Life After Tea


The stories below are all the work of Roy Church and it fits the heading of the page "Life after Tea" perfectly and is an enjoyable read--Thank you Roy

Life after Tea

 To read the stories please click on the heading

Introduction ----Sausthorpe

Leisure Time

Cottage Life

Beef and Tates

Muck ---and where it comes from

The Cast

Working with Willams

January 24 2012  

                        SAUSTHORPE - INTRODUCTION

Sausthorpe is a small village nestling in the Vale of Partney in the southern part of the Lincolnshire Wolds between Skegness and Horncastle.

Eileen and I lived in the village for some 18 months while I worked on the Sausthorpe Hall Estate from 1967 in preparation for my going to the Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester to read Rural Estate Management in autumn 1968.

The time spent there marked a point at which my career had, for the second time, substantially changed direction.

Both Eileen and I were conscious that we were having to make a fresh start with a complete new lifestyle. It was a time of uncertainty and hard work for both of us. James was just two years old and a year later we fostered Julia as a three day old baby, later to adopt her while I was a student at Cirencester.

Though 18 months within a lifetime is but a short time, my stay at Sausthorpe had a profound effect on my appreciation of agriculture as well as an understanding of people living in the countryside.

Historically Partney Vale which surrounded Sausthorpe had since earliest times been dominated by agriculture. Before the George III enclosures most of the land would have been open chalk downland subject to common grazing rights and would have been grazed principally by Lincoln Longwool sheep. Until late Victorian times sheep had continued to dominate the local economy, huge flocks being maintained by the Langton, Dalby, Aswardby and Harrington estates nearby. World War I had seen much of the lower areas of the vale ploughed utilising the steam power available which was in full use on the nearby fens. By the late 1960's there were only sheep on the exposed tops of the Wolds where the soil was too thin for even modern arable strategies to be effective. Latterly even these areas succumbed to the plough.

Sausthorpe Village very much reflected rural society of the time we spent there. The majority of the families in the village had been resident for several generations. Most of the men in the village worked on the Sausthorpe Estate or farms nearby. Most people lived in accommodation either rented or occupied as a condition of their employment. There were very few 'second homes' in the area despite its picturesque nature. Most of the womenfolk did not work other than part-time. Of the retired generation in the village; the men had almost all worked on the land and many of the older womenfolk had been employed 'in service' in various principal houses in the locality.

The Lincoln - Skegness road ran though the centre of Sausthorpe village. At that time the road had only recently become the accepted direct link between Skegness and Lincoln although there were still many local people who still referred to it as the 'back' road. The traditional route had been via Spilsby and Hundleby. Local belief maintained that the Hagworthingham road had been unpopular before the First World War, mainly because of the steep valley between Hagworthingham and Sausthorpe known as Cinder Hill.

In 1967 the village population of Sausthorpe was about 100. It would probably have been higher in Victorian times when rural families were large. The village had a small public hall known as 'The Institute'. This was a typical 30's built hall - cold - uncomfortable and rarely used. There was no pub or shop, the nearest shop being in the nearby hamlet of Aswardby where a backroom of a house served as shop and post office. The shop stocked only a few basic food/household items and made most of its income from the sale of cigarettes.

The Church which dominated the centre of the village was Victorian and, standing on the top of a hill in the centre of the vale, its decorative spire could be distinguished for miles around. Like many rural parishes, the former rectory was in fact larger than the church, indicating that it had been a very wealthy living in past times. The rectory was, by 1967, privately owned and the local Rector looked after several parishes nearby.

Sausthorpe village stands on a small hill more or less in the centre of Partney Vale. The River Steeping flows through the valley rising from several tributaries in the surrounding chalk dominated hills to the north and west. The main tributary of the river rises to the north-west in the Tetford - Salmonby area but much of the rivers flow comes from springs in Snipe Dales south of Hagworthingham village downstream of which the stream was joined by another tributary flowing northwards from the hamlet of Mavis Enderby. The Lincolnshire Wolds dominates the valley rising to about 350' above sea level both to the north and the west.

Although geographically part of the Lincolnshire Wolds, Partney Vale is very different in appearance to areas to either north or south. The landscape is much gentler than the windswept Wolds nearby as well as being an idyllic relief from the flat monotony of the Fens.

January 24 2012
                            LEISURE TIME.

Everyone on the Sausthorpe estate worked hard as well as long hours and moments of leisure were perforce few and far between, especially during the summer months. There were however occasions when for various reasons, usually adverse weather, we were occasionally freed from farm work.

Much of my free time was devoted to working at the cottage or taking Eileen and the children to Skegness to see Grandparents. Relaxing sunny days sitting in the sand hills of the southern Skegness sea shore with James busy paddling about the muddy creeks were greatly enjoyed by all of us.

Eileen's Mother and Father made the drive out to Sausthorpe on Saturday evenings in Jim's trusty Morris 1000 shooting brake. The general plan was that while Eileen and her Mother chatted at home that I would take Jim off for a walk or a drive finishing up at some local hostelry for a drink.

We drove and walked many of the byways of the southern Lincolnshire Wolds. Jim had a never-ending supply of anecdotes about the area or the locals from his wartime dispatch riding days. We visited places around:- Mavis Enderby, Bag Enderby, Claxby Pluckacre and Old Bolingbrook where we often wondered whether we were still on a public road. Inevitably the two of us often finished up in the Red Lion at Raithby.

Our first visit to the Red Lion was however less than prepossessing.

One of my work colleagues, Fred Miller whose wife ran the Raithby Post Office, recommended the Red Lion although he later said he only went there at Christmas time. Perhaps we should have given more consideration to such a guarded recommendation:

One summer's evening we drove off from the cottage and after a walk arrived at the pub about 8 o'clock. The door of the pub was open but there was no one in sight, neither clients nor landlord.

We took a stool each at the bar and I called "Anyone about?"

No reply - although via creaking floorboards we could hear someone moving about upstairs. There was a large antique brass fireman's helmet on the bar and Jim began to reminisce about his days as an Auxiliary Fireman during the War.

Still no one appeared and I called again.

Eventually an elderly man appeared and said rather brusquely.

"I have'nt pulled the beer through yet".

We decided to have a bottle of beer each meantime despite the fact that there was only a choice between Mackeson's Stout and Bateman's Dinner Ale. The latter was notorious and locally believed to be mostly water from the Wainfleet River Steeping with a taste to match. We had a Mackeson each. The landlord did not re-appear and after about half an hour we gave it up as a bad job and went back to the cottage.

When I was back at work the following week I told Fred that I did not think much to his recommendation. He explained that he had heard that Batemans (who owned the pub) had sacked the licensee and had appointed a new tenant.

When we visited the pub a fortnight later Eric and Margery Vaughan had taken over and the place was transformed. They were always very welcoming and provided an excellent range of beers.

The Red Lion became our regular Saturday night haunt and I often met a number of my Skegness friends there who greatly enjoyed the atmosphere of such a fine rural pub. Occasionally, for a change, Jim and I would visit the Blacksmith's Arms at Skendleby run by two middle-aged spinster Sisters. This pub never seemed to be bound by normal opening hours. It was also opposite the home of the secretary to the Skegness Sailing Club who was a 'fixture' at the bar and a great friend of Jim's. In consequence, visits there tended to fall into the category Mother-in-law called 'late' and we were at high risk of reprimand when we returned home. We also used to visit the Black Horse at Old Bolingbrook which similarly did not seem to operate recognised statutory opening hours.

One of the things I missed from Assam was fishing: The upper reaches of the River Steeping ran through the Vale of Partney in which the estate stood and that part of the river had a fine natural stock of small lively brown brook trout.

Aswardby water mill stood hidden behind a small wood some 5 minutes walk from our cottage. The mill had been empty for several years although many people in the village could recall it being in working use. When I lived in Sausthorpe the mill was in the process of being converted into a house. It had been bought by a builder from Norfolk who used to spend his weekends there during the summer while he worked on the conversion himself at a leisurely pace. He appeared to be in no great hurry to complete the project and obviously felt that working in such pleasant location was a relaxation in itself. The gentleman's name was Melton and he very kindly allowed me to fish the mill pool and mill race during the week when he was not there. In return I promised to 'keep an eye' on the property.

No one else fished the stretch of the river which ran through the farm and although it held several trout the banks were completely un-kept. Parts of the stream ran over gravel but much of it comprised sandy silt which grew copious quantities of weed. While I was skilled enough to be able to cast a fly accurately enough for much of the river; some parts could only be fished using a fly on a bubble float which could be floated downstream through the undergrowth. The other alternative was 'dapping': This method involved creeping along the riverbank and very carefully and quietly lowering a fly on to the surface in front of a waiting trout. Sounds easy, but there were many times when the trout would flash away when the fly was only about 2" above the surface. Fishing the mill race was much easier but the wild trout soon got shy. If one did not catch a fish in the first few casts the chances were that they were not going to take. Nonetheless I used to catch a number of trout during the summer which were soon back at the cottage and straight into the frying pan.

Cid Morris said he would introduce me to Felix Goodwin [Bobes's Great Uncle] who owned a smallholding near Partney which included an old brick pit in which, Cid assured me, there were some good pike.

Felix lived with his spinster Sister in a small farmhouse about 3/4 of a mile from Partney village. Felix had been a shepherd most of his life as well as running his small holding. His holding was all grass consisting of five small meadows that amounted to no more than 15 acres. Each field was immaculately hedged and was grazed by a small flock of Lincoln Longwools which till recently Felix had shown with great success at the Lincolnshire annual agricultural show.

Cid took me down to the holding one evening and, at Cid's suggestion, we took several pint bottles of beer in a large paper carrier-bag. Cid took charge of the bag. I was introduced to Felix and his Sister. Felix ushered us into the front room and we sat and chatted. Felix's Sister soon disappeared to continue her work in the kitchen. After a while she re-appeared and asked whether we would like a pot of tea. I was just about to say we had brought some beer when Cid quickly interrupted and said tea would be very nice. Tea was brought and Felix's Sister again withdrew. Cid passed the beer package to Felix who was clearly very pleased. It soon became apparent to me that this was the usual procedure when visiting Felix.

"She is a strict 'Methody' I'm afraid and doesn't allow anything in the house". Explained Felix

Felix opened the window and quietly poured the contents of the tea pot over the roses.

We sat and drank "tea without milk" from the teacups.

As tales unfolded it became clear that Felix was an extraordinary character. He must have been in his eighty's because when I said that I had been in the Army he was soon relating his memories of the Mesopotamia campaign and how he had been a sergeant in the First World War.

He also recalled days when the surrounding countryside had been dominated by sheep. He had worked on the Langton, Dalby, Aswardby, Somersby and Harrington estates as shepherd. He had been unofficial 'whipper in' for the local hunt for years.

As a boy he remembered driving flocks of geese to Boston fair. He had also spent time taking a stag turkey ‘on tour' to visit local hen flocks. He had won numerous championships with his Lincoln Longwool sheep as evidenced by several well polished silver cups on the sitting room  mantle piece. He had never married but had three sons all of whom seemed to have done well in life.

It was dark by the time we put the empty beer bottles back into the paper carrier and having made our goodbyes to Felix's Sister, thanking her for the tea drove our way unsteadily home.

Felix was quite happy to let me fish the brick pit on his land.

Sadly, later that summer Cid called on me at home to say that Felix had suddenly collapsed and died. Would I mind helping him get the coffin down from the bedroom so the undertaker could put in hand the necessary arrangements for the funeral?

I duly volunteered and climbed on the back of Cid's tractor.

Felix was laid in the coffin in the bedroom supported by two chairs. His Sister asked whether we would screw the lid down and place the coffin in the sitting room.

Cid soon had the lid fastened and we tried to decide how we were going to get the coffin down the stairs. Like stairs in many old Lincolnshire small farmhouses and cottages the stairs were not only very narrow but had a 'dog leg' at the top and bottom. Obviously the empty coffin had been brought up the stairs in a near vertical position.

Jeff Howsham also arrived to help.

We struggled away and very soon had the coffin jammed firmly in the stairwell. We were all making a great effort to get the coffin down the stairs. Cid and Jeff were at the front ('downhill') with most of the weight.

"Phew! Wait a mo' Roy. I need a breather." gasped Cid.

As we stood there getting 'second wind' Cid said thoughtfully to the coffin.

"Felix you were always an awkward old sod when you were alive but I'm buggered if you're not worse now you're dead mate"

Jeff said nothing but looked a bit shocked.

Perhaps it was Cid's way of expressing respect!

Felix's Sister continued to live in the farmhouse and let the land.

I did fish the pit several times and although I never caught the pike Cid promised I landed a perch on a spinner which tipped the scales over 3 lb. I took it home and James in particular thought it was a monster.

It too went into the frying pan.

In the winter I promised to take Cid pike spinning down on the Boston fen.

I found my old Assam fishing spoons and spent an evening 'Brasso'ing' them up.

On a bright Sunday November morning Cid and I drove down to the Hob Hole drain at Midville in the East Fen. A less picturesque surrounding in which to fish would be difficult to imagine. The area is flat, treeless and totally featureless apart from the hazy distant outline of the Lincolnshire Wolds to the north and Boston 'Stump' to the south. It is an area of intensive arable cultivation. There are no hedges - only deep dykes as field boundaries. The Hob Hole Drain starts from near the Wolds and runs absolutely straight due south into the River Witham Haven below Boston. It is a 20 mile long stretch of water interrupted only by a pumping station at Lade Bank near Old Leake. The width at the upper end is about 25' and at the outfall it is about 50'. The water course is entirely man made. The East Fen was one of the last areas to be effectively drained in the late 1890's. Indeed I understand that much of the area was only finally brought into cultivation during the First World War.

Cid and I drove along the road that formed the eastern bank of the drain wondering where to start. There was a light breeze blowing from the east which gently ruffled the surface. Conditions looked ideal for spinning. Our intention was to walk down a length of the drain spinning as we went and to move the car along from time to time. Cid sensibly suggested that we start from near the Duke of Wellington pub. This was an isolated pub on the banks of the drain.

We tackled up and were soon casting lures over the water. Second cast Cid had a small pike on and almost immediately I also struck into one. We soon had both fish on the bank and then returned the fish to the water. Almost immediately we caught two more. In fact over the next ten minutes we caught 6 more fish. As we were landing the last Cid said.

"I reckon these are the same fish which we keep catching over and over again".

We decided that we would find something in which we could keep the fish. Before long Cid had borrowed a galvanised dustbin from the nearby pub [With the publican's consent]. This we filled with water and lowered into the drain standing it on the bed of the drain at near the bank. Over the next hour we caught a total of 55 pike. Most of them were small 'jack' pike but we each got a good hen pike. Mine was just over 10 lbs and Cid's an impressive sixteen pounder. In landing his fish Cid's reel disintegrated and we decided we had had enough fishing. We tipped the seething mass of pike out of the dustbin and retired to the pub which had just opened. 

