Harvesting Potatoes at Deer Park Farm, Weston

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Date:October 1950

Description:Boys are lending a hand with harvesting a record crop of potatoes. They have filled their baskets and the potatoes are being loaded on to the tractor-drawn cart for removal. Please contact us if you recognise anyone in the photograph.

The Staffordshire Newsletter sent a reporter to Mr Denis Parrott’s farm, Deer Park Farm at Weston where there were 40 boys from Dartmouth Street Secondary Modern School at work in the potato fields. Mr Parrott told the Newsletter that he had 52 acres of potatoes and some of the boys were old hands as they had been before.

Among the conditions of children’s agricultural employment, farmers had to provide transport and hot drinks, however, the boys on Mr Parrott’s farm were also given a mid-day meal. The Newsletter reporter spoke to several boys and not one of them said he was not enjoying himself. Many of them said they liked farm work in general and that they liked to get out of school for a while. One 14 year old said he wanted the money to help his Mother. Schoolchildren working on the land during term time had to be over 13 years old and were allowed to work no more the 20 half days or 10 full days. A half day was 4 hours and a full day 7 hours. Pay for boys aged 14 was 10d an hour and for those aged 13 it was 9d an hour. The pay for girls aged 14 was 9d an hour and for those aged 13 it was 8d an hour.

At the time of this newspaper article a large acreage was devoted to potato growing in Staffordshire and the 1950 yield was expected to be high. Farmers would not have been able to gather the crop without additional labour and in the Stafford area farmers relied upon senior schoolchildren, who were only released from school when all other supplementary labour had been used. Throughout the County around 1,300 schoolchildren were working on farms during school hours, with the majority of them on gathering potatoes, which usually lasted over six-weeks starting mid-September and finishing in early November, dependant on the weather.

In some areas like the Black Country the work was often done by women, but around Stafford fewer women did the work. In 1950 there were 100 good conduct prisoners sent from Stafford Gaol to Lichfield and Tamworth districts, where there was the biggest yield in the County, to help ease the problem.

From a Headmaster’s viewpoint, Mr C F Bryan, Headmaster of Dartmouth Street, Secondary Modern School appreciated the farmer’s difficulties, however, he was not in favour of his boys being employed in school hours, it was interrupting their work and it meant that his senior classes were reduced by about 40 per-cent. In addition to some of his boys at working at Weston there was a large party of boys also at work at Tixall. Mr Bryan said there were fewer boys helping in the potato harvest now than a few years ago and he hoped that parents would refuse to let their boys do the work.

A Ministry of Agriculture official told the Newsletter that mechanisation using machines that could lift and pack potatoes had been invented but farmers were not convinced it was satisfactory. Meanwhile, 22,000 acres of potatoes needed to be picked. It was because of the big potato target set by the Ministry of Agriculture that the County Council “reluctantly” agreed to the employment of senior schoolchildren in the work. It was realised that to successfully gather all the crop, the help of schoolchildren was essential.

This photograph was published in the Staffordshire Newsletter on Saturday 7 October 1950. Reproduced by kind permission of the Staffordshire Newsletter who retain copyright.

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Creators: Staffordshire Newsletter - Creator

Donor ref:D4527-B1-NN-32 (201/45486)

Source: Staffordshire County Record Office

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