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~ 1801 - 1901 ~


Written by Sheila Johnson

While researching in the very interesting Study Centre behind Totnes Museum, I came across an article written by a Mrs Levinah Adams who lived at Maynards, Cornworthy.

Mrs Adams wrote it when she was 99 years old, and the date was about 1925. She had been born in Dorset on a farm. Within her memory, flails were still being used to thresh the corn crops. A flail consisted of two sticks joined by a piece of eelskin or rope. After the corn was stacked, Harvest Home was held. Men, women and children sang, danced and feasted. Smocks were worn by farmers, along with high crowned hats when they went to market, taking with them the one cwt cheeses. On Sundays men who had to work were given meals (breakfast and tea) at the farmhouse. Carters and cowmen were paid 107- a week and ordinary labourers 7/-. They were entitled to 3 pints of ale or cider every day. Men who lived away from the farm were also given a pint of cocoa mid morning. Her mother used to keep geese which she drove into the house when they were moulting and the loose feathers were used for feather beds and pillows for her six daughters on their marriage. There was an embroidered christening robe made for the first child which was handed down the family and used for all the christenings.

At Peeks, Allaleigh. Image © Copyright - Totnes Image Bank & Rural Archive - Permission must be sought before using this image.

At Peeks, Allaleigh. Vera & Willie Elliott (foreground).
William & Nellie Elliott (their parents).
Background : Caroline Palfrey (their grandmother).
Bert Bartlett & Mr Christmas.

In the summer, and especially during harvest, the men were kept supplied with cider in the fields, almost a fulltime job for one of the maids. They were paid £5 a year but had no days off. Begging Day was another tradition. This was on St Thomas Day, which was three clear days before Christmas. Women went around the farmhouses and were given cider, and bread and cheese. They were often given 3-4 Ibs of cheese to take home as a present. On Midsummer Day it was the custom to crack an egg in a glass. From what the egg looked like, girls were supposed to be able to tell what their future husbands would look like. On Hallow'een Eve they would sit in the church porch and one could see the ghosts of all those who would die during the next year. If the butter was slow to come, one poured in some boiling water to drive out the witches.

Mrs Adams had never been to a cinema in her life but used to enjoy magic lantern shows. She listened to the wireless but didn't like modern music, but enjoyed military bands. She did not say what brought her to Cornworthy and perhaps this short memoir may bring it to light. I have not looked at the burial records but she may have been buried in Cornworthy. 


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