The Migrants

During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, writes Marjorie Sykes, the arrival of migrant labourers, who often visited the same district year after year, was a distinctive feature of English country-life.

Too often perhaps we tend to think of the nineteenth century countryman as circumscribed by the narrow limits of his native parish, rarely moving out of it except for occasional visits to market town or fair. While there were many who lived and died without venturing far from home, there were others of much greater mobility, the migratory workers whose lives until recently have not received the attention they deserve.

The Irish migrant workers in particular had a very wide range. Large numbers found employment in counties adjoining the western seaboard; but after working in the hayfields of the pastoral areas, many pushed on even as far as East Anglia to help with the corn harvest there. Flora Thompson spoke of the Irish harvesters at work in the cornfields in North Oxfordshire, ‘a wild-looking lot, dressed in odd clothes and speaking a brogue so thick that the natives could only catch a word here and there.

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