Duration: 78 minutes 17 seconds
It’s the 11th of July 2017 and this is an interview with Mr Emery at his home in Sandown. Lisa Kerley is the interviewer.
Lisa: Could we start the interview by you telling me your full name please?
Donald: Yes, Donald Emery. Just one Christian name. My father was very wise.
Lisa: And where were you born?
Donald: That’s a good question. Worcestershire really is the best place to say because it was a little tiny place called Beoley, B E O L E Y, in Worcestershire.
Lisa: And did you come from a farming family?
Donald: Yes, most definitely.
Lisa: Can you tell me a bit about your father and his job?
Donald: Yeah, he was a … during the 1st World War he was a … obviously he was in the War and I don’t quite know how, but he was in the (inaudible) Yeomanry and his … one of his officers was a chap called Sir William Jaffray who had a big estate in the midlands near Redditch and after the War the officer said to the Sergeant Major, “You’d better come and run my estate, Sergeant Major” and the Sergeant Major did just that and they were together until they both died and that’s how he got in to … dad was already I think into farming, it was a farming background, yes, and then he took on running the estate. It was 2000 acre estate or something like that.
Lisa: So did you grow up on a farm?
Donald: Yes, I had polio when I was 12 and then I went to school again and I used to run … the doctor said to my dad, “Let him run wild” which I did and I spent most of my young life rabbiting in the woods and helping out at harvest time and all the rest of it and right up until I became an adult and then I began officially working at 14. 14, dad said “Right ho, here’s a fag, get to work” (laughs).
Lisa: So what are your early memories of growing up on a farm then? What things would you have to help out with?
Donald: Very much harvesting ‘cos that was wartime and we had the only tractor on the estate and dad used to go round with the tractor at harvest time cutting the corn etc and I used to go round and … sometimes I’d ride on the tractor and other times he’d say, “Get off and do some stooping” standing the sheaves up and that was it really, and rabbiting ‘cos I never had any pocket money. I always got my own pocket money through catching rabbits and flogging them (laughs).
Lisa: So how was the harvest done then? You just mentioned about the stoops. Can you explain that to me?
Donald: Yes well it was cut by a binder which in fact cut the corn, put a bit of string round it and chucked it out in what they used to call sheaves which was a bundle of corn tied with string and then the idea was that you went round, you stood them up in stoops which were pointed small heaps of corn to dry out and then in due course you went round with the tractor and the trailer and picked them up and took them into the barn and then in the winter you thrashed it all out. The thrashing machine used to come round and they were pulled by a steam engine in those days. Yes, used to chunk her into the drive, into the yard, and my job was to fill the dustbin up as a youngster. You had to keep the dustbin full of water for the blinking steam engine. I remember filling it up, it would [makes a sucking sound] and I’d have to fill it all up again (laughs). Cruelty, cruelty to children.
Lisa: So was that a local person then that owned the engine and the machine that came round …?
Donald: Yes, an agricultural contractor, yes. He came round and then we moved on from steam engine to tractors, driving the steam engine and tractors pulling pick up balers which were great big things that we used to have to ride on the back and you tied your wire round the bales not string as they do today, and you’d be one each side of the bale chamber, one would push the wire through, the other would pull it, tie it off quick before it went bump out the back (laughs). Dusty old job that was. You know every time the ram came up, bang, you got a face full of hay bits and dust and (laughs). Yeah, do you know what a baler is? Yeah you do don’t you, of course you do. But this was a stationery baler been made mobile so you can imagine how big and heavy it was and we were farming on the hills in those days in Worcestershire and no we were in Hampshire when we were using that and occasionally the thing would run away down the hill. It would push the tractor and that was quite exciting (laughs). In fact, my brother saved my life once. Well he probably saved me from serious injury if he didn’t save my life. I was a tractor driver with a trailer behind picking up bales and what used to happen on this dry weather, the tractor would start to go, one back wheel would go forward the other one would go backwards. It just slid down the hill and I’m heading for a great big drop and lots of trees and he chucked a bale under the wheel as I went by which spun the whole thing round so I was then broadside onto the hill. It went ‘phew’ (laughs). Interesting, yeah.
5 minutes 46 seconds
Lisa: Have you had any other close shaves with farming machinery or anything like that?
Donald: Not really, no. The only other close shave I had was picking seed (inaudible) and I went down this little grass cutting. There’s the cliff and then the drop. Got my seat with eggs because I used to like eating them, quite illegal now of course, and as I climbed back up I slipped, and it was like the cartoon picture you know, [makes a screeching noise] and I scrambled up over the top to find to my disgust I’d broken the egg (laughs). There we are, yeah. And I used to do a bit of cliff rescue work on the cliff up there with sheep ‘cos when I was shepherding and you get the odd sheep stuck down there on the cliff and my brother used to … we used to take a tractor up there with the plough on the back and drive the plough into the ground and I’d have a rope tied round me waist and go down over the cliff and catch the old ewe and bring her back up again or whatever it was down there, the sheep down there. Yeah, quite fun (laughs). I was doing it over Whitecliff once, Whitecliff Bay and I didn’t look down, I was too busy with catching the sheep, and as I got over the top, my brother said, “Oh look, they’re all applauding you down there” and all the visitors on Whitecliff Bay all gave me a clap (laughs). I thought ‘uurgh’.
Lisa: I’m going to ask you a few more questions about that part of your life and the shepherding work that you did but I just want to go back to your younger days. You mentioned that there was a tractor on the farm and it was the first tractor. This is the farm that you sort of grew up on but were there any horses then at that time that you were using?
