1) Statutes, or Statute-sessions, were fairs or gatherings during which servants were hired, and they are said to have had their origin in two early Elizabethan statutes.

The customary arrangements involved the chief constables, the petty constables, the masters and the servants: instructions had to be sent out, warrants issued, and a sequence of ‘sittings’ arranged. The procedures were complicated, but they are explained in detail in 1642 by Henry Best, an East Riding farmer. Things were set in motion he said at the beginning of November and the hirings would usually be completed by Martinmas. A short extract from his farming book gives us some idea of what took place on the day of the fair. When yow are aboute to hyre a servant, yow are to call them aside and to talke privately with them concerninge theire wage. If the servants stande in a church-yard, they usually call them aside and walke to the backe of the Church, and their treate of theire wage. And soe soone as yow have hyred them, yow are to call to them for theire ticketts, and thereby shall yow bee secured from all future dainger. Theire ticketts cost them ijd. a peece, and some Masters will give them that ijd. againe, but that is in the Masters choise, unlesse they condition soe before the servant bee hyred Elmswell. The ‘tickets’ referred to by Henry Best were explained as the papers given by masters to their servants as confirmation that they had completed their contracts and were free to be re-engaged. In many cases the bargain was sealed when the servant was given an earnest or god’s penny. The custom may have differed from one region to another. According to Peter Brears the statutes took place ‘in all the market towns’ of the East Riding on 23 November, and the diarist Arthur Jessop noted that in 1741 Huddersfield Statutes were on 21 October

in 1760 the Wakefield cloth ‘frizzer’ John Brearley wrote in his memorandum book: On the 11th of November there is a fair att Wakefild for fatt cowes and bullocks and horses and on the 12th men and women hires themselves. In the margin he added the words called stattues, a spelling influenced by the colloquial form of ‘statutes’. The Fishlake constable wrote in 1689 that he had spent a shilling goinge to Hatfield stattis, a spelling similar to the ‘stattice’ or country statute recorded in the OED. Peter Brears must have encountered this version of the word very frequently since he described the fairs as the stattis or Martinmas hirings. In George Eliot’s Adam Bede the fairs were called ‘stattits’.

dates 1642 1689 1741 1760

Related Content Loading...

Photo by Kreuzschnabel CC BY-SA 3.0