Lisa: Hello Ruth. I’ve come today to talk to you about your memories of growing up on a farm.
Lisa: Where were you born Ruth?
Lisa: OK. And your family are … part of your family are an Island family aren’t they? Is it your father’s side of the family that are Islander’s?
Ruth: Yes. My father’s side is Cornish.
Lisa: And your mum’s side?
Ruth: A Londoner.
Lisa: Your mum’s from London. OK. So how did your family come to the Island then?
Ruth: Um, Grandfather used to – my Grandfather, yes, used to come over on holidays because mum was here. She nursed at St Mary’s years ago and he used to come down to see her and she went to school here in Newport and she was at the same school as my father. So that’s how they got to know each other and she used to stay here. Grandad was up in London and he just used to come down and see her in the holiday times.
Lisa: So when did you move to the Island then as you said you were born in Winchester?
Ruth: Well I was over in Winchester with the Aunty that went to Cornwall. My Grandfather, Mr James Comer, he was working in Cornwall on the railways and I don’t know why he came to the Island but he was a builder. He built the house, the farm and the saw mill. And because he stayed here then and he loved wood and everything so he stopped. He’d already seen obviously Grandma in Cornwall, brought her here once he’d done the house, got married – oh they lived in Carisbrooke before he finished the house. You know ‘cos in those days people didn’t like to talk too much about their families and what was happening in the family so in the latter years, Aunty Dolly she got older, that was father’s sister who lived in the farmhouse. She started coming out with things so when I was with her, she started to say things and I’m thinking, ‘Oh I didn’t know that, I didn’t know you lived in Carisbrooke’ and also they lived in Honey Hill so and Aunty Dolly said, “Oh, I was three years old when we came to the farmhouse which was ‘Sunny Vase’ and then it’s gone on from there.
5 minutes 9 Seconds
Lisa: So what was the name of the farmhouse?
Ruth: Sunny Vase.
Lisa: And you said that your Grandfather also built the saw mill. What was the saw mill called?
Ruth: Yes. Forest Side Saw Mills.
Lisa: And this is on Forest Road.
Lisa: How far down Forest Road from Newport going …
Ruth: Well, if I say Forest View Nurseries?
Ruth: And you just go up the hill. There’s a lane that goes down. That was all ours and the new houses that were built was where the farmhouse and the stables were. And going up, I think it’s Scott Chiverton’s, there’s cranes and everything else in it and cars and that was where the saw mill was.
Ruth: And the house next to the saw mill as you go up the hill was where uncle Jack and Aunty Rita lived and also Aunty Florrie and her mother. They were both on each side of … you know, semi-detached house.
Lisa: Yeah. Is the farmhouse still there?
Ruth: No, it’s all … it stopped in the late ‘60’s because I think I was expecting Scott which was probably ’68.
Lisa: OK. And the house that you lived in because you didn’t live in the farmhouse itself did you? You said your Grandma lived there and other family members. The house that you lived in, did your Grandfather build that house as well?
Lisa: And is that still there?
Ruth: That’s still there.
Lisa: That is still there. And what was that house called?
Ruth: That was the ‘Brambles’. Full of brambles.
Lisa: (laughs). So what kind of house was it? Can you describe it to me? Can you take me back to when you were a girl and you lived there?
Ruth: Um, you went down the lane and then there was a little tiny fence with what we called the front garden. There was a concrete path that went all round the house. The front door was only used on Sundays or when we had visitors. You went round the side and there was corrugated sheeting that closed in because years before that it was like an outside privy and that. It then became all under cover ‘cos the boys – I call the boys the uncles did that so it became an inside toilet and also they built on another room, because there was no bathroom in the house so that’s when the kitchen came and you went down so it was all concrete floors. And then the little room which used to be the main kitchen, ‘cos I remember that when we had a kitchen range in that little room and when I’d come over from the mainland, they all went particularly to one Dentist and I couldn’t get in there so they took me somewhere else and that was up by the Post Office in the High Street. Just beside that there was Mr Fields the Dentist and mother used to … every time I went to the Dentist, she took a whole pile of hankies because I bled quite a lot and I remember every time sitting beside this beautiful, what I thought was a beautiful kitchen range, ‘cos it warmed the cheek and it was all nice and you know, I was treated nicely and you know sort of … and so when you went in the back door, you turned right and there was like the lounge and then you went through to the stairs going up which is where the front door was. You could go into the other room which was very seldom used, like they always used to say it was the ‘Sunday Room’ so if ever any visitors came, that’s where they went. And then upstairs there was three bedrooms. One was always called ‘The Green Room’, I don’t know why, probably because I used to sleep there and used to hear scuttering across the ceiling and one day it got so heavy that it all … I wasn’t in the bed at the time, but the amount of grass that was up there above the ceiling where the birds were going in and nesting and we did have a laugh but it was a mess.
