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Farming in the 50's Fagge
Farming in the 50's Perkins
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In 1877 Charles Brown sold Stocken Farm for ?50 per acre. In 1934 it was sold again fetching ?16 per acre. Times had been very bad for farming. Land was being left fallow rather than lose money working it and the countryside was in bad heart.
The man who bought the farm did not want to farm it himself. The house was 250 years old, damp, full of beetles and closely overshadowed by huge trees, only a water pump in the kitchen, no bathroom and the walls covered internally by canvas on batons, in an attempt to keep out the damp, providing a good refuge for the mice that dwelt therein. He put the farm up to let.
It was at this time that a young farmer's son decided to get married and farm on his own account. It was not difficult to find a farm, but as so many were defaulting on their rents a guarantor was needed to promise payment for the first few years. His prospective mother-in-law was a skilful business woman. She also believed strongly in astrology. She consulted the stars and found that the marriage would be a good match and she therefore promised to give a guarantee for the rent. The young man took the farm at Michaelmas 1934.
Unfortunately the stars were not yet at their best for the marriage, so he took lodgings in the village. Eight days later, when the stars were right Dick West married Hilda Crook and after a brief honeymoon moved into Stocken Farm.
The landlord made considerable improvements for them. Water, newly brought to the village, was piped to the farm and a bathroom made out of a bedroom. The stables were converted into a cowshed for milking. Hilda was an inspired decorator, quick with paper, paint and needle, so soon the old house was homely.
Dick's father had given him a few cows for a wedding present, which he managed to make up to 20. He had four horses, a few sheep, a couple of pigs and some chickens. He acquired second hand implements and took on two men. He knew how to work every hour God made and that was his greatest asset. It was to be a long haul up.
In 1937 their son was born. Hilda, who had a weak heart from rheumatic fever and would have been wise not to have had a child at all, refused to go into hospital as it was lambing time and she knew Dlck would not have time to visit her, so John was born at home. The same year the landlord built two semi-detached houses for them for the men and two years later Hilda's father came to live with them. He had retired from his position as foreman to a large grocers in London, because of ill health. His wife had died and it was thought he would too. Hilda and Dick gave him a home, against the advice of his dying wife, but he lived for another 40 years, just to fool them all. He was an active man right up to his death at a few days short of 96 years old.
Suddenly, with the war, farmers became important. Their produce was needed and prices at last rose to an economic level. Unfortunately, all their flat land was taken for an airfield at Stocken Farm, which was a severe blow. They had to rent land some distance away at Notley Abbey. RAF officers and their families were billeted in the house and lasting friendships were formed, which was a bonus.
In 1948 they had the opportunity to buy the farm. Dick, who had never borrowed in his life, bolstered by terrific faith from wife and friends, took courage and set out to make 190 acres their own. As in 1934 every penny had to be made to count.
In 1954, their son, who was good at chemistry, decided to take up farming - much to their relief! A year's practical and two years at Harper Adams Agricultural College brought him back to the farm in 1957. By this time Dick had increased the cows to 26, his sheep to about 60 and had established a good name for commercial breeding pigs. They prepared a few cockerels and turkeys for Christmas and had more hens. The horses were replaced by two tractors, their first combine was purchased and they owned their farm.
Farming about this time changed dramatically. Until now it had been a profession handed down from father to son with a 'don't put all your eggs in one basket' attitude, learnt from bitter experience. Often, sons were expected to work at home with no pay but the knowledge "it will be all yours one day lad".
Now, students were coming from the colleges (see their stories below) - more professional, machines became more specialised but were expensive, crop breeding advanced, everything became easier and yet more difficult. The old style farming had to change - or else! Dick and John were very lucky. Dick, steeped in farming experience, John, trained to look at things in a new light. Together, with tremendous affection and respect for each other they took Stocken Farm forward into the 1960's. John started by waging war on the mud. The earth, often mud, yards and drive were gradually concreted, a bit every year, until machines, animals and men could get around comfortably. Psychologically good then and now, essential for the huge lorries that come for grain and milk.
In 1963 the first milking parlour was installed. It was a big breakthrough. Now one man could milk 60 cows, whereas before there was a considerable amount of physical labour involved in chaining cows, carting churns, cleaning equipment and cooling the milk. Now all that was automated. To justify the outlay more cows had been reared and some were purchased in order to use the parlour to an economic capacity. More land was needed for the extra cows; so sadly, the flock of sheep was sold. They had needed new fences, races and dip anyway and it was not possible to run to everything.
In 1957 the cows were giving an average of 700 gallons of milk per year. In 1984 they were giving an average of 1,400 gallons. How? With improved nutrition, better housing and Al. Now the services of the very best proven bulls in the country are available, at a price, for every cow. Even the 'bull of the day, the cheapy on the Al list, is way, way above the standard of the average farm-owned bull.
I'm sure Hilda was very relieved when the dairy bull went. He had tossed both Alf, the cowman, and Dick. He was then kept in a strong, brick-built bull pen right outside the back door of the house. The bull gone and nothing to be wasted, Dick then kept pigs in the pen. The smell was very 'rural' when the wind was the wrong way. She found the pigs handy when she had the occasional baking disaster. Men have a nasty habit of asking "Why did you do it" if you do not dispose of the evidence!
Big changes were happening in the pig world. Fat bacon, beloved by our forefathers, was no longer wanted, so specialised hybrid pigs were bred to cater for the public's new lean taste. They needed much more particular husbandry than the old breeds. The decision to stop producing pigs, no longer popular, was made for Dick and John when Reading pig sales finished. The monthly trips to Reading Market had been a very happy part of Dick's farming life. The last sale there consisted largely of his herd and a sad day it was too.
