Duration: 81 minutes 12 Seconds
It’s the 28th of April 2017 and this is an interview with John Attrill at his home, Dean’s Farm Whitwell and the interviewer is Lisa Kerley.
Lisa: Could be start by you telling me your full name please?
John: John James Woodward Attrill.
Lisa: And where were you born?
John: I was born at Dean Farm.
Lisa: You were born here?
John: Yes, I was, in the house.
Lisa: So this is a family farm then?
John: Yes, I succeeded my father here. He came here in 1926.
Lisa: And was he an Islander?
John: He was yes, we are a family of farmers I know for seven or eight generations, more or less in the South Wight. Before that I don’t know.
Lisa: OK. And what about your mother?
John: My mother was a Winchester lady. She came, when she married my father in the 1920’s and they lived in Great Afton Farm.
Lisa: So when you say your father came here in 1926, did he buy the farm then?
John: No, he came as a tenant. He had to leave Great Afton because they wanted to sell it and he’d only been there seven years and he had no money to buy it. He’d just come through the First World War as a Hampshire Yeomanry with his horse and all that (laughs).
Lisa: And do you know who owned the farm then?
John: I think it was a Miss Fisher who lived at Stenbury in 1926, I think that’s who it was, yes.
Lisa: Can you tell me a bit about your early memories of living on a farm and the type of farm that it was then, when you were very young?
John: Yes, well I think I was lucky being born then because I saw farming as it had been for a long time because it changed quite a lot when the War came, but it was a mixed farm, around about 300 acres. It employed about eight men and I think there was one lady employed indoors. In those days it was all horses, entirely horses and the custom was, you wanted four horses and two men for every 100 acres of arable so we had eight horses and funny enough I can remember all their names and where they stood. I can’t remember what my wife asked me to buy when I went to the shop, but I can remember in the stables as they stood, there was Punch and Sharp and Duke and Dragon in the first stable. In the second stable there was Violet and Captain and Derby and Jewel and I’ve never forgotten that.
Lisa: What type of horses were they?
John: They were shires and in those days you had a brood mare to breed you replacements and it was an ongoing thing to update the horses. We had quite a lot of cows for those times. There were … used to reckon to tie up and milk 36 cows which was quite a big herd in those days and of course that was hand milking. I think I learnt to milk by the time I was about 10 but all that changed of course when the War came. Milking machines came in, bucket milkers and … the pre-War bit, yes, that’s what we are thinking about at the moment isn’t it?
4 minutes 51 seconds
Lisa: Yes, the early years, when you were quite young.
John: I loved it. They used to call me Farmer John from the age of four I think (laughs). I had two sisters and we ran round the farm. Nobody worried about where we were. My mother didn’t have to worry where we were because we’d always go out and find somebody doing something and join in, or climb trees or whatever we did we were very fortunate really.
Lisa: Were there jobs that you had to help with as a young boy?
John: Well yes, we used to have to do certain things, especially with the lambs and sheep and things like that. We usually had some orphan lambs to feed and that was always good fun, yes.
Lisa: And did you help when it came to haymaking and that type of thing?
John: Well yes, pre-War the hay was built into ricks with an elevator and the elevator was powered by a horse walking round and round and it was the boy’s job to see that the horse kept going so that was one of the jobs that I remember with haymaking.
Lisa: Can you explain what an elevator is?
John: Well it carries the hay up and tips it onto the rick and you know a thing with prongs on and revolving chain with prongs on it. Yes that was something that always came out at haymaking time (laughs).
Lisa: Were there many other machines used on the farm at that time?
John: Well not so much. I mean harvesting was with a binder. Called a binder, it cut the corn and tied it up into sheaves and spewed them out and then of course we had to pick up the sheaves of corn and put them in little, we called them stooks. You stood them up for the corn to mature about a dozen sheaves in a stook, yes. There were horse drawn grass cutters but not a lot of machinery really. In the winter when you wanted to thrash the corn, out of the stacks which you’d so carefully built at harvest time, then the thrashing machine came round and that was drawn along by a steam engine and then activated with a fly wheel from the steam engine to drive the machine to thrash the corn and I well remember that. And going down to Whitwell Station to get steam coal a few days before they came.
Lisa: So was it someone local then that owned the machine that would go round to the different farms?
John: Yes, from farm to farm.
Lisa: But you had to supply the coal?
