Archive for September 2013

When was Hungary? An Illustrated Timeline of the Magyars to 1848   Leave a comment

Conquest (Settlement of the Magyars in Hungary...

Conquest (Settlement of the Magyars in Hungary) Magyar: Magyar: Honfoglalás (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

PPPWhen Was Hungary

  • Pre-history: It is generally believed that, during the Third Millenium BC, the Finno-Ugric group of languages originated with the ancient tribes living in the area to the west of the Ural mountains in the central-northern modern day Russian Federation. Of these surviving modern languages, Finnish and Estonian are believed to be, related to Hungarian. Before the arrival of the Slavic peoples in modern Russia, speakers of Finno-Ugric languages may have been scattered over the whole area between the Urals and the Baltic.

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  •  A.D. 406-453: Attila the Hun, who built up a powerful empire in Eurasia, has been wrongly assumed to be an ancestral ruler of the Hungarians. The name ’Hungary’ comes from the seventh century, when Magyar tribes settled in the former land of the Bulgar-Turkish alliance of the On-Ongour, meaning ’Ten Arrows’ in Turkish, or ’Ten Tribes’. There were several tribes bearing this name living between the Dneyper and Volga rivers from the fifth to the ninth centuries, mixing with the Magyars. The terms spread into French and German through the Latin, Hungaricus, in the seventh century, and led to the confusion of the Magyars with the Huns, since Attila had occupied the Carpathian basin before the arrival of the Magyars.

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  • A.D. 896: The Magyars established one of the first unified countries of Europe, before the establishment of the early French  and German kingdoms and the unification of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. Árpád united the Magyar tribes in the Covenant of Blood, effectively creating one nation (though it wasn’t recognised as such) in the plains and hills surrounded by the Carpathian mountains.

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  • A.D. 955: Battle of Lechfield – the quick Hungarian (Magyar) horsemen were defeated by the heavy German cavalry. The nomadic tribes settled in the Carpathian ’basin’, beginning to farm the land. This was followed by stability and the adoption of Christianity with the foundation of a kingdom.

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  • 1000: Hungary was established as a Roman Catholic kingdom, recognised by Papal authority, in December of that year, with Vajk, baptised and re-named Stephen (István), receiving the Holy Crown as Stephen I. His kingdom was three times the size of the country determined by the Trianon Peace Treaty of 1920.

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  • 1222: Andrew II introduced the first constitution in Europe, called The Golden Bull (seven years after the Magna Carta in England). It limited the King’s power and declared the lesser noblemen equal to the magnates. They were also entitled to petition the monarch with their grievances, leading to the institution of parliament. Medieval Hungary controlled more territory than medieval France, and its population was the third-largest in Europe.

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  • 1526-70: Following the defeat and death of King Louis II at the Battle of Mohács, a large part of Hungarian territory was occupied by the Ottoman Empire for 150 years, with the area to the west of the Danube becoming part of the Habsburg Empire. The Ottoman sultan recognised János Szapolyai as the heir to the Hungarian throne, but many of the Hungarian nobles favoured the the Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand of Austria, in their resistance to Turkish rule. For more than a decade there was a civil war between the forces of the two kings. This ended with the capture of Buda by Suleiman II and the division of Hungary into three parts. In the west, Ferdinand continued to rule less than one third of the old kingdom, while in the east there was a vassil state of the Ottomans, which became a new Hungarian state, Transylvania, by the Treaty of Speyer of 1570. The third part, the central plain, was ruled directly and extended gradually by the sultan until 1568, when the Treaty of Adrianople determined its borders.

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  • 1606-64: By the early seventeenth century, the Turkish hold on central Hungary was weakening. Transylvania emerged as an important and prosperous European power, ruled by Prince Bethlen Gábor (1613-29) (picture below). He was a staunch defender of Calvinism in central Europe during the Thirty Years’ War, but was also tolerant of other churches and religions. His influence, and that of his successor, György I Rákóczi meant that the Habsburgs couldn’t enforce the Counter-Reformation as brutally in the parts of Hungary they controlled as they did elsewhere. However, in 1657 the army of György II Rákóczi was destroyed by the Tartars while attempting to seize the crown of Poland. The Turks took advantage of this defeat by invading the Principality, seizing the western part, including the town of Várad. The  Habsburgs then won a surprise victory against the Turks, but the latter kept most of their gains under the settlement of Vasvár of 1664.

