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HARWOOD, George (c1836-1915) – Hop foreman

George Harwood, referred to as “Jarge”, features in Chapter III of A H Savory’s Grain and Chaff from an English Manor:

Jarge was one of the most prominent characters among my men.  He was not a native of the Vale, coming from the Lynches (sic), a hilly district to the north of Evesham.  He was a sturdy and very excellent workman.  He did with his might whatsoever his hand found to do, and everything he undertook was a success.  The beautifully trimmed hedge in front of his cottage-garden [a thatched cottage demolished in the 1920s where Hillside is now located] proclaimed his method and love of order at a glance.  Jarge was a wag; he was the man who, like Shakespeare’s clowns, stepped on to the stage at the critical moment and saved a serious situation with a quaint or epigrammatic expression.

Owing to the somewhat unconvincing fact of his wife’s brother being a gamekeeper on the Marquis’s estate near Jarge’s native village, he had acquired, and retained through all the years of my farming, a sporting reputation; he was always the man selected for trapping any evil beast or bird that might be worrying us; and when the cherries were beginning to show ruddy complexions in the sunshine, and the starlings and blackbirds were becoming troublesome, armed with an old muzzle-loader of mine, he made incessant warfare against them, and his gun could be heard as early as five o’clock in the morning, while the shots would often come pattering down harmlessly on my greenhouse.

Jarge was an instance of superior descent; his surname was that of an ancient and prominent county family in former days; he carried himself with dignity and was generally respected; he possessed the power of very minute observation, and was of all others the man to find coins or other small leavings of Roman and former occupiers of my land.  His eldest daughter [Lydia Harwood, later Mills, 1863-1953] was a charming girl and, when Jarge became a widower, she made a most efficient mistress of his household.  She showed, too, quite unmistakably her descent from distinguished ancestry.  Tall, clear-complexioned, graceful, dignified and rather serious, but with a sweet smile, she was a daughter of whom any man might have been proud.  To my thinking, she was the belle of the village, and she made a very pretty picture in her sun-bonnet, among the green and golden tracery of the hop-bin in the hopping season accompanied by the smaller members of the family.  At the “crib” into which the hops are picked, many bushels proved their industry, and there were no leaves or rubbish to call for rebuke at the midday and evening measurings.

I selected Jarge for foreman of the hop-picking as a most responsible and trustworthy man; it was then that his sense of humour was most conspicuous, a very important and valuable trait when 300 women and children, and the men who supplied them with hops on the poles, have to be kept cheerful and good-tempered every day and all day for three weeks or a month, sometimes under trying conditions.

He had a cheery word for all who were working steadily, and a semi-sarcastic remark for the careless and unmethodical; a keen eye for hops wasted and trodden into the ground, or for pole of undersized hops, unwelcome to the pickers and hidden beneath those from which the hops had been picked.  He acted as buffer between capital and labour, smoothing troubles over, telling me of the pickers’ difficulties, and explaining my side to the pickers when the quality was poor and prices discouraging, so that the work went with a swing and with happy faces and good-humoured chaff.

Jarge was a man of discrimination.  When we were forced to inaugurate a School Board on account of the growing difficulty, owing to the bad times, of collecting voluntary subscription, all the old school managers, including my second Vicar [Reverend Gepp] refused to join the Board.  Jarge, who was much exercised in his mind as to the possibility of future bad management, came to me and, referring to a proposal to place working-men on the Board, said:  We wants men like you, sir, for members; what’s the good of sending we dunderyeads there?”

Going round the farm on his daughter’s wedding-day, I was surprised to find him at work; and when I asked him why he was not at the ceremony, “Well,” he replied, “I don’t think much of weddings – the fittel (victuals) ain’t good enough; give me a jolly good fu-ner-al!”

Jarge wore a brown velveteen coat on high-days and holidays by virtue of his sporting reputation and looked exceedingly smart with special corduroy breeches and gaiters and a wide-awake felt hat.  He was much annoyed in Birmingham, whither I had sent all the men to an agricultural show, at hearing a man say to a companion, “There’s another of them Country Johnnies.”  When I told him what a swell he looked, he replied somewhat ruefully, “No! that’s what I never could be,” as though he felt that his appearance was disappointingly rustic.

Though a most industrious man, he had dreams of the enjoyment of complete leisure; he told me that if ever he possessed as much as £50 he would never do another day’s work as long as he lived.  I answered that when that ideal was reached he would postpone his projected ease until he had made it £100 and so on ad infinitum; and this proved a correct forecast for in time, by the aid of a well-managed allotment and regular wages, he saved a good bit of money.  When I sold my fruit crops by auction, on the trees, for the buyers to pick, just before I gave up my land, as I should not be present to harvest the late apples and cider fruit after Michaelmas, he came forward with a bid of £100 for one of the orchards, though it was sold eventually for a higher price.

He was not well-versed in finance, however, for when the owner of his cottage offered, at his request, to build a new pigsty if he would pay a rent of 5% annually on the cost – a very fair proposal – Jarge declined with scorn being, I think, under the impression that the owner was demanding the complete sum of £5 annually, and I found it impossible to disabuse his mind of the idea.  He felt aggrieved also by the fact that, having paid rent for 25 or 30 years, he was no nearer ownership of his cottage than when he began.  His argument was that, as he had paid more than the value of the cottage, it should be his property; the details of interest on capital and all rates and repairs paid by the owner did not appeal to him.

