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One misty moisty morning, when cloudy was the weather,
I chanced to meet an old man a-clothèd all in leather.
He was clothèd all in leather, with a cap beneath his chin,
Singing 'How d'ye do and how d'ye do and how d'ye do again'.

This rustic was a thresher, as on his way he hied,
And with a leather bottle fast buckled by his side.
He wore no shirt upon his back, but wool unto his skin,
Singing 'How d'ye do and how d'ye do and how d'ye do again'.

(from) One Misty, Moisty Morning trad. arr. Steeleye Span

Basic Information

A Thresher is a person (or machine) that separates grain from the plants by beating. Threshing itself is probably around as old as agriculture - and maybe older given that humans appear to have been harvesting wild grains before they planted them - and was traditionally performed with a flail and accompanied or followed by winnowing which involved throwing the beaten grain into the air so that a crosswind could blow away the husks and debris (chaff) and allow the grain to fall to the ground.

For most of history, this was a role at least open to most men - most of the population farmed, and come harvest, most of those would need to do at least some threshing to ensure the grain was processed on time. Not so much a profession as an activity for everyone. This is doubly true in places with a grain based local currency, where the entire community comes together to ensure food stores and collective prosperity, and is paid via a local scrip redeemable as shares in the communal silo or storehouse.

In 1786 Andrew Meikle invented the first mechanical threshing machine, which combined threshing and winnowing and saved a great deal of strenuous labour and made threshing - or at least threshing machine operation - a job in its own right (which probably accounts for the leather overalled mechanic in the flavour text). Ironically, this annoyed a great many people by reducing the need for agricultural labourers, but the improvement was so radical that it could not be gainsaid and so the threshing machine and its descendents won out. Eventually these devices would be subsumed by the modern combine harvester - which reaps, threshes and winnows as it goes along, leaving the grain cleaned and ready for storage before it leaves the field.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Before the late 18th Century, expect to find most rural people threshing around the end of harvest - this is the time and place of threshing floors and winnowing forks and is why practically everyone knows how to use a flail. Some sources suggest up to a quarter of all agricultural labour pre-mechanisation was devoted to threshing and winnowing. The lower the tech level, the higher up the social scale the work goes - within reason.
  • Civil disorder caused by threshing machines might be a big deal as they start to displace men from the fields (historically they coincided with the introduction of reaping machines which also allowed reductions in manpower of up to 90% overall). Historically a lot of these workers were exported as colonists or re-trained for factory labour, but the intervening riots were a very real problem. Similar to the luddite movement when the industrial revolution hit the textile industry.
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