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  • 1678-1699: A young Transylvanian, Imre Thököly, raised the standard of revolt and occupied a large part of central Hungary. The Turks sent a huge army into Hungary in 1683, laying siege to Vienna, and putting the whole balance of power in Europe under pressure. However, the siege was lifted by September, 1683, due to the intervention of King Jan Sobieski of Poland, and by 1699 the Imperial forces swept the Turks out Buda (picture below) and most of Hungary, including the whole of Transylvania, which the Habsburgs now annexed.

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  • 1703-1711: Ferenc II Rákóczi of Transylvania (below), led a peasants revolt to drive the Hapsburgs out of his homeland. He had hoped for French support, but France had been defeated at the Battle of Blenheim by the Anglo-Austrian coalition in the War of the Spanish Succession. Any chance of a reconciliation with Vienna was destroyed by Rákóczi’s election as Prince by the Transylvanian nobles in 1704. The Principality became independent until the revolt was finally put down in 1711.

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  • 1718-1775: The Habsburgs gradually freed Hungarian lands in the east from Ottoman rule, but tried to keep them for themselves by creating a new crownland, which they named the Banat of Temesvár. However, in 1775 the Hungarian Diet persuaded them to return this land to Hungarian civil administration. Transylvania retained a separate status, though strongly Hungarian in character. The old borderlands of Hungary were governed by Transylvania until 1732, when an Imperial agreement allowed both countries to retain a share of them, while the Transylvanian borderlands to the east remained under Habsburg military administration.

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  • 1780-1835: Hungary’s relationship with the Austrian monarchy had always been, in Hungarian eyes at least, a voluntary one. In the 1780s and thereafter, the attempts of Joseph II and his successors to Germanise the Magyars had met with resistance. The abolition of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806 ended any territorial ambitions the Habsburgs had to expand northwest into Germany, opening the way for Prussia to assert its dominance among the German states. The Empire they were left with was a denial of the fashionable nineteenth-century doctrine of national self-determination.

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  • 1835-1848: Ferdinand V’s subjects spoke more than twelve different languages and belonged to four major churches, Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist and Orthodox, as well as Judaism. The Emperor could not ignore demands for language rights and religious freedoms. Although the plains of Hungary were largely monolingual, most parts of the Austrian Empire contained a mixture of peoples and languages. The Slav minorities began to assert their own identities through new national literatures, music and political organisations. Tensions between Vienna and Budapest over the Hungarians’ demands for Home Rule made relations with other nationalities still more complex. The Hungarians wanted control over all the traditional territories of their crown, and were themselves unwilling to extend equal political rights to the mix of Slavs which these lands contained. It was against this background that a series of national-liberal revolutions broke out around and within the Empire in 1848, spreading throughout Central Europe.

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Sources:

Géza Balázs (1997), The Story of Hungarian: A Guide to the Language. Budapest: Corvina Books.

András Bereznay, et.al. (2002), The Times History of Europe: Three Thousand Years of History in Maps. London: Times Books (Harper-Collins).

György Bolgár (2009), Made in Hungary. Budapest: Kossuth Publishing Corporation.

István Lázár (1968, 1996), Hungary: A Brief History. Budapest: Corvina Books.

István Lázár (1989), An Illustrated History of Hungary. Budapest: Corvina Books.

István Lázár (2001), A Brief History of Hungary with Sixty-two Pictures in Colour. Budapest: Corvina.

István Gombás (2000), Kings and Queens of Hungary; Princes of Transylvania. Budapest: Corvina.

Péter Hanak, et. al. (1988), One Thousand Years: A Concise History of Hungary. Budapest: Corvina.

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Posted September 27, 2013 by TeamBritanniaHu in Uncategorized

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Santiago, 1973 – Swansea 1980   Leave a comment

Español: Mural a Víctor Jara, pintado en el ga...

Español: Mural a Víctor Jara, pintado en el galpón que lleva su nombre. Barrio Brasil, Santiago, Chile. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Español: sepulcro de Víctor Jara en el Cemente...

