Working Lives

A lifetime on the farm (1938-2021)

Location: Norwich

Jack tells us about his life growing up in Crownthorpe on the farm originally part of the Kimberley Estate, which he took over from his father and still works today.

I was born in 1938 in Fressingfield in Suffolk and we moved to where we are now in 1939, so I have lived here for 82 years.

I went to Wicklewood primary school, there was two teachers, two classrooms and the head master Mr Topham lived on the site. A Miss Hill lived at Wymondham and she walked and biked to school every day, even in 1947 when we was snowed up, we all got there. There was always a big fire in each classroom, where you hung your clothes round and warmed ‘em up and dried ‘em up.

I enjoyed school but I don’t think it was as much about education as it was enjoying yourselves. We were taught manners at school. If you went into school in the morning and you didn’t say, ‘Morning Sir’ or, ‘Morning Miss’ you were asked if you’d lost your tongue. It’s a pity that they can’t do that now for some of these kids, but that was life, that was village life, we walked to school and if we could find a berry on the hedge or an apple or something we’d always eat that.

When I was 11 I was sent to Wymondham secondary modern school, we had to bike there. If I remember rightly at the time, I think that I was given a 410 pistol, something like that and we had some rough meadow land at the time and I’d go and poke about and I’d shoot a rabbit or a pigeon. I would take them to school, and on the way to school you’d give them to people, some would want them to eat and some wanted pet food. You learnt to shoot straight because you had to buy the cartridges yourself. You were never given nothing, so you didn’t waste nothing.

I didn’t go to school much after 13, I was working in the farm.

I’d be helping to milk the cows in the morning and as we got a little bigger we’d be called up in the middle of the night, ‘Come and help me’ and Father would be struggling like hell to pull a calf out of the cow. But once you’d done it and achieved it and got her to breathe life a little, I mean you’d achieved something.

I can just remember when we never had no mains electric, we never had no mains water, we used to get water out of the well and had to light the copper in the morning to get the hot water. We’d all have a bath in an old tin bath in front of the fire once a week. Then we got mains water and things have gradually progressed.

As for entertainment at nights, we all learnt how to knit and we also made rug mats. Sometimes we were given a butter churn and a gallon of milk, we’d turn the handle and made the butter.

I joined the Young Farmers at 17 and we went to various things and met different people. When I was about 20 years old I started playing cricket for Spooner Row where I spent the rest of my cricket life.

Kimberley Estate

My father was a tenant on the Kimberley Estate, but the whole of Wicklewood village belonged to the Earl of Kimberley. The estate was eventually sold up – well the young Lord at the time was a bit of a playboy but you couldn’t blame him all that much. His grandfather died just before the war and then his father was killed in a bomb raid in London. So the young Lord, he was 19, had to pay two lots of death duties and that just went and messed the estate up. When the estate was in good going order there would be five gamekeepers and everybody in the village went to work at Kimberley Hall or various places to do with the estate.

But at any rate the estate was sold up and my parents bought the farm and then we went from there. Most of the people in Wicklewood lived in estate houses paying a few shillings a week rent. A lot of people bought their own houses and there were allotments here, opposite the Cherry Tree pub, no houses on them at all, just allotments. Mr Burgess and the Morgans had nurseries in the village. They grew flowers, tomatoes and all them sort of things, everybody was employed in the village. Everybody in the village knew everybody and as for the policeman, he’d soon tell you off if you weren’t doing right. But you always respected him, but he knew everything what went on in the village, he’d tell you what you were doing and where you were.

Working on the farm

As I said I didn’t go to school much after 13, I was working on the farm with other people. I mean in the winter time you’d be knocking and topping sugar beet, that’d be frozen, all ice and snow, no gloves or nothing. And your hands would crack and they’d bleed like hell, but you just carried on and done it, we didn’t know anything different. It was a back breaking job.

I mean everything was hard work, we’d finish cutting corn with the binder, sharpening it and threshing it. When you threshed the stack in them days you always put a bit of netting round it, to stop the rats. You were not allowed to let the rats run about. When you put it into the drum to be threshed, the drum feeder, if you didn’t put them up a certain way it chuck ‘em at you and you’d have ‘em down your neck. But you were always taught to do things properly in them days.

I can just remember when we had a combine, thought that was the cat’s whiskers, used to fill the bags up and then drop ‘em off at one corner of the field. Then at night time when you’d finished combining you’d go around with a tractor trailer or horse and cart and you’d clear all the bags up.

In them days they were all in coomb sacks, a coomb of barley weighs 16 stone, a coomb of wheat weighed 18 stone and a coomb of beans weighed 22 stone, and we used to carry ‘em on our backs. They wonder why we got no knee joints or nothing left nowadays. I mean some of these people now don’t know they’re born. But the village life was everybody, you’d help people, people’d help you. I mean we had pigs on the farm and all that and I was soon taught how to castrate pigs, and all that sort of thing, with a proper scalpel. One or two people in the village would be like, ‘Can you just castrate that, boy?’ Then perhaps one of them would kill a pig, and the only thing they didn’t eat on a pig was the squeak. Everything else was eaten, the innards were all cleaned and done, they were called chitterlings. The heads we always boiled and put into pork cheeses, nothing was wasted.

The farm had got more busy, and then I don’t know exactly what year it was but my father sold the cows and then we used to fatten a lot of bullocks. We carried on just a normal farming life, best we could.

We then started growing peas for Birds Eye, must have been when they first started freezing peas. We used to put them on tractors and trailers and take them to the viner at Colton behind the Old Negro’s Head pub what was there at the time. That went on for a few years but then Birds Eye moved the viners to Upton between Norwich and Yarmouth. We put extension sides on the lorry and loaded the peas and took them to Upton. If you could drive a lorry they’d chuck you in and say, ‘Take it to Upton. We’d go up through Wymondham, Hethersett, Cringleford Bridge, Newmarket Road, down St Stephens and round Castle Meadow and up Prince of Wales Road.

If we went the Watton way we used to go up Earlham Road, down St Giles through London Street and up Prince of Wales Road, that went on for several years.

I mean in them days all the holiday makers used to come out of the Midlands to Yarmouth and that for their holidays and there’d be hundreds of coaches on the roads every Saturday. They had to bring some down and take some back and I mean little old town of Wymondham, Market Street and Damgate Street was just chaos.

Anyway so we went on, I don’t know what age I took over the farm really, I know we hadn’t been there too long, as I say, Father bought the farm and I was made partner and then my mother died suddenly. We’d just built them a bungalow and they’d just moved in and then mother died suddenly and I was left in the farmhouse where I lived on my own for nine years. I had one or two friends at times,. But apart from that we just carried on farming. I got married when I was 41, I got two daughters who both went to Harper Adams University and both done well.

Things got easier but there was still the manual labour to do, I mean all wintertime we’d be in the ditches with the shovel, cleaning them out, running the water, keeping the water away, In them days we always had road men, people used to swear about lazy old b’s but they took pride in their job, They kept the water gullies clean and there was none of the water on the road and we never got no potholes. Well nowadays, you got two people in a motor and what they got? One with an Ipad and another one putting white lines, but if they were to learn how to use a shovel and a draining rod that’d do a lot more good.

Riding a bike with no hands whilst eating fish and chips

When we were about 15, 16, five or six of us used to get our bikes on a Saturday night and for entertainment we used to bike to Norwich to see the speedway. Well, after that, we weren’t allowed in the pub but we’d get fish and chips and ride down Aylsham Road on our way home, Cromer Road, eating our fish and chips and riding the bike with no hands. Well you wouldn’t dare do that now.

Then someone in the village, an enterprising chap by the name Chenery thought he’d open a chippy, which he did in his house. He bought fish fryers and done the potatoes. When you went and ordered the fish and chips he’d go outside, having no fridge or nothing, he kept the fish on a rope down the bottom of the well. To keep it cool. He’d wind the bit up, get your fish and then do it.

Cherry Tree pub

When I first left school there was three, four pubs in the village, three in Wicklewood and one at Crownthorpe, The Chapel Bell, and two at Hackford. I mean there was four, six pubs in what, three quarters of a mile of each other, and everybody seemed to get on alright.

The Cherry Tree, well that had two little rooms in it, no bar. Iris wasn’t a Norfolk girl, she was a girl from Sussex or somewhere down that part of the world. She met her husband Ted during the War and they lived there. I mean she was a real old character, she made the best horseradish for miles around and people came from miles around to buy that. You had the public bar, then a little private room but if you wanted to go, you had to go outside and go round and in a separate door. The toilet was a tin shack outside the door.

There was a bloke who worked on the farm, who I think won £7000 on the football pools. He started doing a bit of contracting, any rate his father would come to the pub and nobody’d say ‘Evening’ to him. If you said, ‘Evening Percy how are ya?’ he’d put his hand round his ear and he say, ‘I’ll have a pint of mild please’.

There was another old boy there that come in, and all he kept moaning about for three or four days was toothache and someone say, ‘well tuck that piece of string round it and tie it to the door handle and slam the door’, ‘Oh can’t do that’. They kept talking about it so Iris, she walked out, slammed the door, pulled his tooth out, gave the old boy a drop of whisky and that was the end of that story. Ted and Iris were great and everything revolved round the village pub really didn’t it.

In about 1998 the village pub was up for sale and everybody kept on what they were going to do, they were going to do this that and the other. I made a few enquiries and finished up buying the pub, and we kept the pub open. We had some tenants, had a bit of bother so eventually we let the pub to Buffy’s Brewery from Tivetshall and then my daughters wanted to buy a house so I decided to sell it to Roger and Julie and they’re still there today. If I hadn’t bought the pub I don’t think that there would have been one there today.

Cricket, hockey and the Wicklewood shield

I joined the Young Farmers at 17 and at about 20 years old I started playing cricket for Spooner Row where I spent the rest of my cricket life.

I was the only person to score 100 runs for the club, and they presented me with a trophy for it. I also got hit by a cricket ball and knocked all my teeth out, wicket keeping, but that’s another story. I played hockey for Dereham hockey club and Wymondham hockey club.

About 40 something years ago an old boy died in the village and when his daughter cleaned the house she found a Wicklewood shield, a cricket competition which was first played in 1921. She brought it to me and said, ‘What would you like to do?’ Every village had a cricket team and the competition was run and it is nice to know that it is still going today. And that’s a hundred years old this year.

Changes in the village

The village had changed a lot, but I aren’t going to say that’s done for the good, ‘cause these people moving into the village now, they want everything and all that. I mean when the road passed the farm down to Wymondham it was nothing but a track.

But the village school is doing very well. I mean when my two girls went to school, I think there was 28 or 30 there and they were talking about closing it. But now they tell me that there’s nearly 200 children there.

There’s some things in the village that should change. I mean there’s a bloke that’s born in the village, his children were born in the village, he got a little building plot and these planners they will not let him build there. But these developers keep coming along building these plots and outsiders coming in, but they don’t encourage local people to keep in the village. They say, ‘Well he can buy a house when those are built 50 yards up the road’. Well I mean if you got a bit of land you could build a house, and you’re going to build it you’re not going to pay all this extortionate money to these other builders. And the people from the developers promise people everything and what do they do? As soon as they got their planning permission they build what they want, appeal against affordable housing, saying that can’t afford to do it.

They want to ask these locals where the drains went and when these developers build these big sites they need to make sure that they get the drainage right before they do the building. Not get away with everything like they do. Trouble is nowadays you ask people a question and it’s not a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ it’s ‘Well we might do this, we might do that’, when one simple answer would solve the problem. But people aren’t allowed to do that now, I was always told, ‘A spade’s a spade’ and I mean people say, ‘well we’ll email this, we’ll do that’. Whether I shall offend some people saying this or not I don’t know but I will not do nothing like that at all. If I want to speak to somebody I’ll go and speak to their faces and tell them that.

So what else can I tell you about my life, some things you don’t want to know, some things are not to be repeated. I’m 83 this year and I still get up most mornings at half past five, six o’clock, but I do like to be in bed by nine o’clock, half past nine, I don’t mind admitting I do get a bit tired now.

I mean over the various years, well I have had a bit of help. I had two new knee joints, and them sorts of things. Years ago if we cut our hands or anything like that, which you would when you were topping sugar beet, you were always told to pee on your hands and we never did have any infections at all, never. But if you got cut badly you did go to the doctors and they’d sew you up, but I mean as for breaking fingers, well you just used to stick a pencil between two and tape them together and never worried about them. We’d never run to hospital with all these little ailments like people do nowadays.

Well, we’re now here, as I say 83 in October. I hope that you’ve enjoyed this, that’s my life story.


John ‘Jack’ Hipperson talking to WISEArchive on 16th June 2021 in Wicklewood, Norfolk.

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