In 1965 two more houses were built as the staff increased and in 1970 a bungalow for Hilda and Dick. This was built to be easy for Hilda. Dick, to his surprise got used to it, although he spent all day at the farm and would soon put anyone right if they called it a 'retirement' home.
Summer 1984 was superb weather for the grain harvest and as the entire world must know there were record crops. When drilling, no one can foretell if it will be a good or bad season and naturally everyone sets out to grow as good a crop as possible. We were glad the crops were good. John had sent a ton of grain to Africa in August, long before the media brought all those starving people into our sitting rooms. So we have a surplus! Surely that is preferable to going short.
At suppertime, 29th September 1984, John and I opened a bottle of wine and talked of things l have written here. It was a very special day. 50 years-since Dick and Hilda took Stocken Farm so bravely when things were so difficult. We lingered over the wine and we remembered and wished they had been with us still to share the occasion. Reluctantly we broke the spell and John went out to check the cows. He was quickly back,
"Get some old things on, there's a cow down with milk fever".
She lay like a dead thing. So, I stood in the field holding high a flexi-pack of calcium boroglutenate and John knelt injecting the cow to save her life. One pack dripped straight into a vein, a second to be injected under the skin. Even before we could get the second pack connected up she revived. We brought her into a loose box to give her the second dose. John examined her. Her calf was not yet ready to be born. We gave her some hay and left her. The next morning, that cow, so near to death the night before, had running at her feet a lovely calf, safely born, licked clean, fed and ready to be presented to the world as if nothing had been wrong at all.
The milk fever could not have been cured like that in 1934, man was too ignorant. So much progress in 50 years. Progress? It is not a 'dirty' word. Our animals are more comfortable and better fed now than they have ever been. We would like to think that went for people too.
I was 17 years old when I went as a farm apprentice to Richard (Dick) West from approx. 20th July 1956 to July 1957. The conditions were full board as a member of the family, under the wonderful mothering of Hilda West and 'supervision' of Grandad Crook. The working hours were 6am to 6pm Monday to Saturday. Sunday was 6am to 11am or so and Sunday evening 4pm to 6pm. Wages were ?4 per week. Dick West often gave me ?6 when things were busier.
When I arrived corn was in progress, so it was all hands to the cornfield. All the wheat, barley, oats and rye were cut with a tractor-drawn reaper and binder. The resulting sheaves were stooked, ie ten or twelve sheaves were stood upright in a circle against each other. Later, a couple of tractors were pulling old four-wheel horse wagons, which would have been pulled previously be two shire horses. I was given a pitchfork to help throw up the sheaves to the two people fixing the load so it would not fall over. These loads were transported to the 'hangar'. Outside the hangar we made a couple of huge stacks, which were built by the guys off the wagons in an A shape, ie to a peak in the middle. Later on in the autumn/winter period, these would normally be threshed, with a threshing mill, to extract the grain and use the straw for animal bedding, etc. However, young John West was getting educated at Harper Adams Agricultural College and he had come across combine harvesters, so one was purchased and during the autumn/winter we threshed all the corn with the combine. We also went down to Dick West's brother and father to help with their corn threshing. I remember they had large big baler at the back of the threshing mill to bale the straw. The big bales at that time were tied with tying wire. At home we had the tractor and small baler behind the stationary combine, which was being hand-fed sheaves at the front. There were small hay bales in the hangar and the straw bales joined them.
Dick West had a mixed farm. About 50-60 cows. 30-35 cows were machine-bucket milked twice a day and Wests had to supply about 100 gallons per day, 365 days of the year. So the main calving period was August to October. The cows were housed in a single long cowhouse and tied in with wooden bales. Their main diet was hay in the winter and grass in the summer. Meal feeding was pulped beet or mangolds with meal ration spread on top. They would be let out to a yard and then the shed was mucked out, hay and meal put in and let back in after a few hours out.
Dick West had one Shire horse, which Alfred Ayres, the cowman, looked after. He pulled a cart to bring the bales of hay to the cowshed area. He was a lovely big gentle animal, who I think retired with Alf.
There were maybe 60-70 breeding ewes, mostly Suffolk and Mule breeds. Dick West only ever kept ewe lambs that were twins or triplets. The lambs were sold fat at Reading Cattle Mart Myself and Granda' usually had a 6d bet on the price Dick would get for them. I think I won more than I lost, which was a record against Granda'. He also taught me to play poker. Luckily I didn't follow it up.
There were 12 to 15 sows on the farm, Wessex Saddlebacks and the new breed called Landrace, that John had introduced. Dick West had a very good strain of Saddlebacks (the 'Enstock' herd), but the Landrace produced a leaner carcase. Dick had 2 Saddleback boars and 2 Landrace boars and farmers with three or four sows came from far and near to get them served by a boar. The service of a cow is a quick live job, but a boar service can take maybe half an hour. People would leave in the sows for a few days and collect them after they were served. It can be difficult to time them for when they are on heat, so we often had them for 3 or 4 days. Wests had a grinding mill driven by a belt off a pulley-wheel on a tractor. The resulting ground barley was the basis of the pig feed, which was mixed by hand with a shovel and water and bucket fed to the pigs around the yard. The young pigs were sold off as weaners at about 80lbs weight in the market where the pig fatteners bought them. I have lived full time in Ireland since 1957 and we had some sows here, but nowadays it is all big business. There is no-one keeping boars any more, so there are no small pig farms. It is all thousands of pigs in enclosed herds. A.I is used in these herds as well as boars. I believe it is the same in England.