John: Yes (laughs). And probably the engine driver used to have … the whole steam engine would come, then the thrashing machine and then perhaps a straw tier and then they always had like a little hut. I suppose you’d call it a caravan today ‘cos the engine driver lived in this hut which he would put on that bit of grass by the gate ‘cos you had to fire up a steam engine an hour or so before you expected it to operate so he had to get up at about 6 o’clock and light up the steam engine so that it had power to start work a bit later on.
Lisa: And you mentioned going down to Whitwell Station. What did you go down in?
John: Well go down with a conventional horse and cart.
Lisa: Did your father have a car or a truck or anything like that?
John: No he had no car. He had a motorbike but I think that was defunct the time I remember. I don’t remember him using it. We didn’t have a car, there was no car attached to the household until I would think the start of the War. Yes, we all had bikes (laughs) and we used to … my sisters were a bit older than me and they used to cycle to Ventnor to catch the train to Ryde, and they used to leave here about twenty, half past seven every day, winter and summer, in their bikes and then catch the train to Ryde and then a bit later on, about 1940, I used to cycle down to Whitwell Station and go to Newport to what was known as the Grammar School then. That funny old building in Lower St James’s Street, I expect you’ve seen it.
10 minutes 47 seconds
Lisa: I know where you mean, yes.
John: I went there for five years and then I went on the Mainland to Boarding School the rest of my time.
Lisa: So you mentioned about you had a herd, quite a big herd, 36 cows. Can you talk to me about how they were milked by hand, the process of that?
John: Well, it took … I think we used to have start milking at about 6 o’clock in the morning. It would take three men to milk and there was one to carry the milk away ‘cos the milk then was brought down to what was the dairy which was on the end of this house and you had to tip it through a cooler and so there were three milking and one carrying away in the morning, and in the afternoon, just three to milk. So each man would have to milk 10 or a dozen.
Lisa: And how would the milk be sold?
John: Interestingly when I first remember it was taken in churns in a milk float drawn by a cob down to the Royal National Hospital as was then, St Lawrence, Ventnor but the idea of the Hospital having raw milk today would be … that went on for a number of years. Big 17 gallon churns, you know, that shape (laughs).
Lisa: So when you went away to school, did you think that you would continue working on the farm and the farm would be passed to you? How did that come about?
John: Oh I was always quite sure I’d come back to the farm, yea, and I always remember when I was away at school, obviously the summer holidays were harvest time and I was fully engaged [phone rings] … and when I went back in the autumn term to play rugby, I was twice as hard and fit as anybody else and twice as strong because I’d been throwing sheaves and things about. That’s what they said anyway (laughs). I remember that, yes.
Lisa: So you always felt that you would return and work here and take over from your father eventually. Is that what happened?
John: Yes, it did. He lasted quite a long time, but he was quite a bit …I mean, what was he? He was mid-forties when I was born so the time I was sort of 20, he was retiring age so that really worked quite well. He remained here for the rest of his days, and Sue, my good wife, was good enough to look after him. We had plenty of room here ‘cos there are a lot of rooms here and he had his rooms that end, but we looked after him. ‘Cos my mother died, well, fairly soon after I left school, yes.
15 minutes 21 seconds
Lisa: And so when did you take over the management of the farm?
John: I would say about 19 … [phone rings] … I think I took over the business responsibility about 1956-57 because that was the year we were able to buy it. We bought it with a mortgage which, strangely enough was a 60 year mortgage which means that it’s come to conclusion this year (laughs) after all those years.
Lisa: So it finally belongs to you now.
Lisa: And were you married by then, were you married?
John: No, I married in 1963.
Lisa: So how many people were working on the farm then when you took over?
John: Oh, I would think probably four or five.
Lisa: And was it still mixed at that time?
John: Yes, it was really. You know there was the pre-war bit that we’ve sort of talked about and then of course there wasn’t a tractor here until 1940 and then that was the start of big changes, you know, with cultivation. Horses were gradually phased out but not all of a sudden.
Lisa: Can you tell me about the tractor?
John: Oh yes, the tractor was a Fordson Standard with iron spade lug wheels, you know, and I think it cost £140 if I remember rightly.
Lisa: Was it new?
John: Yes. I can’t remember what people earnt In those days but two or three pounds I expect a week ‘cos pre-war, I think the ordinary labourer was earning about, less that two pounds, thirty seven and sixpence as it was in that money and then, you know, it gradually increased through the War but it wasn’t ever great ‘till later on, yeah.
Lisa: Did you learn to drive the tractor?
John: Oh yes, we thought that was good fun and it was mostly used for ploughing and cultivations and for some time the horses would be doing the transport on the lighter jobs, but gradually, gradually tractors took over.
