Work 1851

In 1851 most of England’s workforce worked on the land as labourers, horsemen, farmers and many other jobs. This is true of Stowupland where almost half of those with occupations worked on the land.

Working Families

Most farm workers were men but at certain times of the year women and children would earn a little money by helping to get in the harvest Women working in the fields
Women working in the fields
or picking stones out of the fields.

Children did not have to go to school in 1851 so many from poorer families would have been earning money as soon as possible to help feed and clothe the family.

Most of the villagers were poor in 1851 with only a few owning any land.

An Agricultural Labourer / Farm Worker

In the 1851 census for Stowupland the majority of workers were agricultural labourers. The agricultural labourer is often referred to as an unskilled worker but all aspects of farm work call for a certain level of skill.

These are just a few of the jobs that would have done by an agricultural worker on an East Anglian farm:

  • ploughing,
  • animal husbandry,
  • crop thrashing,
  • milking,
  • sowing crops,
  • rolling land,
  • planting crops,
  • slaughter and disposal of animals,
  • washing and shearing sheep,
  • lambing,
  • hay making,
  • making butter and cheese,
  • reaping cereal crops,
  • staking cereal crops,
  • lifting potatoes,
  • hedging,
  • mending and putting up field fences and gates,
  • draining land and levelling land.

Day Labourers and Live In Workers

In Stowupland and across the rest of East Anglia nearly all farm workers lived in their own homes. They were not paid very much and there was a difference in conditions between these ‘day labourers’ and workers who ‘lived in’ at the farm where they worked.

Farm servants who ‘lived in’ were usually hired for six months of the year, the farmer paid their keep and a lump sum at the end of their contract. Most live in workers were young, and the vast majority were unmarried.

Victorian workers having a meal break.
Victorian workers having a meal break.

The day labourer in his cottage received most of his wages in cash but income was unreliable and labourers were often laid off when the weather was too bad to work outside.

The cottager had more freedom but less security. His income was seldom enough to bring up a family without spells of hunger and dependence on charity or poor relief.

By 1900 conditions for farm workers had greatly improved as many people left the land to work in mills and factories but less farm workers were needed. New machines like the steam traction engine could do the work of dozens of men.


Another important farm worker was the horseman as he possessed two distinct skills. The first was in the care and management of horses who provided transport and power in farming up until the Second World War. The horseman was responsible for the horse’s welfare, grooming, feeding and medical care.

Horse and swath turner in a field
C.1921 Horse and swath turner in a field at Green Farm, Stowupland. The turner is Mr. Spencer Walden.
Donated by W. Rowe, Thorney Green, Stowupland.

His second skill was in using horses for field work such as ploughing, drilling and cultivating, in other parts of the country this second skill is known under the occupation of ploughman, a term which is hardly ever used in Suffolk.

Other men who worked with horses were the ostler, who cared for horses at an inn or tavern and the teamster who was a master at using a team of horses.

Trades and Crafts - The Village Blacksmith

Before the widespread use of the tractor the village blacksmith would have spent much of his time ensuring that the main source of power, the horse, could keep on working. He would make and fit the horseshoes and replace the shoe nails with special frost nails in the winter. He also made and supplied a number of other items for farms such as harrows, brands for branding the livestock and any other items made from metal.

A Blacksmith – Shoeing a horse, this was taken c.1920 but the art of blacksmithing hadn’t changed for many years.
A Blacksmith – Shoeing a horse, this was taken c.1920 but the art of blacksmithing hadn’t changed for many years.
The blacksmith did much of his work in the forge but he would also visit farms to do repair jobs that couldn’t be brought to the forge. His services were used by many others in a village as well; for the horses and ponies of private individuals and tradesmen and for the repair and manufacture of pots, pans and other household items.

After the arrival of the railways and the reduced use of the horse as a form of power and transport many village blacksmiths did piece work for the railways or became car mechanics.

This exhibition is part of a wider sustainability project delivered through the Rural Museums East Partnership. It is funded by Renaissance East of England.

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