A Life on a Norfolk Farm (2008)

Location : Norfolk

Starting work with the horses

I was 14 when I started work. I left school on the Friday night and I started work on the Monday. That was harvest time, there were about 14 others working on the farm and the foreman, he came into the stable and he said to me “Now Ted” he say, (I called myself Ted you see) “you are a full-time worker now, I want you to take that old horse and go horse raking”. That’s how he talk, you see. I say “alright”, you see that was harvest time when I left school and I went horse raking for two days and then after that I went what they called driving, that was taking the loads from the fields to the stack. I had two or three days of that, I had a trace horse, that was hard work. I used to start in the mornings about half past seven, time you got ready and go out to work. You weren’t allowed no break, never had no nineses, you weren’t allowed it , it was five o’clock before you had a break, but then you had a break at 12 o’clock. There weren’t such things as sandwiches in them sort of days, you had half a loaf of bread, cut in halves, and grandfather had half and I had half, with a piece cut out with a bit of margarine or butter put in, or what you could afford, or a piece of meat if you was lucky, or a piece of cheese and the piece that was cut out, you used to lay it on the top, that was called a thumb-piece. You used to put your thumb on that, your hands were all dirty, you couldn’t wash them or nothing, there weren’t nowhere to wash them. They say you got to eat a bushel of muck afore you die, and I should think I have, worse’n. Any rate, we went all through the harvest, we had to do everything you know, and pitch the sheaves and everything like that.

We had to get the horses ready in the mornings and whilst we were boys, we had to see that they had their dinner at dinner time and plenty of water so sometimes we’d only have about 20 minutes for dinner until I put my spoke in. We had a foreman, the boss didn’t actually live on the farm, we a foreman and I said to him “I don’t think that’s right.”He said “what’s the matter Ted?” and I said ” they come, and they sit down for dinner at 12 o’clock and they have half had their dinner before we stop, and they expect us to get up, get the horses back in the wagons and start off again”. Then of course, he sorted it out and all that and he made it that they all had a share of the work, you see. That was hard work, you know, pitching the sheaves. From half past seven in the morning till 8 o’clock at night. Worked five and a half days, had to work Saturday morning and had to work all Saturday at harvest time, you see. I got paid a ten shilling note a week.

After the harvest finished, I went bullock feeder for the winter. I earned 13 and three halfpence, for the Saturday and Sunday for feeding the cattle. And I done that all through the winter and then when that come round again, after the winter was over, sort of spring time, you used to be out in the fields with the horses, harrowing and raking, you know, that sort of thing. Then when the crops come along, we used to had to go and feeding the horses in the horse yard. And as we get older, we had to do different things on the farm. We used to had to go chopping sugar beet out (that brings them to the surface) when you was 16, but you weren’t allowed till you was 16 or 17. We used to go in a gang, and there was one man, he was lord,and you had to do what he said. You were supposed to hoe so far on one hand, and then turn over and hoe so far the other hand. I used to get in a hell of a muddle. That went on all springtime, we sold all the corn and all the roots and then that come round to harvest time again.

Well, you would be a year older by then, you had to go on what they call a Loader. They put them on the carts, and you load them and I done that all harvest. No gloves or nothing, there was no spray in them days, you had thistles, pricking your hands. I asked the foreman to get me some gloves. He say “what you want gloves for?” I say ” all them thistles”. So that went all through the harvest, then we started sugar-beeting. That was all done by hand, knocking and topping, fill the bottom of the cart, load the cart up. That was all done by hand. We used to do the mangels first, then the swedes, put them in the hale (hale – a big heap) then the team-man would take the plough, plough round this here hale, then you had to take a fork and throw all this muck, after they had been covered up with straw, you had to throw it all on to keep the frost from getting them. Just leave one end open for the mangels and swedes, so you could get some out for the cattle and then we used to go filling the sugar beet. I was 16 then and I was with another chap, one driving the cart. Our foreman come one day, we used to get a shilling a day extra for that, so he came over one day , he say “you don’t look very happy, Ted”, I say “no, I aren’t very happy. He standing by the side, he’s getting two shillings a day more than what I am”. He say “well, you’re only a boy”. “Well,” I say “why am I doing a man’s work then?” I then took the sugar beet fork and threw it at him. I said “you can fill your beet yourself, I’m off” So I went home for dinner, this was about 11 o’clock, my grandmother she say “what you home for?” So I told her. He came after me dinnertime and he say “will you come back, Ted?” I say “Yes, but on my terms. Why should I work?” Two shillings was a lot of money in them days, you know. Well, he said “you are a good boy, you’ll do anything on the farm, I’ll give you the full amount of money”. So I got the full amount of money when I was 16.

