LIFE AT BUTLERS - 05

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Peacetime

By Martin Edgar

5. PEACETIME

Alleyn Court returned to Westcliff in about 1947, but I continued as a boarder as I was well established and my friends were also boarders. At least it meant that I now got home at half term! David came as a day boy in about 1948, while Bridget went to St Hilda's just down the road. At home, Mother had acquired a Dutch au pair to help, Adri van Diss. She kept in touch over the years, even after she married an executive in Dutch radio at Hilversum. Beryl, the daughter of Hales, another of the men on the farm, came as a live-in help in the house. So in the holidays Mother and Beryl catered for 9 every day. As a reflection of the times (or perhaps pre-war attitudes), Beryl ate in the kitchen, and was summoned by an electric bell to collect the empty dishes and bring in the next course. At least we boys were sent to help with the washing up.

The spring of 1947 was bitterly cold, and I can remember snow drifts two or three feet high in the fields in the Easter holidays. In the summer of 1947, they brought electricity at last to Butlers. It was a delight to come home in July for the summer holidays, and turn on light with a switch. Then there were electric night storage heaters dotted round, which meant that we now had heating (of a sort as they were not all that efficient) in bedrooms and passage ways. The night storage heating was replaced by a hot air system that Bill and Pam put in when they moved to Butlers some 15 years or so later.

So life at Butlers was still holiday times only, where we mucked about and did all those things that boys do - potato fights in the chitting shed, draining water-filled ruts in the gateways in winter (we all became expert hydraulic engineers), being a nuisance to the cowman or any horseman who would put up with us, etc. Bill (then in mid-teens) had bought a brass cannon about 18" long and with a I" bore, the sort used by yacht clubs to start races. We used to cut open 12 bore cartridges, take out the powder and pour a teaspoonful in to the cannon, some more in the touch hole, and load with a missile. This could be a hardened potato, a bunch of nails or even the brass end to the cartridge. Point at a potato tray set upright 20 yards away and light the touch hole with a loud bang and a satisfactory cloud of smoke. The triumph was when we found a clear circular imprint in the wood with "Ely Kynoch" quite legible - a perfect reproduction of the cartridge end.

Eleven was the age when two important things happened:

Firstly, you got a bicycle for your birthday, and this opened up all sorts of new horizons. There were timed races home from Sutton Church, which was one mile (near enough), but we never managed to beat four minutes. That was the days of fairly heavy bikes and three speed Sturmey-Archer gears. Or friends such as David Lloyd, Jeremy Squier and Ian McCormick used to come over and we played games of bicycle polo in the Yard. It also meant that we could be sent into Rochford for the butter which had just run out, or go exploring the junk shops in Southend on our own. I built up a collection of Army cap badges, which could be had for a few pence each.

Secondly, Father taught me to shoot, and he took me up the fields to pepper with shot one of the concrete pillboxes in the centre of the farm. I started with the .410 (with its external hammers), and only graduated to the 16 bore or a 12 bore later. I still remember Father's basic rules:

Never, never let your gunPointed be at any one.That it may not loaded beMatters not the least to me.When a hedge or ditch you cross,Though it may of time cause loss,From your gun the cartridge takeFor the greater safety's sake.

The new game was therefore hunting rabbits or walking up hedgerows for pigeons. The main rabbit warrens were: in Cow Meadow by the small pond there; along the old sea wall; down at the Marsh; or in Bushy Bit. The best time was in the evening as the rabbits came out for their evening feed in the lengthening shadows. You would creep round, keeping low, trying to get within 30 yards (or preferably less) without disturbing them. Only the baby rabbits were spared. If you only wounded one, you had to kill it quickly and cleanly, and we became adept at that. Then it was back to home, where Mother had taught us how to gut, skin and prepare for the pot. I never did get to enjoy that bit very much. Reverting to war time, Mother had told us how to distinguish rabbit from cat, as they look almost identical skinned, and it was not unknown for cat to be sold. I believe the taste is quite similar. For information, only buy your carcase with the kidneys in. If it is rabbit, the kidneys are level; if cat, they are offset. Or the other way round - I forget.

One person who came round the farm fairly frequently was Les Cripps. Les lived out Great Wakering way, and had a fishing smack which he kept at Paglesham. It was said that Les was not always out for fish, and that perfumes and radios were another catch. We took care not to ask any questions, but there is no doubt that the creeks and inlets of the Essex marshes make it good smuggling country. Les had permission to shoot over the farm, so long as he took no game. So he mainly went for rabbits and pigeons, and of course looked to keep down the magpies and crows. He also came ferreting every now and then. You need a ferret and a number of small nets so that you peg nets over all the rabbit holes in a warren except one. You then put the ferret down that hole, and if you have the right warren, there will be a rabbit or two caught in the nets. You hoped that the ferret did not catch its prey under ground. If it did, the ferret stayed down to enjoy its meal, and you had to get your spade and dig it out.