10 minutes 12 Seconds
And then they built on the bathroom above the … what used to be the scullery and they made that into a room so above there was the bathroom and then there was another room so there was three bedrooms and the bathroom upstairs and the room that was used as a Sunday Room later on was used as another bedroom, and that’s where I went when the other room was sort of cleared and had to have the ceiling put up again. And then where the path went all the way round the house, we had gardens all round the house so you had … as you went along the path facing the house it was lawns, bramble bushes and then to one side was vegetable gardens and then going round the house was currant bushes and apple trees and above that were where the chicken run was so it spread across the back of the … the top of the garden so it had two runs so when the chickens had been in one run for probably about eight to twelve weeks, they then would be put into the other run to allow one run to start growing grass and everything for them.
Lisa: Did you have running water in the house?
Ruth: We had running water and we had a cess pit which had to be cleaned out every … the only thing that we didn’t have was electricity. That’s why we had the kitchen range.
Lisa: Was there mains gas?
Ruth: No. We had Calor gas. This was a few years later. We had … I can’t remember how old I was. I might have been about 14. We used to have two Calor gas cylinders besides because when mum wanted to get rid of the kitchen range, we had no means of cooking so they went in for the Calor gas ‘cos there was no gas mains along there and she thought, ‘Oh we can have two lights as well going off’ so that’s what those little mantles … they used to be sort of very mesh and you only had to touch them and they’d disintegrate. I expect your Grandfather would know that.
Lisa: Yes, I know what you mean. I’ve seen them.
Ruth: Yeah, and they just ‘poooof’ and of course you got told off if you weren’t careful with them because they were quite expensive as well. And we also had a wood. Being a saw mill we had plenty of wood. A wood boiler for the hot water.
Lisa: And heating? Was that just the range?
Lisa: Yes. So I imagine the bedrooms were cold.
Ruth: Oh yes. And when the range had gone, we only had the boiler in the kitchen so … but we had fires. We had wood fires. They changed the kitchen range into a fireplace and in the lounge, well in all rooms even the bedrooms had fireplaces but they weren’t very often put on. You know you think, ‘oh we’ll have a fire tonight’ but you didn’t, not in the bedrooms. Downstairs in … the little room had a fire and that went during the winter and if you used the lounge on a Sunday or something like that, the fire was built and that’s where we had Christmas as well. The fire was, you know, lit then.
Lisa: So from what kind of age were you helping with jobs on the farm?
Ruth: About eight. Yeah, we had to work.
Lisa: So you were obviously at school then so you’d spend your day during the week at school. Would you have jobs to do before you went to school or when you got home from school or at the weekends?
Ruth: When we came home from school, especially during the summertime, one of my jobs if the washing was out, I used to have to bring that in and fold it up and very often do the ironing. A little thing that happened when we were doing homework, well I had the ironing, the blanket and the sheet on the kitchen table at one end and I was ironing. My brother was the other end doing his homework and we had the fountain pens and the ink bottles and he was annoying me and I was carrying on ‘cos it was a flat iron.
15 minutes 15 Seconds
It wasn’t a … ‘cos you didn’t have electricity and I was going like this and all of a sudden he went like this and I was as far as you away and I instantly picked up the sheet and it went all over the sheet. So, as a child, not really thinking this was going to be found, I folded up the sheet and took them up into the airing cupboard and of course it was … I put it on the bottom but of course later on when mum said, “Oh, I’m going to change the beds” and we got down to that sheet, (laughs), it was like a butterfly, you know, so I got told off about that but it never was my brother, it was always me. But yeah, that was a funny part of doing some jobs. The other thing was it was very strict that we did not have any homework to do when father came down from the farmhouse that he was doing administration with his sister up there, and when he came down it was about half past eight we had to have no homework around, it had to be done. On the dot of nine o’clock at night, we used to go to bed so he had, you know, had an hour to relax before he actually went to bed. But he saw us for that half an hour. That’s at school days.
Lisa: So what about at the weekends? Did you have jobs to do at the weekends?
Ruth: Yes, at the weekends my brother and I took it in turns to go and get the animals, you know the cows from the fields. Father would go and prepare what he needed to do up in the farm and then he would come down, make himself a cup of tea, wake us up about six o’clock and whoever it was that was going to get the cattle and then we used to bring them up. And then in the evening we used to go and take them back, ‘cos father used to do the other one because we probably … I was in doing the calves so father would take the cows back down the lane and I would go and get them in the afternoon about three o’clock and he would take them back at half past five because then I was helping mum in the house.
Lisa: So when you say you were bringing them up, were you bringing them up for milking?
Ruth: Yes, sorry.
Lisa: No that’s OK (laughs). You’re talking to someone who doesn’t know much about farming so I might have to ask a few questions (laughs) just to make sure I understand what you mean. And so you talked in your notes that you wrote about getting them ready for the milking and what you had to do for that. How were they milked? Were they milked by hand?
