Sea-Change:  Wivenhoe Remembered   

Farming –he Farms and the Village

In the 1950s Wivenhoe remained, as it had been for centuries, as much a farming as a maritime village, with six farms occupying most of its hinterland, and still part of everyday village life.

Bee-line   –  Betty Govan

When I first left school I used take the cows from the farm, down Anglesea Road, down Queen’s Hill, and up the other hill, and then down the High Street, down Station Road, round by the Station Hotel, and along there. And Stacey Woods, he was a greengrocer shop, that sort of shop, and he’d never learn! Every morning he used to put his vegetables out on the steps, and the cows used to come down and make a bee-line for his vegetables, didn’t they! And his vegetables were running down the hill! He knew we were coming down at half past eight in the morning, he could have waited! But he didn’t!

Blood Alley  – Alan Green

Before the War, opposite the church you’ve got the Bookshop and next door to the Bookshop, going downwards, was what I know as a grocer’s shop. And then you’ve got an alleyway. That’s Blood Alley. And at the bottom of Blood Alley was the slaughterhouse. And they used to unload the cattle in the High Street and drive them down Blood Alley. Of course, people wouldn’t like it if you called it that now, would they?

The Slaughterhouse  – Glendower Jackson

The slaughterhouse is down the bottom of Blythe Lane, which is opposite the church. As a matter of fact, my daughter’s partner owns the slaughterhouse now, and it’s still got the rings in the wall where they used to tie the bullocks up before they killed them. And on Saturdays, always Saturdays, about lunchtime, cattle trucks would come to Wivenhoe, maybe one or two, and they would have these little gates on the back, they would open them up and the drover would, with his stick, go in and drive off maybe for our five cows or bullocks. And invariably they knew – cattle aren’t daft – they knew they were going down to the slaughterhouse. Maybe they could smell the blood from the slaughterhouse. And you’d always get one says, ‘I’m not going down there!’ and he would turn and run through the churchyard. That was great fun! All the boys down on the Quay, all over the place, chasing the bullock along the Quay, up through Anchor Hill, and round by the station, and up Station Road, to bring the bullocks back to the slaughterhouse, you know! And the drovers would give you maybe sixpence for bringing one back. It was great fun! Yes, great fun! Mind you, sometimes the bull would turn round and start having a go at you! Then you had the pattern in reverse, you were running away from the bull! Well, when it stopped, you turned round and chased it!

Potato picking  – Ivy Knappett

Nobody really got much good money those days. Like picking up potatoes and doing things like that on the land, that was coming into the War days, over Alresford. Yes. We used to walk all the way. Five of us. Picking up potatoes, and peas, and setting them, for them to be picked later on. Things like that. You set everything. My husband was at war then, and didn’t get hardly any money, and then I used to get quite a good – I’d get £1 a day. And if I worked, say, up until a Saturday, that would be about £4 a week.

  •  Ballast Quay Farm: a small mixed farm

Most farms were small, like Ballast Quay Farm, bought by the Bowes family in 1928, who still farm there. John and his sister Betty remember the changes since the 1940s.

John Bowes

Ballast Quay farm in 1928 had seventy-six acres. Then they added those pits, grandmother Jolliffe already owned the old gravel pits – where Dene Park is – and she owned the Station Marshes. So the total farm, then, was about 175 acres.

Cows  –  John Bowes

My sister, Betty, used to drive the dairy cows down there every day, the cows used to be driven through the village. Old Stacey Woods – where Barton’s was – old Stacey Woods would have his bushel box of cabbages outside, and his swedes, and he would have to gather those very sharpish and get them in before the cows come down!

The cows were turned out in the gravel pits every night. They slept between the big banks, and there was plenty of grass in there. And in the winter time, the village used to go sledging down the back! Or playing ice hockey on the ponds. Oh, there was blackberrying in the summer. I mean, although it was private property, there’s not many village people that didn’t, in their lifetime, at some stage, used to go there.

My father had a dairy herd here. I sold that out and changed to beef in 1972, but Father had a dairy herd here. Obi Payne was one of his cowmen in years gone by, and Bill Kibble was another cowman years ago – they were local men. Then we had outsiders come in, like, but I took the job on, cowman, about 1962/63, until ’72. My eldest brother done the milk round. We were producers and retailers, yes.

Arable  –  John Bowes

We had about 50 acres of arable. Wheat, barley, oats, a bit of kale, a little bit of swedes, all depends on the year and the rotation, as they go round. Father used to like to have two or three acres of early potatoes. He always supplied Edwin Green at the local fish shop, with spuds. We have a small wood, which provided logs for the farm, it provided stakes, because with cows, you’ve got to have a considerable amount of cattle-proof fencing everywhere. Then he bought a willow plantation leading up to the old Wivenhoe Sewerage Works, between the two railways. Between the Brightlingsea line and the main Clacton railway line.

