Down on the farm

My next Summer job was on a farm in North Baddesley working for Mr. Phillips who not only had a farm but also had a mobile fruit and vegetable business going from house to house around Chandlers Ford, mum bought stuff off him on a weekly basis and it was through this contact that I got the job. The small farm which has since been replaced by a grand new house was situated very near the tiny St, Johns Church whose beginnings date back to Saxon times and as I found out recently is the site where at least twenty two of the Hoskins wider family are buried which included my Great Granddad but that’s another story.

The farm was mainly arable with some land set aside for growing household veg such as peas, broad and runner beans, carrots, onions and the usual root crops but he also had a few cows. The farm was staffed by Phillips son who was about twenty two years old and a labourer called Charlie, a cheerful chap probably about forty years old. I got on well with these two and had plenty of laughs, nevertheless it was hard work but as the tasks were variable it was not often boring.

One of my Jobs was to cut down Ragwort, a tall yellow flowering weed, which was poisonous if eaten by cattle or horse. Ragwort grew to up to four or even five feet tall with clusters of small yellow daisy like flowers with the heads and leaves often covered with the brown and yellow striped caterpillars of the Cinnabar Moth, A four acre field which lay between the farm and the church was heavily infested and I had to cut every single plant down to ground level with a rip hook. The cut down weeds were then left for about a week to die off before being removed.

What I discovered about farmers was that they were terrible at looking after their machinery not only by not maintaining it but also just leaving where they last used it, more often than not, out in the open exposed to the elements and then expect it to work perfectly a year later, which it rarely did. and which meant spending a lot of time freeing off joints oiling and greasing points and freeing the machine from brambles and other vegetation which had grown through every awkward to reach space, binding and locking it as if chained. The farmer would go ballistic, swearing and cursing the machine and never blame himself his own negligence.

To remove the dead Ragwort from the field a tractor towed hay rake was to be used. The rake had to be retrieved from a hedge were it had become so over grown with vegetation as to be near invisible. The proper role of this piece of machinery was to rake up and deposit the hay in hay into long rows of heaped hay so that it could be pitch forked on to trailers to be taken to a rick. The rake was about ten foot wide with a four foot diameter spoked iron wheel at each end. Between the wheels was a row of four foot long curved metal tines with about two inch spaces between them. The rake was operated from a centralised When in operation the bottom of the tines would be just above ground level and would collect the hay as it was towed, depending on the growth of the crop would determine at what intervals the hay would be released by pulling on a lever and pushing down on a pedal from an uncomfortable metal seat set centrally above the rake.

This worked fine for hay and also straw when the machine was new but over time the tines were no longer neatly in line leaving them at different gaps and heights so that as you raked the hay or straw would get between the tines and would not release which meant constant stopping to clear these obstructions. When it came to raking up ragwort the problem was magnified ten times as the ragwort stems were up to three quarters of an inch thick and ridged and quickly found their way up to jam themselves tightly between the tines and no matter how hard I pulled on the lever and pushed down on the pedal the weeds would not release so that Phillips son who was driving the tractor and me operating the rake spent more time clearing the rake than actually raking the stuff up. We did eventually succeed in clearing the field and left the rake tucked up in one of the corners to get in the same mess as before, next year.

Another example of a similar neglect was with a cabbage planting machine which Phillips had bought the previous year when Ex Land Army Farming Equipment was sold off after the Land Army was disbanded. The Machine was entirely hidden on the edge of a field where tall hogweed, bracken and prolific growth of brambles had taken over and in fact trapped the machine to the point that even with the power of the Fordson tractor could not dislodge it. We had to de-weed it before the tractor managed to drag it out, I say drag it out because its moving parts had all seized up. Farmer Phillips naturally blamed the Government, the Land Army, the Agricultural Ministry and everybody else for selling him such a useless bit of equipment and went off in a huff and left the rest of us to sort the problem out.

The Cabbage planting machine was towed by a tractor using its own wheels to give power to its function which was to plant cabbages or kind using a continuous belt which carried pronged receptors with rubber protectors about six inches apart. The prongs were designed so that as they passed the person feeding the cabbage plant they would open up to allow the cabbage to be inserted and the close and grip the plant as it was taken towards the ground. The Machine was designed for four feeders who sat opposite each other on typical metal farm seats with a wooden plant container for the pants between the moving belt. Once the plant had been inserted it was taken to be dropped into a preformed grove where cam action would open up the prongs and release the plant.

Once we had got the machine working, there was just Charlie and I doing the feeding but we found that we had an added problem in that a lot of the plants that Phillips had bough were is too thick stemmed and the prongs didn’t open enough to drop them so they came back up, further a lot of the rubber prong protectors were missing so the whole operation was not going to well particularly when we look back down the newly planted rows and saw all the gaps from non planted plants but that also almost a quarter had been planted with their leaves in the ground and their roots in the air, although this looked hilarious and was hilarious, it took a lot of time going back down the rows and correcting things. Actually if that machine had been properly used and looked after it was very efficient.

