Duration: 79 minutes 48 seconds
This is an interview on the 12th of May 2017 with Mr Alan Emery at his home in Bembridge.
Lisa Alan, could we start by you telling me your full name please.
Alan My full name is Alan Walter Emery.
Lisa And where were you born?
Alan In Warwickshire near a little place called Stretton under Fosse.
Lisa Now when did you move to the Isle of Wight?
Alan I moved to the Isle of Wight in 1954 – no, what am I talking about, sorry. I moved to the Isle of Wight in 1946. Am I right? No I’m talking barmy aren’t I? Yes, we came down to Hampshire in 1946 – this is old age creeping on and then we moved to the Isle of Wight in 1954 to manage Yaverland Manor Farm, some 750 acres.
Lisa And can you tell me a bit about Yaverland Manor Farm at that time when you moved there?
Alan Yes, I can. It’s going to sound quite critical and I shouldn’t do it really but it’s just to say that the … there were problems. The … in my opinion at that time the whole thing was out of balance so I plussed the arable acreage up from 90 to 240 acres the first year I was there and then the layout of the farm was quite difficult because all the light fertile lands at the south side of the Downs and on the north side of the Downs was all the not so fertile clays and heavy ground and the middle bit was the headland which was open to the public, ran right through the middle, with all the problems of the people out pleasure seeking with their dogs and things but we overcame all those problems one at a time and also at that time, the farm wasn’t fenced, hardly fenced at all, water supplies were totally inadequate. There was no … the mains water was … we were the terminal right at the end of the main and when water was [inaudible] there was hardly any water coming through and we had a herd then of 60 cows which needed a lot of water and the owner, Commander Monck had tried to supplement the water supply by pumping water out of the River Yar which was some 400 yards away from the farm and had to be heavily chlorinated because a very slow moving river and quite muddy … quite shall we say unsuitable without heavy chlorine but we got that working again and that sufficed for a couple of years after we started getting it properly chlorinated and properly sorted. So we had the problem then of getting … setting up all this arable, getting it under way, because the equipment wasn’t really very good, but it gradually improved the machinery, improved the machinery we had to cultivate, for tillage and that sort of thing and we arrived at the point when we were quite successfully growing 250 plus acres of cereals every year as income, as cash crops.
5 minutes 18 seconds
All the time the dairy herd was under scrutiny because it wasn’t doing very well and so came the day when we had a heavy cull and cut the number of cows down to 40 and slowly things started to improve there. We started using artificial insemination so improved the quality of the animals we were breeding and eventually we finished up with 150 cow herd and the means of milking and handling that number of cattle because previous to that we had the shedding and in wintering. We in wintered all the cows. The floor area was adequate for their sleeping accommodation but as far as the rest of it was concerned, it was quite difficult as the numbers grew because there wasn’t the frontage to feed them properly so we tried various ploys there. One was to instead of … we cut out the middle feeding rack and built a rack each side of the barn so that the cows could stand back to back and so increase the frontage to twice as long as it had been before. So that was a dairy herd that slowly improved. I said at the time at one of the farmers meetings … several farmers had farm meetings on the farm at that time as the years went by and I said our achievement as far as the yield per cow were concerned were either mediocre or modest depending in whether you liked us or not and that is true. We never broke any records but what we did do, my father talking about the dairy herd still of course, we did have a very successful day when we were persuaded to take some of the heifers to the Southern Friesen Breeders Show and Sale at Reading. And we went along and we had to pick out three heifers, three females all by the same bull and we happened to have a very nicely matching trio and we took those up to Reading and would you believe we swept the board. We beat everybody who was anybody. We came back, the herds got rubber boots and all sorts of prizes, we got a lot of free semen to use to our advantage in insemination and put ourselves on the map as it were. After that we jogged along. I’m talking about now about 31 years I was at that farm for so we went through a lot of phases and while I’m sitting here talking about it now I think I’ve telescoped it all down too tight. There were all sorts of phases in between that but gradually we, as far as the herd was concerned, the herd improved nice and steadily, quality of cattle and people thought we were doing pretty well. As far as the arable was concerned, in 1954, I had a problem which there is no harm in talking about it now because the owners have gone and that.
