This film is part of Free

Brother to the Ox

This harrowing look at the realities of farm and child labour in 1904 reveals the residues of feudalism persisting into the twentieth century.

Drama 1981 54 mins

From the collection of:

Logo for Yorkshire Film Archive


This 1981 dramatisation of the autobiography of Fred Kitchen focuses on his first year as a farm labourer, aged 13, in 1904. The drama paints a vivid portrait of life as a farm labourer and as a navvy on the railway at the turn of the century. Fred has an extremely harsh time at the hands of his widow employer, but soon becomes capable in his farming tasks, finding comfort with the shire horses he looks after. At the end of the year he has matured enough to bargain a wage at the Hire Fair.

Fred Kitchen was born at Edwinstowe, Nottinghamshire, in 1890. Kitchen didn’t write this, his first and most popular, book until 1939, after attending WEA classes in Worksop – he bought books instead of ale, “because you could drink in the words over and over again." The Hire Fair that he attended was the Martlemas Fair (aka Statutes or mop fair) in Doncaster, which he describes as having a babel of dialects. The fairs were noted for their drunken ribaldry, and this, together with the nomadic lifestyle of the workers so hired on yearly fixed contracts (they weren’t allowed to be married), was criticised by the church. This practice of hiring declined as it was unsuited for modern capitalist hiring flexibility.