Donald: Yeah, when I first started work, about 16 or 17, I was then a Carter ‘cos the old Carter died, and my dad said to me, “You will use the horses” and so I used the horses and that was quite interesting. In those days you grew fields of what they called roots. That would be mangles, swedes and carrot to feed the cattle during the winter. You’d plough it with a tractor but from then on you used a horse ‘cos it didn’t pack the soil down so much and that used to be quite exciting actually ‘cos me brother kept bees, I don’t suppose he told you that, but he used to keep bees and several times I was on the flight path of these blasted bees going off to get the pollen and of course they’d settle … the horse would … they’d hit the horse, they’d sting at the horse and the horse didn’t like that and we used to take off across the field with me hanging onto what we … there used to be a horse hoe, pushing it down as deep in the ground as I could to stop this mare from galloping right out the field and away you know with me behind it. Quite fun it was. And we used to in those days of course, when we first started it was German POW’s and Italian. Italian POW’s and first of all and then German, then they all went back to wherever they lived and the POW camps were used as working holiday places and we used to get some lovely young ladies come along to hoe these roots by hand. I would go between the rows and they’d actually hoe the rows and what they called single out and you’d get some very brown tanned young ladies, you know and I loved it. But I was working the horse. The rest of the guys were chatting these young ladies up and I couldn’t get there because I was busy working the horse (laughs). The tractor we had unlike the very early days during the War was what they called the Standard Fordson which you now see as museum pieces. You’ll see them all over when there is a Rally. I sometimes walk round these sort of agricultural shows and museums and look and think, ‘That’s in the Museum. I used to use that, you know! I must be old (laughs).
10 minutes 22 seconds
Lisa: That must have been quite an investment for a farmer in those days to buy a tractor?
Donald: It was ‘cos most of them were still using horses, particularly during the War of course because they weren’t making tractors and the one we had on the farm was in fact a pre-war model and then after the War, we had another couple. The difference was the one before the second World War had full mudguards, so you could sit on them if you were riding on the tractor, not driving it, but the ones they made after the War only had a little narrow mudguard so you couldn’t sit on that. We didn’t like them (laughs).
Lisa: How old were you when you first were driving the tractor?
Donald: 14, 15. Yes probably as soon as I started the … before I was officially working but I suppose officially … yeah I was actually tractor driving for them when I was about 14, 15.
Lisa: And did someone teach you or did you just get on and do it yourself?
Donald: Just got on and did it ‘cos you know you sort of knew how to drive. There was no problem with driving. Ploughing and things like that when you were used the instruments, dad would come out and say, “This is what you’ve got to do son, get on with it” and he disappeared, and you’d get on with it and if you charlied it up … I did it when we first came to the Island, I was a tractor driving then before I became a shepherd and I was ploughing in one of the fields they called Big Ganderdown which is on the way to Bembridge and in those days you didn’t have what they call the under over ploughs that you’ve got now, you literally had to mark out your furrows and you went up and stuck up sticks with a bit of white cloth in the top so you could line up and make a nice straight veer out as we used to call it and I’m going up the hill in Big Ganderdown, following, looking at my little white dot and driving my way up there and I suddenly realised it wasn’t a white dot, it was a seagull walking along the field and I looked behind and I’m going [makes a descriptive noise] and I didn’t live that down for months afterwards ‘cos it was right in the sight of the road, you know? Oh, funny really, I never forgot that one (laughs).
Lisa: So how did you come to be on the Isle of Wight? How old were you when you moved down here?
Donald: Ah, ’53, so I must have been … I married in ’57 so I was about 22, something like that, 21 or 22 and we came of course because my father had died and then a year after him Sir William Jaffray died and there was no money to run and keep the farms going and my brother got the job as Manager of the Yaverland Manor and as things happened in those days, the family moved over, all of us came over and I sort of started working at Yaverland Manor.
Lisa: So where did you live then?
Donald: Well my mother and I, initially we lived in the old Rectory at Yaverland, round the Royal Oak, me and my brother and then my mother and I moved down to Longmans Farm which is on the way to Bembridge. You probably know it? It’s now all houses now. They bought it and converted all the farm buildings into houses down there.
Lisa: And was that a cottage that was sort of tied to Yaverland? That was a farm cottage?
Donald: Yes, a farm cottage.
Lisa: And did you have pay rent or was that included in your wages?
Donald: Yes, just included sort of thing. I don’t think anybody paid rent in those days. I know later after I’d gone they sort of reduced some rent but in those days your house went with the job.
Lisa: And do you mind me asking, do you remember what your wages were then?
Donald: Yes I do indeed. They were £7.10 a week ‘cos when I began as a shepherd, I got a pay rise, £10 per week (laughs).
15 minutes 8 seconds
Lisa: And what kind of farm was Yaverland when you worked there?
Donald: Mixed. There was dairy, there was sheep and corn. Yes, it was a mixed farm.
Lisa: And about how many acres was it?
Donald: I expect my brother told you that but I think with all the land that was rented, it was getting on for 1000 acres. Getting on that way. I really couldn’t be … he would have been very accurate when he told you that.
Lisa: Quite a big farm by Island standards.
Donald: Oh it was a big farm. We rented Bembridge Airport and we used to take the grass off it for mowing the runways and used to have the job of mowing the runway, and the Downs, quite a lot of the Downs which were WD property were rented and we went right down to the Marshes and a lot of the Marshes which are now RSPB, they were part of Yaverland.
Lisa So it must have been a real mix of different soil types, flat land, marsh land, cliffs.
Donald: From chalk to clay almost.
Lisa: And was that a challenge? How do you manage those different sorts of land types?
Donald: My brother had to worry about that (laughs). But yes, ‘cos we ploughed Bembridge Down which was the first time it had been ploughed in all the living memory, and we had Ferguson tractors in those days, little Fergies with three little ploughs behind them and it was so steep you couldn’t plough going up so you ran up empty with the front wheels up in the air just using your independent brakes to steer the thing. Got to the top, turned round, dropped the plough and ploughed down. That was in a (inaudible) and one incident I’ll always remember that. It was a beautiful day but freezing cold and the Fergie tractor unlike the Fordson Standard, you sat in the seat and your knees were just exposed to the weather with your legs, so when it was cold, they got cold. On a Standard Fordson you had a back axle so your legs were against the back axle so they got warm and on this particular day, as I say it was brilliant blue sky and the United States and the Queen Elizabeth went out bow to stern along the Solent and I can remember that as clearly as if it was happening right now, you know? Yes, it was such a … to me because I hadn’t been on the Island long, it was sort of awesome living anywhere near the sea, to see that was ‘Oh’ it was really something, yeah.
Lisa: What was grown once you’d ploughed on Bembridge Down?
Donald: Barley and mushrooms. Incredible! The mushrooms weren’t sown by us and how long the spawn had lain there, it must have lain there for years. And they came up all over the top was mushrooms. When it was combined it was thick with mushrooms and they never came again. One year and that was it. Like the poppies. Remember the poppies up on the top of Bembridge Down? A few years back, that field when you look right up onto the top of the Down, the field was absolutely covered in poppies. That one year and they never came again. It’s funny really. I don’t know what … ‘cos again that was ploughed and hadn’t been ploughed for years so the seed must have laid in the grounds for donkey’s years. Grew once and that was it.
