Our farm in the 1940’s and 1950’s
One of my earliest memories is being carried on my father’s shoulders through a field of thistles higher than my head. We were unable to see out of the downstairs windows because of the weeds, nettles and brambles growing against them. My father, mother and grandparents were at Old Bradwell looking round a farm where my father was thinking of applying to be the next tenant. The farm was Home Farm in Primrose Road and I was three years old.
The Farm House
I loved our new house. It had large rooms and most of the time I was outside on the farm with the animals. At that age it did not bother me that there was no bathroom, that the toilet was a little shed at the bottom of the garden behind two fir trees, with a wooden plank with a round hole to sit on and a bucket underneath.
In the room we called the kitchen there was a kitchen range for cooking and a sink under the window for washing up, washing clothes, and washing ourselves. The bottom row of window panes was patterned so people walking along the path could not see you having a wash at the sink. We were fortunate in that we had a water tap over the sink. Many people at this time still used a well. I did not enjoy Saturday bath nights. The big tin bath which hung on the garden fence was carried into the kitchen and put in front of the kitchen fire. Water was heated in an electric copper, and transferred by bucket into the bath. I always had to have my bath first, and then go to bed so mum and dad could have their baths. When my brother was born he had to have his bath before me and even at this early age I disliked getting into used water. My mother put up with all these inconveniences and seldom complained and if we did she said we should be grateful for what we had, many people were much worse off.
However, as soon as he was able, my father made improvements. First we had a brick built flush toilet built just outside the house. The kitchen range was replaced by a modern fireplace. The sink was moved, to a room which we had named The Odd Room because it seemed to have no specific purpose. This room was by the back door and it became the new kitchen. We had a new modern electric cooker and later a refrigerator which was so big and heavy I was afraid it would go through the ageing floorboards. The far end of the room which had become the kitchen was partitioned off to make a bathroom and a big Sadia was installed over the bath to provide hot water, no more carrying water from the electric copper. By today’s standards these may seem minor improvements, but to us in those days, it was luxury.
Our farm was a mixed farm of just under 200 acres. The fields stretched from the centre of Old Bradwell to Linford Wood in the east and to Bradwell Windmill in the north. In those days most of the local farms were mixed farms having arable land, dairy and beef cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry. My father had three men working full time on the farm. There was a cowman who was responsible for the dairy herd and two general farm workers. All the family helped on the farm and relations would sometimes come to help at busy times. My cousin sometimes came to stay in the holidays and we played in the farmyard, in the duck pond and on the tractor and wagons.
In The Fields
A number of men who worked in Wolverton Works spent their annual holiday helping to bring in the harvest. Harvest was always a bust time on the farm. From an early age I was expected to help by carrying cans of tea to the men working in the fields three times a day. If they were working in the fields by Bradwell Windmill by the time I had walked back to the house after taking the 10.30 a.m. tea it was almost time to set off again with the 12.30 p.m. tea. They had afternoon tea at 4.00 p.m. and continued to work until it was dark.
When I was about 8 years old I was allowed to drive the tractor in the fields at harvest time. There were few health and safety regulations then, just common sense. The tractor was a Fordson with wide mudguards which you could sit on. It was started by turning a handle at the front. I was not strong enough to do this so one of the men started the tractor on petrol and I had to remember to turn it over to paraffin after a few minutes. My legs were not long enough for me to be able to sit on the tractor seat and reach the clutch so from standing up I used both feet to press down the clutch, then reached across the steering wheel to put the tractor in gear. The difficult part was letting the clutch up slowly so that the tractor moved forward smoothly. The tractor, pulling a large wagon, had to crawl along as slowly as possible so the men could pitch the sheaves of corn on to the wagon where they were stacked by a man called “the loader”. I felt very grown up doing this job and although I was absolutely exhausted by the end of the day pride would not let me admit this.
Another busy time was in the autumn when the threshing machine came. The sheaves were taken from the cornricks and put into the threshing drum which separated the straw, grain and chaff. The village boys used to gather round the threshing machine waiting with big sticks to kill the rats and mice as they fled from the cornricks.
