Bondager was the name given to the women who worked on the farms in Northumberland and South East Scotland. They could be seen working in the fields on both sides of The Cheviot Hills during the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries.
The areas involved were Northumberland, Berwickshire, Roxburghshire, Selkirkshire, East Lothian, Mid Lothian and West Lothian.
These workers were part of an old system of employment which involved the hind (a married ploughman) promising, as part of his bond or agreement with the farmer, to provide another worker, usually a woman, who was known as a bondager. (Sometimes shepherds and stewards also provided bondagers.)
The Bondage System, as it was known, was an old system stretching back to the 18th century and had its roots in even earlier times.
These bondagers wore a very distinctive and attractive costume. William Cobbett, when he rode through the border area in the early 1830s, described them as looking like ‘romantic milkmaids’.
In 1939 Donald Scott of Caistron wrote that ‘the visitor to the farms of Glendale and Tweedside may yet see the ‘bondager’ busy in the field, clad in what may be described as the last remaining peasant costume in England!’.