Lisa: So when you first starting at Yaverland Manor, what were your general duties?
Donald: I was tractor driving. A cushy number. Yeah, tractor driving.
Lisa: And you said the tractors then were Fergusons.
Donald: Fergusons, yeah. Harry Ferguson, bless his heart (laughs). I mean I came from Standard Fordsons to Fergusons and they were incredible. Hydraulic hitch and yeah, and froze to death on the damn things (laughs). I’ve literally got off them, ploughing and falling over because my legs were so cold and so numb I couldn’t stand up you know for a bit, yeah.
Lisa: Can you take me through the year and tell me about some of the different jobs that you would do on the farm through the seasons?
19 minutes 55 seconds
Donald: Yeah, well the Spring, I mean, Autumn and Winter we’d be ploughing, the Spring would be cultivating and sowing. Then it was sort of fairly quiet. Then we’d be haymaking and then harvesting and then back to ploughing and the Winter again. You know it was a fixed cycle really, plough in the Winter, sow in the Spring, make the hay in the Spring and silage ‘cos we had to make silage then too that was a new thing to us. And then your harvest time. Initially you see it was binding and then the combines were already beginning to come into general use and then it was horse combine so you had then your harvest … when I remember the harvest as a youngster, there’d be a tractor driver, somebody riding the binder, and about four of us standing all the sheaves up. I came over here to see my brother one time when I was in the Police Force on the Mainland and they had three blokes doing the harvest. One driving the combine, one driving the tractor running the grain back to the dryer and one on the dryer. I couldn’t believe it! You know from hundreds of us seem to be working and it’s down to three blokes and this combine levelled itself off on the sloping ground, it levelled up. Look at them now and it’s all done by sat nav and guided by that. It must be quite something.
Lisa: So you went from driving the tractor then to shepherding and you said that you had a pay rise.
Donald: Yes, I went from £7.10 to £10 a week. Can you imagine it? £10 a week, gosh.
Lisa: How many days a week did you work?
Donald: Well you just worked. You didn’t do a full … you didn’t work every Saturday and Sunday, but you always worked Saturday morning and with the animals of course you had to have a look at them every day so I suppose every day I was doing something with them, working with them. And then of course lambing time, I used to lamb … the lambing pens used to be in the bottom of Marsh Combe and I used to live in my shepherd’s hut for about six to eight weeks during the lambing season. My wife used to say to me, “When are you coming home again?” and she used to have to come and help play midwife sometimes to the ewes ‘cos my hands were too big to go in the little ones, the young ones, the ewe’s lambs.
Lisa: How many sheep did they have on the farm then?
Donald: I think we had about between three and five hundred ewes and so I would probably have had about six or seven hundred when all the lambs were there as well. Yes, something like that so it was a big flock.
Lisa: So can you tell me a day in the life of a shepherd?
Donald: Yeah, mine I can tell what is mine. I used to have one of the Fergie tractors with a box on the back and I lived still down at Longland with my wife then because I was married and the sheep, most of them ran up on the Downs most of the year and over Redcliff, that way, Whitecliff and so I would head off onto the Downs with my two border collies that I had and funny enough in those days the Downs were still owned by the military and in one of the farm cottages, offices, which was rented, lived the sort of Caretaker so he used to jump in my box at the back and I used to take him right up to the Culver tip, that’s where the Fort was and drop him off there and then go round and do all my shepherding, gather the sheep up and have a look and count them and see if there was anything wrong, anything I needed to do and when I was finished with that I’d go back and join him for a cup of tea (laughs). Which was quite nice. But I was up on the Downs once in the winter and the actual … it was blowing a gale and there was one gust of wind that actually blew me off my feet and I was a fairly hefty lump in them days, but it blew me off and I had to grab hold of a fence post, only just for a few seconds but it literally … it used to be fascinating up there because I used to watch the ships coming in to take shelter. As they came up over the sea you could look right down, I saw the keel as they dropped over the other side and they kind of dropped the hook to go onto shelter. And in the Spring, the Marine Commando’s used to come and do operations – Operation Run Aground. They used to come onto the beach bottom of Redcliff, fire the guns up over the top of the grapple and then shimmying up the ropes. It used to be quite exciting, you know, standing there and watch that and they used to have a NAAFI wagon, which was very nice because I used to go and get a cup of tea, you know, and chat to ‘em and again nothing to do with farming but this story; I was there one day and they had observers there from all sorts of different regiments including some of the Guards and they were doing this … they were talking to each other about how they used to change the guard and they were doing all this slapping and all this sort of thing and they said to a bloke in the REME, “How do you change the guard?” “Oh” he said, “we wander up and say ‘give us that rifle mate’ you know (laughs). I laughed like a drain how these poor Guardsmen were telling me the horror … yeah, no bullshit about that (laughs).
26 minutes 11 seconds
Lisa: When you were shepherding on the Downs, was there any fencing to keep the sheep in?
Lisa: None at all?
Donald: Yes, there was a boundary fence along the road which is the road to Bembridge, but the rest was all free. There was nothing to stop them going over the cliff and things like that.
Lisa: And did that happen?
Donald: Oh yeah, once or twice we had a dog up there once who chased one or two over, you know, which got my extreme language (laughs) and as I say, one or two of them used to get down on Whitecliff and couldn’t get back up again so I used to go over and hook them up and bring them back up which was quite exciting.
Lisa: You mentioned that you had two dogs, two collies. Are they very important to a shepherd?
Donald: Yeah, two border collies. Oh, without them you couldn’t do it. You just couldn’t do it, no.
Lisa: Did you train them yourself?
Lisa: How do you go about doing that? Do they just have an instinct in them?