Livestock  –  John Bowes

Yes, we had pigs, we had about eight sows at one time. And then another spell, we had chickens, we had deep litter sheds for 550 chickens, on the Station Marshes during the War. Around the house too, there’s always some. There’s even some here now – chickens, bantams, geese – there’s always a bit of poultry about. There’s always plenty of food to pick up. The biggest problem is Mr Fox! I always had my own chickens, as a child, a pig, or a calf. My father bought some sheep for me. Well, my mother died when I was three, so some people might say he spoilt me a little bit. But we were very close. Very very close, Father and I. Yes, some very happy memories. I got on all right with my stepmother at the start. She was wonderful until I grew up. But she was like the weather – she could change like the weather! She was very changeable, yes, yes, yes. She could be very wonderful. She was a good cook. When my father was ill for six years, she looked after him very well, very protective to him.

Happy life  –  John Bowes

When father became ill in 1961, I took over running the farm. One had to. I had two brothers – one was on the milk round, and he’d never done any farm work as such. My second brother, Bob, left the farm to work in the local gravel pit because, naturally, that paid more than farm work. And, you see, you do not make a lot of money on a small farm. It’s a way of life, but it’s a happy one. Yes.

Then I still had a couple of lads here who were with me, but in 1972 I went into beef and the second one left and went to the gravel pit, the oldest one stayed here till he was about 70 years old! And my son, next door, who is on the farm with me now, he gradually worked his way in with me. My stepmother died about five years ago, and I managed to buy the family out four years ago, and now it’s a business with the wife, myself and the son next door – trading as J & S Bowes and Son. But we get by, we don’t make a fortune.

I’ve got no other workers now. I’ve got three other sons who help weekends, evenings, or when required. Two are engineers, they can all free weld, so I do get plenty of help. Plenty of help, which is much appreciated.

I’m now owning about 125 acres. I managed to buy 17 acres of marsh off my neighbouring farm. There’s not a lot you can do on that acreage. I’ve got about seven tractors, so I can have one for each job. I gather a lot of straw in from neighbouring farms, big bale barley straw. Six hundred I carted home this year!

Workers  –  John Bowes

When I was a child, there were five men working on this farm. Five on this acreage, yes. A horseman, cowman, my eldest brother on the milk round, my brother Bob, and my father. Then I left school in ’51, and I joined them. And by that time, the horseman had left, because we’d got tractors. We had the old Fordson Standard after the War, and then he bought a brand new Fordson Major. Work was very hard. I never was a lover of horses. No, no, not my favourite animal!

Tools  –  John Bowes

But when I left school in ’51, the main tools, then, were the hand hoe and the pitchfork. I mean, farming, today, really, is easy, because if they can’t sit on their backsides and do it, they don’t do it! That is modern farming. I had 12 or 13 years with the thrashing drum – the dust of that which I put down to my asthma that I suffer with now. Oh yes, where we used to cut the barley, we used to cut the crops with the tractor and the old binder, trail it behind, or some people call it ‘stooking,’ and then we used to load that, cart it to the stack, and then Father would have the stack thatched. Then the thrashing drums would come in, oh dear me, what a paraphernalia! I’m glad those days are gone. Very very pleased those days are gone. There used to be people who owned the trashing drum, there used to be three of them come in –one man on the steam engine, and one on the drum, and a spare, like, with them. For years and years Brian Nevard from Bentley came here, thrashing. Then combining.

We moved from thrashing machines to the combine about 1962. Father sold the milk round to Mr House at Brightlingsea in 1962 – about the year he became ill – so my oldest brother came on the farm with us. That was a lot easier after, when the combine came in.

But for about 15 to 18 years, we grew vegetables on about 15 acres. We had cauliflowers, Brussels sprouts, January king cabbage, and swedes, but it’s all very time-consuming, and if you haven’t got irrigation, which we haven’t, it’s a touch and go job. Jimmy Tennant on the main Clacton road used to be one of our biggest customers for cauliflowers.

Farmer’s wife  –  Shirley Bowes

When we first married I didn’t really do a lot on the farm because I had the children. When the children got older I used to go and do hoeing, feeding calves. Driving the tractor if I was needed. Whatever jobs they needed me to do, really. Pulling mangold or fodder beet, cutting cauliflowers for years, cabbages, picking sprouts. When we lived at River View I used to sell cauliflowers at the door and vegetables that we grew in the garden up there because we had a large garden, which my dad used to do most of. Now I do all the paperwork, all the letter writing, all the book-keeping. I took over the paperwork when John’s stepmum was ill and she could no longer do it and then I took over, which is more than 20 years ago. So it’s doing the books, doing the VAT and all that sort of thing. If they need me out there I go and give them a hand if they’re feeding, or if they’ve gotta get cattle in, or cattle to load up for the cattle float for market, anything. I just get a call, ‘Get your wellies on! You’re needed!’ ‘Don’t forget your stick on the way!’ The best thing about living on a farm – I suppose you could say you’re your own boss, you can do as you please. And I like my garden. I’m quite content really.