Español: sepulcro de Víctor Jara en el Cementerio General de Santiago de Chile (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Marchers for Salvador Allende. A crowd of peop...

Marchers for Salvador Allende. A crowd of people marching to support the election of Salvador Allende for president in Santiago, Chile. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Santiago, 1973 - Swansea 1980

 

This is a poem which was written for me by a visiting student leader when I was Chair (Cadeirydd) of NUS Wales (UCMC) in 1979-80. The previous September, on the anniversary of General Pinochet‘s coup, the fifty-strong community of Chilean refugees in Swansea had staged a three-day hunger strike, together with exiles worldwide, to draw attention to the unknown fate of the many ‘disappeared’ in the country. The coup had begun with the murder of President Allende and many of his supporters. Some, like the leader of the ‘New Song’ movement, Victor Jara, were tortured, mutilated and killed in the national stadium in Santiago. A concert for Chile was held in Swansea, featuring Dafydd Iwan, who had written a song in Welsh about Jara. He also sang it in English for the Chileans present. During the Falklands Conflict, in 1982/3, Margaret Thatcher made an alliance with Pinochet and prevented his extradition to France, one of the many countries who had indicted him for crimes against humanity. Those tortured by the tyrant had included the British nurse, Sheila Cassidy, and a number of US citizens working in Chile at the time of the coup. The role of the CIA in supporting the coup has been well documented and portrayed in the film, ‘Missing’ starring Jack Lemmon, based on the true story of a US Republican’s search for his son. Swansea remained one of the major centres for the exiled supporters of the Allende government, a socialist coalition, who’s President was the world’s first avowed Marxist to be elected.001

 

 

Raise the song of harvest-home!   1 comment

001 (2)

My last blog was about the secular folklore of harvest. For me, as for many Christians, harvest festivals are not primarily about these ancient country customs, but about giving praise for our gifts from God. One hymn which appears in almost every hymnbook is Come Ye Thankful People, Come. It’s probably the most popular hymn with congregations, though We Plough the Fields and Scatter is perhaps best known for most people in Britain, from their schooldays singing in assemblies.

English: Henry Alford (1810-1871)

English: Henry Alford (1810-1871) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Henry Alford (1810-1871), who wrote the words above, was born in Bloomsbury, London, the son of an Anglican clergyman and himself became Dean of Canterbury Cathedral in 1857, where he remained till his death. A Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, he was a distinguished scholar and wrote many books, including a commentary on the Greek New Testament. A strong evangelical, he wrote several hymns, still popular today,  Ten Thousand Times Ten Thousand, a processional for saints’ days, was completed and published just in time to be sung at his funeral in January 1871, with startling imagery from the Book of Revelation. The opening lines and the title are suggested by the reference in chapter 5 v 11 to St John the Divine’s vision of a mighty throng of angels around the throne of God, and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand. Similarly, the ringing of a thousand harps in the second verse is taken from chapter 14 v 2. 

Come Ye Thankful People, Come was first published in Alford’s own collection of Psalms and Hymns in 1844. He revised it for his poetical works in 1865, the version which is also included in his Year of Praise, published in 1867. This authentic version is the one given above rather than the one which appeared in Hymns Ancient and Modern. The fourth verse, as it appears in  a third version, appearing in The New English Hymnal, is worth quoting, especially since it is reminiscent of his writing on Revelation:

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The tune associated with this hymn, St George, by Sir George Elvey (1861-93), was actually written for another hymn, Hark the Song of Jubilee, and was published in 1858. Elvey was organist and choirmaster at St George’s Chapel, Windsor.

Two of Christ’s parables are echoed in the hymn: the story of the wheat and the tares (Mt 13: vv 24-30) and that of the seed which springs up without the sower knowing about it (Mk 4: vv 26-29), including the line, paraphrased in Alford’s second verse: For the earth bringeth forth of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. The graphic depiction of the growth of the ear and the corn is one which we discussed with interest in Hungary recently. Although a far more agricultural country than Britain today, many of us still struggled with the metaphor, and found Alford’s popularisation of it useful, as we had done while singing it as children in church in England and Wales (it also appears in the Church of Scotland Hymnary). In order to be harvested as pure and wholesome grain, we need to grow faithfully in the field through the natural stages until ripe. In the third verse, the full-grown weeds can be torn up, bundled and burnt, to allow the crop to be harvested. In the fourth verse, as pure grain, we can then be ‘garnered in’ into God’s granary. Here are the full texts, beginning with Mark:

