Working Lives

The Water Diviner (1935-2006)

Location: North Norfolk

Ray talks about his childhood and working on the farm. He learned to be a water diviner from another diviner, and found large reserves of water for landowners.

I hope you’ll understand my Norfolk brogue.

I want to tell you a little story, which I think, is marvellous. During the war, all of a sudden they turned the area into Langham airfield and stopped people from going across. An old boy I knew, he was on the way to Langham Bell , and he came across some people who said ‘Right now, back you go’ and turned him back. He was Norfolk, but he wasn’t soft, so he waited for an hour and started going again and he heard these people come, so he turned his bike round to go home and they said. ‘Oi, you’ve got to turn round to go back,’ and they sent him on the way he wanted to go. And they played that same trick on him when he wanted to come back and all the rest of it and never did catch him, but when the Yanks come along and took over, they found out, and they said, ‘Leave him alone. He’s not hurting anyone. Let him carry on.’ And so he carried on. That was rather funny I thought.

I’ll tell you one or two little things. I’m a water diviner and I found out how to divine water from what another water diviner what told me and tested me, else I shouldn’t have known. A chap from out near Norwich said would I come and divine him some water, I said, ‘Yes, that’ll cost you 40 quid’, and that was a lot of money in those days. So I went over there and he wanted to get a pond and I said ‘Well I can’t get you a pond, but I can find out where the water is and tell you the depth.’ So I had a look round and suddenly when I took my sticks out and had a look, blast! I got a shock, because that’s how you tell, you do get a shock, like someone pulling the hairs on your arms and therefore, I said to him, ‘Wait a minute, I’ll check the depth’ and I checked the depth and there was 8ft of water, and that’s a hell of a lot of water. ‘Oh’ he said, ‘I’ll get a digger in.’ So we marked the spot and he got a digger in and him and the chap who supplied all the gear for him come to see me. He told me he’d went out there with a digger started to scrape a great big pond pool to get a pond of water in and he’d got to pump it up and the chap said he were 8ft down and that there was nothing there. He turned around and put the big end down and got his bucket and splashed into it and went straight through and up come the water, gallons on gallons. Well, in the end, his digger was under water and they had to send to get somebody to get it out, but he got his water and he didn’t blame me for it, he said ‘Well, that’s that, I certainly got more water than I thought I would and the digger is still working.’ The reason the water don’t come through is because when you’ve got an underground stream, even in a country where the water is hard, the more that flow through, that puts deposits of chalk round the outside making a strong pipe that can be about 2-3ft thick, so normally it wouldn’t burst out, but when that digger smashed through into that, of course that was freed and up it flew! Anyway, thought you might like to hear that little story.

That was a little picture there that I took when I got insurance against spray damage. Before I could afford to spray them myself, a chap come in to spray the beet and killed them. So I had that picture and the insurance paid out, but it always pays to take a picture of these things before anything happens, because otherwise people swear blind that it never happened.

When I was seven, long before they had vets, we all relied on what fathers before us had told us, and my father made me a wheelbarrow. ‘Here you are boy, wheel that to school and when you come back get some herbs like that, do you know which ones to get?’ He wanted me to get all these herbs out the hedges that we called soldier’s buttons, don’t know if you know what I’m talking about, because we had no latin name for them, everything was a local name and then we had some horse pepper- do you know horse pepper was lovely stuff to eat? You wouldn’t think so, but it’s like celery. We used to take this stuff home and mother used to dry them, hang them out, grind some up then we would make our uses of, all sorts of things, and another thing which is a bit off the hand but I’ll tell you, if a horse had sore shoulders you would mix pee and salt up in a bottle, corked and left for a month and if a horse had sore shoulders, pat that on them and in the morning their shoulders had hardened up and they were alright. That’s just one of them sorts of things that happened.