Arable farm  – Betty Govan

It was it an arable farm, arable and cows, pigs. Used to do everything by horse and cart, and ploughing the fields with horses, before we had the tractor. Farming has altered a terrific lot. There’s no horses now. There’s all tractors, now my brother has people in to do the ploughing for him, and the combine harvesting. We don’t do potatoes now like they did when I was there. We used to be out cleaning mangold and sugar beet when it was starry nights and moonlit nights, working on the farm. We had a cowman, we had a horseman. And then, at different times, Dad used to get odd people in to help, a lot of the local women used to go and help pick potatoes up.

Straight from the cow   –  Betty Govan

I had a little white corduroy velvet dress, and I couldn’t have been three or four and my mother was getting ready to take me to Colchester. And she got me ready, and we had a big kitchen range in the kitchen, and the coal scuttle up the corner there and, of course, what does Betty do? Sit by the side of the coal scuttle, lift the lid up, and when she came out I sat there chewing coal! So you know I couldn’t have been very old! But I can remember it as if it was yesterday. And that same little dress, our cowman came up and I was always on the farm with the men – the horseman, or the cowman – if I could get out with them, I was happy. ‘Come on. Come down the farm with me.’ So I went down the farm and I think we’d only got a little cowshed then, used to take about four cows, only a small place. And he’d sit me on this little stool and he’d be sitting over there milking and he’d say to me, ‘Open your mouth,’ and I open my mouth and he’d turn the teat round and squirt! I’d got milk all over my face! You can imagine, hot milk, on this little white corduroy dress!

In the dairy  – Betty Govan

I could milk. Milk by hand, yes. I used to get up in the morning at half past five, go over into the pits and get the cows in, and they were all in and chained up, and just sit down and milk them. And then the milk had to go through into the dairy, and that went all through strainers, and through another machine, the cooler, where there was water running through the cooler to cool the milk, and then it was all bottled. We had butter trays where we, if we got a lot of milk, more than we needed, we used to put it in these trays and leave it overnight, and then skim the cream off in the morning. The pigs used to have what was left. And when I was a little girl I used to sit on my bottom, in front of the fire, and churn the butter! Churn the cream up, yes! This was when my mum was alive. I was only ten when she went, poor old girl!

Working on the farm  –  Rodney Bowes

They’d call it blackmail today! If you wanted something you had to work for it so we all, when we were old enough to muck calf pens out, cart muck. When we were old enough to drive a tractor my father would fork four ton of muck on a trailer, just to be able to drive it from the yard up to the muck hill, then fork it off again! We used to think that was marvellous! Same with bale carting. In the summer time – at different times, me and my brothers have helped and still do help whenever we can, up there. Any sort of jobs Dad wants done, you just muck in and help.

  •   Sunnymede Farm: specialised farming

The neighbouring farm was bought by the Dutton family in 1931. Here Jim Dutton’s father Harold developed a more specialised approach.

Neighbours  –  John Bowes

Our neighbour, on Sunnymede Farm, is now Jim Dutton and his wife, and three sons. His father was there before him – Harold Dutton. He had a big workforce. He used to grow fields and fields of sunflowers, when we were children, and then he grew outdoor tomatoes, you imagine the labour force you have for those! He actually used a siren, a work siren, there. And he had a very large herd of pigs. He used to have turkeys. That’s all gone now.

Jim Lennox was on the right, and Claude Watsham was on the left, as you go up to the Cross. They both had milk rounds in the village. And Lower Lodge Farm was Mr Garnham. He had the Wivenhoe herd of Redpoll Cow. He went about 1950 time. And then Mr Macaulay farmed there then for several years. That’s all part of the Charles Gooch Estate, where Macaulay was – that’s the farm down the side of the University. Lovely buildings down there, lovely farm buildings. Got wonderful cattle yards there. Oh! Oh yes.

I meet Jim, Jim Dutton, my neighbour here, and John Leyland, and Gary Hubert who farms on the Elmstead Mile Straight – the local turkey man. Yes. But, no, I never went to Agricultural College, and I’d say if you mixed with that lot, they I suppose are in a social circle. But, no – we’ve got seven children so we’re pretty well occupied with those, and 14 grandchildren!

Hell’s Corner   – Jimmy Dutton

The farm was called ‘Hell’s Corner’ when he bought it because it’s so hot, and it’s a dry area, and it’s very sandy. Early on, he was doing quite a lot of seed crops – sunflower seed, we had quite a few acres of sunflower seed – and we had lots of Wivenhoe people with big bags tied round in the front of them, cutting all the heads off by hand, with little secateurs. There was a lot of casual labour in those days, both women and men. Not now. We had horses then. Harvesting was, of course, all cut with the binder and stooked, which we used to help with when we came back from school. And carting was great fun.

Wages  –  Jimmy Dutton

I’ve got in there the Wages Book, for 1948, and I think there were about 15 or 20 people employed. And it’s quite interesting, because all the crops are listed on the top, and how many hours they all did, or how much they got for each crop, and it’s all totalled up at the end. I found it in the attic when I was rooting through. So I thought I’d keep that. Unfortunately, the names of the people are only initials, and I can’t remember all of them! I’ve got most of them. And I should think we probably had about six or seven permanent men on the farm in those days, and all the casuals. On 178 acres. There was two farm cottages, one down the lane, and one that way.

