Roy Church 2

March 15 2012

These are the latest stories from Roy.  You have enjoyed the previous pages
now the follow on is on this page as the original page being full up

To read the individual stories by Roy please click the blue below
Sub pages        Leisure Time
                         Cottage Life 
                         The Cast
                         Muck  & where it comes from
                         Beet & 'Tates'  

Jury Service

Kenzie --the Fen Character

Myna Bird

Trial and Error

Addlethorpe Smallholding

 The Long Pull

 3 Pub Stories    
The Nelson, Burnham Thorpe, The Brisley Bell &
Scremby House

Wind, Wire & Winkles

Austerity for Reall   There are six enjoyable chapters

More on the memory of Fay

Soldier On

Characters of Tea's yesteryear - Fay Gibb

Finding Dick Scott

Leicester Zoo


The Bull Story


Brush -General Purpose

July 21 2012


For many years it was common practice in England to add anti-inflammatory drugs to
the feed of stock which was kept under intensive conditions. This, with the additional
widespread use of insecticides woke the farming community up to the risks of such
systemic chemicals getting into the environment. Very quickly it became apparent that
the numbers of raptors in England had dropped alarmingly.

During the 80's and 90's I used to regularly  arrange treks from Dehra Dun to the shrine
of Tungnath for my Indian and English friends. For my less robust friends we used to
camp below Chopta Chatti walking up to the shrine and back in a day. Some parties
preferred to spend time over night in the dhabba at the foot of the trail to the shrine
in the company of the cheerful Nepali dhubbawallah who was always happy to receive
(and share) a bottle of rum in return for his hospitality.

We always spent the second day walking along the sheer cliff face below the shrine
where we used to regularly see flights of golden eagles spectacularly  hovering  on
the updraft of air currents below us.

Then suddenly one year there were no eagles.

It seemed impossible that something had affected India's huge number of or raptors.
It seemed that both religion and politics had played a part in their demise.

Indian farmers had discovered like their English counterpart that anti-inflammatories
fed to aging cattle improved their longevity. It appeared that the residues of the
drugs fed to cattle accumulated in the aging cattle's liver and kidneys. Many travellor
in India will have been faced by the grisly spectacle of vultures disembowelling a
roadside kill. However, before long the residual toxins were killing the vultures in
huge numbers.

The effect of a reduction in vulture numbers gave an immediate stimulus to the
numbers of feral dogs both rural and urban. Feral dogs thrived as did the incidence
of rabies and in particular of humans getting bitten.

It would be simple for legislators to ban the use of such drugs but it would not be
popular from a political standpoint.

If nothing else it should boost sales of walking sticks.

  July 3 2012

                          SAUSTHORPE - INTRODUCTION:

Sausthorpe is a small village nestling in the Vale of Partney in the southern part
of the Lincolnshire Wolds between Skegness and Horncastle.

Eileen and I lived in the village for some 18 months while I worked on the Sausthorpe
Hall Estate from 1967 in preparation for my going to the Royal Agricultural College at
Cirencester to read Rural Estate Management in autumn 1968.

The time spent there marked a point at which my career had, for the second time,
substantially changed direction.

Both Eileen and I were conscious that we were having to make a fresh start with
a complete new lifestyle. It was a time of uncertainty and hard work for both of us.
James was just two years old and a year later we fostered Julia as a three day old
baby, later to adopt her while I was a student at Cirencester.

Though 18 months within a lifetime is but a short time, my stay at Sausthorpe had
a profound effect on my appreciation of agriculture as well as an understanding of
people living in the countryside.

Historically Partney Vale which surrounded Sausthorpe had since earliest times
been dominated by agriculture. Before the George III enclosures most of the
land would have been open chalk downland subject to common grazing rights
and would have been grazed principally by Lincoln Longwool sheep. Until late
Victorian times sheep had continued to dominate the local economy, huge flocks
being maintained by the Langton, Dalby, Aswardby and Harrington estates nearby.
World War I had seen much of the lower areas of the vale ploughed utilising the
steam power available which was in full use on the nearby fens. By the late
1960's there were only sheep on the exposed tops of the Wolds where the soil
was too thin for even modern arable strategies to be effective. Latterly even
these areas succumbed to the plough.

Sausthorpe Village very much reflected rural society of the time we spent there.
The majority of the families in the village had been resident for several generations.
Most of the men in the village worked on the Sausthorpe Estate or farms nearby.
Most people lived in accommodation either rented or occupied as a condition of
their employment. There were very few 'second homes' in the area despite its
picturesque nature. Most of the womenfolk did not work other than part-time.
Of the retired generation in the village; the men had almost all worked on the
land and many of the older womenfolk had been employed 'in service' in various
principal houses in the locality.

The Lincoln - Skegness road ran though the centre of Sausthorpe village. At that
time the road had only recently become the accepted direct link between Skegness
and Lincoln although there were still many local people who still referred to it as
the 'back' road. The traditional route had been via Spilsby and Hundleby. Local
belief maintained that the Hagworthingham road had been unpopular before the
First World War, mainly because of the steep valley between Hagworthingham
and Sausthorpe known as Cinder Hill.

