Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Agricultural Workers Union badges, 1910s and 1960s

Periodic name changes to the union representing farm workers eases the task of dating associated material. In this case, the membership lapel badge has its title as the National Agricultural Labourers' & Rural Workers' Union which places it between 1912 and 1919. It was made by Fattorini & Sons, a family dynasty of jewellers and medal makers in Birmingham and the north of England with a pedigree running from the nineteenth century through to the present day.

The NALRWU was the successor body to the Eastern Counties Agricultural Labourers' and Small Holders' Union which was founded in Norfolk in 1906 with the great George Edwards (1850-1933) as its secretary. Going national in 1912 prompted the name change.

Widely scattered in small units, and with accommodation often tied to the job, farm workers have never found it easy to put effective pressure on their employers to improve pay and conditions. A national strike in 1923, following the scrapping of minimum wage agreements, eventually petered out amidst recrimination and little tangible gain. Still, today, an Agricultural Wages Board, with representatives from both sides sets on an annual basis the minimum rates of pay for the six defined grades of farm worker.

The other badge is for the National Union of Agricultural Workers, the name the union adopted in 1919 until 1968 when it became the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers. It was produced by the famous badge makers, Frank Cobb & Co of Sheffield, and has the look and feel of the 1960s.

Union membership rose dramatically during and immediately following the Second World War, peaking at a little over 179,000 in 1948. Thereafter, it fell into a steady decline and by 1962 was down to 131,000. The marked shrinkage of the farm labour force, as increased mechanisation took hold, is a defining feature of the countryside in the second half of the century. It meant that a free standing union was less viable, to the point where today it operates as the rural and agriculture element of Unite.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Corgi Toys Farm Set, early 1960s

Corgi Major was a range of commercial/industrial die-cast vehicles that the company introduced from 1957. The combine harvester here first appeared in 1961 and this Gift Set No.8, with tractor and trailer added, a year or two later. These were solid, chunky toys with moving parts for little hands to twiddle and with much of their attraction due to the remarkable level of detailing.

The combine harvester was modelled on the Massey-Ferguson 780 which was built at the firm's Kilmarnock factory from 1953 to 1962. This was the machine that most characterised the new agricultural revolution of the post-War era - a time of settled development for farming following the 1947 Agriculture Act, when the number of combine harvesters in England & Wales rose from 10,000 in 1950 to 50,000 in 1960.

The Massey-Ferguson name came about with the merger of two agricultural machinery manufacturers, Massey-Harris of Canada and Harry Ferguson Ltd of London in 1953. At first, it was Massey-Harris-Ferguson but was shortened in 1958 to Massey-Ferguson in a re-brand that produced also the iconic red and grey colour scheme and the triple triangle logo. At this time the firm accounted for 90% of all self-propelled combines used in the country.

Here are two 780 combines at work on a crop of barley in Gloucestershire in August 1962. The one at the rear is about to discharge its load of grain into the trailer alongside. The combine was the last stage in a long process of mechanisation of the grain harvest that stretched back to the early nineteenth century. Instead of the army of workers formerly needed to cut and gather the crop for threshing at a later stage, now it was harvested and processed in a single operation in the field.

The tractor in the Corgi set is a Massey-Ferguson 65, a 50 horse power model introduced in 1958. The Mark II appeared in 1960 and altogether a little over 50,000 of these tractors were built.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Cold Comfort Farm poster, 1995

This is the BBC/Thames TV production of Stella Gibbons' 1932 classic comic novel. It was directed by John Schlesinger, screenplay was by Malcolm Bradbury, and its stars included Kate Beckinsale as Flora Poste, Joanna Lumley as Mrs Smiling, Ian McLellen as Amos Starkadder, Rufus Sewell as Seth Starkadder and Stephen Fry as Mybug. The main location for filming was Brightling in East Sussex, with Brickwall House in Northiam standing in as 'Howchiker' Hall.

Stella Gibbons (1902-1989) was born in London and trained as a journalist. Cold Comfort Farm was her first novel and overshadows everything else that she wrote. Through the magnified stereotyping of its characters, it parodies the whole rural novel genre from Mary Webb to D.H.Lawrence and from Thomas Hardy to the Bronte sisters. The story of the visiting urban relative, Flora Poste, solving all the personal issues of the rural, dysfunctional Starkadders has stayed fresh and in print continuously through the intervening decades. It was also adapted for the stage by Paul Doust and was first performed at the The Watermill Theatre, Newbury in June 1991.

Here are some book covers from the 1930s to the 1990s:

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

The Archers board game, 1960

This item goes back to the start of an era when practically every popular programme on the radio or, increasingly, on the TV, merited its own spin-off game. They were mostly formulaic in nature with specific elements grafted on to reflect, however thinly, the context and storyline of the programme concerned. In the case of The Archers, the players are farmers who move around the board, incurring expenses and picking up income as they go, and attend auctions where they acquire stock and equipment. The first one to complete the fitting-out of their farm wins.

It is the kind of game that was probably bought as a Christmas present for a parent or aged relative, was very rarely played once the festivities were over, and consequently will very often survive intact and in almost unused condition at the back of a cupboard. What's important here is that the game owes its existence to the fact that by 1960 The Archers had become an integral part of the cultural establishment with a daily audience of millions across town and country alike.

The Archers began as a series of five pilot programmes that were broadcast regionally from Birmingham at the end of May 1950 and went national on a daily basis at the beginning of January the following year. It was the creation of Godfrey Baseley (1904-97) who was involved in agricultural programme-making for the BBC and wanted to find a more entertaining way of engaging with a farming audience on the subject of farm modernisation and improvement. It soon became much more than that, 'an everyday story of country folk', impacting upon the way that an urban society thought and felt about the countryside. Within six months of its launch The Archers was pulling in four million listeners a night.

The Museum of English Rural Life was also launched in 1951 to record the old countryside that was disappearing in the face of post-war change. Here is Godfrey Baseley (left) with John Higgs, the Museum's first Curator, making a live television broadcast from the Museum in 1954.

Amongst the Museum's collections are the extensive papers of broadcaster and journalist Anthony Parkin (1926-2007) who was agricultural story editor for The Archers for 25 years from 1972. He managed and ran the four main fictional farms of Ambridge, keeping detailed records of what was going on and what was changing, in order to provide a steady stream of topical subjects for the scriptwriters. Below is the first page of a paper that he prepared in 1976 on the subject of agricultural content in The Archers.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Frank Newbould poster, 1940s

This poster neatly captures the economic importance of the railway network to the rural community in the period either side of the Second World War. And it was the railway's country lorry service that completed the link - for goods in or out - between the nearest station and the village shop, farm or cottage.

Although the poster design almost certainly originates pre-War, I have put a 1940s date on it because I think it has been overprinted with the words 'British Railways' (on the lorry's canvas top) at or around the time of nationalisation in 1948. The initials at the bottom represent the four geographically-based units into which the myriad of smaller railway companies were grouped following the Railways Act of 1921: the Great Western Railway; the London, Midland & Scottish Railway; the London & North Eastern Railway; and the Southern Railway. The poster was printed by the Baynard Press of London, leading colour lithographic printers of the day, who printed many other posters for clients such as London Transport and also The School Prints (see earlier post).

The artist was Frank Newbould (1887-1951) who trained at Bradford College of Art and who was responsible for some of the most iconic travel and transport posters of the 1920s and 30s. For part of the Second World War, he was a poster artist for the War Office, working under Abram Games (see separate post), and produced amongst other things four posters in the series Your Britain Fight for it Now. One is a captivating portrait of the Downs which completely equates a pastoral English landscape with national pride and identity:

Another is intended to conjure up happy memories - real or imagined - of the travelling fair on the village green with a church tower, symbolising tradition and virtue down the centuries, rising in the background: