29 Apr. 2014, Blakeney: Life on the road for a hard-worked team

The greatest problems facing draymen in the 18th century were posed by the weather and the horse. Struggling in the snow to reach the village brewer’s tied houses the men managed to get through when even the mails were stopped across the country.

On Tuesday 29 April 2014 Margaret Bird will give a talk to the Blakeney Area Historical Society (details below) on the harsh conditions suffered by the men who had to deliver beer across a 25-mile radius.

A drayhorse in 1799

A drayhorse eases his muscles at the end of a delivery, his tack on the ground. The drayman perches among the barrels

Entitled ‘Supplying the beer: Life on the road in 18th-century Norfolk‘, it will focus on the hardships and dangers of the work. The men delivered to the public houses on top of all their other tasks in the fields and in the maltings and brewery.

After a long working day they could be called upon to make a delivery in the dark of a winter’s night, as we learn from the diarists Mary Hardy and Henry Raven.

Distances of 2500 miles a year, at 3 mph

It is sometimes thought that villagers led static lives in the days before the railways came, followed by the car and good roads. This is far from the reality. Individual members of the workforce of a mixed concern like the Hardys’ achieved easily 50 miles a week, and often much more.

In the difficult period 1781–82, when William Hardy was running two breweries, the mileages covered by his team were heroic. William Lamb of Letheringsett, south of Blakeney, lumbered 555 miles a month with the beer cart or wagon, across a 37-mile radius right down to the Yare valley at Limpenhoe and the Bure marshes at Upton.

Industrial injuries

The horses too were worked hard. In wintry conditions the carts and wagons were difficult to handle and serious accidents occurred. One drayman, Robert Lound, had his thigh crushed and may never have worked again. Another, Thomas Baldwin, broke his arm and later his leg and was off work for months.

All three accidents happened when they fell under the wheels of the beer dray, a type of accident occasionally reported in the local press.

All are welcome

The illustrated talk will be given at 7.30 pm in the Harbour Room at the British Legion Hall at 139–141 High Street, Blakeney NR25 7NU. The small charge (£2 for members of the Blakeney Area Historical Society and £3 for visitors) covers expenses and refreshments. Car parking is free at the Hall.

You can read more about this talk and the workforce’s problems on the Burnham Press website.