In 1967 the village population of Sausthorpe was about 100. It would probably have
been higher in Victorian times when rural families were large. The village had a small
public hall known as 'The Institute'. This was a typical 30's built hall - cold -
uncomfortable and rarely used. There was no pub or shop, the nearest shop being
in the nearby hamlet of Aswardby where a backroom of a house served as shop and
post office. The shop stocked only a few basic food/household items and made most
of its income from the sale of cigarettes.

The Church which dominated the centre of the village was Victorian and, standing on
the top of a hill in the centre of the vale, its decorative spire could be distinguished for
miles around. Like many rural parishes, the former rectory was in fact larger than the
church, indicating that it had been a very wealthy living in past times. The rectory was,
by 1967, privately owned and the local Rector looked after several parishes nearby.

Sausthorpe village stands on a small hill more or less in the centre of Partney Vale. The
River Steeping flows through the valley rising from several tributaries in the surrounding
chalk dominated hills to the north and west. The main tributary of the river rises to the
north-west in the Tetford - Salmonby area but much of the rivers flow comes from springs
in Snipe Dales south of Hagworthingham village downstream of which the stream was
joined by another tributary flowing northwards from the hamlet of Mavis Enderby. The
Lincolnshire Wolds dominates the valley rising to about 350' above sea level both to
the north and the west.

Although geographically part of the Lincolnshire Wolds, Partney Vale is very different in
appearance to areas to either north or south. The landscape is much gentler than the
windswept Wolds nearby as well as being an idyllic relief from the flat monotony of the Fens.


                                          LEISURE TIME.

Everyone on the Sausthorpe estate worked hard as well as long hours and moments of leisure were perforce few and far between, especially during the summer months. There were however occasions when for various reasons, usually adverse weather, we were occasionally freed from farm work.

Much of my free time was devoted to working at the cottage or taking Eileen and the children to Skegness to see Grandparents. Relaxing sunny days sitting in the sand hills of the southern Skegness sea shore with James busy paddling about the muddy creeks were greatly enjoyed by all of us.

Eileen's Mother and Father made the drive out to Sausthorpe on Saturday evenings in Jim's trusty Morris 1000 shooting brake. The general plan was that while Eileen and her Mother chatted at home that I would take Jim off for a walk or a drive finishing up at some local hostelry for a drink.

We drove and walked many of the byways of the southern Lincolnshire Wolds. Jim had a never-ending supply of anecdotes about the area or the locals from his wartime dispatch riding days. We visited places around:- Mavis Enderby, Bag Enderby, Claxby Pluckacre and Old Bolingbrook where we often wondered whether we were still on a public road. Inevitably the two of us often finished up in the Red Lion at Raithby.

Our first visit to the Red Lion was however less than prepossessing.

One of my work colleagues, Fred Miller whose wife ran the Raithby Post Office, recommended the Red Lion although he later said he only went there at Christmas time. Perhaps we should have given more consideration to such a guarded recommendation:

One summer's evening we drove off from the cottage and after a walk arrived at the pub about 8 o'clock. The door of the pub was open but there was no one in sight, neither clients nor landlord.

We took a stool each at the bar and I called "Anyone about?"

No reply - although via creaking floorboards we could hear someone moving about upstairs. There was a large antique brass fireman's helmet on the bar and Jim began to reminisce about his days as an Auxiliary Fireman during the War.

Still no one appeared and I called again.

Eventually an elderly man appeared and said rather brusquely.

"I have'nt pulled the beer through yet".

We decided to have a bottle of beer each meantime despite the fact that there was only a choice between Mackeson's Stout and Bateman's Dinner Ale. The latter was notorious and locally believed to be mostly water from the Wainfleet River Steeping with a taste to match. We had a Mackeson each. The landlord did not re-appear and after about half an hour we gave it up as a bad job and went back to the cottage.

When I was back at work the following week I told Fred that I did not think much to his recommendation. He explained that he had heard that Batemans (who owned the pub) had sacked the licensee and had appointed a new tenant.

When we visited the pub a fortnight later Eric and Margery Vaughan had taken over and the place was transformed. They were always very welcoming and provided an excellent range of beers.

The Red Lion became our regular Saturday night haunt and I often met a number of my Skegness friends there who greatly enjoyed the atmosphere of such a fine rural pub. Occasionally, for a change, Jim and I would visit the Blacksmith's Arms at Skendleby run by two middle-aged spinster Sisters. This pub never seemed to be bound by normal opening hours. It was also opposite the home of the secretary to the Skegness Sailing Club who was a 'fixture' at the bar and a great friend of Jim's. In consequence, visits there tended to fall into the category Mother-in-law called 'late' and we were at high risk of reprimand when we returned home. We also used to visit the Black Horse at Old Bolingbrook which similarly did not seem to operate recognised statutory opening hours.

One of the things I missed from Assam was fishing: The upper reaches of the River Steeping ran through the Vale of Partney in which the estate stood and that part of the river had a fine natural stock of small lively brown brook trout.

Aswardby water mill stood hidden behind a small wood some 5 minutes walk from our cottage. The mill had been empty for several years although many people in the village could recall it being in working use. When I lived in Sausthorpe the mill was in the process of being converted into a house. It had been bought by a builder from Norfolk who used to spend his weekends there during the summer while he worked on the conversion himself at a leisurely pace. He appeared to be in no great hurry to complete the project and obviously felt that working in such pleasant location was a relaxation in itself. The gentleman's name was Melton and he very kindly allowed me to fish the mill pool and mill race during the week when he was not there. In return I promised to 'keep an eye' on the property.

No one else fished the stretch of the river which ran through the farm and although it held several trout the banks were completely un-kept. Parts of the stream ran over gravel but much of it comprised sandy silt which grew copious quantities of weed. While I was skilled enough to be able to cast a fly accurately enough for much of the river; some parts could only be fished using a fly on a bubble float which could be floated downstream through the undergrowth. The other alternative was 'dapping': This method involved creeping along the riverbank and very carefully and quietly lowering a fly on to the surface in front of a waiting trout. Sounds easy, but there were many times when the trout would flash away when the fly was only about 2" above the surface. Fishing the mill race was much easier but the wild trout soon got shy. If one did not catch a fish in the first few casts the chances were that they were not going to take. Nonetheless I used to catch a number of trout during the summer which were soon back at the cottage and straight into the frying pan.

Cid Morris said he would introduce me to Felix Goodwin [Bobes's Great Uncle] who owned a smallholding near Partney which included an old brick pit in which, Cid assured me, there were some good pike.

Felix lived with his spinster Sister in a small farmhouse about 3/4 of a mile from Partney village. Felix had been a shepherd most of his life as well as running his small holding. His holding was all grass consisting of five small meadows that amounted to no more than 15 acres. Each field was immaculately hedged and was grazed by a small flock of Lincoln Longwools which till recently Felix had shown with great success at the Lincolnshire annual agricultural show.

Cid took me down to the holding one evening and, at Cid's suggestion, we took several pint bottles of beer in a large paper carrier-bag. Cid took charge of the bag. I was introduced to Felix and his Sister. Felix ushered us into the front room and we sat and chatted. Felix's Sister soon disappeared to continue her work in the kitchen. After a while she re-appeared and asked whether we would like a pot of tea. I was just about to say we had brought some beer when Cid quickly interrupted and said tea would be very nice. Tea was brought and Felix's Sister again withdrew. Cid passed the beer package to Felix who was clearly very pleased. It soon became apparent to me that this was the usual procedure when visiting Felix.

"She is a strict 'Methody' I'm afraid and doesn't allow anything in the house". Explained Felix

Felix opened the window and quietly poured the contents of the tea pot over the roses.

We sat and drank "tea without milk" from the teacups.

As tales unfolded it became clear that Felix was an extraordinary character. He must have been in his eighty's because when I said that I had been in the Army he was soon relating his memories of the Mesopotamia campaign and how he had been a sergeant in the First World War.

He also recalled days when the surrounding countryside had been dominated by sheep. He had worked on the Langton, Dalby, Aswardby, Somersby and Harrington estates as shepherd. He had been unofficial 'whipper in' for the local hunt for years.

As a boy he remembered driving flocks of geese to Boston fair. He had also spent time taking a stag turkey ‘on tour' to visit local hen flocks. He had won numerous championships with his Lincoln Longwool sheep as evidenced by several well polished silver cups on the sitting room  mantle piece. He had never married but had three sons all of whom seemed to have done well in life.

It was dark by the time we put the empty beer bottles back into the paper carrier and having made our goodbyes to Felix's Sister, thanking her for the tea drove our way unsteadily home.

Felix was quite happy to let me fish the brick pit on his land.

Sadly, later that summer Cid called on me at home to say that Felix had suddenly collapsed and died. Would I mind helping him get the coffin down from the bedroom so the undertaker could put in hand the necessary arrangements for the funeral?

I duly volunteered and climbed on the back of Cid's tractor.

Felix was laid in the coffin in the bedroom supported by two chairs. His Sister asked whether we would screw the lid down and place the coffin in the sitting room.

Cid soon had the lid fastened and we tried to decide how we were going to get the coffin down the stairs. Like stairs in many old Lincolnshire small farmhouses and cottages the stairs were not only very narrow but had a 'dog leg' at the top and bottom. Obviously the empty coffin had been brought up the stairs in a near vertical position.

Jeff Howsham also arrived to help.

We struggled away and very soon had the coffin jammed firmly in the stairwell. We were all making a great effort to get the coffin down the stairs. Cid and Jeff were at the front ('downhill') with most of the weight.

"Phew! Wait a mo' Roy. I need a breather." gasped Cid.

