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Earth Floors to Fitted Carpets
Mere Brow Local History Society - August 1990
ISBN 0951643509
Extracts reproduced, with permission, for reference only
Web Transcript © Hubmaker 2002. Reproduction by any means strictly prohibited.

EARNING A LIVING

In 19th century Mere Brow, the vast majority of people in the village made their living from working on the land.

In a few families skills were handed down through the generations. In these families a living was made from their ability to make and repair items for use in the community.

Census records of 1841 show six people whose occupation was weaving. These would be hand-looms making cloth for clothing and bedding. Shoes, boots and clogs, would be made to measure by the local shoemaker.

One or two small family businesses started. The grocer's shops began to supply the demand for basic goods from the local families.

The village at this time would have been a very close-knit community with everyone depending on each other to provide work and goods to help families to survive. These were hard times. There were no luxuries, just the basic needs for everyday life.

The following chart gives an idea of the main occupations in the village before the turn of the century.

CENSUS RECORDS 1841..1881

OCCUPATION
1841
1851
1861
1871
1881
Basket-maker        
1
Blacksmith
3
1
1
2
2
Bricklayer  
1
1
   
Butcher        
1
Carter
2
1
4
   
Charwoman        
3
Dressmaker    
2
4
3
Farmer
6
25
22
17
20
Farm-worker
22
52
49
50
45
Gamekeeper
1
3
2
3
1
Grocer
2
1
2
2
2
Greengrocer        
2
Household Servant
6
7
4
7
8
Hatter  
1
     
Innkeeper  
1
1
1
1
Milliner  
1
     
Nurse      
1
 
Painter      
1
 
Pauper  
2
     
Shoemaker
3
7
2
1
2
Schoolmaster  
1
1
1
1
Schoolmistress
1
1
1
1
 
Tailor
2
 
1
 
1
Weaver
6
2
     
Washerwoman    
1
   
Wheelwright
1
4
2
1
1

Farming
In the 1920's and 30's most of the property was rented from the Landowner, Lilford Estates.

Many of the cottages had large gardens included in the rent and some rented additional land on the Mere amounting sometimes to 5 or 10 acres.

Many residents worked on local farms and so were able to borrow horses and implements to work the land. When extra help was needed, at harvest time for instance, the men would help each other and work together to get the crop in.

Most of the produce would be for home use. Any surplus would be sold to market traders. This would supplement the family income and enable them to have some small extra comforts which would not have been possible on a basic farm-labourer's wage.

A favourite crop was potatoes. There was great rivalry amongst the growers to be the first to have new potatoes ready. Popular varieties grown were Ninetyfold, Epicure and Sharps Express.

The potatoes were set down the drill (rudges) on top of the manure. The sets were all placed down the drills by hand.

Early peas were another favourite crop. Thomas Laxton and Lanes Lad were popular and Alderman was a late cropper.

Mere Brow's position near to the coast was a big advantage for early growing although, if there was a late frost, the potatoes could be badly damaged. Some years, if conditions had been favourable, potatoes could be lifted by the first few days of June.

Some smallholders took their produce and eggs to sell in Southport. Friday was the usual day for going door-to-door around the private houses and also around the boarding-houses and guest-houses when they had summer visitors. Horse-drawn vehicles were used at first but changed to motor transport about 1939-45.

A lot of land on the Mere (now Leisure Lakes) was liable to flooding so it was simply left down to grass. The hay was mown once a year. It was very sweet-smelling as it contained lots of wild flowers and plants. The hay was useful feed for the cow which a lot of the householders kept for the family's milk.

Some people would also keep a pig. It was usual for the pig to be killed around Christmas time, thus providing the family with a nice piece of pork for their Christmas dinner. The remaining meat would be salted on a large stone slab in the pantry and after two weeks in the salt it would be hung up in the kitchen to dry. There was nothing wasted. The pig's head was used to make brawn, the fat was rendered down and any remaining bits would be made into sausages.

There were two or three farmers who produced milk for sale. Their land was unsuitable for arable crops so dairy cattle was their only source of income. The milk would either be bottled on the farm or simply brought around in a churn and measured into the customer's own jug. In the late 1950's this practice died out when milk was required to be pasteurised. All milk is now sent to the Milk Marketing Board and is delivered to our doorstep each day.

