Starting work on farms in the 1940s

Billy Lumsdon
I went to 9 different schools. Whereas the fishermen stayed put, farm people went from farm to farm, till we came here, and I said to my father, that's the finish, I've had enough of this. (So you'd had that since you were a little boy you'd moved about?) Aye, Aye. It used to bother me when I was a little lad. I used to think that if my father fell out with the farmer, then they would put us out of the house and then where would we go. You get these things into your head when you're a kid. That's why I thought, one day I would have my own house and nobody would be able to put me out. It was my mother that got all the work because some of the houses you went to were filthy. She had them all to clean out and paper......

Eleanor Venus
My mother was Emma Ord and she came here (Dunstan Square) in 1944 to do the dairy work. The farmer was Rowell. She did all the dairy work and made £38 a month. We only had five cows, short-horns. Mother milked them all by hand. My father was a cripple, he never worked. Mother had to do the dairy work to get the house they lived in and I worked on the land with a horse and cart- outside work, turnips and that. Then I went into the house and I worked in the house. Nancy Lumsdon, Harry and Billy and their parents moved here on the same day as we did. Mrs. Lumsdon was just a little women and what a pair she and my mother were......

Geordie Grey
(Craster Village and then West Farm)
After I left school, I helped my father in the Joiner's Shop, because he was the joiner. The reason for that was that my older brother was a joiner, but he was away in the Air Force, so I had to help in the family business. I wasn't cut out to be a joiner, I liked to follow the horses – ploughing - and I wanted to be a farmer.

I started farming when there was only horses, no tractors but during the war, we began to get tractors, supplied by the Ministry and then after the war, the tractors started to come along and it did make life easier......

Memories of farm work

The stackyard (at Dunstan Square Farm) was filled with hen-houses, up this road were all hen-houses. The hens were free range and put in at night. We had turkeys and geese for Christmas. There were cows, sheep and poultry. Mrs. Rowell was a perfectionist. If she gave you a job you had to do it properly......

They made hay, grew barley, oats and turnips. I used to fill and empty eight loads of turnips a day, from the far tree, where the hollow wood is now, with the horse and cart. That was in the autumn and winter, the turnips were for feed. On a Saturday, we used to cut eighty swills to cover the weekend. A swill was a wicker basket.

We had holidays due and we had to finish singling the turnip fields before we could go anywhere. Singling was separating them with a Dutch hoe, push one forward and pull one back, so they've got more room to grow. If we went to the pictures, we always had to put the hens in when we got back, you were never free, there was always something waiting. The cows were milked by hand twice a day......

The Coxons - Jimmy's father and Freddie - they used to put Freddie in with the bull if they wanted the bull to go anywhere. He had such a good relationship with the bull. He was Downs' Syndrome, but he had a wonderful relationship with the animals. Uncle Shaftoe said that Freddie was playing in the field at the Bogie, with the bull. The bull was chasing him and then the bull would stop and Freddie would turn round and chase the bull, it was a game and if they ever wanted to move the bull, they would send Freddie to do it.

A Lifetime in Farming

Billie Currie (Howick Scar Farm)
Dad used to keep the little sheep for me, and I used to clip them by hand when I got back from school. I spent all my spare time at the farm. I cannot remember this, but they say when I was very little, about 4 years old, my mother lost me at Howick and couldn't find me. I'd walked all the way from Howick to the Scar; they could just see the little hat coming.

When I left Dunstan, I was 13. I had 2 years to do at Alnwick. We used to travel by bus, we had a pass. At night time there was a bus that used to leave at 10 to 4, and it came back to Little Houghton to the pipe works, 'cos there were a lot of men worked there, about 100 men worked at the pipe works and the quarry then. There was a bus that used to pick them up when they finished at 4, and I used to get the bus back to Little Houghton and run back home from there, so that I could get back to the farm. In the summer nights, it was a good run, about 2 miles. I would get back home about half past four. Sometimes I caught a man from the village with a little Austin 7. He would pick me up and bring me back. I got a quicker start then. I would be on my bike and along to the farm.

I would have something to eat, then I used to drive the horse and cart. I can remember dad drilling and ploughing with the horses. I used to like May time and the harvest time.

Fetching cattle from the mart

The hunger house was at the top end beside the killing shop, where they fetched the cattle from Alnwick. In them days they had to walk them all the way, there was no wagons to fetch them and they kept them in there for at least 24 hours in what we called 'the hunger house'. They didn't get fed, maybe had a drink of water, because their stomachs had to be empty when we killed them. They would kill 2/3 a week and perhaps 10 sheep......

I can't remember when it was, but on the way from Alnwick to the killing shops, down through the village, a bullock escaped down to the harbour and swam into the sea and one of the cobles went out and lassoed it and Alf Shell, the butcher, he shot it in the sea, brought it ashore and bled it on the shore, the meat was saved.

