Hinds and Bondagers

Hinds and Bondagers
Farm Workers at West Felton – Johnny Moore In Northumberland and the Borders there was a method of hiring labourers called the “bondage system” under which the labourer, or “hind” was engaged on a year’s contract, or “bond”, on condition that he also provided a female worker, or “bondager”.

The bondagers were often, but not always related to the hind.  They wore a distinctive form of clothing and headgear. Under the terms of the bond, the farmer provided the hind and his bondager with a cottage and a plot of land where he could graze some of his own cattle and sheep, and grow potatoes to feed himself and his bondager, with any surplus being sold for cash.

The hind was paid almost entirely in kind, but his bondager received cash wages by the day, the amount of whichvaried according to the season.

Even as early as the 1830s the bondage system was seen by many to be anachronistic and demeaning to female workers.  There was considerable unrest among farm labourers and the mood of the time is reflected in the pages of the local newspapers.  Despite this agitation, the bondage system continued in some parts of the region until the early 20th century. 

Click here for an example of a 19th century hind’s bond
Click here for extracts from contemporary newspapers

The Hind’s Accommodation
Hay Farm Cottages - Anne and Derek Fairnington The farm labourer’s accommodation was often very basic andby the 1840s,the living conditions of thehinds and bondagers inNorthumberland and Berwickshire were causing concern.

During the Victorian period some enlightened estate owners were building more suitable cottages for their workers.  Lady Waterford’s rebuilding of workers’ houses on her estate at Ford and the new cottages at Hay Farm are some local examples.

Hinds would often move on at the end of their year’s contract rather than re-enage with the same master. By seeking new opportunities with a different employer each year, the hind took with him the best practice he had gained from his previous engagements, improving his skills and helping to spread new ideas and methods between farms in the region.  This annual move was known as ‘flitting’.

Click here for a description of a hind’s cottage in 1841
Click here for Ford and Etal Estates