Byre Kitchen and Stable
by: Birnie, Rev. Charles
The great days of horse, horsemen and horse-drawn implements went out after the Second World War. Scarcity of labour had led to the waiving of many hide-bound procedures as well as the introduction of tractors, which a land-girl could operate. But prior to that the requirements of home and horseman took precedence and set the farming day's tone both outdoors and in the farmhouse.
The men rose from their chaff-filled mattresses in the chaumer, probably having slept in their underwear. Pyjamas would have been considered 'jessie', too swanky for farm servants. So they dressed quickly, stuck their feet into their boots and without lacing them up went straight to the stable and led their horses to the water trough. The horses had to have a drink before they were fed a measure of oats out of the corn-kist. They were then given armfuls of hay, and their stalls cleared and forked out.
Only after this had been done did the men go in to the farmhouse half an hour later.
By then the goodwife, the kitchie-lass or latterly more likely the grieve's (manager's) wife would have the fire going, raking out the cwiles (embers) from the ashes that had covered them all night in the case of floor-level open fires and building round a pyramid of peat to encourage a blaze. Now each ploughman would take up a bowl and help himself to meal from a basin on the table and add salt and pepper which he tamped down with the heel of his spoon. The foreman poured hot water for each man who simultaneously plied his spoon handle vigorously across the mixture. A bowl of milk to go with each helping had stood waiting since the previous evening's milking when the woman had brought her foaming enamel pails from the byre milking and sieved out the various portions for the men' breakfast. Overnight, a layer of cream had formed and this the lads skimmed on to their brose. Small wonder it was nicknamed 'hasty pudding'. The original brose-bowls were wooden and known as caups.
The meal would finish with slices of white plain loaf washed down with tea. Only then did the lads do up their laces (tie their pints) and return to the stable where they would spend the next hour grooming and checking harness. The foreman led the way in and out of the kitchen. It would be his team that was led out of the stable first after the horses had their statutory two hours of feeding. They had to be up at 5.30 if they were to be working in the fields by half past seven.
Meanwhile the grieve would come in for his own breakfast after he had set the hash (the labour force) about their duties. It was one of the conditions of a grieve's appointment that his wife would cater for the workers. The proprietor would give him an allowance for this. Another of her duties was to clean the chaumer, and make their beds. While the men were at their breakfast she was probably in the byre doing the morning milking.
At a good ferm toon the men were allowed to sit round the kitchen fire after suppertime before going to the chaumer. Although their sleeping quarters are often referred to as the bothy this is not strictly accurate. The bothy system was where the men cooked for themselves and this was not the case in Buchan in North East Aberdeenshire.
The wife would make her own butter pounding a clapper-affair fixed to a shaft that came up through the hole in the lid of a slim hooped barrel. This was known as a plump churn and was strenuous work in a kitchen which was often over-heated with the peat fire having to be kept up for cooking and hot water.
Water itself had often to be fetched from a well across the fields two pails being balanced from a neck-yolk. This too was considered ''weemin's wark''.
The grieve's wife would be allowed to keep a few hens, but she never chose white ones because they were too conspicuous and too easily counted by the proprietor who might object if he thought she was abusing the privilege! She could trade her eggs against the price of her errands when the van-man called. He got an old haepenny (a maik) a dozen from the wholesaler for collecting them- half a crown for a case of 30 dozen. Prior to 1939, the housewife would be glad to get a shilling (5p)
These are just some of the conditions and challenges of farm life outside and in. They are sometimes called 'The Good Old Days'. They were certainly great days made possible by great-hearted men and women.