Duration: 55 minutes 57 Seconds
This is an interview with David Cooper at his home in Ryde. It is the 9th February and Lisa Kerley is the interviewer.
Lisa: Good morning David.
David: Good morning Lisa.
Lisa: Thank you for letting me come and talk to you.
David: You’re very welcome.
Lisa: This interview is going to be focussed on memories of farming.
Lisa: And maybe you could start by telling me, first of all, what’s your full name and where were you born?
David: My name is David Douglas Cooper and I was born in Tooting in South West London. My dad was a policeman in that area so we were based there. We lived there through the war, through the bombing. We were bomb damaged at one time and evacuated to Suffolk, which is where I first got hooked on farming. I was only three or four years old but there was harvesting and hay-making going on around me and farm animals were quite close by. I thought that was wonderful compared with living in an air-raid shelter in London. Then, when the war was over, we went back to that area and lived there until I was about 10 in 1950 and our playgrounds were actually bomb sites. They were rubble from the houses which had been damaged and we thought nothing of it; we’d climb up over these heaps of rubble, an old bombed car or something would be there and that would be our tank, we’d have good games there, thought that was great. Had trips out into the country at weekends by bus; compulsory trips to the country and then when we came here I thought I’d gone to heaven, when we got here because my dad’s family came from Nettlestone and they’d had a farm there from way back; from Victorian times and so the old relations were still around. The farm was still in existence, managed by another farmer.
Lisa: What was the name of the farm?
David: Holgate Farm, Holgate and then I was brought up on all these stories of pastimes in farming, photographs and I just thought it was wonderful to be amongst it all.
Lisa: So what year did you move to the Island?
David: 1950. I was 10 years old. Moved there. It was a tenant farm. He didn’t own it, he was a tenant farmer.
Lisa: So when you moved to the Island then, at that age, were you involved in helping on the farm?
David: Yes, when I moved here, once we’d been here a while I used to go along the road to Holgate Farm, there was a farmer Callaway, Mr Callaway there. Myself and a few others used to help get the cows in, used to help with hay-making. We used to help open the gates, turn the cows out into the field. It was just nice to be amongst it all. We loved it, and that’s where I got hooked on it.
Lisa: Tell me a bit more about hay-making, as you remember it as a child.
David: Right, hay-making as I remember it. There were no balers (laughs), it was all done by hand. It was cut with a mower, a tractor mower but I think some places still had a horse-drawn mower. Then it was left to dry for two or three days, depending on the weather and then it would be turned, usually by hand. Sometimes there was a hay turner. It was an implement which could be towed by a tractor or a horse and it would turn the hay over so it was aired right through and then, the hay was then raked up with a hay rake which is an implement, I’m waving my hands about here, with tines, fingers on to pull the hay up into rows and then from the rows a horse and cart, or tractor and cart, would come along and it could be loaded up, pitched up onto the back of the trailer and then taken to the farmyard or put into a haystack in the field and that was how haymaking was done. It was covered up with a sheet or sometimes might be some sort of crude temporary thatch on there to keep… so the rain ran off it, so it was ready for use in the winter. And when it came to be used, it would be cut out with a hay knife which was … we can find pictures of this on the internet if you want. A hay knife was a broad-bladed implement with two handles on and you’d stand up on top and you’d cut a slice out, like a cake and so the hayrick would end up looking like a cake which had a slice cut out … had the corner cut out or had a slice cut out of it, because it came out in layers. It was put up there in layers, if you see what I mean. It was loaded up in layers right across but you wouldn’t want to move the whole area so you’d just cut out the portion that you wanted, load it onto a cart or just feed the cattle which were in the field in the winter, so that’s hay-making, as I remember it anyway, as a kid.
5 minutes 5 seconds
Lisa: How long did it take, you know from the cutting to getting it into the barn?
David: Depending on the weather, if it rained then obviously it would have to be allowed to dry out but I think probably, haymaking went on in several fields for two or three weeks and sometimes if they were early enough there would be a second crop. I seem to remember that as well. The grass would re-grow and there would be enough for another crop.
Lisa: So would that have taken place in the summer holidays when you were off school?
David: Yes that would be summer holidays, yes. Sometimes a bit earlier but it would be … the evenings were light so we could help move things around in the evenings, I seem to remember, and at weekends. Obviously its urgent, if you have variable weather like we have here, then once they’d cut it they wanted to get it dried and get it back in, you know, get it into the yard or under cover into a haystack so that would all happen within two or three weeks as far as I remember.
Lisa: Yes. You mentioned about, you know, opening the gates for the cows and moving the cows around. Was it a dairy farm then, Holgate Farm?
David: Yes, yes, that’s what I was going to say. Most of the farms were around that area, round everywhere I think, were dairy farms. Most farms had a few cows or a dairy herd and they would, in the case of this farm, they actually delivered milk around Seaview. Can I just show you these photos?
David: Can I just go back to the … that’s the Great Grandfather, that’s the founder of the farm. He had a yoke over his shoulder to carry the churns around with and after the cows had been milked he would then deliver milk round Seaview.