Ruth: Yes. They used to know which stall to go into and I think I put in there that I used to … they all had flower names and I put them up (laughs) thinking they could read…
Lisa: And they would go into their correct stall (laughs).
Ruth: … and they would go into their correct stall and then I would have to wash the udders and the teats ready for father to milk and he had a three legged stool which he sort of put under the udders and sat down but he used to press his head right into the udder and get the teats and go like this into the bucket which he kept in his knees and the cows would swish their tails. I expect you’ve seen it on television sometimes when they do that and wallop into his face and it he would go like that and it used to make me laugh and then one of the cats came from the farmhouse and they knew the exact time. They knew what was happening so one used to come in and sit there – ‘meeow’ and father used to go ‘psssst, psssst’ squeezing the teat and giving him some milk.
Lisa: About how many cows were there all together?
Ruth: There was about 14, 12-14, it was only a small dairy farm.
Lisa: Yeah. So did you produce enough milk that you could sell, or was it just for your own …
Ruth: No, what happened was … we used to have to put them in the big churns and we had a platform outside the farmhouse along Forest Road where father put two churns and each day somebody came up with an open backed lorry and took them and I think I’m correct in saying, ‘cos I heard this from one of the family years ago, that our milk went to Cambridge, but we used to have milk that everybody in the houses round had some milk and they could always come down for some milk if they brought their jug. We didn’t do it in bottles, we had to use jugs (laughs).
Lisa: What kind of cows were they?
Ruth: They were Jersey, so it was quite rich milk and lovely cream when Grandma used to put it on her kitchen range and heat it, you know like warm, and then let the fat of the milk come up to the top which was really lovely, creamy cream.
Lisa: Did your Grandma make butter as well?
Lisa: So how did she do that?
Ruth: She had butter pats and she had I can always remember sort of like a little, not too big, a barrel that she put the cream in and there was a plunger and we used to activate it until eventually … ‘cos if she was doing the milk and she had enough cream in this, she used to say to me, “While I’m busy, you can do the activating of the plunger. And she used to … she had two or three butter pats which were wood and they were patterned and she used to be going like this.
Lisa: And then would it get wrapped up in paper or …?
Ruth: I think she had some sort of like waxy paper and she used to do it all up and then they used to go to market. We had some, you know, but you didn’t have much ‘cos it all used to have to go for sale.
Lisa: So that was taken down to … do you remember going to market?
Ruth: Yeah, I knew the days which was a Tuesday market. I knew the days when it was market, and when we were on holiday I did go down once, but there was so much work to do at the farm but I did go down to market and I can’t remember if the market for both, like clothing and vegetables and things like that and the cattle were on the same day, but I remember seeing the cattle all penned in and people going round. You know, it was quite a lot of noise, people calling out and you know, so it was obviously sales of the cattle or horses or whatever that were down there. That why I say, I think it was where Morrison’s is now ‘cos when the lorries come to Morrison’s to unload, there’s a great big large gate and I’m sure that was the entrance into the market. But yes, it was a lovely experience, I used to enjoy that.
Lisa: And how did you get there to Newport, to go to the market?
Ruth: We had … when father went to the market, he used a bigger cart ‘cos there was a lot more and obviously sometimes there was a pig that was being taken to market, but when he took me and it was most of the provisions that Grandma had, it was a smaller cart and ‘Lion’ our horse, he plodded off down Forest Road, along … and of course you didn’t have the dual carriageway and all that … we went down Honey Hill and round and up into Town and then turned at the top and that’s what I say, I think it was where Morrison’s was. Or it could have been still St James’s, but I think St James’s was too early for me.
Lisa: So you mentioned you had horses, which on guessing were used for some of the work that had to be done on the farm.
Ruth: Yes. I only knew Peacock … I think it was a few months before he died so we only had Lion. But yes, we had machinery that they did and ploughed the field and then when it was haymaking time, June and July, we had another machine that cut the grass and it was pulled by the carthorse line and then we had another machine that turned the grass over. It had spirals and it just sort of turned it over, and then when it was time and the grass was ready, like turned into hay and we wanted it into bales ‘cos now it’s all round circles and all covered up in … I don’t know quite what they use now.
25 minutes 31 Seconds
Lisa: A kind of plastic I think, isn’t it?
Ruth: Is it plastic?
Lisa: I think so, yeah.
