To celebrate the completion of the harvest, the last cart-load of grain was led home by a horse decorated with bells, colourful ribbons and garlands of flowers.
When all the crops had been safely gathered in, the farmers treated the workers and their families to a “harvest home” or “kirn”, with supper, dancing and entertainment. A barn would be decorated for the occasion and the farmer’s wife provided food and drink. Music and dancing usually lasted well into the night.
The custom of Harvest Festival in church was introduced in Victorian times. The tradition began in 1843, at St. Morwenna’s Church, Morwenstowe in Cornwall, when the Rev. Robert Hawker organised a special service of thanksgiving for the harvest.
The idea soon spread throughout the country and it became an annual custom to decorate the churches with home-grown produce, flowers and grains, and suitable biblical inscriptions, often made from straw. Special Harvest hymns were written, such as ‘We plough the fields and scatter’ and ‘All things bright and beautiful’.