10 minutes 2 seconds
Although he was a wealthy man, he wasn’t going to spend any money if he could possibly help it, and therefore when I pushed the arable acreage up from 90 to 250 acres, the problem was how to finance it, and I happened to have a friend on the mainland who was a Corn Merchant who was related to or had employed actually that chap that got me the job, and he said, he was a Corn Merchant, Seed Merchant and Fertilizers, he agreed to let us have half his credit for the first year, and in fact I extended that for three years so that meant we could buy all the seed and fertilizer we wanted to plant the farm, mostly spring corn, and not pay for it until we started selling the crop in the autumn and the only stipulation they made was, they charged no interest or anything at all, very benevolent, that they bought … they had first option to buy all the barley in particular or any of the corn, and of the cereals we produced. So that really was a story of slow improvement. A few hiccups on the way. We had the usual diseases and things that in some years things didn’t go too well, but generally speaking the standard of the farm, the weed control and the yields improved quite dramatically say over a span of 10 years or something like that we were really getting somewhere and we did have at that time though and it was a great help to me, a man called Lindsey Troup who had been the County Agricultural Officer for Hampshire during the War and they put on his plate as an agricultural advisor and he came over. We contacted him through the War Agriculture people I think, Ministry of Agriculture on the Island, and he used to come once a quarter and as it were hold my hand and advise do this, do that, and he advised us at one stage to go in for growing herbage seeds instead of cereals and we had several years when we had to … we grew an Italian rye grass, and a meadow fescue, I think that was … I think there was one other but I can’t think what it was, and that we sold commercially. And that did a lot to improve the fertility of the soil and of course now I’ve overshot the basic thing really which was when the first year, 1955 was a lovely year. There were no problems harvesting at all, hardly any rain fell and we only had an old combine harvester then that was a bagging combine and it was obviously not going to cope with that lot so we cut some with a binder, bind and stook the old fashioned way and I had finished up, we were starting to get a little bit late, with four combines all working at the same time and everything in the bag and we had all of this corn happily it had been such a dry year we filled up the calf pens, we filled up barns, we filled up everywhere and really it was an absolute bonanza which was so fortunate whereupon the owner then said to me, “Look here, what are you going to do if this was a wet year, if you get a wet year?” I said, “Well, we’ve got a problem. I don’t know.”
15 minutes 23 seconds
So we took expert advice on it and we built ourselves, and we did it all with farm labour apart from we had to get some contractors in to do the digging and that sort of thing, but otherwise we put up a grain drying and storage plant in one of the barns, and we had to go down 22 feet to create a passage along and we finished up with this thing that had a cleaner … instead of having all these bags, the grain was collected in bulk all handled by a combine of course instead of bags and then you shot the grain into a pit. Then it went up an elevator, along a conveyer into whatever bin you wanted it. All the bins were ventilated. There was an air passage going through so you could blow them dry on the top and it wasn’t very long before I thought the golden age had dawned. It was so easily … and then we increased the acreage a bit more and we did some wet years and it was obvious that this drying process we had, blowing the corn dry by blowing air through it with a massive great fan was inadequate for the normal season when you were going to get some rain and have some wet corn to harvest, so we had to then make the drain plant a little bit more sophisticated. We put in a moving dryer so that grain went across a series of floors with the hot air through it so it dried it quickly and then we extended the … obviously the capacity that we had, eight bins to start with that held about 30 tonnes each and then we room at the end of the barn where we could build another bin so we built some walls, walled that in and we used to fill that up as well. For several years we filled the lot and then gradually … my memory sort of a little bit … I’m not putting these things in the proper time sequence really, but we gradually phased out the growing of grass seeds, the herbi seeds because it was getting very difficult to dry them. As far as the grains were concerned, the cereals were concerned that was dried in bulk but you couldn’t very well do that with the grass seeds. They had to be dried in bags and it was a very laborious job and so we gradually phased out the grass seeds and just concentrated on the cereals. Going back to the dairy, there’s one interesting phase we went through when a practice became very popular to paddock grazing where you fence off your grazing area with electric fences and the cows went into the paddock, grazed it and moved onto the next paddock so that the grass recovered very quickly.