Ruth: The next door neighbour, he used to bring his combine harvester and all the children … in one of the houses the farmhouses, were two boys and then there was my brother and myself. We used to go down to the fields and help out and you used to pick up the grass and throw it into the harvester and then it would come out in the chute with bales, you know, like bales and Grandma used to make a lot of sandwiches and things and fruit cake. That seemed to be the idea was fruit cake, mainly they ate, and Aunty Dolly used to make tea and coffee in what we call flasks now, but they were sort of earthen jugs and they were brown and cream in colour. I used to go down with my Aunty to take the baskets down and then I used to join the boys in pulling the bales and we used to have it and we used to have our picnic there and that lasted about three or four days, we used to do this. And when it was good weather and then the bales were all taken from the field onto the cart. We used to have a different cart for that because it had the big sides coming up so the bales would stay in place. Uncle Jack used to be on the cart and father and Mr Harvey used to be putting them on and then we used to sit on top of the bales of hay and come up the lane to the farm. I mean with Health and Safety these days you wouldn’t be doing all that (laughs). That was the real enjoyable time.
Lisa: That was a favourite time of the year was it? Did you have to get people to come and help you with that or was it just your uncles and your father that were involved?
Ruth: There was, well they’re still there. As you go along Forest Road and where our lane went down, opposite is where the entrance to the Parkhurst Forest. Well there, I expect you might have seen it, two wooden houses. Well Ted was in one and Mr Griffin, and I can’t think what his Christian name is, I tried to tell John the other night, I said it’s just absolutely gone out of my head, they used to come and help. Of course Mr Harvey that came with the combine harvester, he came as well to help, you know ‘cos he drove the combine harvester, but to do the stacking up and collecting ‘cos they … well as a child, you look at the field and it’s so enormous and …
Lisa: How many acres was the farm?
Ruth: I couldn’t tell you. All I know is we had the area … we had the lane that went down and as you left Forest Road on that side so it was on the right, there was the stables. Then you went down and there was a lane round the back which there is another two houses and then in front of those two houses was the ‘Brambles’ that came down the lane was straight down so that’s four big houses and there was big land. The farmhouse stood in it’s own land so there was, as you left the stables there was another vegetable garden and a concrete path going up to the house. There was lawns all round the side where you are looking out of the window so people couldn’t … and the hedges were disguising the vegetable gardens, because in those days you never showed everybody what was … there was just the hedges and you saw the lawn. You didn’t see all the rubbish that might be behind the other hedges and then on the other side there was apple orchards, there was two apple orchards, and then there was bushes as well and then on the side of the farmhouse was a veranda and then you went up the little path ‘cos you could see the saw mill and you went through the orchard to the saw mill.
30 minutes 4 Seconds
So it was quite a big expanse there. Down the lane, you went to the end of the lane. Halfway up the lane there was two gates so there was two fields. One’s on Forest Road and the other one comes down just before you get into Gunville. But that was somebody who lived in Gunville on a farm. That was his ground. Our two fields were down the bottom of the lane so you went down the lane and the two fields went off like that. They were quite big. And then you went to the bottom on the left hand field and there was a little hedge with a gate and you went through to another field which belonged to us but you were saying about the farms around. We had what we called ‘Little Kitbridge’ and that belonged to the Comer’s so … and there we had a family that lived in the house. Ann did most of the work and her parents were living there as well. Now they had all the chickens and they had the baby chickens with the incubators there which I loved going over there and these little tiny yellow chicks, you know, squeaking away (laughs) and she had some goats and there was some more vegetable gardens so we had quite a lot of vegetables and that and then during the rationing, when we had the ration books, and when everyone was running out of supplies, they would come to us and take what they wanted. We couldn’t say no. They had to be taken to help other people and I used to see these men coming and just asking for certain vegetables. Potatoes and greens basically and so we had the little farm over the way as well and the cattle used to go so they would walk down Forest Road and up the next lane which is right by Forest View Nurseries which used to be our Sunday field, where they are. Because on Sunday, father would get up early, do the milking and everything else and then he would bring the milking in the afternoon earlier by about an hour, and then take the cows down the road to the Sunday field. And then we’d go off to Porchfield and walk along Cowes. Yeah, that was his treat for the week. And the two white houses that are there was ours as well, but apparently my Grandfather used to … he got into debt, yeah, card games and that, and it was never spoken of but he did get into debt and that is when the houses … ‘cos when I got married, I thought, ‘Oh I’ll have one of those houses’ but it was full of woodworm at that stage but they’re all done up now but … oh yeah, he loved buying property, sorry. Grandad loved buying property and then of course he over did it and everything went, he got into debt and then he had to start selling and right up to 1968, I can still hear Aunty Ann turning round, ‘if only’. You know those two words? If only father hadn’t been like he was and that’s the first time she turned round and said anything to me about what he’d done. So you get to learn over the years of what’s happening because nobody would tell anybody what the problem was in their life then. I mean now you hear it everywhere, don’t you? People are …
Lisa: I wonder how much the land was originally then that your Grandfather bought before he even put any of the houses on it. I’m assuming it was just land that he bought. What kind of decade would that have been when he bought the land and built the houses?
Ruth: Well it must have been before the Second World War because he died in ’36 and as I said I don’t … yeah so I would say before the Second World War because we had a bomb the other side in the field next to our house and they had to come and deal with it because it was unexploded.