As we stood there getting 'second wind' Cid said thoughtfully to the coffin.

"Felix you were always an awkward old sod when you were alive but I'm buggered if you're not worse now you're dead mate"

Jeff said nothing but looked a bit shocked.

Perhaps it was Cid's way of expressing respect!

Felix's Sister continued to live in the farmhouse and let the land.

I did fish the pit several times and although I never caught the pike Cid promised I landed a perch on a spinner which tipped the scales over 3 lb. I took it home and James in particular thought it was a monster.

It too went into the frying pan.

In the winter I promised to take Cid pike spinning down on the Boston fen.

I found my old Assam fishing spoons and spent an evening 'Brasso'ing' them up.

On a bright Sunday November morning Cid and I drove down to the Hob Hole drain at Midville in the East Fen. A less picturesque surrounding in which to fish would be difficult to imagine. The area is flat, treeless and totally featureless apart from the hazy distant outline of the Lincolnshire Wolds to the north and Boston 'Stump' to the south. It is an area of intensive arable cultivation. There are no hedges - only deep dykes as field boundaries. The Hob Hole Drain starts from near the Wolds and runs absolutely straight due south into the River Witham Haven below Boston. It is a 20 mile long stretch of water interrupted only by a pumping station at Lade Bank near Old Leake. The width at the upper end is about 25' and at the outfall it is about 50'. The water course is entirely man made. The East Fen was one of the last areas to be effectively drained in the late 1890's. Indeed I understand that much of the area was only finally brought into cultivation during the First World War.

Cid and I drove along the road that formed the eastern bank of the drain wondering where to start. There was a light breeze blowing from the east which gently ruffled the surface. Conditions looked ideal for spinning. Our intention was to walk down a length of the drain spinning as we went and to move the car along from time to time. Cid sensibly suggested that we start from near the Duke of Wellington pub. This was an isolated pub on the banks of the drain.

We tackled up and were soon casting lures over the water. Second cast Cid had a small pike on and almost immediately I also struck into one. We soon had both fish on the bank and then returned the fish to the water. Almost immediately we caught two more. In fact over the next ten minutes we caught 6 more fish. As we were landing the last Cid said.

"I reckon these are the same fish which we keep catching over and over again".

We decided that we would find something in which we could keep the fish. Before long Cid had borrowed a galvanised dustbin from the nearby pub [With the publican's consent]. This we filled with water and lowered into the drain standing it on the bed of the drain at near the bank. Over the next hour we caught a total of 55 pike. Most of them were small 'jack' pike but we each got a good hen pike. Mine was just over 10 lbs and Cid's an impressive sixteen pounder. In landing his fish Cid's reel disintegrated and we decided we had had enough fishing. We tipped the seething mass of pike out of the dustbin and retired to the pub which had just opened. 

We sat chatting over a couple of pints of Bateman's EB to the landlord and shared a local pork pie. After about a quarter of an hour two anglers who looked both cold and fed up came into the bar.

"Not fishing then?" said one of them.

"No" replied Cid non-commitally, "We've had enough".

"So have we" replied the other angler. "We've been live-baiting for pike below Midville Station since 6 o'clock this morning and haven't had a single touch".

Cid winked at me and ordered another beer.

We said nothing.

While most of the land in Partney Vale was under arable cultivation there was an extraordinary area to the north of the village of Langton. This was known locally as Langton Sheep walks and comprised a terraced steep south facing hillside covered with rough grass. It formed part of the northern boundary to the valley and must have been formed during an ice-age glacial retreat. Until relatively recent times the whole valley would have been used for generations for grazing sheep and only small areas in the bottom of the valley would have been ploughed. The Sheepwalks was an idyllic place for an evening walk and provided spectacular views south across the valley. Sausthorpe church spire stood out in the landscape below and it was just possible to make out Church Cottages with the naked eye. It was some distance from any road and one of those increasingly rare places (even in 1967) where there are no manmade sounds to disturb the perfect peace. The terraces on the sheep walks were very large and it was rumoured that the site had been a Saxon or Roman fortification. It was certainly easy to imagine some long passed sentry watching the approach of people in the valley below.  Certainly there had been Roman activity a few miles to the north (Tetford) where the remains of a Roman road could clearly be seen crossing the wold landscape.

Immediately to the north west of the sheep walks was a small hamlet known as Sutterby. For some reason, to which I never discovered the answer, the hamlet was known as Sutterby 'Dry Docks'. It was a continuation of the chalk strata from the sheep walks and had a small piece of woodland on the south facing slope. In this wood was a manhole covered with a heavy iron door under which I discovered a secret bunker built during World War II for a proposed 'Fifth Column' type operation. I managed to get into the bunker and found that it was all still in remarkably good order.

The Steeping River's source was in the chalk hills around the Salmonby/Tetford area. From the north ran a small tributary which was the famed 'babbling brook' penned by Tennyson who at one time lived at the vicarage at the hamlet of Somersby upstream from Aswardby. Quite where the Tennyson Brook became the River Steeping no one could tell me. The Steeping after traversing East Fen met the sea at Gibraltar Point where Father-in-law kept his boat.

