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Features about Scottish family history
Until the second half of the twentieth century, it was not uncommon for farm workers in Scotland to move from one farm to another at regular intervals, usually within the same general area.
Some people stayed working on the same farm or estate all their life – sometimes on the farm where their parents and grandparents had also worked. Others would move around, for better conditions, better accommodation, or to progress to a more skilled job.
Married men would be given a cottage, and generally their wife would also be expected to carry out work on the farm, hay-making, harvesting, spreading manure, thinning turnips, etc..
Younger or unmarried men lived in the bothy – communal lodgings with a fire to cook their meals, rough beds and a trunk for each man's possessions. In some areas, their meals would be provided in the farm kitchen. There was a tradition of music-making to pass the winter's evenings in the bothy and, particularly in the east and north-east of Scotland, ‘bothy ballads' are still a much-appreciated strand of folk music.
‘Feeing (hiring) fairs' or markets were held twice a year in the market towns of each area, usually at Whit Sunday (May) and Martinmas (November) Farm workers, men and women, who were looking for a position would be approached by farmers or estate overseers. Women and girls were also hired as domestic servants around the farmhouse. If a deal was struck, it was a binding verbal agreement. The farmer would hand over a sum of money in token of good faith, and the worker was contracted to work for him for a certain period – for single men or women, this was usually six months, for married men, it would be a year. People spoke of being ‘fee'ed out' to a farm or farmer. If the arrangement proved satisfactory to both parties, it might be continued indefinitely. Married men with families were obviously much keener to stay settled in one place, if it proved satisfactory.
One local quirk of the agricultural employment system, specific to Berwickshire and the Borders was the ‘bondager' system, whereby a ploughman was expected to provide a woman worker for a stated number of days' work in the year – apparently, this was still ongoing as late as 1923, when the workers (or their wives!) rebelled against it.
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