Our last post on harvest-time set some fifty years ago proved inspirational for one of our volunteer members. It triggered recollections of happy boyhood days growing up on a rural Herefordshire farm deep in the countryside. This is some of what he had to say:
“My mum and dad did not own the farm, but the owner lived on a larger farm nearby in Stoke Lacey, and my dad worked for him as a farm worker. I was born on the farm in 1942 and it was fairly remote with the nearest property being ½ a mile away. I had four older brothers one of whom worked on the farm. Two of them joined the army when they left school at 14 to become boy soldiers and learn a trade, and the other brother did his national service in the army. My dad was in the First World war.
The farm was about 200 acres, had old apple orchards, grazing and cereal crops, and we fattened up beef cattle in the winter. At harvest time we had binders in the early 1950’s pulled firstly by horses then later by tractors. The sheaves were made into ricks in the barnyard and later threshed using a threshing box powered by a tractor pulley and belt, lots of belts and moving parts – no health and safety in those days! Then came combine harvesters, small 8 foot cut ones at first, and now they are enormous.
Herefordshire is a hop growing area and our farm had an old disused hop kiln, and an old cider press which would have been powered by a pony walking around it. Until about 1950 we used to pick hops at the farm down the road normally in the first two weeks of September, when local schools had extended summer holidays for this. Hop drying was done in the farm kiln overnight, after which they would be pressed into large sacks called hop pockets and taken away by lorry. Hand picking stopped when larger farms got hop picking machines and the small farms gave up, grubbing up the old hop-yards.
A village near us called Bishops Frome had several hop-yards, and in the hand picking heyday before the season started, gangs of hop pickers and gypsies would turn up. The gypsies would live in their caravans, the hop pickers from the Black Country (Birmingham) or from South Wales would live in temporary hut accommodation. Bishops Frome was a “rough” place at night, with two pubs and lots of trouble. Gypsies had a bad name for stealing.
I became an expert rabbit catcher, and bought my first second hand bike for £5 from selling rabbits when I was 10. I could drive a tractor, and was good with a catapult – home made from a nut stick. I collected birds eggs, and you could get money from the Ministry of Agriculture for any wood pigeons eggs because they were classed as a pest.
We never had a car, so to get to a bus on the main road we had to walk about a mile and a half. We never had electricity, mains water or sewage, but we had a well and the toilet was down at the bottom of the garden. Cooking by paraffin, lighting by paraffin and candles, and of course a coal fire.
We moved from there when I was 12 in 1954, to the outskirts of Hereford, with all the mod cons!”
Most of us would be able to trace our roots back to country life through our genealogy – normally it would be three or four generations. Growing up in the post war period was very frugal for most of the population with food rationing continuing until 1954, but living on a farm no doubt had it’s advantages – eggs, chicken, milk and cream, fresh fruit, rabbit and pheasant!
Thanks to our volunteer who wishes to remain anonymous.