Donald: Oh yes. They have an instinct to round things up and what you have to do is harness that instinct. In my personal program was always to buy them as a pup or some we bred one or two and then for the first six months of their life you just let them be a pup, you know, and then from six months to a year was discipline. Ten minutes in the morning and ten minutes at night and gradually increase it so that I could say to them “lie down” and know that in 24 hours later I could come back and they’d still be laying in the same spot. That was the sort of discipline you had to have. And then you would take them out, the young ones, to work them with an old dog and teach them the commands. ‘Come back, come by, way back and bring ‘em on and sit down, lay down’ and they used to so intelligent. We used to have a big, strong dog, big black and white one, and he’d bring the sheep down to the fold on Redcliff and I’d count them in and he’d perhaps missed one and you know I used to have a woolly hat on and what I’d do was take my woolly hat off and hit him and say, “You silly sod, you missed on” and he’d grin at me. “Go find him” and off he’d go and he’d come back eventually with the sheep. He’d find it, yes, they were so intelligent. And one little smooth coated bitch I had, I’d say to her, “I want that one” and she’d go ‘poof’ and hold it until I got there and picked it and caught it. They were almost, not human, I think they understood most of what you were saying to them, I’m sure they did, you know. Whether it was the tone of voice or the gestures, I don’t know. They were extremely intelligent, and I’ve never had any other dogs but collies more or less since I left the farm. I’ve never had a dog since (laughs) ‘cos I would only have border collies.
Lisa: Can you tell me a bit about lambing? What time of year did they usually lamb?
Donald: We used to start end of February which was a bit early really and we’d go through March and April. We’d finish the end of April. I don’t know what happened to one of the ewes once but it was Christmas and my wife was over with her parents who lived over near Apse Heath there and I was going over there for the day there again you had to go and have a look at the sheep and on Christmas Day, on Christmas morning I wandered round and there was a ewe with lamb. No how on earth she got pregnant I do not know (laughs) ‘cos she shouldn’t, she was way out the gestation period, but I thought well Christmas Day, you know, and there I am with a little lamb (laughs). It used to be quite … for me I used to sort of … that was the period when I was probably at my busiest because I had very little sleep because you were forever popping in and out and if you had a ewe with difficulties or she would start to lamb in the middle of the night, you’d sit out and wait for her, and many a time I was absolutely frozen stiff out in the fold waiting for her to lamb and find she lambed and I could have gone back and laid down in my shepherds hut in the warm, you know? And not worried about it, but yeah and then you had problems where you had to play midwife and you’d get ‘em coming backwards or one leg trapped and all the rest of it. If ever you watch any of the farming things … what was that lass who spent the Spring lambing. She got a lonely little farm. Oh … but she actually cried when she went to the first … the very first lamb she pulled out of a ewe was dead and she cried, you know? Can’t think of her name though. She’s quite well know on TV, anyhow, doesn’t matter.
31 minutes 13 seconds
Lisa: And what if the lamb couldn’t be fed? Would you bottle feed?
Donald: Yeah, they were always known as ‘K’ lambs, the orphans, but what you used to do if you had a dead lamb, you’d skin it and then you’d put the skin on the orphan and give it back to the ewe who’d had the dead lamb and of course it smelt right and she’d adopt it … nearly every time she would adopt them and so … if you only had … if you had three, you always tried to palm one off onto a ewe that had only got one. Sometimes, if they were a bit big, you’d tie two of the legs together and sort of cover them all with the fluid from the birth, the afterbirth, and stick ‘em under the ewe’s nose and she would hopefully, they would quite often … mostly they would accept them because they smelt right. Yes, quite interesting (laughs).
Lisa: And then what happened about, you know we were just talking about birth aren’t we, the birthing of new lambs, what about what happened to your sheep? Did they get sold for meat? And how old are they when they go?
Donald: Oh yeah. Well we used to try and get some ready for Easter. If you’ve got a ewe with a single lamb and a lot of milk, the lamb would grow very quickly and they used to of course, lamb was in those days was … you got a good price for them, and then the rest of them would fatten up on grass. Some of the ewe lambs you’d keep, some you’d take to the sheep fairs on the Mainland to sell as breeding ewes, but all the ram lambs who had been castrated obviously would go for meat and sort of the poorer ones you’d overwinter, probably in a barn, feed up, and they would go for meat in the Spring. I think they were called ‘teggs’ ‘cos they were nearly a year old, you know? They weren’t modern, but they were not exactly young lamb.
Lisa: So how did that work then on the Island? Were they taken locally to an abattoir or did they go to the Mainland?
Donald: Well there’s no abattoirs on the Island, they all went off. A chap used to come over from the Mainland, a dealer actually, and just buy the lot and then they’d go off to the Mainland. That’s where they were … they’d buy the lot. He would come and buy loads of the fit to go and then come back again when they were bit later and buy them. And we used to take some of the ewe lambs over to the Mainland to Alresford. I think it was Alresford, some time ago, to a sheep fair there and sell them there.
Lisa: Did you take any of your animals to the Market at Newport?
Donald: No, not that I can remember to be honest. We used to take them to the County Show in those days, show them, both cattle and the sheep. We used to prepare the sheep, square off the backs and titillate all a bit and try and win a prize or two and we used to show a lot of stuff at the County Show in those days because it was mostly a farmer’s sort of show.
35 minutes 4 seconds
Lisa: And what time of year was that?
Donald: I don’t know. I suppose they just had it haven’t they, the County Show. I think it was about the same time.
Lisa: And was it at Northwood then?
Donald: No, it was, now where the devil was it? I might be talking out the top of my head but I’ve got a feeling it was where the cricket place is now, as you go into Newport. I have a feeling that’s just a no … I don’t know. But I think it was … because when I first came back to the Island in the Police Force, it was still down that way, ‘cos I used to have the pleasure of going there with lots of braid on my shoulders, the boss you know? Go and visit the farm and visit the Show. But then it was in the ‘80’s it went up to Northwood ‘cos I remember going up there a couple of times to visit it in my official capacity.
Lisa: When would you shear your sheep? Can you tell me a bit about that?
Donald: In June, July. As soon as it was warm enough because as you know with sheep, there’s a lot of wax in the fleece and unless the weather is warm and the wax has risen and melted a bit you had a problem. And we used to shear them on Redcliff, so I have got my photograph in more photo albums than many a film star because of course the holiday makers would be tracking up from Whitecliff Bay, from Sandown and vice versa and of course you’d suddenly look up and there they were all there taking your picture while you were shearing. And there was once … I was shearing an old ram and it was getting towards the end of the shearing, so your trousers literally got waxed and when they got cold they were stiff. You could stand them upright virtually and this old ram kicked, and he split my trousers, so I had two separate legs. Luckily, I had pants on of course and I whacked it with a … and I said, “Keep still you silly old sod” and looked up and oh dear (laughs) click, click, click.
