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Glenbuchat Heritage

175 'The Chaumer' Baltimore Farm
The Glenbuchat Image Library
175 'The Chaumer' Baltimore Farm

The Chaumer

The farm at Baltimore has been standing empty for a number of years and was in danger of becoming derelict. Fortunately it has been bought (2014) and the steading is now being sensitively restored.

The above are pictures of the Chaumer or attic room for farm workers above the byre at Baltimore

I am grateful to Ian Taylor for permission to take and publish the pictures.

The room is approached by a steep stair at the back of one of the sheds. It is pine lined and a window at the gable wall and a roof light. There is a fireplace and two box beds with a spring base.

Below is more details about the accommodation and life of the North East of Scotland farm worker before the Second World War.

Taken partly from:

Eating and sleeping

Married farm servants:
A tied cottage was part of their fee, which was often owned by the landed proprietor and rented to the farmer. The fee would also comprise money and the supply of essentials such as oatmeal, peat, milk and potatoes. The cottage would come with a bit of land, a kaleyard, where the servant and his wife could grow kale and other crops and might also keep a cow or even a pig. The cottages were very basic and small – two rooms with a dirt floor of the typically Scottish “but and ben” style. By the mid-1800s such cottages were being replaced by similarly styled but better built but and bens of stone with an internal ceiling that gave the residents an attic where the children often slept.

Unmarried servants:
The majority of farm servants were male, in their late teens and early twenties, and unmarried.

The bothy system – where farm servants pretty much fended for themselves – is now the stuff of legend and gave rise to the term “bothy ballads” for the folk songs created and sung by farm servants. But the reality is most bothy ballads came from the area where there were hardly any bothies, the chaumer system being far more common.

Chaumer (room, bedroom - presumably form the French ‘Chambre’) meant the farm servants were fed in the farmhouse kitchen, the farmer providing all meals as part of the fee. This usually meant the servant’s food was prepared by the kitchen maid (deem). The servants could then sit by the kitchen fire until around 9pm, which was bed time. They slept in the chaumer, usually a loft room in the steading, above the horses.

Farm servants would own a trunk (kist) to house their clothes and possessions, and the trunks would line one wall of the chaumer and act as seats. There was no heating and the only windows were sky-lights in the roof, often badly fitting or even with broken panes. Sometimes the deem would have the job of sweeping out the chaumer and making the beds. Later in the 1800s unmarried farm servants would be housed in a purpose-built chaumer next to the steading, and had a fireplace. But by then the bicycle had also made farm servants more mobile.

Female servants:
They lived in the farmhouse, usually in a tiny attic room, although on smaller farms the deem often slept in the kitchen. This no doubt made them them all too accessible to unmarried male farm servants!

What they ate:
A very boring diet it was by our standards, and mostly vegetarian. Oatmeal was the staple, served as brose. To make brose all you do is steep oatmeal in boiling water and let it stand for a while till the oatmeal has softened, then you eat it warm with whatever is to hand – salt, milk, butter, buttermilk or with vegetables, especially kale and neeps (turnips).

Unmarried servants usually were given brose with milk and maybe some oatcakes for breakfast, sometimes they had porridge, and occasionally herrings on Sunday. Dinner (lunch) could be broth made from barley or potatoes with more oatcakes and milk. Supper was brose again or porridge, with yet more oatcakes and milk. The milk would have been skimmed as the cream would be used by the dairymaid to make butter and cheese. There might be meat, most often beef or chicken, on Sunday.

It was the same diet for married servants (and for independent crofters) but depending on what they could provide for themselves, they might also have eggs, rabbit or bacon and ham from the annual butchering of the pig. They’d also have vegetables, mostly the famous Scottish threesome of “neeps, tatties and kale”.
Later in the 1800s bought provisions began to be used, notably tea, bread made from wheat, jam and treacle.

Feeing markets
Twice a year at Whitsun, in May, and Martinmas, in November, feeing markets or hiring fairs were held in the market towns across the North East, in places like Aberdeen, Inverurie, Ellon, Huntly and Stonehaven. Those were the two days in the year when farmers and their workers could have a day off work.

The feeing markets were where farm servants, both male and female, got their jobs (fees). Unmarried farm servants often moved farms every six months, though married ones tended to stay in one place longer. Contracts – verbal but binding – were for six months. During the fortnight before the feeing market, known as speaking time, the farmer would approach those servants he wanted to keep and ask “Will ye bide?” The servant could answer yeah or nay, but if they weren’t asked they couldn’t bide.

At the feeing market, a farmer wanting to recruit would approach a likely looking servant and they would negotiate terms. If a deal was struck it was usually sealed with a dram and the payment of arles – a tot of whisky and a token sum paid by the farmer. Market day gave farm servants a rare holiday, and the later part of the day was given to “carousing and wenching” and was a notoriously wild affair!

Farmer’s chose servants based on reputation and appearance, to the extent of sometimes feeling their muscles. A farm servant’s reputation was therefore of vital importance, as it got him moving up the hierarchy, and able to obtain fees at the best farms. Reputations – of both servants and farmers – spread rapidly, through word of mouth and the creating and singing of bothy ballads. Horsemen also took part in ploughing matches, which were popular and well attended.

Picture added on 03 December 2014 at 23:41
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