20 minutes 5 seconds
You had to top dress your … in other words give it a little bit of nitrogen fertilizer to freshen it up every time and then the cows went all the way round all these paddocks until when they got back to the first one the grass had regrown and they were … and it worked very well. In a wet year it was difficult because the cows, a lot of hooves on a very small area trod it up somewhat but generally speaking it worked very well and then that was in vogue for four or five years and then came a practice that again we picked up from the Mainland there was what they called ‘set stocking’. In other words, you put your cows onto the pasture and let them graze it all over and then if you had them on a block, and then as soon as they were off that, put them on that block and then fertilize that one and so on. ‘Cos one thing I haven’t mentioned so far is the sheep. When I got there I had a flock of pedigree Dorset Horns and they obviously hadn’t been doing at all well, they hadn’t got many lambs and they got some very good stock but they hadn’t been producing what they should have done so I decided … I didn’t know anything about Dorset Horns at the time, perhaps on reflection now looking back, it was a big mistake. I sold them and bought a breed called Clun Forest and we built those up to quite a number and used to graze them up on Culver Down a lot of the time. There were no fences on the edge of the cliff at all and they … in those days there weren’t so many people with dogs as there are now and there wasn’t so much traffic up there so they grazed Culver quite happily but we hadn’t got many… there weren’t at that time in the early days, there weren’t many sheep proof fences on the farm so we had to use temporary fencing and it didn’t work all that well. They used to get on the road and they used to get in the neighbour’s fields and so I was then lectured by the owner as to why I hadn’t told him he’d got a problem. And I said to him, “Well, you told me you had very little money and I thought if I came to you and said we’ve got to spend a lot of money on fencing, you would sack me.” Whereupon he said, “Well you know very well I can always find money for things that need doing” and so we started fencing the farm and Mr Henton of Chillerton came along and put up literally miles of fencing, miles of proper fencing and we had a properly fenced farm. And then the water supply was an awful job in the early days ‘cos the Ministry of Agriculture stepped in after this river water, didn’t like it at all. We were washing dairy product, dairy equipment, dairy vessels and things and they didn’t like it all. Quite right, because we couldn’t really get enough chlorine into it to make sure it was absolutely sterile. Anyway, we had a reservoir on the farm that was possible we could fill with either the mains or this river water so eventually it was Mr Henton again did the job.
25 minutes 15 seconds
He put in a complete water supply for the whole farm right down to the whole 750 acres had drinkers in wherever they were needed and we diverted the mains. The mains supply improved considerably and then we could fill the reservoir up with the mains water and that solved that problem. For the moment that seems I shall have to pause for a minute and think about any other event that … oh, one thing we mechanised very much was the silage making. When I went there, there was just … you used to cut it and buck rake it and stack it up in wherever was convenient in the field. But to improve things, we dug a pit in the farmyard ourselves, dug a big pit, lined it with sleepers and then we also put in sleeper walls in one of the barns and we dug another pit right down at the far end of the farm which was at Lodden Farm which down there near Bembridge Airport and so we wherever the field was we could put this grass in and we got a forage harvester which in fact chopped the grass up small instead of just cutting mowing it long and that improved great … first of all we used to cover these scythed bits with chalk that when we had frosts in the winter it used to set like concrete and a dickens of a job to get it off so then we found as all the farmers did in those days, sheets of plastic and just covered it over with plastic. So that was an improvement. Oh yes, one big improvement there, well two. The first one was the farmyard was literally the approach to the farm, going there, was brick rubble which had been just dumped there and rolled down and with the cows going in and out over it and wet weather, they used to get absolutely filthy and couldn’t clean it so when we put the first silage pit there, ‘cos there was always some effluent run out from this silage and grass and this effluent ran down all over this brick rubble where the cow dung was as well and at that time I used to in and out with the farm vehicle, we had a van, and it got all on the wheels and everywhere and the smell was unbelievable. And there was one famous occasion when I was in Sandown, picking up my wife and the van, talking about stink, you’ve never smelt anything like it in your life. It was on the exhaust as well and the funny thing was I was sitting there waiting for her and three or four Council workmen came up with shovels over their shoulders and brushes and things and they sniffed and said, “What the devil is that?” And I sat there quietly and didn’t say a word and they started pulling up drains and going down to these areas in front of these houses and I just sat there quietly and (laughs) let them move on.
Anyway, eventually we decoded to concrete the whole thing and we concreted very extensively. Everything we did was sort of a far greater area, we didn’t do it a bit at a time it was woosh, all the concreting was done and that improved the mobility in the farm and of course we also in the course of the years we’d erected an implement shed, a fertilizer shed, and another shed which the Commander took over for a bit for putting his boat in but it was … we used it afterwards for storing feeding stocks and all the Dutch barns, when I came there, hardly any of the barns had got a roof on. They’d done it themselves, and they put the frame up which was quite simple really but when it came to doing the cladding, they hadn’t done much of it so again 1945, being the year it was, it was lovely dry year and at that time of course we were very understocked until about 1955 and so that we had grass, grass, grass, grass, grass and we made loads of hay that year, loads and loads and loads of hay and when we filled the bales up to the top, we could stand on the top and put the roofs on. That solved that one largely and we were still using some of that hay, 1945 hay, six years later.
Lisa When you first moved to the farm, where did you live?
Alan We lived in the Rectory and the old Rectory at Yaverland , I must admit, and you can put this in if you like, I had an interview first of all sitting with them in their car on Portsmouth Harbour one Sunday afternoon and then I had to come over the following Saturday and have a look round the farm and then they had a good long look at me and me at them and then they said, “We want to meet your wife” so we had to come over and at that time, this Rectory was, well the walls were bottle green, the door were brown. There were 17 rooms in the house counting passages and lobbies and the hallway, and we could only have the top flat at that time so we had a wife, a baby, I had a younger brother who came over with me as a Shepherd and my mother. You don’t mind me telling you this do you?
