The Harvest in Nottinghamshire

by Ross Parish

As autumn evenings draw in across the country, the pastoral community turned to the harvest. The harvest was a pivotal time of year in the county’s year and all rural parishes were involved with the collection and consequently it has a clear impact of the folklore custom.North Notts (1887) notes:                       

“ … 25 or 30 years ago prevailed in the county of Notts…..The last load of corn brought home from the fields was the occasion for the boys of the village to have a ride and to shout ‘Harvest Home’ for the farmers. This load would generally consist of the rakings of the field, and therefore not very valuable. Previous to our mounting the load for our ride we were careful to arm ourselves with branches of trees, the purpose for which will presently appear. On our journey from the field to the farmer’s yard, the usual hurrahs would be lustily given, and at intervals of a few minutes a well-known speech or ditty would be recited by the leading boys, two of which I can yet remember: God bless these horses which trail us home, They’ve had many a wet and weary bone. We’ve rent our clothes, and torn our skin, All for to get this harvest in. So hip, hip, hip hurrah. In another the name of the farmer would be brought in thus:- Mr. Smith he is a good man, He lets us ride home on his harvest van. He gives us bread, and cheese, and ale, And we hope his heart will never fail. So hip, hip, hip hurrah. Then, Sir, curious and barbarous as it may seem, as we drew near to houses, it was the custom to bring out water and throw it upon us as we passed along, and from which we defended ourselves with the branches of trees. If we arrived safely home without a dowsing of water, the occasion was shorn of half the fun for the boys, but that was not the worst calamity. It was supposed that farmer Smith’s yield of corn would not be so good. After arrival home apples would be distributed to the boys for their labour in shouting ‘Harvest Home.’”                                      

Another account notes a longer song:                 

“It is the custom in Nottinghamshire to make the last sheaf of the harvest big in order to ensure a good crop the next year. The youngest boys in the village ride home on the last load of wheat, the wagon being decorated with branches of trees. Apples and buckets of cold water are thrown over the boys as they ride home singing the following harvest song:  Mr. is a good man, He lets us ride his harvest home, He gives us apples, he gives us ale,  We wish his heart may never fail.  (Chorus) With a hip, hip, hurrah, A dry wagon,  a dry wagon,  A sup of cold water  To keep it from swagging.  God bless these horses that trail us home,  For they’ve had many a weary bone,  They’ve rent their clothes and torn their skin,  All for to get this harvest in.  (Chorus as before.)”                   

A correspondent to the Guardian’s Local notes and queries in 1903 notes a Sneinton Harvest Custom:    

“I may say that when a boy I have frequently ridden on the last load of corn, brought to the late Benjamin Morley Esq of Sneinton Manor….The following ditty, having been rehearsed in the harvest field, would be shouted by the boys from the top of the load, at intervals during the journey to the stackyard:- Mr Morley’s got the corn, Well sheared and well shorn, Never turned over, nor yet set fast, The harvest load’s come home at last..Hurrah!”                                                                                                                  

Mr. Morley met the load at the stackyard and the boys were given 6 pence by him. In Caunton they sung:

“Mr Barlow has got his corn, Well mown and well shorn, Never hurled over, and never stuck fast, He has his harvest home at last. Hip Hip Hurray.”

In Blidworth the workers rode back with the last harvest and the villagers threw buckets of water over them as they sang:

“Ne’er o’er holled (hurled) And ne’er stuck fast, We’ve got our harvest in at last”                                     

 This covering of the returning last load and its workers appears to have been done in East Bridgford: as a correspondent to Guardian Local notes and queries in 1903:

“It was general custom also, when the load reached the village, for the people to drench the lads with water, and many a wet shirt I had had. The last load was generally rakings so that the farmers had no objection, in fact they very often prepared quite a deluge, by having a place close to a stack where they could pour water down on the harvest home lads.”                                                            

The same correspondent notes in a memory dating back to 1883 that:                                              

“The waggoner would trim his team with ribbons, bells, flowers and evergreens and also there was stuck in the load, at the top, large ash branches, until the load looked almost like a moving tree, The verse they sang was quite similar to the one mentioned in the paper (reference to Sneinton) only that it was not quite so grammatical….”                                                                                       