Now things that they don’t do now and of course wouldn’t be allowed to… when I was ten, or eleven my old father used to take me to Norwich, to the cattle market and if he bought some Irish cattle , it was my job to drive them home. I knew the way, but remember I’m only nine or ten years old and when I got to the pub half way home the woman there would give us a cup of tea. And what reward did we get for all that? A new battery in the torch! And as kids then, we thought the new battery in the torch, well that was marvellous! The cattle had just come off the boat, you see and when we were having our cup of tea, they wouldn’t run very far because half of them were sea sick, anyway. My father would come with the horse and cart and meet me after we had got home. I would then jump out of the cart, pull the sack over me and have a little doze. It was no problem at all getting out of Norwich. In them days, they had certain streets for it; the shopkeepers would board all their windows up to stop the horns going through.

Now another little story, years ago, when we couldn’t afford watches, so when we were working in the field, on hard sugar beet or whatever, we had a stick and we would stick it in the field and smooth all the way round it, we had no idea what the time was. And when someone was coming down the road on their bike, someone would say, ‘Oy! oy! what time is it now?’ Well this chap has probably got a watch and he would tell you, ‘Well, I make that quarter past one.’ So you would make a mark for quarter past one. And the next day you knew it was quarter past one considering the sun shines in the same place. One thing was certain when you worked with horses, they knew the time, because they would be working up and down all day long, just working up and down. When it come to knocking off time, they go like hell to the top of the field, they knew that was our last one- how did they know that? But they certainly did.

When you are working for your father you’ve got to be good at everything and I know one morning, because you had to have the horses ready to go out at seven o clock for the men to come in to take them .I woke up, didn’t know what time it was, didn’t have a watch. Got out of bed, went up to the stables, thought that the horses hadn’t made a lot of muck today, but never mind, cleaned them all out, fed them and thought, ‘Where’s everybody gone? The horses haven’t made a lot of mess. I’ll nip back home.’ That was then quarter past one in the morning, you see I never looked at the time, you didn’t in them days and so that was that, not very nice, but there you go!

When I was 14 years old, my job was to look after 26 pigs, 10 bullocks and two colts, that was my job when I was 14. I had to make sure everything was all right so, that was the sort of thing you had to do in them days. Now years ago, they sent a stallion come round to serve the mares and he would serve one and then walk out and serve another- rather a lot for a male, I think but there we go, so they used to feed them on mint and when that horse was fed on mint, it nearly went for the cow, so there’s something in that!

I remember this because I was milking a cow at the time. We had some visitors come round from I don’t know where, London or somewhere and they said ‘Can we come and see the cows milked?’ I said, ‘ Yeah, if you like.’ She stood behind the cow and I said, ‘Don’t stand behind the cow missus!’ She asked why and I said ‘I don’t want you to find out,’ I thought I better watch my tongue. She said, ‘I’m alright, I’m alright’, well the cow coughed. She was splattered. Not very nice for them, but I had a good laugh over it.

My father once bought a horse, a pony in a trap and that’s supposed to be bomb proof as they called it then; shock proof. So my father said ‘Go down the lane and hide in the bush-you know what to do don’t you?’ So he come along to see if it would pass as bomb-proof and I jumped out ‘Woof! Woof! Woof!’ and it kicked about and God knows what and he said, ‘ Well I don’t what that one if that’s not bomb- proof.’ They had to go practical in them days didn’t they?

When a foal was born and when it got old enough to walk and mess about and we’d take it up to the railway station with the old mare and spend all day there, with the trains coming in ‘Hoot! Hoot!’ and all the noise of that, that they would get used to it so that when their turn would come, when they were about three or four years old and they were put in, then they were used to these trains and didn’t jump about. Lots of things were so practical in those days, so practical that nowadays, every university doesn’t know how to do them!

We had 12 men working on that farm. Some would be hedging, some would be ploughing, looking after the cattle all different jobs – there was no mechanisation at all, everything done by hand and it takes a lot longer. We had a dug cleared out today by a digger that took two hours – there’s a fortnight’s work for a man there. See, that’s so much different. My grandfather ploughed with bullocks, steers he called them and in the barn they had the steers’ yokes still hung up there, we never took them down. It’s the same with the flails which were a large stick with a piece of leather and another large stick which you were to throw and knock about to thrash the corn with, because there were no thrashing engines, not in my grandfather’s day and I’m telling you, it’s not what happened to me, I’m too young for that, but it’s what happened years ago, and how things have changed from years ago.