Lisa: That’s a great photo.
Lisa: So this is at Holgate Farm?
David: That’s Holgate Farm, that’s the house.
Lisa: And this is the farm house here on the left?
David: That’s the house, yeah, that’s the house.
Lisa: And what was your Grandfather’s name? This is your Great Grandfather is it?
David: Yes Great Grandfather, yeah. I can’t remember (laughs).
Lisa: What would his surname have been?
David: It would be Cooper.
David: I just can’t remember his Christian name at the moment.
Lisa: That’s OK.
David: OK, alright, but that was the house, if it’s of interest. It was in three parts. That apparently was a summer house which belonged to the Oglander family. I don’t know if you know, the Oglander family, from Nunwell Manor. They used to own lots of the farms around here, back in Victorian times, right up until the 1960s, ‘70s I think and so that was a summer house for use by the family, built on at each end and he had nine children there I think and they all grew up there, they all lived there and played their part in the farm and in keeping everything going. I haven’t got a photograph of them, it doesn’t matter, it’s not relevant to farming anyway but that, yeah that is Nettlestone Green, which you drive through now. If you drive through Nettlestone, the houses on, the roadside is there behind that hedge and there are houses along here now which there weren’t at that time and so these cows would have just been grazing and they would be going along to be milked somewhere, yes, and that was quite common. Most … when I was a kid and again, right up until the ‘70’s, there were several farms in the area; Nettlestone, Seaview and St Helens, which are now gone. They’re just, the land is still there but they’re not used as farms any more. I think the turning point was when they bought into Berkeley and Test, have you heard of that? In the mid ‘50’s…
Lisa: Can you tell me a bit more about that?
David: I can tell you a bit more about that. When I left school I actually attended a pre-agricultural course at West Wight Secondary Modern school because at that time, anyone who was interested in farming could go there and be prepared for a life in agriculture, and so I was 13, you stayed there from 13 to 15 and several of us from this area travelled out by bus or train to Freshwater. We were billeted in houses around Freshwater or we’d go out on a Sunday evening to Freshwater and then we’d live out there all week in the lady’s house and then we’d travel back on Friday afternoon after school, so that was quite an experience as well, good fun. When I left school I went to work on Park Farm which is between Tesco’s and St Helens, just over in that green bit there and again that was a hangover from the Edwardian days as my Grandfather’s farm was, Great Grandfather’s farm. They were still … I don’t know how far ahead you want to go but that, Park Farm, is still there. It’s not used as a farm, the land is rented out and the buildings are just derelict now. That was the farmhouse, that is the farmhouse.
Lisa: And what kind of farm was Park Farm?
David: That, Park Farm was dairy, mostly dairy but we had a certain amount of arable for drain; wheat, oats and barley. Also they grew mangles to feed animals on in the winter, and kale we’d have.
Lisa: And how many acres do you think that was?
David: That’s about 350 acres and that was quite a good experience. I didn’t stay on farming long. When I was 17, when the bovine tuberculosis testing came in, most of the herd failed because of the old conditions. It didn’t mean they had TB but they reacted to, when they were given the test they reacted to it in a way that meant they were susceptible to TB. They could have been a carrier even though they didn’t have TB, and of course TB at that time was a killer of lots of people because they hadn’t really found a cure for it. So most of the herd, they were all tested and most of the herd failed. There were probably about, I would think 50 cows and we were left with about five so they were all, it was quite a tragic day because we used to love the animals and so we were made redundant and that was the time when I thought, yes, probably this is not the way to make a living and to have a future in farming so I then trained in the motor trade, made a living in the motor trade but I always loved it.
Lisa: Could you tell me a little bit about your working day really, through the year, at Park Farm? What sort of things were you doing, what jobs?
David: Yes, right OK. When I got close to my 15th birthday which is when you could leave, I didn’t have a job so I went around the farms in the area to see if they wanted anyone and I walked up to Park Farm and met the farmer, told him what I was doing, that I was keen. He knew of my family through years ago, the Cooper family at Nettlestone and so I remember he just said OK, I’ll start, I think it was on the 10th April I started, get up here just before 7 and knock out at half past four, so that was my day. I used to walk across the field from Nettlestone and sometimes it was soaking wet, sometimes it was just a nice spring morning. I can remember it well, I used to love it and the first thing we would do is get the cows in. They used to come up to the gate of the farmyard. They were set into a field, someone would open the gate of the field and they’d come up to the gate of the farm, open the gate and they’d all go into their places, all these stalls, these buildings which I will try and show you in a minute if I can find them. They all had stalls in, each cow had its place and they knew exactly where to go. Put a chain around their neck because there was a wooden stall or sometimes a metal stall, put a chain round their neck and there’d be a, not a trough, a manger in front of them. Some cow cake or some food would be put in to that so they’d get on with that. In the winter, they would have some hay shaken down, you see these buildings here?
