1965 - People at work

Until the first half of the 20th century, the majority of the people of Wilcot depended for their living on low-skill agricultural labour, domestic service (including gamekeepers and gardeners), or local trades (including retail).

Keepers Cottage with gamekeepers and domestics, around 1900

Tranport was limited, so your needs had to be met locally or not at all.

Jack Berrett with his cart

Bill Coles beekeeping

If you lived in Wilcot, you had to work within a couple of miles, and that limited the opportunities. The only alternative was to emigrate, whether within Britain or overseas.

Children often started work at 15, and even before then would work when not at school – at harvest time, or in the afternoons.  Pay was unequal. Your employer might also be your landlord: if you lost your job, for instance through illness or age, you might lose your house as well.

Early in the 19th century, soldiers and sailors returned from the Napoleonic wars, the climate around 1816 was dire, and agricultural wages were depressed. Land-owners introduced new machinery which improved productivity but made life even tougher for the labourers.

Things began to get easier around the mid-century, but then with the end of the American civil war and the development of steam transport across the Atlantic, the British market was flooded with cheap and good quality American wheat. And there was a run of poor harvests. This led to chronic depression in arable farming.

The numbers of people employed in Wilcot shrank. So did the overall population.

From the 1880s there was a switch to dairy farming to exploit the London market, now accessible by railway within a few hours. New families arrived to bring dairy farming skills.

So by the end of the 19th century a smaller proportion of the population worked in agricultural labour.

In the 20th century the range of types of jobs changed fast, as war and technology and the expansion of public services transformed societies, destroying older jobs and creating many new ones.

Farm mechanisation accelerated, and the number of agricultural jobs plummeted. Domestic service jobs shrank too.

Fred Mitchell on an early tractor

And the development of transport reduced the need for local trades and shops: gradually it became possible to meet your needs by going further afield to buy goods and services. Village shops, smithies, bakers, carpenters, wheelwrights, etc., were needed less and less. Here is the last village smith in the 1960s; his forge is now part of a private residential house.

Sid Williams at the Forge

On the other hand, the range of jobs available to people living in Wilcot grew enormously, more than compensating for these losses. The opportunities grew because two world wars and the development of public services opened up new needs – in the armed services, in local and central government service, in utilities such as water, electricity and telephones. And improved transport allowed people to travel further from Wilcot to get to work.

1940s Jean Cope as assistant nurse

And today, how many people living in Wilcot work in agricultural labour , domestic service or village trades? How many work within a couple of miles of home? Not none, but very few.

Something about Wilcot attracts authors: a surprising number of residents have written books.