We sat chatting over a couple of pints of Bateman's EB to the landlord and shared a local pork pie. After about a quarter of an hour two anglers who looked both cold and fed up came into the bar.

"Not fishing then?" said one of them.

"No" replied Cid non-commitally, "We've had enough".

"So have we" replied the other angler. "We've been live-baiting for pike below Midville Station since 6 o'clock this morning and haven't had a single touch".

Cid winked at me and ordered another beer.

We said nothing.

While most of the land in Partney Vale was under arable cultivation there was an extraordinary area to the north of the village of Langton. This was known locally as Langton Sheep walks and comprised a terraced steep south facing hillside covered with rough grass. It formed part of the northern boundary to the valley and must have been formed during an ice-age glacial retreat. Until relatively recent times the whole valley would have been used for generations for grazing sheep and only small areas in the bottom of the valley would have been ploughed. The Sheepwalks was an idyllic place for an evening walk and provided spectacular views south across the valley. Sausthorpe church spire stood out in the landscape below and it was just possible to make out Church Cottages with the naked eye. It was some distance from any road and one of those increasingly rare places (even in 1967) where there are no manmade sounds to disturb the perfect peace. The terraces on the sheep walks were very large and it was rumoured that the site had been a Saxon or Roman fortification. It was certainly easy to imagine some long passed sentry watching the approach of people in the valley below.  Certainly there had been Roman activity a few miles to the north (Tetford) where the remains of a Roman road could clearly be seen crossing the wold landscape.

Immediately to the north west of the sheep walks was a small hamlet known as Sutterby. For some reason, to which I never discovered the answer, the hamlet was known as Sutterby 'Dry Docks'. It was a continuation of the chalk strata from the sheep walks and had a small piece of woodland on the south facing slope. In this wood was a manhole covered with a heavy iron door under which I discovered a secret bunker built during World War II for a proposed 'Fifth Column' type operation. I managed to get into the bunker and found that it was all still in remarkably good order.

The Steeping River's source was in the chalk hills around the Salmonby/Tetford area. From the north ran a small tributary which was the famed 'babbling brook' penned by Tennyson who at one time lived at the vicarage at the hamlet of Somersby upstream from Aswardby. Quite where the Tennyson Brook became the River Steeping no one could tell me. The Steeping after traversing East Fen met the sea at Gibraltar Point where Father-in-law kept his boat.

North of Hagworthingham were several small pieces of woodland managed primarily to enhance the shooting and hunting in the area. Many of these were full of bluebells in the spring and wild garlic during the summer. Eileen and I use to take James and Julia to the woods where we spent many enjoyable hours pic-nic'ing. Just north of Hagworthingham off the Harrington road a bridle track ran towards Bag Enderby and forded the river where the children spent hours happily playing.

Long before our first Christmas at Sausthorpe Cid discovered I had in distant days been a church chorister. I was immediately ‘signed up' to his carol singing group. In fact everyone was signed up to Cid's choir.

Cid's vocal talent was limited solely to volume which he disported with total abandon to whatever was being sung by the rest of his carol singers. His view was simply that it did not matter how well one sang: If you did not make enough noise to rouse any particular householder it was all to no avail. Cid had a number of charities which he collected for and this involved visiting Partney, Hagworthingham, Langton and Raithby villages. Cid had no compunction about ringing up the 'big houses' in the area where we were often invited in for mince pies and sherry. Raithby was by far the most popular for us as we called into the Red Lion, (to sing of course!) only making an exit long after formal closing time. Cid even took us up to the Spilsby old people's Nursing Home at Hundleby - we did not collect money - simply sang for the benefit of the patients. Again we called in at the Red Lion on the way home. We had persuaded Cid to 'conduct' (only) in the nursing home but in the pub we just had to put up with his ebullience. Some of the pub's clients eventually agreed to contribute if Cid would not sing! Doug' Handbury let us have Jack's Doormobile for transport - on the strict understanding that it was his 'insurance' against Cid carol singing outside his house!

Despite the demands of work I managed to remain an active member of Skegness Rugby Club. The occasional bruise I suffered was regarded by my workmates as being yet another sign of my youthful eccentricity.

In the autumn I was helping Cid drilling winter corn. My job was to maintain a supply of seed and fertiliser so that Cid could work non-stop. I had to collect hundredweight bags from the store and keep Cid supplied as he progressed from field to field.

The previous Saturday I had had a particularly hard game at Lincoln and I was struggling with the sacks on the Monday morning to the point that Cid, setting aside the usual jokes about my rugby, asked me if I was o.k..

"Yes" I replied "It's just that I got a boot in the ribs on Saturday and I keep getting a sharp pain in my chest".

"Do you want to pack the job up?" Cid asked. "We're well ahead of what Doug' is expecting us to do."

As it happened it came on to rain a fine drizzle as a result of which Cid announced that it was 'not fit' and that we would pack up. In fact I had worked with him when he had been drilling in the pouring rain.

Cid advised me to go and see the doctor.

That evening I made my one and only visit to the local surgery during my stay at Sausthorpe. The doc' confirmed that I had broken a rib about which he could do very little (as Eileen had already told me) other than to 'mummify' my chest with several yards of sticky 2" elastoplast tape.

Cid wanted a full report when I arrived for work the following day and I showed him how I was trussed in yards of tape.

Among all the men who worked on the potato harvester; Cid and I had shared the doubtful distinction in the eyes of the women as having the hairiest chests of all the farm staff.

Cid, never to miss an opportunity to raise money for his charities, sold lottery tickets to everyone who worked on the farm. The winner was to help me remove the elastoplast. The tickets sold well and I received a great deal attention with requests 'to view the winnings'. Some of the female ticket holders appeared to be greatly enjoying the prospect of winning.

Luckily for me, it was Doug' Dickenson who drew the winning ticket and he was, thankfully, far too much of a gentlemen to put me to such torture!

Markham-Cook had three or four pheasant shoots a year when he invited his friends. In addition he had several lesser shoots when he shot with Doug, Roger Hawkes, the pig unit owner and neighbouring farmers.

For the grander shoots all the farm hands were involved. It became a highly organised operation on which the keeper's reputation and long hours of work were judged. For once 'Front' was not in charge.

Most of us were recruited into the beating party although early in the day several people would be detailed to outlying parts of the farm to act as 'stops'. The function of a stop, as its title might imply, was to prevent pheasants slipping away onto neighbour's land when the shooting started. It usually involved standing at the end of a wood if one were lucky - otherwise at the end of a sugar beet field exposed to the elements patrolling up and down conspicuously.

By lunchtime most of the 'stops' had been relieved and lunch was laid on at the Hall. In the stable block for the beaters and 'pickers up' and in the Hall for the guests.

A good spread was laid on in the old stables. Pork pies, Cornish pasties, sausage rolls and beef sandwiches together with a modest amount of free beer. Several of my farm mates were tea total. In the hall far stronger beverages were readily available to supplement the morning's many 'tots' from hip flasks while waiting for beaters to flush birds.

We paid close attention to the keeper's explanation that getting too close to the guns in the afternoon was not recommended practice!

Doug' usually stayed with the beaters and shot the birds going 'over'. I suspect he more enjoyed being with his men than some of Markham-Cook's more outrageous maritime guests.

Harry Markham-Cook was a very poor shot - before or after lunch. However, he plainly drew great satisfaction from providing a good days sport for his guests.

All the beaters got a brace of pheasants and a fiver as a bonus to our days pay.

Bill, despite his country upbringing, did not like pheasants and always gave me his brace which I gratefully accepted. 

Doug' kindly bought forward the date of the harvest supper held for the estate so that I should not miss it by my departure to Cirencester.

My last year it was held in the Shades Hotel in Spilsby. There were the usual speeches from Harry Markham-Cook and Doug'. Doug' invited contribution from the floor. Jack said a few brief words. Cid, despite a certain amount of barracking, said a few more and I took the opportunity to thank all of them for what had proved to be a very enjoyable 18 months at Sausthorpe. I had an anecdote for most of the men which was well received. Before everyone reached the singing stage [There was an old foreman called Front, . . . . . ] I once again expressed my special thanks to all of them for the manner in which they had accepted me into their midst. It had been a great experience that was to prove very worthwhile to my future career.

I said I should greatly miss their great friendship - and I did.


                                                                               R.C. 1998.


   January 23 2012

                                          COTTAGE LIFE.

Eileen and I found ourselves in new surroundings and with a complete new lifestyle after only a very short time back in England. We had married in November 1963 since which time we had spent only two short vacations in England and those very much in a holiday mode.

Life in Assam had been very different; an ayah to care for James, large bungalow, servants, gardeners not to mention a great deal of free time away from the tea estate during the cold weather which we spent enjoying the more remote parts of Assam.

We now found ourselves living in a very modest cottage on top of a windy hill on the edge of a small village in the southern Lincolnshire Wolds.

The cottage's formal address was, somewhat ironically, No.2, Church Cottages, Hagworthingham Road, Sausthorpe. Apart from the pair of cottages there was only a Victorian farmhouse and redundant farm buildings known as Johnson's Farm on Hagworthingham Road. Formal Post Office address our new home may have had but everyone in the village referred to the cottages simply as "Hagg Road Cottages".

Mother's enthusiasm at the Skegness salerooms had provided us with most of the household basics. Various other members of the family arrived and presented us with things they thought would be "useful" - which, I suspect, they generally had no other good use for. The rest of our heavy baggage from Assam was being freight shipped from India and was held up (we later found out) on the Bitter Lakes half way down the Suez Canal while the Arab-Israeli War raged. In particular we had arranged to bring home several Indian hand made woollen carpets.

The pair of cottages had, I guess, been built during the 1920's as farm workers cottages. They were brick built with the lower part pebble dashed. The front garden was very small and the front door only some 12' back from the edge of the busy A158. The front door which was glazed led into a small hall. Off the hall to the right was a very small sitting room which had an open fire. Indeed the room was so small that we had to specially search the saleroom for a three piece suite small enough to fit into the room. In the end we found a two seater leather settee and one matching chair, both pieces were very ancient with doubtful springs but very good leather. The stairs led up from the hall to three bedrooms, a larger one at the front and two small rooms at the back of the cottage The hall led into the living room. This room faced north and was the main room of the house. The room was dominated by a cream coloured enamelled solid fuel range with a back boiler. The backdoor of the cottage led into the living room via a 5' x 5' rear vestibule which although very useful as a cloak room did little to stop the cold north winds that blew against the rear of the cottage. Off the living room had been added a flat roof structure during the recent modernisation. The extension comprised a bathroom with toilet and an intervening space between the bathroom and the living room somewhat ambitiously referred to by Doug' as a kitchenette. The water could be heated by an immersion heater when the back boiler was not in use. The cottage had been decorated when it had been modernised. Magnolia emulsion with white paintwork throughout.

My Mother gave us a temperamental old black and white TV which sporadically picked up a signal for BBC only from the nearby Belmont TV tower via a roll of sheep netting hung out of the back bedroom window!

Prior to the modernisation the cottage had been empty for several months and even before that there had been a succession of tenants who had not lived there very long. In consequence, the garden was something of a jungle of docks, thistles, nettles and twitch.

At the rear of the cottage a set of outbuildings ran down the garden. Three doors led from the garden into outhouses. The first to a copper house (with no copper but the fireplace and chimney still in situ), the second to a coal house and the third to the former pail closet (distinguishable by the ventilation space on the top of the door and the remains of a galvanised bucket among the garden undergrowth).

James, being an increasingly mobile 2 year old; the first priority was to get the back garden fenced. It had no fencing whatsoever apart from a timber post and rail fence between the cottage garden and the adjoining field. Stepfather supplied some stakes and a length of pig netting and I made a gate from some scrap wood we found at his former piggery at Addlethorpe. I had soon erected the pig netting along the field boundary and continued it across the garden about 20' from the back door to meet the end of the outbuildings of the cottage. Over the summer we gradually managed to make the enclosed area suitable for James to play in. He did however learn very early in his life to recognise nettles! The grassed area was in fact mostly couch grass but we kept it mowed and it served its purpose as a back garden and play area quite adequately. I was given a small push mower and managed to get the front lawn (all 6' x 10' of it) looking moderately respectable. The rear garden beyond the fencing was more of a problem. I borrowed a scythe and mowed down the undergrowth which I burned in a massive bonfire which greatly impressed my small Son (though less so Bill and Margaret next door). Having purchased a garden fork and spade at Tong's of Spilsby I set to work to remove most of the roots of the more pernicious weeds. Bill watched closely and encouraged my efforts. After I had made some progress with the reclamation he suggested I ask Doug' whether I could borrow the farm rotovator.

Doug' agreed.

The next available evening I had my Fergi' roaring away in the garden and managed to cultivate the whole area beyond the pig netting fence to a depth of about 3". Bill, of course, had been 'foreman' for the occasion and had supervised the whole operation. When I thought I had done what I considered an excellent job, Bill suggested that I should cultivate the whole area again; but much deeper. I reset the rotovator depth control and the tractor was soon labouring under near maximum load. James watched wide-eyed while gripping the netting fence as the smoke blew out of the tractor exhaust in a roaring column. All went well, till, about half way down the garden, the cultivator obviously struck something buried in the earth. Immediately one of the back wheels of the tractor dropped into a large hole that had suddenly opened up. The tractor was leaning over at a crazy angle which, if it had not been supported by the rotovator, would have meant the tractor turning over.

Bill came over and announced:

"Oh, I forgot to tell you there is a well there which we covered over years ago with railway sleepers".

Bill fetched his Nuffield and a chain and very soon we recovered my tractor. I replaced the sleepers which the rotovator had dislodged and reburied them.

While the rotovated land was available for planting the cultivation had also cut up many of the roots hidden in the ground and I spent the first year removing weeds from the whole area. By the time we left after 18 months the garden was quite reasonable.

The cottages had no garages. Not a problem for Bill and Margaret as they had no car.

The front garden was separated from the main road by a 6' high privet hedge. Right next to the front boundary of the cottage was a gateway into the adjoining field. The main road was considerably higher than the field and in consequence there was a slope of some 4' through the gateway. In addition, the road was at the top of the hill and so the field also sloped away from the gateway towards the back of the cottage garden. I had arranged with Doug' that I would keep my car in the field beside the cottage and he agreed that a 10' strip of land could be left uncultivated along the side of the cottage garden. During the summer this was a satisfactory arrangement but as the weather turned wetter, getting my car out onto the main road became somewhat hazardous. The only way was to take a run at the gateway and drive straight out on to the road. In practice this meant that getting the car out became a two man job - one to drive rally-style through the increasingly muddy gateway and the second person to stop the traffic while the manoeuvre was completed.

At the time my Mother was teaching Eileen to drive.