Lisa: Did you keep the horses?
John: Yes, none were … I think they were just left to see their days out really. None were sold until they were old and decrepit, no. It was a great thing you know, the head Carter would be responsible for as I’ve said, four horses and the head Carter would have a mate to help him and then if you had another four, as we did, you had a second Carter and he had a mate and they were all quite conscious of, you know, their importance. The Head Carter was the boss man and the Head Carter’s mate reckoned he was a bit better than the second Carter’s mate and so on (laughs).
Lisa: And was there a local Blacksmith that would come and look after the horses?
John: Yes there was. There was a Blacksmith, Ted Atkey who had a Forge in Whitwell and he was a great character. He shod horses in big stables in Ventnor before the First War and then he’d been a Shoesmith in the First War and then he set up forging in Whitwell. He would keep them all well done, he was a good man.
20 minutes 30 seconds
Lisa: Would you say there was a tight-knit community in those days? Did you know everybody locally?
John: Oh yes, much more, yes. Now I can’t think in Whitwell of anybody that works on a farm, not one as far as I can remember. But most people in villages, you know, they had local connections but not now.
Lisa: And were there lots of smaller farms here then?
John: Oh yes, probably, you know, six or seven farms in Whitwell and there are probably about two now. And as regards milk producers, not all that time ago there were 260 or something milk producers in the Isle of Wight. Now there are less than 10, so that’s the way it’s gone. Mind you, in the old days some of them had six cows and sold their milk around the village. Good luck to them. Now, you know people have 100’s. I gave up my cows in 1995 I think. I had a 100 and something then, but I didn’t think it was very promising but I was then getting about as much per litre as they get now, so how the hell they survive I don’t know. I gave up cows and you know, we used to have pigs, quite a lot of pigs. Had pigs to sell in Newport Market.
Lisa: Oh, could you tell me a bit more about the Market?
John: Yes, well we used to … we had about 25 sows so in theory you had a family or strain of pigs born each week ‘cos the sow will have two families in a year so you would have some to sell each week. We used to sell them as … they were called shoats, you know, pigs about 10 weeks old and we used to send them to Newport Market. Newport Market was an essential … every Tuesday, every self-respecting farmer would go to Newport, go in the Market and have a look round, talk to the Merchants, go to the Bank and draw money for the wages and it was, you know, almost a set thing, certainly in my family that Tuesday was Market day but it gradually fizzled out (laughs).
Lisa: So you could buy and sell your animals there? And what else went on?
John: Yes. Well certainly we used to sell surplus calves there and all the Feed Merchants would be there to take your order and one thing and another and then they’d have a big sale, a Spring Sale when people would sell what they called stall cattle, you know, cattle for further fattening and so on and they’d have another Autumn Sale, similar, yes. And lambs of course were sold for the Butcher in the Market, and we used to send lambs in there because we always kept Dorset Horns as the family were very keen on Dorset Horns sheep, which are a bit of a unique breed in that they had their lambs in the autumn. Well in fact they will have their lambs at any time you like but they’re unique as a breed for that so we used to have lambs born in October and then they were fit for the Butcher at Easter. That was the aim because that’s the peak price for lamb is Easter and there were a lot of Dorset Horns in the Isle of Wight. There were obviously a lot in Dorset and some in Somerset. In those days that was the sort of distribution. Now they’re spread all over the country and my family were big in them way back in the 1890’s, they created a flock book, which you know is a register of all the flocks and the sheep and I know my great grandfather was very proud. He had flock number two but flock number one was Queen Victoria’s so in the book is Her Majesty the Queen and then Thomas Attrill and we’ve always kept on with Dorsets and been involved in judging them round the country and things like that. It’s been a great interest.
26 minutes 18 seconds
Lisa: Have you been involved in the Agricultural Shows on the Island over the years?
John: Yes, very much so, yes. I’ve got some photographs I can show you later. Yes, we used to always compete there, yes.
Lisa: With your sheep?
John: Yes, with my sheep, yes. We did quite well. And thinking back to the old days, there used to be … all sheared by hand shearers and I always had an admiration for them ‘cos there were about four shearers would come and they were the Brighstone gang and they would turn up on their push bikes at about half past six or seven in the morning and have a cup of tea and think about it and start shearing about eight and they’d go on shearing all day until probably six o’clock I suppose and then cycle back home to Brighstone and if they hadn’t finished, they’d be back the next morning early so I think they were tough chaps. Trying to think … I’ve done hand shearing in my time. I remember the first one I sheared, my instructor looked at it because it was quite ridgy, he said, “You’ll know that one all the summer” only he didn’t say that one, he said something slightly stronger (laughs).
