The harvest festival was very popular in late Victorian times. It is a celebration of thanks to God for the safe harvest of the crops. It is mainly associated with wheat, bread, fruit and vegetables.
There had been a celebration in medieval times, at the beginning of the Harvest season on the 1st August, which 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. This custom ended when Henry VIII broke with the Roman Catholic church.
However, harvest festival customs continued in local areas with an important man of the village being designated 'Lord of the Harvest'. He would organise the harvesting and the wages of the fieldworkers. He would also be the one to lead them into a harvest meal once the harvest had been safely collected in.
The harvest festival associated with a church service, 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. They very much enjoyed the event and insisted on celebrating again the following year. The idea soon caught on and rapidly spread to other parts of the country.
It became a day's holiday for the farm workers and children. Churches were decorated with harvest yields, with the centre piece often an intricate plait of bread. Then followed the Harvest Supper. A goose stuffed with apples was eaten along with a variety of vegetables and there were games and celebrations.
For pictures of the Victorian Harvest Festival see our Picture Gallery with colour pictures and Picture Gallery black and white pictures.