Poultry-keeping was also a source of income for some of the smallholders. This declined in the 1950's when an outbreak of fowl-pest wiped out many of the flocks and some villagers never re-stocked.

Corn crops and late potatoes were mainly grown on the moss land a mile or two away from the village. In the 1920's and 305s the corn grown would be oats or wheat. The corn was cut by a machine known as a self-binder. It cut the corn and tied it into sheaves which were set up to dry in stooks of six and left in the field for 10/12 days. The sheaves were then carted back to the farm to be stored in the barn. If there was not a barn then the sheaves were built into a stack. The top of the stack would be thatched with straw or reeds off the Mere to protect the corn from the winter weather.

The farmer would arrange for a contractor to bring the threshing - machine. The sheaves were put through the machine to separate the grain from the straw. In the early days the "thresher" was driven by a large steam tract ion- engine. The farmer had to provide the coal for this. Later a large tractor provided the power.

On top of the stack two or three men would be feeding the sheaves ilito the machine. At one end the straw came out and went into the baler. Two men were required to take off the bales as they were pressed and form them into a stack. Another two men were at the other end of the thresher where the grain was fed into sacks. Some grain would be stored to be used for seed the following year, some would be used for feeding to stock, and the rest would be sent to the local miller to be ground into meal.


Threshing Day

The threshing contractor would have three men who travelled with the machine to the farms in the area. The farmer would need six more men to help out on "threshing day". It was very hard and dusty work and the farmer's wife was kept very busy providing meals and lots of cups of tea for the team of workers. Harvesting corn became much simpler when the combine -harvester appeared about 1955. Much of the grain which is grown today is barley.

Potatoes were another crop which needed a lot of labour to harvest. Many villagers would be be called into help. The older school children also helped when the school had a week's holiday. The machine used was a spinner digger. This would be pulled by two horses and then later on by a tractor. The potatoes were thrown out in a row spread over a width of 4-6 feet. These were picked up by hand and tipped into a line of wicker baskets or hampers. The hampers were then emptied into a special type of cart. The cart had two large wheels so as to be easier to tip out the load at the end of the field into the clamp. It would take two strong men to move the cart when full. The potatoes were covered up to protect them from the winter weather. The covering consisted of straw, then soil and, finally, with the haulm or tops of the potatoes.

Potato harvesting is a relatively simple task now with the invention of harvesting - machines and indoor storage of the crop. For distribution to the markets, the potatoes were put into 1 cwt. hessian sacks but are now packed, sometimes washed, into 55lbs. paper bags.

It is difficult to imagine how the smallholders of yesteryear survived with such small acreages. Of course labour was much cheaper then and local people had very little choice of occupation.

As the public's tastes have changed, the farmers have introduced various new crops and methods. A lot of salad crops are now grown and are available all year round since the introduction of glasshouses. This type of intensive farming is here to stay and we all benefit from the high quality produce.

However, the sweet taste of those early potatoes and fresh garden peas grown in the small cottage garden is something which, sadly, the present generation is unlikely to experience.

The Smithy
The present smithy replaced a much older wattle-and-daub building which was across the road from the present site.

The original business was run by the Caunce family from Banks. The new smithy was taken over for a few years by James Southworth.

At this time, Thomas Moss ran the wheelwright's shop which was next door to the smithy. Thomas had trained as a wheelwright with the Culshaw family of Rufford. Mr. Moss had a son, Thomas, and he was apprenticed to Caunce the blacksmith.

Sometime soon after the turn of the century, Thomas, junior, took over the smithy and he continued to run the business until 1950 when he died.


Mere Brow Smithy c 1890

The business then passed to his sons, Sam and John, who ran it as a partnership. These rnen were craftsmen and their skills were in constant demand by many of the local farmers and businessmen. Some of the last horses to be shod at the smithy were the shrimping horses from the Marshside and Banks area. On Monday and Friday nights the village smithy became the village barber-shop! Sam was well-known for his haircutting skills!

The two brothers worked together until 1987 when Sam, the elder brother, died suddenly. John kept the business on until he retired in 1988. It was then taken on by Mr. P. Whittaker and was subsequently sold in 1989 to Mr. D. Ballinger.


Mere Brow Smithy c 1990

 

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