Harvest Festival used to be celebrated at the beginning of the Harvest season on 1 August and was called Lammas, meaning 'loaf Mass'. Farmers made loaves of bread from the new wheat crop and gave them to their local church. They were then used as the Communion bread during a special mass thanking God for the harvest. The custom ended when Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church, and nowadays we have harvest festivals at the end of the season.
At the start of the harvest, communities would appoint a strong and respected man of the village as their 'Lord of the Harvest'. He would be responsible for negotiating the harvest wages and organising the fieldworkers.
The end of the harvest was celebrated with a big meal called a Harvest Supper, eaten on Michaelmas Day. The 'Lord of the Harvest' sat at the head of the table. A goose stuffed with apples was eaten along with a variety of vegetables. Goose Fairs were and still are held in English towns at this time of year.
Alison emailed to tell us about her Great Great Great Grandfather:
"My Great Great Great Grandfather was called Joshua WALKER. He was born in 1851 in a small village in Hertfordshire called WILLIAN. He was an agricultural labourer who worked on Lordship Farm in Willian along with various brothers, cousins, sons and nephews. He must have been quite important amongst the labourers because he was given the title “LORD OF THE HARVEST” and it was his responsibility to bring the last snook (sheaf) of corn back to the farm to officially declare the Harvest safely gathered in before the Harvest Feast started."
Photograph is of Joshua WALKER on his hay wagon
The tradition of celebrating Harvest Festival in churches as we know it today began in 1843, when the Reverend Robert Hawker invited parishioners to a special thanksgiving service for the harvest at his church at Morwenstow in Cornwall. Victorian hymns such as "We plough the fields and scatter", "Come ye thankful people, come" and "All things bright and beautiful" helped popularise his idea of harvest festival and spread the annual custom of decorating churches with home-grown produce for the Harvest Festival service.