Muriel No, you can tell. I looked at it, I can tell you that bit. I looked at it and I said, “What’s this?” He said, “That’s where we’re going to live.”
Alan And as we went out, “If you think we’re going to live there, you’re mistaken” and there I was, I’d got to find … I know I was 29 years of age but I had to find a job with accommodation ‘cos we hadn’t got our own house or anything, with a room for my mother, my recently widowed mother, and for my wife and child and for my brother, so this filled the bill and anyway when she went down there, I must say I admired her courage. We went back to tea to the Manor and she said she was dissatisfied with the state of the … ‘cos the ceilings, the roof had leaked, there was [inaudible] roof and the ceilings were all what not and they needed so much doing to them and he promised, “Well after harvest, Mrs Emery we’ll see what we can do for you.” In actual fact I took the situation in hand myself and we … he hated spending money but I went and bought all the decorating materials for … Muriel put it on, we had … there was a long, long landing went right away through with rooms of it all the way, it was every bit of, I don’t know, probably 40 feet long, perhaps more than that, 50 feet long and she got a run of carpet and put down the middle, varnished the sides, did all these walls, lightened the doors up, and within what, 18 months …
Muriel Sooner than that really.
35 minutes 50 seconds
Alan … the place was different all together. And then the Foreman was down below and he wanted … he was not very happy with it down there so I moved him out to a cottage down at Yarbridge there by the Anglers and he went down there and then what to do with the bottom? Muriel very wisely said, “Well you know, we can’t stay up here like this by ourselves because all that cold air down there in the winter, we shall never get the place warm.” There was no central heating there or anything like that. It had to be log fires or fires and paraffin heaters, so we … the Commander, Mrs Monck, one day decided to go up and have a look round up there. They were thinking about keeping it, that lower flat, his old parents were in British Columbia living there at that time in one of their other properties and he thought about going to keep it as he put it, the ‘Dower House’ but they were [inaudible] down there, Muriel heard them, went downstairs and told them in a very uncompromising way that she was very dissatisfied with all the facilities upstairs in that flat. We had a combined kitchen and bathroom and very primitive gas stove that came out of the Ark I should think and the water heating wasn’t really brilliant was it?
Muriel No, it wasn’t.
Alan And so they reluctantly agreed that we could take the whole house over and that if she liked, if she could manage it, she could do a little bit of furnished letting for holiday makers, which she did and to her eternal credit, she finished up with three school aged children, my mother who was pretty active really, her own mother who’d had a stroke and wasn’t so clever, and my brother as well. Don was there wasn’t he?
Muriel Yes, Don was, yes.
Alan And we took in visitors as well and she did all that by herself. Bed, breakfast and evening meal. I don’t know how she managed it. I know she used to start about the first week in July with her weighing about 11 ½ or 12 stone and finish up at the end of August weighing about 7 (laughs).
Lisa Were you paying rent for the house?
Alan No, it was rent free.
Muriel It needed two to clean it up first before you get in there.
Alan There was newspaper everywhere, it was a mess.
Lisa And do you mind me asking if you can remember what your salary was when you started?
Alan Yes I do. I don’t mind telling you. I was on 10 guineas a week plus £1.10 shillings petrol money. I had to provide my own car and that went on progressively over a three year period to 15 guineas a week and of course I’ve always said, and I don’t know whether this is true really or if I’m sort of exaggerating but I had a prestige job there, in other words agriculture, but I didn’t get a prestige salary.
Lisa Going back to the 1950’s, when you first started to work on the farm, how was the milking done then?
39 minutes 55 seconds
Alan Well we had a … at Yaverland, they had an abreast parlour when the milk went straight through and into a ‘D’ pan and it was cooled over a surface cooler, which for the 60 cows it was just about adequate but as the numbers increased it was hopelessly inadequate and milking was taking … yes, that’s quite interesting, it opens up another thought, milking was taking 2 ½ to 3 ½ hours which was far far too long and so we had to have something done about it and eventually … this is where dates now I just can’t possibly remember when we did this, we built a purpose built … first of all we called in one of these well-known milking manufacturers and they were only too pleased to advise us and they designed a plan , a plot and everything and we finished up with a circular milking machine called a … now wait a minute … a carousel and a circular collecting yard with a great big gate that [inaudible] the cows slowly in and automatic feeding, computerised feeding and all mod cons really. The Cowman stood down in the pit in the middle and the animals went round. He didn’t have to bend his back at all really, everything was done at waist high and the cows came through and the cows were all branded on their neck with a number and one of my weekly chores which was to go and record the milk, record the days recording and of course the milk recorder used to come as well but I did it weekly and then we worked out the rations according to the … the concentrated rations according to the yield and then the Herdsman and I used to put it into the computer once a week. He used to put it in and I used to call out what it was and he would enter it so that … when the first cow that came in they were all branded on the side of the neck for that parlour, as they came in he could see number 31, 32 whatever it was and he just put 32 on the computer and the appropriate amount of food was then dispensed into the trough in front of him. And they went round eight cows at a time went round this thing that was stop, go. It didn’t keep going all the time. The Cowman could put the machine on, and then the next cow and she could go out automatically through one door and the next cow used to come in behind it. Milking suddenly became a joy instead of a …instead of 2 ½ hours we cut it down to I don’t know what it was, about 2 hours, an hour and three quarters ‘cos the numbers had been going up all the time.