Silage making was another job. Silage is made as a winter cattle feed using freshly cut hay stored in a pit and compacted by driving the tractor back and forth across it. Molasses is added to give the hay extra nutrition value I was given the job of driving the tractor and trailer because I was pretty slow and useless using a Pitchfork. I became more and more enthusiastic when driving with a full load of hay tending to go faster and faster and forgetting that Charlie and the farmers son were sat precariously on the back of the trailer. Arable fields have quite deep ruts every so many feet apart reated by the ploughing process, it was as the back wheels of the trailer hit one of these ruts with me driving at speed, that there was a mighty yell as Charlie and the son were thrown way up in the air and landing in a heap, I laughed, they didn’t.

Phillips owned a reaper /binder for harvesting wheat and barley etc which was operated by Charlie and the son. The field we were cutting was not very big and one side bordered a private garden with a chicken wire fence along its entire length to keep rabbits out. Present on that day were a lot of village kids armed with various sized sticks, at that time I did not know why they were there. Across the other side of the field was a chap with a twelve bore shot gun and so the scene was set . My job along with some other was stoking the sheaves about eight to ten sheaves to a stoke, stoking was to give the newly cut cereal to fully ripen before being gathered in.

At first there was little activity apart from the cutting and binding and stoking but as the machinery made inroads into the field the rabbits started to make a run for it and as they did so they were either shot on the far side or clubbed to death by the kids with sticks as they tried to get through the chicken wire, unfortunately most of the killing on that side of the field was anything but quick and clean with some of the rabbits still alive with smashed limbs and other injuries which left me quite ickened, not so much from the nasty deaths which was bad enough but because the kids had enjoyed the suffering that they had meted out on the rabbits The reward for their efforts was a rabbit each, I got one as well..

Having cut the crop and having given it time to ripen it was time to gather it in and stack it , then wait for the contractor with his thrasher and bailer to turn up sometime during the winter to extract the seed. The task of collecting the sheaves and stacking them on a trailer is not only hard work but hot and sticky, this is particularly so if you do not have the proper technique in using a pitchfork and I didn’t, on top of that, if the weather is hot then all the chaff and muck from the sheaves sticks to your sweaty body and lodges around your waist band and reduces your skin to a red raw mess, nevertheless, there was a great feeling and satisfaction in gathering the harvest.

One day the farmer and we three staff set off to collect a couple of cows from somewhere in Chilworth, one of the cows had just calved and the other was not far off doing the same. We had gone on this journey with a Morris open backed pick-up truck which was used to put the calf on and by driving slowly the calves mother kept followed keeping in close contact with her calf. I was put in charge of the other cow, which seemed disinclined to go in the direction that I wanted it to go, in fact it didn’t want to go in any direction. “loop its tail over its back and it will quickly go forward” I was told, what they didn’t tell me was that it was almost certain that the cow would relieve its self when this tail looping was done. I need not say more. With the mother cow following the calf in the pick-up and me guiding the other pregnant cow, we set off down Chilworth Road quietly and calmly. 

The road at that time was narrower and had a sharp bend close to Chilworth Church where just beyond the Church on a turning of to the right was Misselbrook Lane which we were aiming for, at that point a large limousine with very large and official looking flag on its wings chose to blast its horn setting off my cow at the gallop way pass the lane, with me chasing after her in an attempt to head her off, the occupants of the car thought it funny but I did not as I indicated both visually and verbally what I thought of them . As the car passed me I saw that the ‘bigwig’ sat in the back of the car was none other than Lord Mountbatten - I thought he would have known better than freaking an obvious pregnant cow. Pretty generally I enjoyed working on the farm during the summer and autumn months but I don’t think I would have the same opinion in the wet and cold of winter.

My last summer job was working in a nursery in Common Road for Mr Gotham who had six large Greenhouses growing mainly tomatoes in the summer and chrysanthemums in the more wintry months,, although growing any plant crosses the seasons. The Nursery was no more than a couple of hundred yards from home with a very rough meadow to one side and the remains of the brickfield on the other. The Gothams had three sons, Ivor the eldest was more or less my age and he had twin brothers, at this moment I cannot remember their names but they were a lot younger than him and both had snowy very white hair. Mrs Gotham was a pretty lady about forty years old, not very tall and I think that her hair was also white. She worked in the nursery during most of the day and was the expert when it came growing the chrysanthemums and she was pretty good at making wreaths as well.

Mr Gotham was also not that tall, nearly bald and always wore cord trousers. The whole of the family was quietly spoken. Ivor was not that keen on working in the Nursery in fact he was envious of me because I had to do N.S. which he would have preferred but growing tomatoes was regarded as a reserve occupation and his father made sure that he was exempt from being called up to do National Service but I suspect that he really wanted to escape from the family where they were together more or less twenty four hours every day and sometimes got on each others nerves, not only that his father tended to be very critical of him and as far as he was concerned, never seemed to do anything to his full approval, although I thought he worked hard and did a good job.

I reckon horticultural and growing anything in bulk is pretty tedious and repetitive, this being made worse if you are only growing one type of plant such as tomatoes where routinely they had to be watered ...

(At this point Dad sadly suffered two collapsed vertebrae when looking for some of his painting equipment in his studio. This was as a result of accelerated osteoporosis caused by the steroids used to help control his lung function. He returned to Countess Mountbatten Hospice where he remained pretty much half paralysed. Being bed-bound and on high morphine doses meant that the cancer got more of a grip and it was becoming increasingly difficult for him to breathe. Fortunately he did not have to suffer this indignity for long and died peacefully on the morning of April 21st with Mum holding his hand.)