Dick West kept some of the sows out the fields in pens controlled by an electric fence. Each sow had a straw bale hut, which was made of a double row of wooden pallets filled in with straw. A few sheets of galvanised iron tied down, made the roof. Very warm even in mid-winter. She had about 100 * 20 feet of field to plough up with her snout. The piglets and herself were very content there. In the autumn time the piglets would travel maybe half mile searching for acorns. They could travel under the electric fence. The piglets were sold as store pigs at about 80lbs weight. Off good sows, female piglets with 16 teats would be kept for breeding and sold as gilts (maiden sows) at 6-8 months of age when they were pregnant (in-pig).
There were 30-35 pure bred Ayrshire cows milked all year round by a bucket milking plant in the long old cowhouse. The bucket of milk had to be taken to the dairy and the milk poured into the water milk cooler and filled into 10 gallon churns for a flat lorry to collect them every day of the week. This milk went to a milk bottling plant. Here in Ireland we have spring calving herds mostly and our milk all goes to manufacturing, i.e, cheese, butter, yoghurt and all various milk powders.
Alf Ayres and myself would be starting the milking process after 6am. Dick West would be looking after the pigs and sheep in the spring. In for breakfast at 8am. I must mention Hilda West who really treated me like a mother. John was at Agricultural College at Harper Adams in Shropshire at this time. Mrs West cooked and washed for us all and I became a part of the family.
Hilda was fascinated with me being a Catholic, she was always asking about my beliefs as compared with C of E. Everyone disliked Ian Paisley in Northern Ireland at that time, as he came over as a Protestant bigot. The I.R.A never touched him because he kept the pot stirred in Westminster. We were all amazed that himself and Martin McGuiness got on so well, as McGuiness was an I.R.A gunman in his young days. It turns out both of them had an abiding interest in cricket and would watch the Test Matches from India and Australia all night long on Sky TV. Alf Ayres told me he got injured in Ypres in Belgium in about 1916. He was sent to recuperate in an army barracks in Buttevant, Co. Cork, which is only a few miles from where I live. Whilst he was there he said "The buggers tried to burn us out" The buggers were the local freedom fighters.
Around November 1956, Alf and I did some hedge-laying. We converted a large hawthorn hedge to a tidy stock-proof hedge. We had billhooks and axes, saws and a cross-cut saw for the bigger trees. No chainsaws in those days. We did a hazel hedge in another place and it was lovely to work with, as one could plait the hazel along the top row of the new hedge. I would like this kind of work.
Gerald Bedford was our tractor driver and ploughman. That time the Wests had 2 Ford Major tractors. No roll bars or cabs in those days. At 700 feet up in the Chilterns one really felt the fresh air in the winter-time. I used to get the job of harrowing with the tractor at times in the spring. One day I was down the fields, when a neighbouring farmer's Great Dane joined me. He was like a small horse. He would gallop around the field and every now and then would jump over the bonnet of the tractor. He had a mouth as big as a cow, so I put my hands in my pockets, as he sailed by.
In May, when the weather got hot, we cut the ryegrass for hay. We turned it and baled it. Behind the baler there was a sled. I stood there and stacked the small bales at the rear. Across the field I would drop 6 or 8 bales off in a line, which made it easier for loading afterwards. Dick West had a 5 0r 6 acres of I think Timothy grass seed. A neighbour had left in maybe 6 beehives to pollinate the grass flowers. When the hay meadow was overripe, Gerald cut the top 3 0r 4 inches with the combine to thresh out the grass seed. Afterwards we mowed the field and we baled hay out of it. In July time the wheat, barley and rye was ripening and they were all cut with the combine harvester. Gerald was driving and I was filling the sacking bags with about 8 stone of corn. I would drop them down a chute, so there would be a line of bags across the field for collection. The straw was baled afterwards. The bags of corn would be collected onto trailers and taken to a drying plant to bring it to 15% moisture so that it could then be stored without going mouldy.
Granda Crook kept a vegetable garden going, in which John did the heavy digging. He also looked after a flock of hens and had his regular customers calling to the door. He also fattened what were cockerels and ducks for the deep freeze. There were no broilers that time.
Ganda and myself had a 6d or even a shilling bet, re. the price of lambs, store pigs or in-calf Ayrshire heifers that Dick West was taking to market. I won more than I lost, which with Granda was unusual.
Harry Floyd was a small neighbouring farmer who somehow came to live at Wests. Harry broke his finger that May, so as I was o.k at hand-milking, Dick West sent me out to Harry's to milk his 8 cows. Also Harry had hens producing eggs, and some evenings I would go on his egg round with him. Millicent stands out as a good customer and another couple down the lane opposite, where we sampled home-made wine, made from everything that grew. We travelled a small road one evening, where we overlooked 'Chequers' the Prime Minister's country residence. There was no sign of security in those days.
One memorable Sunday evening, Gerald took me to a nearby village where they celebrated 'cheery pie Sunday'. The pub sold hot cherry pies with a pint. It was a good mess.
When we erected a new 5 strand barbed-wire fence, Gerald strained the wire with two tractors, one could play music on it afterwards.
Stocken Farm had no back door key and on Easter Sunday and Harvest Sunday I was asked to mind the house, whilst everyone went to church. A catholic family had a nearby country home and Dick West arranged for them to take me to Sunday Mass in Princes Risborough and got up on his Sunday off to let me off in the winter-time to allow me to go to my own church - a true Christian.
One time I was thumbing to High Wycombe and a car pulled up. They asked me where I was going and why couldn't I wait for a bus. I said I had a train to catch and would miss it if I waited for a bus, so the lady got out and sat in the back and me in the front, where they could keep an eye on me.
