I’d rather be with the horses. The Norfolk Horseman. (1936-2015)

Location : Mattishall

Sid talks about his life on farms working with horses before, during and after the Second World War. He missed the life with them when mechanisation came in and he needed to drive a tractor.

I left school when I was 14. I was only a little old tot. I lived in the council houses up the Norwich Road then and I went up to East Tuddenham and I asked the farmer if I could have a job. ‘You aren’t very big,’ he say. ‘No, but I can work and I’ll do anything’ I said. He say, ‘I’ll put you in the cow house.’ Oh, I didn’t like that and I told him when he come into the cow house in the afternoon, ‘I don’t like this I’d rather be with the horses.’ He say, ‘Alright. You can go with them tomorrow.’ So the next da’ morning I went into the stable and the foreman said I could go a-rolling. He shew me what horse I could take. I should think he was the biggest one in the stable. Whether he done it to try me out I just don’t know. I climbed into the manger and I put his collar on and I got on alright. Not long after that I finished up a-using three horses! I was only 14 and I was using these three horses on a set of harrows. When I was 16 I was second-teamin’ and I could plough, I could stack, I could thatch, I could drill and the old boy who was head-teamin’- he was a poor old feller, he didn’t get a lot of money – and when they was doin’ the sugar beet, I said to him, ‘Look,’ I said, ‘I’ll plough the beet out and you can go with the gang so you earn extra money.’ And that’s what we done and we got on like a house afire.

Difficult horses

One day I got these three colts – the oldest one was three – and I got them on a set of harness. A chap said to me, he was throwing manure on. He said, ‘Sid, bring us some of them sacks down here will you.’ I went down to the hedgerow to get these here sacks to take to him and these horses they bolted. They knocked me down and the tine of the harrows caught in my clothing. As luck would have it, the gate was open, two of ‘em went through the gate and one on ‘em went the side of the gate and they couldn’t get through and that’s what stopped ‘em. That stopped me. I was blood from head to foot I was. Anyway I went home and went to the doctor’s and he sort of done me up, one thing and another. I’ve still got scars, all on my arms and that now. That didn’t stop me. And I still carried on doin’ on ‘em. And I have really had some bad ones. I really have. One day the master he say to me, ‘I want that stallion to go to work.’ That had done some work that had, but not with another one. I took that with this other horse. I was a-ploughing. I was alright till I wanted to turn round. When I turned one way I was alright, I was pulling him away from me. When I wanted to go the other way he bit the other horse what I’d got in the legs and got him down on his knees. I done all sorts to him, I went home into the yard that night and I said to the blacksmith, ‘I want you to make me an iron bar about three foot long with a snap on each end.’ I said, ‘I can snap him to keep him away from the other one.’ So that’s what he done, and that was alright. Till he found out that if he got on his knees he could get the other one down.

But anyway, there was a chap on the farm, he says, ‘I could use him so the ol’ foreman, said, ‘Right, you can use him.’ He was in the middle of the field and I was a-drilling my sugar beet. Our foreman was with me and we could hear this fellow a-shoutin’. Oh he was a-shoutin’! This stallion had got the other horse down in the middle of the field and I said to the foreman, ‘Aren’t you going after him?’ He said, ‘No, I’m not I’ll leave him. If you can’t use him, I’m sure he can’t so we’ll leave him alone.’ He left him there for ages and at the finish he was off home. And so ol’ foreman told him, ‘Now, you’ll keep your mouth shut. Saying you can do this, that and the other.’ And he said, ‘I know,’ he said. ‘if Sid can’t use ‘im you can’t.’

I had one once, and that was a little sod that was! Every time you took him to work he lay down. That didn’t matters what he was doing, he would lay down. And I thought, ‘This’ll keep laying done on me like that there ‘un …’ So I took no more ado, I went to my tea bottle that I’d got, and I went up to him and I poured a little tea down his ear. Well, he jumped up and he shook his head – and I never did have any other trouble with him. Other old team-men and that had told me in the past. I worked up there with an old boy, he was a stallion leader. He learnt me everything I knew. He did. That was only because I listened to him. And he used to go off on a Monday morning. He’d yoke his pony and cart up and he’d get his horse ready and he’d go off, and he’d be gone a week. And he’d leave another stallion at home for me to use if there was any other horse or mares came into the yard.

I used to get the colts in the spring time and my gov’nor, he used to give me five shillings to break a colt in. After I’d broke this colt in and got him going to work and everything so somebody else could use it, he’d give me five shillings. Well, that time of day, five shillings was nearly a week’s wages. There were about 20 people worked on the farm, and we had 12 horses, five stallions and there was all these lots of colts. And the only time I used to stop breaking them in was when I was a-drilling barley and that sort of thing in the springtime. Of course we used to drill all by horse in that time o’ day.

