The following extract from the book describes in detail the Pocklington hiring fairs and gives an insight into how the fair was such an important and colourful event. It was an obvious place for the meeting of young people in the area and is maybe how some of our ancestors may have met each other prior to marriage.
Direct Quotation P.207-209:
Parties, dances, and amusements of various kinds are got up ; and being the one great holiday of the year with the young folks, the time passes all too quickly.
Those servants who are hired under this system are bound legally to their masters for one year. When the farmer engages a servant he gives him what is variously called his fest, Gods-penny, or arles, which is a small sum of money varying from about two to ten shillings; if the fest be returned before the appointed day the servant is freed from the engagement, but if the money is retained the agreement is then binding.
These statute hirings were, and still are, held at the same time of the year in all the principal market towns.
As I remember them when a boy, it would be hard to describe a hiring day in one of our East Riding agricultural centres; such scenes of riot and disorder were they. Well do I recollect going through the streets of Pocklington on more than one occasion when the great festival was being held. It was throng deed and no mistake. In the first place, the streets were more probably than not inches deep in mud and sludge—all iv a posh, as we should describe it in our country speech. Farmers and their wives, farm lads and lasses by hundreds, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, crowded the market-place ; carriers' carts, gigs, vehicles of all descriptions poured into the town and teemed into the streets their living freights. Jack and Tommy, Joe and Harry, lustily greeted Polly, Sally, Jane, and Maggy; loud and hearty were the salutations between friend and friend joyous and exuberant were the spirits of these stalwart specimens of humanity.
Although there was an element of business in the proceedings, the young folk had come there to enjoy themselves, and enjoy themselves they did. The actual hiring of the servants took place formerly only in the open street, which presented an animated appearance, and might be termed a kind of slave market. No doubt the farm lads and lasses were free to choose, and they received certain wages for their work ; but their build, muscle, and general physique were minutely scanned by those who engaged them : and well was it for them if their constitution was sound and robust; for the work to which they were called, though not disliked by those who could stand it, was no light matter.
From daylight to sunset it was one continuous round all the year through. Ploughing and sowing, harrowing and rolling, washing and milking, work in the hay-field and work in the corn-field; hedging and ditching, an occasional threshing day with its attendant hard work, livering corn, plugging or scaling muck, foddering ( beeas and sike like—these and countless other operations connected with the farm kept the youths and maidens perpetually a-gait. But after all, it was a healthy life. Early to bed and early to rise, with plenty of good wholesome food, preserved them in the rudest health; and if only the place to which they engaged themselves was a good meat spot, as it was called, that is to say, if they were well fed, all went well.
A brother clergyman, of more than forty years' standing, once told me that in all his experience he never once had occasion to visit a sick case in the farm-servant class. The Yorkshire plew-lads, especially those in the East Riding, are as fine and well-developed a race as one can see anywhere; an army composed of such material might do wonders.
But to return to the market-place of Pocklington. Martinmas Day there was a pleasure-fair day. The entertainments provided for the young men and women were of varied kinds. Rows of stalls lined the street, where all manner of meats and drinks were sold which would have disagreed with the constitutions of any ordinary mortals to an alarming extent, but which were indulged in freely and with impunity by these 'bruff' East-Ridingers. On these occasions 'cheap Jacks' and 'quacks' carried on a brisk trade ; shooting-galleries and Punch and Judy were attractions to not a few, and shows of fat women, wild beasts, one-eyed and six-legged monsters, and all manner of horrors were literally besieged by uproarious crowds of claimants for admission, till the places fairly reeked again. It was a splendid harvest for the show-keepers, especially if the day was wet, and under that condition of weather the public houses were unfortunately also crammed almost to suffocation. It was from this point of view a sad sight.
Boys and girls, lads and lasses, men and women were crowded together in the parlours and passages of the inns in a state of wild excitement, uproar, and confusion. Music, if such it could be called, and dancing went on merrily ; coarse jests were freely indulged in ; and songs of every description were bawled out in solo and chorus, and shouts of approval rent the air. It was like pandemonium let loose. All this naturally tended to demoralise the young people, and the results can be better imagined than described. It was only to be expected indeed that after a year's work and drudgery there should be some relaxation,
' Neque semper arcum tendit Apollo';
and it was right that these hard-working farm-servants should have their enjoyment like anyone else ; the only melancholy part about it was that it did not take a less debasing form. Happily the worst part of the old system is now done away with.