North of Hagworthingham were several small pieces of woodland managed primarily to enhance the shooting and hunting in the area. Many of these were full of bluebells in the spring and wild garlic during the summer. Eileen and I use to take James and Julia to the woods where we spent many enjoyable hours pic-nic'ing. Just north of Hagworthingham off the Harrington road a bridle track ran towards Bag Enderby and forded the river where the children spent hours happily playing.

Long before our first Christmas at Sausthorpe Cid discovered I had in distant days been a church chorister. I was immediately ‘signed up' to his carol singing group. In fact everyone was signed up to Cid's choir.

Cid's vocal talent was limited solely to volume which he disported with total abandon to whatever was being sung by the rest of his carol singers. His view was simply that it did not matter how well one sang: If you did not make enough noise to rouse any particular householder it was all to no avail. Cid had a number of charities which he collected for and this involved visiting Partney, Hagworthingham, Langton and Raithby villages. Cid had no compunction about ringing up the 'big houses' in the area where we were often invited in for mince pies and sherry. Raithby was by far the most popular for us as we called into the Red Lion, (to sing of course!) only making an exit long after formal closing time. Cid even took us up to the Spilsby old people's Nursing Home at Hundleby - we did not collect money - simply sang for the benefit of the patients. Again we called in at the Red Lion on the way home. We had persuaded Cid to 'conduct' (only) in the nursing home but in the pub we just had to put up with his ebullience. Some of the pub's clients eventually agreed to contribute if Cid would not sing! Doug' Handbury let us have Jack's Doormobile for transport - on the strict understanding that it was his 'insurance' against Cid carol singing outside his house!

Despite the demands of work I managed to remain an active member of Skegness Rugby Club. The occasional bruise I suffered was regarded by my workmates as being yet another sign of my youthful eccentricity.

In the autumn I was helping Cid drilling winter corn. My job was to maintain a supply of seed and fertiliser so that Cid could work non-stop. I had to collect hundredweight bags from the store and keep Cid supplied as he progressed from field to field.

The previous Saturday I had had a particularly hard game at Lincoln and I was struggling with the sacks on the Monday morning to the point that Cid, setting aside the usual jokes about my rugby, asked me if I was o.k..

"Yes" I replied "It's just that I got a boot in the ribs on Saturday and I keep getting a sharp pain in my chest".

"Do you want to pack the job up?" Cid asked. "We're well ahead of what Doug' is expecting us to do."

As it happened it came on to rain a fine drizzle as a result of which Cid announced that it was 'not fit' and that we would pack up. In fact I had worked with him when he had been drilling in the pouring rain.

Cid advised me to go and see the doctor.

That evening I made my one and only visit to the local surgery during my stay at Sausthorpe. The doc' confirmed that I had broken a rib about which he could do very little (as Eileen had already told me) other than to 'mummify' my chest with several yards of sticky 2" elastoplast tape.

Cid wanted a full report when I arrived for work the following day and I showed him how I was trussed in yards of tape.

Among all the men who worked on the potato harvester; Cid and I had shared the doubtful distinction in the eyes of the women as having the hairiest chests of all the farm staff.

Cid, never to miss an opportunity to raise money for his charities, sold lottery tickets to everyone who worked on the farm. The winner was to help me remove the elastoplast. The tickets sold well and I received a great deal attention with requests 'to view the winnings'. Some of the female ticket holders appeared to be greatly enjoying the prospect of winning.

Luckily for me, it was Doug' Dickenson who drew the winning ticket and he was, thankfully, far too much of a gentlemen to put me to such torture!

Markham-Cook had three or four pheasant shoots a year when he invited his friends. In addition he had several lesser shoots when he shot with Doug, Roger Hawkes, the pig unit owner and neighbouring farmers.

For the grander shoots all the farm hands were involved. It became a highly organised operation on which the keeper's reputation and long hours of work were judged. For once 'Front' was not in charge.

Most of us were recruited into the beating party although early in the day several people would be detailed to outlying parts of the farm to act as 'stops'. The function of a stop, as its title might imply, was to prevent pheasants slipping away onto neighbour's land when the shooting started. It usually involved standing at the end of a wood if one were lucky - otherwise at the end of a sugar beet field exposed to the elements patrolling up and down conspicuously.

By lunchtime most of the 'stops' had been relieved and lunch was laid on at the Hall. In the stable block for the beaters and 'pickers up' and in the Hall for the guests.

A good spread was laid on in the old stables. Pork pies, Cornish pasties, sausage rolls and beef sandwiches together with a modest amount of free beer. Several of my farm mates were tea total. In the hall far stronger beverages were readily available to supplement the morning's many 'tots' from hip flasks while waiting for beaters to flush birds.

We paid close attention to the keeper's explanation that getting too close to the guns in the afternoon was not recommended practice!