Lisa: How did you do it back then? Did you do it by hand or did you have ..?
Donald: No, you had a motor driven shear. Just like a Barber’s really but no not quite ‘cos it was a little motor that drove … my brother used to be shearing and I … two of used to shear and it was just like a Barber’s you used. And in those days, the fleeces used to pay my wages for a year. Now they don’t even pay for the dogs sort of thing, never mind about paying the shepherd.
Lisa: Where would the fleece go to be sold?
Donald: It used to go to, I think it was Chichester, Ebenezer Prior, how about that, I can remember the name of the Wool Agent. Ebenezer Prior and you used to get these huge great sacks where you put a rope each end and whoever was rolling up the fleece used to roll it up, tie it up with some of the wool and chuck them in the huge great bag and then get in there and tread it down, and he would finish up with a sack, well it would be at least from here to that sort of far end of the kitchen and half way across the kitchen, full of sheep’s wool. Ebenezer Prior, yes. Where did that name come from? That’s a long time ago.
Lisa: Did you take any of your animals to the Mainland to show?
Lisa: How did you do that?
Donald: We used to take them up there to sheep sale which was not exactly a show but you would tart ‘em up because you wanted them to look good to get a bit more money for them, you know? And what we did, which in those days was unique, we had a lady Vet who used to come from the Ministry of Ag and she selected our flock as being one that she wanted to make … ‘cos sheep get foot rot in between their … and she wanted to make our flock completely free of foot rot and we used to have to take them up on the … up near Culver there and run them through a foot bath of formaldehyde and then put them on some clean ground. Eventually, she … we did eliminate foot rot and that certainly put … well we used to reckon10 bob on every lamb because they didn’t limp anymore. And we were one of the very few flocks in the country in those days, now of course they just inject them, and cure it but we were one of the very few flocks that had no foot rot. People liked our stuff (laughs).
40 minutes 40 seconds
Lisa: When you took them over to sell them, how did you get them to the Mainland?
Donald: I can’t remember his name, well I think what is now his son used to do all the cattle hauling. The son’s got the transport, green lorries …
Lisa: George Jenkins?
Donald: Yes, it was his dad used to do the cattle, if memory serves me right. He used to most of the haulage of cattle and I guess it would probably be one of his lorries. I used to travel over with the lorry I think, if my memory serves me right, to keep an eye on the sheep and then me brother would come over by car and we used to stay with a farmer up there and sell our sheep and then come back again (laughs).
Lisa: And what were the Ferries like in those days that the lorries were going on?
Donald: Very old fashioned. They used to have a car deck and just a thin like bridge over it and the wheelhouse was up here and the blokes, for 10 bob they’d wash your car and make you a cup of tea (laughs). And of course, there was no getting on and off. It was quite an exciting event because there was none of this modern, you know stick the bow in and its level. You were either up or down depending on the state of the tide and sometimes it used to be quite hairy … they used to have to put blocks on the slipway so that when your vehicle came down, it hit the blocks and lifted it up a bit, otherwise you ground to a halt. It was quite primitive in those days you know, and of course there were still paddle steamers on the pedestrian sort of ferries. I used to come back on my motorbike from the Mainland and they used to drop it in the hold and then lift it out again when we got to Ryde and I’d jump on me motorbike and come home.
Lisa: So how long did you work at Yaverland Manor Farm?
Donald: ’53 to ’59. About six years.
Lisa: And what did you do after that?
Donald: Joined the Police Force for the 31 years.
Lisa: And did that take you back to the Mainland?
Donald: Yes, I joined expecting to come back over here as a PC. I eventually came back here as a Chief Inspector in 1988. I travelled all over … I was in Hampshire and then I was all over Hampshire, Aldershot, Andover, Winchester, Eastleigh, Southampton and then finished up at Netley at the Training Centre there and I used to go over because I was involved in public order and anti- terrorist in those days and even went to Toxteth, Birmingham. All over the place where there was trouble. My boss used to send me off to Belfast and all over the place, he used to send me you know with my support group (laughs). The blokes we used to train.
Lisa: It must have been a different life from that and your shepherds hut?
Donald: Very different. Absolutely totally different but then I either wanted to be a farmer or a policeman and I knew I was never going to get enough money to farm on my own, so I went for my second choice which was a policeman and I did enjoy it (laughs).
Lisa: Shall we stop and have a break?
Donald: That’s a good idea.
Donald: … and we’d just moved from the Midlands down to Hampshire and we were walking along the road going up to one of the farm buildings and we saw this old farm Tom, one ear all chewed off, you know, sitting in the middle of the road and he thought ‘wooooar’ and off he goes and this cat looked down on him and just went … and washed his face and it was just like a cartoon (makes a screeching noise) I see no cat, I see no cat, I see no cat (laughs). He got the message and the other time with him, I mean he would kill anything, and it was this young leveret and he found this young leveret and he thought ‘wooooar’ I’ll have this and this thing stood up on his hind heels, on his hind legs and boxed him and screamed at him and he looked at it and went ‘huff’ and walked away. Then we dragged him away too ‘cos I didn’t want him to hurt a little leveret. He literally, it was only about like that, frightened this damned great collie – “I don’t fancy you mate.” Characters, uum.
45 minutes 47 seconds
Lisa: You mentioned about rabbiting when you were younger. Tell me a bit about that?
Donald: Oh yes. Well I used to keep ferrets and used to go out ferreting and of course they’re lovely rabbits for eating ‘cos they’ve got no shot in them or anything like that and the Butcher used to pay me I think 10 bob a rabbit I think it was in those days. Initially during the War, it was half a crown each. I used to catch them and as a 12 or 13 year old, walk up the main Birmingham road, carrying a brace of rabbits and a car would pull up and, “Do you want to sell those rabbits lad?” “Yes sir.” “How much?” “Half a crown each” “Here you are, five bob, thank you very much.” That was my pocket money (laughs).
Lisa: How did you catch them?
