Workers Tea Breaks – December 1900

In one of our weeklies, I noticed a complaint that in the eastern mainland counties of Scotland, the ploughman and labourers pause at mid forenoon and mid afternoon to refresh themselves with tea and bread which is carried to them by wife or child.

This is said to be a distinct loss of labour to the farmer and to injure rather than promote the health of the labourers. Evidently these are cottage labourers who are neither fed nor lodged by the farmer.

But the same custom prevails in Cumberland, where I live, for all servants, male and female who board in the house. No matter at what hour breakfast is, the men and boys expected that tea and coffee shall be carried out to them at mid forenoon. This is called “the ten o’clock”. Dinner is between 12 and one and, at half past three tea, is carried out to those who are not about the buildings and so near enough to come in for a meal. Supper is at any time between half past six and nine.

It is easily seen how much labour this entails upon some woman of the house, perhaps two. We try to avoid it by employing out-workers wherever possible. It is always best to have servants feed themselves. If it is necessary to send a ”ten o’ clock” to the field, nobody in the house has anything to eat at that time.

But I have stayed in a farmhouse where all the work of the men was practically suspended for an hour. The lunch had been prepared and sent out perhaps to two different parts of the farm. If a lad were not at liberty to carry it, then a maid must be sent or one of the daughters — or perhaps the mistress herself. The family sit down in an informal way to the meal; then maid servants stop their work to come in and do likewise.

Think of the serious interruptions, in the middle of the churning for instance, on a washing day. Then there are quite a number of dishes to wash up afterwards and, in a twinkling, it is 12 o’clock. Men and horses clatter into the yard and dinner must be on the table.

As to whether one requires food in the middle of the forenoon, much depends upon the breakfast hour and the nature of breakfast. We follow the Scotch fashion of milkings, separating, feeding calves etc., whatever may be the nature of the work with the cattle — before breakfast is thought of. The cream is always churned before we feel at ease to sit down to the first meal.

If one is healthy and robust and ate a decent supper the evening before, two hours’ morning work on a fasting stomach is healthful. The rule in the days of our mothers was three good meals a day. Are the men on five meals healthier or hardier? Do they do more work or better work? There is only one possible answer to that and it is No.

Custom in manner of food is imperious, however, and anyone accustomed to five meals would feel it for some time a serious injury to be defrauded of one and to be compelled to fast until really hungry.

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