Head man at 18 and ploughing

I was only 18 when I was head man. I’d tell them what horses they could take. The foreman used to tell them what to do, but I’d tell them what horses they could take. My father, he was a horseman. I just didn’t like the cows but I’d do anything with horses. I’ve had some good times, and I’ve had some rough times. But I’ve still got through it. They grew barley, wheat, sugar beet and hay and they drilled, sowed, harvested with the horses.

As I tell you, I could plough. They had one tractor on the farm. This chap he used to do ploughing and that, but I set the field out for him. That meant set the top furrow and he’d come in my furrow where I was, and he’d go round and that sort of thing. I used to have to make all the furrows up. Today, if you told ‘em about that, they wouldn’t know what you was talking about. If you said to them, ‘Why don’t you set a top out and make the furrows up’, they wouldn’t know a thing. What they do nowadays they start one side of the field and they go to the other. What I used to do, I used to set a stick up one end of the field and a stick in the middle and a stick at the other end, and they’d be in line. I’d plough across the field straight and then … what you’d do, you’d plough down, then you’d turn round and you’d go up and what you called ‘opened the furrow’. You’d go the opposite way to what you was a-ploughin’. You’d open this furrow. And then you’d turn it back again and that’s so that all the land had been ploughed. That had been covered, the whole land, every bit of it.

I was down at Low Farm, East Tuddenham, and the gov’nor, he came down there one day. There was two of us down there ploughing. He come down there and he said, ‘Now, I know this is heavy old land and that’s very bad going. But I’ve gotta take one of you away. I’m going to toss up to see which one to go.’ And any rate, I lost the toss and I had to stop down there. And I was down there the whole of the winter a-ploughing this farm. And every field that was there, I done all of it. And I used to have to do that in what they called 12-furrow rigs. You’d do the top and then you’d do 12 furrows round. And then you’d make your furrow up. And then you’d do another top. I done that there like that and the only people I could see was … Well, I could see in the distance going over Burnham Broom crossroads. That’s the only persons I see the whole of the winter. The only people I had to talk to were my horses. There was water everywhere, there was. I’ve been a-ploughing and had water run down the furrow behind me. I enjoyed the old horses’ company and they enjoyed mine.

I had one horse up there, I broke him in when he was two years old. I broke him in, and he was still there when I left the farm. He was the only horse on the farm still left there when I left. And he used to follow me about everywhere. The gov’nor’s wife, she used to say to me, ‘Sid, do you ever go home without him?’ She said, ‘I think if you could, you’d take him home to bed with you, won’t you?’ Harry, his name was. He was a lovely one. I’ve got a picture here. They were Percherons and lived to 25-30. Up there my gov’nor was always selling on ‘em. I told him one day, ‘If you sell him, I’m a-goin’!’ He said, ‘No Sid, I won’t sell him.’ He was still there when I left. I was there a long while, till well after I was married in 1946.

Home guard and working during the war

During the war I was in the Home Guard but I was also attached to the Army and when the Army wanted me, they’d call me up and I’d have to go for about a couple of months. I was still attached to the Home Guard in Dorking in Surrey. I never got called up into the regular army. When I got my papers to go into the Army, he filled them all in and said that he wanted me on the farm. I’ve seen as many as 20 people working chopping the sugar beet out on a field at the same time. We had a lot of prisoners of war, Italians and that sort of thing.

I used to be ploughing the sugar beet out and the men would come along and they’d pull ‘em and knock ‘em, lay them into rows. Then they’d have a cart come along in between the rows, top the sugar beet and cop ‘em onto the cart, and then they’d have a boy would go and take the cart onto the road to the chap who was unloading them. They’d do like that. And that is where the men on the farm earn’t their extra money. They used to have that money and they used to save that and they used to hurry up to get the sugar beet done before Christmas, so that they had the money for Christmas. If that rained all day, they’d have to go home. But me, I’d have to be a-ploughing all day long whatever weather. I’ve been doing that when there’d been snow covering the sugar beet all up. They’d been a-carting them off, just the same. We had like, there would be eight of ‘em in the gang. There’d be four on ‘em topping and carting ‘em off and there’d be four of ‘em a-knocking and laying of them in the rows. There’d be eight of ‘em in the gang.