Seeds  –  Jimmy Dutton

I think we had the first sunflower thresher in the country, on this farm. The seeds were used for oil, initially, and then imports put that down the spout, and then bird seed, and then it fizzled out really. But there was an article done on us, in Picture Post, many years ago, about sunflower crops. And then he grew flower seeds, and leek seed. Then we also grew quite a lot of outdoor tomatoes for several years, which brought in the local women mostly for picking tomatoes and tying them up, side-shooting and whatnot. I used to sometimes go and help, and to hear these ladies talking, they were always talking about their ailments. The lady who was more or less in charge of them, lived just up the road here, she was more or less the forewoman. She’d muster them down the village and then bring them up.

Then when I came on the farm in 1960, or ’61, Dad was growing early potatoes, and then we used to go round the village with the tractor and trailer, collecting all the ladies in the morning to pick potatoes, and taking them home in the afternoon. Then eventually we got a harvester, and when equal pay came in, we got the harvester, because (a) the cost of digging is much higher if you’ve got all these ladies about, and (b) the University had arrived by then, and most of them went off and worked there as cleaners, so it was a job to get ladies then.

In the Sixties, there were some extraordinarily good years. Before potato harvesters came on the scene, we really did very well on early potatoes, because we’re very early here, being sandy soil, but the potato harvester just killed it, because people would get so many potatoes out so quickly. And also people don’t eat seasonal food these days. 

Trucks  –  Jimmy Dutton

There was a gravel pit works just across here [from Sunnymede Farm], it’s been re-opened since, it was used in the War for gravel for aerodromes, and then at the end of the War it was discarded, and they had these rail trucks, and we used to go – there was no one working there – and we used to put the lines out and charge these trucks up and down the line!

At the moment we’re having gravel dug, which is very nice, but when that finishes, farming-wise, it’s never going to be a viable farm as just a farm, we do a lot of the Stewardship things now, and the environmental things, so we get more money from that now than we get from farming. Well, they don’t want people to farm really, do they?

Part of the plan [for the gravel pit] is to have a five acre lake left, that they’re going to have to make for us – as part of the conservation, part of the farm, which is basically what we’re running it for. David, who lives down the bungalow, does bird counts on the farm. They do one every week, apparently. I didn’t know that. There were 52 bird species last week. And I think the best for a year is 70, or just over.

GM maize trials  – Jimmy Dutton

We used to grow sugar beet and then we got rhizomania, I think we were the first person in Essex to get rhizomania. The aeroplane that was checking, turned, in it’s checking route, over the farm, and ‘Oh, there’s rhizomania down there,’ they had that checked out. And then this, they were advertising to grow GM maize so I applied, dropped sugar beet, then we got the contract to grow maize, GM maize, which we did for the three years, and the first year we had six hectares – three non-GM, and three GM – and the locals were all very anti around here, the Wivenhoe group and another group in Colchester and they came and trashed it one night. They were caught, but the CPS made a total mess up of the prosecution, so they were let off. But anyway, it was rather funny. They trashed the non-GM! And when the policeman told us, when they carted them off, one chap said to the bloke, who’s Andy Abbot, who was in the car, and said, ‘How did you know which was the GM, Andy?’ ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘because there was no weeds in it, of course!’ After that, they carefully sprayed it to make sure they got the right bit! Oh, it was so funny! And we used to have David, my eldest son who lives down there, we had night patrols sometimes, and we did alert the Authorities – that was the next year, and we had the helicopters all over, with the lights going, and heat-seeking lens and whatnot, but that didn’t catch them. Anyway, another night David was out there, and there was this rustling right near and he says, ‘Oh, Good Lord! What’s this?’ So he stood stock still, and a badger walked out! Had a look at him, and walked back in again! Badgers love maize! Yes, that was quite interesting.

They never trashed it enough to damage the trial, except for one bit. The second year we had two bits – one up that way near the woods on that side of the farm, but they didn’t ruin that one, but the one here, we always got one or two each year. But they trashed the middle of the crop, and all the experimental work was done on the outside, because it was to do with what effect it had on the environment really, you’re comparing the hedgerow to the maize crop, and the butterflies in the hedgerow and the maize, and the insects – they always went in the middle, so they weren’t seen! They didn’t seem to realise that!

They paid quite well – paid better than most other crops! Oh yes, it never got too personal, except letters in the paper. If they want to air their feelings in the paper, that’s up to them – usually it was a load of rubbish, as far as I was concerned! And I don’t mind if you put that bit in either!

It turned out that the maize was the least environmentally damaging of any of them, because the GM side had a different spray, it’s a contact weedkiller, so any weeds came up after that were fine, whereas on the non-GM side, it’s a residual weedkiller, so nothing grows anyway, except black nightshade, which is poisonous. But it turned out, from the reports, that the GM maize actually was the least harmful, well, in fact it was negative, there was no problems at all.

