From Horses to Computers – In 50 years, What Next?
by Mr Len Woodhead (Employed as a Foreman for Nocton Farms)
“I was born at Todd’s Farm, Nocton Fen (TD8) in 1937. At that time there were two cottages in the corner of the field which is now known as TD8. My father had come into Nocton Fen at the age of 18 as a second chap (2nd Waggoner) to a chap called George Reeve (later we saw his name on lorries).
This was at the Partridge Farm where he lodged until he married. There were eight horses at the Partridge. George looked after and worked four, and father the other four. At the time Dennis’s owned the estate.
The job was a seven day one, up at 5.30am to fetch in the horses and give them food ready for work by 6.30am. Sunday of course, was not worked, other than stable work unless it was a difficult harvest. The days in the fields working the horses would start at 6.30am with a half-hour break at 11.00am. Work would continue until 2.30pm (called Lowsing Time) when the horses would be brought back home. They would be groomed, fed and the stables cleaned out. The crew yards would be bedded with clean straw and only then would the Waggoners go in for dinner.
At about 5.30pm father would then come out again and ‘supper up’ (or feed) the horses. In the Summer he would be taking them into a grass field for the night – in the Winter they would stay in the Crew Yard.
In March 1932 Dad met and married my Mum and they moved to Todd’s. There he looked after and worked four horses, Bonnie, Captain, Star and Daisy. He used to do most of the drilling and potato ridging down on that section of the Fen and although he only had one eye he could plough and ridge or drill as straight as anybody.
I have the furniture bill from when they were married and it goes like this:
· Bedroom suite £10
· Settee suite £10.5s
· 4 rugs @3/6d each = 14s.0ds
· Table £2.2s
· 4 leather chairs @ 7/6d = £1.10s
· Armchair £1.2s.6d
· 1 ladies cane chair £1.2s.6d
· Oak sideboard £4.10s
· Mirror 5/11d
· Wringer £2
· Dolly Tub 5/11d
· Pegs 3/6d
· Clothes basket 2/6d
· Fire Kerb 12/6d
· Cloth horse 16/-
· 2 bedsteads @ £1.16s = £3.12s
· 2 spring mattresses @ £1.15s = £3.10s
· 2 wool mattresses @ £1.15s =£3.10s
· 2 feather beds @ 1/1d = £2.2s.0d
Total £49.1s.3d (all from Neale Bros in, High St, Lincoln).
The 3,000 acres in Nocton Fen was then in four sections, which each had a Foreman and about 40 permanent staff, plus about sixteen Irish labourers in season for hoeing/lifting and topping beet, picking potatoes and bringing in the harvest. Labourer’s wives would make up a potato picking gang during August and September.
The men on the lower part of the Fen mostly came from Bardney or over the Ferry from Southrey. At that time there were 28 houses inhabited in Nocton Fen, but they were occupied by Waggoners, Foremen and Stockmen etc. There were two blacksmith’s shops in the Fen – one near the Cathole Bridge, Todd’s Road and one at Lark Farm.
Apart from horses, of which there were between 70 and 80 in the Fen, there were also two sets of Ruston Ploughing engines or cultivators, and of course the Light Railway which joined all the farm yards from the rail head at Dunston to all parts of the estate.
The farm roads were only dirt roads so everything was moved by rail. No water was laid on, so all drinking and washing water was brought by rail – each house had old water tanks by the side of the railway line, with a piece of zinc covering them to keep out birds and soil.
Rations for the horses, pigs and beast were all brought by rail. Coal for the steam engines and Irishman’s fires were also brought by rail. Produce (potatoes, corn and peas) were taken by rail to Dunston. Sugar beet was also hauled by rail (Bardney factory was built in 1928), but it was taken down the Fen and emptied with forks into a pit on the Fen side of the river. The large iron bridge which you can still see today, carried a grab which carried the beet over the river and dropped it into railway trucks, where it was shunted around to the east side of the factory, before being emptied by forks again.
If you needed the Doctor he would bike from Bardney and leave his bike near the Fen road, put on his wellies and walk down to the farm yards. The houses were in fair condition, a coal fire in every room. The toilet was down the bottom of the garden, sometimes with two seats so you wouldn’t be lonely or frightened. You could take a candle with you and read the latest news on the toilet paper (Lincolnshire Chronicle).
Mum would have a large old wash-house with a steel copper, which of course was heated with coal. Out in the farm-yard would be ducks, cockerils and hens, a couple of pigs in the sty at the bottom of the garden and a few rabbits as well, so you didn’t need the butcher.
The butcher would come around, once in December and once in January to kill the pigs. That was always a busy day, up at 5.00am to get the copper going, as it had to be full of scalding hot water by 8am. The butcher would kill the pig after which we placed it on the cratch (a two wheeled trolley).
Scalding water would be thrown over the pig until the whiskers came off easily with scrapers. When that was done, the pig would be hung up in a shed or apple tree and cut open. The intestines would be taken out and the pig left to hang for about 4 hours.
The butcher would go into the house for a fried breakfast and to collect his money, and he would go on to the next farm. All in all in a Saturday morning he would probably kill about four pigs and by dinner time he had to start his afternoon visits to cut the pigs up into chines, flitchers and harris etc. These would then be salted, laid out in the floor of the pantry or in a salt box, and left for a month to cure, before being hung up on the kitchen ceiling until you wanted it for joints.
Mum would be busy all week making up fries to take round to friends around the Fen farm-yards and also making sausage, pork pie, brown and haslet, so you could guarantee if was pork for at least three weeks until the pork pies had gone.
We didn’t have a radio or wireless, so by the fireside at night under the paraffin lamp we would play cards, dominoes or help mum cut snips to make the rugs. We always had a dog and at least one cat – there being plenty of rats and mice you needed them around the farm. If it snowed too heavy in the wintertime, mum used to carry water from the delf and boil it for household use, because it didn’t need much snow to stop the Light Railway operating.
In 1931, the Estate covered 7,000 acres. This was the time when 26 farms were thrown into one (making Mr JH Dennis’s farming enterprise). 7,000 acres, 7 miles long and three miles wide. 1,500 acres potatoes, 1,000 acres wheat, 500 acres of oats, 500 acres of barley, 280 acres peas. There was also sugar beet, beans and clover. There were 3,000 sheep, 2,000 pigs and 500 head of cattle.
There was 23% more labour employed than when it was previously divided into 26 farms. 10,000 to 15,000 tons of potatoes were produced annually, 50,000 bushels of wheat. As many as 260 tons of potatoes could be loaded per day for Newcastle – Sheffield – Cardiff – London.
Four threshing machines harvested all the peas, wheat and barley. The beet factory was built on part of the Estate, even though it was over the river.