Memories of the Vale
In 1866 a Stanford in the Vale clergyman set about collecting from his older parishioners their memories of the ancient customs and traditions of the Vale of the White Horse. Exactly 150 years later, Julie Ann Godson chooses an extract each month from Reverend Maine’s book to show how the ordinary folk of the Vale lived in the past. This month: the farmer's wife.
“There is scarcely a farmhouse in this neighbourhood where the duties of the day do not commence at the very earliest possible hour. For cows must be milked, and dairy-work attended to. The universal Stanford dinner-hour among all classes is half- past eleven, and the hour for tea half-past three.
“Farmers’ wives must have been patterns of diligence and industry. It was their duty to measure out the quantity of corn to be ground, and see that it was sent to the miller. They took care of the poultry and pigs, and superintended the brewing and baking. The housewife spun the wool and flax produced on the farm. The garden was especially the care of the yeoman’s wife. She had to depend upon it for various herbs which are now no longer in use, but which could not be dispensed with in times when spices were rare and costly. Besides pot-herbs, strewing-herbs were required for the chambers, and herbs possessing medical virtues. A knowledge of herbs still lingers in this neighbourhood, but principally amongst aged women of the labouring class.
“What was customary in the last generation in the way of female costume may be gathered from Mrs Trimmer’s tale of the ‘Two Farmers’. Mrs Simpkins, on her marriage, was presented with her wedding dress, of which the following is a description. She had a neat Quaker-colour silk and stuff, a white stuff petticoat, quilted in small diamonds. The gown was made with robings, and laced before with white satin ribbon, and it had no train. She, it should be explained, was not a topping farmer’s wife, and laid no claim to gentility. Therefore, her cap was made of fine lawn, with a pretty edging and a snug crimped wire border, trimmed with white ribbon, pinned on in very exact puffs, and a bow before and behind. It had also a lappet trimmed with the same edging, which went behind the ribbon and came a little below the ears, but no ribbon streamers. She had also a clear double muslin handkerchief, with a narrow worked border, a pair of robings to match it, and a clear lawn apron. In addition, she was presented with a neat black cloak and bonnet, a pair of silver buckles, and a pair of white silk mittens.”
“Memories of the Vale” by Reverend Lewin G. Maine, edited by Julie Ann Godson, published by Alley Cat Books, available on Amazon £8.99, ISBN 978-1523690862. Also available on Kindle.