Analysing the English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum

Calendar-related objects


Alison Petch,
Researcher, 'The Other Within'

1903.44.1 Winnowing basket

1903.44.1 Winnowing basket

Harvest time was one of the busiest and most important in the agricultural calendar-without a good harvest people starved. Many traditions have grown up around the need to ensure that the crops were plentiful and the ground fertile. It was also a time that all farmers needed the cooperation of their farm-hands and when many workers could earn double their usual wage, and do twice the work. (Roud, 2006:278) Harvest-time was the focus of much activity, and its importance is probably the reason why we have rich collections from all over the world (including England) of harvest-related artefacts. Traditionally, harvesting would have taken place in August but latterly the season has spread so that it now occurs at any point between July and September.[Hutton, 1996:332]

In England there are many traditional objects associated with harvest-time and the Pitt Rivers Museum collections include several examples. The most famous traditional objects are probably the so-called corn-dollies, or harvest trophies. In addition we have extensive collections of harvesting agricultural tools, hop tallies, hay-making equipment and items connected with harvest workers.

  1. Agricultural tools used for harvesting
  2. Hop tallies
  3. Food and drink for harvest workers
  4. Haymaking tools
  5. Harvest trophies

With increased mechanisation, and the move of most English people from rural to urban areas, harvest became a less important marker in the events of the year. Hutton documents how the number of people directly involved in harvesting decreased: '...to harvest and thresh a six-quarter wheat crop at 10 acres a day required 130 men in the 1840s, thirty-three in the 1870s when the horse-drawn mechanical reaper was introduced, and three in the 1940s when combine harvesters had come into use'. [1996:346] For most people today in England, their only link will be with harvest festivals held in their local church (if they are churchgoers).

Further reading


Christina Hole. 1941-2. English Custom and Usage. London: Batsford

Ronald Hutton. 1996. The Stations of the Sun: A history of the Ritual Year in Britain Oxford: Oxford University Press [especially pages 332-347]

Steve Roud. 2006 'The English Year: A month-by-month guide to the nation's customs and festivals, from May Day to Mischief Night' London: Penguin Books [especially pages 278-287]