David: In the summer you’d load it up with hay and so on winter mornings or if they were staying in all night when it was really rough, you’d just shake hay down through a slot in the floor and fill the manger and so they could be quite happy to sit there and there’d be some hay and straw on the floor. They’d be quite happy to live in there for a night or a day if need be. Anyway, then they would … we’d get some warm water in a bucket and we’d go round and wash the cows’ udders off because they’d been in the mud, you know, been in the muddy field. Wash them off. The milking stool, three-legged thing, you’ve probably seen those, and a bucket and then hand-milking because there was no electricity at the farm, there was no mains electricity so everything was done manually. I would milk about, I don’t know, can’t remember now, probably five or six cows and there’d be four other milkers, the two farmers, the farmer’s son and another man, so we probably used to milk 40 cows in a morning. The milk would then be put into a churn, taken down to the Dairy and it would be put through a cooler, a milk cooler. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen one of those. It’s like water flowing through a radiator and you would tip the milk through a filter and it would run down over the cooler and that would help it to keep, otherwise milk goes off very quickly you see and we didn’t have a fridge and so that was then cooled, into a churn and then there would be a few churns which would have to be ready for about half past 8, 9 o’clock, to be put out for the milk lorry. The milk lorry came from the Island creamery, Island Dairies at Newport, where they would take it and process it and then they would send a milk cheque every week to the farmer. Then we’d have a breakfast, we’d take a sandwich or something for breakfast and I’d sit in with an old boy who’s nearly at retiring age and he’d been associated with the farm all his life apart from going away for the War, the First World War that is and so I would hear all his stories.
15 minutes 41 seconds
Lisa: Do you remember any of them?
David: Oh yeah, yeah I do. We used to go in there for breakfast (laughs) and so this old boy, Jack Squibb, he was a local but he used to live in Ryde at that time, he used to cycle out from Ryde every day and he was the one who would bring the cows up to the gate and by the time I’d got there I’d open the gate and let the cows in their buildings. We’d also be joined at harvest time and at hay-making time and at thrashing time. Thrashing is when they get the grain out of the corn and that was done by a special machine which I’ll get into in a minute, and so there would be quite a little, there’d be three or four of them, would come and help. They’d always help us on the farm or local farms, they’d always live locally. So lots of tales of yore, yeah, used to be quite funny some of them. So, it really got me into that style of farming. No milking machines. A baler did appear after I’d been there a few months, the first summer I was there I think, they got a hay baler and that was quite luxurious because it saved a lot of heaving with lifting the stuff up and raking it up. You could just load a bale onto the trailer and someone would stack them up, three or four high, maybe a bit more and then they’d be taken back to the farm and put into a stack ready for winter, so that was more convenient to handle them like that.
Lisa: And did they have a tractor?
David: They had two tractors, two Fordson Major tractors and they also had a 1940’s Fordson standard tractor, which was a smaller thing, one of the original … tractors and they all started, they weren’t diesel, they all started on paraffin or tractor vaporising oil and then when the engine warmed up you switched over to petrol and that was quite common in those days, TVO, tractor vaporising oil. Yes, so they had three tractors. I didn’t do much in the tractor driving line except at cultivating time, I used to do a bit of ploughing with the standard tractor and also disc harrowing, breaking the soil down so it could be sown with corn or whatever. So we had tractors, we also had a horse, can’t remember its name (laughs) but I used to handle a horse sometimes. One of the old boys used to get it onto a cart and then we would use that for moving higher round the estate, round the farm because it stretched from Bullen Road, Ryde, right up to St Helens so it was quite a big area it covered. And also down the fields, down by the wishing well, it went down there so it was quite a biggish farm, for the time anyway.
Lisa: Can I go back to ask you a question about something to do with the milk?
Lisa: Do you know at that time how much the farm would have been making for its milk?
David: No, I was going to look that up this morning actually but I don’t know what the price was for milk, but I was thinking about it. There were three households and also a farm labourer living in it. There were cottages dotted around the farm and so it used to keep four households, it used to pay four wages plus my wage which was £2.19 a week (laughs). Maybe I had a pay rise to £3.00 something after a year or two. It obviously paid all their running costs. How it did I don’t know. It was very labour intensive, and then they’d have the extra hands in for hay-making and harvesting to get it done so I don’t know. It would be interesting to know that.
Lisa: OK. You mentioned about thrashing and then you said you were going to come back and talk about it a bit more.
David: Yes, I’ll tell you (laughs). I’m glad my kids aren’t here. Right, harvest time, the tractor mower would cut the grain. No it wouldn’t, here you are, a binder. That’s a binder, that’s a horse-drawn binder. This is actually Park Farm before, this is pre-war but by the time I got there the binder was pulled by a tractor.
Lisa: But it was the same machine?
