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 Mary Cox, a married Woman in the Union Workhouse at Blandford Forum, Dorset.
I am 35 ; I worked for Mr. Ingram, and then for Mr. Fowler, at Milton Abbas. I first went out to work when I was about 16 or 17. I have done harvest-work, hay-making, couching, picking stones, but no turnip-hoeing or reaping. In harvest my work was tying up corn, which is the hardest kind of work. 1 have done all this kind of work since I first went out till now. I am married and have had several children. I never found the work hurt me, but I was always better when I was out in the fields at work. I used to make buttons before I went out to work in the fields. I was much better in health when working out of doors than when buttoning. Buttoners are not so healthy as those who stir about at work. I don’t think there is anything wrong takes place in the harvest or hay field ; Mr. Ingram never allowed talking at those times.
In the spring I used to work from eight till five ; at hay-making from six till seven ; and at harvest from eight till sunset. I have always had 6d. a-day in the spring for weeding ; 8d. a-day for hay-making ; and Is. a-day for harvest. I don’t think all the women get Is. a-day at harvest, but I managed to work hard and earn it.
When I was about 17 I lived with my father and mother, two sisters older than I was, and a brother 14 years old, in a cottage at Milton Abbas. Robert Vacher and his wife, with three children, about 1,2, and 3 years old, lived in the same cottage. We had the two rooms down stairs, and the Vachers the two rooms up stairs. There were only four rooms in the cottage. There were two cottages in the building. My father and mother, two sisters and young brother, slept in the back room down stairs. There were two beds : my father and mother had one ; my sisters and brother had the other. I slept out at my grandmother’s. The Vachers and their children slept in the back room up stairs. The Vachers still live in the same two rooms, and they have six or seven children living with them. My brother and his wife live in the two rooms down stairs ; they have five children ; the eldest is about 14, and the youngest between 2 and 3. The cottages in Milton Abbas are very crowded : there are many families that live together in one room ; they sometimes put up a curtain between the beds. I believe that there are a great many bastards in Milton Abbas.
My father worked for Lady Caroline [Damer] ; he had 9s. a-week. My sisters worked as I did ; first at buttoning, and afterwards in the fields. My father had high wages ; if he had worked for a farmer he would have had perhaps only 7s. a-week.