Donald: In those days, cruel really. Snares and what they called gin traps which are no illegal. They were like … you set them in a rabbit burrow and it was like a pair of jaws and as the rabbit went in, bang, it got its face and then you went along later on and took it out of it, you know? Makes me shudder today to even think about it. And snares, of course they were again were a very cruel thing ‘cos if you look at it a rabbit has a run and it’s just like a motorway and if you put a wire on it, a snare on it, something live comes along and bump and get him round the throat. And you go along and pick him up later on but again I shudder today to think … I wouldn’t dream of doing it today to a rabbit. I still used to shoot them until quite recently, just a few for my freezer ‘cos I like eating them but to trap something like that, poof. But the gin trap is now illegal anyhow, thankfully. Rats and rabbits.
Lisa: Was there … did they have game at Yaverland Manor Farm?
Donald: Yes, the chap from Bembridge used to have a shoot whose name I can’t remember. I know me brother, he probably told you that he used to do quite a bit of shooting up there and the Keeper used to be a bloke called Chaffey who lived in Brayling who has died now. Chaffey and his co-pilot was a chap called Algy, can’t remember his surname but he … there was the two of them used to do the … they didn’t put birds down, but they kept these predators down, foxes and stuff like that. I can’t remember the name of the guy from Bembridge who had the shoot. He’s a well known Bembridge resident but I can’t think of his name now. Hello, milks beginning to go off. Must be some of last weeks. Is yours alright?
Donald: Creams beginning to show on the top.
Lisa: Did the Isle of Wight Hunt come through?
Donald: Yes, do you know I never remember them coming actually through Yaverland because I think the Commander wouldn’t have them. I have a feeling he wouldn’t have them but they used to come … I have a feeling he wouldn’t have them, I never remember the Hunt coming through the actual … ‘cos there wasn’t that much in the way of woods anyhow and there certainly weren’t many foxes ‘cos Clive Chaffe used to keep ‘em down. I never remember the Hunt coming through. You’d occasional hear the hounds baying over this way.
Lisa: What sort of wildlife did you see then back in the ‘50’s when you first moved to the Island?
49 minutes 54 seconds
Donald: Lots of seagulls which I’d never seen, you know, only when we were on holiday. Yes, seagulls. Always wanted to live somewhere where I could hear the seagulls and I do now (laughs). We have one that comes regularly to drink in the birdbath every evening. What else did we used to have? There was quite a few hares about in those days and obviously lots and lots of rabbits ‘cos it was before myxomatosis. Didn’t see … ‘cos there were no deer on the Island, I was used to seeing deer around but not on the Island. Sea birds, quite a few sea birds and ducks and things obviously and geese down on the shore, which I’d never seen before. Well not wild geese, you know obviously tame geese yes but not wild geese. I never saw anything much at sea. No, there was nothing at sea and as I say mostly rabbits, hares, and sea birds. I think I’ve got more wildlife here now than I used to see at Yaverland (laughs). Oh, and squirrels of course, red squirrels. Never seen red squirrels before. I mean at Alverstone Garden Village I used to have squirrel feeders out. I’ve got one on that tree there now ‘cos we had a squirrel come for a couple of days. Found my feeder, filled it with food, put it out and he hasn’t been back since (laughs). Yeah, we lived in Alverstone Garden Village and the red squirrels used to come there.
Lisa: Did you ever have any problems with pests or disease or anything like that at Yaverland?
Donald: Pests, not that I can recall, no. Disease, well the sheep used to get foot rot. Maggots of course were always a problem until you got your sheep shorn ‘cos the flies would strike, you know, if they weren’t kept … even though you kept ‘em clean and dagged … we used to call what they called dagging, because obviously when the grass was a bit green the dung used to hang around the tail end there and you used to have to cut all that off but even so you used to get maggots in the sheep and you’d have to treat that, but you could always tell when they got them ‘cos they’d be kicking and (inaudible) themselves so you’d probably catch it and get rid of the maggots.
Lisa: How did you treat that?
Donald: Had a cream that you rubbed in and killed the maggots and the flesh heal if they’d marked it ‘cos they always used to mark it a little bit. But you couldn’t afford not to look ‘cos within a few days they could get very, very heavily infested and I have actually seen one that I’d missed, many, many years ago, not on the Island but on the Mainland, and I don’t know how we come to miss it, almost eaten alive. I think we shot it in the end to put it out of it’s misery. You were forever fighting something or other. There was pigeons eating the greens up (laughs).
Lisa: Was there a Vet that would come to the farm regularly? Was it a local person?
Donald: Yes, it was, Again I can’t remember the name but not for the sheep because I always did the sheep myself. What ever they needed I could do. I didn’t like Vets messing about with my sheep, but they used to come for the cattle. Alright young’uns, I’ll put you some more currents and seed out in a bit. Cost me a fortune the birds do.
54 minutes 37 seconds
Lisa: Well I’m sure they are thankful for it.
Donald: It’s nothing to do with what you’re talking about but in the Autumn, we get the migratory goldfinches and this is one of their feeding stop off points to feed before the go across channel and there are literally, I’ve had over 100 goldfinches in that thorn bush over there. The noise is horrendous. They squabble about who’s going to get on the feeder, you know? And then the wind goes north west or north and they’re gone across channel. This one comes indoors if I’m not careful. Now you sod off. “Alright” he says (laughs). Sorry, you haven’t got that on tape on have you?
Lisa: That’s alright, we’ll take that bit out.
Donald: Yes, good (laughs).
Lisa: Your brother talked about a lot of changes that he made to the farm over the years…
Donald: He did, yes he did.
Lisa: … in terms of improving the technology and that kind of thing.
Donald: He was a very, very, good … he had a tremendous reputation amongst the farmers on the Island as being a very good competent farmer. And another great mate of mine, have you ever come across any the Mews? Do you know Arthur? Arthur used to farm, well he started a farm in Marsh at Brading, Green something Lane Farm and then he moved to a farm in Godshill and then he moved to Apse Manor, bought that and then he sold that and moved up to Cliff Farm at Shanklin and he and I have been mates … we were in the Young Farmers together when I first came to the Island but we’ve forgotten, you know you can’t remember those days but we’ve been friends ever since I came back to the Island and he’s just retired and he’s farmed here ‘cos he … you know you were talking about the small farms, Cliff Farm is in Victoria Avenue and the land runs up to the cliffs up on there and we used to go up there haymaking and he’s stood up there one day with me and he said, “Look, I can look around the valley there and there were five small farms and there aren’t one of them there now, they’re all gone.” And that was what you were saying about the small farms could make a living but not anymore. Quite something that.
Lisa: So farming has changed quite a lot in your lifetime you’d say?