35 minutes 16 Seconds
Lisa: So you must have been really quite young then because you were born in 1942, so you must of only been two or three years old with that memory of a bomb.
Ruth: As children, young children, there used to be right the other side of the hedge in our garden was a hedge and we had two sort of brick walls together like that and in the middle I used to have my little walk way, and I used to have the acorns and little leaves and make them as cups and saucers and one day somebody asked me to come in and then these men came and they went in the field and it was obviously to do with the bomb but I didn’t know. What my mother and Robin, my brother, used to go under the stairs when the sirens went, and I was told to go under the table. And I used to get upset because I used to think why couldn’t I go under the stairs with them. No, I couldn’t, no I had to … later in life you start looking back and of course I used to think well it was because I wasn’t really her daughter. She was looking after him, but as I say that’s another story. But yes, it was … and there was a crack down the front of the house.
Lisa: From bomb damage?
Lisa: Were you fairly self-sufficient in terms of the food that you produced on the farm?
Ruth: Oh yes, because we had the pigs as well and all the like rhubarb, berries, alcohol. Mum used to love doing apple cider ….
Lisa: Because you said you had orchards.
Lisa: So that was where the apples came from.
Ruth: And also talking about the apples, at the farmhouse we had an apple shed and this was just off the veranda. So you went out the door of the veranda and that was the apple shed and it had all built by grandad, slots, racks that came out, and I used to have to go and help Grandma. I put the paper all in it and she positioned the apples and of course you didn’t do much scrumping because you had to go up and take the apples off the tree so my brother and I used to have to climb up the trees and get the apples. And you couldn’t use the damaged ones on the ground because there were wasps and everything else in them so they were damaged. But Grandma used to put them all in these racks and they’re the ones that went to market. So she would do all that. And inside this shed as well, Uncle Ralph had another little hut that was his, a little place to go, and he did photography, so he developed his own photos and everything and he was a good artist, he really was. And up in the saw mill, on the bench he just used to get some sawdust, sprinkle it around and then draw a bird with his finger and it was marvellous. And he used to do a lot of pencil drawing and just as you went into the Parkhurst Forest, from Forest Road, there was a house which was right opposite the stables and I remember going in it and that brought back memories ‘cos I found a pencil drawing of that house that Uncle Ralph had done. Yeah, he was really good.
Lisa: Can you tell me a bit more about the saw mill? Were you allowed to go in it as a child?
Ruth: Yes, we had to work.
Lisa: So what sort of things did you do?
Ruth: Well again I went with Aunty Dolly. I seemed to do a lot with Aunty Dolly. I did the calves with Aunty Dolly. I went into the saw mill with Aunty Dolly. We used to chop what was known as kindling wood for fires and I used to go and do that with her of an evening after school or mostly at the weekends when there was more time.
40 minutes 13 Seconds
And then you used to put them into the machine and sort of stuff them together and then they used to get tied up with … it wasn’t called string, it was sort of two three baling stuff that used to come out the combine. They used to do that and then Uncle Jack used to make these nice curved wooden baskets and we would sit these kindling packs into there and they would be taken off to market or else we had them as well for lighting the fire. And I used to have to do the sawdust pit. I had to clear that out. I know, I mean I’ve got trousers on today, but as a child I wasn’t allowed to wear trousers so I had to go down the sawdust pit in a dress and (laughs) I got sawdust everywhere but I used to have to clean it out and it was the same time that Uncle Ralph did the sharpening of the blades. Oh, it was an awful noise. It was like somebody’s grating your teeth and I used to have to stand that while I cleared all this sawdust out and then you used to have to shovel it into the sacks and that was taken somewhere but I couldn’t tell you where. But yes, it was … our kindling equipment was taken to the Blackgang Chine and also our traction engine was taken to Blackgang Chine. I think the kindling chopper would have been there but I don’t know if the traction engine is still there ‘cos it was … and we had to keep it going to work the bench for the, you know, trees. And we used to go up in the Forest with Lion and our cart and go down … they worked with the Forestry Commission. They said which trees they wanted down and we used to, well not us, but they used to be cut off and then we would bring them back to the sawmill and then cut them up into planks and use them as they needed. Or else whether it was just wood for the fire, not just for us, for anybody ‘cos everybody mostly had fireplaces then. Yes, it … I’m just trying to think what else …oh just tidying up in the saw mill ‘cos Uncle Jack used to make the ladders, the gates. He was ever so good at hanging gates. He didn’t even have to think twice. He did the gates and he did the one for the farm and he just literally – like that. He didn’t … nowadays, I don’t even know if anybody hangs gates the same way, but yes, he used to do that and the baskets and as I say, both the uncles were deaf and dumb. My father was speaking, he was OK. And Aunty Emily was deaf and dumb so … but that’s what they called them then because they didn’t say … the reason why they couldn’t talk was because they were deaf. They were labelled deaf and dumb but those were the two that worked in the sawmill. In the early days, that’s why I say it had to be before the Second World War, because they employed other people but when it got to our time, you know, 1940, 42, it was just the family working it, but before that, they had other people working as well because obviously during the War and everything it was probably needed quite a lot.
