Working Lives

A Beautiful Place to Live And Work (1945-1980s)

Location: Drayton, Norfolk

M tells his life on farms, working with cattle and showing them across the country.

I went to school when I was five at Drayton, and then from that school I went to Hellesdon Firside at 11 years old. I spent three years there and left at 14 years. While I was at school I did a paper round in the mornings, and I also did a small milk round on Sunday mornings, and measured the milk with a dip can.  From school I went to work on the farm with Lieutenant Colonel S. I had already been there before I left school doing little jobs in the evening and holidays . …

I got paid nothing very much at all, really. But then after I’d been with him about ten years he then asked me if I’d like to be the herdsman for a pedigree pig herd he had, which I said yes I’d take it on. I was 17 then, tell you the truth, and that was a Large White Pedigree herd and I went all over the country here to the Shows, and we took the pigs to these Shows . . .Royal Norfolk, Suffolk, Peterborough.

And I was doing that job for him for, I think about twelve years, and then the farm’s foreman who was on the farm at the time, he retired, and Colonel S, he put a lot of faith in me, and he asked me if I’d like to be farm foreman, which I took on. And I think when I took that on I was 27 years old. From there onwards I worked for him for several years, and he treated me just like a son.

And after the years I worked for him he had to sell up ‘cos he was a very old man, and he sold the farm. And when that was sold the auctioneer who sold everything up come over to me just after the auction and said to me “Would you like to come and work for me and take on my farm?” That was in Yelverton on the Lowestoft Road. So I said “Yes, I’ll do that for you”, and I went over there, and I think I was there for about fifteen years. And his wife was Sir Thomas Cook’s daughter from Stennow Park, and they treat me ever so nice. And from there on I really built his farm up. When I first went there he’d just bought the farm. He had no cattle, he didn’t have no pigs, no poultry or nothing. And I went there, and time I left he had 60 cattle, he had a hundred sow herd and he had 5,000 chickens. And he said to me, when I said that I wanted to leave on account of I wanted to go on my own . .. and he said to me “Well, you won’t do no good on your own, M.” he say. So I say “Well, I’m going to have a go.”

Yes! Well, what happened, Colonel S, when he sold the whole estate round here, he didn’t want to sell this land what I’ve now got. I’ve got 18 acres, and he wanted me to have it. But he wouldn’t give it to me. He wanted me to save up the money, and he said that I’d be able to have it when I had the money there and then, you see. So I saved up hard, didn’t I? And I worked hard. And there wasn’t nothing down there at all, no pigs, nothing! And what I done, I built my herd up to a hundred sows.

And after a few years I had enough money to buy the land. I give £24,000 for it, but I didn’t borrow no money whatsoever. That was all hard-earned money.

I worked seven days a week. But after a time I built my pig herd up to a hundred sows, and I think I had about 500 pigs on the place, and I didn’t once borrow any money from the bank. That was all done from me. I wasn’t so proud of it, but people have told me … I’ve had people talk to me, and they’ve said to me, like my solicitors and things say what I’d done is marvellous. ‘Cos when I first went on the farm I earned £1/10/-. I used to give my mother 25 shillings and I had 5 shillings. When I left school I had £8/10/- in my bank.

When I started working for my governors? Ooh, I was working from 7.30 in the morning till about 6 at night.

And then I came down here and I paid him the money up and luckily enough, after I’d bought the land, I got planning permission to have this bungalow. We lived in Carter Road then, you see, we had a little bungalow there, didn’t we? And I got planning permission for this, and I built this, and we still lived in Carter Road, and I never even borrowed a ha’penny to build the house. I done it all on my own, yes!

I had to pay a builder, I paid every week. And that’s how I really started off. I kept going and then I retired at … how old was I? .. . I think I retired at about 67, didn’t I? 67 when I retired, but I’ve still got all the land. It’s a lovely place down there, you know, very, very lovely. We’ve now got horses down there, livery.