After the horses went

Well, we had another year with this farmer, Mr Mason, doing the same old thing what we’d been doing. Well I was 16 and the war started. We had one more year with Mr Mason and then they sold the farm to a farmer named Hall. He came around and he said “Will you work for me?” and I said “yes”, I was then 17, and he said “I suppose you hen’t got a driving licence?” He say “I know you’ve been on a tractor”. I say ” yes, I’ve done some, not much”. He say “I’ll get you a form, will you fill it up, and get a driving licence. I want you to do a lot of road work.” Because there weren’t no lorries then, you couldn’t get no petrol or diesel in them days, just paraffin and petrol. He said “I want you to cart a load of my sugar beet to Raynham Park Station”. So I used to cart all the sugar beet down there, didn’t go every day, because he wanted me on the fields to do tractor driving to do all his hoeing, drilling and everything. They sold all the horses, what Mason had, well, they didn’t actually sell them, they went to two more farms, they went there you see. Well Hall only had three and my grandfather looked after them. He used to drill all the roots, I drilled all the corn, he drilled the mangels and sugar beet. We were still doing them by hand, clearing all the ditches out, trimming all the hedges, still doing it all by hand. And cut everything with a binder and of course I was tractor driver then. I never no more to do with horses.

I used to have a binder to cut all the corn, well there was two of us really and we had no electricity, no water or nothing, just a paraffin lamp at home. When you wanted a bath, when you come home from work you had to get the old tin bath out the shed, put it in front of the fire. Copper was in the shed, you had to heat the water and then you had to put it in the bath. After you had your bath, you got to get dressed again, cart all water out. All the water came from the well, there was no water indoors or nothing, you had to cart it all up. About two or three hundred yards you had to cart up this water, every Sunday night. My grandmother too.

There were five or six of us young’uns in the village, in Wellingham, it was only a small place and there was nothing to do evenings, so after the third year I was at work, I said to my grandmother “I wish I had a bike” so they didn’t say nothing then, but then she said one week “you had better keep your ten shilling note ” she say “and buy yourself a bike,” ‘cos you could buy a brand new bike for ten shillings. So my mate over the road, who lived alongside , I said “I’m going to get myself a bike” and he said “Yes. I talked to my ma and pa and they are going to let me have the money to buy one”. So we walked to Fakenham, me and him, and we got a bike each to bike home.

Well, there weren’t nothing to do in Wellingham for the young people to do so we used to walk round, different villages and that and meet up with different people and in the Reading Room in Weasenham, they had a youth club and some of them said “why don’t you join the youth club?” and I said “well, we can’t get there”. But of course after we got our bikes we joined the youth club but then after so long, they had what they called The Sixpenny Hop, learn to dance, so I said to my mate “Are you going to join?” “No”, he say “I aren’t going to do that” he say, but I joined you see and I went to these here Sixpenny Hops and learned to dance and that. Well, then there was a war on, and then, on a Saturday Night they had a band come from Raynham Airdrome. There weren’t no electric, gas heaters and that, they never had no electric guitars or that sort of thing, they just had normal ones, so I went to the dance and that’s where I met May (my wife) at the dance at Weasenham. She was cook up at the farm in Weasenham at the time and that’s where we got together there and then we, two year I think we was courting, and then there were two old people there and at 9 o’clock at night she used to lock the door, her and the servant, and come to the dances. Well, someone on the farm knew where she worked and split on her and she got the sack, well she walked out and said she weren’t going to stop there no more.

Her son come over and said he’d get her in the Army. Well, her mother didn’t want her to go in the Army so they got her to Kelling Sanatorium, scrubbing floors and peeling taters so I biked over. A taxi had took her in on the Thursday and she say “I aren’t going to stop there” and then I say “alright” so she come back again the following Thursday. I went and got her home again. Then she came back home and I asked my boss if she could come and work on the farm with us, you see, ‘cos you had to work on the land you see, and there were two or three more women working on the land so she come on the land with me, you see. And, she worked on there for a long while,then we decided to get married in 1943.

