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lunes, 27 de febrero de 2012

Hiring Fair

Prospective workers would gather in the street or market place, often sporting some sort of badge or tool to denote their speciality: shepherds held a crook or a tuft of wool, cowmen brought wisps of straw, dairymaids carried a milking stool or pail and housemaids held brooms or mops, this is why some hiring fairs were known as mop fairs. Employers would look them over and, if they were thought fit, hire them for the coming year, handing over a shilling to seal the arrangement.[4] Both male and female agricultural servants would gather in order to bargain with prospective employers and, hopefully, secure a position for the coming year. The yearly hiring included board and lodging for single employees for the whole year with wages being paid at the end of the year's service. These fairs attracted all the other trappings of a fair, and they turned into major feasts in their own right, and attracted poor reputations for the drunkenness and immorality involved.[5] Annual hiring fairs were held, during Martinmas week at the end of November, in the market towns of the East Riding of Yorkshire in places like Beverley, Bridlington, Driffield, Hedon, Hornsea, Howden, Hull, Malton, Patrington, Pocklington, and York.[6] Hiring fairs continued well into the 20th century, up to the Second World War in some places but their function as employment exchanges was diminished by the Corn Production Act 1917. This legislation guaranteed minimum prices for wheat and oats, specified a minimum wage for agricultural workers and established the Agricultural Wages Board, to ensure stability for farmers and a share of this stability for agricultural workers. (Wikipedia)

Hiring Fairs in Lowland Scotland [i]
One of the economic and workplace traditions associated with certain fairs disappeared altogether in the early twentieth century. Martinmas Fair in November, for instance, was primarily a "hiring fair" where men and women, boys and girls, were engaged as servants for the coming half year. Some customs associated with the hiring fairs and servants are particularly interesting:
Friday last was the "Dudsday" (or Martinmas) fair in Kilmarnock (Ayrshire) that is, the fair at which the country servants spend their former half year's wages in new clothes.
  In turn-of-the-century Lesmahagow:
The villagers efter their day's wurk wis done, would arrive to enjoy the "fun o' the fair". The fairs were held in March and October. That was when the fermers would walk aboot, talking to the men and women they were considering employing as farm hands, ploughmen and maids, arranging to fee them for the next six months and a shilling piece would be handed over to seal the commitment of employment.
There are many descriptions of hiring fairs in the literature of the 19th century:
"...so we came to Lullingford and found the Hiring Fair just beginning.
The long row of young folks, and some not so young, who were there to be hired, began near our stall. Each one carried the sign of his trade or hers. A cook had a big wooden spoon, and if the young fellows were too gallus she'd smack them over the head with the flat of it. Men that went with teams had whips, hedgers a brummock, gardeners a spade. Cowmen carried a bright tin pail, thatchers a bundle of straw. A blacksmith wore a horseshoe in his hat, and there were a tuthree of them, for a few big farms would club together and hire a blacksmith by the year. Shepherds had a crook and bailiffs a lanthorn, to show how late they'd be out and about after robbers...
There were tailors and weavers, wool carders and cobblers, too, for the farmers clubbed together for them also. The carders had a hank of coloured wool, and tailors made a great game running up and down the line of young women and threatening to cut their petticoats short.
Jancis laughed with the rest, but I could see she'd been crying. She looked a real picture in her print gown and bonnet, with the dairymaid's milking stool. They were a tidy set of young women, the housemaids with broom on shoulder, the laundrymaids with dollies..."
--Precious Bane by Mary Webb, Book Three, Chapter One, The Hiring Fair
And in Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge:

"The fair without the windows was now raging thick and loud. It was the chief hiring fair of the year, and differed quite from the market of a few days earlier. In substance it was a whitey-brown crowd flecked with white — this being the body of labourers waiting for places. The long bonnets of the women, like waggon-tilts, their cotton gowns and checked shawls, mixed with the carters' smockfrocks; for they, too, entered into the hiring. Among the rest, at the corner of the pavement, stood an old shepherd, who attracted the eyes of Lucetta and Farfrae by his stillness.
He was evidently a chastened man. The battle of life had been a sharp one with him, for, to begin with, he was a man of small frame. He was now so bowed by hard work and years that, approaching from behind, a person could hardly see his head."

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