It’s a lot different now. When I was on the farm we never had all the machinery they’ve got now. I would say when you grew sugar beet you had to go along with a hoe and single them all out. But now they’ve got machines what just drop one seed in and there’s no work there at all to do. And then in the harvest time we used to have a binder, where they’ve got the combines now, and we used to have to have the horses pull the binder. Two horses, but you’d have to change them at lunchtime and put two more on ‘cos it was very hard work, you see. And that throw the little shoof out to the side and then you’d have to go along and stand that all up in the field, and then after a few days you’d have to …. well you’d all get together and you’d cart the shooves in and make a nice big stack of ‘em. But I used to do all the stacking and carting. Actually I have done thatchin’. That isn’t like thatchin’ a house, mind you, but you thatched the corn stacks, you see.

I think I was the first man in Drayton to drive a Fordson tractor, standard Fordson tractor, ‘cos that was new, and Colonel S. bought that, and I think I was the first man in Drayton to drive one of them.

And also I done all the drilling . .. it was arable and stock. But he was a very good breeder, Large White breeder. He won all sorts of prizes all over the country. I think some of the pigs went to Russia and places like that. Live, I’m talkin’ about, yes.

When you had your own land down here, were you breeding pigs?

Well, not for a start. What I had when I first started off, there’s just over 17 acres of arable land here, and what I done, I had a quota for two acres of potatoes, three acres of sugar beet and the rest barley. They were the three crops I grew. And when I got my sugar beet up we used to have to pull the beet up then and put them all in a row and then we had to go along with a hook and take the tops off. No machines! Oh, that was hard work! And the potatoes I used to have ladies who lived around here, they used to come down here and pick the potatoes up as I swung ‘em out, you see (laughs).

I had what they call a potato spinner, but very old-fashioned. I’ve still got it, to tell you the truth! (laughs) It lifts the potatoes and it throw ‘em out the side and they come and pick ‘em up.

That was back-breaking work. And the sugar beet, when you done the sugar beet, you chopped the tops off and then you put them in a little heap right across the field. You know, you went about 12 yards and then you had another heap, and then you’d have to fork them all onto a trailer and put them in a heap, so that the lorries hauled them away to Cantley. But now they don’t do that at all now. They just have this machine going along . . . .

I bought a sow off the people who I worked with, Litton from Yelverton, and I brought that down here, and I started to build all my buildings, you know, I had ‘em all new, the buildings were all brand new. And I bought them from a firm in Peterborough and they come and put them all up for me, and I gradually built the herd up. But I knew what I was doing, you see, that was my job really as pig keeper. I should imagine I was one of the best pig keepers round here – at my age. When I used to take them to Norwich market they always used to make the highest price on the market. Yes! So you knew how good I was. And I built that up to a hundred sows, who I got two litters a year from, and you averaged about nine in a litter, so that’s eighteen pigs a year on one sow. So you can work that out, how many pigs I had!

What I used to do then. I had a company take most of the pigs at ten weeks old, but the surplus I had there I used to send to the slaughter house.

I had them on the field for a start, but I found I had a lot of trouble with them getting out, you know, ‘cos I wasn’t here then, I was down Carter Road. I used to have to come up here, you see. So what I done, I built a nice sow house and then I had all these nice buildin’s put up, and I had a nice . .. what they call a farrowin’ house, I had that built an’ all. But I done it all out of my money what I’d been earnin’.

I did work hard! I don’t think there’s another person in Drayton worked harder. I know there wasn’t. I’d have to trudge up from Drayton there, Drayton village when it’s winter time. Snow! Coh! Terrible it was!

But I loved it! I like it now. I don’t sit about now. I just go down and do my little jobs down the field and I help you (to his wife) don’t I? We do the garden together, don’t we? I don’t sit about at all.

I’ve spoken to ever so many people, they ask me my age, and when I’ve told them they can’t believe it. I’m 79 in August.

I was in the factory in Drayton, they had the flax come in that they used to make all the parachutes, and I went there for a little while. That was only for 12 months, that was.

When the fibre come into the factory that go through a machine and that take all the seed out and that straighten all the flax out like that (demonstrates). And then that’s all put in a nice bundle and then that goes to somewhere else to be . . . I suppose what they do with it, then they soak it and then they take all the fibre out. But that was only for 12 months, that was.