But farm work was hard work, everything was done by hand, you know, all the hedging, all the muck carting, spreading the muck, and then when you went home, you had no bathroom, we had no water, toilet was up the garden, you had the kettle, you had a string of newspapers fixed on the wall, there was no sanitary, everything was outside. Farm work was hard work, but it wasn’t so hard work after I got tractor driving. But there still weren’t no mechanical loaders and that sort of thing, it was all done by hand. We had steam engines for thrashing, but some of the corn, well, I was coping with the binder, but the other ones, there was about ten or twelve other ones, well they was sharpening them up, don’t know if you have seen them, have you? Well, sometimes, we used to have the engine come into the field then you would thrash them off the shock. . But before I went tractor driving, there used to be three of us boys, one had to hold the horse near the engine. Because they’d run away, ‘cos they was so frightened, you see. After Mason sold the farm we used to cart them off with tractors and trailers. We used to drive our own tractors and they used to load them in the field, but we had to unload off the trailer onto the other bailer and onto the stack. My grandfather was stackman, he used to do all the stacks so we had to pitch, probably be working at ten o’clock at night, pitching all these shocks.

Cornstacks used to be a work of art, didn’t they?

Yes, they used to take pride in the thing, well, they didn’t do nothing else. Well, afore I got married, my grandmother used to bring up what they called The Fourses, about four o’clock, they had probably done some cooking and they’d bring you some hot food for your tea, ‘cos you probably wouldn’t leave off ‘till about ten o’clock at night. The clocks were put on two hours, so we had more daylight. As soon as it got dusk you had to stop, ‘cos you couldn’t have no lights or nothing, ‘cos it was wartime. They put the clocks back to normal again after the war. But during the war, you was on rations, you had two ounces of this and two ounces of that. You had to grow your own garden, you weren’t allowed no lawn, you had to crop all your own garden and grow your own vegetables. Used to hale the ‘taters up in the garden and I didn’t live far from the farm so I walked to work.

The van used to bring everything, there was no supermarkets or nothing then you know, all you had was the wireless, we got no electric and all you had was the wireless and you had what you call an accumulator . You used to have to get to Fakenham and get it charged up once a fortnight and they had the high tension battery in the wireless. And you got had two accumulators, you had one being charged during the week, well they used to go a fortnight, then you had to go to Fakenham get the other one off and take the other one in. Well, I biked there one Saturday, afore I was married, get my grandfather and grandmother their accumulator, I got home to Wellingham, got outside the gate to go up the yard, threw it down and smashed it into tons of pieces, so I had to bike back to get to Fakenham, he had to buy a new accumulator. Just had the radio, used to get “Haw Haw” come on.

Farm work was very hard work, I tell you. That got easier as … well into the 50’s, after we were married, we got electric and water put on. Well, they used to work down in the farmhouse. Well, she went into the house during the war, ‘cos the chap Hall, who I worked for, who I was tractor driver for, he had three or four children, and he said to me after I was married, “would your wife mind working in the house?” I said “Well, I don’t know, I’ll have to ask her”. She said “I don’t mind” and she went down with them and used to work in the house and take the children out, and she was there until the War

Did you get called up for service?

I got called up for a medical, I went to Cambridge for a medical, I was going to go in the Air Force and I went up to Oxfordshire, I got my papers to go up to Oxfordshire and when I got up there, I can’t remember now what it was but some Officer came over and he said “Are you Mr Taylor?” and I said “yes”, he said “You aren’t supposed to be here, your boss has been on the phone, you work on the farm, don’t you? I said “yes”. He said “you’d better get on the train, we’ll take you to the station, get on the train and go back home again” so I came back home. So I have been on the land all my life, you see, right since I was 14.

Post-War Farming

But things got better in the 50’s when the combines started coming out and I had about 35 years, driving a combine. On the farm, I used to drive a crawler, (on tracks) well, I had one of them for eight years, well, we had two of us as a matter of fact, well we had four farms because after Hall packed up, the farmer, Wellingham farms bought it. Well there was two farms in Wellingham, well, they had one but they bought the other one, so there was five farms we had to tend to. There would 20 men worked there at this time. There was 10 of us tractor drivers, (there is only about 2 men now (2008). Well, they are all split up now but at any rate. Well, then we had lorries for carting the stuff ‘cos after the War was over, they started coming back to using the diesel and petrol, you see.