Another night I was walking home from Risborough and it was wet. A sports car passed me at 90 mph. I thumbed but he didn't stop. About 5 mins later he came back and u-turned. I was prepared to jump the hedge. "Hi, Buddy" he says. I felt sorry for you back there, but I had to drop off the girlfriend and so he dropped me off at Stocken Farm. He was an American airman stationed at Bomber Command.
One Friday evening I was in Wycombe and called for sausage, egg, rasher and chips, then I remembered it was Friday and us Catholics abstain from meat on Friday, so I approached the counter to ask for a change to fish and chips. The man says "You f-------- Catholics are all the f-------- same, you can't remember the day of the week and then gave the fish and chips.
I bought a pair of 'Beaver' working boots for ?4, they kept water-proof for years afterwards. All the boots at that time had nailed studs on the sole and steel tips on the toe-end and heels. I caught the electric fence once and got welded to the ground.
It was a memorable year. The 18 stone bags of wheat would leave a lasting memory. I once pulled the wooden shaft off a roller, when I foolishly crossed a track at right angles. Dick West said to me "Good gracious, what on earth did you do that for?" It was the only time he got a little cross with me and I must have tested his patience at times.
John West used to grind corn and dried grass for neighbours in the evenings to earn his own holiday money, on the weekend when he came home from Harper Adams Agricultural College. He also introduced me to the local Young Farmers' Club in Risborough, where I learnt a bit about public speaking and assertiveness. Also to clean and truss chickens and turkeys. Luckily they allowed in Young Lady Farmers.
It was a pleasant and educational year for me and I missed Lacey Green and treasure the friendships I made.
P.S. I hope you can read this scribble. I'm probably too late for your booklet, however, maybe you could print it up for our grandchildren.
It was a warm sunny afternoon at the beginning of September 1955 that I started on what was to be a long and sometimes painful road to the 'World of Work'! My parents 'dropped me off'at Stocken Farm, Lacey Green in the Chiltern Hills of Buckinghamshire where I was to spend a year living in & working on the farm prior to going to Agricultural College.
I was wearing a yellow shirt with white squares; sleeves rolled up & was instructed to walk round the lane over the road where the rest of the Farm staff were harvesting some of the wheat crop. The binder was spewing sheaves onto the stubble which needed Stooking (Stacking). It didn't take long for me to unroll my sleeves & buttoned them up due to the abrasive ears rubbing my skin.
Monotony soon became apparent after two or three circuits of the field stooking. I knew then that I wasn't cut out to do this sort of work for the rest of my working life. Fortunately it was a mixed farm with many different enterprises so that there were a very good variety of jobs which all required different skills. We had a break mid afternoon with 'tea' back at the farm house before milking. This, like all the meals, was a welcome break and necessary to replenish the physical energy that was used up in many of the various jobs. As I was to find out, the Farm wasn't managed with the most up-to-date use of mechanisation which was catching on in Agriculture in the 1950's.
My boss, Mr Dick West, had employed two pre-college students before me. John, his son and only child had worked for a year on the farm after leaving Grammar School in High Wycombe without any wages before going to Agricultural College at Harper Adams in Shropshire. His father thought working without a wage would kill or cure his interest in farming. It certainly didn't kill it as we were later to find out. My main difficulty in the first few days was to understand what the 'Boss' was talking about as he had a broad Bucks accent; totally different from an Essex accent that I had been brought up with.
I was asked the second morning to pump up the tyre of the wheel-barrow used to cart the 'muck' from cows in the Shippon, (Cowshed). The 'Boss' must have thought he'd got 'a right one here' as I managed to burst the inner tube! Perhaps it was perished. I didn't mention this and felt a real fool so early on in my employment. There were two full-time employees on the farm; Gerald and Alfi. Gerald was a great person to work with, always cheerful and helpful; I owe him a great debt of gratitude for the skills that he taught me. He would arrive in the morning just as I was finishing milking the 30 mainly Ayrshire cows and cleaned out the Shippon with the replenished wheel-barrow tyre.
Alf, who must have been near retirement age, was never late in the morning before milking began. I never slept very well during the 12 months on the Farm for fear of being late for milking. My alarm went off at 5.30 a.m. in my room in the attic. The 'Boss' and I had a cup of tea and piece of cake before venturing out to start the day's work. During the Spring and Summer months my first job before starting milking was to open the stable door, put some oats in the manger, go to the covered yard door leading to the Horse pasture and let the Shire Horse, who had galloped up the field, in for his corn keeping well out of his way to avoid getting knocked over.
The milking for a beginner took a bit of getting used to. First of all you had to recognise each cow and whether it was a milker or dry; also how long to leave the machine on each cow. There were three 'bucket units'. Each cow' milk was weighed morning and evening once a week on a scale and recorded. The records would come back showing the total milk yield for the lactation of each cow; normally about 305 days. Replacements would be reared from the highest milkers. The milk was tipped into another bucket with a lid on to prevent splashing from any animal that lifted its tail up.
This must have happened quite frequently when I first started as cows know instinctively when humans are nervous. Some cows are easier to milk than others and let their milk down. Alf would 'strip' by hand-milking those cows that hadn't been completely milked out by the 'bucket unit'. Alt's language was a choice of swear words which the cows must have got used to but didn't go down well with the 'Boss' if he happened to be nearby. It was my job to wash the milking utensils after milking; rinsing with cold water before scrubbing with hot water in two washing-up tubs. Another monotonous job that I didn't enjoy. The milk was collected in chums which were labelled and put on the churn stand to be collected by the milk lorry. All of this was very labour intensive and became out-of-date with the advent of milking parlours.