I didn’t stop there for very long. That was just a sort of temporary job. But I’ve been on the farm ALL my life and I’ve been through everything really. I’ve been through drillin’, ploughin’. Ploughed all this land around here, even where the bungalow is standing now.

Well, I see a lot of change. I mean to say these tractors are different, ploughs are different, drills and everything. They couldn’t manage today, people couldn’t, with them sort of things.

I do regret losing the horses. I ploughed with horses. There’s a lot of people on a farm can’t tell you that. But that was hard work and, you know, when you think about it that’s a lovely job really because you’re outside, and you never got wrong with nobody. Well, you didn’t get wrong in them days. There wasn’t anybody got wrong . ..

Now they’ve got all this modernised machinery. You have to go to College now even to drive the tractors. You see they’re so big and they’ve got all this …  I didn’t go to College. That was bred in me, that was something bred in me. I mean to say whatever animal it was, that could be pigs, cattle, dogs, chickens, anything I could do it without anybody telling me anything about it.

I was top herdsman, there’s no doubt about that. Yeah, I mean to say, I used to go to these Shows and I used to take prizes, 1, 2 , 3 in class. That was for Colonel S, mind.

All the East of England Shows. And the main one at Warwickshire, the Royal.

Yes. I’ve been to all of them, all around. I didn’t go to Yorkshire. (To his wife: You went there once didn’t you?) But I haven’t been there.

I see things happening now at my age, which never happened when we were young. Children today are different to what we were. My mother and father they were very poor people, but we had football boots for Christmas and we’d go out and enjoy ‘em, you know. But today, no child would want that now, would they? They want something else. My mother and father were very poor but they were very good parents. We never got in no trouble whatsoever, the whole six of us boys. We went through life and none of us got into any trouble whatsoever.

My eldest brother, he was a builder, and my second oldest, he’s a teacher. Another was Chief Inspector at the Post Office when he retired, but he went in the Army ‘n’ all. The one next to me, he’s a lorry driver, and  the youngest boy, he was a carpenter and he was on his own. He went to College and took an apprenticeship to carpentry.

I loved being on the farm. I remember when I first went on a farm – there was a little farm down the bottom here – and I used to go and collect all the eggs from the poultry every night and the farmer used to give me 6d a week (laughs). And I used to go round his house every Friday night after that 6d.

Oh, I did love it. No doubt about that. I loved being on the farm. That’s wonderful really, there’s no doubt about that. And when he made me farm foreman I had, I think it was 7 young boys under me, and I used to be on the farm in the mornings and set them all out what they’d got to do every day. But it got a wee bit easier for me then, see, ‘cos I used to make them do all the hard work! (laughs)

I was definitely a hard working bloke. Colonel S. often told my mother when I was young, he reckoned that he wouldn’t interfere with me one bit. He say ‘I wouldn’t interfere with M. I let him do just what he want to do.’ He thought such a lot of me. He had two children. His two children, one of them went to Oxford and the other went to Cambridge University. So you can tell he was a gentleman. True gentleman he was! I don’t think you’d find one like it today.

He treated me like a son really. He just let me do what I wanted on the farm. He’d come up every day to see me. He come up in a lovely car and sit in the yard and then he’d go off again, and then I didn’t see him no more for a while. And then I used to farm 300 acres up there.

Then I bought a little car. I think I was the first young fella to have a car in Drayton (laughs). A little Morris Minor that was.

I hate Drayton now, although I’ve lived in it all my life. I really loathe the place. it’s like the City now.

Thatlovely house up there, you see, is where Colonel S. lived…. ‘course he’s been gone a long while; other people have had it since he died .. . .but what they’re now going to do, they’re now going to put 22 houses up there.

He owned all the land round here, you see. He owned the lot. And as I said, he gave me the chance to be farm foreman and I took it, and I learned a lot by doing that. Well, I done well down here. I made this place like a little park out the back. And a lot of people say ‘You’ve got a lovely place down there.’

There’s all trees, and he made a lovely drive. A little pocket of countryside.

That’s like a valley, you see.

Lovely place to live.

M (b. 1930) talking to WISEArchive on 16th June 2009 in Drayton.

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