The Parable of the Growing Seed

Jesus went on to say, “The Kingdom of God is like this. A man scatters seed in his field. He sleeps at night, is up and about during the day, and all the while the seeds are sprouting and growing. Yet he does not know how it happens. The soil itself makes the plants grow and bear fruit; first the tender stalk appears, then the head, and finally the head full of grain. When the grain is ripe, the man starts cutting it with his sickle, because harvest time has come.

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The Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds

Jesus told them another parable: “The Kingdom of heaven is like this. A man sowed good seed in his field. One night, when everyone was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. When the plants grew and the heads of grain began to form, then the weeds showed up. The man’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, it was good seed you sowed in your field; where did the weeds come from?’ ‘It was some enemy who did this,’ he answered. ‘Do you want us to go and pull up the weeds?’ they asked him. ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because as you gather the weeds you might pull up some of the wheat along with them. Let the weeds and the wheat both grow together until harvest. Then I will tell the harvest workers to pull up the weeds first, tie them in bundles and burn them, and then to gather in the wheat and put it in my barn.

Adapted from a Prayer of Confession:

If we have forgotten you in our day-to-day living,

or have not lived according to your laws of love,

Lord, have mercy upon us, Christ have mercy upon us.

We claim the promise of your Word to all who are truly sorry for having lived wrongly:

As for our transgressions, we ask you to purge them away…

Purge us, Lord, from selfishness, greed and pride,

Purify our hearts from all that blinds us to thy presence,

so that we may indeed see thy hand at work in the world about us,

and rejoice in thy goodness.

AMEN

Adapted from Prayers of Intercession:

We pray for all who work on farms and crofts, in gardens and forests,

For those who gather the harvest of the seas and lakes,

For those who work in mines and quarries,

And for all the scientists, engineers and technicians who serve and help them.  

Through the toil of all these men and women:

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.

Inspire us, and thy Church all over the world, to demonstrate

How to live in love for all people, that your kingdom of justice may be furthered,

And all may see what is the Father’s will for His children.

Through the work of your Church, O Lord:

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.

We pray for the governments of the world,

For the work of the United Nations, especially its Food and Agricultural Programme,

For the work of international charitable organisations,

May the powers of this world be more and more conformed to the power and glory of your kingdom,

Where all care for each other in brotherhood and sisterhood,

as the Father wills.

Through the work of all peace-makers,

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.

Now, blessed be your glorious name for ever,

Let the whole earth be filled with the glory of the love of our Father, in whom we are one,

Of the Son, who shares our sorrows and griefs,

Of the Holy Spirit of love and power,

One God for ever.

AMEN.

Ian Bradley (2005), The Daily Telegraph Book of Hymns. London: Continuum.

David Cairns, et.al.  (1972), Worship Now. Edinburgh: The St Andrew Press.

Good News for Modern Man

Harvest Home: Tales of Mice and a Man Buried Twice   1 comment


Harvest Home: Tales of Mice and a Man Buried Twice

Why do schools generally start back a week later, after the summer break,  in Britain, compared with Europe and the USA?

English: Corn dolly corn maiden

English: Corn dolly corn maiden (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This has to do the grain and hop harvest in Britain which isn’t finished until the end of the first week in September. When compulsory elementary education was introduced to the age of thirteen or fourteen just before the First World War, harvesting the new grain was still very labour-intensive. Although threshing had been mechanised in the 1830s, the crops were still mainly cut by hand well into the twentieth century, so ’all hands’, including those of children of all ages, were required to cut the corn and gather it in quickly, especially if the weather was changeable and showery. Even after Britain became a largely urbanised country, factory workers from the towns were needed to help gather int he crops in many parts of the country, and during the hop harvest in Kent, whole families would take a fortnight’s holiday to work outside on the hop farms, with farmers keeping cottages for them to stay in.

English: Wheat sheaves near King's Somborne Th...