The first machinery I used was a south binder for binding corn up. Well, when you had something go wrong with a south-binder, 9 times out of 10, that’s the (?) went wrong and when they went wrong, we had to send for a man in North Walsham to put it right. So, he had been once or twice when that had go wrong, so having a little bit of knowledge behind me, when he had got to come this time, I put a big stack sheet out and got the binder on the stack sheet so that if anything dropped, it could be found. Then, I thought, well I don’t know, I ain’t going to learn nothing being all clever, so when he started it off- now I know I’ve got to tell you this but his nickname was ‘Piss’ because if he ever dropped anything he’d say ‘piss.’ So we called him Piss! Anyway, so he started taking this down and I acted very ignorant, so I said ‘what the hell are you doing there?’ He said ‘Well, this has got to go through there to that.’ ‘ Oooh, I said!’ very ignorant. ‘What are you doing that for?’ he said, I said ‘ Oh nothing, nothing. ‘ ‘ Well, that goes, through there’ ‘why?’ ‘What is this there’ And he showed me this, that and the other and in the end he finished. I got enough to think about and think about that the next time he came round I put the rope up myself and then the local farmer used to say to my brother, ‘ Can we have Ray to come and mend the (nutter) for us?’ So I had to go running round and in the end they used to give me so much for mending their (?), which was half the price of that . Funny little jobs we used to do, but there you go. You had to be, well, an engineer if you like, years ago I’m talking about, when I was a boy, because I started when I was seven, you see, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t have a full-time job at seven, but I had to help my father, it wasn’t a job, they just expect it of you. Now, that’s another thing, he learnt me when I milk cows and if I wanted to milk them quickly and easily, he had a funny old thing in there called a wireless, he used to turn the music on and the cows would give their milk as quick as that. Funny, isn’t it? It was the music that did it. And, when you go to take your horses out, if you wanted to take them somewhere which is rather particular, like on a parade, or something or other, you used to whistle to them. You don’t know why you whistled to them, do you? That made them pee! Nowadays, if someone can’t go to the toilet, you go and turn the tap on and for the horse it were the same with whistling. So there is something in that. There you go, that’s life for you.

My mother used to supply everyone round here with butter, everyone come to our house for butter. I got round my sister once because she wasn’t very well and she used to have to do the milk round and she wasn’t very well so my father said, ‘ You have to do the milk round today boy.’ I did it and I was there and back in 20 minutes, she took two hours. I didn’t gas up like she did.

All the farms round here had dairies, self-contained and everything. I mean, you didn’t have artificial because you had so much cattle that you had to clean out and put the muck on the fields, so everything was what they call organic, so you call it. Now, see today, if they have fly on sugar beet they spray it, but years ago, we never had fly on the sugar beet. Why? Well, I’ll tell you, the horses would chuck dust everywhere and of course, the green fly don’t like dust and of course that kept them away, we didn’t know it at the time, of course, but there we go.

If you haven’t got money in the bank, you can’t get no horses. What happens when the oil runs out, you’re going to need horses. What happens then? That’s got to happen sooner or later.

With pigs, people look upon them as just an animal to get pork from, but do you know they are the most faithful animal you will get. Very faithful. Now when we had the sow’s pigs, I always used to go with my sows and I’d lay there with them and I’d pick up their little pigs and put them over the wall and under a light which was warm and at the same time, I’d take them and cut their (?) off and didn’t go to the sow’s tit and make her go berserk and used to look after them. The sow took you as a good friend. That was all right, you see, we never even realised that. A chap came in from the piggery and I stood outside one of the pens and he said ‘How you getting on?’ and the sow went after him! She thought ‘That man was hurting my friend!’ Me! That’s how they are you see. Scared him and scared me and all. He asked, ‘What happened with that sow then?’ and I said ‘ You touched me on the shoulder’ and he said ‘Yeah?’ And I said ‘That sow thought that you were going to hurt me. I feed it and look after me and that take me as a big friend.’ Now, we kept goats as well and my goats, I used to take to work with me. I’d say, ‘Come on, come Pip’ and that little goat, well, it wasn’t little, it was a fair size, would follow me and I’d be working in the field and when I was ready to go, I’d say ‘ come Pip, come on’ and Pip would come along and follow me home. Somewhat different today isn’t it? Everything was down to earth I suppose.