No, you see, if the others had been carefully thought out, it could all have been done, to be shown to be non-harmful, but they didn’t quite realise the effect of killing the weeds that head on some of these things. It’s been suggested now that if you’re growing GM sugar beet, that you either leave a strip on the headland unsprayed, so the weeds can grow, or say your square covers 23 rows, which ours does, then you leave a row, and then spray the next, and so you leave a row with weeds in, right across the field. It won’t hurt the crop much, and it gives something for the birds. It’ll be a great shame when sugar beet goes out, because it’s a very useful crop for the farmer.

Sugar beet could have been done sensibly if they’d left the growing weeds in, which is what their main objection was, there were no weeds in it. But when we grew beet, we always put two lots of sprays, sometimes three, and each lot has about three different chemicals in it, to make sure you kill all the weeds. But I think there’s been a more in-depth scientific report now, about the effect on the environment, and they’ve discovered that really, long-term, there is no detrimental effect on the environment by using GM, by using Round Up to kill the weeds. So this statement was put to the Friends of the Earth, I believe, ‘Oh well, nobody wants GM crops anyway’ was their answer to that one! I’m not surprised, with all the rubbish they used to print about it!

Our hands were tied  –  David Craze

When I was on the Town Council, GM crops was an issue. The locals obviously felt very strongly about it and technically it wasn’t in Wivenhoe, it was actually outside the boundaries of Wivenhoe! But because it was close enough, it became an issue, but that only lasted, I think, three years, because it was a three-year cycle that the farmer had decided to go along. The Council listened to what the locals wanted and put the views to the Borough Council because really there was nothing we could do, in terms of…to the farmer, and say, ‘You can’t grow that there.’ We could make it quite clear what the local people felt and I felt, sometimes, as Councillors, our hands were tied. Because even in the Planning Applications, we could only make a recommendation and either they listened to it or not. At the end of the day, it was Borough that made the decision. But I did feel that we could have an influence on it.  

On the land  –  Jimmy Dutton

We are currently growing rye for seed, forage rye, that is. And kale for seed. And barley, feed barley, for my farmer friend over the road. We cut it, and he carts it off for his cattle. We used to grow cress seed quite a lot, for Church’s of Bures, for whom we grow the kale, but we got cabbage stem flea beetle in it rather badly, and that put an end to it really. The rye we never spray for weeds, because it’s so tall it does it’s own killing really. I just don’t like using sprays unless we really have to. We’ve got quite a lot of bits of this Stewardship stuff now, we’ve got four hectares of over-winter stubble followed by summer fallow, where we get skylarks nesting, and English partridge. And the over-winter stubble we had about 30 meadow pipits on last winter. And then we’re doing these, what they call, ‘WM1’ bird seed strips – areas just for the bird seed. We had a little flock of reed buntings in a little wood near this, because they love millet, and they were there all the autumn, and we’d never had reed buntings that we’d noticed on the farm before. Just for small birds. Oh yes, yes, it’s a Stewardship area, we get paid quite a bit for it, so it’s very nice. Part of the Stewardship, we had a lake dug at the bottom of the valley down there, and only affordable because of the gravel, but we’ve had some interesting nesting in there – grey leg goose reared ten out of 13 eggs. There’s a swan sitting at the moment. Many mallards and tufted ducks, and coots and moorhens, and dabchicks, yes, little grebes. Yes, it’s quite nice, yes.

  •   Farming the Wivenhoe Park Estate

With over 1,000 acres centred on Home Farm and Fen Farm, the Wivenhoe Park Estate was run on a much grander scale, but has been equally affected by change.

Horsemen  – Annabel Gooch

It’s wonderful, because there are several people on the farm who’ve really spent the whole of their lives here. And in the case of Brian Buckle, who used to be our foreman – his father was our horseman, and he looked after my father-in-law’s hunter and, to a certain extent, my hunter as well, and he looked after the Suffolks before that.

Pay rise  –  Brian Buckle

Brian started on the farm in 1947, and later became foreman and right hand man to Charles Gooch.

If he [Mr Gooch] said he’s going to do something for you, that was done. I can remember him once, come round, he said, ‘I’m going to give you all ten shillings a week pay rise,’ well, them days ten shillings was like a bloody fortune! And we thought, ‘Gosh! I’m going to be paid ten shillings a week more,’ but you know he just said he’d do it. And I can always remember him once, when wages were down low, and he said, ‘You chaps,’ he said, ‘It won’t be long before you will be earning £100 a week,’ we thought to ourself, ‘Christ, that’ll be a long while yet!’ But, you see, the time come when it did because when I started ’47, my wages was 30 shillings in them days, that was just after the War, you still couldn’t get a lot of food. You see, on the farms, harvest time, you was allocated more food, see, for six weeks of harvest. You had to pay for it, of course you did – but he said, ‘You don’t earn enough, Brian,’ he said, ‘I’ll pay for that.’

