The Olden Days on the Farm
In the old days the pre-industrial regimen persisted to
some extent. Farms were principal sources of wealth and
employment. Most of the land was owned by a few rich owners - too rich
to farm themselves, too rich in many cases even to live in poor,
benighted, provincial Lakeland, so they let the farms to tenant farmers.
Low Nest Farm along with High Nest, Brackenrigg, Shawbank? and possibly
other farms, was owned by the Mitchelhill Estate which was administered
Most people had no land and were very poor but nevertheless had large families. Consequently labour was very cheap and the tenant farmers ( who occupied a position at the 'poor' end of the scale between the rich and the very poor) would employ many farm hands. Farmers wives and 'middle class' townspeople would have maids and other servants. In the twenties and thirties Low Nest employed three or four maids and three or four farm lads. This abundance of labour, which was only really needed at haytime, meant that the farm was kept in an immaculate condition with all the hedges neatly laid and manicured, the stone walls kept up and all the drains and ditches kept clear and the vermin kept down.
Sadly it is no longer economically possible to keep the farm in an immaculate condition even with the help of machinery.
Farms tried to be as self sufficient as they could (to avoid the costs of buying in and transporting produce) so they grew oats and barley and other crops, for which the soil and climate are not really suitable as well as raising sheep and cattle, producing and processing milk, keeping pigs and poultry.
Potatoes were kept in the potato-house which was a cool windowless back room below ground level*. (Potatoes of course go green and sprout if exposed to light). Swedes and Kale and other roots crops used as winter fodder were kept in straw clamps.
In the house the perishable food was kept in the 'dairy' which was the coolest rear ground-floor room. Like the rest of the ground floor it was paved with slate flags and it was furnished with 'sconces' around the walls and in the centre which consisted of more slate flags supported on brick pillars. Bread was kept in a deep wooden barrel which seemed to be very effective at keeping it fresh and moist for days. Meat was kept in a 'safe' which was a wire mesh cage which allowed air to circulate but kept the flies off. There was another meat safe outside in the cool under the trees, raised up on legs and with a roof to keep the rain off. When a pig was killed and butchered the meat was laid out on the sconces in the dairy and covered in salt to cure it. The hams and sides of bacon were then hung in the 'passage' which ran from the front to the back of the house and was open at both ends and had a good through draught.
Poultry was also killed, although hens were too valuable
as egg producers to be eaten other than on special occassions..
The sheep and cattle were not usually butchered on the farm because the meat is not suited to salting?
* Low Nest, like many lakeland farms is built into the hillside so that the hay barns are on ground level at the back while the livestock are kept underneath in byres and loose-boxes which are on ground level at the front. All the hay barns had trapdoors to facilitate delivering the hay to the animals below. To avoid dampness the back wall is, in parts, a double wall with a passageway between and slate flags over the top.
One of the barns is known as the threshing barn since it housed the thresher. The thresher was there in the 1950's but had not been used in Margaret's lifetime (1935). It was powered by a horse or pair of horses walking in circles in the yard outside the barn turning a capstan which turned a shaft that passed through the wall of the barn just below ground level (at the back). The capstan and bevel gearing was mounted on a huge rectangular block of sandstone buried in the ground. (This sandstone block was discovered during recent excavations in the barnyard)
In more recent years (1950's) the threshing was done by contractors who travelled around the district at harvest time with a threshing machine powered by a belt drive from a tractor.