1941.9.3

Straw harvest-trophy.

Place details: EUROPE. United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland / England Gloucestershire / Worcestershire near Tewkesbury. Cultural Group: European, British, English: Local Name: Unknown. Materials: Straw Fibre Plant / String / ?. Processes: Woven / ?. Dimensions: Max L [approx] = 890 mm Maker: L. G. Bishop Field Collector: Unknown When Collected: By 1941 Other Owners: Charles Green PRM Source: Charles Green Acquired: Donated August 1941

KEYWORD: Harvest-trophy / CLASS: Agriculture and Horticulture / Religion / ?.

Publications history, trails & websites: Mentioned in Ellen Ettlinger, Folklore vol 54, no. 1, (March 1943) pp 227-249, 'The protective influence of the next three species is attributed to the fertilization spirit which they are believed to embody. This is most obvious in the harvest-amulets (preserved in the Pitt Rivers Museum) made from the last handful of corn left standing on the field, in which the fertilization spirit, here called the corn-spirit, was believed to be present. With the cutting of this last handful of corn the spirit is caught and carried joyfully home. The corn-stalks of the last sheaf are plaited into different ornaments or formed into puppets and kept in the farmhouse from harvest to harvest. "The intention no doubt is, or rather originally was, by preserving the representative of the corn-spirit, to maintain the spirit itself in life and activity throughout the year in order that the corn may grow and the crops be good. Beyond it the corn-spirit is supposed to exert fertilising influence over vegetation, cattle and even women." [Sir James Frazer, The Golden Bough 3rd ed Part v (London 1912) vol i pp 133 168] ... There are many more harvest-ornaments in the Pitt Rivers Museum (.... 3 "Necks" made about 1895 in Devon) but without detailed information; probably they were just kept as harbingers of good luck or as safeguards against witchcraft.' [p238-9]

Research notes: OED online: Corn dolly = KIRN-BABY n., a symbolic or decorative figure celebrating the harvest home. [AP 26/09/2006]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corn_dolly: Corn dollies are a form of straw work associated with harvest customs.

It was believed that the corn spirit lived amongst the crop, and the harvest made it effectively homeless. Therefore, hollow shapes were fashioned from the last sheaf of wheat or other cereal crop. The corn spirit would then spend the winter in their homes until the "corn dolly" was ploughed into the first furrow of the new season. "Dolly" is a corruption of "idol" ... In Britain, the materials used are mainly wheat, oats, rye and barley. In Ireland, rush was used, and in the south of France, palm leaves. In Burma, the rice plant is used.

With the advent of the combine harvester, the old-fashioned, long-stemmed and hollow-stemmed wheat varieties were replaced with knee-high, pithy varieties. However, a number of English farmers are still growing the traditional varieties, mainly because they are in demand with thatchers.

This object was chosen to feature in a trail around the Pitt Rivers Museum in association with the Museum of English Rural Life on Farming The First 12,000 years (https://merl.reading.ac.uk/explore/online-exhibitions/farming12k/). It featured in a pamphlet with the caption "Harvest trophy. How do you like to celebrate? At harvest time farmers reap the benefits of their investment. Trophies used to be made to mark the end of harvest, often with the last cut of the crop. This practice occurred across Europe from at least the 1700s, with specific places favouring particular designs. This 'lantern' was made in Conderton, Worcestershire, UK, in 1931. The mid-twentieth century saw selective breeding of dwarf cultivars able to support heavier seed heads but lacking the strength or flexibility to produce elaborate straw designs like this." [FB 5/1/2021]