Mayflower turf wars… anyone else want to join in?

From The Times Tuesday April 30th

I was disgruntled to read in yesterday’s The Times that there is some kind of battle going on between Harwich and Plymouth about which place really ‘owned’ the Pilgrim Fathers and the Mayflower. Both contenders are quite obviously charlatans: as every Lincolnshire schoolchild knows, the Pilgrim Fathers originated in Boston, from which Fenland town they had to flee as dissenters to the Netherlands. Subsequently they sailed to America, and founded a colony in Massachusetts, eventually naming its principal town… Boston! (See? Not Basildon or Barnstaple. Or Plymouth, indeed!)

The name of Boston, now borne with pride by one of the world’s great cities, should be sufficient proof that all other claimants to ancestral Mayflower fame are upstarts. However, I do acknowledge that the name of the rock on which they landed in 1620, which has always been known as Plymouth Rock, muddies the waters a little. But I’ve seen Plymouth Rock and, no disrespect, in a country that does everything BIG, it is perhaps the smallest and most understated monument that ever graced the description ‘tourist attraction’: a refreshing change from the biggest, richest, fattest and brightest (but rarely oldest) that is the more usual fare in America; yet, even to someone who thinks that small is beautiful, disappointing, nevertheless. And far from casting doubt upon my assertion, I think that Plymouth Rock proves it completely. Why? Because, with its limited dimensions, it’s quite obvious that no more than three people could have stepped ashore upon it. 102 people sailed in the Mayflower; two of them died on the voyage. Of the remaining 100, three obviously came from Plymouth; and the other 97 from Boston. In the absence of a rock bearing the legend Basildon or Barnstaple, and with a whole city to rely on, I rest my case.

Lincolnshire rules, ok?

Gangs on the land…

Cash in hand

Still reading about rural life, I was interested that the history of nineteenth century Lincolnshire that I have just completed and a more general book about farm labourers both mention gang labour. Gangs were self-assembled groups, sometimes of both sexes, sometimes consisting entirely of men or of women, who hired themselves out to farmers as an entity. The advantage to them was that, as a group, they were less likely to be exploited; some gangs also contained children (I suspect that, although the gang may have saved these minors from exploitation by the farmer, it was probably less punctilious about appropriating their wages!). However, they were often troublesome and, in Lincolnshire in the later nineteenth century, by-laws were introduced to attempt to curb their excesses of behaviour and to set out clearly the terms under which they could be employed.
Both books say that the practice of developing and employing gangs had become obsolete by the turn of the twentieth century. However, when I was a student in the 1970s, taking summer holiday jobs working in the local canning factory, gangs were certainly still being employed there. They were of three kinds:

A group of twenty or so Maltese women was taken on in the key fruit and vegetable harvesting months of June, July, August and September and they lived in trailers on the factory site. I remember that when I was cycling home in the evening, having worked the four hours’ overtime allowed, I would sometimes meet two of them carrying a crate of beer to share with the others.

Then there was a group of Irish women of all ages, many of them well-educated and some also students. They were boarded with regular factory workers who were prepared to take them in, their keep being paid for by the company.

Finally, there were local agricultural gangs, I imagine of exactly the kind that these history books refer to, who, like other local casual labour, turned up each day and were not provided with accommodation.

The gangs I knew consisted entirely of women. They were extremely rough and foul-mouthed and were usually put to work together; they were shunned by everyone else on the factory floor because they would pick a fight at the drop of a hat. One year, the forewoman (whose name was Dulcie – she had a voice like a squeaking gate) made the mistake of hiring two rival gangs. I vividly remember a woman from each of them fighting one Friday lunchtime, thrashing it out on the concrete floor. It was the most vicious event I have ever witnessed. They tore out handfuls of each other’s hair and scratched faces with fingernails, as well as landing punches. Eventually they were rolling on the ground, pulling at each other’s clothes. One of them ended up shirtless, her white bra bloodied and dusty. Dulcie and one of the male supervisors eventually succeeded in separating them and both gangs were dismissed. I guess that they spent the rest of the summer working on the land: at the time it was still possible to turn up at most farms and work at bean-pulling, potato-picking or bulb-cleaning for cash in hand at the end of the day. With hindsight, my guess is that most gang members were the virtual slaves of a single gang-master, or perhaps a few ‘élite’ overseers. I hope that the practice of gang employment has finally ceased now, but I suspect that the recent influx of immigrants to the agricultural communities of East Anglia may mean that it has ‘enjoyed’ an ignominious revival.

Miry March in South Holland

Watergate shed

At Quadring Eaudyke the drains run, easing the water from the earth. Watergate and Rushy Drove sing their names of fen and farm to the listening land. Lincs Pumps and Pipelines are in business. Now muddy, mid-March Lincolnshire leans to the spring as tractors tread the acres, their mighty ploughs furling multi-shared furrows, bright with gleaming soil and screaming gulls following to feed, heads black with breeding splendour. Close to the dyke, a fancy pheasant fluffs a whirr of wings and ruffles up a creck-creck call to hens, subsides and pecks again.
Everywhere, home-made ‘Mud on road’ signs celebrate the gloriously spreading feast of mire, while ‘Leeks for sale’ promote the remaining winter crop, with a field half-plucked and batteries of trimmed, pale white and green vegetable bounty on boxes on the verge. The cabbages are past their best: sheep graze the leftovers of leaves and stalks or browse the dedicated crops of roots.
And now, against horizons of leaning spires of churches, metal frames of pylons and grey skies that don’t just threaten but pelt with slanting rain or driven snow, so fickle is the season, roll in the rippling tides of plastic sheeting spread on soil and seed to speed new growth.

Sheeted fen

And further south, where Surfleet Seas End and Moulton Seas End mark where once the real tides washed ashore, down towards Peppermint Junction, vast swathes of Taylors Bulbs are already deep green and undulate in windy waves; glass houses feed the nation’s supermarkets and those abroad with tonnes of early daffs, with millions of blooms to follow from the open fields. It might be Holland, and is named so, the land reclaimed and drained by dykes twenty feet wide and plenty deep. Here the banks of smaller dykes, protected from cold North Sea winds, have daffodils and periwinkles full in flower, with snowdrops hanging on in drifts of white. Above them, weeping willows are bright yellow with swelling buds and pussy willow catkins grey with fur.
It is spring in the Fens, though the harshest of winter weather still beats in from the east, and the casual passing eye might miss the signs that tell people here that the dark season is done.

Fen road and dyke

O' Canada

Reflections on Canadian Culture From Below the Border


A collection of free verse poetry.

Easy Michigan

Moving back home

Narrowboat Mum

Fun, Frugal and Floating somewhere in the country!

Maria Haskins

Writer & Translator


Myths are more than stories

Murielle's Angel

A novel set on the Camino de Santiago

Marvellous Memoirs: Reviews and links

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases, so your support of my blog is greatly appreciated.


Jenny Lloyd, Welsh author of the Megan Jones trilogy; social history, genealogy, Welsh social history, travel tales from Wales.

Chris Hill, Author

I'm Chris Hill - author of novels Song of the Sea God and The Pick-Up Artist

littlelise's journey

Sharing experiences of writing


Just another site

Les Reveries de Rowena

Now I see the storm clouds in your waking eyes: the thunder , the wonder, and the young surprise - Langston Hughes

Diary of a Wimpy Writer

The story of a writer who didn't like to disturb.

Rebecca Bradley

Murder Down To A Tea


A site for readers and writers

%d bloggers like this: