Family Lessons 19: Farmer without a Farm

My 4x great-grandfather was living at Goodenber, at Mewith, which is near Bentham, when the 1871 census took place. As high levels of literacy could not then be guaranteed, a census enumerator would record people’s oral answers and then complete the necessary forms back at the office. As well as detailing his children and their ages, the following details he spoke about himself:

James Birkett, householder, widower, 63, farmer without farm, born Quernmore

Why would he give his occupation as a 'farmer without a farm'? A more detailed search of local records might give the reason, but it cannot otherwise be discerned. He does not describe himself as a farm labourer, that is, a man who works on another’s land, exchanging his labour for a wage. He had evidently farmed previously, perhaps taken out a tenancy, which had expired by the time of the census. Grandfather Birkett therefore had no farm, but still considered himself a farmer. The fact he described himself in such a way to the enumerator might suggest a degree of bitterness or melancholy about his occupation- or lack thereof.

I know people for whom retirement has been something of a curse. In their chosen profession, they were respected, enjoyed status, and felt ‘needed’ by others. Once retired, they realised how dispensable they were. Now just another pensioner, the prestige offered them by their former career is no more. They spend their days as surplus to requirement; for their help or assistance, no-one asks. The department they headed is now run by another; the work they did is done just as well by someone younger.

How do you identify yourself? Are you primarily a wife, or husband? A teacher, a solicitor, a bus driver, a programmer? Are you best known for your appearance, or for the hobbies you promote? Any identity or status you have outside of Christ is certain to fade and diminish. You will become a teacher without a class, a bobbie without a beat, a doctor without a ward, a farmer without a farm. For the Christian, however, his Christian identity only ever grows and develops, as the Spirit continues His sanctifying work, and as the great home-coming draws nigh.

Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ. Phil 3:8

Image by malcolm west from Pixabay