'to the tune of....' or did you just find one that fitted?

I have tape recordings of two radio programmes on the subject of bondagers- a Woman's Hour programme from October 1995 and a radio Scotland (I think) programme from August 1999 which carries interviews with twentieth century 'bondagers', reminiscing happily about their life on the land.


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Subject: RE: Help: bondagers - female farm workers
From: GUEST,Dinah Iredale
Date: 09 Apr 12 - 08:09 AM

Thank you Lesley, for your appreciation and very pleased you enjoyed the website.
I didn't know that Woman's Hour had featured the bondagers so that was interesting and the other programme is probably the one which was just about over when I switched on!

The Andrew Wilson verses didn't include a tune but as an introduction the Rev. John Thomson(Editor) says:-
'Andrew Wilson an aged ploughman, now living at Lilliesleaf, sent me the following lines. Some may smile at the verses; but consider his opportunities of improvement. Further, if the idle rhyme of Lillibullero helped to revolutionise our country, the 'Hinds' Jubilee' may be strong to overturn the Bondage System.'

I have listened to the Lillibullero tune and I don't think it was suitable so I am not sure what the Rev. John Thomson was meaning - I would love to know and so understand his comment.

A musical friend suggested 'The Bonnets of Bonnie Dundee' for the song and this fitted very well.


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Subject: RE: Help: bondagers - female farm workers
From: GUEST,gutcher
Date: 12 Apr 12 - 11:50 AM

Whilst not having bondagers in Central and South West Scotland the following advert was to be found in local newspapers, with a rural readership, up to fifty years back:--"Ploughman wanted---with wife to strip."


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Subject: RE: Help: bondagers - female farm workers
From: wysiwyg
Date: 12 Apr 12 - 02:01 PM

Whilst not having bondagers in Central and South West Scotland the following advert was to be found in local newspapers, with a rural readership, up to fifty years back:--"Ploughman wanted---with wife to strip."

(Checking context) To strip the field/crop? Strip cows at milking? (Terms popping up from childhood farm memories)

~S~


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Subject: RE: Help: bondagers - female farm workers
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 12 Apr 12 - 02:51 PM

Dinah - the reference is to the use of Lillibulero (with satirical and anti-Catholic verses) to rally opposition to the recently-deposed James II in Ireland, which in turn prevented him from coming back to power in England and Scotland. At the time the song was said to have "sung James II out of three kingdoms".


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Subject: RE: Help: bondagers - female farm workers
From: GUEST,gutcher
Date: 12 Apr 12 - 03:46 PM

Before the milking machine completely did away with hand milking those men employed as ploughmen/byremen on dairy farms had, as part of their contract, to supply a female to hand milk in much the same way as those in the arable East/East Borders had to supply a bondager in order to secure a cottage.
When hand milking had been eliminated farmers still liked to have the cows "stripped" by hand after the machine had been removed as they felt this was beneficial to the health of the cow, hence the advert for a stripper.
WysiwyG---- you can relax for now, your memory seems to be functioning better than mine.
One can imagine someone in the future coming across the advert for a stripper and jumping to all sorts of conclusions about orgies in the Scottish countryside!


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Subject: RE: Help: bondagers - female farm workers
From: GUEST,Dinah Iredale
Date: 14 Apr 12 - 06:24 PM

Phil - Thank you for the explanation re Lillibulero. Your information is very interesting.


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