English: Wheat sheaves near King’s Somborne The first and last sheaves of corn to be cut had major significance, grain from the first sheaf would be made into a loaf of bread while the last sheaf was reserved for transformation into a corn dolly; symbolic of Mother Earth or the Corn Spirit. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Therefore, any attempt to cajole children back to school before the bulk of the harvest had been safely gathered in would result in widespread absenteeism, and the compromise of beginning the school year a week later was agreed upon. Then, towards the end of September, both in school and church, harvest produce was displayed in tasteful arrangements , while songs, hymns, prayers and stories were used to make up the harvest programme. This tradition is still kept today, with the gifts taken afterwards to hospitals or residential homes for children and the elderly. Sometimes the produce is sold and the proceeds given to charities such as Oxfam or Christian Aid for their work with those in want overseas.

Statue of John Betjeman at St Pancras station ...

Statue of John Betjeman at St Pancras station in London (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

John Betjeman, the Poet Laureate, wrote a poem called The Diary of a Church Mouse, in which he comments cleverly on the popularity of the ’Harvest Festival’ through the eyes of a mouse who rather resents the fact that all year round he has to scratch for a living, trying to find something to eat int he church, but at harvest time…

…other mice with pagan minds

Come into church my food to share

Who have no proper business there.

 

 

Betjeman’s mouse is puzzled by the popularity of the Harvest Festival service and declares:

But all the same it’s strange to me

How very full the church can be

With people I don’t see at all

Except at Harvest Festival.

English: corn dolly, Mordiford

English: corn dolly, Mordiford (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, the reason for the fullness of the church goes back centuries before Christ, to the need for man to pay homage to the spirit of life itself which he believed lived in the crop to be harvested, whether corn, wheat, barley, oats, hops or something else. Early man felt that by cutting the crop he killed some of that spirit, and that he could only bring it back to life for the following season by going through some sort of ritual. Many of these ceremonies involved the making of effigies, or ’corn dollies’ from the last sheaf of the crop to represent the continuity of life. Making these remains a popular activity at harvest time, an ancient tradition contrasting with the modern tin cans which make up most of the displays these days.

English: Straw cross, harvest

English: Straw cross, harvest (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The harvest doll was often the last complete sheaf, dressed in a woman’s dress, bedecked with coloured ribbons  and variously called the harvest queen, the Kern baby, the neck and the corn doll. In Northumberland, the doll was attached to a long pole and carried home by the harvester, then set up in a barn where it stood as the centre-piece for the festivities that followed. In Scotland it was called ’the Old Wife’, while in Belfast it was ’the Granny’. In Wales, one of the reapers carried the doll home while the others tried to snatch it away by pouring buckets of water over him. If he got home safely he kept until the sowing in the spring. Then he would produce the doll and feed it to the plough horse, or mix whatever grain was left in with the new seed to be sown. This ensured the continuation of the corn spirit from one year to the next. The feat of cutting the last sheaf was often shared by all the reapers, so that no single one of them could be held responsible for killing the spirit with the final cutting.

As recently as 1947, three devices made of wheat, oats and barley were displayed at harvest time in Great Bardfield Church, near Braintree in Essex. One was a cross on the pulpit, the others were an anchor and a heart on the screen. They represented faith, hope and charity. The harvest custom known as ’Crying the neck’ was common in Devon and was revived in St Keverne in the late twentieth century. The ritual was associated with the ancient belief that the corn spirit lives in the last swathe to be cut and that the last cut had to be shared. With hats off the reapers broke into a long, drawn-out musical cry of ’The Neck’.

Then they all flung their hats in the air, dancing around, kissing the women, shouting and laughing. This last sheaf, or ’neck’, was picked up by a young man and carried to the farmhouse, where a young girl stood with a pail of water. She had to fling the water over the young man as he entered the farmyard. It was then plaited into a ’corn baby’ and kept over the fireplace until the following spring when it was put into the ploughed field, to allow the corn spirit to live again.

As a writer in 1826 reveals, these were widespread traditions. In one evening, he heard several ’Necks’. Mechanisation took some of the romance out of the season, but even then the celebration of the ’Harvest Home’ around the last loaded waggons drawn in by horses, with garlands, ribbons and flowers, continued. As the waggon rolled to a halt, a young reaper would shout:

We have ploughed, we have sowed,

We have reaped, we have mowed,

We have brought home every load,

Hip Hip Hip – Harvest Home!