Lisa: Did you ever have a tractor on the farm?
Lisa: Did you know anyone else that had a tractor?
Ruth: Yes, which was in the next farm and there was … our farm was the dairy farm and sawmill was right on Forest Road. The next farm, as I said, was the next lane down which if you can see Forest Side Nurseries, there’s a little lane that goes up beside that.
45 minutes 10 Seconds
If you go right up to the end, there was the farm which was ‘Little Kitbridge’ and that’s where I was saying about the chickens and the goats and that and the heifers’ used to go out there on that particular field. And when you were trying to save another field to get … well like say for haymaking, the cows used to go down the road and up into that field as well by ‘Little Kitbridge’ and so a little bit further down Forest Road over the hill and down, there was another lane that goes up … the lanes are still there any rate now, and that was a farm that used to go up and that was called ‘Big Kitbridge’. That was why we had ‘Big Kitbridge’ and ‘Little Kitbridge’. And it was ‘Big Kitbridge’ that we used to get help from when needed for harvesting and everything and vice versa. It was like a gentleman’s agreement, you know. At the time of course when we didn’t have Lion, then the tractor came into use and they used to bring the tractor over. Father and his two brothers used to go over to his farm when they needed help so there was no squabbling or anything like that. It was, you know, you … what’s the saying, ‘You hit my back – no, lost it now. It’s in there …
Lisa: You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.
Ruth: You scratch … yes (laughs).
Lisa: You mentioned that you had pigs and occasionally one came to the table.
Ruth: Yeah, I know.
Lisa: Did you see animals being killed, growing up?
Ruth: No, only the chickens which Ann showed me how to kill a chicken and how to pluck it (laughs) but no, the pigs … we had a pigsty in the garden of our house at the Brambles and we had a pigsty on the farm and they both could take two pigs so it wasn’t as if we had a load of pigs but we had a sow in the one in the garden that had piglets and over the course of time the piglets would go to market and we would keep two of them. So the two that were in the stables, they would disappear over a certain time, you know, but I never saw any killed on the farm so I don’t know whether they were taken to the slaughter house and then brought back, or whether they were … I know that some were taken to market but you know I didn’t actually see anything happen. Yes, the piglets, it was ever so cosy in that little sty. The hayloft above and it was just right for having a little camp and a safe place to go for hiding away from the grownups and it you had a friend to play, which wasn’t very often, but my friend Maryann, her parents had a farm in Porchfield and that was Whitehouse Farm and of course it was on a much bigger scale and they had a tractor. They also had a horse and they had pigs, sheep, cattle and chickens and the chickens were the … it was the beginning of the battery chickens, you know, and oh it was so noisy when we had to collect the eggs. But I used to go there, say not every other weekend but I did go quite often and you still had to work. It wasn’t, you know, but it was much nicer working with a friend than it was on your own. And that was somebody else that we called on if we wanted any help.
Lisa: Where did you go to school Ruth?
Ruth: It was Our Sacred Heart Convent in Carisbrooke. It’s now St Thomas’s of Canterbury.
Lisa: Yes. How many of the children came from farming homes, because you mentioned your friend Maryann who grew up on a farm?
Ruth: Yes, she was at the Convent as well. Umm, Janice my cousin, she was six years older, she went to the Convent as well and there was a couple that were out sort of going off towards Freshwater because we were all … when the Southern Vectis buses came in, we were all going and I got off at Forest Road and Maryann was picked up at Betty Aunt Lane, that area and parents came and picked her up to take her home and then we had Dianne who was further along but she was in Byalls Farm, Mr and Mrs Byalls but it was Maryann that I was more friendly with only because she was nearer and we used to … you know, father, two men used to converse with each other and …
50 minutes 49 Seconds
Lisa: So those of you that lived outside of Carisbrooke then, came into school by bus.
Ruth: Yes. Or I walked it, walked home if you know if anything else happened and I had a friend in Priory Road in Carisbrooke but if I spent too long, because I used to cycle as well … I didn’t have a bike until I was over 13, a push bike, so I used to walk down to her house and then I used to get on, but if you’re chattering and time went by, I still had to go home and do the tea, get it all ready and sometimes mum was working at St Mary’s so she would either be going on night duty or it … I used to love it when I got home and she was on the settee wrapped up in a duvet and I used to make a cup of tea. It didn’t happen often but it was always her first night on and then the other nights was, you know, I used to have to wake her up and if she got woken up with us quarrelling, that wasn’t good because I used to get a slap (laughs). Robin didn’t, but I did. Yes, she used to have to do that and still get the washing in and, you know. Mondays used to be the washing day, not like now but I mean Monday was our washing day and we had a copper and a wooden stick to turn round the washing (laughs) and the starch and it used to come out really thick and solid. It used to be awful. You know when you look back you think they were really good days but when you’re going through them they’re not. You know if you’re told you’ve got to do something, ‘Oh I don’t want to do that’ but it was like oh we have got nice things to do.
