Moulton: a much harsher side to rural life

Moulton laborer's cottage

There has of course always been a much harsher side to rural life in Moulton that is best captured by the old laborers’ cottages just behind the church – not to mention the inscriptions on the gravestones in the churchyard.

For the vast majority of people living in the area life was brutally hard, consisting of back-breaking labor in the fields sowing and harvesting the crops and sending them off to market. Wages were low and grinding poverty was rife. While a few bright boys may have been able to escape it by studying at the local Grammar School, their male (and female) contemporaries had little choice to stay put and make the most out of their miserable lot.

Moulton church graveyard

Despite successive waves of mechanization that began in the early stages of the Agricultural Revolution, a lot of manual farm jobs remain for tasks like picking cauliflowers and other vegetables from the fields. Not surprisingly given that much of this physically-demanding work is seasonal, most local people have no interest in doing it and immigrants from Eastern European have moved here to take their place.

As IoT and AI technologies continue to proliferate, there’s a good chance, however, that these jobs will disappear over the next couple of decades. Thanks to rapid improvements in computer vision and robotics, machines will not only be able to identify the crops that need to be picked but will also have mechanical arms and hands with enough dexterity to pick up even the smallest and most misshapen of objects.

On the one hand, the elimination of backbreaking physical labor is something to be celebrated. But on the other, it is still unclear what kinds of employment opportunities will be available for the people who have been “liberated” from it.

If history is any guide, new opportunities will appear in occupations that we haven’t even thought of yet but given that we don’t know what they will helping people to prepare for them is next to impossible. Probably the best and only answer to this dilemma is to draw inspiration from John Harrow’s decision to fund the opening of a new grammar school in Moulton to make sure that everyone can receive the education they need to prepare themselves for the challenges ahead of them.

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