[This material comes from Chapter 9, "Tools and Rural Industries," in Gertrude Jekyll's Old West Surrey: Some Notes and Memories (1904). One of her interesting observations in this introduction to her subject: very sophisticated argricultural technology, though constructed of iron, utilized horses. In other words, the mechanization of agriculture preceeded the steam engine and the gasoline engine. GPL]

In the old days wheat was often dibbled. A labourer with a pair of dibbling-irons walked backwards across the field, dibbling two lines of holes. Two children. six or seven years old, followed him, dropping a grain or two into each hole. It was said (hat dibbled wheat grew finer than any other. Peas and beans were sometimes sown in the; same way. These irons are a little shorter than walking-sticks: their bluntly-pointed ends can be thrust into the ground at a fair paca, the two hands working alternately,

The old wooden plough is seldom seen now, though it lingers on one good old farm within reach, and is well liked by the men who work it. It is generally used with two coulters, though only one was in place when this picture was done. A forked stick lies along the left-hand stilt, the forked end resting in an iron loop on the inside of the thick end of the beam. It is for the ploughman to reach and hook away, without stopping his team, any roots or tough weedy rubbish that hangs up between the share and coulters.

Left: Wooden Plough. Right: Flail, Curb-Chain, and Large Sheep-Bell. [Click on thumbnails for larger images.]

I can remember when corn was commonly threshed with the flail. The old people about here always called it frail. It is interesting to examine the simple old tool and see how it was made. The picture shows a little more than half its length. The right-hand part is the handle; the left, the swingel (soft 'g' as in angel). The head of the handle has an iron pin with a flat head. The pin passes down into the handle, and is riveted in place through its neat iron ferrule. It is a rather dainty piece of blacksmith's work. All the rest was made on the farm, of ash and raw hide.'

The loop of the handle-head is made of a bit of tough green ash, whittled into shape. Its square shoulders fit loosely under the head of the pin, and a channel is hollowed on each side for the shaft of-the pin, so that it can revolve freely. The thicker butts of the bent ash loop are securely bound with waxed twine, and one half of the flail is. complete.

The swingel is a thicker rod, about the same length as thu handle, viz. 41 inches. The end where it joins the head has a depression whittled out of it an inch from the tip. A stout raw-hide loop is passed over this, and is fixed with a binding' of a thinner strip of the same. Another loop of raw hide makes a link connecting the other two. The word 'flail' is. a highly respectable descendant of flagellum.

The threshing of corn on the barn floor was one of the happiest of country sights and sounds. From after harvest to the spring of the next year, stored in the ample bays of the barn, it could be threshed out as it was wanted, hand- winnowed, and put away in the granary.

Related Material


Jekyll, Gertrude Old West Surrey: Some Notes and Memories. London: Longmans, Green, & Co, 1904.

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1 February 2009