Didn’t have no Unions, no. There is the Farmers’ Union, but there was no workers’ Union, no. No. You could have belonged to the Union if you went and joined, because the Transport and General Workers Union have got an office in Colchester. But, see, you was no need to, because you worked on the place, you was happy. You lived under them, you was happy. Because if you started kicking up rough, the first thing you’d get is, ‘Well, I’m afraid you’ve got to go, and leave the house.’

See, and working on this estate, the rule was – and that still is now – but it’s altering a little bit down the line. When you retired, if you lived under him, and lived in his cottage, you could live in the cottage for the rest of your life, rent free. If you lived private, when you retired, he writ you a nice little cheque out to say thank you. See, so this is why we live here, we live in our same cottages, but rent free. But things are changing a bit, because our neighbour next door, he retired last year, but he has to pay rent, because there’s changes down through the families. There were 53 houses were on the place, wasn’t it. But there’s not so many now. No, they’ve all been sold away. There’s been about four pulled down, but the rest have all been sold away. There was several down Wivenhoe, see, when you retired, and you hadn’t got no transport, you used to be put in a house down Wivenhoe, and then you was right next to the pub, and you’re right next to the doctors, and you’re right next to the village shop.

Head Horseman  –  Brian Buckle

We shared a farmhouse, Fen Farm House, that was split in two. My father lived one end, and the engine driver – he had a steam engine then – he lived the other end. But two families together couldn’t get on sharing the kitchen, so my mother didn’t get on very well with that, so as soon as the cottage next door come empty, over they come.

My father was working seven days a week, head horseman, see, because you have to feed the horses. When you left off Saturday afternoon, you had to feed them Sunday morning and Sunday night, all had to be done, see, seven days a week. And being a horseman, your wages were quite good, compared to an ordinary day man. His wage was a shilling a day more over than what a day man’s wage was, so he earnt 37 shillings a week. He loved his horses, so he didn’t go anywhere, nor did my mother, you know, we didn’t do anything. We’d go up into the village sometimes when they had, perhaps, a function on the Green, but that’s all.

Then in the Wartime, he joined the Auxiliary Fire Service, and then starts seeing a lot better life, because there were functions to go, on duty at nights, go down to different parts of Colchester or Southend and train and whatnot, but you still had to be back here to do your week’s work. Yes. And he’s a wonderful whist drive player!

The Farm  –  Brian Buckle

The whole farm was full of animals. You had your horses, which must have been about ten or a dozen, they bred all the estate pigs out down this end, so all the pigs were down here, the big Essex herd, with the breeding going on, then they got transported away to the other end of the estate, to fatten.  

Then we harvest time, we used to go out in the harvest fields, and when they used to stop for their tea, Mother and us used to take their tea out to them, they’d sit there, they’d have half an hour for tea at five till half past, and then we used to come home, we used to cadge a ride home on the horse or the wagon, to come back to the yard, and then put the horses out at night. 

When you left school at 14 and worked on a farm, in them days, with your father on there as horseman, there was always a job, see, because you used to perhaps clean the horses out, sweep the stable yard up, see, get the food ready. And then a lot of the horses, being as they was young ones, they had to be led, especially when they had three horses on the drill, they’d have two senior ones and a young one, and the young one had gotta be schooled. So you led him, while they drive the other ones, so the young one learnt how to go. Then, see, eventually, they allocated you a horse, so you had your own horse, so you had to get up when the horseman got up, to clean it, feed it, clean the bed out, everything – but you never got paid for it! You was only paid as a boy! They used to get there at about half past six, see, to give the horses a feed, brush them down, and then by the time the other ones got here, you see they’d bring the horses out. 

SuffolkHorses  –  Brian Buckle

The Suffolk horse was solid and sturdy from the chest right through to the back, for pulling power. On the farm there was always an old one, which the stockman used to use, and then three brood mares, but, of course, we worked the brood mares, though they bred them. But there was three. And then there used to be about one colt, and then the surplus ones used to go down to the other farms, and if they had luck, and got three foals a year, I have known them to be sold at the Suffolk Horse Society Show at Ipswich. But, see, you kept breeding them well, and the brood mares used to win all the prizes at the Essex and the Tendring Shows.

We didn’t keep stallions. They used to walk the area at the right time of the year, I presume, because here used to be the last call at night for the stallion, and then the person what walked it used to lodge with my parents, and then you’d give him a breakfast in the morning, then he’d be off on his trips again. And they used to come round round once a week, for quite a while. That had gotta be spring. Gotta be springtime, you see, because that would be quite a while, because the stallion used to come down, and all they did was show it to the mare, for weeks, and then eventually, he got rather keen to come!

When I was 14, I did whatever job a 14-year old boy could do. You see, I used to have to help the gardener some days, cut the lawns. I’d been brought up with nothing but farm life, so I didn’t know anything else. And eventually, you see, when you got perhaps about 16, they’d give you a horse to look after, and you’d think to yourself, ‘My God, I’m made now!’

