Since there are not many…if any!…Farms within the environs of Bury St Edmunds town, I am assuming that we may write about farming experiences outside the town but within Suffolk?
I have a few stories from Norfolk but I know that would be heresy…so I’ll stick to Suffolk! Most of it was a long time ago but I will try to be as accurate as my memory allows. Any farmers reading this please forgive any ‘technical’ errors! I could write for hours about activities on the farm as the memories flood back but I will try to keep things short.
In the 50s & 60s my parents had friends who were tenant farmers at ‘Audley End’ farm in Lawshall. Their names were Cecil & Joan Buckle and they had a son David. The farm was mainly arable; the only livestock I can remember were quite a lot of pigs and a horse called Prince. The farm was actually owned by the Croasdale family who ran the Chemist shop on the Cornhill in Bury for many years and where my mother worked before the war.
We were often invited out to the farm for weekends especially at Harvest times. Again the weather was always sunny! (I wonder why childhood memories are always sunny!) The farm in the early days had no electricity so we had paraffin lamps, a battery Radio (no TV of course) and the toilets were ‘Elsan’ chemical ones. Apart from an earth closet down the garden with wooden seats but I believe this was no longer used.
The farm was, of course, a very exciting place for us children to visit and there seemed few, if any, restrictions on where we could go and what we could get up to. There was a large Farmhouse with lawns and flower beds and a large vegetable garden at the rear. In the Farm yard there was a pond with ducks and a large barn where the grain was stored. There was a tractor shed next to it which contained two tractors, a newish ‘David Brown’ and a ‘Farmall’, the one with the two front wheels close together.
Opposite these buildings was an area where there were Haystacks. In the early days most of these were of the thatched type where the stooks or sheaves of corn were laid ears inward and the top thatched to keep them dry. The farm did not have its own threshing machine in those days. Later a machine would be brought in, the stacks dismantled, and the sheaves of corn fed into the threshing machine by pitchfork, the corn going into a trailer and the straw being fed to a separate bailing machine. The bails were then built into stacks again. As the corn stacks were taken down for threshing there would be a man with a gun who would shoot any rats that ran out. (There were no ‘elf –n- safety rules then! Which is why everything was more fun!) The corn was cut with quite a simple reaping machine towed by a tractor and the stalks were automatically tied into sheaves and deposited on the ground where they were pitch forked into a cart pulled by Prince the farm horse, to be taken back to the farmyard. I used to enjoy riding back and forth on the cart and I was allowed to take the reins on the straight bits!
In the early days after the Harvest was completed, there would be a Harvest supper or Harvest ‘Horkey’? (I only remember one). It was for those who had helped and Mrs Buckle provided trays of food laid out in the barn and there would be beer for the men. There would be lots of drinking and shouting of ‘Largess’ (don’t know why this was?)
It was really quite a dangerous place. We used to sit on the tractors and I remember once one of us, probably me, let the brake off and the tractor rolled backwards across the yard and into a haystack (lucky it was there). No harm was done but I think we received some stern words from the farmer!
When a little older I was allowed to have an air rifle which I was told was mine but it must always be kept at the farm. Mrs Buckle’s brother, Francis, would take me out pigeon shooting. We would sit in hides and he would allow me to have a go with an old single hexagonal barrelled 410 shot gun. I don’t think I ever bagged many but Francis would, and Mrs Buckle would then make scrumptious pigeon pies, the like of which I have not tasted since. Oh the pastry! Francis also took me ferreting for rabbits and rabbit pie would thus also feature on the menu. Sadly the last time I drove past the farm in the late 70s the Farmhouse looked to be abandoned. I could talk for ages about that farm but I must move on.
I said I would not mention Norfolk but there was a field behind the pub which my Aunt ran in Marham and where we knew the farmer, Basil Waterfield was his name, and we did similar things at harvest time there. In the photo I’m standing and my brother and a local lad on the horse.
Around Bury there were of course many farms and at Risby Fruit Farms during the school summer holidays we would go fruit picking to earn a little money. We did apple picking and blackcurrant picking. The latter was what I best remember. One was given what seemed like an enormous punnet to fill. This seemed to take forever, and when it was deemed full it was taken to the edge of the field where it was weighed and if considered full enough it was marked down against your name and you took another to fill. I think it was either two shillings or half a crown a punnet and you were paid at the end of the day. I remember that when you closed your eyes to sleep that night, the images of bunches of blackcurrants seemed to be burnt onto your retinas. It was always very hot and sunny when we went fruit picking as well!
Later still, when I was at college getting my sea-going qualifications, I used to work either at the Brewery or at Sainsbury’s Chicken Packing Station across the road from us in Mitchell Avenue. At the latter I would do a day shift in the factory mainly helping the maintenance guys and finish at 5, go home and have a meal, then to bed. At midnight I would get up and go out on the lorries ‘chicken catching’ until about 5 or so in the morning when I would go home, have breakfast and be back at the factory for the day shift at 8 o’clock; so did two shifts a day (my college grant was small and my bank overdraft large in those days).
The chicken catching was hard work but the other catchers were a great bunch of people and I found my Suffolk accent, never usually very strong, became much stronger after a week or so working with them. We would go to one or two farms during the night and into the chicken sheds, which had to be kept in dim light. We would pick up the chickens by the feet four in each hand, there was a technique to this to prevent being pecked, and put them into crates on the lorry. Sounds cruel, but the chickens didn’t seem too upset. I would not have done it if I thought it was. Probably not PC these days but I can’t see how else it could be done if you want chicken on the table.
Lots more one could write but I am sure my sister Carole will think of many things I have forgotten.