David: Same machine (laughs). Someone would sit on it and then when the sheave was wrapped up it would just release it and so the tractor driver would be driving across the field and the binder operator would pull the lever and so there would be a row of sheaves, you’ve seen traditional sheaves, and then the next job would be for us to get out there and to stook them up, put them up in stacks, tapered so that the rain ran off them because then if it did rain, it wouldn’t rot the corn. Then, when that was all done, and there may be several fields, we would then go out with a tractor trailer, horse and cart and pick them up, take them back to the farmyard and then the farmyard would turn into, instead of a big empty space it would be turned into a mini village. There’d be stacks like that, and that might be one, there would be a round one perhaps for barley, there’d be another one for, a rectangular one for wheat. Wheat was the main crop and so that was then left until… and then they’d be temporarily thatched. The farmer used to put some sort of thatch to keep the rain off them until November. Sometimes in the winter the thrashing would be done. Whenever it was fitted in, the thrashing machine would arrive from Barnsley Farm nearby, which is now Goddard’s Brewery and the gentleman there had this big machine. I think it was an Edwardian machine, it was a great big wooden structure and it used to be towed by a tractor. It had been designed to work with a steam engine, an old traction engine but it used to come with a tractor and then you would need at least five, six people to operate it so that’s when we used to get extra hands in. After the milking each day, remember the milking had to be done morning and afternoon, I’m probably going ahead of myself actually. After milking had been done, the cows had been sorted out, the milk lorry had arrived, taken the milk away, then we’d get out there and get thrashing. There was a great big pulley on the side and a belt would drive it from the tractor so that would be rattling away all day and there’d be a man at the top feeding the sheaves in to the drum, the drum was rotating and then it would take the corn through and it would vibrate or hammer it and the grain would come down a chute at the back end of the tractor, the back end of the thrasher and so there would be a man there operating the chute. It would be a twin chute and there’d be a sack arranged just below the chute so when that sack was filled he’d switch over to the other sack. Sorry, I can’t explain it very well with words but I’m doing it with my hands aren’t I? So the sacks would then be taken off by a sack truck and put into a grain store where rats and things wouldn’t get it. The other end, the straw was coming out and so there would be someone there and that was tied up with string. The machine would tie it up with string, bind it up and then the straw would then be taken and put into a rick, a stack, something like that and if it was wheat straw it could be used for thatching and every year the farmer used to thatch a different building. He thatched that. That would last about 20 years, so he told me, and then another year he’d do that one with wheat straw.
Lisa: Did you ever get involved in that?
David: Not in thatching no. Perhaps moving stuff but he used to do that himself but no, that was interesting though. I walked round there the other day, that’s all tin roofs now which is the most economical way of doing it, you can’t afford to thatch things all the time now. My job, being the boy, was the worst one. It was all the wheat seeds and dirt and what they call the cavel, that is the husks off the grain. Used to come down the chute at the back end and it used to build up pretty quickly so it was my job to rake that out and make a heap of it behind me, and if it was a hot day or if you were sweating, all this dust and thistle seeds, you know they’re like, the fluff, it would stick to you and it was horrible (laughs).
Lisa: That wasn’t one of your favourite jobs then?
David: No (telephone rings) Excuse me.
Lisa: So you didn’t enjoy that job much?
David: Didn’t enjoy that job because it was very hard work. If I got slack at all the stuff would build up and then they’d moan at me and so I had to keep raking it away and it was exhausting and horrible and yes, if you were sweating then the dust and stuff would stick all over you, it’s not a very nice job, used to come out looking like a coalminer or something worse but something I always tell my kids which they do enjoy, there was one boy came to help us. He was working at the farm I think and he always had a cold and so his nose used to run, quite a length of snot would appear and then all this dust and everything, everyone used to watch him without him knowing and all this dust and seeds and fluff used to stick all over it and then he’d suddenly go (sniffs in) (laughs) which was quite, it’s a memory anyway (laughs).
25 minutes 28 seconds
Lisa: So in contrast then, what was your favourite job?
David: My favourite job was dealing with the cows; bringing them in, feeding them, milking them, dealing with, feeding calves, used to feed calves buttered milk with some meal in it. Yeah, I loved it and also just generally being around the farm, just being out in the open and so on. But I’ll just go back to the harvest. It’s all done now by combine harvester and so one man can do it; he can get up on the machine, he can drive across a field and so there’s no dust. There might be a bit of dust but he doesn’t have to sweat or anything like that. The corn, the grain is usually pumped into a trailer which is driven alongside. Sometimes it goes into bags and can be handled easily but it’s less labour-intensive so you save all those wages through having modern machinery, so that’s what I was going to say.
Lisa: Is that one of the main differences, you think, in farming now? There are less men, less jobs?
David: Less jobs, yes less jobs and less men involved and less wages and also the farms are bigger because a combine harvester costs I don’t know how many thousands of pounds so you wouldn’t buy it just for a small 350 acre farm. A lot of them amalgamate now so, this farm for instance, is farmed. The farmyard is empty, it’s going to be developed I think for holiday flats or something, holiday homes, but the fields are still there and so some other farmer from the area takes over that farm and another farm and just rents the fields, because they’ve got the machinery to do it. They’ve got a combine harvester, they’ve got balers and so on, and so two or three men can make a good living, or a better living than probably 20 men would have done in the past but that’s how life was wasn’t it? It was slower, more people involved and not everyone wants to work on a farm nowadays.
Lisa: What breed of cows were there?
