Frumenty, which is made of wheat boiled in milk was a standing dish at every harvest supper. And then around the festive board old tales are told, well-known jests abound, and thanks given to the good farmer and his wife for their hospitality in some such homely rhymes as these—
“Here’s a health
to our master,
The lord of the feast;
God bless his endeavours,
And send him increase.
“May everything prosper
That he takes in hand,
For we be his servants,
And do his command.”
The youths and maidens dance their country dances, as an old writer, who lived in the reign of Charles II., tells us:—“The lad and the lass will have no lead on their heels. O, ’tis the merry time wherein honest neighbours make good cheer, and God is glorified in His blessings on the earth.” When the feast is over, the company retire to some near hillock, and make the welkin ring with their shouts, “Holla, holla, holla, largess!”—largess being the presents of money and good things which the farmer had bestowed.
Such was the harvest-home in the good old days—joy and delight to both old and young. The toils of the labourers did not seem so hard and wearisome when they knew that the farmers had such a grateful sense of their good services; and if any one felt aggrieved or discontented, the mutual intercourse at the harvest-home, when all were equal, when all sat at the same table and conversed freely together, soon banished all ill-feeling, and promoted a sense of mutual trust, which is essential to the happiness and well-being of any community. Shorn of much of its merriment and quaint customs, the harvest-home still lingers on in some places; but modern habits and notions have deprived it of much of its old spirit and light-heartedness. We have our harvest thanksgiving services, which (thank God!) are observed in almost every village and hamlet. It is, of course, our first duty to thank God for the fruits of His bounty and love; but the harvest-home should not be forgotten. When labourers simply regard harvest-time as a season when they can earn a few shillings more than usual, and take no further interest in their work, or in the welfare of their master, all brightness vanishes from their industry: their minds become sordid and mercenary; and mutual trust, good-feeling, and fellowship cease to exist.
Neither did the harvest-men allow drunkenness, laziness, swearing, quarrelling, nor lying, to go unpunished. The labourers in Suffolk, if they found one of their number guilty, would hold a court-martial among themselves, lay the culprit down on his face, and an executioner would administer several hard blows with a shoe studded with hob-nails. This was called “ten-pounding,” and must have been very effectual in checking any of the above delinquencies.
Besides the harvest-home there was also observed another feast of a similar character in the spring, when the sheep were shorn. A plentiful dinner was given by the farmer to the shearers and their friends, and a table was often set in the open village for the young people and children. Tusser, who wrote a book upon Five Hundred Points of Husbandry, did not forget the treats which ought to be given to the labourers, and alludes to the sheep-shearing festival in the following lines—