February 23, 2009

Daft Laddie tales from North Tyne & Rede: 'Aam not maede o' money'

Northumberland, farming, daft laddies, humour, history, dialect , 1950s

By Donald Clegg
& Clive Dalton

Farming for profit or for lifestyle?

Waste o’ gud munney
Many farmers’ sons had never been off the farm, as their fathors thowt “it was a waste o’ gud munney to gan away to larn book farmin’ at some college or university”, and even allowing them away to work for someone else was not popular, unless there was more than one son or daughter at home. The idea of a son taking off on a world farm working holiday in those old days would have had the ‘old man’ eating his mart cap!

And in any case it was argued that the lads couldn’t be released off the farm from October till June, as “thor was elwes work to dee at haem” over this winter, spring and early summer period. There was a slight possibility to get away for a few days between the end of the hay (if it had been a decent summer) and the start of harvest – but such years were as scarce as hens’ teeth.

The ‘old man’ could feed enough guilt into the son’s heed to make him decide not te want te gan away – and so bear a grudge for the rest of his days. As the ‘old man’ aged, then there was even less incentive to leave the farm. And there was always the risk of scandal in the valley from “Eeh, what’ll folk say?”

Aye but divn't be late heme
“Gannin’ to a Young farmers, Club meetin’ was aalright – as lang as they wor haem in good time to bar the hens in as thor was elways a fox aboot or a cuw ready to calve”. This also reduced the risk, in the old fathor’s mind, of the son starting to take an interest in any female Young Farmers, ‘cos this could lead to taking time off the farm – and what was worse, mebbee asking for a lend of the new car that the old man had just agreed to buy under massive family pressure. It was worse than being persuaded to get the phone in – and that was bad enough!

The Landlord & Tenant Act
Then there was the complication of the Farm Tenancy Agreement with the landlord as, once it was given up, there was little likelihood of it being regained. Under the ‘Landlord and Tenant Act’, tenants gained a lot more protection from being thrown off the farm by the landlord unless he could prove ‘bad farming’ in court, which was never easy.

A tenancy change and consequent re-letting of the farm was a great opportunity for the landlord to really hike up the rent to a new level which, under the Act, was very difficult with a sitting tenant. When a farm did come up for let, there was always a long list of keen young folk willing to take on this new financial challenge – even though it was widely known that the previous tenants had clearly failed to make a living. The drive to have a farm and land has always been an unexplained urge in homo sapiens, even if they were just custodians of it for a short while.

Three generations
So, if the father had been the first tenant, the pressure was always on the son to keep it going and then this onus went to the grandson, as three generations (of males) were allowed under the Act.

So, giving up the tenancy and leaving farming got harder as the years and generations went on. Being the third generation of Armstrongs, Ridleys, Dodds, Robsons, et al to farm Mowdy Haugh was seen as something of a status symbol when, financially, it was a massive millstone round the neck of the current tenant as economic conditions got worse

A house off the farm
Another problem of tenant farming was that the hill farm tenants of North Tyne and Rede could rarely make enough money to invest off the farm in the form of a house to move in to when their farming days ended. So they were reliant on the benevolence of the landlord to provide a tied cottage on the estate for them until they passed on. The older generation of landlords made this provision for their loyal tenants but it would be unwise to expect that this situation would remain in common practice in future, the way agriculture is moving.

There’s some good Kiwi wisdom that says - “The worst form of child abuse is to leave your son the farm”!

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