In Scotland during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, male farm labourers who hired on to work on farms would be required under the terms of their bond to provide a female labourer to work in tandem with them: the women who worked under these terms – primarily in the Border countryside in south-east Scotland – were known as Bondagers.
Sue Glover's play from 1991, set on a typical farm in the 1860s, tells the story of Tottie, a Bondager girl, who falls in love with a 'black-eyed plooman' named Kello, an unseen presence who haunts the fringes of this play.
In her author's note, Glover writes: '[ . . . ] periods of plenty and progress are relentlessly interrupted by leaner, harsher times: bad weather, bad harvests, bad government, disease . . . and the sometimes unfortunate, sometimes devastating consequences of our innovations and discoveries. And so the ghosts in the field come and go. Tottie sees this; she stands for the land. And Kello stands for our (sometimes criminal) carelessness.'
Bondagers, which won the 1990 LWT Plays on Stage Award, draws out the shadowy figures of women exploited as cheap agricultural labour in the Border country of the mid-nineteenth century, evoking the rich sounds of a way of life, lived in service to the gentry.