Donald: Changed in my lifetime from say, just an example really. When my father looked after the land and you would grow three crops, sometimes four, and then it would have a year’s rest when literally he didn’t grow anything, he just ploughed it and left it and then the next year the cycle would start again. And of course, obviously there was a lot of animal … there wasn’t all this artificial fertilizer, it was all good old cow dung or horse manure (laughs) which you’d spread on the land and in fact we used to do that at Yaverland quite a bit when I first came over when I was tractor driving. Clean out all the winter pens and it all went out onto the land.
Lisa: So a natural fertilizer.
Donald: Yes, which means of course you had to look after the land ‘cos with this artificial of course you can just stick that on year after year after year. It just takes the goodness out of the soil eventually, and there’s nothing left. You have to use more artificial (laughs).
Lisa: What other changes do you think have occurred?
Donald: Oh, the machinery. Oh goodness gracious me. As I say going back to the days of the Standard Fordson and even the Fergie which in the early ‘50’s was the height of modernisation, now they’re all museum pieces. And of course, even now it’s changed. Do you ever watch ‘Country File’? Now I watch it and when you see these combines with the sat nav there, all the driver’s got to do is sit there. The first ones that I remember were a) drawn by a tractor, it was a Caterpillar tractor, the first one I ever saw which was Allis Chalmers combine and that was during the War and then of course the Massey Fergusons and the driver used to sit there and he had to have a sort of bit of cloth tied over his mouth quite often because of all the dust coming up at him ‘cos there no cab as such, you just sat there. Used to be quite exciting driving those. Now of course it’s all air conditioned isn’t it? Yeah, I suppose the technology and the size of the tractors. I mean I went up to the … a few years ago now I went up to the … we had a cottage up on the East coast in Suffolk for a fortnight and I saw the machines up there, half-tracks with two implements on the back and one on the front and I just couldn’t believe it. They’re huge and you get one guy who’d do all the operations in the field. He’d plough it, cultivate it and drill it all at the same time and I thought gosh. And you see these tractors now going round and round the Island here, these big John Deere’s and they do 20 or 30 miles per hour. My little Standard Fordson used to do 10 (laughs). Certainly, the machinery has altered dramatically but I think one of the things that my father’s generation always tried to avoid was compacting the soil. Well now of course if you look on the fields, you’ve got railway lines haven’t you, where every year they run the sprayers and what have you up them and these huge tractors I mean they shove the soil down. Must impact it tremendously compared to the ones we used to have. And the horses of course didn’t do any of it. There are some moves to go back towards, I notice on that ‘Country File’ you know there are some farmers now who go back a little bit more towards the loving the land as opposed to just taking everything out that they can get out of it, aren’t they? These headlands where they grow all the wild flowers and things for the butterflies and … there was one where my daughter used to live on the Mainland. I used to go up to her where her allotment was and walk across the fields to get there and there was one place there where he had this … sort of a main crop there but all round the headland was wildflowers and the butterflies that used to be on there and the bees, gosh! I thought that was a very good move.
62 minutes 51 seconds
Lisa: Do you think the landscape has changed since you were farming in the ‘50’s? Do the fields look different?
Donald: Yes, a lot bigger ‘cos in my day, one of my skills if you like was hedge laying and I used to lay all through the winter and when I was on the Mainland not on the Island, I would be hedge laying and you used to cut and lay a hedge to take a fence down. But then of course as more food was needed, the farmers came under pressure and even at Yaverland, a lot of the hedges were grubbed out to make the fields bigger. Now of course they’re planting the hedges again (laughs). That certainly did … there was an awful lot of ground clearance that went on which wasn’t necessarily a good thing now, with hindsight. But hindsight is all a good thing isn’t it?
Lisa: You mentioned that you joined the Young Farmers when you moved to the Island.
Donald: Yes, I was a member on the Mainland too so yes, come on the Young Farmers, yeah.
Lisa: What sort of things did you do with them?
Donald: Animal judging. We were trained to sort of identify good animals and good crops and just have a good time really.
Lisa: Did you do social things?
64 minutes 30 seconds
Donald: Yes, oh Young Farmers always had the Young Farmer’s Ball, which used to be quite interesting. Quite fun. Nothing to do with farming but with life on the Island, I joined the Young Conservative Club because my wife was Secretary and I had a letter from this lady saying … “Oh this looks interesting” so I joined the Young Conservatives and wasn’t politically animated at all and funnily enough, I married the Secretary eventually and we were only saying … we were having some friends of mine the other day, if you look through the crowd of the Young Conservatives at that time we nearly all married each other. Quite incredible, it really was. At least 10 people that I can name who were in the Young Conservatives who got married. It was sort of the marriage whatever you call it place (laughs). Yes, that was to me the biggest change of my life when I came here to the Island because when you think I was then in my early 20’s and I’d never lived, even in a village, I’d always lived out in the wilds of nowhere really and I came to the Isle of Wight and I couldn’t believe it. All this life, all these young ladies, particularly at the Trouville, oh dear I used to go dancing at the Trouville every weekend (laughs). My mother used to say to me, “Who you bringing home this week then?” I’d say, “Well, you know, that’s one’s gone back, there’s another one come.” Yes, it was heaven.
Lisa: Did they have dances and music there then at the Trouville?
Donald: At the Trouville, yeah. Oh yes there was a lot of dancing. That was the place. The Trouville, the Savoy which has now been knocked down of course, underneath there was place, the White City which again was a haunt of ours. I got friendly with a guy that lived at De Havilland and we used to play tennis, I joined the local Tennis Club, and the Wight City, played Bingo there. It was a much more active probably social life then there is now you know for the simpler things really. ‘Cos where all that stuff is, the play ground now is down in … the play area in Sandown now used to be tennis courts and we used to be down there playing tennis. My wife and I won the doubles champion ship in the Young Conservatives one year. Don’t know how the hell we did that but we did (laughs).
Lisa: Did you use the trains to get about then?