Lisa: How much of the rest of the Island did you know about? Did you have much opportunity to go to other places around the Island or was life very much focussed on home?
Ruth: Well it was focussed mostly at home. On a Sunday, we used to go to Sunday School so it was Sunday School in the morning and church in the evening. That was the Sunday and also the Sunday School … I think a lot of Sunday Schools in that era, you had a day out as a summer holiday day, so we went to Sandown. We spent the day, you know, you went in … I think then we went by train ‘cos Newport to Sandown by train and then back again. And on the Sunday as I said about the cows going down to the Sunday field, and then we used to catch the bus to Porchfield and then it used to go into Gurnard and we used to get off and walk all along the coast, you know, the sea wall there and there was a place where we always stopped to have an ice cream and then we walked into Cowes. Then we got the bus from Cowes, back to St Marys and then had to walk all along Forest Road so that was that. Rare occasions, Aunty Dolly and I caught the bus one day and we went into Ryde. I’m just trying to think of …there was Betty’s Café. It was in Union Street and Union Street it was cars going both ways, the traffic was going both ways, and there was Chaplains. So there was Betty’s Café and then two three doors down as you’re going towards the sea front, there was Chaplains and it was Aunty Dolly’s treat.
She loved to go to Chaplains. You had tablecloths and napkins and it was just the bees knees as she would say. It wasn’t done very often. Obviously it wasn’t done every week but if Aunty Ann said to her, “You’ve got time off, you can go”, she used to take me along, so probably about 15, 16, she’d take me ‘cos I started going nursing when I was 17. So, yes, 17, that was 1959. And that is about the time that things were beginning to change at home so I left school end of July and started as a Cadet at Ryde Hospital, the Royal Isle of Wight County Hospital the Second of August. So I didn’t have much time from leaving school to going. They told me I was going to become a Nurse. I didn’t get a choice. And that’s where I stayed until Ryde Hospital had closed. And then I went to the private Hospital along Fairlee Road which eventually became the Orchard Hospital.
Lisa: You said that things were changing at home. Do you mean that things were changing for you or things were changing on the farm around about that time?
Ruth: Well things were changing on the farm and the saw mill, and as children you weren’t told anything even if we were 16 or 17, you weren’t told things about it so it sort of started with … they decided to sort of eventually sell the cattle and that and you know, I didn’t know what it was but I really felt because I was … my heart I think was in it I would have loved to have taken it over to be quite honest. My brother had no thoughts about taking over the farm or the saw mill when he left school and they gave him some savings to help him when he got to the age to be able to take over the farm and I thought … ‘cos he used to tell me he’s not interested in it and I said, “But I am” and ‘Oh well, I was only a girl, I wouldn’t be able to do all that’ so eventually and because of their father’s debts, they were having to sell off and the first two things was the White Houses, they were sold and eventually the field, which as I say is the Forest Side Nursery now. That was sold. I don’t mean within … it took over a few years, and then the next thing was the saw mill, that gradually … but then I was out of it. I could see it better when I sort of you’re outside looking in and it was heart breaking. And the other thing was, my Uncle Ralf, he died in ’63 just as I’d taken my Finals, he had a brain tumour and we had a lot of family die in the ‘60’s so that would have closed the place any rate. But it took over 10 years for it all to be sold ‘cos like I was saying about gentlemen’s agreements and we thought the lane belonged to us and it didn’t, so on the Land Registry that all had to be sorted out. Yes, there was a lot happening at the time. I mean you felt sorry for them, but Aunty Dolly stayed in the farmhouse when it was all finished with actually business like with the saw mill and the farm. She had downstairs and they made upstairs into a flat and St Marys … at one time there were two doctors that stayed there and another time there was physio or occupational therapy girls. You know, the looked after Aunty Dolly, well not actually looked after her but you know if she wanted anything or they always used to say goodbye to her, hello when they came in, ‘Is there anything you want?’ and first of all she wasn’t used to it, you know ‘cos you’re used to your whole family in the house.
I said to her, I said, “They’re only, you know, just giving you a nice little safety blanket to say that we are here if you have any problems” and when I used to go out and visit her, she used to say, “Oh, Jane came down today and had a cup of tea with me”, you know, and it gradually … and she felt more comfortable with them but the house still stayed there until 2010 I think it was when it was … we’ve got photos of it. The whole lot took 10 years to sort out because fields were sold and the money from the fields had to pay, you know, the Solicitors took all care of it but it was tragic really and now if you go up Forest Road, you will see that there’s three houses in the area where the farm was and the farm bungalow because my brother’s in one of the houses so he was given that. I say no more.