Goats’ milk, did you know can cure eczema and if we ever had any trouble at all we would have milk from the goats. And we would have several people who would have cow’s milk who also wanted special goat’s milk, so we catered for both, you see. It was just after the war.

We never killed any animals. In fact, we was rather friendly with them. We knew they had to be sold and had to be killed, but we gave them all names. Did you know that sheep have individual faces? You can tell one sheep from the other by just looking at it. We had 100 sheep, because they would come out with this stuff called sugar beet, they would eat the tops. We used to go through the hayfield, a crowd of us, pulling out the ragwort. We pulled it out and kept it, we put it down the end of the field and we set fire to it, because ragwort will send something wrong with the liver, or so we’d been told. We knew that a chap had a horse once and we were called out to have a look at it and I said, ‘ I know what’s wrong with that, that’s liver trouble- I said look, look for yourself. I can see a ragwort’ and pulled it out.

Now, years ago, I’m talking about in my father’s time and I was only a kid at the time, we had a white horse that we couldn’t catch, he wouldn’t let you catch him. He used to rear up and god knows what. So, I said, ‘I’ll send for old Tom and he can do something about that. Marvellous man with horses, come on boys, I’ll show you.’ We went down when he come on a bike, modern transport and he stood there and he said ‘Which horse is it?’ ‘ It’s that grey mare up in that corner’. He said, ‘What can’t you do?’ ‘We can’t catch him.’ He started to whistle and the horse shook his head about, looked, old Tom give another whistle and he came across straight up to Tom and Tom said ‘Put the halter on him- he’ll never be any more trouble.’ And he wasn’t! So, I said to my father, ‘What the hell?!- How? Why?’ He said, ‘Well, he had a bullet in his pocket.’ God knows why but he had a bullet in his pocket, but that actually happened. Certain people have skills that other people ain’t got.

I remember once my mother made elderflower champagne. We got a pampering! We down sat having our dinner and then we heard a bang- ‘what’s that?’ and mother said, ‘I’ve corked that champagne and I’ve done it too early.’ There was six bottles in there and they had all gone, there was six bangs and it was all over the floor, it had all gone over everywhere. That elderflower champagne is funny stuff, because we were mucking out in Langham, forking the bullocks muck onto a cart to spread on the field and we were getting knackered and so, my sister come into the field and she said ‘Mother has sent some elderflower champagne for you.’ So we had a drink and they couldn’t keep up with us after that, something that gave us energy in that, that we would work like hell, but there we go, that’s a lovely story.

We always got blackberries. There wasn’t a Safeway or anything like that in them days, you used to do it all yourself, bottles and bottles and bottles of it, and put it in Kilner jars, I think they called them. We were working in the field one day, harvesting and a few spots of water come, so we put cloth over the top of the stack, and we got into a nearby hut- and well, that thundered and that rained and it rained frogs, you’ve never seen anything like it, there were frogs everywhere. We thought, ‘This is funny.’ When it stopped raining, we went to take the cloth off the top off the stack and there were frogs on top the stack. So that actually rained frogs. I suppose the heat drove up the eggs with water and they hatched up there.

A lot of things happened years ago, they don’t do now, they are outdated. I went up to Holt one day to see an electrician and said to him, ‘How much is that?’ and he said, ‘ 100 pounds’ and I said ‘I haven’t got any money on me.’ He said, ‘ I know you haven’t, you bring it when you’re ready.’ (I went back in November) and I said, there you are, ten tens and he got a computer out and started pressing all these buttons…

Raymond Allen (b. 1920) talking to WISEArchive on 20th October 2006.

© 2021 WISEArchive. All Rights Reserved.