Lisa: You’d given him a good haircut then? He was distinguished (laughs).
John: Yes (laughs).
Lisa: So what happened to the wool?
John: Well, I think in the old days they had an auction in Newport. They had a wool sale. That was probably in the Market and I imagine wool merchants from the Mainland must have come down to buy it ‘cos it was all put up in wool sacks, wool pokes they used to call them, which is a long sack about the size of that settee, and then soon after the War, the Wool Board was formed and then it was all away to the Mainland and I was particularly interested in that and I became the Isle of Wight representative for the Wool Board so I used to get trips to Bradford and various places. And when I got older, of course I got involved in things like the Farmers’ Union and Agricultural Society and all that sort of thing. Judging sheep was fun too. That took me round the country a bit sometimes. If ever we had a holiday, usually there was a sheep on the end of it because we had to go somewhere (laughs).
Lisa: Can you tell me a bit about the judging process?
John: Yes, you know, we were… well we were just your own breed, the Dorset Horns normally and there was a panel of us and we’d probably judge a couple of shows or three shows on the Mainland ‘cos obviously I wouldn’t judge in the Isle of Wight ‘cos I’d know everybody but it was good and right back to days before mine, before my days, the family used to send sheep to the Royal Show and they used to put them on the railway. This is going back to probably early 1900’s. I know my grandfather used to put them on the railway at Calbourne and they’d be on the Show Ground in Newcastle or wherever you want next day, which isn’t bad is it?
Lisa: Is there a sort of standard then for the breed that you would judge against?
John: Oh yes. When they think from the appearance of your sheep, well he obviously know what he is doing, then you might get appointed as a Judge. There again, I’ve got some pictures of it all happening.
Lisa: It will be good to have a look at those. So how many sheep would you have in your flock here?
John: Probably about 150.
Lisa: And do you still have your sheep now?
John: I’ve only got just a few, about half a dozen to look at because things have changed a great lot, which we haven’t touched on yet really, but my son came back from … he worked for Strutt and Parker which were big Estate Agents on the Mainland, and he came back. He wanted to go farming and do a bit of Estate Agensing but in fact farming had gone down and down so he does Estate Agency. He is in fact BCN. They’ve got premises in Long Lane in Newport and he does run the farm now but it’s very simplified so we don’t keep many animals. I’ve just got my six sheep to look at and six cows and calves on the hill behind the house and he now is heavily involved in this AD Plant, as it’s called. That’s the Plant at Arreton which creates gas from green crops so were now more or less totally involved in growing greenery for the AD Plant plus a little bit of corn still.
Lisa: How many acres is the farm now?
John: It’s about 330 I think. Well, it could be 340, I expect. Yes, James came back about 1997, when I more or less gave up every day management. Something I haven’t thought about is the people that have worked for me and I’ve had some really good people. From way back I can remember the Hobbs family. There was a father and son who worked here. They came here before my father was here I think. They came in 1913 and worked the rest of their lives, which was, I think … William Hobbs who was the Head Carter died about 1950 and his son Bert worked until about 1965 and then he died about 10 years later but they were really salt of the earth good men, they really were. And now I’ve got somebody … I have one man on the farm now from eight all those years ago, Shaun Russell, and he’s just completed 40 years for me. His father, who had worked for me before, came to the door and said, “You haven’t got a job for a boy have you?” I said, “Oh, I might, send him along and see what happens” and 40 years later (laughs), there he is. Yes, good man who can turn his hand to anything from machinery to animals and he’s good. Yes, I’ve done my spells of early milking at six o’clock in the morning and all that sort of thing. When I wake up at half past five these days I think ‘My God, did I really have to get up and go out and milk ‘cos I don’t think I’d feel like it now.’ But anyway, I’ve had a happy time. I think I was fortunate, yes.
37 minutes 4 seconds
Lisa: What have you most enjoyed about this, the career that you’ve chosen?
John: Yes, I really love the all the people concerned with farming and I can’t think of anything that gave you the freedom to be your own boss quite so much and arrange your own time. When I got well established, you know, I used to go fox hunting a lot and you know, you can take a day off, you can work harder the next day and make it up and I’ve had a good life and Sue, my wife, has been a good wife and we’ve reared two children and had a happy time here.
Lisa: What do you think has changed most in your lifetime in farming?
John: Let me see. I think probably being told by officialdom what you can do and what you can’t do is probably a lot of it, yes.