Donald: Yes, because it was steam trains then of course but there wasn’t many … I can’t remember whether the one to Newport had finished before we came or after we got here but the one to Bembridge was still running I think when we first came but it was mainly through to Ventnor, you know, when they used to go through to Ventnor. I mean in the summer when we first came, I couldn’t believe the number of people. You would get a queue on a Saturday in the afternoon at Ryde. It would be right down Ryde Pier and out into the Esplanade, of people queuing for the ferry to get back to the Mainland and in the morning, it would be the same thing over Pompey, all over the platform there. We used to reckon that the population of the Island on a Saturday, doubled. People coming over and then all the rest start and then a fortnight later they all went back again or a week or whatever. And if you went down Sandown, Victoria Road as it is now used to be two ways but practically every other house did B&B. My mother-in-law, in St John’s Road, she did B&B for years and the same people used to come every year and stay with them. In fact, some of them were great friends and they used to come and see them on the Mainland, you know, and things like that. Totally different, the bucket and spade mob. Sandown Beach would be absolutely jam packed full.
Lisa: Have you got any favourite places on the Island?
Donald: I like Lane End, down by the lifeboat there. We used to have one of them hut things there for a few weeks every year and I’d enjoy sitting there with my ‘bins’ watching everything going on in the Solent. And I like the West Wight. I didn’t ever want to live out there ‘cos it just didn’t appeal to me in that respect, but I do like the West Wight, very much parts of it. The East Wight is the civilised part I think, and I’ve got some friends out at West Wight and I used to wind them up and say, “You lot out there sit in caves.” Coor! (laughs). In fact, we were going to buy a house at Wellow when I first came back to the Island when I was house hunting, until one of my crew, one of my PC’s said to me, “My dad’s got a house out there. There’s only one trouble, there’s no mains drainage and it’s clay and every time in the winter when it rains hard, the cess pit fills up and overflows.” He said, “My dad has got an understanding with a farmer. He’s got a pump and he pumps it out onto the farmer’s land” (laughs) and I thought umm, I don’t want to live there.
70 minutes 45 seconds
Lisa: What was the cottage like that you lived in at Yaverland? Did it have … it was Longland’s wasn’t it?
Donald: Yes, Longland’s. Longland’s Farm.
Lisa: Did it have running water and electricity?
Donald: Didn’t have electricity, it had running water which was spring water that came off the Downs and that was lovely. It didn’t have mains electric but I had a little generator which I used to have to start up every night. You never switched the light off because if you switched it off the bulb would … if you just left one light on it would blow the bulb, so every light in the house used to come on and then when you went to bed at night, you’d go out with a torch and stop the engine and have to come back in with a torch or a candle. Very interesting.
Lisa: Did it have gas?
Donald: No. No, we had a Calor gas stove which … I think my mother bought that and she had a Rayburn, a solid fuel thing so we had some hot water. We did have a bathroom and that was tacked onto the side of the cottage so it was always cold and we obviously had indoor sanitation, we had a WC and open fires. When the gale was blowing your curtains would blow out almost vertically ‘cos the windows didn’t fit (laughs). But it was a thatched place so you daren’t have a bonfire outside. You know you were always a bit … why people want to buy a thatched house I just do not understand. It frightened me to death they do. You don’t live in a thatched house do you? No. On bonfire night you were ever … not so much at Longlands ‘cos you were miles away from everywhere down there but some places that got thatches on bonfire night they’re out all the time keeping an eye out.
Lisa: And your shepherd’s hut. I just have this sort of have this image in my mind of a little …
Donald: Yes, a wooden shed on four wheels with a little solid fuel stove in it and that was it. My bed was a sort of a … some sacks of the floor. I probably had a tatty old raincoat chucked over me and I had a frying pan and a kettle (laughs). That was all I needed. When you think of it, the stove is right by the door, so if anything caught fire you couldn’t get out anyhow ‘cos the door was there and the stove was there and I was sleeping here.
Lisa: Did you ever have any lambs in the hut with you?
Donald: Oh yeah, warm ‘em up. See if you got one that got cold, you’d bring ‘em in or sometimes I would take them down to Longlands and stick ‘em in the oven and warm them up, then give them a feed and bring them back.
Lisa: And did the dogs sleep in there with you?
Donald: No. No they slept outside. The dogs never came indoors anywhere. I’d have them tied up. When we were at Longlands they would just … I’d put, you know when we’d finished for the night, I’d put their food outside the back door, they’d eat that and then go and find themselves a bed in the barn and be waiting for me next morning when I went out. This dog I used to tell you about, who used to go off and I used to whack him when he’d find the sheep, I couldn’t understand why the eggs were going down ‘cos we had chicken down there, deep litter chicken, and he was getting in the run and the only reason I found out, you went in the barn and there was all these cracked eggs where he used to kip and I realised and I watched him, and he used to go into the chicken run, lift the old hen up with his nose, help himself to an egg and head back to the barn (laughs). I thought, you cheeky sod. Yeah, no wonder the eggs were going down, he was having a good feed. Yeah, they’re lovely dogs, characters.
75 minutes 33 seconds
Lisa: Do you remember their names?
Donald: Peggy was my little brindle bitch, Snooty was the old dog who hated cats, Bob was my big black collie and I think that was it really. Yeah, that was the three main dogs and as I say old Snooty, he lived to be 20 odd years old. He was a tough old cookie, he was and the other one, Bob, he got run over which killed him, which was very sad. I must have had one after him because I had Peggy then as a young dog, so I must have had one after Bob. Jock, I had Jock after Bob. Great dogs.
Lisa: Do you look back sort of nostalgically? Do you have fond memories of that time or was it very hard work?
Donald: No I do ‘cos I never found it you know, hard work. I was used to working hard anyhow so it didn’t bother you. I wouldn’t … I’ve never look back and wished I hadn’t done what I’ve done because I’ve always … like when I left the farm I shut the door on that. That was me finished with farming to become a policeman. When I left the police force, 27 years ago this year, having done my 31, I shut the door on that hand have never been back since and yet I enjoyed every minute of it. I’ve always been a believer in … when your life changes a phase of life, you shut that door and you open this one and that’s it. The one behind you, forget that, get on with what you’re doing. And since I retired, I’m having the time of my life to be honest. I was Chairman of the Community Association, involved in the Twinning, Church Warden, and now I’m sort of … my daughter says, “You will.” I’m a volunteer for Action on Hearing Loss, and I’m also … well I have been Chairman of the Male Voice Choir twice and now I’m President and I’ve been in that for 28 years, so yeah, life has always been busy.
Lisa: I think that’s probably a nice note to finish on.
1 hour 1 minute 8 seconds
Transcribed December 2017 by Chris Litton