Lisa And how was the milk sold?
Alan Well first of all it was all in churns of course from the old milking parlour and the lorry used to come in every morning. The milking parlour was just outside my office about I suppose 40 yards. The churns had to go down on a trolley, eight at a time, and they stood on the ramp so the chap had just to lorry height and he took off the empty churns and put the full churns on and that went on for some years. One year though we had some snow … what year would that have been? ’63, he didn’t come through anyway and we had to battle our way into Newport ourselves. I had a farm lorry by this time. Anyway, and then when we put in this new milking parlour we had a bulk tank, a refrigerated tank and the tank used to come and suck it out every morning. We always had two in the dairy, sometimes three. When we had the old system it was quite laborious and we had two men and a boy. And then the last few years with 150 cows we had just the two men, a Head Cowman and a Second Cowman and we didn’t have a relief milker then, we didn’t need it.
Lisa Did the price of milk change very much during that time?
Alan Yes, it did. Of course at that time, you used to get the price review and once a year the farmer’s representative, the National Farmers Union Representative would go up in conference with the Ministry of Agriculture who would agree a whole lot of series of prices and the milk price was … I can’t remember what it was in those days but it was certainly … to make money, to make a profit out of dairy farming wasn’t easy then and didn’t get any easier as time went by either. You had to be very much on the ball and get your feeding adjusted right and everything right. I mean I can honestly say that I was 31 years I was at that farm. One or two years we showed what you might call a profit, a decent profit. Otherwise there weren’t many years that we showed a real clear profit. Everything was going up in value all the time. We were worth far more, the balance sheet showed that but as far as an operating profit was concerned, that wasn’t easily achieved. The family decided they wanted to take more money out of it as soon as things got a little bit better, we were making a little bit of money, they decided they wanted more out of it and so we were back to problems. The farm was improved. I can claim that I improved the farm tremendously in the 31 years I was there.
Lisa Was 750 acres a big farm by Island standards then?
Alan Oh yes, it was. Of that was 500 and some odd were freehold, and the others were rented. That was the Downs. But of course one of the restrictions on it was that some of that land was sort of what I called semi-productive. The Downs, I ploughed a lot up there. Got into trouble with all sorts of people too and we reclaimed a lot of Culver Down. As you drive up Culver on the left hand side, that was all brambles and litter and a dreadful mess past the Fort and we cleared all that and we got a rapid improvement grant for that, got £12 per acre towards it, it cost far more than that, and cleared all that and got it into production and it grew several crops of cereals after that and also the side of the Downs which hadn’t been ploughed in living memory going the north side of Bembridge Down as you go up the road on the left there, we ploughed that the first year I was there and it was so steep but we managed it.
Lisa What kind of tractors did you have in the early days?
Alan In the early days we had Fergies, Ferguson. We had two Ferguson diesels and one Ferguson TVO and a clapped out Fordson Major (laughs) and a very primitive, well early days shall we say, CLAAS combine trailed behind a tractor and we had to hire a tractor to pull the thing or borrow one because a lot of the fields I ploughed we so steep.
50 minutes 21 seconds
Lisa Was harvesting done in the same way?
Alan Harvesting? No we only used a binder for about two or three years. After that it was all combine and of course we eventually finished up with a self-propelled combine. We weren’t … I think it was about the third year I was there we had a self- propelled combine that was a vast improvement then of course. That’s when soon as we got the drier in it had to be in bulk because the first year when we … 1956, we were building the drier, which as I said was all with farm labour, and one of my old chums in his ‘50’s put all the blocks and the reinforcing ‘cos you went down a ladder, 22 feet to the bottom of this thing and then two feet up from that was a tunnel that went right through, that was six feet high, and then above that and then there was a ceiling and above that was a three feet high, that was the air tunnel and the controls came down through tubular sort of conduits so when you wanted to blow, you pulled on this thing and clipped it down and the air was diverted up through the grain. The last year that we used sacks, any bags was 1956 and then the next year we had the pusher combine and did it all in bulk.