In Nottinghamshire, a Harvest king or ‘queen’ was often seen. One traveller recorded seeing a man dressed in women’s clothing, his face lavishly painted and his head decorated with ears of corn, being borne on a cart amid plaudits from the crowd. Upon enquiring they were told they were drawing the Harvest queen.   There was a cheer and cakes, beer and cheese for the workers. An interesting tradition is recorded on a note in NLS which states that in early Victorian periods when drinking ale in their celebrations would turn the dripping mug after shaking out the last few drops on the ground as offerings to the fairies as good luck. At the harvest home, as Hole () notes that it was usually the case that two thirds of the men became tipsy and the rest were drunk, but in 1890 he observed that none were intoxicated. There were toasts to Queen Victoria, the local squire and the farmer. A Caunton bard’s loyal toast went as follows:                                                                      

“And now we’ll sing ‘God save the Queen’, we must not leave her out, The likes of her has ne’er been seen, Through getting rather stout, And she rules the earth from North to South, Likewise from East to West, And the man who says she doesn’t, Is a liar and a beast.”

By 1875 many of the harvest home customs had died out.

Corn Dozzills were a feature of the harvest. These were made from the stalks of the harvested wheat, possibly a Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire local variant of the corn dolly. Ratcliffe notes that the word may refer to dorsel or dosel meaning tapestry! An undated source in Nottingham’s Doubleday index notes that:                                                                           

“before the war on several occasions when the hay had been got in at a farm on Mapperley Plains we noticed the stacks were ornamented with what our correspondent calls ‘dozzils’ They were very ingenuously done, but we cannot quite recall the designs. During the first harvest of the war we met a farm hand on the footpath near Arnold ‘platting’ what he called ‘the wheat cockade’ out of three or four cornstalks. It was to be worn on the cap in the harvest field, and very dainty it looked when he had finished with it. The pretty custom of making three straw devices no doubt still lingers in some parts of Notts..”

Harvest Festivals

The decline of harvest home appears to be parallel with the rise of Harvest festivals for these church ceremonies appear to be relatively modern and replaced the more riotous and secular Harvest homes. A record of the congregational church at Castle gate Nottingham records a service of thanksgiving in 1742. It may have been a one-off as the ceremony is generally thought to have been introduced by Rev Hawker of Morwenstow in 1834 as such Hole (1901) notes:                                                                   

“Archdeacon Wilkinson Murray Rector of Southwell was the first to introduce to introduce into the Midland Counties the harvest and choral festivals which are now so universal”                                                                

The Newark Advertiser (1872) appears first recorded at 17th October at Elston when it was undertaken with a dedication to the organ. In 1905 the same paper reported:

“On Thursday last the joy-bells of harvest home resounded, and many parishioners flocked to the Parish church to once more celebrate the ingathering of the harvest. The church had been prettily decorated with flowers, fruit and corn….The chancel was decorated ….with choice plants…The sermon on Thursday evening was preached by the Rev. F. Ross of Staunton who  dwelt upon the analogy between the life of nature all around and our brief life here, enriching his discourse with many illustrations there from.”

What the article describes doubtlessly would be similar today, where despite in some cases communities being separated from the act of the harvest, the wider context of thanksgiving is still as important.  Things go full circle and it is good to see the St Ann’s allotment once more celebrating the harvest in a more celebratory fashion yet again.

Extracted from the forthcoming volume

A Nottinghamshire calendar.


About nottinghamhiddenhistoryteam

Originally formed in 1965 to try to save or at least record before destruction the cave sites continually discovered during the major redevelopment of the City that took place in Nottingham in the 1960′s. Almost every day new sites were unearthed and destroyed before anyone was notified; last thing they wanted was someone telling them to stop what they were doing; TIME is MONEY. The word HIDDEN in the Team’s title is because a lot of what was being invisibly lost in the redevelopment was our early history in the caves, they are under most, if now all, of Nottingham. In the 80’s and 90’s the Team conducted with the help of Dr Robert Morrell and Syd Henley, research and work on Nottingham’s history, folklore and local archaeology. The Team published quarterly magazines on their findings. The Team lapsed for a few years after the death of Paul Nix who was the team leader for thirty plus years. The Team has reformed and is now back working on Nottingham local history. On this blog you will find a series of history, folklore and archaeological related articles and information. Most of the material published will be specifically related to Nottingham/shire local history.
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