David: They were a mixed breed, Channel Island and Friesian. Friesian were very productive, they used to give a greater quantity of milk but the Channel Islands cows gave a creamier milk so it was more quality in there. Some people still prefer it, you can still buy full cream milk, but mainly they were after quantity. I suppose the milk cheque each month was bigger if you had a greater quantity of milk so they had a mixed herd at Park Farm, and there was a bull, Mr Bull. He was quite fierce I think, I was never allowed near him because I was only a lad, I was 15, 16, 17. The farmer used to handle him and he’d live in a stable. He used to peer over the stable, he was quite happy and he had his ladies who used to come round. Now and again there would be two or three (laughs), the cow, a couple of heifers, he’d sort them out and then go back in his stable but I think he was a bit dangerous. He had a ring in his nose and they’d bring him out on a pole and they’d always have a rope through the ring in his nose. I wouldn’t want to tangle him (laughs).
Lisa: What happened to the, obviously you said it was a dairy farm, so what happens to the calves that are steers?
David: Right, the female calves were reared and they would be eventually brought into the herd as they developed and they’d be turned out with the heifers, so the heifers’ calves were reared and stayed with the herd. The bull calves would only be there for sometimes for a few days and they’d go off to market and they would be probably bred for veal. They didn’t keep them.
Lisa: You mention market. Can you tell me about that?
David: Yes market. The market was in Newport. I didn’t go there very much, I used to go there, I never went there when I was working on the farm, and I used to go there out of interest when I was a boy. That was in, I’m just trying to think of the name of the street now. It’s now where, just a bit below, not Sainsbury’s, Morrison’s I think, Newport, just there somewhere. That was a busy day; all the animals would be coming in in lorries and there would be a lot of bleating and baa-ing and pigs would come in, there would be a lot of grunting and squeaking of pigs. There’d be, calves would be auctioned. The Auctioneer would stand on a board along the front of the animals and they’d sort of poke them around a bit and then do the auctioneer bit. Sometimes you would get older cattle would come in I think. They would come in and I think they would probably just go for beef or ham or food, I’m not sure, I never really knew. But it was quite a busy day and probably a social day for the farmers as well. They’d meet up with friends and people they hadn’t seen for a long time.
30 minutes 38 seconds
Lisa: Which day of the week was it held on?
David: Tuesday. It would be Tuesday, yeah. When I was working there I didn’t go because I was obviously expected to do things. I’ve got a picture of the farmer and his car.
Lisa: What was the farmer’s name at Park Farm?
David: Bright, Mr Bright. There were two, there were two brothers, the Bright brothers and they had been there since 1919 so, do you want this information? And they had come with… so they were carrying on Edwardian methods really and they had walked across the Island with their stock from Shorewell, so they said and so they’d been there from 1919. By the time I got there in 1955 they were both in their early 60’s, one was a bit older than 65, one was past retirement age but they had been farmers all their lives, so they’d carried on their old methods but for some reason they’d never had electricity installed in the farm so I think they might have had a generator for use in the house. One of them had a house with an electricity generator.
Lisa: What about the water supply there?
David: Water supply? Good, yeah that was … that came from a well. There was a well, obviously a clean well somewhere near the farm and one of my jobs in the morning was to operate this hand pump and in the upstairs of the Dairy, the top floor of the Dairy there was a big tank and so it was my job every morning to fill the tank from the well and then there would be enough head in the tank to supply the taps around the farm. There would be enough for … the water heating was done by this great big copper, wood fires. There was a stock of wood; that was another one of my jobs, to cut the firewood. After we’d done the afternoon milking, before I went home, I was with another person, cut up logs with a crosscut saw and then sometimes split them as well and there would always be a stock of dry wood for this fire which was kept going all the time. It was, I think it stayed in overnight and so there was always hot water. It would boil sometimes and we’d need boiling water for scalding out milking buckets and churns and all the milk stuff had to be sterilised, otherwise it would go off, just like that.
Lisa: Were there any women on the farm? Did these brothers have wives?
David: Yeah, the brothers had wives. They were both elderly ladies. The one who lived at the farm in the farmhouse, she used to sort of feed chickens and things like that. She didn’t work on the farm. The other brother had a wife, she was quite elderly. There was a son who lived in [inaudible] Lane in the cottage, he’d been, Arthur Bright, he’d been wounded in the War. He had a leg full of shrapnel so he was a bit disabled. He could drive a tractor and he was quite capable but he wasn’t able to do a lot of things. He had a wife and two children and in fact his son loaned me these photographs some while ago. I had them copied, he knows I’ve got them so these are photographs, pre- War photographs of the place. There, that’s the rick yard, different shape stacks.
Lisa: Oh and there’s the dog.
David: There’s the dog yes, there was a dog. That’s a pre-war one, it’s not when I was there. There was a dog there.
Lisa: Were there dogs?
David: There was one dog, one dog used to nip my backside if he got the chance but otherwise he was quite friendly.
Lisa: Was there ever any cause to have a Vet at the farm?