Things changed when Dad bought a combine harvester.
Getting the harvest in became easier and less interesting. Fewer men were needed to do the work.
With The Animals
In the years immediately after the war my father built up a herd of pedigree Dairy Shorthorns. Every morning the cows had to be driven from the fields along the Bradwell Road to the cowsheds which were in Loughton Road, opposite the Big House and next to the Big House stables. During the school holidays this was usually one of my jobs. We had a sheepdog called Bunty who was supposed to help. She was a beautiful dog and very obedient, but not very good at driving cows. Fortunately there was very little traffic along the road in those days. My father used to enter his best cows in the local shows. I used to look forward to helping to prepare them for their big day. First they were brushed, shampooed, dried, brushed again and combed. Their tails were clipped and their horns oiled to make them shine. Then they were loaded into a cattle lorry and taken to the show. If they won a prize and had a rosette we would all be happy. The cowsheds were demolished so new houses could be built in Old Bradwell to accommodate the growing population of Milton Keynes.
At this time we had a fairly large flock of breeding sheep and every year we had a number of lambs which needed to be hand reared. These were my mother’s responsibility.
They were fed from a bottle and spent the first days of their lives in a big box by the living room fire. They became very tame and friends often came to see and feed them. They became real pets, some even got into the old armchairs, used by the dogs, to sleep.
There were many sad faces when the pet lambs had to go to market.
Chickens, Ducks and Geese
During the War years the chickens roamed freely in the farmyard and as a small child I always wanted to help at feeding time.
After the war my father bought an old ex army hut which was converted into a large chicken house. It was at the time when battery cages were becoming popular. The cages were in long rows, three cages high. Two birds were put into each cage. There was an automatic watering system and food was put into the long troughs so the hens were never without food and water. They laid a lot of eggs, but because they could not scratch and peck about as they did outside they became bored and started to peck each other to death. One day the postman left a parcel. Inside it were boxes of little red things. They were spectacles, which when clipped to the hens’ beaks were supposed to stop them from pecking each other. They were not successful and most of the hens were transferred to deep litter houses.
The ducks had a better life. They swam on the pond, laid a few eggs, and those who avoided the fox lived to a good old age. The geese were good guards and warned us if strangers were about. They often ended up as someone’s dinner.
We always had Christmas cockerels which had to be killed plucked and delivered by the day before Christmas Eve. My father, used to kill the cockerels and hang them up with a piece of string on a nail in the big barn. It was my job to cut the correct length of string and hand it to him at the right time. Now I would hate watching cockerel after cockerel being pulled from its pen and having its neck broken, but as a child this was just the way things were and didn’t think about it. Some people plucked their own cockerels, but my father plucked most of them. It was hard work and his fingers were always cracked and sore. If people asked for a dressed bird my mother pulled out the insides and got the bird ready for the oven. This was hard work too. I remember hating the smell.
The year after the war ended we began having annual seaside holidays. We had to go in September when harvest time was over. Our first holiday was at Sheringham. We stayed in a boarding house with a lady called Mrs Grand. Because food was still rationed we took most of what we would eat with us and Mrs Grand cooked it. We had the three bedrooms in the house and the front room. Mrs Grand and her family slept in a cabin in the garden.
Christmas was a very special time. My grandparents came to stay and I really looked forward to this as they both played games with me and gave me lots of attention. My mother was pleased they came too as my grandma took over a lot of the household chores. On Christmas Day my other grandparents came for the day and we had a big Christmas Dinner in the dining room, we usually had our meals in the living room. On Christmas Eve my brother and I put pillow cases on the ends of our beds and vowed we would keep awake until Father Christmas had been, but we never managed to see him! We always had a party for some of my parent’s friends. One of them, Mr. Bavey, a well known Wolverton man, used to entertain us with his Magic Lantern Slides, conjuring tricks and party games.
Living on a farm at this time involved hard work and long hours for the whole family and looking back I wonder how we managed without some of the basic amenities we take for granted today. However there was always laughter, happiness, things to look forward to, and the comfort of living in a caring village community.
This is a story collected during one of our ‘My Memories’ IT Courses.