Lisa: Do you think the Island itself has changed? Do you think the landscape has changed?
John: Well yes I think, you know, what we do in farming has changed a lot because when I started, it was run nearly everybody was on what they called the Norfolk four course rotation. You know you had, now let me get it right, you had wheat and then you had a root crop that was fed off by animals, by sheep and after that you would have a spring sown crop of barley and then you would have a year when it would be a clover crop or something similar so that gave you the four years. And then you would go round again. I mean that was more or less what worked without a lot of sprays and fertilizers but with sprays and fertilizers, people do all sorts of different things. Well you had to have animals integrated with it obviously, but that’s how it worked and not many follow that now.
Lisa: Do you think wildlife has changed over the years?
John: Yes, I think it has. I think some of the conservationists have got it wrong in that they encourage a lot of predators. I mean, for instance, badgers … I mean I would never annihilate badgers but we would only interfere with a badger if he interfered with us, whereas now there are so many badgers that ground nesting birds and hares and things, they’re really up against it and also everybody loves to see buzzards. Well OK they are very fine birds flying about. Years ago you would see one or two probably up Brighstone Forest or something and say, “Oh look, isn’t that lovely, there’s a buzzard.” Now you look out of the kitchen window and there’s half a dozen buzzards going around and as the chap that does my spraying in the corn said to me last year, he said, “I was spraying, going up a track and a little hare ran out in front of me and I slowed up and I thought well he’ll turn in in a minute out of my way, but before the poor little soul turned in, down came a buzzard and zonk, and that was the end of the hare” so I think by encouraging, you know what is it, red kites and buzzards and badgers and things, you’re really putting the smaller things at a disadvantage. In fact I don’t even think there’s a rabbit on the farm now, which I put down to buzzards and anyway, that’s my moan (laughs).
Lisa: What’s the soil like in this part of the Island?
John: Mostly fairly strong, fairly heavy, not clay but it is heavy. Some of it runs up to the chalk but it’s quite good.
Lisa: Can you tell me a bit about how … if there’s been any change in terms of having your animals slaughtered? I understand that doesn’t happen on the Island now.
John: No it doesn’t. I mean going right back to my youth, I mean Butchers would come and pick up three or four lambs and I imagine they did their own slaughtering. That would be back to pre-war and then we had our own very satisfactory slaughterhouse in Newport. But now they all have to go away. I mean at one stage when I had a lot of lambs, we had a contract in common with other Dorset breeders with Waitrose, and they were very good. You know, if you produced what they wanted, they paid well, but they all had to go off to Guildford to be slaughtered and that was OK. Now I think the Guildford Slaughterhouse has packed up which has made … they all have to go further which makes it impossible. I think that the nearest slaughterhouse is now probably … there are things go from the Island is probably Somerset which is a bit of a shame.
Lisa: Have you generally looked after your livestock yourself, or do you need the services of a Vet sometimes?
John: Oh we have had a Vet, yes. It seems to me that we don’t see the Vet as much as we used to. In my young days, the Vet was somebody called Cowper Bake and he was a character and he would turn up in his plus fours and his cigarette in a holder and (laughs), but he was a good Vet from horses to cattle. You know, we have got Vets in the Island although I think they do more with dogs and cats than they … but there’s one or two competent Vets and touching wood haven’t had to call one for some time but they come out and do obligatory tuberculin tests and that sort of thing, but not so much as we used to.
Lisa: Have you ever suffered from any disease over the years, either with crops or animals?
John: We’ve never had anything like TB or anything although we had quite a lot of reactors. In the early ‘50’s, they tested all the cattle for tuberculosis and everybody had a lot of what is called reactors. They carried the infection and then, not very often, perhaps every year or to you would get one you would have to get rid of because she had active tuberculosis, but of course it was quite traumatic when we had to have these compulsory tests because over a period of time you had to get rid of all those that reacted and it took several years to become completely free and of course there has been foot and mouth. We’ve had it close but we’ve never had it on the farm which was fortunate.
Lisa: So as the years have gone on then, the farm has become more mechanised.
John: Yes, big jobs all done by contractors because the size of machinery today, unless you’ve got a really big acreage, you couldn’t justify the cost of buying a great big combine, so yes, all the big jobs are done by contractors and that’s something that’s been happening more and more over the years. I mean in the ‘50’s, we all bought a combine and all that sort of thing and that was fine, but now they’re all so vast that you know, a big tractor now costs you about £100,000 so you know there’s a limit to what you want.
Lisa: You have to be producing enough to justify the cost I suppose?
