In 1843 the reports of special assistant poor law commissioners on the employment of women and children in agriculture were presented to both Houses of Parliament. One of those examined was a Mr. Burgess, a farmer at Tarrant Launceston, Dorset.
I employ six to eight women all the year round; in the winter in threshing and hacking turnips for sheep, at other times in hoeing turnips and keeping land clean, in hay-harvest and corn-harvest. In winter they work whilst it is light, and in spring from eight till six, with an hour and a half for dinner; at hay-time and harvest the hours are not so regular. Women reap; I have employed 40 women at a time in reaping. Generally they get 8d. at day; at harvest 1s., with two quarts of ale or cider; sometimes, if they work at task-work at harvest, they earn 1s. 6d. a-day, besides drink; they also get 1s. 6d. a-day at turnip-hoeing, which is task-work, but with that there is no liquor. Working out of doors is a good thing for women; you may tell them at church on Sunday by their size and ruddy looks. Girls, when they work, begin about 15 or 16, and they get 6d. a-day, and soon 8d. a-day; but they don’t go out younger, as they are wanted by their mothers, who are out at work, to take care of the younger children. I don’t think that there is any improper conduct on the part of women or girls, arising from their being employed in the fields; the master is always about, and his eye keeps everything going on regularly. I think young unmarried women are more moral when employed in field-labour than when sitting at home buttoning. I should say the buttoners have three bastards to one of the women in the fields.
The age at which boys are employed depends on their size a great deal; perhaps I may say they begin generally about 11, when they are set to scare birds. I don’t use plough-boys. Boys get on by degrees. At first I give 1s. 6d. a-week, then 2s. 6d., and when I give 3s. they begin to be of some service. They work, or rather are about busy in something or another, the same hours as men. I let them have a pint of beer a-day with the men. Boys are much better employed young; it is a good thing for their health, and keeps them out of idleness.
All the labourers in this parish are employed; we have hardly enough hands. I pay my labourers 8s. a-week, and, taking task work in, they get 11s. a-week on the average. A great many have no house-rent to pay, which is a saving of £2. or £3. a-year to them; they all get fuel carriage-free, and the mowers have it at half-price. I let my labourers have from 20 to 40 perches of potato-ground, according to their families; and if a labourer of an adjoining parish works for me for 12 months, I also let him have a potato-ground. But they can’t continue to have these wages if wheat keeps at its present price. We generally reckon a bushel of wheat, with 1s. added to it, the wages of a labourer. Carters and shepherds have wheat at 5s. a bushel, whatever the market price may be, for their own consumption; they have this privilege because they have no task-work. My labourers generally keep pigs. I sell them pigs at 20s. or 25s.; they fat them with part of the potatoes and barley grown upon their grounds, and when they kill them, they pay me, or give me a part, disposing of the rest as they like.