I discussed with Bill the possibility of my 'converting' the two piggeries (one of which was his) at the very bottom of the cottage gardens into a garage. The two piggeries were 'semi-detached' like the cottages they had served. Each had a sty about 9' square with brick walls. The front wall was about 6' high and in front each sty was a brick walled pen with concrete floor. I proposed to knock down the pen walls so I could use the concrete base to stand my car on. The brick rubble from the sty walls I planned to use to make a turning area as well as improve the track through the gateway on to the main road. Bill was quite happy, especially when I said it would be ideal for him to park his precious tractor on in preference to leaving it on the main road.

I carried out the work and even made the sty area into a garage (of sorts) by building straw bale walls on two sides and using the front of the piggeries as the third wall. The roof I made out of scrap wood plywood and roofing felt most of which I found lying about the farm. It was not elegant but it was practical. The only slight problem was that initially I had not had time to ram down the brick rubble which I had laid to make a turning area next to the 'garage' and, especially because of the Mini's small wheels, it was quite difficult to manoeuvre the car when turning it round. In addition, the pigsty pen concrete floor was about 12" below the level of the surrounding brick rubble. In practice however, I used to run the Mini into the shelter so that the front bumper rested against the straw bale wall.

In the circumstances I could hardly expect Eileen to extract the car from its lair, so, when Mother was due to give Eileen a driving lesson I would usually back the car out, turn it round and leave it so she only had to drive out through the field gate.

There must have been one occasion when I forgot to do so.

The green Mini's only pretence to luxury was a pair of backing lights set in the boot lid. These were switched on by an unsophisticated manual switch below the dashboard. Some time during the autumn I discovered, while backing the car in the Raithby Red Lion car park while bringing Father-in-law back from our regular Saturday night out, that the backing lights did not work.

Several days later I removed the light covers to find the bulbs smashed but no pieces of glass. This proved something of a puzzle till sometime after Eileen admitted that one day when Mother had arrived unexpectedly she had driven the car out of the garage and 'just touched' the post and rail fence while turning! During their driving trip she and Mother had driven to Spilsby and replaced the broken light covers - but had forgotten to change the bulbs!

The shelter was on the whole quite practicable keeping my car both dry and warm.

One morning I went to start it to find the battery totally flat.

Enquiries revealed that Eileen had let James sit playing in the driving seat (with the ignition key removed) while she had brought the shopping into the house. After his 'driving' he had left the lights full on which were, of course, hidden from sight by the straw bales! The first I knew of it was when I came to start the car. It was fortunate the Mini battery was in the boot!

At the end of my first summer when I received my Jokai (Assam) Tea Company bonus for the previous year I bought a brand new Mini. A 1000 cc model with hydrolastic suspension. That in fact was our only extravagance in an otherwise necessarily thrifty lifestyle. It cost £540 from a one-man garage at Hagworthingham.

The other arrival in the spring 1968 was Julia as a three day old foster child. I recall that on the few occasions I was not working evening overtime during the summer Julia regularly cried non-stop for a couple of hours each evening. Eileen was kept very busy. James had a Sister.

Our heavy baggage eventually arrived during the winter of 1967/8. We had carpets and ornaments of our own at last. Some of the items were water stained and the freight company instructed us to make a claim which we did successfully. Many of the items were of course irreplaceable.

Saturday afternoons were usually free from overtime as Doug' recognised the necessity of his men to have some leisure time as well as an opportunity for an afternoon's shopping. None of the wives of his men owned a car and many did not even drive. 'Second cars' were almost unheard of in such a rural society. Bill and Margaret regularly made their Saturday trip into Spilsby by bus and seemed entirely content to do so.

Initially I used to borrow tools from Stepfather for jobs I undertook about the cottage. Gradually however I slowly built up the necessary tool-kit by buying a single item each Saturday from Tong's in Spilsby Market Place. Tongs was one of those hardware shops which had the smell that only came from hardware shops. Spade, fork, rake, wheelbarrow, hammer, screwdriver, hand-drill etc. - my collection of essential tools continued to grow during the time I spent at Sausthorpe. Stepfather was always willing to lend me anything I needed but he advised me to always try and buy a tool for a job so that next time I would have my own. I came to appreciate his good advice over the years.

Apart from the hedge between the cottage and the road and a partially dead hedge on the other side of the A158 the cottage was totally exposed to the elements.

One of my first tasks was to erect a washing line. This I arranged to run from the end of the cottage outbuildings down the garden (or 'jungle' as it was then) parallel to the boundary between the cottage gardens. Ultimately, I planned, there would be a grassed strip under the line.

Almost the first time Eileen used the line there was a strong breeze blowing and she soon discovered the Sausthorpe practice of 'double pegging'. This became standard practice - often if she forgot, the item of clothing would be blown into the middle of the nearby field. The clothes were certainly 'fresh' after drying on the line in the garden [Apart from the days when we were muckspreading in the adjoining field!]

If the force of the wind was a problem for using the clothes line it was nothing compared to the problem of the wind forcing its way through the old sash windows at the back of the cottage during the winter. The back of the cottage faced due north and it was impossible to keep the house warm once the wind got in the north or north-east. First of all I cut some wooden wedges and tried wedging the windows to exclude the draught. This was only partially successful and although it stopped the rattling James had still to be at risk of being suffocated by blankets in his cot in order to keep warm in the back bedroom. At Father-in-law's suggestion we went for 'double glazing'. This comprised cutting a thick sheet of polythene and pinning it to the window frame. Round the edge it was necessary to strengthen it by putting drawing pins through tape. The day Eileen and I found the time to do the job the wind was once again blowing strongly from the north. We fastened the sheet of polythene at the top of the frame and continued to fix the two sides working from the top. By the time I reached the bottom of the sheet; the wind pressure had bowed out the polythene so much so that the drawing pins kept popping out. As fast as I thumbed the pins back in one place they popped out elsewhere. Fortunately in the ever-useful-box-of-bits my Mother had given me was a packet of  ¾ inch steel carpet tacks. Contrary to my tenancy agreement and Doug's instructions I soon banged enough tacks into the newly painted window frames to secure the polythene sheet. It proved a great improvement when we had completed all three north facing windows. The vista of the spectacular views on to the Wolds to the north was slightly impaired but the added warmth in the cottage was more than compensation.

During our first summer at the cottage I gradually reclaimed the garden and under Bill's ever watchful eye soon had some vegetables established. He always grew more plants than he required and generously gave me leek, cauliflower and Brussel sprout plants. We grew summer salad crops and carrots. I even found a root of rhubarb hidden in the undergrowth near the old piggery which I re-sited in the garden to make way for my car shelter. By our second summer the garden had become well established and we even managed a respectable display of wallflowers by the front door.

In what seemed like no time at all it was time to move on to Cirencester for me to attend the three year Rural Estate Management course. During the summer of 1968 we eventually found furnished accommodation on the outskirts of Cirencester.

Rather than take all the cottage furniture back to the Skegness sale room I offered it at 'knockdown prices' to my workmates on the farm who purchased most of it. I put a list on the Aswardby corn store wall advertising everything we wished to get rid of and almost all of the items were taken.

We moved in with Mother while Eileen and I cleared the cottage.

Once again I borrowed Stepfather's car and horsebox. Anything that we had not sold and which we did not want we burned on a massive bonfire in the back garden.

While we were clearing the cottage Bill arrived home for his mid-day dinner and came round to inspect just missing a chest of drawers that I had chopped up and was throwing out of the back bedroom window on to the fire.

"Cor mate, I wouldn't have minded that myself" said Bill.

"Well you should have bought it - it was on the list for a quid" I replied.

Bill stared deep in thought into the 6' high flames of the bonfire.

"Yis, I should've dun" he said.

January 21 2012

                                            BEET AND ‘TATES'.

The exit from my tea planting life in Assam did not go strictly according to plan:

Whilst on U.K. leave during the winter of 1966/7 I had attended an interview with Frank Garner, the then Principal of the Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester. Technically I was not eligible for entry to the three year Estate Management Course not having obtained the necessary two A level GCE's when I had left Gresham's. However, during the interview I managed to persuade Garner that in view of my farming background together with Army and Assam experience I would be both a reliable student and have both the capability and incentive to complete the course successfully. He agreed and I was accepted for entry September 1968. I gave him an assurance that I would find myself a suitable pre-college position to re-familiarize myself with the general U.K. farming scene. He explained that either I would have to be taken on as a premium paying student or work on a progressive estate as a farm worker.

After the interview, before Eileen, James and I returned to Assam I searched for such a post. The choice was eventually based upon the economic circumstances of the matter. Basically a 'premium student' rode about with the farm/estate manager who explained how the unit was run and gave an insight into all aspects of management of the land. For this privileged position the student paid up to a £1,000 per year in return for which he was either given a cottage or housed with the principal but received no salary. At the other extreme of the choice one worked simply as a farm labourer but with the understanding that the farm should be modern and using progressive methods. In addition the anticipation was that the student would be employed in all aspects of the farming of the particular holding. One was further required to keep a detailed diary on which a thesis had to be submitted after joining college.

While I might have fancied the luxury life of a premium student; the fact that I was married with one small child meant that I would have to earn a wage. I had some savings from Assam but these would be used over the college years and I also needed to buy a car. Premium students generally came from moneyed backgrounds - they were not married with a child.

Stepfather was quite certain that I should find what he referred to as a good Lincolnshire farm and work 'with the men'. His view was that while I might not always appreciate the niceties of certain management issues I would get a good understanding of how a farm worked in practice and that this knowledge would stand me in good stead for whatever agricultural career I followed.

How right he was. As an example (perhaps extreme) of a premium student; I shall never forget the exasperation of a farm economics lecturer being asked by a third year student, who had been a premium pupil, how a rotovator worked!

Eileen and I returned to Assam by sea via Bombay in early in 1967 with the intention of my working till September. I had been posted to Hukanpukri where I was in charge of the out garden. The main garden Manager was Mike Blakeway, a pleasant enough character though more committed to tennis meets and club life than being an effective tea estate manager. However, he largely left me alone to run the out garden which I was quite competent to do. Eventually, rumour reached Mike that I intended to start another career. Inevitably he discussed the matter with Jimmy Foster who was the Superintendant for the Tinsukia/Doom Dooma group of Jokai (Assam) Company gardens. While Mike and I got on reasonably well; Jimmy Foster and I were very much at opposite ends of the social spectrum and he felt my impending resignation was a personal sleight against his good name and reputation. Foster called me to his office and after a somewhat stormy 'straight talking' interview I decided to resign there and then rather than wait till after the monsoon. I had had originally offered to work on till after the rains in the knowledge that at such short notice it would be difficult to find a replacement. Mike appreciated my offer but not Jimmy Foster who, I suspect, had never forgiven me from earlier resigning from Lahaul Planters Club of which he had been Club President during my days at Jamirah.

So towards the end of May Eileen and I flew home with James on a Boeing 707.

Mother and Stepfather had established themselves for their retirement in their new bungalow at Wall's Lane, Addlethorpe near Skegness. My Stepsister, Anne still lived at home where she kept a number of horses in the former piggery on the smallholding opposite the bungalow. Mother kept some poultry but most of the land on the holding they let for grazing to an adjoining farmer.

Almost as soon as we arrived in Skegness Stepfather had found a job advertised on a farm which he knew. The farm was in fact the Sausthorpe Estate. It was owned by Harry Markham-Cook who had made a considerable fortune operating a trawler fleet out of Grimsby but had decided to quit the fishing industry in favour of farming and a country gentleman's image. Stepfather had at some time sold breeding gilt pigs to the estate although that particular Sausthorpe Hall pig breeding enterprise had subsequently failed.

I suppose, that, looking back, Stepfather was pleased that I had both returned to England and also that I planned to make a career in agriculture. He had often encouraged me to get involved with agriculture when I was younger in the long days when we had worked hard together on his two smallholdings.

I had only been in Skegness a few days when Stepfather drove me to Sausthorpe to meet Douglas Handbury, the Farm Manager of the Sausthorpe Hall Estate. Doug' looked after the arable side of the estate comprising some 2,000+ acres growing wheat, barley, sugar beet and potatoes. Fourteen men worked on the farm under a foreman, Jack Smith. Having ascertained that I was prepared to do whatever was required as a farm worker Doug' agreed to employ me. He warned me that it was quite usual to work not less than 20 hours overtime on a 48 hour week. He took Stepfather and I up to a cottage on the western outskirts of Sausthorpe village which I arranged to come back and look at with Eileen before giving the final confirmation that I would take the job. Doug gave me the cottage key.

Eileen and I returned the following day with my Mother in her enthusiastic 'advisory role'!

The cottage faced south fronting the A158 Skegness to Lincoln trunk road. It was one of a pair and the westernmost dwelling in the village. It had three bedrooms and had been recently modernised. The modernisation comprised a flat-roofed ground floor bathroom extension with toilet and included an immersion heater. Outside there was a derelict piggery (also semi-detached with another serving the other cottage). There was no garage. At the back of the house was a copper house, coal hose and the derelict remains of the former pail closet - recognisable by its ventilation pattern cut in the top of the door. The garden was badly overgrown, apart from where the builders had recently completed the construction of a new septic tank. The cottage was situate right at the top of a hill and exposed to winds from all points of the compass. There were sash windows throughout and a cream enamelled solid fuel range that heated the water.

The couple next door were Bill and Margaret Sutton who had twin girls slightly older than James. We decided the cottage would be o.k. and accordingly I confirmed with Doug that I would take the job. I fixed up a start date about a week later.

Mother end Eileen attended Gale's monthly household chattel auction in the Tower Garden pavilion at Skegness and I was soon instructed to deliver the household items they had bought to the cottage. For this purpose I used Stepfather's horsebox.

I had meanwhile found myself a second hand car - an 850 cc Mini, green with a white roof - very basic - for £350. We had equipped the house for £57 which included furniture, cooker and some carpets. Every member of both Eileen's and my family descended with various hand-me-downs which they thought would be useful. We were nonetheless grateful. Somehow Eileen miraculously managed to sort it all out into a comfortable home.

Indeed we were very comfortable.

We received news that our heavy baggage had been held up on a ship on the Bitter Lakes half way down the Suez Canal in the middle of the Arab-Israeli War.

I started work on the farm.

My first job was hoeing sugar beet in a huge field at the Dalby end of the farm. It was cold and windy even though it was early May. Not only was it a change in climate for me but it was the first time I had been exposed to constant hard physical work for a long time - some change from cycling round Hukanpukri managing my 400 strong Assam labour force.

'Chopping beet'. Lesson 1 of 'Back to English Farming' proved to be that what at first appeared to be very simple, was however, like many farm jobs not as simple (or easy) as one originally thought.