That’s how much we got. £2 15, for that acre of sugar beet, after they’d pulled that. And then there was five of ‘em got £36 10 shillings. £7 6 shillings each. That was a good wage, because we got four for the week. You’d have to load a lorry-load of sugar beet up and they’d give you four shillings to do it. I had to work it all out and take it to the gov’nor on the Friday night. Some weeks it was poor and you had to save some back for the next week. The gov’nor would keep the money. But I used to have all the records of it.

We had land girls there. We also had Italian prisoners of war. They stayed in an old farmhouse called Frans Green and that’s just the other side of the A4. If we had any problems, the foreman or the gov’nor would get in touch with the Army and they would come down and they’d sort them ones out and take them ones. We had one chap; he was only a young fella. They couldn’t do nothing with him. He wouldn’t work, he wouldn’t do this, he wouldn’t do that. And whatever happened to him I don’t know. We was a-carting barley, well, that was thrashing of it, that’s what they were doing. And he wouldn’t do nothing and so the foreman he told the gov’nor to get in touch with the Army and they came down and they got him and they took him away. We never did see him no more. What happened to him, I just don’t know. We didn’t have too many land girls there. There were only about, what, two I think. We had more prisoners of war than anything.

The vicar was a good chap

You used to have to take the National Insurance off. I got injured with the horses and I was at home five weeks and I never got no money. I had Margaret and Michael as babies then, and the vicar of the village. One night the groceries man from down Mattishall, who had the shop. He used to bring our groceries up to East Tuddenham and Iris said, ‘Whatever you got there?’ ‘That’s alright, my dear,’ he said, ‘They’re all paid for.’ ‘Cos she say, ‘You know jolly well I can’t afford that lot.’ This great big box of groceries came and we never did find out from that day to this who had paid for them. But somebody had paid for us a box of groceries. That’s who I think it was, the vicar. I used to sit on the settee we had aside of the window. I used to sit there looking out of the window. And he’d come along on his motor bike and he’d pull up outside my window and he’d go and I’d get my crutches and the pub was about, what, 20 or 30 yards up past me. There was another house between where I lived and the pub. Got up there, there he’d be and there’d be a pint waiting for me. He would do that every day. He was a good chap. And when I got better… Now, he was a very very good cricketer, he was. And when I got better so I was playing cricket again, I said to him, I said, ‘Are you going to play cricket for us?’ He said, ‘I daren’t, Sid,’ he say, ‘I’d love to, but what would the old girls say in the village?’ He say, ‘If I was playing cricket along-a you on a Sunday!’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘We can do it before you go to church.’ ‘Right,’ he said. And we made arrangements so we had these matches and we’d finished, do you know what, all us chaps that were playing cricket for the village we used to go to church because he used to play there! The old gals in the village, toffee-nosed old so-and-so’s, they didn’t like it, but he didn’t mind because he’d got all our support.

Mechanisation and decline of horses

Before I finished, they began to get mechanised and there would be tractors and that and there wouldn’t be so much … they’d do all the ploughing and all that sort of thing. What I used to have to do, you could say, was the donkey work, like ploughing the sugar beet out and that sort of thing.

Horses gradually went away and I missed it. I remember one day I was a-ploughing down at Church Road at East Tuddenham, and there was an old boy come down there and he stood on the side of the road, on his bike, and he was a-lookin’. And when I got down to the end, ‘Gosh,’ he say, ‘That’s interesting, that is, to see how them two is at work.’ He say, ‘How old are they?’ I say, ‘Three years old.’ ‘Marvellous,’ he say, ‘how there’re working and how you’ve got them a’goin’.’ ‘Well,’ I say, ‘That’s only because I’m talking to them. I’m talking to them all day long.’  Well, although I say it myself, I could do anything with ‘em.

I did drive a tractor. I went to work for an old boy down at Brandon Parva. He had a crawler tractor, one with those tracks. Had one of them. I drov’ that. That was alright but one day there I tried to fix the hood up on this tractor. ‘Cos sitting on there that was cold!  And he said, ‘What’re you doing?’ ‘I want to try to fix the hood up on this tractor.’ ‘I don’t want no hoods on the tractor,’ he say, ‘I won’t have the hoods on the tractor.’ ‘Oh,’ I said, ‘alright then’.  And I won’t long doing that. I told ‘im, I said, ‘I’m not going to sit on here and get frozen ‘a cold.’ You see, when I was working with the horses you’d keep warm.