This would be followed by cakes and beer and dancing. Master and labourer sat down together with no distinction, together with visitors from other farms, who exchanged labourers at harvest time. Many of these traditions finally disappeared with the replacement of the horse by the tractor and then the combine-harvester. However, many have also survived and become linked with Harvest Thanksgiving. Parish churches continued to greet the harvest with a peal of bells and to bless the crops and other produce in the church. Even the corn dolly was allowed to decorate the church door, though often transformed into a cross. In 1843 the vicar of Morwenstow issued a notice inviting parishioners to receive the Sacrament in the bread of the new corn. Thanksgiving is often an Evensong service, with the church decorated all day long with ’all God’s gifts around us’. The beginning of the period of harvesting was marked by a day called Lammas-tide, or ’Loaf mass’.

The advent of new technologies to the British countryside from this time was very much a mixed blessing, therefore, and not just from the point of view of community solidarity. My great-great-grandfather, Henry Tidmarsh, was an agricultural labourer at Great Rollright in Oxfordshire. When still a young man, in the 1840s, he had his arm pulled out just below the shoulder by a threshing machine. As he bent to wipe a nest of mice off the machine, he slipped and fell. He had to try to walk to Chipping Norton, where the nearest hospital was, bleeding to death. When he got news of the emergency, the village doctor went after him with a horse and cart, saving his life. Henry could no longer work on the estate farm with one arm, and compensation was unheard of in those days, so all the family had to live on were seven loaves a week for seven people, charity bread given through the parish as outdoor relief. Together with the vegetables and the fruit out of the garden, they just survived, and avoided going into the recently established workhouse. They had not a thing from the squire and his relations, who lived in the Hall at Great Rollright, whom he was working for, but the parson of the village was quite well off and very kind. He gave Henry a little pony and trap, so that he was able to fetch parcels for people, halting on the hill at Ufton near Leamington, where my grandfather Gulliver lived. They  remembered him going round the village selling pins and needles and cottons, and other haberdashery. He lived into his nineties, and was re-united with his right arm on burial in the churchyard at Great Rollright. He therefore became known in local folklore as the man who was buried twice!

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In the southern and eastern counties of England the dreaded machine had already been the object of attack by the increasing number of unemployed farm labourers during the autumn and winter months when the threshing was traditionally done. Unrest over the impoverished conditions of agricultural labourers following the end of the French Wars had been building for some time, and the threshing machines became a visible symbol of their suffering. The ’riots’ which erupted in 1830 started in Kent and quickly spread as far west as Dorset, as far north as Northamptonshire, and across East Anglia. An imaginary leader, Captain Swing, was invented and under his ’orders’ farm labourers destroyed nearly four hundred threshing machines. However, the uprising(s) did not last long and magistrates dealt sternly with those found guilty of rioting. Six were hanged, over four hundred transported and about the same number were thrown into prison at home. Although the rising did delay the spread of threshing machines, but the problem of low wages remained and increasing numbers of landless labourers decided to look for work in the growing towns and cities. Those who remained on the land attempted to establish unions in order to improve their conditions, but the government did not welcome this development either, and in 1834 magistrates in Dorchester sentenced six men from the village of Tolpuddle to transportation for gathering under a tree in the centre of the village. The mass meeting shown in the picture below was organised to protest against the treatment of the ’Tolpuddle Martyrs’, who were eventually pardoned. Image

However, it was nearly forty years later that my other great-great-grandfather,  Vinson Gulliver, marched through the Warwickshire countryside to help Joseph Arch found the first national union for farm workers, the National Agricultural Labourers’ Union, Beneath the Wellesbourne Tree. By then, conditions were little better than they had been half a century before. Nor did the labourer have a share in the fruits of the earth on which he toiled; the harvester who killed a rabbit bolting from the last of the corn could find himself before the magistrate’s bench. The Justice of the Peace was invariably a farmer himself. So, it took a special kind of courage for labourers to stand together and sing:

Ye tillers of the soil

Assert your manhood then,

You get your living by hard toil,

Then all be union men.