David: Yes, yes, a Vet would come, I suppose if there was an animal with a problem but usually they came to do warble flies, testing for warble flies. Each cow had to be checked for warble fly because a warble fly lays its egg which burrows into the skin and it destroys the hide, so when they go for slaughter the hide hasn’t got so much value so they used to check for warble flies and they also brought in this tubercula testing which came in, yes, just before it all packed up. The Vet would come, what would the Vet do? Also de-horning. They started de-horning the cattle because if the cows hook one another that also damages the hide and marks the hide so that reduces the value so they de-horned quite a few cows. They did that with a great big guillotine thing, not very nice. They also used to come a nd… the calves, they put acids on the horns along the stumps, to stop them growing.
35 minutes 20 seconds
Lisa: Did you get involved in calving?
David: Not very often, no.
Lisa: Were they just left to their own devices?
David: They were just left out in the field, yeah and they knew it was due and sometimes you’d get involved in searching for the calf, to find the calf because the cow would be standing at a gate, mooing it’s head off and we’d have to walk around the field looking for a calf because some of the fields were quite rough, quite a lot of roughage you know, overgrown with ferns and brambles and long grass and so I remember searching for calves there (laughs) but they’ve never had a casualty through no-one being there when a cow calves, as far as I know anyway.
Lisa: What was the land like there? What kind of soil was it?
David: It was … I would say some of it was gravelly, some of it was quite fertile. Certain areas they used to use just for grazing, just for meadow, just for pasture and other areas I can think of were ploughed and put down to wheat and other crops so that was probably better quality than the pasture. I think the pasture was maybe a bit of clay.
Lisa: One of the things we’re interested in learning more about as part of this project is how the landscape has changed. You’ve said that there were a lot of smaller farms that aren’t there anymore. The fields are still there.
David: Yes, the fields are there.
Lisa: Do the fields look the same? Are the hedgerows different? Has anything changed in that way?
David: No, the hedgerows tragically were torn out in the … after these people gave up they moved out in late 50’s, early 60’s and another farmer took it over. I think he actually purchased the farm, he bought it and so ancient hedgerows and banks were just torn out and so to make the field more efficient. You can understand it because they had to make a living and had to get a return on their investment but it’s just, from appearance it’s just, it was quite a shame. Also it did away with places for birds to nest and some small animals to live, you know so if you look at that environment it did change it quite drastically.
Lisa: What sort of wildlife do you remember seeing?
David: Mostly rabbits and hares. Owls. There were owl slits in the barn, did I show you the barn? I don’t know where it is. Yes the owls used to sleep. There were also wild cats up there that they allowed them to live there because they would keep the rats and the mice down, at Park Farm. I think most farmers were the same, there would always be a few wild cats around. I don’t know what I’ve done with it.
Lisa: So the slits were made for the owls so that they could nest?
David: Yes, so the owls could get in and out and they can also get in there and pick the mice out. When the mice were in there eating the corn. Here you are, owl slits. That barn is still there, I saw it the other day, that’s the bit that’s still there but all these, these wooden ones, I reckon they were a few hundred years old but they’re falling into dis-repair now.
Lisa: Yes, and what’s this graffiti on the door there?
David: That’s the farmer and he’s obviously just thatched it and he’s put ‘All my own work’ (laughs).
Lisa: We’ve talked quite a bit about Park Farm haven’t we?
Lisa: But when you said about the course that you did, the agriculture course at Freshwater, you didn’t say much about that. Can we go back to that?
David: Yes, we can go back to that yeah. Well it was attached to West Wight Secondary Modern school and they recently had, back in August they had a big commemoration because the school and the school farm had long gone, there’s now a housing estate up in Freshwater there and they had a commemoration with the MP and the Lord Lieutenants of the Isle of Wight and everything so a few of us went out, met up with people we hadn’t seen for a long time, 60 years or so. Even though it’s a small Island you still lose touch with people and also got news of a friend who I was in the same billet with who has been in Australia since the early 60’s so I now speak to him on Skype (laughs) so you know, even though he’s had quite an adventurous life he still remembers the details of our life in Freshwater. There was quite a community from all over the Island. I think there were four of us in the house that I lived in, in New Village which is a narrow lane in Freshwater and the lady, Mrs Jennings, was very good to us. She’d had generations of boys there, and girls from early 50’s and so we were there for our two years and there was a girl there. I think there was three boys and a girl. The farm was a fairly modern farm, five or six cows I think at the most. We also had some pigs and there was an arable area where they could grow turnips and mangles and a bit of corn and again it was quite hard work at times, we all got involved with harvesting and looking after the stock. We used to do a duty weekend every term when a team of us would stay over, we’d stay over in our billets and then we’d turn up and milk the cows and feed the calves and do all the … see to the poultry and they trusted us to do that. There was a farm professional, there was a farm worker there, Mr Gough, who used oversee it all but we used to actually do the work and he would make sure we did, otherwise we’d hear all about it. He was quite a, he was a good leader really.
41 minutes 27 seconds
Lisa: Was there an element of classroom learning?
David: Yes, yes there was theory, lots of theory, two years of it. We had classroom learning, learning about soils, different crops, fertiliser, and minerals in the soil. I’ve forgotten most of it now but it was quite interesting.
Lisa: Do you remember your teachers?