In the late 1960's the seed boffins were still working on producing a sugar beet seed which produced one single stem per seed. When seed was planted in 1967 several shoots grew from the single seed. This required the surplus shoots to be cut away with a hoe. Hoes came in all shapes and sizes. Many of the old hands had their own personal hoes.

Jack Smith, the foreman, issued a hoe to me saying that it would be o.k. 'with a bit of sharpening'. In fact it was an English ('pull' as against the Dutch 'push') hoe. Its handle was very rough and the cutting edge both rusty and very blunt. My new farm worker colleagues muttered their sympathies and offered advice (and the loan of a file). Oil the woodwork with a bit of diesel and file a decent edge to the hoe being the most practicable of suggestions which I followed. Jack gave me a quick demonstration as to how the job should go and set me off next to Bill Sutton, my next door neighbour. Bill kept a close eye on my efforts in the row of beet adjoining his own and visibly winced each time I clumsily wiped out several plants in error. Gradually my performance improved and Bill's exhortations and reprimands subsided. The monotony of hacking away with the hoe while shuffling along the row I found mind-boggling. The field we were working in was very long and narrow; perhaps 100 yards wide and at least a mile long. Hoeing started at about 8 a.m.. There was a stop for "first bait" usually eaten at 9 o'clock under the shelter of the nearest hedge. I made the mistake (only once) of not taking my lunch bag with me as I hoed - by the time I had walked to the other end of the field to fetch it and back, the morning break was over - much to the amusement of my colleagues! There was a speedy exodus of personnel, each on their 'own' tractors back to cottages from 1 - 2 p.m. for 'dinner' when I would ride, somewhat precariously, on Bill's tractor's three point linkage. More hoeing from 2 - 5 p.m. and finally overtime from 6 till dusk. It was a long day and the art was to "go you steady" as Bill encouraged me as I stopped increasingly frequently as the day wore on to massage my aching joints.

After a week's chopping and gapping Eileen complained that I shuffled across the bed in my sleep!

Bill Sutton, my next door neighbour was in fact only some 5 years older than me but looked considerably older. Most people would have judged him to be 40+ rather than still in his thirties. He had been brought up in Sausthorpe village leaving secondary school at Spilsby at 15. His wife, Margaret, who Bill referred to ‘Grit', was a local girl, in fact distantly related to Bill. Bill always wore a flat tweed cap. He had two; one 'working'; one 'best'. On the rare occasions he took off his cap he displayed thinning hair and a startling white forehead that hardly ever saw the direct rays of the sun. The remainder of his face was ruddy and weather beaten. His work clothes he bought from a second hand shop in Spilsby where he favoured suits with matching waistcoat. He bought several at a time and operated a 'mix and match' policy in his dress. Only during the warmest summer months did he go to work without his waistcoat. [Quote Bill "Doo'n yar carst a clowat afore the month of May is owwat"]. While the rest of the farmhands wore parka or reefa type jackets, Bill stuck with full length belted gabardine macs'. Bill wore both belt and braces. Bill had a front tooth missing in both upper and lower lower jaw. His gappy smile did not however inhibit him from sharing the laughter of his colleagues. His outlook was entirely centred on Sausthorpe; the farm, his work, his garden, his family and his tractor. I am sure he dearly loved his two twin daughters who were something of a tearaway pair. Margaret was not the most quiescent of wives and occasionally the sound of her raised voice would reach our side of the cottages. If they went 'away' on holiday they usually took a caravan or chalet at Skegness some 16 miles down the A158. Bill did not own a car; his Driving Licence was for tractors only. He had taken a tractor driving test in Spilsby - details of which he would keenly relate at length if given the opportunity. Bill's favourite Sunday leisure activity was to watch the traffic at Gunby roundabout - just sit and watch.

Bill was very particular about tending his neat garden which not only grew a profusion of flowers but also a good selection of vegetables. Despite the fact that he spent several months of the year cultivating and harvesting potatoes on the farm he took great pride in growing obscure early varieties in his own garden such as Duke of York and Kidney. It was a serious matter, sometimes of great controversy, among his work colleagues where the seed potatoes originated from and what fertiliser should be applied - not to mention the 'magic spells' necessary at planting to ensure success. One of Bill's great regrets was that he was no longer allowed (by the farm management in compliance with public health regulations) to keep a pig in the sty at the end of his garden. Bill would wistfully relate tales of huge pigs his father had reared and all the fat bacon that had been cured. He would recall how Sunday mornings had been spent processing round each cottage looking at pigs and feeding them a traditional bit of coal 'for luck'. There had been a Sausthorpe Village Pig Club. He was a great fan of steam engines. Indeed, it was only nearby steam engine rallies that ever tempted him to travel beyond Spilsby. In his boyhood he had started his farming career after leaving school by 15 working as a labourer for an agricultural contractor who took thrashing drums round the district. The mention of steam engines could be almost guaranteed to bring Bill into any conversation. His enthusiasm was recognised amongst his workmates in that he was universally known by the nic-name of "Steamer".

Late one afternoon Jack arrived on to the sugar beet field at his usual breakneck speed in the farm's battered Bedford Doormobile [How he never got his arm severed by the door slamming shut when he rammed on the brakes I shall never know] He called Bill Sutton and myself over to the van.

"You'll be glad to know I've got a new job for you two" He announced. I was relieved to be doing anything in preference to chopping out more beet. Bill had noticeably less enthusiasm; 'Whistling' Jack Smith's sense of humour he knew from years experience.

"You're to go irrigating 'tates' in the Church field near your cottage. You need to spend to-night getting the pump set up and laying out the pipes for an early start to-morrow at 5 a.m."

My immediate thoughts were that Lesson II - Irrigating 'tates', was, if nothing else, going to yield good overtime. Bill meanwhile looked very unhappy and asked Jack.

"Which tractor will we be using on the pump?"

"Use your Nuffield Bill and you can use the spare Fergie for running about and going to and from home on"

At this Bill sighed audibly but looked resigned.

I followed Bill's gleaming Nuffield and drove up to the Sausthorpe Church Farm buildings where I got the pump out of the barn. The Fergi which soon became 'my' tractor, was the odd job/farm runabout - very beaten up, unwashed, rarely serviced and generally neglected - unlike Bill's Nuffield. Bill cared lovingly for his tractor and had long meaningful conversations with 'her'. When he went home on the Nuffield he would always spend several minutes polishing it while his wife Margaret got his lunch on the table.

Bill and I arranged to meet at the bottom of the potato field. I would go and get the pump and he would go and get 'the old gal' filled up with diesel and make sure that he had spare lube' oil and distilled water for what he clearly saw as a long and heavy job.

Before dusk we had set up the p.t.o. driven pump on the back of the Nuffield, dammed the infant Steeping River and got the intake pipe properly positioned with the mains pipes laid up the field with a line of side pipes off each side of the main. It was 250 yards to the top of the main and each sideline was about 75 yards. Doug Hanbury arrived and was pleased to see we had got most of the work done but said we should call it a day at 10 p.m. We could get the system into operation to-morrow. Doug's A60 pickup lights disappeared towards the village in the gathering gloom.

Bill drove the Fergi' back to our cottages murmuring with irritation "This is a bloody thing" when he discovered only one light worked as we bounced across the potato field headland. He was plainly upset at the prospect of the job we had been given. He parked the tractor outside my cottage and arranged to call me in the morning for a 5 o'clock start. As we said goodnight I felt quite exhilarated at the thought of not chopping beet the next day. Bill was still fretting about his beloved Nuffield shackled to the pump in the late evening mist down by the stream.

"Hey up!" a voice shouted from my back garden.

Bill was stood there hatless and in his shirtsleeves thumbs hooked behind his very substantial braces.

I acknowledged his call and said I would be ready in 5 minutes. As I hurriedly ate my cereal and drank a cup of tea I heard the Fergi' start up.

I was soon outside sitting on the three point linkage which felt icy cold through my trousers. For once there was no trouble getting out of the field next to the cottages onto the A158. The sun was just rising and  beginning to peep over the horizon. We soon arrived at Bill's tractor which was glistening with the morning dew. Bill struck up the tractor engine and let it run for a while to warm up. Meanwhile we both clambered into leggings which came up to our waist, held there somewhat insecurely in my case by baler twine. The 'farm' leggings which Jack had supplied me were 'one size fits all' basis. Bill, of course had his own stowed in the back of his tractor. Soon Bill brought his tractor up to nearly full revs and engaged the p.t.o.. Initially as the tractor engine took the pump load it laboured to maintain the revs and the exhaust roared very loud in the still morning air. Bill visibly winced but became more relaxed as the water was forced up the mains and the load became more constant. After about 30 seconds the water reached the irrigation sprinkler heads which began their characteristic ticking noise as the heads rotated.

All of a sudden there was a 10' high column of water rising in the field about 40 yards from where we stood; one of the mains had come unclipped. The tractor engine, released from its load, revved to maximum and Bill made (for him) a lightening jump into the cab to disengage the p.t.o. and rescue 'the old gal'.

"Irrigat'in tates" turned out to be hard physical work. In theory, every 30 minutes we moved one of the sidelines 20 potato rows further along the main. In practice they often came undone for various reasons necessitating a good deal of sprinting through 3' high potato tops to the tractor to prevent a serious 'blowout'. Where the side pipes blew out there were often several clumps of new potatoes washed out of the ground. These were usually collected by us and taken home on the basis that (Bill assured me) left exposed to the light they would go green and be inedible. Bill and Margaret had a prodigious appetite for potatoes of all kinds - and figures to match

May 1967 saw wonderful hot days, showers and several heavy storms. We kept the irrigating going through it all. Doug', on one of his visits explained that the weight of the crop of early potatoes could double with irrigation.

"If the public want to pay good money for water, I'm quite happy to let them" he sagely explained.

Irrigating continued seven days a week 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. but Doug' agreed at my request that we could be excused working Saturday evenings. I normally arranged to take Father-in-law out for a Saturday night to the Red Lion at Raithby and persuaded Bill to shut the pump down at 5 p.m..

It had been a scorching hot June day and by the end of which we were, as usual, covered in mud and sweat. We drove home and I was soon enjoying a nice relaxing warm bath. Getting dressed afterwards I spied from the back bedroom window Bill standing in the bottom of his garden. He was waist-coatless, hands on hips, cap on the back of his head clearly looking perplexed about something. When I had dressed I went out into the garden. Inspection showed that the soakaway to the septic tanks had overflowed. The same soakaway served the septic tanks from each cottage.

As I approached Bill he announced the obvious. "The soakaway has flooded but its beginning to go down"

He then went on to say that we should make arrangements to have the land drain soakaway renewed to which I agreed to help as soon as we had some time.

Bill seemed satisfied with such arrangements but continued to Canute-like scrutinise the receding flood.

He turned to me and said thoughtfully. "Fancy us both having a bath at the very same time."

"Amazing" I replied returning to my cottage backdoor, only just succeeding in not bursting out with laughter. In fairness, Bill, of course, came from the tin-bath-in-front-of-the-fire era where one bathed only each Friday "whether you needed it or not"!

Bill and I stayed at the irrigation pipes for three weeks before two other men took over. Bill's first job on being released was to take his Nuffield to the service area in the machinery barn and give it a thorough service. I was returned to beet chopping just in time to (gladly) see the job finished.

My next job was to be part of a team operating a potato harvester. Apart from those potatoes Bill and I had washed out of the ground, Doug' Handbury was to be seen daily digging trial clumps of potatoes in the field we had irrigated. When to start lifting the crop was a question of judgement between the weight of the crop and the market price for early potatoes. Inevitably supply and demand meant that early lifted potatoes commanded the highest price albeit the crop was not at its optimum weight.

There were two potato harvesters, both single row Whitstead machines. The machines lifted tubers and tops and parted the tops which were discharged from the back of the machine. The potatoes went up an elevator onto sorting elevator tables either side of which stood three people who discarded clods, stones and damaged/bad potatoes. During the day the sorting table was operated by six local women who were employed on a temporary basis. In the evenings the sorting job was shared among the farm men. One machine was a year old and the other brand new. I was surprised to find that I had been allocated to the team running the new one. My job was to weigh and bag the crop. To do this one stood on a small platform some 5' x 8' hung on the side of the machine. The potatoes having been sorted dropped off the end of a conveyor into an automatic weighing machine. When there was 4 stone (56 lbs or half hundredweight) in the bag on one side of the weigher the machine diverted the flow of potatoes into another empty bag waiting on the other side of the weigher. As soon as a bag was full I had to remove the bag, tie it with a wire twisting gadget, stack the tied bag on the back of the platform, put an empty sack on the weigher and re-cock the machine so that the operation could repeat. At the end of field the tractor driver and I would unload the sacks. Each evening they would be collected direct from the field by the potato merchant's lorries.

In theory the system worked wonderfully. In practice there were numerous things that could go wrong: The women above me at the sorting conveyors could be forced to hold potatoes back while they sorted excess clods out of the crop (often when the harvester went through a wet patch in the field). When they let them go all at once the weighing machine would not be able to cope (or me). Sometimes the twist wires broke. Sometimes I forgot to re-cock the weighing mechanism after removing a full bag. Sometimes I did not get the empty bag on the machine in time and potatoes would cascade all over the platform. All such occasions would promote a loud chorus of "Whoa" to the tractor driver who would stop the p.t.o. that drove the harvester while order was restored. When the crop was light weighing and bagging was a simple job but as the crop increased the bagging operation became far more frenetic. Before the end of the summer the position would be reached when the tractor would have to go very slowly to enable the crop to be bagged on the machine. At this stage the bagging platform would be removed and the crop conveyed straight into tractor drawn trailers alongside the harvester. The potatoes were then stored and/or sorted in the store.

I soon found that "bagg'in tates" was yet another farm operation I learned to do like an automaton; similar to the experience I had had chopping and gapping sugar beet.

The women who operated the sorting conveyors on the machine were employed from among the wives of my workmates as well as some who had done similar casual jobs on the farm for many years. Some of the women would roll up in the morning in Jack's Doormobile with small children.

I recall one particular lady who had a two year old. She brought the child to the field each day. She had an old fashioned coach built-type pram in which the child was tethered being left at the end of the field in all weathers to either sleep or watch the harvester. One evening when it was time for the women to go home the mother of the child asked me to help her lift the pram into Jack's van. Till I went to lift the pram I did not realise that over the course of the day the bottom of the pram below the child had been filled with 'tates'. There was a good half hundredweight in the bottom. As I helped lift the carriage into the van the woman winked and said "Don't you tell Jack".

Jack, I suspect, was well aware of what went on but sensibly pretended he did not know.

During the day there were just two men on the harvester; Cid Morris and I. Cid was a hardworking pleasant character who occasionally let me drive the tractor as a change from the constant bagging task. This he did partly for my benefit and partly because he enjoyed the banter with the women working on the machine. Like most land workers they had an earthy sense of humour!

