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A Day in the Life at Mary Arden’s Farm

Take a step back in time with one of the farm’s resident Tudors.

Every day the Tudors at Mary Arden’s Farm turn back the clock to live life as it would have been on a farm in 1573. But was does that really entail? Here, Period Interpreter Ian Lovecy gives us a glimpse into the life of a farm steward through the words of his Tudor alter ego Master Charles:

Master Charles's book written in Secretary hand
Master Charles's book written in Secretary hand, a common form of handwriting in the 16th century.

We are often asked what the men do on the farm. We are fortunate to have found a description of the daily routine of the farm which includes an indication of the men’s activity. The description has been written by Master Charles, Adam Palmer’s steward. We have modernised the spelling and grammar and have included punctuation and modern capitalisation, but have included a photograph of a page from Master Charles’s notebook to show the original, which is written in Secretary hand.

It is the will of Mistress Palmer that I should write for her son John the way of life of the farm, for him to have a book to which he can turn for advice, now he is soon to run the farm while Master Palmer looks to the manor at Aston Cantlow. She wishes me most to explain the work of the men.

The day begins when the Mistress or if she be not there the head maid will rise, rouse the maids and light the fire. Then while the maids look to the stock in the farmyard the Master, mayhap with the Steward, must walk to farm to see what work there needs for [is need for] the day. It may be there is stock to move to new pasture or land to be ploughed or manure to be spread or fences to be mended. At the right season there will be hay to be cut and stooked or grain to be harvested; this will need the maids to gather and stook, but for many of these jobs it will be necessary to hire labourers. So the Master and the Steward must go into the village to the maypole before they break their fast, to hire the [best men? – the words are smudged] they can find. The Master and the Steward will show what is to be done, and will then break their fasts; so too will the day labourers if they have brought bread with them, and they shall have some of their ration of ale with it. They, the Master and the Steward will then set about the day’s work. The main work is always the heavy tasks which the maids cannot do: moving of …[words unclear] beasts or sheep, or splitting logs; making or mending fences and at the right season cutting hay or wheat with a scythe while the maids gather and others will build the stack or stook the wheat ready for threshing.

Master Charles hard at work
Master Charles hard at work

At mid-day all gather in the hall for the main meal of the day at the which all will eat together. It is the goodness of this meal, along with the good ale we make, which makes the labourers wish to work here rather than on other farms. It is a time in the summer to rest the oxen we have been working with, as well as an opportunity for the workers to rest. In the winter dinner will be short ... [illegible] daylight. After dinner the work will continue as before. At the end of the day the day labourers must be paid the amount agreed when they were hired, and this should be done on the board so that all may see that no favours nor underhand dealing are being done. The last task is to lock up, namely to make sure the shutters are closed and barred and the doors likewise.

There will be days when there is no work which needs hired labour, whether it be by reason of the season or of the weather. On those days any men on the farm will set to and help the maids.