David: Yeah I do, with great affection. There was, we had a teacher in charge of us for ordinary secondary lessons so there was good old Mr Rook who everyone remembers who went to the school. He was a character and, they were all characters really, I think all teachers were in those days, they probably still are. Our agricultural teacher was Mr Page, he was in charge of the agricultural part, he used to take us for agriculture. There was a horticultural teacher, Mr Lanphier, who, I think he went on to become a County Councillor but he was there for a long time, he was there long after I left, he was still around in the 80’s there. I remember Mr Gough, he was the farm worker and I met his son the other day when we had this reunion and so we had quite a few smiles about Mr Gough. He was, you know, it was his job I think to be in charge of us and make sure we didn’t muck things up. So yes, quite affectionate memories, fond memories of all that. I suppose you forget the bad bits (laughs).
Lisa: And I wonder when that all came to an end then?
David: What that school?
Lisa: The school and the…
David: I think back in the … I think it was back in the late 60’s when the Isle of Wight College took on the role of horticulture and agriculture teaching I think. I’m not sure really. I think there was a farm somewhere, a school, a training farm but it was different then. We went there from 13 to 15, because you left when you were 15 so you went out prepared with a bit of theory knowledge and of course you leave school much later now so they do more higher qualifications. Some people went from our school to Sparsholt which is over in the New Forest and I think more people go there now than train on the Island. Because it’s more technical now, so many things have changed. My experience is just carrying on from Edwardian type farming really and when it all came to a stop then I’ve realised you’d never make a living like that, but it was enjoyable, it was lovely. There’s a hay-making scene.
Lisa: Have you got any photographs of you during the time that you were working?
David: I couldn’t find any, no, sorry, no I haven’t, no. I probably have somewhere but I don’t know, I can’t find them.
Lisa: When you worked at Park Farm, did you work on the weekends as well?
David: At Park Farm no, it was Saturday mornings. It was 7 o’clock in the morning until about 4ish I think in the afternoon and then Saturday mornings I think from 7 until 12 or something like that. It was a five and a half day week.
Lisa: Did you have a holiday?
David: Yes, two weeks’ holiday and Bank holidays, you’d get them as well and it was, yes, two weeks’ holiday which was great you know, to have a week off now and again.
Lisa: Was there a sort of Young Farmers organisation or anything like that when you were there?
David: There was but not within my reach because I didn’t have transport. There was something at Newport, I think I did go to one or two meetings but I didn’t really follow it up very much. I’m just trying to think of other, one thing might be of interest is we used to actually travel out by train until the railway stopped in 1954. We travelled out by train. We used to get a bus to Ryde, get on a train to Newport, then we’d have an hour to kill in Newport I think and then we’d get the train from Newport to Freshwater station. Great fun.
Lisa: Of course that’s all gone now hasn’t it?
David: Well and then that packed up and then we did the whole journey by bus. Sometimes we did bike out, a friend of mine, myself biked out a couple of times, obviously in good weather and when the evenings were light, yeah.
Lisa: So was there any focus in the course on machinery? You know maintaining machinery, repairs and that kind of thing?
David: Yes, yes a certain amount, yes. A certain amount about care for machinery and dangers, health and safety obviously, can cut your fingers off and you do still get farm accidents, yes so we had a tractor out there which we all used to have a go to use safely. We had, I don’t think we had a baler but I think a local farmer would come in and bale up the hay. A muck spreader, I think there was a muck spreader. That was quite an innovation at Park Farm when I was there because the first year I was there the dung heap was sort of in the middle of the yard so all the stables were farmed out and it would just stay there and rot and then at dung spreading time it would all be forked out, loaded onto a cart and that’s where the horse came in. You’d load it onto this horse-drawn cart and it would go up into the field, be dumped in heaps and then it would have to be done manually, spread manually. Go up there and shake it out, a square around the area of the heap and then move on to the next heap but they suddenly bought a dung spreader which took all the work out of it so all you had to do was load up the dung spreader and then the tractor would take it up in the field and spread it everywhere without you having to do all that hard work (laughs).
Lisa: And where could farm machinery be bought in those days?
David: I think there was a place at Newport, round by the Mill, there was a place there. There was also Frank Cheverton’s which was in the town. There was, can’t remember the name of it, there were other places as well. Lyningtons, I think that was a farm machinery firm, I don’t think they exist anymore, and Scats I think, they were just coming into their own.
Lisa: Because it’s quite interesting isn’t it, that you were working in a time when I suppose more machines were being used?
David: Yes, that’s it, they were.
Lisa: But you were coming out of this kind of Edwardian period of farming and all those old farmers were dying off weren’t they?
David: Edwardian yes, that’s it. Yes.
Lisa: Being replaced by the younger generation.
David: That’s how I remember the ones from muckspreading, and also the baler you know, to save all the work and the combine harvester, that never came to our farm. I used to work on a farm at Freshwater in the evenings, we used to make our cigarette money by doing gardening and we used to work part time for Kings Manor Farm which is quite a big place at Freshwater and they had a combine harvester and I thought that was a wonderful thing, saved a hell of a lot of work, you know (laughs). I hope this is useful (laughs).