Alf fed the calves with colostrum (milk from newly calved cows for the first four days) before using milk powder and water until they were weaned at five to six weeks. The 'Boss' fed the pigs being reared whilst we were milking. There was a mix of breeds, Wessex Saddlebacks and Landrace, a recent import from Denmark. Dry meal was tipped into a tub and mixed with water by stirring with a wooden 'spoon'. It was then bucketed into the feed troughs with a cacophony to wake the dead in the village churchyard! The Wessex Saddleback sows were crossed with Large White or Landrace to produce piglets with Hybrid vigour, (faster growing than pure breeds)! These sows were kept outside in straw huts in a field down the track. It was my responsibility to look after them. They were contained with electric fencing in paddocks. In cold winter weather the plastic water pipes would freeze up.
There was a flock of half-bred ewes put to a Suffolk ram. Some Beef cattle, mainly Hereford crosses, were kept and fattened. The higher yielding cows were mated to the Ayrshire bull whose pen was near to the Farm House back door. The front door was very rarely used.
Another of my jobs was to grind the corn using the hammer mill; belt-driven by one of the tractors which had to be lined up very precisely to avoid the belt slipping. A very dusty job which made me sneeze and wheeze. The ground grain was bagged off and later mixed with proteins and minerals for different types of stock. The farm comprised of 250 acres with a small amount of rented land nearby. Besides wheat, there was barley and oats, red clover, kale and marigolds and of course grassland for grazing, hay and silage. Some of the land furthest away from the farm buildings was very steep and difficult to cultivate. The valleys in this part of Buckinghamshire are known as 'bottoms'!
The reason that I had come to this farm ninety miles from home was that my Grand-Parents had a weekend bungalow, Bulla Burra, (Aboriginal for beautiful bird; my grandmother was Australian) now known as Apple Orchard just out of the village and next to one of the Stocken Farm's fields. They used to come down from London by train and were met at Saunderton Station and taken up the hill, via Bradenham, by horse and cart, past Disraeli's house and on to Lacey Green. When my Grand-Parents died, I was very young at the time, one of my Aunts who had looked after my Grandmother after her husband had died, continued to live there. She was a well-known character in the village; she was an ex-Oxford University Graduate who smoked a pipe! After leaving the army in the Second World War, she had delivered the post in and around the village. Whether paid or not I don't know.
My father on visits to his sister got to know the 'Boss', being interested in farming. The 'Boss' told him that if he hadn't been a farmer he would have liked to have taught. His wife, Hilda, was a very kind motherly lady. Hence my time at Stocken Farm. The household besides Mr & Mrs West consisted of their only son, John, who was only there for a few weeks after I arrived before he went to Agricultural College, Granddad Crook, Mrs West's father, and Harry Floyd, a long-time lodger. Granddad had been married twice. I found out a lot later that his second wife, Hilda's stepmother, had advised her just before she died not to have her father living with her. She obviously ignored this advice and put up with her lovable rascal father. Harry, a bachelor, had originally only stayed because he had been very ill and Hilda had felt sorry for him and looked after him too well for him to leave. So there were six including John who came home for the College holidays; five most of the time in the house.
By the end of milking I was starving. Fortunately Hilda was used to youths appetite's and a huge fried breakfast was on hand with variations including tomatoes from John's greenhouse and mushrooms from the horse pasture that I harvested in my first month of September. The real McCoy, not the cultivated ones from the mushroom famis. The 'Boss' loved his fat bacon and couldn't get enough of it. In those days with the amount of physical work involved, you needed all the calories you could consume. Granddad and Harry I don't recall being present at breakfast but would be around for the midday meal.
One of the lighter moments of the day was 'Workers Playtime' on the radio. A variety show with many of the current showbiz characters performing in front of a lunchtime audience held in large works canteens up and down the country. It was a very welcome break from talking 'shop' or reading the 'Farmer and Stockbreeder' magazine. Sometimes I was so tired that I would nod off on the living room sofa to be nudged that it was time to get back to work. The three o'clock tea provided a good break before milking and the other routine work that involved feeding the livestock; cows with their 'corn' (concentrates) before putting on the milking machine clusters again. They would go out to graze grass after each milking in the Spring and Summer months including grazing kale behind an electric fence at the back end of the growing season; followed by hay in front of the stalls when the cows became housed for the winter alter morning and afternoon milking. The day's work wasn't finished after the evening meal whether it was Spring, Summer, Autumn or Winter. It wasn't a problem working after the evening meal in Spring, Summer or Autumn but with the onset of Winter I found it tiring to go and help each night chopping up mangolds with a root cutter and mixing them with chaff plus other ingredients for the beef cattle rations.
I don't remember when the conditions and schedule of work were given to me but it consisted of being paid ?1 per week and one day off, a Sunday, every three weeks. My working week must have consisted somewhere between 70 to 100 hours. More often than not I spent my Sunday off in bed until lunchtime through extreme exhaustion. In those days, I later found out, some 'apprentices' had to pay farmers for the privilege of learning from them. There was no such thing as an official apprenticeship scheme in farming at the time.
As time went by, presumably because I became better at the work and more useful, my wages went up to ?4 per week. One week I received a bonus of an extra ?2 because the weaner pigs which I had been responsible for rearing reached a very high weight and sold very well. The 'Boss' took me to Reading Livestock Market which was a welcome break. We drove there in his Vauxhall car with a trailer behind to off-load the weaners.
Saturday night was more or less sacrosanct as time to myself. I would more often than not catch the bus from the nearby bus stop to High Wycombe to either go to the cinema or occasionally a visit to the local repertory theatre. It never occurred to me at the time that I would be involved to quite a degree in Amateur Dramatics many years later. I succumbed to buying one packet of Weights cigarettes a week but not inhaling the smoke.