Doug' usually stayed with the beaters and shot the birds going 'over'. I suspect he more enjoyed being with his men than some of Markham-Cook's more outrageous maritime guests.

Harry Markham-Cook was a very poor shot - before or after lunch. However, he plainly drew great satisfaction from providing a good days sport for his guests.

All the beaters got a brace of pheasants and a fiver as a bonus to our days pay.

Bill, despite his country upbringing, did not like pheasants and always gave me his brace which I gratefully accepted. 

Doug' kindly bought forward the date of the harvest supper held for the estate so that I should not miss it by my departure to Cirencester.

My last year it was held in the Shades Hotel in Spilsby. There were the usual speeches from Harry Markham-Cook and Doug'. Doug' invited contribution from the floor. Jack said a few brief words. Cid, despite a certain amount of barracking, said a few more and I took the opportunity to thank all of them for what had proved to be a very enjoyable 18 months at Sausthorpe. I had an anecdote for most of the men which was well received. Before everyone reached the singing stage [There was an old foreman called Front, . . . . . ] I once again expressed my special thanks to all of them for the manner in which they had accepted me into their midst. It had been a great experience that was to prove very worthwhile to my future career.

I said I should greatly miss their great friendship - and I did.  R.C 1998


                                          COTTAGE LIFE

Eileen and I found ourselves in new surroundings and with a complete new lifestyle after only a very short time back in England. We had married in November 1963 since which time we had spent only two short vacations in England and those very much in a holiday mode.

Life in Assam had been very different; an ayah to care for James, large bungalow, servants, gardeners not to mention a great deal of free time away from the tea estate during the cold weather which we spent enjoying the more remote parts of Assam.

We now found ourselves living in a very modest cottage on top of a windy hill on the edge of a small village in the southern Lincolnshire Wolds.

The cottage's formal address was, somewhat ironically, No.2, Church Cottages, Hagworthingham Road, Sausthorpe. Apart from the pair of cottages there was only a Victorian farmhouse and redundant farm buildings known as Johnson's Farm on Hagworthingham Road. Formal Post Office address our new home may have had but everyone in the village referred to the cottages simply as "Hagg Road Cottages".

Mother's enthusiasm at the Skegness salerooms had provided us with most of the household basics. Various other members of the family arrived and presented us with things they thought would be "useful" - which, I suspect, they generally had no other good use for. The rest of our heavy baggage from Assam was being freight shipped from India and was held up (we later found out) on the Bitter Lakes half way down the Suez Canal while the Arab-Israeli War raged. In particular we had arranged to bring home several Indian hand made woollen carpets.

The pair of cottages had, I guess, been built during the 1920's as farm workers cottages. They were brick built with the lower part pebble dashed. The front garden was very small and the front door only some 12' back from the edge of the busy A158. The front door which was glazed led into a small hall. Off the hall to the right was a very small sitting room which had an open fire. Indeed the room was so small that we had to specially search the saleroom for a three piece suite small enough to fit into the room. In the end we found a two seater leather settee and one matching chair, both pieces were very ancient with doubtful springs but very good leather. The stairs led up from the hall to three bedrooms, a larger one at the front and two small rooms at the back of the cottage The hall led into the living room. This room faced north and was the main room of the house. The room was dominated by a cream coloured enamelled solid fuel range with a back boiler. The backdoor of the cottage led into the living room via a 5' x 5' rear vestibule which although very useful as a cloak room did little to stop the cold north winds that blew against the rear of the cottage. Off the living room had been added a flat roof structure during the recent modernisation. The extension comprised a bathroom with toilet and an intervening space between the bathroom and the living room somewhat ambitiously referred to by Doug' as a kitchenette. The water could be heated by an immersion heater when the back boiler was not in use. The cottage had been decorated when it had been modernised. Magnolia emulsion with white paintwork throughout.

My Mother gave us a temperamental old black and white TV which sporadically picked up a signal for BBC only from the nearby Belmont TV tower via a roll of sheep netting hung out of the back bedroom window!

Prior to the modernisation the cottage had been empty for several months and even before that there had been a succession of tenants who had not lived there very long. In consequence, the garden was something of a jungle of docks, thistles, nettles and twitch.

At the rear of the cottage a set of outbuildings ran down the garden. Three doors led from the garden into outhouses. The first to a copper house (with no copper but the fireplace and chimney still in situ), the second to a coal house and the third to the former pail closet (distinguishable by the ventilation space on the top of the door and the remains of a galvanised bucket among the garden undergrowth).

