Brother Workmen, by Jeremy Harte (Audio recording)
The Roy Palmer Lecture 2021, hosted online by The Folklore Society, Tuesday 2 November 2021, 19:00-20:00.
‘Brother Workmen: Solidarity in Trade Folklore,’ by Jeremy Harte (Curator, Bourne Hall Museum), on traditions and customs of solidarity among workers. Introduced by Martin Graebe, for The Roy Palmer Lecture.
They worked in unison, they sang in unison. For traditional artisans, the trade was more than a job: it was a living presence which might take form as Old Clem or St. Crispin or Bishop Blaize. Rules of the workplace were enforced with the kind of mock-earnestness that masks real solemnity, and humour, often tested to breaking-point was a test of whether mates could be relied on: that was why apprentices had to be teased and sent on fools’ errands. Mere skill was not enough for initiation: the rules of the workshop explicitly protected the interests of the group as against those of the individual, keeping back the over-industrious in order to redistribute work to the needy. Like soldiers, artisans saw the outside world through an atmosphere of slightly boozed male camaraderie, preposterous but well-loved traditions, fiercely enforced loyalty, and absolute unity against a common foe – the bosses.
Jeremy Harte is a researcher into the overlap between folklore and the landscape, especially places of encounter with the supernatural. His books include Cuckoo Pounds and Singing Barrows, The Green Man, English Holy Wells and Explore Fairy Traditions. A member of the Council of the Folklore Society, he trained as a museum professional, and is curator of the Bourne Hall Museum in Surrey.