John: Yes, you do. You know we keep a tractor to do the lighter jobs and the odd jobs but we get contractors for, you know, ploughing and harvesting, which takes a bit of the fun out of it really but nothing stays the same for ever (laughs).
Lisa: Looking back, what do you think was a prosperous time for farming in your lifetime?
John: I would think the War pulled it up from … it was pretty grim I think when I was little. Obviously in the War, everybody wanted food and everybody was encouraged and then I think it went on pretty well up till … I’d say it started to decline in the ‘80’s and it’s not very good now. I mean, milk now is about, I don’t know, I think about 25 pence a litre and it was about that in 1995 when I considered that wasn’t enough for me so how they survive on that … well they survive by vast numbers of cows but I don’t think it’s all that good now and it certainly wasn’t very good pre-war but you know a tonne of wheat is about £120. Years and years ago, I know they didn’t grow so much because we would hope to grow three, three and a half tonne to the acre. When I was little, I think it was probably £8 or £10 but having said that, that probably paid the wages for a week for four men whereas £120 now might pay a man for a couple of days or a day or something so it all changes around doesn’t it?
51 minutes 9 seconds
Lisa: You mentioned earlier that you had been involved with the Farmers’ Union. Is that on the Island, it that the local environment?
John: Yes, that was local, you know, we all got involved and did a year’s spell as Chairman and went to London and did all that sort of thing for a year and that was good fun. I don’t know whether it’s as lively now. You don’t hear much about it. You know, there are less farmers and I think they struggle on.
Lisa: Were there social events and things like that?
John: Yes, I think there were more social events, admittedly now we’re old we probably don’t get invited to them so much but it was in my time, we did do a lot of socialising agriculturally connected, yes.
Lisa: And how would the Union support local farmers?
John: They’d take up any case where you needed help I think but I think it was keeping in touch with Headquarters and making our wishes known for them to campaign for, you know. I think the NFU had been good news. You know they’re big on insurance now, I’m not sure that hasn’t taken over a bit, I shouldn’t really say that probably (laughs), but they’re good on insurance anyway.
Lisa: So would you consider yourself retired now?
John: Oh yes (laughs). I go out for my own amusement and have a look around. I’ve got my six sheep to look at, but I’m well out of it now.
Lisa: So you mentioned you had some photographs that we could have a look at.
John: The original hand milking, that was … well you sat down and you just drew it out by hand and then when labour became just a bit scarcer, we turned over to what we called milking machines which were bucket units that you plugged into the vacuum pipe and put what we called the unit onto the cow’s udder and it went into a bucket which held as much as she’d give, maximum about four gallons. Then you had to take that away and carry it to the dairy whereas then … that started I suppose about oh, end of the ‘40’s or perhaps a bit earlier, perhaps end of the War and then about 1960 we went to what they called parlour milking where you had six stalls with specialist milking things and the cows came to it and took their turn and out they went and the milk went straight up and into the dairy and into the bulk tank which was a lot easier.
55 minutes 34 seconds
Lisa: And was it collected by tanker then?
John: Yes, it was. I’m trying to think when that started. I would think… not before … tankers didn’t come in much before late 1960’s I’m guessing, I think that would be it. Before that it was churns. Lorries used to come and pick up for the Creameries in Newport.
Lisa: So that’s where it would be processed.
John: Yes, down where the supermarket is, Westminster Lane, which one is it?
John: Yes, that’s where the Creameries were. Now I think most of it in the Island, that, the small amount which is processed and sold in the Island it all has to go over in a tanker to the Mainland.
Lisa: So this is your herd?
John: Yes. Somewhere I’ve got a photograph of the yard. That’s some of it, that’s Friesians obviously.
Lisa: So this is obviously prior to 1995 when you decided to …
John: Yes, that’s a short horn, Cowman Ollie Harver in the Show.
Lisa: And where was the Show then?
John: I think that one was at Blackwater, that one.
Lisa: So she was the winner, Jasmine (laughs). Good job you’ve written on the back there. Oh, this is interesting.
John: I can’t remember just where they were or what they were but …
Lisa: Is this you?
John: No. Is that the same cow? It could be.
Lisa: Is this your combine?
John: That was my combine, yeah.
Lisa: 1983. Where did you buy your combine?
John: Locally I think from one of the Dealers, you know. There’s Shaun throwing tyres onto the silage heap. That is somewhere up in the yard, covering up the silage heap.
Lisa: Have you built these barns over the years?