Lisa And how did you sell grain?
Alan Well, we used to sell it in sacks until the … when I was buying my seed and fertilizer from the Mainland, from that Corn Merchant friend of mine, there was no means of carrying bulk grain back to the Mainland so everything had to be bagged up in hard sacks and very laborious. We had it in all in the bins so we run it back through the conveyors and into the bags and I bought a farm lorry that we used to take 10 tonnes at a time, I think it was. When that finished, when we finished with them and we started in with Scats on the Island, it all started going then in bulk and we used to hire a blower that you could suck it out of the thing and blow it into the lorry. And that proved too slow so what we used to do, I arranged with the … first of all we were with Scats Grain Group, I arranged with them to give me at least a week’s notice before they wanted to collect any grain. And then we used to run it out into trailers and dump it on the other side of the road under the implements shed on the floor there and then load it with a Ford loader bucket and it all went in bulk after that and then the … one other interesting thing we did for a short while was all concentrate beef, barley beef. This Mr Troup who was in the very high echelons of agriculture in the Country, one of his jobs was to go and inspect all the experimental husbandry farms that the Ministry of Agriculture owned all over the Country and he came back on one of his visits to us and he said, “You know Alan, I’ve got something that might interest you and it will get a night away for you, a night off.
55 minutes 34 seconds
Go up to the Bishop Burten School of Agriculture in Yorkshire. They’re doing this barley beef which I saw at the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen and I think that you might find it a very useful extra enterprise on the farm here.” So, sure enough I went up with a friend and we saw these cattle and talked about it and what it meant was you got a Friesian bull calf and they were plentiful at that time, and reared it in the conventional way and then gradually weaned it off onto rolled barley with a protein added to it, flake barley not ground into a flour, and give them that ad lib with a bit of roughage as well just to help interest him and they put on weight very, very quickly and the first few I sold to the FMC, The Farming Marketing for Cattle. They used to buy all the fat cattle and then I made contact with a man in Sussex who’s name escapes me for the moment, he was a butcher and a farmer, and he agreed … he came over and had a look at these cattle and he said, “Yes, I’ll take all you’ve got in batches as long as you ring up and tell me how many you’ve got weekly and they’ve got to be at least eight hundredweight live weight “ and we arranged a price and it was very good and that worked very, very well. And barley then was about £18 per tonne and you could buy a good Friesian calf for about 12 – 15 quid. It was very much on ‘cos these things usually cost £90-95. We went to the Gilten Market with a little blue round and short horn calf I bought from somewhere and when we got in there, the judges – “take that to one side” and I thought they’d thrown it out because it was too small instead of which they took one look at it and decided perfect shape, perfect beef animal and so we won the Gilten Market one year. That wasn’t bad.
Lisa Where was the Gilten Market?
Alan In the Market.
Lisa In Newport?
Lisa Could you tell me a little bit more about the Market?
Alan The Isle of Wight Market? It rather nice really, sort of cosy sort of … because there aren’t that number of farms on the Isle of Wight and you could go there on Market day and see almost the lot (laughs). It was very nice as a Market. I had one experience there that I remember quite clearly. A man called Mr Slee farmed a farm near New Church there and he was unloading his sheep in the Market one day and they shot out and that used to be where that grass is now, like a parkland, that was all a Cemetery then and they all shot out and got in there, these sheep and all the traffic had gone along that road and I’d got my collie with me and I was able to show off how good my collie was and he rounded them all up and brought them back into the Market (laughs).
Lisa Did you always have dogs on the farm?
Alan Yes, we did. We came over with Snooky. He was super dog. Then we had …
Alan That’s right. We used to send to a farmer called David Livingston by Aboyne, Aberdeenshire, Glen Farm, by Aboyne Aberdeenshire and he used to send these puppies down in a crate and train them up and they all turned out almost, well with one exception, all turned out well and this old Snooky, he was already 15 years old when I came to the Island, but the old fellow still … we used him once or twice then we trained other dogs and I could stand on Redcliff, at the bottom there at Redcliff and send him up and he’d go all the way round, disappear over the other side and come back and bring the sheep all the way down and if there was one he’d left behind, he used to stand and bark and that dog came to a very unfortunate end. My brother was driving the farm lorry on one occasion and as you come up on the Bembridge Down there’s just a little sharp rise, and he came up on there and he was a bit out in the road a bit and of course the dog was round the side as dogs do, puffing with his tongue out, puffing away and as he shot in there was a car coming the other way and he shot in, shot the dog under the car and stove his head in. We took him up to our kitchen in the Rectory, called the Vet and the Vet operated on him in the our kitchen but his brain was damaged and the old chap just used to go round and round in circles after that so we had to get another one. But we always had a good dog, yeah. And we always had a Shepherd who never … none of the Shepherds had a dog. I had to let them have one of mine trained dogs (laughs).
