Friday, 15 January 2016

Threshing by steam at Higginbotham’s farm on the green

I was talking to Alan Brown this week. 

His memories of Chorlton go back to the 1930s and he casually threw into the conversation his memory of a steam driven threshing machine which regularly visited the township.

Now threshing is an important next step after the cereal has been harvested. It is really two processes.

The first consists of loosening the grain from the stalks or chaff, the second of separating it. Traditionally the loosening was done by beating the corn with a flail on the threshing floor, then throwing it up into the air so that the wind blew the lighter chaff away and the heavier grains fell back down.

Threshing was labour intensive, and was an important source of work during October and often provided work into the winter.

By the 1790s the first threshing machines were in use, and became a focus for rural protest during the early 19th century.

The destruction of threshing machines accompanied by rick burning was a feature of the Swing Riots in 1830. 

These riots were only in part a protest at the mechanization of farming, and were also a more general protest at the worsening conditions experienced by agricultural families during the last few decades.

The first threshing machines were were hand-fed and horse-powered. They were small by today's standards and were about the size of an upright piano and later were powered by steam. Few if any of our famers would have had their won machine and would have hired one.

So the arrival of the steam powered threshing machine would have been quite an event. Enough to attract the attention of anyone with a spare few minutes to stop and stare including any children liberated at the end of the school day.

Picture; hay harvest on Higginbotham’s field circa 1890, originally from the collection of the Higginbotham family

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