Father also fulfilled a long held wish to have a really good gun. So he bought a second hand Holland & Holland (or was it a pair?), nicely cased, and went up to London to their shooting school to have some instruction, and to have the stocks of the guns adjusted to fit him. He also bought a good pair of binoculars, and was pleased with both purchases. We did not have a large amount of game on the farm, just a few coveys of partridge. These were mostly the grey partridge, or English as they are called, but also the odd covey of red-legged, or French, partridges. We also had a scattering of hares. But there was enough for Father to run an annual shoot in September with about half a dozen friends. The guns would take their stands as directed by Father (we boys did not shoot on the day), and the men would act as beaters walking up the fields towards us. There would be a whirr of wings as the partridges came fast and fairly low over us. As far as I can remember the bags were about a dozen or twenty brace of partridge, and a few hares. On one drive I was standing in a ditch beside Father, and as the birds came over, a neighbouring gun swung round to follow the birds - a major crime. I looked at the stick I was holding in front of me, and there was a pellet in it, just where it would have hit my forehead. The culprit went straight home, with hardly a word being said, he knew exactly what he had to do. No excuses, just go.

I also used to help with putting up the wages on a Friday. There would be small brown paper envelopes, pre-printed on the front for the name to be put in, the basic wage, and then additions and deductions, and of course a pile of cash. As far as I remember, the basic wage was about £5, with the head cowman, Pallett (who, with the other cowman, worked long hours as the cows needing milking first thing in the morning and again in late afternoon) and the foreman (Parminter, and then Walter Cadge) each getting £6. I think the Head horseman (Walter and later Pearce) and Charlie (Cadge) as Head tractor driver also got something extra. The extras would typically be for overtime, specially during harvest, and a normal deduction would be 6 shillings rent for those who had one of the farm's tied cottages.

Cadge lived in the cottage by the pond. He came to the farm in the Andrews time. I believe he was really a horseman and have vague recollection of his having been a jockey when young - he certainly had the small frame and bow legs that go with that job - but in Father's time became shepherd to the flock of 200 Suffolk sheep we used to keep. Father had to sell them shortly after the war, as they were largely kept in Hobbitt and the foot rot that sheep suffer from got into the ground. When a sheep's feet or teeth go, it is a goner and will starve. It has to keep on the move, grazing as it goes.

Then Alfred Martin had the cottage on the Chase as it turns the corner. He was a former miner, and had bicycled from South Wales in the 1930's Depression to find work. Mrs Martin was a ready source of comfort, tea and a good bun. Opposite the camp there was a semi-detached pair of houses, one for the Foreman (Parminter and then Walter) and the other for Pallett, the Head Cowman. Next door was Slated Row, originally a terrace of eight houses with outside privies. They were so small that I cannot imagine how people raised families in them. They were later converted into four terraced houses with kitchen etc extensions on the back. Amongst others, Charlie and Ruth Cadge lived there, and Ruth in particular became a great friend of the family, and a strong support to Bill and Pam in later years. I seem to remember that the total staff was about 13, which contrasts dramatically with the one and a half men that Bill finally ran the farm with forty years later.

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I also used to help with the milk records. When Father gave up the sheep, he decided to go into dairy a bit more seriously. He must have sold the Shorthorns (though I cannot remember that being done), but I do remember his building up a herd of 60 Ayshires from the Reading sales. There was a feeling that the red and white Ayrshires were proper cows, unlike those black and white factory milk machines called Frisians which were then becoming fashionable. Alec Steel had a Frisian herd next door at Sutton Hall, and there were others about.

As I remember it, a good Ayrshire would produce milk with about 5% or 6% butterfat, whereas a Frisian's milk would only be about 3%. But on the other hand, a good Ayrshire would produce 6 gallons a day and a Frisian would clock up 8 (or was it 3 and 4?). Of course it helped that in those days milk with a higher butterfat commanded a premium price, which helped to redress the economic balance. Individual yields for each cow were meticulously recorded, both quantity and butterfat, so that the breeding programme could be managed properly and the quality of the herd improved. You hoped particularly for a heifer calf from your better cows. If it was a bull calf, it was weaned at four days old and sold for veal. We had our own bull for many years, but then artificial insemination came in and Father switched to that as it was cheaper and gave Father a choice of quality sires. By this time, the Rochford milk round had gone, and the milk was sold to the Milk Marketing Board whose lorry came every day to collect the churns from the Dairy loading dock.

Chapter

Chapter title, click title to go there

01How we got there
02What was there
03Early years
04The war
05Peacetime
06Christmas
07Year 1950
08Year 1953, and working at home
09End piece - clay soil and what to do
10Years 1954 to 1957
11Postscript
12Editorial postscript
all chaptersLife at Butlers - the complete 12 part article 
This page was added by Bob Stephen on 14/09/2018.
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