Working Lives

Farming in Norfolk through the years (1930-2020s)

Location: Broads

Austin’s story is part of the Norfolk Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG) interviews with Broads farmers conducted under the Water Mills and Marshes project.

I was born at Heath Farm, Banham on the 20th May 1930. I went to school in Carleton Rode and Old Buckenham and then spent two years at Chadacre agricultural college, between 1946 and 1948. Next year they will be celebrating the college being 100 years old, and there will be a big reunion. Times have changed a lot since then.

My earliest memory is moving from Banham to Carleton Rode, I was not quite five. We had everything on a wagon, with two horses, everything piled on. We had another horse with a tumbril.

I spent my time as a young lad helping on the farm. I started at the age of six, when I could lift things and from about the age of 10 we’d help at harvest time. We used to help feed the cattle and pigs, get the horses in. When I was 11 I could milk the cow and we used to sell the milk at the door. People would leave jugs there and we’d fill them up and they’d come and get them in the afternoon. We had about 10 cows and chickens. The cows were mostly shorthorn cross, nothing fancy. We used to kill a pig every year, the farm we had moved to had a slaughterhouse .

My grandfather lived there originally and used to slaughter pigs and send them to London.

School and the Second World War

Old Buckenham school was next door to the aerodrome and we passed this from time to time. The fields and ditches were bulldozed, flattened and the black Americans as I called them came and built it as they were the engineers. They had big machines to lay the runway and lorries to feed it with stone.

The Americans used to come and entertain us at school with singing and that sort of thing, it was the first time that I had seen dark Americans. They used to throw a party for the school children.

Once the runway was built they then left as they didn’t mix. The white American soldiers wouldn’t mix with the darker Americans. The aeroplanes landed in 1942. We used to bike on the aerodrome and I’ve got a diary and I wrote, ‘We went in a liberator’. They were so friendly and gave us sweets and chewing gum and all that.

They let us in and lifted us up but there wasn’t a lot of room. Gradually this stopped, they came around in jeeps, but we were still able to stop and talk to the guards at the entrance and get our sweets and things.

I remember once seeing a Lancaster bomber land and it had a hole right through the middle, it had been hit you see and it flew to the nearest aerodrome. The ambulance went up and got them out. Later in the war there was more danger to us families living near the aerodrome because we had more planes crashing than we did bombs. There were so many you couldn’t imagine.

When we were going to school they’d go up at eight o’clock and they’d gather, the sky above you would be full, full of aeroplanes. They reckon that there was an aerodrome every five miles in Norfolk.

There was Old Buckenham, Tibenham, Hethel, all within five miles of each other.

I remember being in school one day and one plane took off but it didn’t make it, it just exploded. It rattled the windows of the school.

I remember the bombers coming over Norwich and that was a bit frightening. That one time I was frightened. I remember that they flew so low, just over the treetops and I saw Germans, not the faces but I did see the swastikas and everything.

You know how you can see the lights of Norwich on a cloudy night? That’s what it looked like when they were bombing, it lit the sky up, glowing with fire, they had those incendiaries.

I was coming home from school one day, I was about ten then, I was right young.  We saw two or three spitfires after a German bomber, eventually I think that they shot it down. I also saw a Lancaster take off at Tacolneston, it had had to take a forced landing.

After school and college – working on the farm

I worked at home after we got married until Father retired which was, cor blimey I’ve got to think about this, 1965 it was. We had a small farm in partnership with my father and brother. We reared pigs and poultry, hens, turkeys, you know for Christmas. We used to do about 3000 and in them days we had to pluck them all by hand. It used to start on about the 10th December and finish about the 22nd. They used to go to different butchers.

At that time Bernard Matthews had started to take off and other places too, some succeeded and some fell by the wayside. My grandfather used to buy turkeys for Christmas, he’d go round the farms, and gather them up, fatten them up and take them to Smithfield and sell them himself on the market. That’s my grandfather though, I’m going back too far now.

But Matthews and one or two others went big and built factories to pluck them and all that, but we just kept as Christmas turkeys. We reared pigs, my wife’s pigs we had and we used to sell them for breeding and killing. We used to sell boars and gilts. We kept them indoors, we did have them in the field but our land wasn’t good enough, we had about 40 in the finish.

As well as the livestock that I have talked about, we also grew crops. We grew sugar beet, spring barley and hay, for the cattle. We’d have a few mangles for the cows. There was always hay and you cut the corn on the binder. We grew clover too, both red and white. If you were lucky enough with the clover mixture you’d let the clover grow for seed but that was very rare to get seed, but if you did, you’d be rich.

When we had a problem with Dutch elm disease, it took a long while if I remember, the trees, leaves just rotted. You don’t really take it in until it’s gone do you? We just left them and then cut them up and used them for firewood. There was a big one by the side of the shed that we took down because it was rotten, it tough old stuff as that’s what they used to make coffins out of didn’t they.

When my father retired I got offered a job by my father-in-law, and I have been here ever since, as the farm manager. You see he was part of the family of the owner of the marshes back then. I am not 100% sure of this but I think that his grandfather acquired and then bought the marshes, I don’t know how long it took him to buy them. This must have been in the early 1900s before the first war, because they came here in about 1890.

I don’t know how many acres they had at first, but eventually there were about four or five thousand acres which included the marsh. It was a huge amount of land that was quite cheap, with heavy clay. The grandfather came here from Suffolk and gradually bought land, there were only two farms that gave more than £10 an acre, one was the Lodge and the other was Park Farm at Winfarthing, all the rest went for less.

You see they bought farms, and most farms were 100 – 150 acres and he acquired all of them.

Interview with Austin Brundle edited by WISEArchive ©  2024.