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In her book, Lark Rise to Candleford, recently turned into a popular TV series by the BBC, Flora Thompson describes in great detail Oxfordshire village life during the latter part of the nineteenth century. Here she writes of harvest time:

In the fields where the harvest had begun all was bustle and activity. At that time the mechanical reaper with long, red revolving arms like windmill sails had already appeared in the locality; but it was looked upon by the men as an auxiliary, a farmer’s toy; the scythe still did most of the work and they did not dream it would ever be superseded. So while the red sails revolved in one field and the youth on the driver’s seat of the machine called cheerily to his horses and the women followed behind to bind the corn into sheaves, in the next field a band of men would be whetting their scythes and mowing by hand as their fathers had done before them.

Having no idea that they were at the end of a long tradition, they still kept up the old country custom of choosing as their leader the tallest and most highly skilled man amongst them, who was then called King of the Mowers. For several harvests in the eighties they were led by the man known as Boamer. He had served in the Army and was still a fine, well-set-up young fellow with flashing white teeth and a skin darkened by fiercer than English suns.

With a wreath of poppies and green bindweed trails around his wide, rush-plaited hat, he led the band down the swathes (paths through the corn made by the mowers) as they mowed and decreed when and for how long the they should halt for a ’breather’ and what drinks should be had from the yellow stone jar they kept under the hedge in a shady corner of the field. They did not rest often or long; for every morning they set themselves to accomplish an amount of work in that day that they knew would tax all their powers till long after sunset. ’Set yourself more than you can do and you’ll do it’ was one of their maxims, and some of their feats in the harvest fields astonished themselves as well as the onlooker.

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Questions:

  1. Study the old photographs. Describe each of them as accurately as you can. What points of special interest does each one have?
  2. What information about village life in the nineteenth century can be gained from the photographs?
  3. Photographs are more useful with captions (photos 1-3). What information would you like to know about the photos without captions?
  4. Photography began in the 1820s. How useful are photographs as a source of information about the past, compared to paintings and drawings, like the one of the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Demonstration?
  5. Compare the information you have gained from photos 1 and 2 with that from Flora Thompson’s book. What do they tell you about the following aspects of harvesting in the late nineteenth century?:

(a)   the parts played by the men, women and children;

(b)   tools and machinery;

(c)  farm workers’ clothes;

(d)   harvest customs.

6.  Examine all the photographs again:

(a) In what ways can old photographs be more useful as sources than written or recorded accounts (oral history)?

(b) What kinds of subjects are old photographs especially useful for?

(c) Are there any dangers of using this kind of evidence without written or oral accounts?

There’s another story, from the mid-twentieth century, about mice at harvest time and it tells how a group of village children on their way to school had to pass a farm, with a field of corn which was ripe for reaping. The day came when the harvester, a modern automatic machine, started to cut the corn, leaving it bound in bails and ready to be carted away. On their way home, the children were very amused to see that the farmer was leaving an area of the corn uncut, in one corner of the field, deliberately going round these few square yards and leaving it standing untidily amid the flattened areas around. The children called out ’hey, you’ve missed a bit, farmer Giles!’ and made rude comments about his eyesight! Ignoring their jibes, the farmer went on with his work the next day, still leaving the patch uncut. It was still uncut when they made their way home that day too. However, on the third morning, they noticed that the patch had been cut, left until the very last. On the way home, the children met the farmer coming up the lane on his tractor, pulling a load of bailed corn. As he stopped on the narrow lane to let them pass safely, one of them plucked up courage to ask him about the patch he had left till last.

The farmer explained that, on the first day, as he had approached that corner of the field on his harvester, he had spotted a pair of field mice in a nest they had made there, with a family of six new-born mice. He couldn’t bring himself to drive straight over them knowing they would all be killed, so he skirted round the nest and left that tuft of corn standing. On the second morning, he looked to see if they were there, which they were, but on the third morning he watched the nest carefully and saw the parents lifting their young in their mouths, one by one, and carrying them to a safe place in the hedge. They had realised the danger and were saving their family. Now that all were safely installed in their new home, the farmer knew he could complete his reaping. That afternoon, the children had an important extra lesson. Not only did they learn about the need for care of wild creatures, but also about not making fun of other people’s actions without knowing the reason for them.    