I was relieved to notice that Cid had as many calamities at the weigher as I did.

After about a month Cid was moved on to some other task on the farm for which he had some special skill which required his presence. Cid was replaced by Fred Miller.

Fred was 60 and had spent much of his working life as a tractor driver in the fens near Boston. He felt that he was a skilled driver and not a labourer and, unlike Cid, left the bagging job entirely to me despite the occasional suggestion from the women that he should change places with me for a while. Fred firmly maintained however that no one else could drive 'his' tractor.

Fred's wife ran the Post Office at the nearby village of Raithby. With the post office was a small village shop and the premises stood in about one and a half acres. Fred had been persuaded to plant Norway Spruce trees on the surplus land 'as an investment' and he spent much of his time anticipating the expected profit he was going to make selling them as Christmas trees. He was outraged when someone stole two trees (out of about 4,000). To this day, I think the culprit was probably one of the women who worked with us. They used to take great delight in 'winding Fred up' by asking whether he was keeping the Police on the track of the thief!

In those days I smoked cigarettes.

I used to limit myself to ten Player's "Number Six" each day.

Fred smoked a pipe which he fuelled with Digger Shag. This tobacco was a dark coarse mixture which burned with an unmistakable acrid smell. One day, for whatever reason I now forget, I had run out of cigarettes (and cash - it was probably a payday). One of the women on the machine used to roll her own cigarettes and agreed to give me a Risla paper if I could persuade Fred to give me some of his tobacco - she thought it most unlikely. In the event, Fred gave me quite a generous pinch of the leaf from his 'bacci' tin which the woman rolled into a 'sensible' sized reefa while the machine turned at the end of the row. Fred and I stacked the full sacks of potatoes and as he started the harvester down the next row I lit the cigarette.

It was approaching 4 o'clock in the afternoon, the crop was heavy  and it had been a long hard day. I took a couple of deep 'drags' as the potatoes started to tumble down the conveyor into the waiting sack. I leaned down to grab the sack and close the wire on it and the World suddenly spun madly. Next I knew I was laid on my back on the ground surrounded by potatoes. Much mirth all round! Perhaps that was why Fred's Digger Shag was so economical!! We finished the row before the women went home - highly amused.

Potato harvesting started in June with early varieties such as Arran Pilot and Home Guard. There were pink coloured Red Craig Royal's which had a specialist market in Northern England for fish and chip shops. Main crop varieties grown were mostly Pentland Dell and Desire both of which were put straight into two massive environmentally controlled stores and sorted throughout the winter. A few virus free King Edwards were also grown. How long it took to complete the harvest depended largely on the weather but the task was usually completed by the end of October.

As were reaching the point where the weight of crop would force us to abandon bagging the potatoes on the harvester I was having an ever-increasing problem with the automatic weighing machine. The re-cocking device was controlled by a crude spring. This spring operated a flap which redirected the flow of potatoes into the new (empty) bag. After many thousands of bags weighed the spring had become weak. Often it fell off and potatoes would cascade all over the platform. There were many 'Whoa's' to sort out the resultant mess. Everyone was getting fed up with the problem. On several occasions I had asked Jack to bring me a replacement spring. Each time he forgot.

Jack arrived in the middle of a particularly chaotic stop and got a severe heckling from the women.

He looked closely at the spring and said "Well you could bend the end over a bit to tighten it"

This we had already done on numerous occasions.

Undeterred Jack got a pair of pliers out of his van and bent the end of the spring re-connecting it to the weigher.

Not five yards further down the row potatoes were once again all over the platform as another paper bag collapsed under the weight of an uncontrolled flow of potatoes.

Groans from the women and Fred.

I ripped off the offending spring and threw it angrily with all my might into the middle of the remaining crop of potatoes.

Jack just grunted.

When he brought the women to work the following morning he had a new spring.

At the point when the crop came impracticable to bag up on the harvesters I was assigned to haul the crop to the store.

I had the beaten up Fergi and did the job with Bill Sutton. Even though we were only using 3 ton trailers my tractor struggled to manage the task. Several times Bill had to pull me out of wet places in the field.

There were 14 men who worked on the arable unit of the estate and each had their own 'personal' tractor. Two Fordson Majors, three Internationals, three Nuffields and the remainder were Fergusson 35's or 65's. My Fergi was the farm spare tractor which was also used for any front loader jobs Most of the time the loader sat in the yard. Not only was my Fergi the oldest tractor but it tended to receive less care than any of the others. All the other tractors had been 'personalised' by way of having full toolkits and the cabs being weatherproofed and generally made more comfortable. Some of the men had fitted radios and internal mirrors. It was unthinkable that anyone borrowed anyone else's tractor.

January 20 2012

                MUCK . . . . . .AND WHERE IT COMES FROM. . .

Towards the end of September as I was backing yet another load of potatoes into the Aswardby Farm store Doug' approached me and said.

 "Roy its time we did something about your tractor. I have arranged that you take it to Boston Tractors for an overhaul and refit".

He went on to explain that rather than have it as the 'spare' tractor he was going to have it fitted out specifically for loading work. By the late 60's the use of pallets was fast expanding. Commodities such as fertiliser and seed corn were increasingly supplied in 500 kg polypropelene sacks. Because the farm did not have the equipment to handle these items it was unable to take advantage of the cheaper prices offered for such semi-bulk supplies. Potato storage was also beginning to use pallet boxes in preference to bulk storage. It looked like my Fergi was going to do all the loading.

Bill was working with me and was most impressed with the prospect of both the tractor being overhauled and also me having to take it all the way to Boston.

As arranged with Doug'; setting out early one morning I drove the tractor the twenty odd miles to Boston Tractors, the Massey-Fergusson agency.

In fact although the tractor looked somewhat neglected it had not actually done much work. Many of the other men's tractors had far more hours on the clock than mine.

It was a cold and frosty as I set off for Boston and the tractor's cab was far from weatherproof. Despite coat, hat, scarf and gloves together with a little warmth from the engine and gearbox; 20 miles at full throttle left me near frozen by the time I reached the workshop. After about five minutes stamping round the agency yard I had just about restored my circulation when Doug' arrived in his pickup. I went with him to see the workshop manager and listening to their conversation it was apparent that my Fergi' was due for a very substantial (and expensive) refit.

The overhaul took about a fortnight during which time I was directed to various 'odd jobs' round the estate. These included helping the women grade potatoes in the potato store and clearing a fallen tree across the Sausthorpe Hall drive with the forester. I helped the gamekeeper repair some holding pens for his pheasants. Jack gave me an old butcher's bike for transport which was a very pleasant change from spending much of my time sat on a tractor.

Doug' took me back to Boston to collect my tractor. We went to the workshop office and while Doug sorted out the paperwork he said that I had better go and find my tractor and get started for home. I went into the workshop which was full of Fergusson tractors of all descriptions in various stages of repair and overhaul. There were several '35's' but of mine there was no sign. As I searched the workshop I spotted the remains of my tractor's muddy cab in the 'scrap' corner of the workshop. It began to dawn on me that my tractor must indeed have had a very substantial refit. The workshop foreman had been quietly watching me with some amusement.

"Can't you find your tractor?" he asked with a smile.

I had to admit that I could not; whereupon he led me to a '35' at the end of the workshop that looked as if it were almost new. It had double hydraulic rams powering an industrial type loader. It also had a new cab, anti roll bar, new driver's seat, new bonnet with headlights mounted on top as well as a floodlight mounted on top of the cab. It also had had power steering fitted and a heavy duty front axle. It had been steam cleaned and polished and shone brightly. The foreman showed me how the new hydraulic controls worked and how the loader was fitted. He explained there were a number of different pieces of equipment for handing different goods. Some of the bucket/hook fittings for the loader were to be delivered to Sausthorpe by lorry including a pallet hoist.

I arrived back at my cottage in time for lunch. Bill heard me arrive and spent the whole of his lunch hour, plate in hand, eating his lunch while inspecting my 'new' tractor. He was very impressed. Not all of my workmates were necessarily so impressed. Several suggested that it was 'not right' that the 'boy' of the workforce should have such a sophisticated machine.

Any excess of pride that I might have had was soon dissipated by Doug'. My first job was muckspreading. I was to load three muck spreaders. All those who thought I should not have the loader tractor suddenly changed their minds!

Although the farm had no grass, it did run a large herd of pigs. The pig enterprise was a separate company, albeit several of the directors were common to both farm and pig companies. The informal arrangement was that the pig enterprise could have as much straw as it required free from the farm and in return the farm would have the muck from the piggeries. The farm had little use for the straw and in those days most of it was burned in the fields.

[Jack Smith was in charge of straw burning - a job he loved and jealously guarded. It perhaps took him back to his wartime service days where he had been a sergeant in the Royal Army Service Corps.] As soon as the combines had finished harvesting in a field, Jack would fire it. His method was to dip a sack in diesel and/or paraffin, hook the sack to a piece of wire about 5 yards long and fasten the wire to the back of his van. Having made the crucial decision on wind direction and which way the fire would 'run', he would light the bag and drive slowly along the windward side of the field lighting the full length of the field. Jack achieved some spectacular burns with huge clouds of smoke rising into the sky of almost nuclear bomb proportions which could not only be seen from all over the farm but often from many miles away. Jack could have been singlehandedly responsible for bringing in subsequent legislation to control straw burning! He had several 'narrow escapes' while I was working at the farm having surrounded himself with a wall of flame. [Notable was his total absence of eyebrows at my first harvest supper!]

The pig muck hill was built up over the year. Usually Doug' 'sacrificed' a field for this purpose as by the autumn the muck hill could cover as much as three acres - it arose from a large breeding and fattening pig unit.

Jack Smith organised the muckspreading operation:

I was to load three tractor trailed muck spreaders. Manning the muck spreaders were Bill Sutton, Jeff Howsham and Doug' Dickenson. Jeff drove an International and Doug another Nuffield similar to Bill's. All three resignedly accepted their lot in a none-too-favoured job. The idea was that I should be fully engaged in loading the three spreaders and that they would therefore be able to keep going with the minimum delay. For the muck loading I had a brand new bucket with a hydraulic top grab. Double water ballasted wheels and cages front and rear were fitted to my tractor and a big new concrete counter-balance attached to the three point linkage. My new outfit not only looked impressive it also worked very efficiently. Three bucket-fulls and the spreaders were on their way back to the field to spread their loads.

Muckspreading was not only unpopular with the men on the farm but with most of the village population - especially the womenfolk and, more especially, on Mondays which was traditionally washday when clothes were hung outside to dry. The muck hill was in the field behind our cottage and most of the muck was spread (thickly) on the same field prior to a crop of potatoes. I now understood why, in the summer, sacks of Sausthorpe 'tates' left in the sun soon acquired a very characteristic scent. Eileen and Margaret had clothes to wash for small children and were keen to see the job completed without delay.

We spent two weeks spreading the muck and the job largely went without any serious hitch. The main problem was that the pig men tended to leave the baler twine in the muck and this would wrap round the spreader tines and eventually cause them to jam or break the drive chain. This necessitated thoroughly hosing the machine down and then cutting away the string. The pig men, of course, denied that it was them that left the twine from the bales in the muck without offering any cogent explanation as to how it might otherwise have got there. The other, somewhat more horrific problem, was that the muck hill contained carcasses of dead pigs. The pig men were paid a bonus to bury or incinerate any such casualties. Small suckling piglets were no problem in that the spreader easily ejected them out the back of the machine. There were however three or four quite large gilts which had died while farrowing. These too the pig men had quietly buried in the muckheap. These were just too big for the spreading tines to pick them up at the back of the spreader. Bill was luckless enough to get the first one. He spread the load but the tattered putrefying remains of the pig carcass refused to exit the spreader. When he came back for the next 'fill' we had something of a conference with Jeff and Doug as to how it would be possible to eject the pig without having to manhandle it - not a prospect that appealed to any of us. Jeff offered a solution. If it did not get chucked out with the next load of muck then he suggested as follows: If Bill went to the bottom of the field where there was quite a steep slope down to the Steeping Beck, he should run the tractor as fast as he could along the side of the beck and then without slowing turn uphill and keep full power on. He reasoned that either the pig would get flung out on the corner or, failing that, as Bill sped up the hill the pig would likely be ejected due to the spreader being on the uphill slope. Bill pointed out that there was a third alternative which was that the tractor might turn over. However, as an alternative to having to handle the carcase Bill decided to give Jeff's plan a try. Sure enough he emptied the machine - except for the pig. We all watched as Bill sped off down the field to the beck with the empty muck spreader bouncing wildly along behind him its spreading tines revolving at great speed. We heard him change into top gear and saw him pull the hand throttle right back. Soon he was flying along the side of the beck, large clods of mud and muck were flying high into the air. As he turned uphill the note of the tractor exhaust became harsher and a plume of smoke rose from the exhaust stack. Almost immediately after heading uphill the carcase of the pig was seen thrown some 20' in the air behind the spreader. Bill received a great cheer when he arrived back at the muckheap.

It was a job that generally had few cheers.

Bill was just relieved.

Thereafter, as loader, I had the added responsibility to 'search' the muck with my loader bucket to make sure I did not encumber the spreading gang with any further porcine 'booby traps'. I dug holes and buried the remaining bodies.

At the end of a fortnight's work the four of us spent a morning hosing down tractors, loader and spreaders. The final ignominy was blocking the workshop drain. Thankfully that was the end of the job for another year.

We had managed without a single visit from Jack during the fortnight!

It was about this time I had my only 'accident' while working on the farm. During the winter when the days were short there was very little overtime and tractors were garaged in the farm buildings. Mine was housed in a large open fronted shed at Church Farm some 5 minutes walk from my cottage. Because it took some time for the hydraulic oil to warm the hydraulic lift was very slow first thing in the morning, especially when during cold weather. In consequence I developed the practice of backing the tractor into the shed and then lifting the loader to its full height and locking the hydraulics off. This meant in the morning I could simply start the engine and lower the bucket and exit the barn. One dark December Monday morning (probably after an evening in the Raithby Red Lion with Father-in-law) I forgot to lower the bucket and drove off tearing a gaping hole in the asbestos roof and removing all the guttering - fortunately and more importantly to Doug the tractor was undamaged. To this day as one travels through Sausthorpe towards Horncastle one can still make out the new sheets of corrugated asbestos on the barn roof at Church Farm!

Part of my agreement for entry to the Royal Agricultural College had been that I would avail myself of whatever experience was available during my time working on the farm. Because it was an intensive arable farm the College Principal had stressed that I should get some experience of livestock. I approached Doug' Handbury and asked him if I could spend some time on the Sausthorpe pig unit. He met my request with something of a smile and asked me if I really wanted to. Did I know what I was letting myself in for?

He explained the background to the pig enterprise.