James, being an increasingly mobile 2 year old; the first priority was to get the back garden fenced. It had no fencing whatsoever apart from a timber post and rail fence between the cottage garden and the adjoining field. Stepfather supplied some stakes and a length of pig netting and I made a gate from some scrap wood we found at his former piggery at Addlethorpe. I had soon erected the pig netting along the field boundary and continued it across the garden about 20' from the back door to meet the end of the outbuildings of the cottage. Over the summer we gradually managed to make the enclosed area suitable for James to play in. He did however learn very early in his life to recognise nettles! The grassed area was in fact mostly couch grass but we kept it mowed and it served its purpose as a back garden and play area quite adequately. I was given a small push mower and managed to get the front lawn (all 6' x 10' of it) looking moderately respectable. The rear garden beyond the fencing was more of a problem. I borrowed a scythe and mowed down the undergrowth which I burned in a massive bonfire which greatly impressed my small Son (though less so Bill and Margaret next door). Having purchased a garden fork and spade at Tong's of Spilsby I set to work to remove most of the roots of the more pernicious weeds. Bill watched closely and encouraged my efforts. After I had made some progress with the reclamation he suggested I ask Doug' whether I could borrow the farm rotovator.

Doug' agreed.

The next available evening I had my Fergi' roaring away in the garden and managed to cultivate the whole area beyond the pig netting fence to a depth of about 3". Bill, of course, had been 'foreman' for the occasion and had supervised the whole operation. When I thought I had done what I considered an excellent job, Bill suggested that I should cultivate the whole area again; but much deeper. I reset the rotovator depth control and the tractor was soon labouring under near maximum load. James watched wide-eyed while gripping the netting fence as the smoke blew out of the tractor exhaust in a roaring column. All went well, till, about half way down the garden, the cultivator obviously struck something buried in the earth. Immediately one of the back wheels of the tractor dropped into a large hole that had suddenly opened up. The tractor was leaning over at a crazy angle which, if it had not been supported by the rotovator, would have meant the tractor turning over.

Bill came over and announced:

"Oh, I forgot to tell you there is a well there which we covered over years ago with railway sleepers".

Bill fetched his Nuffield and a chain and very soon we recovered my tractor. I replaced the sleepers which the rotovator had dislodged and reburied them.

While the rotovated land was available for planting the cultivation had also cut up many of the roots hidden in the ground and I spent the first year removing weeds from the whole area. By the time we left after 18 months the garden was quite reasonable.

The cottages had no garages. Not a problem for Bill and Margaret as they had no car.

The front garden was separated from the main road by a 6' high privet hedge. Right next to the front boundary of the cottage was a gateway into the adjoining field. The main road was considerably higher than the field and in consequence there was a slope of some 4' through the gateway. In addition, the road was at the top of the hill and so the field also sloped away from the gateway towards the back of the cottage garden. I had arranged with Doug' that I would keep my car in the field beside the cottage and he agreed that a 10' strip of land could be left uncultivated along the side of the cottage garden. During the summer this was a satisfactory arrangement but as the weather turned wetter, getting my car out onto the main road became somewhat hazardous. The only way was to take a run at the gateway and drive straight out on to the road. In practice this meant that getting the car out became a two man job - one to drive rally-style through the increasingly muddy gateway and the second person to stop the traffic while the manoeuvre was completed.

At the time my Mother was teaching Eileen to drive.

I discussed with Bill the possibility of my 'converting' the two piggeries (one of which was his) at the very bottom of the cottage gardens into a garage. The two piggeries were 'semi-detached' like the cottages they had served. Each had a sty about 9' square with brick walls. The front wall was about 6' high and in front each sty was a brick walled pen with concrete floor. I proposed to knock down the pen walls so I could use the concrete base to stand my car on. The brick rubble from the sty walls I planned to use to make a turning area as well as improve the track through the gateway on to the main road. Bill was quite happy, especially when I said it would be ideal for him to park his precious tractor on in preference to leaving it on the main road.

I carried out the work and even made the sty area into a garage (of sorts) by building straw bale walls on two sides and using the front of the piggeries as the third wall. The roof I made out of scrap wood plywood and roofing felt most of which I found lying about the farm. It was not elegant but it was practical. The only slight problem was that initially I had not had time to ram down the brick rubble which I had laid to make a turning area next to the 'garage' and, especially because of the Mini's small wheels, it was quite difficult to manoeuvre the car when turning it round. In addition, the pigsty pen concrete floor was about 12" below the level of the surrounding brick rubble. In practice however, I used to run the Mini into the shelter so that the front bumper rested against the straw bale wall.

In the circumstances I could hardly expect Eileen to extract the car from its lair, so, when Mother was due to give Eileen a driving lesson I would usually back the car out, turn it round and leave it so she only had to drive out through the field gate.

There must have been one occasion when I forgot to do so.

The green Mini's only pretence to luxury was a pair of backing lights set in the boot lid. These were switched on by an unsophisticated manual switch below the dashboard. Some time during the autumn I discovered, while backing the car in the Raithby Red Lion car park while bringing Father-in-law back from our regular Saturday night out, that the backing lights did not work.

Several days later I removed the light covers to find the bulbs smashed but no pieces of glass. This proved something of a puzzle till sometime after Eileen admitted that one day when Mother had arrived unexpectedly she had driven the car out of the garage and 'just touched' the post and rail fence while turning! During their driving trip she and Mother had driven to Spilsby and replaced the broken light covers - but had forgotten to change the bulbs!