Questions:

  1. What can stories like this tell us about harvesting and village life in the middle of the last century?
  2. How valuable are oral accounts and traditions in understanding how people lived their lives in the past? What are their limitations compared with other sources such as photographs, factual documents and fiction?

Sources:

Victor J. Green (1983), Festivals and Saints Days. Poole: Blandford Press

Martin Dickinson (1979), Britain, Europe and Beyond, 1700-1900. Basingstoke: Macmillan.

John Gorman (1980), To Build Jerusalem: A Photographic Remembrance of British Working Class Life, 1875-1950. London: Scorpion Publications.

Labor Day USA   Leave a comment

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I missed the chance to write about Labor Day on Monday (it’s always on the first Monday in September). This was partly because I was too busy putting together resources on the Civil War anniversaries which happened during the school holidays here in Hungary, most notably, of course, that of the Battle of Gettysburg.

However, I have just started planning two courses on History and ‘Civilisation’ , one for primary pupils and one for secondary students, so I was pleased to find a child’s story connecting Labor Day to the Civil War. Apparently, the origins of the Day go back before the development of the Labor Movement in the USA to an eleven-year-old boy selling newspapers in New York City. The son of an Irish immigrant who had just enlisted to fight in the Civil War, Peter McGuire had to help his mother with six brothers and sisters. At that time, children like Peter worked in factories, cloth and steel mills, coalmines and in construction. The conditions were often appalling, and the hours long, as many as fourteen per day, seven days a week. There were few breaks, and no vacations or benefits. There was no concept of workers’ rights, and factory owners could hire and fire, and treat workers as they wished. Immigrant workers were especially vulnerable. They were effectively white wage slaves.

Peter J. McGuire (July 6, 1852 - February 18, ...

Peter J. McGuire (July 6, 1852 – February 18, 1906) was an American labor leader of the nineteenth century, the founder of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America and one of the leading figures in the first three decades of the American Federation of Labor. He is credited with first proposing the idea of Labor Day as a national holiday in 1882. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Peter was seventeen, he began an apprenticeship in a piano shop. This was better than his previous factory jobs, because he was learning a trade, but he still had to work long hours with low pay. At night he went to meetings and classes in economics. One of the main social issues of the day was that of labor conditions. Workers had become tired not just of the low pay and long hours, but also the unsafe and insecure nature of their working environments. They therefore began to organise themselves into unions to improve these conditions. In the spring of 1872, Peter McGuire went on strike with a hundred thousand other workers, marching through the streets to demand a decrease in the working day.

English: Labor Day Parade, Union Square, New Y...

English: Labor Day Parade, Union Square, New York, 1882 (Lithographie) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He spent the next year speaking to crowds of workers, including those unemployed, and lobbied the city  government for jobs and relief money. He was labelled a ‘disturber of the public peace’, developing a reputation as a troublemaker, unable to find a job in his trade. So he began to travel up and down the East Coast speaking to laborers about joining the union.

United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners o...

United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1881 he moved to St Louis, Missouri, and began to organise carpenters there. They held a convention at which a national union of carpenters was founded. He became General Secretary of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America. After that, the idea of trades unions spread throughout the US. Factory workers, dockworkers and toolmakers all began to demand an eight-hour working day and a secure trade. Peter McGuire and other labor leaders decided to plan a public holiday for workers, both as a tribute to their contribution to the nation, and as a way of bringing more public awareness to their struggles. They chose the first Monday in September, half way between Independence Day and Thanksgiving. On September 5th, 1882, the first Labor Day parade was held in New York City and in 1894 Congress voted the first Monday in September as a national holiday. Although some cities still host parades, rallies and community picnics (including Irish Stew with homemade bread and apple pie!), most Americans treat it as an end-of-summer long weekend, a chance for one last family beach party before the new school year begins on the Tuesday following.

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Glossary:

immigrant

condition(s)

appalling

hire and fire

concept

vulnerable

apprenticeship

trade(s) union

to go on strike

to lobby for

reputation

convention

joiner

to host

rallies

parades

Source:

Brenner, Ford and Sullivan (eds.) (2007), Celebrate! Holidays in the USA. Washington: Office of English Language Programs, US Department of State.

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