We had some good times on the farm, we had some laughs, we was all together, doing the jobs, like trimming the ditches out, or, during the winter time digging a ditch with a shovel, there weren’t no mechanical diggers. Done the hedge trimming, always kept down low, always trimmed with a hook, all the ditches were trimmed on the sides, I’m talking about afore the combines come out, you see, we used to, had to gather all that up and use that for stack poles on the bottom and then the straw on the top to keep the damp (out) you see.

There was nothing to do when I was young, til we joined our youth club. We used to make our own entertainment.

Did you stay with that farm for the rest of your working life?

What, with Wellingham Farms? Well, the old boy who bought it in the first place, he died, well his son-in-law and daughter took over the farm where I was, it was still in the family you see and then he left Wellingham and went to Tittleshall, and they sold Wellingham, and I went on to the Tittleshall and Dunham Brook. I was still on the same firm, the same people. I had 45 year with them. I never got a “thank you” when I left. We had a foreman, he came onto the farm when he left school,and we taught him all about the farm work, you see. After so long, he took a dislike to me. And if there was a dirty job on the farm, he always come to me. No matter what I done, that weren’t right. He say to me “You’re old-fashioned, Ted.” Well, I had been doing that all them years and now it weren’t right. I just kept going like I been used to, we didn’t take no notice of him. We had several rows, me, him and the boss, but that didn’t make no difference. Then I finished, 65 when I retired, they (the boss) asked me “If we’re in a muddle, Ted, will you come and help us out?” I said “I would, willingly, if you treat me right”. When I finished work, he never even give me my P45, that was two months before I went and got that and got the tax back.

Didn’t you get anything, a gift on leaving”

No, I never got nothing, not even a thank you. Forty-five year with the same family, that’s the honest truth, I never got a penny.

Did you go back at all when they were busy?

No, didn’t go there no more. I had a job, I went gardening at Lexham Hall, the Fosters. The head gardener down at the Hall, wanted somebody at Church Farm and he asked my niece to ask me if I wanted a job. And I said I hadn’t done much flower gardening, or that sort of thing. “Well, I’ll put you through” he said. So I went down, I was with Mr Foster for about six months, then the old boy died, well then, the son, he lived in the Hall, and Church Farm stood empty for about eighteen months, and Neil Foster, the son, ask if I would keep going down, you see, so I went down for eighteen months, nobody in the farm house, and then all of a sudden, some people bought Hindringham Hall, Temple-Richards. Well I was on there for ten year and that was 12 years I was at that farm then I had prostrate trouble, water, and I packed up. That was 6 months before I could get an operation so I didn’t go back. By that time they left the farm and gone to ??? (couldn’t remember, but locally).

Then I used to go “brushing” (beating for pheasant) I had about six or seven year. I used to do the gardening and then go beating. I was busy all the week, I was always doing something.

Do you still see any of the people that you worked with?

Yes, a lot of them are dead, a lot of them. We went to school together, worked together, but there’s one at Dunham, he come to see me. He had to retire, he had arthritis bad. He’s just on the point of retiring age, he come to see me every three weeks or something like that, he come and have an hour or two. He live at Gressenhall now.

Have you been to Gressenhall? They have got the heavy horses there.

I have been, but not since they turned it into that museum. My uncle was in there when that was a workhouse. I said I’d never go no more. That was a rum place.

You ought to go. I would think it would give you pleasure to see the heavy horses. What were the names of the horses you worked with?

Oh yes, the one I always used to have was Topper. There was Lion and Gypsy. Topper was a Suffolk Punch, he weighed a ton, I always had him. I used to cart a lot of the stuff out to the shepherd and the cattle. I had him and a cart. They turned him out on the meadow, back of where we used to live afore I was married. I used to give him sweets and that, shortcakes. My grandfather mob me, he say “you’ll turn that horse into us boy,” he say. I only had to go out and whistle and he come, I used to give him things you see, but when they sold up, the horses went to another farm, do you know they couldn’t do nothing with that horse, what I had. Nobody else couldn’t do nothing with him. He pined for me. I had him, see, ‘till I went tractor driving, I always had him, he was my horse. My grandfather say “If anybody’s working in the stable and they wanted a horse to go somewhere, they would start to take him you see”. He’d say, “you’re not taking him, that’s Ted’s horse.” And I always had him. I never need the reins on him, I just to walk in front of him and he’d follow me. He was just like a dog, you know. The horses weren’t that old, and they went away to other farms, so I don’t really know what happened to them. They was lovely horses, fat as butter. My grandfather had five, we had thirteen altogether. There would perhaps be five or six of them in a field, two horses were harvesting, drills. Didn’t matter if it was raining or shine, you had to go. I’ve been wet through, if you went home, you never got no money, you weren’t paid and sometimes they couldn’t find you a job in the dry, other times they could find you a job in the dry, up in the sheds, where the cattle had been, that sort of thing. If he (the foreman) was awkward, that sort of thing, he wouldn’t find you a job. After I got tractor driver, you had no cabs on them in them days, in very bad weather, we used to come home and repair the implements.