Granddad Crook & Harry Floyd would provide for some lighter moments with teasing me about my out-of-hours life style. They berated me for not spending any money and wanted to know who my girl friend was. I didn't have one nor any intention of having one.
Granddad had his own lifestyle which he kept pretty much to himself. He went to High Wycombe every week probably to the Dog Races and I think he played snooker somewhere. He was about 85 years old at the time. I'm not sure what Harry got up to other than hand-milking his few cows on a small holding that he had just off the main road in the village. He got me hand-milking them on one occasion and I remember lowering the churn into the well to keep the milk cool overnight. Harry really fancied Hilda who spoiled him. John's wife told us, my wife and I, recently that he even moved into Dick and Hilda's bungalow when they more or less retired.
My room in the attic was adequate except in winter when it was extremely cold. I was usually in bed by 9p.m, there being no television as a distraction; come the early morning rising time I would often fall over as the whole of my leg was numb from cold!
There were occasions when we had jobs away from the farm which again were a welcome change. Gerald and I had loaded up a farm trailer with muck (manure) and set off to deliver it to the buyer a few miles away. We started to drive up a bit of a hill and the rear wheels of the tractor started to spin. So we had to make a considerable detour to arrive at our destination in the vicinity of Hampden Woods. Modem farm trailers have wheels which are near the back of the trailer so that most of the weight is pressing down on the rear wheels of the tractor. In the trailer we were using the wheels were in the middle of the trailer so going uphill, instead of pressing down on the tractor wheels, it had the effect of lifting them. We eventually delivered the load to the buyer's garden I seem to recall.
There were always fences to renew or repair and Gerald and I were assigned to go to Bledlow Ridge several miles away to pick up a load of timber suitable for fencing posts. We brought a load back, cut them into suitable lengths and sharpened them with the circular saw driven by a tractor pulley and belt. We used a very heavy metal tube called a Drive all to bang the post into the ground, one of the most energetic jobs. The chestnut paling fences put up by the War Department (WD), who had commandeered some of the land during the War, were in constant need of repair through the wire rusting and gaps appeared which sheep loved to push through.
John, the 'Boss's' son, would come back to the farm in the college holidays brimming with enthusiasms. This particular one was to put up poultry cabins to house Hybrid chickens which were prolific egg layers and very profitable. He found a source of ex WD cabins going cheaply which again, Gerald and I, with John and his father, went to fetch with trailers and erected them on the selected site. The new enterprise lasted for quite a few years producing good profits.
The coming of Spring was a wonderful break from the long hours of Winter darkness. It was tractor driving time to work the soil into suitable seedbeds for the spring cereals and other crops. I remember tractor driving in the field next to my aunt's house working down a seedbed with harrows behind the tractor and subsequently rolling it afterwards. Singing helped to pass the time on another monotonous job. There were no cab or tractor radios in those days unlike today with earphones and all mod cons. It was my job at cereal drilling time to make sure the seed grain was flowing down the coulters into the soil, thus ensuring even sowing and subsequent germination. I had to hang onto the drill for dear life as there were seed harrows behind me attached to the drill. It was my job to warn him to refill the hoppers on the drill with seed and fertiliser before they ran out.
Later in the year we cut and harvested the red clover loading it with a ground driven loader; very hard work moving the heavy green crop and spreading it evenly on the trailer. It was taken to be dried at the Farmers Cooperative Grass Drying unit half way down Woodway on the way to Princes Risborough. This was managed by a German whose name I think was Fritz. It came back to the farm in pellet form as a protein feed for some of the livestock Lambing was a new experience for me. I learned how to assist lambing if there were complications. We had a rota to keep an eye on the ewes overnight to avoid unnecessary losses. They were kept in pens under one of the barns before and after lambing until they were properly mothered up, (the lamb feeding from its mother), when they were let out to the pasture behind the Shippon. We fed the ewes a whole mangold each, every day, which had been stored in a covered clamp. The mangolds were grown in part of a field. We hoed between the rows and singled them (leaving a plant about every 12 inches along the row).
The 'Boss' turned up one afternoon whilst Gerald and I were working away at the job and proceeded to scorch down the row at the rate of knots with his hoe before he'd had enough and left us to it. We harvested them when they had matured to 8-10 inches in diameter by pulling them by hand, 7 rows at a time into heaps which were then carted to the clamp.
Company had waste which they were glad to get rid of to farmers; not sure whether it was free or not. There were piles of this stuff under cover. The pigs were obviously delighted to have variation to their diet with this waste; much of which proved to be safe for humans to eat. Some of the goods were wrapped in silver foil and provided me with an outlet to my ever increasing appetite. John had been cutting up some of the Mars Bars when he was a school boy and selling them to whoever would buy to supplement his pocket money. He also had a greenhouse and would sell tomatoes to his mother. He had inherited some business genes from his rascal grandfather; 'Old Man Crook' The Shire horse was very useful at corn harvest when we were loading sheaves onto the various trailers and carts. The correct command would make him move up the rows of stooks without having to jump onto the cart. He was also very useful when it came to muck carting.
We would load muck from some of the beef pens using the same technique with a 3-pronged fork as loading silage by peeling off thin layers at a time. The horse cart could be tipped or the tail board lowered to use a different fork fixed at right angles to the wooden handle to pull the muck into small heaps for spreading. Again the command to move up would be used.
On one occasion I was taking the horse and cart through a gate and misjudged the turning. Fortunately I was able to persuade my equine companion to move back for a second attempt which was successful. We had him shod (new horseshoes) by a blacksmith near Hampden. Gerald must have ridden him bareback. I would have remembered if it had been me.