Lisa Did you always have collies?
Alan Yes, Border Collies, yeah. We had them ourselves. We had a Labrador that we got … my oldest son, this is digressing for a moment, had a very nasty accident when he was eight. He was riding a cycle, going round a corner and went smack bang into a cattle lorry on one of these sharp corners and cracked his head, ripped him off, he was in a coma for five or six days. We were at his bedside there all the time and happily he came round and he’s now 66 years of age and has done extremely well for himself with the British Airways but he … where was I getting to?
Lisa Dogs. We were talking about dogs.
Alan Oh yes. Well what we did, so we bought him … he wanted a dog and he knew what he wanted. He wanted a Golden Labrador so we bought one from farmer Peter Bryan and he had this puppy and then we had three Dachshunds (laughs) …
Muriel I bred them. In other words we’ve loved animals.
Lisa In your time at the farm, was there a Vet that used to come out to you, a local person?
Alan Oh yes. We used Gerald Peters but we never had … Gerald came once or twice but I always like … well, with all due respect to Gerald, he used to come in with a hypodermic in his top pocket with antibiotics [and this isn’t for the record] and whatever it was always a broad spectrum antibiotic, bang that in and hope for the best (laughs) that what I thought anyway. For many, many years we had a chap called Mike Taylor or one of his Vets and before that we had that operated … I forget his name now, he came and went , the one that operated on Jock in the …
Muriel In our kitchen and I was pregnant and I wasn’t sure whether I was coming or going or what I was with the antiseptic he had to use for the dog. We love animals, you can’t say anything else but that. We just love animals.
65 minutes 31 seconds
Lisa It’s been absolutely fascinating and your memory for detail is superb.
Alan All I do is go through things in my mind. I try to remember dates and things ‘cos I go back really to … I can remember what farming was like before the War.
Lisa Do you want to talk a bit about that? Or shall we have a break?
Alan Yeah, a good idea, yeah.
[Break in recording]
Alan Well, obviously the farmers gained quite a lot from it. I forget these [inaudible] you know but I know when we built our new cow house, we built a cow house for 150 cows and I went to Scotland a couple of times just to get ideas as to what we wanted and we finished up with one that had a slatted floor, the cows all had cubicles with rubber mats. Feeding was so easy as there was a passage right through the middle and the cost was £90,000. We got a very considerable amount of that from the EU Farm Improvement Grant and so I think the EU generally was but … it was so necessary for the vast majority of farmers to have all the subsidies and the guaranteed prices that they did. Absolutely. But all the time the right minded farmers objected to it. They wanted to be independent. They didn’t want to have to do it but they simply had to do it ‘cos they had no option. There was one famous case on the Island here when the milk price, the annual price review they used to arrange. The NFU used to meet the Ministry of Agriculture people and they on one famous occasion when the milk price didn’t go up and there was general uproar all over the Country about it. And on the Isle of Wight here, all the Farm Agriculture Objective Committee and I was on the technical subcommittee of that, and said we’re going to resign. And that would have caused a lot of furore and it was a Labour Government at the time and they got the Minister of Agriculture down and ran the rule over him. They made him come down, I can see him now, a big tall man coming into Broadlands House where we used to have our meetings there and we all sat round there and gave him hell as it were in a polite way (laughs).
Lisa About what year would that have been?
Alan Well I came in ’54 and I think it must have been about ’58 or ’59 they appointed me on that committee so I would think in the early ‘60’s.
Lisa So you were at Yaverland for 30 years …
Alan 31 years.
Lisa … was that until your retirement?
Alan Well I didn’t retire exactly. I left there [and this isn’t for the record so I’ll say no more in just a moment.] Put it this way, it wasn’t as happy a parting as I would have liked to have had, but there it is. I’ll tell you why later. After that I went into the Law Courts as an Usher. A Court as in County Court, Crown Court, and then I went to … Whitecliff Bay were looking for somebody to … they headhunted me as it were and I went down there and did some work for them as a Reception and arranging the company touring van and that sort of thing and in the Office there and did some tractor driving. A worry free job for a change (laughs).
70 minutes 30 seconds
Lisa So just going back to farming for a bit, what do you think has changed most, what changed most in farming in your lifetime would you say, in your career?
