You thought yard work is hard??  by Melanie Schertz

You thought yard work is hard?? by Melanie Schertz

When writing, it is strange how something will pop into my mind, making me wonder about something we take for granted, making me think of how things would have been done in the 1800’s.  As I have said, I stop learning the day I die, though if you think about it, I will then be learning what happens after life ends.

So, this week I got to think about gardening and how the lawns of grand estates were kept trimmed and neat.  The first lawnmower was invented in 1830.  What did they do before that to cut the grass?  See, I told you that strange thoughts pop into my brain.

I have always joked that if the guy I pay to cut my lawn didn’t get it cut soon, I would have to get a goat to cut the lawn for me, but that is not what happened at large estates You couldn’t rely on goats to do as you wish and only eat what you wanted.  What did they do?

You most likely know what a sickle is.  Its big brother, the scythe, was used to “mow” the lawns.  There were many types of sickles and scythes.  Most scythes had two handles, with a longer snath or snaith, which is a long pole.  The tip of the blade of the scythe was referred to as the toe, with the end that connects at tang is referred to as the heel. The tang was where the blade and handle connected.










According to Wikipedia, the handle at the top of the snath was held in the left hand and the center handle held in the right hand.  The scythe would then be swung from right to left, leaving the piles of cut grass to the left side of the mower.  The row of cut grass was referred to as swathe.

Mowing was a team effort.  Look at the size of some of the estates and their parks, and you can imagine how long it would take to walk through there, hand scything the lawn. And it is interesting to know that they would start on the exterior of the area, moving clockwise, until arriving in the center.  They usually started at dawn, as it was easier to cut when it was somewhat wet.  Then, when the heat of the day dried out the cut grass, it was raked up and removed from the lawn.                      

There were many types of scythes. Longer, thin ones were best for mowing or hay making.  Shorter ones were better for cutting reeds.

Because the metal was a bit malleable, the scythe required to be peened, which was using a hemispherical or wedge shaped end of the head a hammer, to flatten, shape, and bent the metal back to the desired shape.  Peening should not be done frequently, as it can weaken the metal after time, and depending how soft the metal is. It also depended on what was being cut, whether it was grass or thicker brambles.

After it was peened, the blade would then be honed, using a wetted honing stone.

The US scythes were made of harder, more brittle steel, which did not require peening, just honing to keep the blade sharp, but even that was not needed as frequently as the UK version.  Usually, when it was damaged, the edge had to be reground rather than just honed.

Scythes were also used on wheat fields for harvest. Around 1800, a grain cradle was added above the blade, which was wooden and aided in collecting the grain, making it simpler to collect and threshing.  

The use of scythes dates back to the 12th and 13th century in Europe, though the invention of the scythe dated back to 500 BC. It replaced the sickle in harvesting crops in the 16th century.

Well, I will no longer feel as bad for the guy who cuts my lawn. He has it better, with a lawn mower and weed eater.  And the people using a riding lawn mower, you don’t know how lucky you are to be living in the 21st century.

Have a great day, stay cool, and an early Happy 4th of July.  Stay safe. And the safest way to stay safe is to stay home and read JAFF stories. Heehee. And my newest book, Rebuilding Pemberley, is available on Amazon. A murder mystery that brings our darling couple together to resolve what had happened and determine who was behind everything.  Enjoy! 

14 Responses to You thought yard work is hard?? by Melanie Schertz

  1. My husband and his brothers used a hand pushed lawn mower when they cut their grass but it was so small that it was not at all laborious. My father had a scythe and a sickle and used them rarely, that I can remember. I did realize that was how the lawns were trimmed and if they were acres like Pemberley I would imagine that they started all over again as soon as they were done unless large areas were just allowed to grow wild. But that is how Pemberley was described as not contradicting nature. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Cannot imagine how hard this would be. I can remember using a hand lawnmower as a child and thinking that this was the world’s worst punishment there was. When my son mumbles about having to mow his 8 acres with a riding lawnmower, I’ll remind him of men and boys who used a scythe to cut many times that much.

  3. I’m with you, Melanie. Watching some strong men using scythes would be very interesting. And I’m sure it would be tremendous exercise for staying in shape as well. Thanks for the info. I knew about the scythes but not the particulars about using and caring for them. 🙂

  4. My dear husband, who is originally from Eastern Europe, cuts grass as they still do in Eastern Europe: with a scythe. His is custom-made by a craftsman here in the Southlands. Our neighbours with riding mowers are always trying to get him to borrow their mowers, but DH is adamant. He really likes being the Reaper! And I have to admit that it keeps him in very good shape. Of course our yard is only a couple of acres, nothing compared to Pemberley or even Netherfield Park. I imagine that doing this kind of repetitive, very physical work can become meditative after a while. Altho’ I don’t know if he would like it so much if it were not our own property he was tending. And yes, Summer, the slow going does make many things right: He has come across rabbits’ and birds’ nests in the grass several times — they would have been destroyed had he been using a power mower.

  5. I never thought about this before but once I read your posed question of how they mowed the grass I realized I had no idea. I have heard of scythes before but didn’t know this is how it was done. I wonder just how many men it took to do this job on an estate such as Pemberley.

    • Have you ever watched Larkrise to Candleford? When they did the harvest, everyone went out and was involved, from the adults doing the harvest, to the kids helping gather after the adults had gone through. Sort of a huge event. Isn’t it strange when something pops in your mind?

  6. LOL, when I was a child, my grandfather still used it. I learned how to use it, but I can’t say I was proficient. But I loved to watch a group of guys working in a line, and going like a well oiled machine. Old memories.

  7. I’m in my mid fifties and when I was young my Dad and my Uncle used the scythe to cut hay off our field. It’s funny to think they’re historical implements now.

    • And you think of the metal they had before, that were softer and had to be peened regularly. If you look at the history of swords, they weren’t sharp like today, so most likely these weren’t as sharp as now.

  8. You know, even though I grew up on a farm, and know about scythes and that they used them to cut, well, most things that needed cutting, I’ve never thought through ‘mowing’ the yard at Netherfield Park, Pemberley, or what have you. I wonder how many hours and how many men it took? Once you got good at it, I’m sure there were worse jobs out there than being the guy who walked around the grounds at Pemberley with a scythe. My dad, who used to plow fields with a daft horse team when I was real little, has tried to explain to me how you can do things like that backwards and make a mess, but I’ve never been able to grasp the concept (They never let me on a tractor to plow a field, oddly . . . just because when I tried the lawn mower I drove it into a tree . . . 🙂 – They were using tractors by the time I was old enough to do farm work). Anyhow, it seems easier to get it right with a scythe to me, actually. Plus, slower going, so more time to correct yourself and much harder to run into anything!

    • I grew up in central Illinois, with farms surrounding us. I can remember working in the summer to de-tassel corn and de-rouge the soybeans. some of the work you had to walk through the fields and cut out certain plants, the other we rode on baskets connected to metal arms of a tractor, that reached over multiple rows at a time. it was hard work, and you came home with cuts all over your hands, arms, and face.

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