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My life in the village
James Chuck

Oral history recorded by Albert Thom 1983

Chapter Five - Winter work and tractors

As they was threshin’, it was put in these corn sacks, and they weighed 2 cwt. and a half, these sacks of corn. Used to have to carry them and that wanted a bit of carrying. Then you carry ‘em and put ‘em up in the granary for the winter time. Oats wasn’t so bad, they was 14 cwt. But the heaviest thing you used to get was beans, they was 3 cwt. a sack.

And we used to have to carry these oats up the steps to the granary and they were used for horses in the winter time. Have a trap door with a shute down, so you could get the oats out for the horses. Then the wheat was bagged up again and it used to go to the millers. But as I say, there ain’t so much corn wasted today, as there was in them days. You’d lose a lot of it in the stacks what you couldn’t rick up and what the rats had spoilt.

The old combines have saved a lot of’ work for the horses. I’ve seen two horses on one of these binders when it’s been heavy going, perhaps the ground was wet, come out as live as anything in the morning and come dinner time their heads was hanging down and they was knackered and you had to put two more on. Sometimes, you’d have four horses on to pull it along.

They was heavy, hard things for horses, they was. It was all horses in them days, till the tractors come about like. And all the ploughing was done by the horses. There were six heavy horses at Crawfords.

I often wonder today, how they used to get it done, because they used to take one thorough at a time, whereas now they take six behind the tractors. You’d see a horseman out before it got light in the morning. Used to get up there at six o’clock, feed the horses and clean ‘em out, and they’d be out the stable by seven o’clock, take their dinner with ‘em and come home again at night - I think they used to do about one acre each.

When the tractors came

Then they had these big steam tractors on. The only one I ever see was up by Welham Manor, they done a field there. These great big tractors, with a winch underneath used to pull this plough along one way, then the other tractor pull it back the other way. We had to take ‘em water and coal for the engines, you see, and perhaps you got a horse a bit shy and you’d have a hell of a job with ‘em sometimes to hold ‘em. And that was the only field I ever see done with two tractors and how they used to get in them gateways, I don’t know.

And they couldn’t see each other, because there’s a bit of a hill and they used to do it with the hooters. Like a great big thick cable it was wound on one drum, then back to the other one I think they used to take about four thoroughs at a time. Oh, the cable must a been four inches thick and I often thought myself, if even one of them was to break, it’d cut anybody in half, but they had ‘em.

After the harvest, they used to leave two sheaves standing in the field, to let people know you hadn’t finished dragging. When all the corn was carted, we used to go along with the horsedrag, drag it all up in heaps and they’d pick ‘em up and after that was picked up, they’d take the sheaves out and the people could glean it. And you could go along and pick up this wheat and get so much and take it to the millers in Hertford or Lemsford, and get it ground to make flour. Got quite a bit, enough to feed the chicks as well.

Winter work

The work in winter was hedging, that’s an art that’s died out, they don’t do it now. That’s why you get all these floods, I think, that was a recognised thing in the winter time, what they call hedging and ditching, trimming the hedges and clearing all the ditches out, so the water could get away.

My old dad knew every drain there was on the farm, if ever they got bunged up, he knew what to do. He’d dig a hole and clear it and away it used to go. He used to make his own stakes. He’d go along in the wood and pick a tree out, might be ash. Ash was the best because it split down nice and he’d render them down with beetle and wedge and make his own stakes. And Mr. Crawford (Mrs. Crawford’s manager), said to me some years ago, “Do you know what,” he said, “Jimmy, there’s some of those stakes your dad made still in the hedges now.”

There was no such thing as getting holes out them days, just knock ‘em with a beetle, that’s a wooden hammer, what they call a mallet. Apple was the best, because it didn’t split. Ant you’d get this bit of apple and pare it up and then you’d take it to the blacksmith and he’d hot these rings up and pop one on each end. Why it was done, was because an iron hammer would split ‘em, but the wooden one wouldn’t. Drill a hole right through it, the blacksmith would do that, then he’d give you a handle and you’d put it in yourself.

Swallow holes

During the milking time, when the cows was suppose to come home, save a man going down to fetch the cows, we used to send an old dog after ‘em. This old dog used to go and fetch these cows up on his own. The cows used to sometimes fall in the swallow holes, like if you’d bought any fresh cows, they didn’t know the swallow holes, because the old cows used to know them. And it was nothing to go down there and find a cow had been drowned in ‘em.

Then they used to take the gate off the hinges and get a horse with a rope on the end of it and pull the cow back up the farm on this gate. Just shows how sudden them swallow holes used to come up, there wouldn’t be no water perhaps, when the cows went over in the morning. They got over there because there was a nice bit of fresh grass beside the swallow holes. We’d get a storm a hell of a lot of rain and before they come home at night, the holes was up - used to have to swim across.

I don’t think they come up as badly as they used to be. I’ve seen it back of the little school there, right in the playground, Water End School, where the little bridge is. That little bridge there at the end of the school - the road’s stopped up now - when the new road was made, they was coming along with some big machines and they could see it wouldn’t take ‘em, so they shored it up underneath. It’s a brick bridge, built of bricks and its still there today, and I could never find out why it was called Teakettle Bridge.

Albert Thom 1983


Index and introduction
Chapter One - Memories of grandfather and father
Chapter Two - Childhood and school
Chapter Three - Employment and unemployment
Chapter Four - Days out and marriage
Chapter Five - Winter work and tractors
Chapter Six - War time and family details

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