On the occasion of a concert at Malvern, which my wife and her sister organised for the benefit of our church restoration fund, I gave all my men a holiday and sent them off by train at an early hour; they were to climb the Worcestershire Beacon – the highest point of the Malvern range – in the morning and attend the concert in the afternoon.  It was a lovely day and the programme was duly carried out.  Next morning I found Jarge and another man, who had been detailed for the day’s work to sow nitrate of soda on a distant wheat-field, sitting peacefully under the hedge; they told me that the excitement and the climb had completely tired them out, but that they would stop and complete the job, no matter how late at night that might be.  It was the hill-climbing, I think, that had brought into play muscles not generally used in our flat country.  I sympathised and left them resting, but the work was honourably concluded before they left the field.

When there was illness in Jarge’s house and somebody told him that the doctor had been seen leaving, he answered that he “would sooner see the butcher there any day” – not, perhaps, a very happy expression in the circumstances, but intended to convey that a butcher’s bill, for good meat supplied, was more satisfactory than a doctor’s account, which represented nothing in the way of commissariat.

Jarge was somewhat of a “bon vivant” and much appreciated my annual present of a piece of Christmas beef.  When thanking me and descanting upon its tenderness and acceptability, on one occasion he continued.  “It ain’t like the sort of biff we folks has to put up with, that touch you has to set in the middle of the room at dinner for fear you might daish your brains out agen the wall a-tuggin’ at it with your teeth!”

Jarge had one song and only one that I ever heard and he was always called upon for it at harvest suppers and other jollifications; it was not a classic, but he rendered it with characteristic drollery and always brought down the house.  I conclude my sketch of him by mentioning it because it is almost my last impression of his vivid personality, trotted out with great energy at my farewell supper, a day or two before I left Aldington.

In later chapters, Savory goes on to say:

Jarge, of whom I have written, was the presiding genius in the cider-mill, and his duties began as soon as hop-picking was over.  All traces of the downward inclination of the corners of his mouth, caused by the delinquencies of recalcitrant hoppers, quite disappeared as soon as his new duties commenced, and it was a pleasure to see his jovial face beaming over a job which seemed to have no drawbacks.

Jarge had a very narrow escape when grubbing out an old willow overhanging a pool.  He had been at work some hours and had a deep trench dug out all round the tree to attack the roots with a stock-axe.  He had cut them all through except the tough tap-root when I reached him and he was standing in the trench at work upon it.  He was certain that it would be some time before the tree fell, the tap-root being very large; but, as I stood watching on the ground above, I thought I saw a suspicious tremor pass over the tree and an instant later I was certain it was coming down.  I shouted to him to get out of the trench.  It took a second or two to get clear as the trench was deep and he was not a tall man, so he was scarcely out when the tree fell with a crash on the exact spot where he had been at work.  Had I not been present it must have fallen upon him, for not expecting the end was so near he had not been watching the signs.  Though not a tall tree, it was a very stout and heavy trunk and the tap-root on inspection proved to be partly rotten.

George Harwood was born about 1836 at Church Lench, the seventh of eight children of Benjamin Harwood, a tailor, and his wife, Sarah (née Green).  In 1851, George was working as a farm servant at Hill Top Farm, Feckenham, in the home of farmer John Tipping.  By 1861, he was back in Church Lench, working as an agricultural labourer.  He was living with his aunt and uncle, William and Charlotte Holder (Charlotte was his mother’s younger sister), as his mother had died and his father was living with his brother.

George married Jane Sparrow in 1862 in the Evesham area and moved to Aldington to work for Richard Ashwin of Aldington Manor.  George and Jane had five children:  Lydia (1863-1953), Emily (1865), Oliver (1867-1959), Catharine (1868) and Walter (1871-1952), all born at Aldington.  

George appears to have spent all his life in Aldington living in a thatched cottage (demolished in the 20th century, Hillside is now located there) in Main Street, next to Elm Cottage.  He was certainly living there in 1866 when Richard Ashwin died as the will said, “I devise all that my messuage or cottage and garden at Aldington aforesaid with the appurtenances now occupied by George Harwood unto and to the use of my said servant Ann Newman for her life.”  Ann Newman (aged 28 at the time of her master’s death), however, never lived there, as the Harwoods remained there until their deaths.

Jane Harwood died in 1875, aged 37.  It was Lydia Harwood, George’s eldest daughter, who looked after the household after her mother’s death and whom Arthur Savory referred to in glowing terms, calling her “the belle of the village”.

With regard to the mention of George’s daughter’s wedding day, this could have been any one of his daughters, as all three were married at Badsey:  Emily to Thomas Bennett in November 1885, Catharine to John Cook in August 1893 and Lydia to Charles Mills in January 1894.  Lydia lived at Fairfield, Hampton, with her husband and had three children; she died there in 1953 at the age of 89.

On 1st June 1895, widower George married widow Mary Ann Addis (née Barnard).  George and Mary continued to live in Aldington until their deaths in 1915 and 1917 respectively.