The other thing was about the Irish Cattle that used to come to the Alnwick Mart. Again, there wasn't any wagons. My Uncle Tom had the place then and he used to go in with other farmers and would buy a wagon of cattle each and they were all to walk out to the farm. We walked them from Alnwick down here. I was only about 14 when they used to send me out onto the road......


When I was on the farm then, all the men who used to work in the quarry came to help us on the farm at night. I divent knaa how they did it, 'cos it was heavy work then.
There was very little machinery in the quarries that particular time. They used to come to do seasonal work, at night. They used to help us at harvest time. I've seen them sit down to have their tea, and fall asleep, they were that tired......

Prisoners of war

We didn't have any (Land Army) at Dunstan Square.. We used to get the prisoners you see - the Italians or the Germans. When they closed this one here (the POW camp on the heugh), the German prisoners were at Embleton. That's when I learned to drive a car......

So they mixed in then, these prisoners? Aye! One, I never knew his surname, but we called him Franz. He only had half a heel on his right foot, and I asked him one day how it happened. He had been in Russia and he had climbed out of this ditch and there was a machine gun dead in front of him, and it fired. He threw himself back and as he went up it took his heel off. He was dead lucky, like......

There were Germans first and then the Italians, and they were on top of the crag and I used to go along the bottom with the horse and cart with turnips on and they all used to come and wave. They filled their mattresses with chaff. George Renwick used to be the guard and he was supposed to guard them, but he was courting and he would go off and leave them with the guns and he would say 'Divn't do nowt silly while I'm away'.

Village women

We used to get three or four women from the village and they would pull the bagies in the winter and before that was tatie picking time and we used to get the same women to pick the taties and also a few school kids and we had some hilarious days. Other than that, the big day was the threshing day, when the threshing machine came in and each farm did two days threshing and that was really hard work......

We had no turkeys, but the women, I hope they don't mind me calling them the gang of women, used to go to the North Farm at Manners. He had a lot of turkeys and they used to pluck them by hand for Christmas......

I'll tell you a little anecdote about when I lived up at the square (1950s)......

The first morning I went out, I had my gloves on and my lipstick. What a laugh. It wasn't a very nice year to be picking taties, that year, 'cos it had been very wet and they had gone boshed - they were blue. It was awful 'cos they were all squashy. I was glad I had my gloves on. The second day, I couldn't get out of bed. I didn't know what had hit me. I couldn't move. It was very heavy work, and all stooping......

Hens and pigs (guffies)

Any amount (of food in the war years). On the farms you were allowed to keep two pigs, but you had to give in your bacon coupons, and you were allowed to keep two. Well we always had two. We used to kill them and salt them down......

We used to live like lords. There were about 6 houses up in the square, and for about a fortnight, we had spare ribs, and pig's cheek. We used everything. The only thing we didn't use was its squeal. My granny used to make the black pudding and whatnot. She bled the pig. You had to keep stirring it, like, to stop it clotting, and she used to put these little squares of fat in it, and mint or sometimes a little bit of sage......

there was always a guffy stye, which was mine. I remember, Ken was off work, he had hurt his back. We used to give mother £5 a week board, and he was off three weeks and we had no money, so we sent the guffy away and we got £15 and gave it to mother for the board. The postman was Eva then, and we got the money from the Ministry of Agriculture then and she used to know what was in the envelope when she delivered it

My granny had hens and a pig, everybody used to have hens and a pig. One new year my grandfather, wasn't a boy at that time, he was a man and he blackleaded somebody's pigs. I think it was for a dare. My granny had her last pig in 1943. My grandfather died in that year and she had no more after that, she was then 78 and she lived until she was 85.

Memories of Farm Dogs

To be farming with sheep and cattle, you've got to have a sheepdog. To my mind that's the only breed of dog there is - a collie dog. He's wise, he's very helpful and he's faithful. There's other dogs, but it never come across to me to have any other but the collie, one of the reasons I had him was, he used to work for us and help us, so you really need a collie dog. He was a great friend......

We always had dogs - one called Rusty - a wonderful Lakeland Terrier. She use to go round the henhouses with me at night and she used to go round and round and if she went to the next one, you knew they were all in and if she didn't leave that henhouse, you knew there was still a hen out. She was a good ratter. We had calf pens and she was just a puppy, there was a rat's nest and she went in and rat got her by the top lip and I didn't know what to do and she shook it and got it and there was never another one......

Quotes from: Billy Lumsdon (BL), Eleanor Venus (EV), Geordie Grey (GG), Doris Clarke (DC), Joyce Shaw (JS), Billy Currie (BC)

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