The English AgLab


Agricultural labourer working with a scythe circa 1900

Picture courtesy of Roots to your past*.

In the majority of families, there will be someone defined on one census  or another as an ‘Ag Lab’; this was certainly the case with the Brown’s. It’s shorthand for Agricultural Labourer. This is very much a catchall term used by census enumerators of the time for anybody working on the land. Admittedly there were some variants i.e. Gamekeeper, dairymaid etc. But, the term Ag Lab included many people with valuable knowledge and experience  as well as the more general labourer.

And there were lots of them. **In fact, the 1851 census records show 1,460,896 people working as an “ag lab”, farm servant or shepherd – more than in any other field of employment. Only in 1871 did domestic service overtake it to the top spot

**From the ”who do you think you are” website.

The life of the Ag Lab was not pleasant. Despite the bucolic appearance, life was tough. Lack of food, low pay, poor housing and cruel repression by the farmers was normal. So much so many were driven to emigrate.

This from one  Jacob Baker of Hodson near Wilton when he said in an address to the Wiltshire Agricultural Protection Society  in February 1850…

“And you,gentlemen, must know that our case is very bad and that we have not near victuals enough. How would you like to sit down with your wife and young children four days in a week to not half bread and potatoes enough and the other three days upon not half enough boiled swedes and but with little fire to cook them with?”

Baker and his family subsequently emigrated to Australia where he and his family thrived.

The corn laws protected the price of wheat , corn etc, preventing the import of cheaper grain, thereby keeping the prices paid to the farmers artificially high and making it difficult for poor people to eat. The corn laws were repealed in 1846 but not before great strain had been put on the poor and working class of this country and Ireland.

Many of these AgLabs lived in tied cottages i.e. where the house they live in came with the job further tieing them into their employer, the local farmer or landowner.

*Roots to your past has an excellent section on Agricultural Labourers. Well worth a read.

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