Lisa: I was just going to see if there were any other questions. What do you think has changed most about farming since you were young?
David: Fewer people working on farms, fewer dairy farms and much more machinery. Less labour intensive. Don’t get those sort of scenes any more. I’m trying to find this.
Lisa: Is that a plough?
David: That is a plough yeah, horse-drawn plough and they were quite common, not in my time but you would still get them in competitions.
50 minutes 2 seconds
Lisa: I don’t know whether it’s just the angle of that photograph but they look enormous those horses, don’t they?
David: They are big aren’t they, yes massive great things. Suffolk Punch I suppose, I don’t know what they were called, shire horses. That is the farmer, as a matter of interest, that is the farmer with his pre-war car and that’s Mrs and they used to go off, they were the ones, they used to go to market every week, that was their day in Newport and they’d come back with filters for the milk filters, thing that you tip the milk into, had to be carefully filtered so I remember he used to go and get those and he’s also go, see what sort of prices animals were fetching in the market and all that business. He did all the business side of it.
Lisa: They must have been doing quite well for themselves then to have a car?
David: A car, yes, it must have paid its way mustn’t it really? Yes I meant to look up this morning, how much milk fetched per churn, per gallon, whatever.
Lisa: So they were still, they didn’t have a milk tanker come in then?
David: No, tankers now, it was churns.
David: Yeah, you had to fill the churns and then lift them up onto a stand so that when the lorry came it was the same level and it was always a sort of competition for young chaps, can he lift the milk churn, ‘oh yes course I can’, you know (laughs).
Lisa: And it was all processed on the Island back then?
David: At Island Creameries, Island Dairies at Newport, yes. I don’t think it is, I think that’s all gone now.
Lisa: I think it has to be sent away doesn’t it now?
David: It has to be sent away yes, sent away and then comes back to the supermarket shelves but it lasts now for days on end. If you didn’t get it treated right and get it delivered then it would go off, you know, the milk would be sour, so my Great Grandad with his yolk, he must have got a move on around Seaview I think. Oh I’ll show you one more thing.
Lisa: Did the wives make butter or cheese?
David: Yes that’s, you must be psychic, I’ve just thought of something, now what’s he done with it? There’s a, excuse me, there’s a little churn here somewhere that they used to sell cream in. There’s a tiny little miniature churn. I’ll find it in a minute. Oh dear, sorry.
Lisa: Not to worry.
David: No, it might turn up. Right, so they did, yeah. If you leave milk standing cream forms on the top quite quickly, especially raw milk, unpasteurised and so they would make … they would skim it off after a while and put it in a butter churn and make their own butter and even cheese I think. I’ve never made that but butter is quite easy to make. The Channel Island cattle, the milk is creamier, more quality and so that was quite common, if you had a few Channel Island cows that you could put the milk into a bowl and then skim it for cream but this fellow, my Great Grandad, they used to sell cream, they didn’t have, there was no processing plant and no pasteurisation. They would have filtered it so they used to have their own cream and they would sell that around Seaview, especially like now. Seaview was then second homes. Not as much as now but there were, yachties would come down and be resident for the summer and so he used to sell cream and butter to them as well as well as milk.
Lisa: So what would he do, did he have a round? Did he have a cart that he would go?
David: He had a round yes. He had a round, he used to deliver some by, I think that’s how he carried it around the farm with a yoke but he had a horse-drawn cart which would go and deliver around. Somebody would go around delivering and they would have a churn, a more portable churn in the cart. They would have some big churns to top up the small churn with and have a small portable churn, carry it to the door, there’d be a note there, two pints please and they’d measure it out with a metal measure. I’m sorry I’m looking for that thing, I don’t know what she’s done with it. So they would say the same with cream, ‘can we have a quarter pint of cream’ or something so he’d deliver that in a small can and leave it with them and then I suppose it would be scalded out and used again, yeah. When we first came here in the early 1950’s and living at Nettlestone, the people who were running Holgate Farm then, they still did a milk round with a horse and trolley, horse and cart and the horse was called Kitty (laughs) and Kitty would do the rounds off by heart, she knew where to stop and he’d just shout at it and it would move on to the next house and so on, it was quite funny really. It was quite charming but that all stopped when tubercular testing and there were also worries about salmonella and things started coming in so you couldn’t have milk that was served in the open with flies and dust and everything around. Every time the churn was opened stuff could get in and it was put into a milk jug and then put into, either into, somebody would be there to take it or else it would be put in a box at the side of the door so anything could happen to it so you can understand why that form of delivery went but I’m glad I saw it, I’m glad I’ve sort of been in the overlap time you know? I know nothing about modern farming (laughs).
Lisa: Well thank you David.
David: Alright Lisa, you’re welcome.
Lisa: It’s been really, really interesting, fascinating.
David: I hope so.
Lisa: And I hope it’s given you a chance to relive some of those memories.
David: It has yes, it’s magic, thank you very much.
End of interview.
55 minutes 57 Seconds
Transcribed September 2017 by Chris Litton