I shall never forget, I was a boy, I was setting in an old shed with some old fellas. My grandfather was one of ‘em. I was setting in there, and he said, ‘Do you see.’ He said, ‘Man is going to do Man out of work.’ And they looked at him. They used to call him Paddy. I don’t know why, but they always used to call him Paddy. They say, ‘What do you mean, Paddy?’   ‘Well,’ he say, ‘what I say,’ he said. ‘These here men nowadays,’ he said, ‘they’re doing the things, there’s tractors and all this that and th’other coming in. And,’ he said, ‘Man is going to do Man out of work.’And that’s the truth. That’s what’s happened. Look at all the unemployed there is. There’s thousands unemployed.

Holidays

There weren’t that many unemployed in the Countryside in the 1930s. The only thing of it was we got three days holiday a year! And I can remember one day that was absolutely pouring o’ rain that was, and the gov’nor came into the stable up there. ‘Well together,’ he said, ‘I don’t know what you’re going to do but I think the best thing you can do is go home and call it a day’s holiday.’ You see, so that was so that they didn’t have to lose the money, they’d still get paid for their day and go home.’ But that wouldn’t do today, would it?

This was what we called our annual holiday. I used to get four days, I did, because I worked on a Sunday, looking after my horses. I worked seven days a week – and I used to get four days holiday. We all got the same. I used to get five shillings a week to look after my horses. That’s how much I used to get. You just work that out, how much that was. I’ve thought about that lots of times. Five shillings a week and I used to be up there five o’clock in the mornings, and that would take me an hour in the mornings to feed ‘em and brush ‘em down, and clean ‘em out and one thing and another. And then night time when I come home from ploughing or harrowing or whatever I was doing, I’d come in, I’d feed ‘em and that would take me another half an hour to go through them. Then I’d go home, have my tea, then I’d go back again and rack ‘em up. Give ‘em some hay and that sort of thing.

Bombs

I went up there one morning and I met my gov’nor. He was an RAP warden. I met him on the road, and he said to me, ‘There’s a bomb,’ he said, ‘dropped down here somewhere, that was heard come down during the night but we can’t find it.’ I said, I was going up to feed. He said, ‘Alright,’ and he came up into the stable. ‘We’re found the bomb and you’re not to go home that way, you’ll have to go round by Hall Lane.’ That was another lane that led right round by Hockering and then come up round another lane. He said, ‘Tell all the ones what come from Mattishall that they are not to come past this way, they’re to come that way to work.’ And then they had the Army people come to get this bomb. And that was a 1000 pound bomb! And that was landed right in a corner of a roadway. If that had gone up there wouldn’t have been a bit of East Tuddenham left. That went into soft ground right near the roadway. One night there were 17 bombs because there used to be a dummy aerodrome here at North Tuddenham. The huts and that are still there. There used to be this dummy aerodrome and there were 17 bombs dropped between North Tuddenham and East Tuddenham Common. As the crow fly, across there. There’s one hole in the field here to here and they kept saying, ‘That’s a pit.’ I said, ‘No, that’s a bomb crater. Because I could remember,’ I said, ‘these bombs being dropped.’ Two or three more dropped on some meadows up at East Tuddenham, up Common Road. And I had some horses on these meadows and one of them got hit in the backside, in the buttocks, and that took a great slice off like that … I went to look for these horses, and I see ‘em down the meadow and I walked down to find ‘em and that is what happened. He’d been hit with this shrapnel. The vet used to come in to start with, tell us what to do and I used to have to do the rest.

Poll evil

I had one young and lovely horse that was. He kept going like this here with his head every time you went up, shake his head. And I couldn’t make it out why he done that. So I felt on his head, behind the back of his ear here, there was all like pus. I thought, what the devil is that? And told the foreman, and he said, ‘We’ll have the vet.’ He phoned the vet up and the vet came and he had a look and said, ‘Do you know what, it’s what they call ‘poll evil’. It’s in the poll of the skull.’ And he said, ‘I’ll have to operate on that.’ He took him away, and he had him at his place for a time and then he brought him back, and I used to have to climb up onto his withers, right over onto his neck and lean over. I used to have to get my two fingers and stick down this hole and clean that out every day, twice a day. To clean that all out. And we got him better. If they weren’t well or that sort of thing, you used to have to get hold of the tongue, pull the tongue out, then stick your hand, with this here boll in between your two fingers and stick it down their mouth, and when you knew they were going to swallow, let it go and pull your hand out.

Hoeing the beet

We had all sorts of chaps and that on the farm. I was up there one day and they were chopping the sugar beet out, and I was a-horse hoeing. And they kept saying, ‘Sid, come and do some for us, will you?’