The clothing that we wore was bizarre by today's standards. Hessian sacks round ones shoulders and middle which became coated in mud when working in the fields in wet weather. The 'Boss' had a Hessian sack round his middle when he stirred up the pig meal with water and carried it in buckets to the pens. My parents gave me a 'Korean Jacket' an early type of anorak, as an Xmas present, which was a big improvement on a Hessian sack. I'm not aware if there were water-proof trousers at the time, but they would also have been a huge improvement.
One of the things I missed was highlighted by local cricket matches on a summer Saturday afternoon on the field next to the aircraft hangar, while I had to work. I had the summer before I started on the farm played in a side with David Shephard, the England Captain. My opening partner & I scored sufficient runs to declare against the Dorset Ramblers so that David Shephard didn't get a bat!
We didn't work every night in the summer months. So I had a bit of free time to do as I pleased. There were several activities that l indulged in. One of them was practising backing a 4-wheel trailer, of which there were two on the farm. Gerald was a past master of this. After several nights practising I was able to move down the yard with a certain amount of success. I am not sure whose 4/10 rifle it was that I borrowed but I took myself round the hedgerows to try unsuccessfully to bring back a prize for Hilda for the pot. As mentioned earlier we, (you notice I have started using we as though I had a financial interest in the farm), rented some land nearby from a retired Colonel who had a young son who had a pony that he hardly ever rode. So, with a cow halter and a mangold I would catch it and jump on, riding it bareback through Hampden woods on balmy summer evenings. I didn't ask permission and would have said that I was keeping it trained to be ridden!
I remember Hampden beech woods from my early childhood when our family used to visit our Grandmother. In those days furniture was made in the beech woods, chair bodging; legs were turned by a foot operated lathe outside in the open. Hence nearby High Wycombe became a centre of the furniture industry. My parents got to know one of the Directors of Parker Knoll who lived just across the road from the farm. They were very kind to me and sometimes took me on one of my Sundays off to see their sons at school at Mill Hill, London. Mr Jordan drove a Jaguar and delighted in driving at 100mph on the straight road back to Lacey Green. My pipe-smoking Aunt Peg was very friendly with the Jordans and towards the end of her life moved into the lane by the church to a house called Froma. When she was away on holiday Hans Jordan who had a wicked sense of humour like my aunt, added two letters G and E to spell Fromage on her front gate.
John and his girl friend Joan, later his wife, were very kind taking me out on a Saturday evening, once to Brill Windmill with its spectacular panoramic view. On another occasion they took me to see a Gilbert and Sullivan opera in Oxford which I greatly enjoyed.
Whilst on the subject of Gilbert and Sullivan I met a very attractive young lady named Christabel Goflin who lived, with her parents, down a short lane across the farm fields on the way to Speen, a small hamlet. Her father was a very successful stage and scenery designer for the Doyley Carte Company that specialised in Gilbert and Sullivan productions. I don't know how it came about but I went with her to the local 'Village Hop' where she proceeded to instruct me in various dance steps for which I was very grateful. The Goflins were very friendly with the Classical music composer Edmund Rubbra who lived in one of the 'Bottoms' at the far end of the farm. His house was literally in the bottom of the valley with a very steep bit of land rising up behind the house to a shed where he reputedly was said to compose his music.
I didn't go into the village very often as I kept a tight rein on my expenditure, saving up to go to college. Bert ran the village store which presumably sold nearly everything. He must have despaired with me knowing me by sight but hardly ever in his shop. One of the features of the village was an old windmill. It was in a state of total disrepair, but has since been restored by enthusiasts to working order.
I was getting anxious to make more of what little free time I had and finished up buying an ex WD 500 cc Royal En?eld motor bike from Wilf, Mrs Morris's son. Mrs Monis was a cheerful soul who helped Hilda in the house. I never called her Hilda but always Mrs West, and likewise the 'Boss' was always Mr West. Anyway the motor bike, which cost all of £7 was not a good buy as it turned out. It used oil as though I had shares in its use. I started to tinker with it as to how it worked and made a few forays out into the locality. One instance it wouldn't start so I wheeled it round to Kiln Lane which sloped quite steeply. It wouldn't start by the time I got to the bottom of the hill. The next morning I was in agony with the muscles of my forearms strained from pushing the 'dead machine 'uphill. I'd had the vehicle for a week or two before I told my parents about it by telephone. My father threatened to 'cut me off if I kept it. He worked at another hospital administering anaesthetics quite frequently to motor bike casualties and assumed that I would become a victim eventually. I was not best pleased but had to comply with his wishes as I was relying on him helping to fund my future time at college. I think I sold the bike back to Wilf with little loss of my outlay.
The Wests liked to have visitors on a Sunday afternoon and entertained them in the 'back room' that wasn't used on a daily basis. One of the families was a Jewish couple from presumably North London. They were one of the very lucky ones to escape from Nazi Germany. I was treated as part of the family on these visits which was very kind of them.
Another of their friends lived in the village round the lane near the Crown, the Olivers. I found out many years later that he had been involved in the beautiful woodwork in the fitting- out of the Canberra liner that I was on as a passenger on its maiden voyage to New Zealand in 1961. The eccentric bachelor David, who was 'Boss's' brother would turn up periodically out of the blue. He had a farm not too far away and I think called to seek his brother's advice. Gerald, who was about 6 years older than me, a bachelor who had left school at 14 years old and lived with his family, took me out in the evening occasionally to one of the four pubs in the vicinity, the 'Black Horse', just up the road from the farm. He came to work on a motorbike and I road pillion on the occasions when we met up in the evening. He drank 'mild' beer which was new to me. He lived in Naphill, the headquarters of Bomber Command in the Second World War with Air-Vice Marshall Harris. Two of the other pubs were 'The Whip' and 'The Pink and Lily'. Gerald knew the time of day without looking at a watch by the time the buses passed the farm entrance to turn round at the end of the run at 'The Whip'.
