An item from the Parish
magazine by Barbara Cornford in September 1976,
describes life in farming between 1853 and 1878.
Barbara interviewed Mrs Violet Dyball who lived in Yew
Tree Cottage, in 1976. It appeared in the magazine
in Martham and Somerton a hundred years ago.
Many people will remember Mrs Violet
Dyball, who lived in Yew tree cottage. Some years
ago she lent me the farm diary of a great uncle of her
husband. He was Humphrey Dyball who lived at
Somerton in the mid nineteenth century. Like many
farmers he kept a regular diary in which he recorded the
weather and his farming operations. He kept the
diary for twenty-five years from 1853 to 1878 and only
very occasionally did he fail to make an entry for any
He farmed about 40 acres of arable
land in Somerton and Martham, with an unspecified amount
of pasture. His main concern was growing wheat and
barley which he sold to a local corn merchant, Mr
Faulke, who owned Martham Mill on Hemsby Road. He
also sold part of his trefoil and clover hay
crops. He grew potatoes, which he sometimes sold
to sea-going boats, peas, beans and various roots such
as turnips, swedes and mangolds, all for fodder for his
stock. He had three cows and their calves, some
pigs and two horses. His labour force consisted of
himself, Thomas who was a son or brother, and a hired
labourer, John Gymer.
John Gymer was paid 1s.10d. a day in
1853. The next year, at the time of the Crimean
War, food prices were rocketing, his wage rate rose to
2s. a day, and by 1876 he was earning 2s.6d. a
day. This would mean that his weekly wage was
about 12s.to15s. for a six day week – no half day on
Saturday. However some of his work was done on
piece rates for which he seems to have got nearly twice
his usual rate. In 1854 he received 20s. for four
and a half days' threshing: back breaking work
with a flail. Setting wheat, sowing hay and
cutting thorn faggots were all paid by piece rate.
Our farmer Humphrey Dyball had
six arable fields, all quite small, between
five and eight acres. He usually grew three or
four different crops in each field, so that a typical
cropping pattern would be two acres of wheat half an
acre of turnips, a row or two of potatoes and two or
three acres of clover lay all in one field. This
seems to have been the traditional system of cropping in
East Norfolk. Since all his operations were
carried out by horse and man power, he was seldom able
to tackle more than an acre a day for any task.
This splitting up of his crops caused him no
trouble. He never ploughed more than an acre a
day, nor sowed more that that. When it came to
haymaking and harvesting he could deal with more than an
acre. He and John Gymer mowed three acres of
clover with a scythe in one day in June 1856. This
then had to be turned and finally heaped into thirty hay
cocks, which were carted in six cart loads to the hay
chamber within the next week or so. A second crop
was taken in September.
The harvest started in August with
the wheat. This was reaped with a sickle or a
reaping hook, tied by hand into sheaves and the sheaves
stocked in the field. He records each
day’s achievement in the number of
sheaves cut, usually between 400 and
600. Barley was always mowed, turned and
cocked like hay. He could cart two acres of corn a
day, stacking it in the many corn stacks that stood
about his fields.
Threshing was done by hand with
flails, or sometimes by horse treading.
Occasionally he hired a horse driven threshing
machine. His entry for August 12th 1853 is ‘Threshing
a stack of wheat with Turner’s machine and with
Daniel Manship and Mr Robert Wright’s horses.’
After 1870 he is using other methods. He borrowed
a reaper to cut his wheat and cut 1500 sheaved a day.
Three times as much as he and John Gymer could have done
by hand. In 1876 he hired a steam threshing
machine on October 2nd from Robert Thurtle. For this he
employed five extra men at 2s. 6d. a day,a boy at 2s.
and the two machine men at 5s. 6d. a day. As a
result of the day’s work he thrashed a stack of
wheat (54 sacks), and a stack of barley.
1876, a hundred years ago was as
disastrous a year on the farm as 1976, but for quite the
opposite reason. He records day after day of
rain with the comment ‘nothing done to forward
business’. He finally finished his barley harvest
on the 18th September.
Humphrey Dyball's fields are called
Somerton Field, Jolly’s Close, Home Close, Southfield,
Middle Field and North Field. Can anyone identify