What did you wear to keep dry?

Just an ordinary old coat with sacks tied around you, you hadn’t got nothing else, there weren’t no waterproofs in them days, no water boots.

You had a half hour for your dinner. You had your bag you took your food in, there weren’t no tins in them days, nor plastic things. You had a sack, your grandmother, or whoever you were with, washed a sack out, lined it, put a strap on it, then you had a dinner bag. Well, one day we were hedging when I first started work, and they were out with the hounds and they was exercising on them, foxhounds you know. We was up the road. Well our bikes stood along the hedge and our bags hung on the bike. Well, in my sack bag, my dinner bag, I got a pork chop. Well, these hounds smelled that and they pulled my bag all to pieces, it was in ribbons, they’d ate all my dinner. Well, when I went to get my bike, we used to leave our bikes so far down the road and walk up to get the bikes. When I went to get my dinner my bag was all to pieces, so when I was going home, I met the foreman. He said “Where you goin’ Ted?” I said “To have me dinner”. He said “Hen’t you got it with you?” “Well,” I said “I had, but Weasenham Foxhounds, they had my dinner”. Well, they laughed. I said “Well, that ain’t no laughing matter, they had my pork chop” I say. Well, the foreman phoned the huntsman up and he come down in the afternoon back, on a bicycle, give me five shillings, two half-crowns. He say “who’se the gentleman, the one who had his bag pulled?” I said “Mine” and he give me two half-crowns.

That was a very hard old life, farm work. But I didn’t know nothing else you see. I was bred and born for farm work. But when the factories and so on got going again, a lot of the farm workers went, got a different job and went off the land. But I was too old to learn another trade, I enjoyed what I was doing though I earnt a lot less money. There’s no point changing my job. Mike (Mr Taylor’s son) used to work on the farm along with me when he first started. He was on the land a long while, he had three or four jobs. He worked for my step-father in the wood trade, then he worked for another chap in Wellingham, Ray, in the wood business. He went driving the truck for him and the crane to load them up, then he left. He worked for the Council, driving for twenty-one years, until got (illness. The son is doing well now, Mr Taylor says he is doing exceptionally well now, but getting too fat.)

A couple of funny stories, as an afterthought, after the end of the interview.

We used to boil the kettle on the stove and we had to cart all the water up, as I said, well, we had a great big pantry and in the summertime, we had to go to a big water tank, get a bowl of water, cold water and wash and shave in the shed and this was wintertime, and I went to the pantry, filled the kettle up, used the water out of the kettle, had a wash and cleared up, filled the kettle up again in the pantry, with the jug, and I suppose I must have filled it up too much, more than I should have done. Well, my grandfather sit agin the fire like this here, asleep, with the dog by his feet, just in his socks, with my grandmother on the other side, and I went to put it on the stove and some shot out the spout column and all down by his feet. Well, he shout and reckon I scald him. He say “you scald my feet”. Boy, he did me mob me. I said “what, with cold water?” I suppose, what with being asleep, he felt that was hot water!

We used to have some laughs on the farm. One time, we had big binders, you know, big rolls of twine. We used to put our bikes in the garage, well, then there was the binder twine. Well, somebody ties one of the rolls of twine to his carrier (on his bike), so he rode off out the yard, pulling this here string, 200 yards of string he took off with him. We used to have some pranks with one another, you know, but we never did do anything to hurt anyone or do any damage.

There was sheep on the farm, a lot of bullocks as I told you, I was bullock feeder, I did it for two winters, then I got fed up cos my mates, Sunday afternoon, my mates, after we had our bikes, was dressed up, I say dressed up, we only had one suit cos during the war, you had coupons, and when I got married, I had to borrow some coupons off my grandfather and grandmother to buy a suit to get married in. You had everything brought to the door, you didn’t have to run out after nothing, but when your coupons run out, that was your lot, We used to go poaching a lot, knock off a pheasant or a rabbit or that sort of thing, you know.

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