One of the best features of working on this farm was the variety of jobs which cropped up as the seasons progressed. I remember loading silage from an outdoor clamp (heap) in the field next door to where my aunt lived. It was snowing at the time. The technique, which I was quick to grasp, was to peel off thin layers with the long handled three pronged fork. That particular silage had overheated and smelt a bit like ham. Hedge laying was a very enjoyable task also in the winter with the added bonus of setting fire to the prunings which kept you warm. Gerald and I ploughed the very steep field that had been used to grow Kale. We had two tractors and ploughs. It was only possible to plough down the slope and go up-hill empty.
The corn that we had harvested with a binder in the late summer had to be threshed in the winter. A contractor was booked to bring his Thresher to the farm to thresh out the various stacks; some out in the open and some under cover of the aircraft hangar, a relic of the War. I seem to remember he must have called twice; the first time with a Traction Engine and the second time with a Marshall tractor with its large fly wheel. Both were connected to the thresher with a long drive belt which was also connected with another belt to the wire-tying baler. The sheaves were thrown to the person feeding the drum who cut and retained the string. The threshed grain was bagged off and lifted with the bag hoist on to a trailer to be taken to the granary next to the farm house near the bull pen. In those days wheat was weighed off in 2 cwt sacks which were carried on the back up a short flight of steps to the granary! The straw was baled by the wire-tying baler; metal hooks were used to move these heavy bales to be stacked. I was the chaff boy, one of the dirtiest jobs on the farm particularly if you were stationed between the stack and the thresher, bagging the chaff in large sacks, dust flying everywhere. Paddy, who lived with his woman in a caravan fenced off down past the horse pasture, was the expert sheaf thrower from the stack to the drum feeder. When work commenced he would spit on his hands and never stop throwing the sheaves until a break in the proceedings. At lunchtime you wouldn't see him for dust as he made his way to 'The Crown', the fourth pub, down the lane past the church. Whether he downed ten pints, as rumoured, during the lunch hour, nobody could verify but he was back at the end of the lunch break, apparently sober, to continue his uninterrupted rhythm of sheaf throwing until the end of the session. It was imperative to pull ones socks over ones trousers to stop mice crawling up your legs when working on the stack! One of the problems in the house was the lack of hot water. The AGA in the kitchen provided a nice warm atmosphere in the early mornings but very little hot water to have a hot bath. There is nothing worse than a bath of tepid water in the middle of winter. As a result of this my personal hygiene was lacking and resulted in me getting very painful boils caused by dust getting into my sweat pores which I didn't remove well enough to prevent the problem.
The other condition that I suffered from having a dry skin was cracked fingers which were painful. This was caused by having to wash the dairy utensils twice a day with detergents which dried out ones skin on the hands. I tried putting on gloves, sent to me by my parents, with Vaseline at night without much success. In those days it was almost regarded as being 'sissy' to wear rubber gloves whilst working which is what I should have done. In any case I never had the opportunity to go and buy some! I should have asked Hilda to get me some.
The following experiences would perhaps have killed stone dead most people's intentions of carrying on with this line of business. I had been an asthmatic from a very early age. I am highly allergic to a number of substances including, amongst others, grass pollen and dust of varying sorts. Sometimes stubbornness can be a virtue, at other times stupidity It has worked both ways with me. During hay making it was my job to be pulled behind the baler on a sledge catching the bales and stacking them before sliding them back on to the grass stubble. Needless to say I was in the firing line of a cloud of grass pollen which completely flattened me in a short space of time. Looking a few years ahead I worked on arable farms driving a combine which, after a few days had the same effect as the grass pollen. I also for a very short time worked on an intensive pig farm. After one week I couldn't push a brush down the yard having succumbed to the effects of dust. This led me back to livestock and grassland farming with silage making, made with younger grass. Finally after 5 years of my own apprenticeship which finished up taking me to New Zealand for 2% years milking a large herd of cows on a virgin land farm, (land reclaimed from native bush), I had a bad bout of Bronchitis and decided enough was enough.
I returned to England via the Pacific and Panama and started on a career of lecturing in Agriculture after a year at a Technical Teachers College with a certain amount of hands-on practical farming on college farms for 16 years. During this time I also built a boat and rebuilt a farm house with a large garden in Cheshire. Also included were 4 years in Southern Africa on secondment as Senior Lecturer in Animal Husbandry with the responsibility for the day to day management of the College farm livestock. This was followed by 13 years as an Agricultural Consultant with the Min. of Agric. (ADAS) in the Ribble Valley in Lancashire.
Going back to my final days on the farm I became excited with the prospect of going to do a 2 year Diploma course at Writtle Agricultural College in my home county of Essex.
Looking back at my time on the farm I had learnt a tremendous amount in that year which was to stand me in good stead for the future, but I realised that I had only just started and there was much more to add to this experience. I am so lucky to have stayed with and worked with such a warm and hospitable lot of people. As a result of this I have continued to keep in touch over a long period of time and occasionally gone back to work there in some of my college holidays, including Teacher Training College holidays. It is very sad that John died so relatively young. He has left a superb business in the very capable hands of his son, Richard. The Farm has expanded to 1000 acres with 330 dairy cows with a phenomenal average yield of 9000 litres, with followers and high cereal yields.