John: Yes. That’s some beef cattle. I’ve got a picture of a …
Lisa: So there are some old stone barns, are there?
John: Yes, I know I’ve got one here somewhere. This is the Dorset Horn Sheep Society, having an Open Day here [continues searching] … now I found one out and thought that would be interesting. I think that picture is … I don’t know, I should think it’s probably about 1970 or 80 ‘cos there’s more barns built here now, that’s a silage pit. Now it’s completely different. That is where the farming happens and that is a holiday let and all these here are what we call business units. There’s seven or eight business units. People doing all sorts. This bit here was the horse stables. They’re something to do with IT, I don’t really understand what they do but there are about four people employed in there and the cow stables this bit, there are four units there. One’s a Carpenter, we have had Island Foods in there and all sorts of people and the top end there is a bicycle dealer and repairer. All sorts we’ve got there.
61 minutes 54 seconds
Lisa: So you’ve sort of extended the business and diversified from farming over the years.
John: Yes, and this bit up here somebody uses as a general store. But we don’t do any farming in that part now. Well the barn there, that’s you know on the left as you come in. That’s general storage in there.
Lisa: So who took this aerial photograph?
John: I don’t know.
Lisa: There’s a car in the shot there (laughs). And some of your machinery I think in the yard. That’s a good way of dating a photograph really isn’t it? You think, oh yes, that’s my old … I think there’s a Landrover there.
John: Yes, I had my Landrover. [searching through photographs]. I should write on things (laughs). Oh dear, what are we up to there?
Lisa: Is this you judging?
John: Yes, looking … you look at their teeth. I couldn’t really tell you … does it say here? No, not usefully.
Lisa: They look like they’ve been quite recently shorn. Is that the sort of best time to …
John: Yes. They trim them down to shape really. Some of these could be the Royal I expect. I judged at the Royal once I think.
John: Yes, not the Isle of Wight hounds (laughs). I think that was … I don’t know where that was.
Lisa: So you mentioned briefly about your involvement with the fox hunting.
John: Yes, I loved it. I was the Joint Master for a bit.
Lisa: It must be a nice way to get to see the countryside.
John: Oh it is.
Lisa: Have you always had horses for riding here?
John: Well yes, I haven’t now but …this is a view out the kitchen.
Lisa: What’s this here?
John: Oh that’s … you may well ask. That’s the pump house. If you look in there there’s still a pump and the well is directly underneath it and you pump, the little reservoir, you pump it up and I imagine that’s been there, you know, age old because in the old days you found water and then you built a house. Now you build a house and say bring the water. Actually we used that as an Air Raid shelter in the War. Had sleepers and bags so you could just go round and get in there and as a child we would always get herded in there because there was quite a lot of activity …
Lisa: Well Ventnor was a bit of a target wasn’t it?
John: Yes it was. There’s me on a combine.
Lisa: Was there … when you were very young, what was the situation in the house? Was there hot running water, was there gas?
John: Well there was no electricity, no gas. In fact we didn’t get electricity, believe it or not, until we bought the place which was, as I say, in 1956 so my poor mother never enjoyed any electricity here, which she must have found pretty tough.
Lisa: Did she do the washing by hand and that kind of thing?
John: Well, yes. I had a suckler herd for a bit.
Lisa: When would you say that was, your red combine?
John: I would think that could have been 1960’s or ‘70’s.
Lisa: The suckler herd. What does that mean?
John: That’s beef cows with their calves running with them and that looks like some pretty well grown cows doesn’t it? Like the mothers. That’s driving some sheep up through Whitwell. Oh that’s one I always like. That’s three horses on a binder …
Lisa: That’s fabulous.
John: … cutting corn. Derby Captain, Violet I expect the other side.
Lisa: Fred Warn it says, 1937. Was he one of the farm workers?
John: Yes. He’s an old character. That’s Shaun. You know I said, ‘any job for a nipper’. That’s Shaun, that’s his dad and that’s my nephew and that’s me. That was … I don’t know when that was, it doesn’t say. Newport Show anyway.
70 minutes 30 seconds
Lisa: You’ve all won a cup (laughs).
John: Yes. Shearing in the barn. Not hand shearing.
Lisa: Who shears the sheep that you’ve got now?
John: A local lad called Buster (laughs).
Lisa: How often are they sheared?
John: Just once a year. Probably middle of May, something like that?
Lisa: Coming up to that time then?
John: Yes. You shear their back end a bit earlier… their tails to keep them clean (laughs).
Lisa: Do they ever injure themselves with these horns? Do they ever argue with each other?
