Making hay while the sun shines

Haymaking’s been going on recently and, in a field near us, the small bales you can see in the photo (top left) were being carted. Unfortunately for the nostalgia-value, it was all done in batches of 8 with a grab on front of the tractor, but still, it took me back to haymaking when I was a kid. It was a communal effort then needing friends and family – one person to drive the tractor, two or more throwing bales up on to the trailer, one on the trailer stacking them into a trailer-load that wouldn’t fall off on the way to the barn, even on the 90-degree downhill corner that you had to negotiate to go down our farm lane!

Prior to the bale hauling of course, mowing, turning, rowing up and baling was all done by one person on a tractor. Which makes it very different from the kind of haymaking in the other pictures – it’s all hands to the field there. And it’s interesting, isn’t it, that a lot of the workers in the picture are women? I think we tend to think of Victorian farms as having been run by men with women just cooking enormous farmhouse teas and making industrial quantities of tea. Well, no. That came later when times were less hard. In Harry’s Cardiganshire – a good 50 years before this photo was taken – small cottagers held their bits of land and homes on the basis that they would work for the farmer who was their landlord at harvest time, haymaking and potato picking. And not just the man of the family – women and able children were put to work too. There’s a reason school summer holidays last for so long.

While I was on the Ceredigion Museum Collection online to find this photo, I learned some other interesting facts about haymaking in the period. With thanks to David Jenkins whose work is quoted there, here are some of them:

‘There were two sorts of hay grown in south Ceredigion [where the Teifi Valley Coroner series is set] at the end of the 19th century. That which was grown from seed (gwair hade) and that which grew on permanent pasture (gwair gwndwn). The former was fed to horses while the latter was fed to cattle. [Interesting – anybody know why that is?] Hay was harvested around July.

Other sorts of hay were harvested on larger farms: hay on slopes that could not be used for other purposes and hay from the moors (gwair rhos) or short moorland hay (gwair rhos gota) which was harvested when still unripe.’

Fascinating. When I was growing up on a farm in the same area, hay was just hay. Who knew there had been all these different varieties? But then, a lot more land was used for farming in the mid-Victorian period days due to the pressures of population – even marginal land had to produce something. Our ancestors couldn’t go and buy animal concentrates (cow cake as we used to call it) they had to rely on what they had.

That’s one of the things I find interesting about history – how much more self-reliant people were forced to be. If you forcibly time-travelled any of us namby-pamby twenty-first century people back to those old farms, we’d fare badly because we’re too used to being able to go and buy stuff. In the current Harry and John book, I talk about the notorious Commission of Enquiry into the State of Education in Wales, 1847 and its condemnation of the woeful state of understanding of the nation’s children. But, as John counters in the book, the commissioners weren’t looking at the right things. Those children were incredibly well educated in what they needed to survive on the breadline.

If you’re interested in the Ceredigion Museums Collection go to:


and the information from this post can be found at

Til anon!

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