Alan Well, first of all, technical knowledge, crop husbandry, and then of course mechanisation. We’ve seen the dairy herd size go from the 30-40 cow herd to the 3 or 4 hundred cow herd. I don’t know how on earth they do it and the intensification … I remember at one time there used to be two farmers in Hampshire who used to go about doing a very amusing debate and the proposition was that the future of farming is towards the extensive rather than the intensive. That was what they used to debate and it used to be a lot of fun. A lot of humour used to be created and then all these meetings they used to be joshing one another and things but it was true really but I don’t think the future did go towards the extensive. It extended, yes, but every farmer now has to be intensively minded to make anything of it. There is now, I mean the crop husbandry and agronomy if you like, there’s a tremendous amount of knowledge, much more knowledge than there ever was in my day. One thing, when the War broke out, you were paid £2 per acre and you were told when and what you had to plough up. If you ploughed up a grass field, it was £2 per acre paid up, but then there was a tremendous amount of problems because all that grassland that was being ploughed up was full of wire worm and crops were failing like nobody’s business. They couldn’t do anything with it and the only way if you like tried to do something, was to roll it, roll the crop, roll it down heavy, make it difficult for the little blighters to get about but that’s an instance and now of course there’s every sort of weed control and pest control you can think of.
Lisa What would you say, looking back, has been the most prosperous time for farming?
Alan Well as far as I’m concerned, in my experience, it would have been the late ‘50’s, early ‘60’s. There never has been a … as Mr Trueboys used to say, “There never has been a time when farming was profitable unless there was a war or rumours of a war” and history proves that, that’s very, very true. If anybody wants to make money, they don’t go farming only just let me go farming (laughs). And then I went for a salary instead of a …
Lisa And looking back, what have you enjoyed most about farming on the Island?
Alan I enjoyed most things about farming, I enjoyed the farming life. I had difficulties at Yaverland that were … I could have made the job much more, shall we say pleasant, and that was if the staff had had decent cottages, decent accommodation. They didn’t. Those cottages were appalling that I had to ask them to live in so if you like, the type of chap we got, some of them came and put up with it and did things themselves to improve but a lot of people I interviewed over those years, “we like the job, we like the prospect of it, my wife won’t come and live in that.” I must say I think back with my staff and the relationship I had there, we had a very happy staff and one of the most gratifying thoughts I have is the … for instance one day we were going into the Bell’s Furniture thing there and out came on of my ex … we always had two or three day release students.
75 minutes 45 seconds
This one came out and he walked past me and he said, “Oh, Mr Emery, the best boss I ever had.” Good gracious. And then not so many years ago now, a knock at the door one day, I opened the door and there stood this chap. “Good day” he said, Gordon Neagle. He came to me, this Gordon, as a … his father came over here to work, this boy’s mother had just parted and I took him on. He had a skinny jacket up here, little thin skinny arms, and I took him on and he worked like a Trojan. I couldn’t fault him and he was a cheeky little beggar actually but didn’t he work? So I became very fond of him and when he left me, we went to his wedding, he [inaudible] a farmer’s daughter over in Chandler’s Ford and started farming himself. He went to Sparsholt and he … twice he’d been to see us, he came to see us and wrote an article in the Hampshire magazine, whatever it’s called now, a magazine that was circulated all over Hampshire, he was obviously a personality that had been selected and he wrote all that and he put one little bit in there that said, and the wording was, “….and in such and such a year, Gordon went over to the Isle of Wight where he made the acquaintance of Mr Emery and worked on that farm for so many years and he has many of Mr Emery’s ideas and thoughts today.” I thought ‘good on you Gordon’ and then another time was we knocked at the door on day and opened it and “Hello, I’m looking for Mr Alan Emery”. “Oh yeah, that’s me.” “Well I’m looking for Mr Alan Emery who used to manage Yaverland Manor Farm.” I said, “Yes, that’s me.” “Well I’m …” now what was his name?
Muriel Which one?
Alan The first one that came to see us, you know? Alan’s friend. Oh dear, names, names, names. It’ll come to me in a minute. Anyway he was the first of these day release students I took on, Mark Lowe.
Muriel That’s right.
Alan Mark Lowe. I followed by various means his career and he went up to the north and he finished up as Area Manager of a Ciba-Geigy Chemicals, agricultural chemicals and he was living in … he was just about to retire, living in an old converted watermill, he made a great success with his life and it was delightful to see him and just to think that I helped some of those young chaps along the road a bit is really very gratifying.
Muriel But they still come and see you when they come over to the Island.
Alan Well they do but the trouble is now we’re getting so damned old.
Lisa Well I think that’s a lovely note to finish on, to draw it to a close because it’s been fascinating so thank you very much for sharing all that with us.
Alan Not at all. It was a bit of a ramble but we got there in the end (laughs).
79 minutes 48 seconds
Transcribed November 2017 by Chris Litton