John: They do a bit. Rams will, yes. They all had horns you see originally. I think that one I had of driving sheep through the village they all had horns and they were known as Dorset Horns for obvious reasons and then, you know, they do sometimes get horns are a bit of a disadvantage and they can get sore in the summer. Flies get round the base of the horn … anyway, everybody thought it would be better if they didn’t have horns, so they imported some hornless sheep from Australia with what we called the ‘poll gene’, the poll being a hornless cram and nearly everybody has Dorset Polls now rather than Dorset Horns.
Lisa: So the breed has changed.
John: Has a bit, yeah.
Lisa: I’m just interested in this here.
John: What was that all about?
Lisa: Is it a farm sale? Oh, it’s a catalogue.
John: Davingbourne yeah. That was my great uncle.
Lisa: I was just about to say, at the top here, Leonard Cole Attrill.
John: He was a great innovator. He was an old bachelor, never got married, but was a leader of things. He made silage. You probably know what silage is, you know grass conserved for … and nobody really knew what it was, you know, and he used to feed his cows on silage rather than hay and all sorts of things like that.
Lisa: There are some handwritten notes here.
John: What’s it about?
Lisa: Harvest, 1911.
John: Oh harvest at Bowcombe, 1911. Oh my God! Finished cutting 8th August and the binder was able to cut every field all round so that was good 183 acres cut, mmm.
75 minutes 17 seconds
Lisa: I wonder whose note that is then, whether it is …
John: Well I don’t think it was his writing. Could have been his niece, who looked after him. I think 1911 was a very dry year, that’s why that …
Lisa: So your family have been in lots of different farms across the Island over the years?
John: Yes, years and years ago, more farms were tenanted. Now, more farms are owner occupied, but years ago they were mostly on big estates and you rented them.
Lisa: And Attrill is a good Island name isn’t it?
John: Yes, if you find one on the Mainland, they usually say, “Oh I think my grandfather came from the Isle of Wight” (laughs). They say, “I met so and so Attrill the other day” you know, “is he your brother?” No, I’ve got one sister married a Lowen and they went to Rhodesia , tobacco farming which she’s dead now, and I’ve got my second sister Julie, she’s four years older than me, well she’s 88 at the moment. She lives in Hind Head and she married somebody who was in, what do you call it? Tell you in a minute, brains going … you know you have High Commissioners and Deputy Commissioners and District Commissioners and all that, Colonial Office anyway. They spent most of their time in Africa until they retired but I haven’t got any relations in the Island. Probably a good job my mother came from Winchester or it could have got complicated (laughs). My father’s one … that was more about fishing.
‘When the wind is in the east, it is no good to man or beast,
When the wind is in the north, the skilful fisher goes not forth,
When the wind is in the south, the hook goes in the fishes’ mouth,
But when the wind is in the west, then it’s at its very best’.
Sue: And Carol who lives in … Carol just keeps saying that you should either record your ditty or written down because I don’t think there are many … and you’ll say them and it just comes off from you so quickly but …
John: I can’t think of any more poems but I ought to write them down. When the situation is as I see it, I then it prompts me to say it but I can’t think of any other than that.
Sue: It is, it’s great, yes. So full of knowledge really, knowledge and skills that John has taught Shaun on this farm is … and now Shaun is able at his age, 56 as you said, to turn his hand to things that are extraordinary really, from hedge laying to fence building to sheep maintenance.
John: Yes, he’s good with livestock, quite good with machinery.
Sue: He’s very good with machinery, but he didn’t know any of that at 16 he started.
John: A shy boy wasn’t he?
Sue: He was, he’s wonderful now, a wonderful person, really So it’s all these extraordinary things that happen without us realising it.
Lisa: He needs a young person to teach now, doesn’t he?
John: Yes, he does.
Lisa: Shaun need a young person to teach.
Sue: He leads. He has two sons, Daniel and Christopher, but neither of them …
John: One’s a professional cricketer …
Sue: And Daniel’s a plumber but they don’t have to turn to the farm of course but it is a losing situation where they could lose it I think if, you know … old skills.
John: Yes, because you know, he was sort of probably one of the last of the generations. Yes, you know he always had a boy about ‘cos he didn’t cost you very much and he did a bit of this and a bit of that as he went along and he learnt it whereas I don’t quite know what you’d do with a boy because you couldn’t say, “Get up on that £200,000 combine” or …
Sue: They’re not allowed … you know things are restricted now really. Not always but …in that direction.
81 minutes 12 seconds
Transcribed December 2017 by Chris Litton