I said, ‘Alright.’ I’d do them a round. ‘Cos we used to do four rows at a time, with the hoe. My gov’nor, he say to me, he say (he was a Scotsman), ‘Them chaps keep crazing you to keep going hoeing their beet.’ He said, ‘Charge ‘em for it!’ I say, ‘I can’t do that.’ ‘Yes you can,’ he said, ‘Tell them that you want sixpence an acre,’  he said. ‘Oh … alright.’ ‘Well, if I come and do yours, you’ve got to give me sixpence.’ ‘Alright then, we’ll do that.’ Well, I used to do 10 acres a day, and that was five shillings a day! I was earning extra money. I hadn’t thought of that. He told me ‘You don’t get a chance to earn no extra money, so you charge them every time they want you to go and do their beet, you charge them sixpence.’ ‘Right.’ And that’s how I used to do it. The same with the other different things and that what I used to do up there. We used to be carting the muck out of the yard. I’d be pulling this muck off and the ones in the yard would be getting paid so much a load to fill it and I wouldn’t be getting nothing. ‘Right,’ he said, ‘they’re to give you so much.’ Although he was a Scotsman, he was ever so fair like that.

Selling the horses

My dad was a horseman at the same farm. He didn’t want to do it.  He got fed up with it at the finish. That’s how I came to take over. I took over from him. He told the gov’nor ‘I aren’t a-going to do this no more. I want to get out of it,’ he say. Well, the thing of it was he got so he didn’t like young horses and he’d hang ‘em on to whatever he was doing and that. He’d hardly stop, he’d keep a-going. He didn’t like ‘em at all, young horses. He’d always been used to older horses. Up there they was all young ‘uns. The gov’nor, he wanted a quick turn-over of money; directly you’d got one horse so that was broke in to trace, broke into shafts and everything, then he’d sell it. I remember one day, I’d been ploughing sugar beet out. And, cor’, that had been a-raining all day. And I thought to myself, ‘What the devil is he coming down here for this time of day?’ He come across. He’d got his gun under his arm and he come walking across the field. He said to me ‘Braid your horses’ tails up, will you?’ ‘I’ve got somebody coming to look at them when you leave off.’ I braided ‘em up and I went home into the yard and there was this chap came into the stable to look at ‘em. He said, ‘Will you just run ‘em up the yard for us?’ I took ‘em out and I ran them up the yard a time or two and they had a look at some more and that, and at the finish he put a five-pound note into my hand, this chap did – a week’s wages that was, a five-pound note. And my gov’nor, he looked at him and he looked at me, enough to say, ‘What the devil is he doin’ on?’ I thanked him for it and put it in my pocket. I didn’t mind getting wet through for a fiver!

Children

I shall never forget one day, I was a-thatching, and my boy Michael, he was about three. And the chap who was a-serving me, he shouted up, ‘Sid,’ he say, ‘stand right still and don’t move.’ And this boy Michael he had climbed up the ladder and he had got right up onto the stack and he was right close to my heels. If I’d have stepped back, I’d have stepped onto him. This chap, he crept up the ladder and got hold of him and carried him down.

One day the foreman said to me ‘Sid, I don’t want to worry you, but I think you’ve got two little figures a-coming across this field. I can see ‘em in the distance.’ He went acrost and he met ‘em. He was ever such a big fella, he was, our foreman. And he picked hold of one and tucked him under one arm and tucked the other under the other arm and carried on ‘em across to where I was. He put one on one horse’s back, one on the other horse’s back, and they went up and down the field along ‘a me.

They went up and down the field and he said, ‘I bet Iris want to go to Dereham’ He went across and he see her. She said, ‘I want to slip into Dereham, will they be alright?’ ‘Yeah,’ he said, ‘They’ll be alright.’ And that’s where they were, they kept there till she went to Dereham and back. They used to love horses and used to spend hours following me on the field. They’d sit on there as happy as little sandboys they would. That was a hard life, but that was a happy life. I’ve known hard times, but there we are, we got over it. I left the farm and I went onto the milk round, and I was still mixed in with people at that sort of thing all day long.

What I do now

I now raise money for charity like £149,000 for the mentally handicapped and £700 for the Cancer. I love meeting people. I go out to the fox hunts and they nearly all know me. I took June with me the other Saturday. I pulled my car up and I got out. I stood in the middle of the road and they all went past, ‘Morning Sid!’ ‘Morning Sid!’ The whole lot of ‘em and they all knew me. She say, ‘You’re well known, aren’t you?’ she was thrilled to bits to see all these hounds and the huntsmen in the red jackets.

Sid (1922-2015) talking to WISEArchive on 29th November 2012 at Mattishall.

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