After Markham-Cook had bought the estate Doug had been appointed Farm Manager and they had made some attempt to breed and fatten pigs in a piggery left by the former owner. Doug had limited experience with managing pigs and the venture had failed to make any money. The estate was about to totally abandon the venture when a Harper Adams graduate called Roger Hawkes appeared on the scene. He had purchased a majority share in the practically defunct company and set about to rebuild the business. I had met Roger socially as well as occasionally seeing him rushing about the farm in another Bedford Dormobile that made Jack Smith's look like an exhibition model. Doug suggested that I should go and have a word with Roger before committing myself.

Roger, his wife Jane and small son lived in a house (formerly the gamekeeper's but rather grandly called the Dower House) at the back of Sausthorpe Hall.

As Doug had suggested I went round one evening to see Roger.

After some discussion, during which I explained to Roger that my Stepfather had for many years run a herd of pigs and that I had spent much of my boyhood working with him. Roger stressed that the enterprise was expanding and that all available cash was being reinvested back into buildings and new stock. He went on to say that he had got through several stockmen because the job involved not only long hours but hard and sometimes unpleasant work. He had ambitious plans. I assured him that I thought I could cope and we arranged that Roger would show me over the unit the following Sunday morning. In fact one of Roger's pig men had gone sick and my visit was delayed another week as Roger worked the Sunday in place of his absent pig man.

The unit was run on three sites around Sausthorpe village. A breeding unit on Langton Lane, a fattening unit a mile and a half away on Partney Road near Doug' Hanbury's house and another recently completed fattening unit in the village at Church Farm. The Langton Lane unit comprised several yards made from former agricultural buildings and a number of individual wooden sties for sows with litters at foot. There was a very basic farrowing suite inside the old farm buildings. This unit had evolved rather than had been specifically designed and a feed mill had also been installed in the former agricultural buildings. Everything had to be shifted by hand; food, muck and pigs - even the barley mill had to be loaded by hand from sacks. The mucking out was essentially with shovel and brush The empty and in-pig sows were kept in the yards on (very) deep litter. About 100 sows were managed in the unit.

The Partney Road fattening unit was converted out of former bullock fattening yards and it was possible to use the tractor scraper to clean the dung areas of the pens. The feeding was by ad lib. hoppers which had to be filled from sacks. It had an infamous rat population.

The Church Farm unit, being the most modern, was the easiest to manage. It could effectively be cleaned out with the tractor scraper and front loader only. The feed hoppers could be filled from outside the building direct from the back of a trailer.

When I told my farm workmates of my proposed move they were aghast that anyone would actually 'volunteer' to go and work on the pig unit. They regarded Roger as a complete 'slave driver' and pointed out that he got through a very large number of pig men.

Cid Morris summed it up. "You have to like pigs to work there Roy."

Cid said that Roger himself 'lived and breathed pigs'. It was a standing joke amongst everyone that Roger's sole topic of conversation and interest in life was pigs.

"I'm amazed he had time to get married" Cid unkindly said, "Jane must have been presented as a prize gilt".

Nonetheless, after we had finished harvesting the early potatoes in the summer of 1968 Doug released me for a three month spell with the pigs and wished me well.

My farm mates continued to be astonished.

When I joined the pig unit Derek Goodwin was both sole and head pig man. As I joined yet another pig man had just resigned.

Derek had been born and bred in Sausthorpe and was the third generation in his family to work on the Sausthorpe estate. Basically he loved pigs but found great difficulty in communicating effectively with people. Although only in his 30's he had left school at 13 on the grounds that the schoolmaster thought he would be better off working. Derek's literary skills were limited. He always got Roger (or later me) to read the instructions on feed additives and medicines. He rarely sat still. He smoked 40+ Park Drive a day. He started work at 6 a.m. and often stayed at the piggery when sows were farrowing though the night. Roger had long since given up asking Derek to keep a record of the hours he worked and paid Derek a 'special rate'.

One could never get Derek to discuss anything. His language was however basic and colourful. The 'f' word featured in almost every sentence.

Derek's nic-name was "Bobes". Given to him by Doug' Handbury.

On one rare occasion Roger had been away. In his absence Doug had agreed to ‘keep an eye' on the pig unit.

Doug was having a quick look round the Langton Lane piggery one day following up a complaint that Derek had (once again) left a generous trail of pig muck down the village street. Doug had tried to tactfully suggest that Derek ought not to overload the muck trailer and should generally try and keep the place a bit tidier. While Doug was talking Derek continued shovelling away at the back of the pens only acknowledging Doug's instructions with the odd grunt or nod of the head. Derek eventually stood up to light yet another Park Drive and said to Doug'.

"I need some bobes mate".

As an ex-WWII Squadron Leader Doug' was not entirely in accord with being addressed as Derek's "mate", and beat a tactical retreat wondering why Derek needed bulbs. Presumably daffodil bulbs - perhaps he had taken to heart the question of tidying up and was going to plant them along the track to the piggery. Doug thought it a matter that Roger might well sort out when he returned. However, each time Doug' went near the piggery Derek gruffly repeated his request - where were the f . .'ing bobes? - each time clearly becoming more aggrieved.

Roger duly returned from holiday and, as might be expected, immediately went to inspect the unit. In particular to see some recently acquired gilts in the farrowing stalls which were due to farrow. [Typically this was the reason why he came back from his holiday]. The farrowing stalls were in darkness apart from a paraffin hurricane lamp.

By this time Doug had arrived to report to Roger that all was well.

Derek also arrived and said to Roger "Mr Handbury didn't bring me any bobes"

Doug' said "Well I was leaving it to you Roger to sort out what sort of bulbs you wanted when you returned."

"What do yer mean, what sort of bobes? Fook'in light-bobes o' course!" retorted Derek.

And so Derek became 'Bobes' to everyone as the tale spread through the village!

Roger was always rushing between the piggeries in his mud spattered Doormobile.

I recall one day walking back to the piggery after lunch (Eileen would not allow the piggery tractor to be parked outside the cottage). Roger drove up Langton Lane to the A158 crossroads. As I walked towards the crossroads I could see that Roger intended to cross the A158 as he kept looking for a gap in the traffic in both directions. I could see him keep looking first right then left. As I got nearer I saw that there was a young Durok boar sat on the spare wheel beside Roger. (Roger's Doormobile only had one seat for the driver next to which was kept the spare wheel). I could not help but noticing how both pig and Roger kept looking right and left in complete unison!

I began my days working with Derek.

Even he could not understand why I had volunteered to come and work with him. He showed me his routine. We worked side by side and although Derek was slight of build I soon discovered he was both strong and had extraordinary stamina. Each day he would stop for a quick cigarette at precisely the same point in the routine.

Derek's machinery comprised one ancient T 20 grey Fergi' with front loader and one trailer. The only parts of the tractor that were not covered by an encrusted inch thick layer of dried pig muck were the seat, steering wheel, throttle and hydraulic control lever. The Fergi' was about twelve years old and long since in need of an overhaul. The tractor came from the vintage of models which started on petrol and, when they had got sufficiently warm, could be run on paraffin. Bobes's ran all the time on petrol and used copious quantities of cheap lubricating oil - most of which was emitted from the ever smoking exhaust. The electric start never worked but fortunately there was so little compression in the cylinders that starting it on the crank handle was no problem. It had neither roll bar or cab.

Apart from the sow yards the piggeries were managed as 'straw-less' accommodation. While this was not usually a particular problem during the summer. In winter however, because the dung areas on the Partney Road and Langton Lane piggeries were outside and exposed to the elements, then, during heavy rainfall cleaning out became very much a slurry operation. In recognition of this problem Derek had with great pride developed a special mucking out shovel which could scoop up a couple of gallons of liquid muck.

It was certainly hard work keeping pace with Derek but I was determined to complete my 3 months.

My cigarette consumption went up to 20 a day.

Roger, to give him his due, was quite happy to roll up his sleeves and get stuck into any job along with both of us.

I think Derek probably thought that I would not continue working with him. After about a fortnight he kept asking whether I was going to stay. The fact that I had explained that I had come to work for 3 months he seemed to either completely ignore - or forget.

Derek had travelled even less than Bill Sutton. He had been to the stock markets at Boston, Spilsby and Horncastle when he worked previously on another nearby farm as junior cowman. He had been to Skegness as a boy on holiday but "never fancied it" since. He went with his wife regularly each Saturday night to Spilsby where they played bingo. He had two small daughters who were at the local primary school. The rest of his outlook was entirely wrapped up in his work. He recognised every sow, most of them without having to look at its ear identity tag. He had an odd relationship with Roger. He admired Roger's willingness to step into the piggery enterprise and get it back to a profitable business. He could not however understand why Roger wished to keep expanding the enterprise. He seemed to be under the impression that Roger would require him to do more and more work and he worried whether he would be able to cope. It never occurred to Derek that the enterprise might one day grow to include sites away from the village run by other pig men.

The year during which I worked on the piggery Doug' had arranged to accommodate the unit's muck hill near Grange Farm. This meant a trip along the A158 to get to the muckheap field from all three piggeries.

One hot June Saturday morning Bobes was about to drive off with a load of muck when a delivery of feed additive arrived unexpectedly. Derek told me to take the load to the muck hill. The trailer was brim full with very liquid slurry and I had to drive very carefully to prevent it slurping over the side of the trailer, especially when cornering. I had to wait for some time at the junction of Langton Lane and the A158. Eventually there was sufficient gap in the Skegness-bound holiday traffic for me to gingerly pull out on to the main road. Even so, there was a large puddle of slurry left at the crossroads where part of the load went over the tailboard of the trailer.

It was downhill through the village and soon the old tractor was travelling full speed albeit only 15 m.p.h. - flat out. It was wonderful to feel the fresh air (a commodity in short supply while mucking out at the Langton Lane unit). However, the traffic soon built up behind me and before long there were impatient attempts to overtake me. One car in particular was aggressively driving right behind the tailboard of the trailer and impatiently kept blowing his horn. Pulling over on to the verge would have caused a major spill of the contents of the trailer and in view of the fact that I had less than a mile to drive down the A158 before reaching the muck heap field gateway I decided to ignore the motorist behind me. He however continued to angrily sound his horn. I eased the throttle back a little and slowed down but the oncoming traffic gave no opportunity for the motorist to overtake. I pulled the throttle control right back and as the old tractor lurched forward a huge quantity of slurry sloshed over the back of the trailer - all over the bonnet and windscreen of the following car. Windscreen wipers were totally inadequate for the job and the motorist had to blindly pull in to the side of the road. I drove on at full speed with the wind blowing pleasantly on my face. I stole a quick glance at the stranded motorist; the last I saw was him trying to clean the windscreen with a bottle of orange mineral water.

The summer of 1968 was exceptionally wet. Not only did the weather make mucking out laborious but the field in which the muck hill stood soon became very rutted and the muck hill spread like some giant amoeba over the field. The "hill" in muck hill seemed less and less appropriate as the year wore on.

I should, at this point, explain that the famed Fergusson System involved a then unique trailer coupling system. A hook, lifted by the three point linkage engaged with an eye on the trailer drawbar. The idea was to allow the tractor driver to couple up a trailer without dismounting. Up to that time most drawbars had used pins through jaws on the tractor drawbar but this system was slow and could often require two people - one to manoeuvre the tractor, the other to engage the drawbar pin. There had been many accidents with tractor drivers attempting to manage singlehanded.

As a result of the pig unit tractor's age the hydraulics were worn and the hook would only lift the trailer drawbar when the trailer was empty. However, in theory, once the trailer was coupled up it was locked in position by the three point linkage and nothing could go wrong.

So went the theory.

The rutted approach to the muck hill worsened as the year wore on. It was necessary to approach the heap at full throttle in order to reach the ever expanding edge of the heap. Without sufficient momentum one got 'stranded' long before one reached the tipping area. The tipping area itself was, by late summer, in considerable disarray. Odd loads having had to be tipped through necessity where the tractor had bogged down.

I was determined to get a 'good tip'.

It was a left turn off the A158 into the field so when there was no traffic I swung the outfit over to the right hand side of the road so that I could go through the gateway into the field almost flat out.

Apart from a large 'dollop' of slurry hitting the gatepost I got into the field o.k. and was soon tearing across the rutted stubble area towards the muck hill. I was concentrating on not letting the tractor wheels drop into tracks left by previous trips. Despite my efforts the tractor suddenly lurched into some deep ruts but I kept the throttle wide open. Unfortunately, the ruts were so deep that the trailer drawbar was ploughing a furrow in the wet ground between the wheel marks. All of a sudden the trailer drawbar eye was lifted off the very worn linkage hook on the tractor. The tractor, released from its burden, accelerated wildly forward. The only thing connecting the tractor to the trailer was the hydraulic tipping pipe. I cast a fleeting glance back to see the rubber pipe stretching alarmingly but saw that the trailer continued to career after the tractor. In an automatic reaction I applied the tractor brakes. In the split second I did so I appreciated that this had not been the most sensible thing to do as the trailer continued on lurching menacingly towards the now stationary tractor, the hydraulic pipe acting like some huge rubber band. I jumped off the tractor. The trailer collided with the back of the tractor and most of the load swept like a tidal wave over the back of the tractor covering the seat, controls and washing halfway down the bonnet.

I walked across the fields back to the piggery and told Bobes that I had had 'a bit of an accident'.

Bobes was fortunately highly amused. He came and inspected the scene and having sent me to fetch his leggings offered to drive the outfit back. He even suggested I give the tractor a hose down. That was its only wash it had in three months!

January 20 2012

                                                THE CAST

During my 18 months or so at Sausthorpe I not only acquainted myself with up to date methods of farming which stood me in good stead ever after but I also gained an appreciation of the attitudes and outlooks of everyone concerned with running the estate. It was a great change from the circumstances I had left at Hukanpukri where I had been managing some 400 Indian labourers. Looking back now I can appreciate my time at Sausthorpe. It was time very well spent.

I had been working some two months on the estate before I met the owner, Harry Markham-Cook himself. In view of his non-farming background he left the day to day management of matters totally to Doug' Handbury. He no doubt had continuing interests in the fishing industry and was often away from Sausthorpe for weeks at a time. He had divorced his first wife but their son Jo kept in touch with his Father and from time to time worked with us on the farm. Indeed it was when Jo was spending some time on the farm working a pre-university stint that I first had any conversation with his Father. Old man Cook was always very genial but one could not help forming the opinion that for all his pleasantries he was probably something of a tyrant in a board room. His greatest interest in the estate was planting trees and pheasant shooting. Indeed the two interests very much went hand in hand. If ever one required evidence of how shooting improves the environment of the countryside Harry Markham-Cook was an excellent example.