Arable  –  Brian Buckle

We was all arable here, see, so there was three types of corn growing – oats, because you need to feed all your animals, you had a big cow herd. Wheat, then you grew wheat, and you grew a lot of barley, because you needed the barley to grind up to feed your pigs. So the whole place was more or less self-supporting, and out there now, that used to be full up of stacks, come after harvest, because he had his own thrashing tackle, with the steam engine, to do the thrashing, in the winter.

Thrashing? By God, that’s a dirty job! And you know what the boy’s job was? On the chaff box! Yes, they built the stack, that stack used to be about 10 by 6, and that was built so that was a day’s work to thrash it. In it was wheat. Wheat, oats or barley, on the sheaves. First thing in the morning, at seven, the people arrive, because they had to come from the other farms and all, because you want a big gang. Used to take the thatch off.

But that was a work of art, to thatch a stack to keep it dry. But the day of the thrashing, always winter time, see, because that was a wintertime job. You’d have a whole week of nothing but thrashing, and they would set the drum and the engines up. So you took the thatch off, then you put the wire netting round to catch the rats, and then there used to be two on the stack, the drumfeeder, two bagging the grain up, one on the chaff, and probably two, if not three, on the straw stack, stacking the straw, because they used to stack the straw loose, because they wanted the straw for the pigs and the cattle. They used to cart it into the yards for the cattle and the pigs. And you needed the wheat chaff to feed your bullocks and your horses. Corn and chaff made the feed up.

We used to roll our own oats here, for the horses and the bullocks. The horses used to have the oats and the chaff, but the bullocks used to have other things put in and all – sugar beet pulp, or chopped up mangolds. But you didn’t save the ‘oat fly,’ because that was too dangerous, it got in the horses and the cattle eyes, and, of course, barley, there was no chaff with barley. The other stuff, like the oats, you had to bag it up and cart it away, and it had to be burnt.

So you were still on the chaff box – that was the boy’s job – until you was man enough to get on the stack and throw the sheaves down, because that was downhill till the middle of the morning, and then that got level, and then in the afternoon that was uphill on the job – it was harder work as the end of the day got on, and you’ve got to be strong and fit to do that. 

They had a barrel steam engine down here, with smaller wheels at the front, big ’uns at the back, with a big firebox, and a big round boiler for water, and a big long funnel. It wouldn’t be very big horsepower, not like a motor car or a tractor. But that was based there, and the engine driver lived in the other half of the house. He used to drive it. Thrash the corns in the winter. Run the mill which ground the corn for the pigs and the horses, and drag the timber out the wood and saw, to the sawmill, and saw it up. So he was fully employed as the engine driver.

Yes, we grew sugar beet. Everything done by hand. See, you drilled, you stripped the drill down, then you drilled your field with sugar beet. You had to lead the horse, and the good person behind had the handles. You didn’t have to spray the sugar beet, you hoed and hoed and hoed, and then they hand hoed them. Sugar beet, them days, never got any diseases. Then when it come round to September, you used to have to lift them, and run round with a certain plough, and then they used to be pulled and knocked, and then cut off by hand.

My father used to lift the sugar beet, because we used to have 16 acres here, and 16 acres down the other end, and one person used to do that to earn extra money. And he used to go along, and two rows, pull them, boom, boom, boom, and lay them down like that. He’d pick up one in each hand, and knock and knock and knock, and lay them like that, so you got the roots there and the tops there. So you had a space in the middle where when you walked up, you’ve got tops and tops. So next morning, the same person used to have his little hook and cut them all off. You either went and carted them off the field with a tumbrel, which was a boy’s job, to give the bullocks some extra, a little extra to eat, or the sheep used to graze them, to eat them. That was wonderful fattening stuff, the top of a sugar beet, especially if they’d got a bit of a crown on.

Modernisation  – Brian Buckle

This end of the place didn’t come very modern for a long while, see, it was still, everything was horses when I done my National Service. Then I come back out again in the December ’53, and started working in ’54, they then bought me a little T-20 Ferguson, which according to the old gaffer – Gooch, CMD – that was equivalent to one horse, use a drill, and a plough, see. Then that eased my father from walking, walk, walk, walk all the time, because my father and him were like that. They got on well: as he got older, he didn’t wanna keep doing all this work, but he still wanted him to be here to do what he wanted him to do. So that’s when things started to get modern up a bit in 1954. My father was still here on the farm then, he was there till he retired. He was the foreman. There was a day man, he also looked after the cattle and done all the grinding for the whole estate. There was one main tractor driver. And then when I come back, there was me.

Cows – Brian Buckle

We had a single suckle herd, of 50 or 60 cows. It’s a cow what have a calf every year, and the calf suckle on it from, we’ll say, from March until October, then it’s took off its mother, put in the yard and fattened, and go to market the following year, see. And by the time that’s had its calf, we’ll say February/March, that runs on a meadow, and then after a certain time, the bull is put in with them, see, so it’s all ready to calve again. So that’s what they call a single suckle herd. It have a calf every year. When I started, they were blue grade Aberdeen Angus cows, and a Aberdeen Angus bull, see, but then as modern things got on, they discovered that the Aberdeen Angus wasn’t quite so good, so they went to Charollais and Herefordshire, but then they had all manner of bulls in the finish. But that was a job to keep the bull, see, because they was down there, and the footpaths went through, and that was a job to have bulls on where the footpath went through, so that was a bit tricky. They tried artificial insemination once, but that wasn’t a success.