Lisa: It must have been quite sad, the end of an era I suppose.
Ruth: Yeah, I really felt it. I think it’s ‘cos my brother could get away with anything but I enjoyed working. As I said, I took it first as an adventure and I loved animals so but he really wasn’t that keen on it. He went and worked at a time … I’m trying to think what the butchers were called. I think they are Hamilton Butchers now but they weren’t then. But he went and worked in a butchers for a little while but he then went off to London to work and Aunty Ann thought that he would just automatically … ‘cos you did in those days didn’t you? Things were passed down and you had to continue and like I mentioned with Aunty Ann, she had a career in teaching and she was teaching I think it was Brighton way and when her father was ill, she had to come straight home, finish what she was doing, that she liked doing, and take up the business and look after … well Aunty Dolly used to look after her dad in the way that Aunty Ann would do the business. She didn’t want to have the caring side. I’m not saying she wasn’t caring but … it changes doesn’t it through life because that’s what they had to do. They had to give up whatever they wanted to keep the business going.
Lisa: Well, we’ve talked about so many different things I just thought it might be nice to draw things to a close, but maybe you could just reflect on your fondest memories of growing up on the farm?
Ruth: Well my fondest memories, as I said earlier on, about the cows, you know, grooming them, brushing them when you wouldn’t do that these days. You know, talking to them when father was milking them and also having times with Grandma. I used to walk home from school and she would be sat in the veranda and one of the doors and the gates were facing Forest Road and then further down by the milking parlour, that gate was by Forest Road. So she’s be sat there doing her lace pieces that she used to sew on some clean sheets and then they used to get sold as tablecloths and she would be there and I always thought she was looking out for me. After several years had gone by, ‘cos I used to think was she … she really was my Grandma because Aunty Emily had me, Emily was her daughter so she was really my Grandma so I didn’t lose out with her.
I used to feel that she was … I felt comfortable with her. She spoke to me as if she wasn’t trying to sort of make me feel awkward ‘cos sometimes things were said and I used to think ‘well, why are you saying that?’ I used to go and sit with her, have a drink of barley water (laughs), used to be a lot of barley water in the house and then I used to go down to home to, you know, start getting tea, do the mash potato, ham and peas or whatever mum had left out for me to do and that was … and she was a cacti person. She had cactus all round on the shelves in the veranda and I used to always look at her and think, ‘Oh one day’ and of course I’ve got cactus out in the porch there as you come through and when they were all flowering and then we had a couple of years ago we had a real frost and I lost them, but I know where to go and get some more, it’s in Godshill (laughs). But yes, those were the really nice moments ‘cos there is a very dark side of our family. I used to feel so safe with her. Didn’t, well as I say in there, that mum was always having a go at me. I used to wake her up if I shouted at my brother ‘cos with the hose pipe … in the window we used to have Siamese cat, and George, who was a mongrel, but the window was like already made into an opening for the cats to jump through and also for us to put the hose through to connect to the tap and we had, I think they’re called butchers sinks, very deep, and my brother came through and threw it and he missed the hole and of course he had a jagged side where he’d hit the glass and I picked the hose up and I went to throw it back at him and I said, “Don’t do that” and of course I didn’t realise that he’d broken the glass and I cut through my thumb. Mum came downstairs and of course my brother had scarpered and she said, “What’s the matter?” ‘cos I was peeling potatoes at the time for the visitors and of course there was all this blood gone into the potato water. She came down, smacked me round the ears and I was going ‘my thumb’. She said, “Oh it’s only a scratch” but really when she said afterwards, when she’s calmed down and that, she said ‘Oh probably you should have gone to Hospital’.
Lisa: You mentioned visitors just then and you mentioned that in your notes as well. Is that people that used to come and stay?
Ruth: Yes. We …
Lisa: You put them up.
Ruth: Mum used to do bed and breakfast and evening meal ‘cos her cousin at Sandown used to do it but she only did bed and breakfast and she kept saying to mum, “It’s far better just to do bed and breakfast” but mum became quite attached to people and they used to come every year and also one of the family that came, mother and father and Uncle Jim were at school together. He moved to Rugby so they used to come down for two weeks in the summer and it was just like an extended family so of course she wanted to do evening meal as well so that everybody was together. I used to have to prepare vegetables when I came home from school and also carry on in the holiday and she … I would be doing that and setting the table and things, you know, and changing bed linen and everything at the weekends so you had all that extra work but it was because there wasn’t enough money coming in from the farm and that so she took that on. Yes, every year, oh I used to dread it, but every year she used to start in … usually she tried to keep it to July and August but sometimes it was June, July and August because people used to love and come and see the hay making time, you know. Is that it?
Lisa: Thank you Ruth. I’ll turn the recorder off.
End of interview
1 hour 10 minutes 7 Seconds
Transcribed September 2016 by Chris Litton