The 'Old Man', as he was inevitably known, used to drive round in a very smart top-of-the-range Triumph saloon. It was often seen about the farm with the gamekeeper sitting beside him with a spade and a bunch of tree saplings protruding from the boot. As the shooting season approached the Old Man would often be seen inspecting various release pens he had sited all over the estate. Some of the release sites were old pits, often in the middle of fields. In the autumn when the winter corn was starting to grow I spent some time spraying weedicide and fungicide and on several occasions the Old Man would un- expectantly emerge from nearby undergrowth, rush up to me and order me not to spray near the cover. When there were hard frosts Markham-Cook could drive his Triumph across the fields over the frozen ground and thus inspect all his release sites. Unfortunately he often got distracted at a particular site. While he would be engrossed inspecting or feeding his flock the sun would melt the frost-hard ground with the result that when he came to drive back he would soon be bogged down in the middle of a field of autumn sown corn. Several times I was sent on what Doug' smilingly referred to as 'Lifeboat Duty' to retrieve the Old Man.

The only time the men were invited to the hall was during a shoot and at Christmas when a number of us under the leadership of Cid Morris went round the parish singing carols collecting for charity. We were invited into the hall where the Old Man produced a huge platter of mince pies and generous glasses of sherry. Inevitably the call at the hall was usually the last of the evening. Cid himself could not sing a note in tune but was nothing if not enthusiastic and Martham-Cook was always very generous in his support of Cid's various charities.

Doug' was the ideal character for a farm manager. Always calm and both firm and fair with his men. He always gave me great support and was aware that I was regarded as something of an oddity by many of my workmates. At his invitation I often used to drop in to see him on occasions when I was not working. He would explain many matters on the farm, how he managed them and why he followed a particular course of action. In turn he was fascinated to hear how I had spent my time in India. Not only was he a good judge of men but he always treated me exactly the same as the others in dealing with matters on the farm. An attitude for which I was both grateful and very much respected his approach. I believe Doug had worked all his working life in farming, apart from a wartime spell in the RAF and had acquired his skills mostly through experience - not for him agricultural degrees and high theories of management. Most of what he told us to do he had himself done at some time during his career.

The farm employed 13 permanent staff as well as casuals during the potato season. Most of the men had worked under Doug's leadership since Markham-Cook had purchased the farm 8 years before. Whilst there were grumbles from time to time; generally the men worked very well together despite the great diversity of characters involved.

Jack Smith. Foreman.

Jack was well over six foot tall with a thinning crop of fading ginger hair which was usually covered by his flat cap. Though large framed he carried no weight. Many of his attitudes to work I judge to have been very influenced by his days in the army. He had a tendency to be somewhat 'regimental'. He walked very erect and one could always spot him in the distance striding purposefully over the fields. It was probably only the jests from his workers that held him back from allowing his military manner to more dominate his dealings with his men. I discovered that Jack had seen active war service towards the end of WWII where he had played a distinguished part. Like many servicemen Jack could only rarely be coaxed to talk of those times.

Jack was always cheerful. Even, when perhaps he was not, he continued whistling a selection of tunes known only to himself. Because of this he was known throughout the Spilsby/Partney area as 'Whistling' Jack Smith' to distinguish him from several other Jack Smith's in the district. On the farm he was known as 'Front': This reflected his rather military habit of completely subconsciously standing to attention in front of his men when issuing the morning 'orders'. 'Front' also had obvious rhyming connotations for unpopular orders and rowdy harvest suppers!

I always got on well with Jack. He often provided quiet encouragement to me when tasks on the farm became what he referred to in his Lincolnshire dialect as 'a bit constant' (i.e. boring).

As is often the way in life, Jack's son was the complete opposite to his Father.

Mick was 19. He had shoulder length hair and seemed almost physically attached the radio in his Fergi tractor cab. His main interest in life was his car. A two-tone four year old Ford Anglia with reverse sloping rear window and white walled tyres. Mick had lowered the suspension, put on a very loud 'straight-through' exhaust, fitted a twin-choke Webber carburettor and wide wheels. He was regularly seen noisily making his way at high speed along the A158 through the village. Unfortunately for Mick he was also often seen by the local constabulary and spent much time juggling the endorsements on his driving licence dished out by Spilsby Magistrates for speeding offences.  He neither drank or had a girlfriend. He was not committed to working on the farm, indeed he hated being given the more tedious jobs and did he best to get his Father to favour him with the more interesting tasks. Jack however, as might be expected, treated him exactly the same as the other men under his charge.

Mick's more ambitious style of motoring came to a perhaps predictable end one frosty morning on the A158 at the bottom of Cinder Hill half way between Sausthorpe and Hagworthingham. It was reported that Mick had been lucky to escape unharmed from his overturned car which had failed to negotiate the 'S' bend at the bottom of the hill.

The other young man on the farm was Walt Kerwin. Walt lived in Spilsby in a council house. He irregularly made his way to work each day, often arriving late, much to Jack's annoyance. He liked his beer and was frequently hung over when he arrived and any work other than sitting on a tractor was quite beyond Walt's capability or will. Because Walt had no transport of his own Doug generously allowed him to take home an old Nuffield which was about to be scrapped. All went (fairly) well till Jack received reports that the Nuffield was regularly being seen outside the cinema in Spilsby and the Kings Head at Partney where it was providing a much needed taxi service to Spilsby's young people. Walt was soon reprimanded by both Doug and Jack and it was not very long after that he was either sacked or handed in his cards.

Apart from Bill, my next door neighbour, Cid Morris was probably my closest friend amongst the men on the farm. Cid had been brought up locally in the countryside and had ambitions to better himself. He recognised the disadvantage of not having formal academic qualifications and unlike several of his workmates expressed admiration for what I was doing. Cid had a Downes Syndrome son whom he doted on. He recognised the plight of such children and was very active in various charities to support families of Downes children. His enthusiasm made up for Cid's lack of formal training. He always had some money-making scheme for the numerous charities he supported.

Cid was thick set with a magnificent square chin. He was approaching 40 with a shock of thick black hair. When, rarely, he arrived at work unshaven he reminded me very much of the Desperate Dan comic character. He had a great sense of humour and was something of a practical joker; not always appreciated by his workmates.

His specialism on the farm was corn and sugar beet drilling which he did over the whole estate singlehanded. He lived in one of a pair of cottages on the Partney Road. Jack Smith lived in the other half. Cid's wife helped in the house for Jean Handbury.

At the hamlet of Aswardby there were a pair of farm cottages opposite Aswardby Farm. These cottages were occupied by Charlie Motley and Alan Thorhill.

Charlie was a local man who had numerous relations in Sausthorpe village, Partney and Spilsby. Charlie was quiet and largely kept himself to himself. He was nonetheless a very approachable character. He drove the only crawler the estate owned and did most of the autumn ploughing. He had ambitions to be foreman but his wife also wanted a different style of life. She was attending part-time study at Lincoln to qualify as a teacher which limited Charlie's ambitions.

Alan Thornally was very much a man for his own company. His main job on the farm was to look after the main corn store and drier at Aswardby. Alan's appearance was dominated by very large ears which had earned him the nic-name of 'Cloth' [as in cloth ears]. Cloth was quite at home in his dusty store - a job that would have otherwise struggled to find any takers. The dryer comprised both bin and floor storage and while there were plenty of elevators etc. there was still a considerable amount of hand shovelling on occasions. Cloth rolled his own cigarettes which reflected his notorious reputation for being very mean. Cloth could roll his cigarettes so thin that it took considerable skill to hold them between his lips to smoke them. His workmates often took the ‘micky' out of him by suggesting that he could make a roll-up out of a single strand of tobacco! He was renowned for being literally tight lipped as well as tight fisted! Whether because of his smoking style or because of working most of the time in dusty conditions Cloth's lips were in fact very thin. Alan was in his mid-40's but his wife Joyce looked considerably younger than him which gave rise to many jokes and leg-pulls. His sense of humour was decidedly lacking which, of course, made matters much worse. His wife was one of the casuals who worked sorting potatoes.

Between Aswardby and Sausthorpe Hall there was another pair of cottages. These were occupied by Doug Dickenson and Jeff Howsham.

Doug was a gentle giant of a man. In his early thirties he stood over 6' 6". He drove a Nuffield by necessity as it had a very high cab which prevented him bumping his head against the roof which he did if he borrowed any other tractors. Doug was quiet and had a typical droll Lincolnshire sense of humour. His wife Margret also worked on the farm potato sorting. They were childless and both took a great interest in events when Eileen and I took Julia as a 3 day old foster child who we eventually adopted. They were both very friendly and sociable and took part in all village social events with quiet enthusiasm.

Jeff Howsham was related to a local haulier and was always considering whether he had made the right decision to work on the estate rather than join the family business. Jeff was a quiet man who never objected to working for days completely on his own. He drove an International. His wife worked at home piecework tying fishing flies for the famous salmon angler Esmund Drury who lived in the nearby Langton Vicarage.

Set back from the A158 between Sausthorpe and Partney was Grange Farm. The main farmhouse was occupied by Doug and Jean Handbury but the original, much smaller, farmhouse originally known as East Farm was in the middle of a redundant set of farm buildings set back from the road. This was occupied by the Water's family. Percy Waters had worked the farm for many years and had officially retired. This said, he still worked more or less full time; he helped the keeper, worked on the harvester during the potato season and helped Markham-Cook with various tree planting projects. Percy was a real countryman entirely content with being able to potter about the farm. From Doug' Handbury's point of view it was very convenient to have someone like Percy about. Percy was a widower who lived with his Son, John.

John had married Jack Smith's daughter. John's chief duty was lorry driver. The estate ran a Commer Comet which John kept immaculate with great pride. He delivered the sugar beet crop to the Bardney processing factory as well as much of the corn to local merchants. 'His' tractor was a Fordson Major.

Fred Miller I have mentioned. Fred was an 'outsider' who lived at Raithby. He was also one of the few people who had not been born and bred in the Partney area. He definitely regarded fen men as a superior race - apart from those who lived 'in the hills'. He took particular pride in his ability to plough or cultivate keeping immaculate straight lines down any field.

Fred had a wonderful Fen expression which he applied to working with younger men.

He would expound:- "When you've got one boy - you've got a boy. When you've got two boys - you've got half a boy. When you've got three boys - you've got bugger all!"

He illustrated the philosophy very well when he took me, Walt and Mick stone picking at the Sutterby end of the farm. Walt and Mick were very displeased to be given a job that was not tractor driving and worked without much enthusiasm. Very few stones got picked up till Fred found some old quart screw-top beer bottles under a hedge. He set these up on the side of the trailer and very soon stones were being thrown with great gusto, most of which landed in the trailer.

Despite the individual differences in the characters of the men employed on the farm I was amazed to find how well they worked as a team and how there was a terrific camaraderie between them. Much of the credit goes to both Doug' Handbury and Jack Smith. Doug was always very approachable to all his men and often arranged his supervision of the farm work to give the men opportunity to talk to him on a one to one basis He earned their respect and was always fair even when it might lead to unpopularity from some men.

 Decewmber 2 2011

This is the first story which fits the 'Life after Tea' criteria and it is a very good read--thanks Roy' 

                        Working with Williams.

I was 29, married with two small children and reading Rural Estate Management at the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester. I had a grant of some £1,200 per annum - employment during the college holidays was therefore most certainly an economic necessity. Eileen and I rented a small Cotswold stone farm cottage set in the side of a south facing hill a mile and a half westwards from the village of Daglingworth. The cottage was one of a pair, the other being occupied by the tenant of the surrounding farm - Longhills Farm. The farm bordered the woodland on the northern edge of Bathurst Park. The woodland in the park had been well managed for many decades and comprised much mature timber, predominately beech.

On enquiring of my landlord, John Bliss, where I might get some work over the Christmas holiday he suggested I contact  Graham Williams. Graham lived some half mile away through the woods at Gloucester Lodge. John described Graham as "a bit of a cogman"; a term with which I was unfamiliar and which John explained meant a man who worked in the woods as a jack of all timber trades.

Gloucester Lodge was the home of the former lodge keeper at the north west end of Bathurst Park although the Bathurst family had by that time long since given up employing lodge keepers in that remote corner of the estate. The lodge was then rented to Graham who lived there with his wife Rosemary and three small children.

The lodge stood in a grove of mature beech trees behind a wall at one of the entrances to the park. It had no formally demarcated garden as such, a 'natural' lawn at the front but at the back of the lodge one stepped straight into the woodland. The lodge was small and built in a mock Elizabethan style with external half timbering. Downstairs it had a kitchen and a living room only, upstairs two small bedrooms and a toilet. It had very basic plumbing and no mains electricity. The house was heated by a huge open fire in the living room on which giant logs continuously burnt. The fire had a draught control which comprised an airway through a channel of stones laid under the floorboards; this conducted a draught of air to the front of the fire. The actual control consisted of a flat stone which one slid over a hole at the front of the hearth to adjust the drawing of the fire. Despite this rather low tech arrangement the living room was subject to terrific draughts from under the floorboards when the wind was in a particular direction - the settee had to be strategically placed so as to prevent the carpet being lifted by the wind howling outside!

Graham kept a selection of 'well used' tractors and timber handling equipment under the trees at the back of the lodge. There were two or three old Fordson Major diesel tractors, a Whitlock loader, a couple of heavy tractor mounted timber winches, two saw benches and various other equipment including Garham's well used van.

Another item out the back of the lodge was a small generator set from which the lodge was lit. This was an improvement on my cottage at Longhills which had no electricity whatsoever. At Gloucester Lodge the small diesel generator sat in a small home made wooden shed to the rear of the house. The generator was not one of the auto-start models and required to be started manually. The shed in which it stood had suffered the diesel exhaust fumes for a long time and it was black to the touch as Graham's wife Rosemary often found out to her great annoyance.

Graham would be best described as short, round and jovial - mostly seen in overalls and sports jacket wearing a tweed pork pie type hat in which he kept the "emergency funds". He was a man who could turn his hand to any task and believed in doing so in preference to paying someone who might not do it to his satisfaction. He was a local man who had been brought up at the nearby Edgeworth Mill. He knew everyone locally and spoke with a strong charecteristic Gloucestershire burr.

During my first Christmas vacation I worked with Graham mostly pointing softwood fencing stakes or sawing down cavaletti poles. The former were either pine or larch but the 12' cavaletti poles were almost always larch. The cutting was done with a saw bench which had a rolling table cross mounted on the back of one of the Ford tractors. When we were sawing stakes, one of us would stand at the saw bench and point and split the stakes in half and the other would bring the material to the bench and stack up the finished produce. When sawing down cavaletti poles which were usually 12' long; one person lined the log up on the bench and the other stood the other side of the circular saw and pulled the lengths of wood through. Such jobs were paid as piecework.

In practice, the limiting factor to the speed of the work was usually the tractor or having to stop and sharpen the saw blade; I learned very early in my days working with Graham that it never paid to try and cut timber with a blunt saw. When cutting down cavalotti poles it was possible to get the procedure organised to the extent that the saw was in near continuous use - this was fine when we were using the tractor with the six cylinder Perkins diesel but if we were using the lesser powered tractor we had to take it slower to prevent the tractor engine from boiling.