SheepBrian Buckle

The sheep were Suffolks to start with, then they ended up as the old Romney Marsh ones – the monster sheep. If you know anything about a Romney Marsh, that’s twice the size of a Suffolk! They went round all the estate and, and they also went to the different tenant farmers, see, because a lot of tenant farmers were market gardeners, so if they had a failure in a field of cabbages, phone up Gooch, ‘We’d like your sheep to eat our cabbages,’ which he enjoyed, that was free food! And then they got the free manure on the field, they did a tremendous lot of good, sheep did. We had a full shepherd here, name of Bailey, and his two sons worked here, Dick and Jim. Dick used to come in the gardens down at the house, in the Wivenhoe Park, then he turned himself into the maintenance, and he turned out to be a most wonderful chap on the maintenance.

After the War – Brian Buckle

After the war, the whole estate started to get a bit more modernisation – bigger tractors, bigger ploughs – they then ploughed [the park] up, from the lake to the Round House, that was all oats. As soon as he went back, moved back in there, they gutted all the stables out, and turned round and made it into grain stores. Of course, there was hundreds of thistles, because they hadn’t come up with the idea of spraying then. He bought me a little spray in about ‘55/’56, and then the sprayer got bigger, and I had to do more and more, and then I did nothing but spray for about 40 years.

Things started to change pretty quick from the early fifties, because the combines started to arrive then. America said thank you, so did Canada, because they didn’t get involved with war much, only sending stuff over to help us, and they sent combines over, see, to the British farmers, I suppose a sprat to catch a mackerel, ‘Try this. Do you like it? Well, you might buy one next time.’ So they sent them over, massive things, and they appeared everywhere. We had them here.

We had the Massey Harris. The first one we had here was a 726, and then they had a 780. 8 foot 6 inch cuts. That cut the corn. Convey it up a chute bit to the drum, what was revolving round at a hell of a high speed. That thrashed the cereal out. The grain, then, was the heaviest thing, fell down on a sieve, what was doing this, and then the wind then blew the chaff away, and the straw then carried on, with this motion going round and round, up on to what they called ‘straw walkers.’ I didn’t drive that, I was too young then. If you driv, you couldn’t go very quick, if you driv steadily, see, that had time to do the job, that done it, but if you try and do it quick, that couldn’t do the job. All it did was, you chucked everything out, and that’s why you see all the green on the fields now, because people drive them too quick.

In them days, when that was doing it, see, that was only wheat and barley, because oats was still converted, was still brought here because they wanted to do the oats with binder and hand and thrash them for the feed. And there always used to be one ten acre field of wheat, because they wanted the straw for thatching. So not all of the grain stuff was put through the combine, only certain. And then eventually, you see, as things got bigger, they then done more and more.

You then had to bale it up, and then cart the bales off the field. They was little square bales. But we had a round baler here, what made small little round bales, like little sausage rolls! Allis Chalmers that was, see, and they had do the high thing, and then you stack round bales. And then, of course, you couldn’t make a square stack with round bales, all you made was pyramids. We thought, then, ‘This is marvellous,’ got to have thrashing in the winter and stack loose straw, you could cart your bales and you can put about six on a tumbrel and take in the yard and unroll them out.

Today – Brian Buckle

Just two people work on the farm now. On 1,100 acres. That’s counting the woods and everything. But I used to combine somewhere between 850-900 acres a year, see, so there was I suppose, a thousand acres under cultivation. But, a lot of that’s gone on to set aside now, so their acres now is nowhere near what it was when I worked. But there’s two of them do it. They grow wheat, barley, peas, sugar beet. And they let some land out for the tenant farmers to grow onions and potatoes, to give them break crops. I think they’re growing some rape, this year, right down by the river. See, that’ll be a break crop. And peas, they grow about 150 acres of peas for break crops.

There’s no farmyard manure now, and you’re limited to how much artificial you’re allowed to have. One time of day, if you’d got the money, you could buy the world. But, see, you’re not allowed to put too much on now. You’re limited. But, of course, there’s so much on the set aside, and what they call ‘Stewardship,’ isn’t there, where you only farm a bit in the middle, and you’re paid for all that wildlife round the outside. He’s had a lot of hedge, set all new hedge, you see, because as you’ve done that, you get paid. Now, if you develop the old hedge, you don’t get paid. And, of course, that do tidy the farm up, these new hedges, because they look good after about five or six years, you get them into a nice hedge.

See, this here farm, see this here place, he’s got two sons, hasn’t he, so there won’t be a worker eventually. The sons will run it. They won’t want to employ anybody, the sons will do it.  

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