When I had become proficient at stake or pole cutting Graham would allow me to take the tractor off to the woods to a site where timber had been thinned and operate the saw bench by myself at weekends during the college term. Doing the job singlehanded was however slow because of the necessity to fetch the timber and stack it up so that it could be counted.

With Graham's agreement, I used to take along one of my college fellow students - there were plenty, who also, like me, needed an additional income. One of such 'assistants' was a close friend, Angus Farquar. Angus was a dour Scot and despite being 'very careful' with his finances was always in need of funds. On an autumn Saturday afternoon Angus and I drove off to the woods, found a huge pile of thinnings felled for stakes. I split and pointed the wood at the saw bench and Angus fetched and stacked. Despite the fact that the timber was scattered over a wide area Angus worked like something possessed and kept the saw bench in maximum use. We were being paid 3d per stake and with every stake that went on to the finished pile I could hear Angus quietly keeping the tally as he stacked each item: "Five pounds three and sixpence - five pounds three and nine pence - five pounds four shillings............." etc. etc.! Before twilight descended we had cleared the wood of the thinned timber and naturally Angus was delighted with the result.

We drove back to Gloucester Lodge where even Graham was impressed with the fact that the job had been completed. We went indoors for a wash and a mug of Rosemary's tea. Graham said that he had a "few" cavaletti poles to be split if we would like to do them. I had plans to take my family out on the Sunday and was not keen to spend another day at the saw bench but once Graham announced that the piecework rate would be 9d per rail Angus became immediately unstoppable!

We duly got started the following morning. It was a wonderful bright winters day and we kept the saw bench at its maximum workrate all morning. By lunchtime we had earned over £5 each so I suggested that we pack it in for the day and adjourn for a pint at the nearby Sapperton Daneway. Angus however, was determined to continue so I left him to carry on by himself. When I met him in college on the Monday morning he complained of a stiff back and his only other comment was that he had learned that two men were needed to do a two man job!

The first 'serious' job I did with Graham was in Pinbury Park.

Pinbury Park is situate in the valley that runs between Edgefield and Sapperton. The steep sided valley was covered with large beech trees that from a timber viewpoint were well past their best. These trees were however eminently suitable for the manufacture of paintbrush handles and had all been purchased (standing) by Mr Harris of Harris Paintbrushes who had a factory near Gloucester. The size of the trees and the steepness of the valley made both the felling and extraction a particular problem. The matter was not made any easier by the fact that Graham had undertake to do the job during the Easter holidays when the ground was wet. There were only rough tracks through the woodland with shallow soil overlaying limestone brash.

We felled some hundred or so of the largest trees, brashed off the top and side branches and then set to extract the butts from the wood. Many of the butts were up to 60' length and over 3' diameter base. Inevitably, they often fell or rolled down to the bottom of the valley where the ground was wettest. A few could be winched relatively easily to the roadside, but many just dug into the rock and soil like a super efficient plough - especially the really heavy ones. For these we developed the technique of attempting to lift the butt on the three point linkage of one tractor and then winching out the tractor with the butt attached. The strain on the tyres, engines and winch cables was at times absurd - cables parted and came cart-wheeling back to the winch tractor. If you were operating the winch then the only sensible thing to do in such circumstances was to make an immediate run for it and take cover behind the nearest tree.

I remember on one occasion being on the tractor lifting the butt. The front wheels were some 3' above the ground as the tractor strained to move/carry the butt, Graham was winching away from another tractor about 50 yards distant and the winch anchor was being pulled backward while ploughing up a 3' deep trench. We had reached one of the main tracks through the wood and my tractor was in the middle of a huge puddle of water formed by previous attempts to get over the ground. All of a sudden there was a tremendous explosion and darkness momentarily surrounded me. The oversize rear tyre on my tractor had burst in the middle of the 2' deep puddle. We stopped for a tea break while Graham scraped me down! We did eventually complete the contract at 3d per hoppus foot extracted.

When I go back to Pinbury Park wood to-day it is now possible to walk up the track we made from near the Daneway public house. Most of the evidence of the Somme-like landscape we created has long been overgrown, although some of the remaining standing tree butts still show the scars of the winch cable where a butt "tried to get away". Down the bottom of the valley, hidden in the undergrowth, next to the water powered pump that lifted the water into the Thames Canal there are still however a couple of butts quietly rotting away. We left them till last but finally admitted they had beaten us.

Despite the foul weather of that holiday, which included snow showers, there were some very pleasant memories. Lunchtimes sitting next to a fire under a tarpaulin spread over a hazel coppice watching the spring sunshine pierce the trees. Clumps of snowdrops and the pervading smell of wild garlic that grew everywhere in the wood. In spite of all the noise and clamour of the machinery we occasionally saw deer and fox. The rabbits became quite blazé about our activities. One lunch time we quietly watched a badger, not twenty yards from us, searching for hoards of squirrel's nuts among the fallen beech mast.

The wood also has historic connections in that the original Oxford - Stroud stage coach route passed through the wood. Down near where the coach road crosses the stream is a stand of some of the oldest Norway Spruce in England

After that first year working in the holidays with Graham, Eileen and I moved on to Rodmarton where we rented a cottage in the village but in return for which I had to work on the farm for the summer holidays. The next time I worked for Graham it was the Christmas holidays again.

This time he had got a job near Winstone clearing the scrub on a typically precipitous Cotswold bank prior to replanting. Because there was very little soil on the bank; the scrub was to be reduced to mulch to help establish the new tree crop. For this contract Graham had hired a special piece of equipment. This comprised a 6 cylinder Ford tractor to which was permanently attached a very heavy duty high speed flail. The tractor had a special low ratio gearbox fitted so that at full revs the wheels only turned very slowly allowing the flail to process the undergrowth.

The outfit was supposed to be able to reduce to matchwood hazel and ash coppice also stumps where the stems might be as much as 6" thick. The front of the machine was armoured like a tank so that it could flatten any obstacles in the wood. The tractor was enclosed in a heavy cage and displayed over the driving wheel was a notice that (somewhat worryingly) simply said:- DO NOT JUMP - HOLD ON TO THE STEERING WHEEL. It certainly looked most impressive but I have to admit some relief when Graham announced that his insurance policy only allowed him to drive!

We took the tractor with winch to Winstone together with the specialist flail machine. The December weather was cold with snow falling as we set about clearing the scrub on a level piece of ground at the top of the bank. The new machine reduced the quite substantial undergrowth to almost pulp, an ideal mulch for young trees to be planted into. Most impressive.

The second morning there was a heavy frost and a 2" covering of snow. The tractor would not start so Graham placed a burning bale of straw under the engine to warm it through After a good 10 minutes, with flames almost totally enveloping the tractor, it started without further delay. Thereafter, everything I touched on the machine left sooty evidence of having done so.

Having cleared the flat area at the top of the bank it became apparent that the valley was even steeper than we had thereto thought. It was so steep as to be almost impossible to climb down even using the undergrowth to hang on to. The plan was to set up the winch tractor on the top of the bank on the flat area. To fasten the winch cable to the rear of the flail then to lower the flail unit slowly down the bank in a hopefully controlled manner. It looked horrendously dangerous and in an effort to make the undertaking safer we doubled the winch cable thickness. This meant however that we could not get enough cable on the winch to allow the flail to be lowered fully to the bottom of the ravine. The plan evolved therefore that we would clear a strip running along the top of the valley then put more cable on to the end of the winch cable which would allow us to clear the lower half of the slope.

After one or two hair raising starts we got into the routine and after three days were very pleased to have cleared a strip of 100 yards along the top of the bank with the cleared area running some 40 yards down the bank below which there was another 30 yards or so of scrub to be cleared. To clear the lower section we attached another length of cable to the end of the winch cable. The system appeared to work excellently. Only when we had to remove the additional cable in order to winch the flail back up to the top of the bank was there any problem. In this situation Graham would try and find a large growth of ash coppice to 'lean' the unit against while I unshackled the additional cable and ran the end of the winch cable down to him.

At the end of one day, after a couple of days of clearing the lower slope I was hauling Graham up the last bit of the slope, the flail was almost at the top when the winch cable parted without warning. There was only about 5 yards of cable out so backlash was not a problem. I looked out the back of the winch tractor to see Graham trying with all his might to stand on the brakes of the flail unit. Despite the fact that the rear wheels were locked, the unit slid inexorably down the bank, gathering speed rapidly over the upper cleared area. Graham gave up his efforts to brake the machine and concentrated on steering the machine in a straight line. We had both switched off our tractor engines. I jumped off the tractor and time seemed to stand still while I watched Graham crash noisily through the un-cleared undergrowth at the foot of the ravine.

After what seemed a lifetime, everything was still. I could not see Graham, only the swathe where the flail unit had flattened ash and hazel coppice on its route through the lower slope. It had ploughed on towards its final resting place, all was suddenly silent. After the roar of the diesel engines the sudden quiet seemed almost unreal. Rather hesitantly, I called out to Graham, asking if he was all right. After a few worrying seconds his ever cheery Gloucestershire burr reached up the valley:- "Yes" - (then a long pause) "Could you bring my spare trousers out of the van please?"

In the next Easter holidays Graham had a job tidying up riverside willows on the River Churn near Siddington on the south side of Cirencester. The valuable trout fishing was let to a syndicate who paid Lord Bathurst a substantial rent and the property was expected to be kept in best angling condition. This length of the Churn flowed though water meadows and the river was lined with crack willows which were long overdue for pollarding. In addition, the contract required we erect a two strand barbed wire fence some 5 yards back from the riverbank to keep the grazing cattle in the meadows out of the river, except at certain designated drinking points.

Graham's 'new toy' at the time was a Matbro tractor. A huge monster of a machine with a vast loader bucket. It steered by articulating the middle of the unit and had four wheel drive. Graham gave me a 'crash course' on how to drive this new gadget and we quickly got going on either felling, pollarding and lopping the willows.

The modus operandi was very simple: We took turns to drive the tractor while the other stood in the bucket suspended high over the river sawing off willow limbs with the chainsaw - probably not in to-day's Health and Safety manual! The stretch of river we were working on was about two and a half miles length and our plan was to do all the cutting. After this we planned to have a big 'clear up' with the help of the Matbro and burn all the top at one go. For once, the weather was clement and so warm that the farming tenant put the cattle out to graze where we were working. The cattle were no particular problem and ate all the newly emerging willow buds from the boughs we had felled into the meadows. A fire was started with several gallons of diesel, waste oil and half a dozen used tractor tyres and the Matbro piled massive amounts of trees into the fire. It all burnt wonderfully.

Many of the trees and branches however had actually fallen into the River Churn. So Graham decided to drive the Matbro into the river to 'bulldoze' the debris clear and convey it to the fire. Inevitably the river was deeper and/or muddier in some parts than Graham had anticipated. Before long he was stuck fast right in the middle of the river. Back to Daglingworth to get the trusty tractor and winch, while a rather oily Matbro gave the trout population a foretaste of modern day pollution. After a long struggle and much tearing up of meadows with the winch anchor we eventually got the Matbro out. Thereafter it stayed strictly on dry land.

The final job was to erect the barbed wire fencing along the riverside. Graham was determined for the Matbro to redeem itself and for once his brainwave came off. The Matbro bucket would hold about 50 six foot long fencing stakes. He drove. I walked in front. Every 5 yards, I would take a stake out of the bucket which I would hold point down on the soft meadow ground at the appointed spot. Graham would lower the bucket on to the top of the stake and apply downward pressure till I shouted "woa!" When all the posts were in the ground we ran the barbed wire from two coils mounted on the Matbro three point linkage. We erected the two and a half miles in three days - the basis of our tender had allowed for a week's fencing - so perhaps we paid for some of the Matbro.

The job however did not finish there. Some 6 weeks later, Graham had a call from the tenant farmer asking Graham to come and "finish clearing up after the job". Graham was somewhat puzzled as we had carefully burned ever piece of willow we had felled or lopped on the site. The farmer had not stressed any urgency and a week or two later when I had visited Gloucester Lodge at the weekend Graham and I motored over to Siddington. What had happened was that while the cattle were eating the felled willow shoots, other shoots had been trampled by them into the grass sward; most of which were now growing as thriving cuttings! A job for the knapsack sprayer and some 2-4-D.

Graham's reputation as a tree surgeon took him all over the Cirencester district. Many of the jobs we did with "dangerous" trees were, in effect, quite straight forward. Occasionally, however, some of the jobs that appeared straight forward were anything but!

We were called to a very expensive 'up market' residence at Stow-on-the-Wold. A large and venerable beech tree had clearly become unsound as a result of honey fungus attack. It was near the house. It was near the main road and it was near the owners greatly valued aviary. The 'drop zone' was thus very tight. I drove the winch tractor all the way to Stow-on-the Wold and was very aware of the customer's wife wincing as I drove the tractor across her immaculate lawn. I made matters worse by firmly burying the winch anchor into the immaculate gravel drive. We chain sawed a few of the lower boughs off the tree but the canopy was huge and impracticable to lop further. After much lashing of ladders and tree climbing we managed to get the winch cable as high up the tree as possible. I took up the slack on the winch and hauled in the cable so as to keep a little pressure on the tree to ensure it fell in my direction. Graham started up his saw and set it into the tree.

From the shavings chasing off the back of the chainsaw and the amount of smoke emitting therefrom it was obvious that much of the centre section of the bole of the beech was totally rotten. Without any warning, Graham's saw became stuck. I saw him sprint away from the butt of the tree, whereupon the tree pirouetted on the stump, in the manner a ballet dancer would have been proud of, and the tree fell right in the middle of a large timber shed in the aviary. The shed gave the appearance of almost exploding as wooden debris and golden pheasants burst from it in all directions. Graham placated the irate owner while I helped the owner's wife round up her precious birds. Miraculously not one of which was hurt. I guess by the time Graham had "allowed" for the aivery shed - that was another job we put 'down to experience'.

Graham went on to become a partner of the blacksmith Frank Baldwin at Rodmarton taking over the business when Frank retired. Later he outgrew the smithy and set up business in the former Rodmarton Ox Yard. His sons joined him in the business which moved to Cherrington where the business waxed and waned with the fortunes of commerce, ultimately growing appreciably. I doubt however if Graham now enjoys the fun we had from those days in the woods.

As for me, I have various skills I learned with Graham. Sharpening chain saws. Using a circular saw. Starting stubborn diesel engines.

I look back fondly to visits to beautiful woodlands which the public never see.

I am grateful for great memories of many hard days work together with the satisfaction of having done a good job.

Graham's was a valued friendship.

                                                   Roy Church  - 5th: February 1999.