The shelter was on the whole quite practicable keeping my car both dry and warm.

One morning I went to start it to find the battery totally flat.

Enquiries revealed that Eileen had let James sit playing in the driving seat (with the ignition key removed) while she had brought the shopping into the house. After his 'driving' he had left the lights full on which were, of course, hidden from sight by the straw bales! The first I knew of it was when I came to start the car. It was fortunate the Mini battery was in the boot!

At the end of my first summer when I received my Jokai (Assam) Tea Company bonus for the previous year I bought a brand new Mini. A 1000 cc model with hydrolastic suspension. That in fact was our only extravagance in an otherwise necessarily thrifty lifestyle. It cost £540 from a one-man garage at Hagworthingham.

The other arrival in the spring 1968 was Julia as a three day old foster child. I recall that on the few occasions I was not working evening overtime during the summer Julia regularly cried non-stop for a couple of hours each evening. Eileen was kept very busy. James had a Sister.

Our heavy baggage eventually arrived during the winter of 1967/8. We had carpets and ornaments of our own at last. Some of the items were water stained and the freight company instructed us to make a claim which we did successfully. Many of the items were of course irreplaceable.

Saturday afternoons were usually free from overtime as Doug' recognised the necessity of his men to have some leisure time as well as an opportunity for an afternoon's shopping. None of the wives of his men owned a car and many did not even drive. 'Second cars' were almost unheard of in such a rural society. Bill and Margaret regularly made their Saturday trip into Spilsby by bus and seemed entirely content to do so.

Initially I used to borrow tools from Stepfather for jobs I undertook about the cottage. Gradually however I slowly built up the necessary tool-kit by buying a single item each Saturday from Tong's in Spilsby Market Place. Tongs was one of those hardware shops which had the smell that only came from hardware shops. Spade, fork, rake, wheelbarrow, hammer, screwdriver, hand-drill etc. - my collection of essential tools continued to grow during the time I spent at Sausthorpe. Stepfather was always willing to lend me anything I needed but he advised me to always try and buy a tool for a job so that next time I would have my own. I came to appreciate his good advice over the years.

Apart from the hedge between the cottage and the road and a partially dead hedge on the other side of the A158 the cottage was totally exposed to the elements.

One of my first tasks was to erect a washing line. This I arranged to run from the end of the cottage outbuildings down the garden (or 'jungle' as it was then) parallel to the boundary between the cottage gardens. Ultimately, I planned, there would be a grassed strip under the line.

Almost the first time Eileen used the line there was a strong breeze blowing and she soon discovered the Sausthorpe practice of 'double pegging'. This became standard practice - often if she forgot, the item of clothing would be blown into the middle of the nearby field. The clothes were certainly 'fresh' after drying on the line in the garden [Apart from the days when we were muckspreading in the adjoining field!]

If the force of the wind was a problem for using the clothes line it was nothing compared to the problem of the wind forcing its way through the old sash windows at the back of the cottage during the winter. The back of the cottage faced due north and it was impossible to keep the house warm once the wind got in the north or north-east. First of all I cut some wooden wedges and tried wedging the windows to exclude the draught. This was only partially successful and although it stopped the rattling James had still to be at risk of being suffocated by blankets in his cot in order to keep warm in the back bedroom. At Father-in-law's suggestion we went for 'double glazing'. This comprised cutting a thick sheet of polythene and pinning it to the window frame. Round the edge it was necessary to strengthen it by putting drawing pins through tape. The day Eileen and I found the time to do the job the wind was once again blowing strongly from the north. We fastened the sheet of polythene at the top of the frame and continued to fix the two sides working from the top. By the time I reached the bottom of the sheet; the wind pressure had bowed out the polythene so much so that the drawing pins kept popping out. As fast as I thumbed the pins back in one place they popped out elsewhere. Fortunately in the ever-useful-box-of-bits my Mother had given me was a packet of  ¾ inch steel carpet tacks. Contrary to my tenancy agreement and Doug's instructions I soon banged enough tacks into the newly painted window frames to secure the polythene sheet. It proved a great improvement when we had completed all three north facing windows. The vista of the spectacular views on to the Wolds to the north was slightly impaired but the added warmth in the cottage was more than compensation.

During our first summer at the cottage I gradually reclaimed the garden and under Bill's ever watchful eye soon had some vegetables established. He always grew more plants than he required and generously gave me leek, cauliflower and Brussel sprout plants. We grew summer salad crops and carrots. I even found a root of rhubarb hidden in the undergrowth near the old piggery which I re-sited in the garden to make way for my car shelter. By our second summer the garden had become well established and we even managed a respectable display of wallflowers by the front door.

In what seemed like no time at all it was time to move on to Cirencester for me to attend the three year Rural Estate Management course. During the summer of 1968 we eventually found furnished accommodation on the outskirts of Cirencester.

Rather than take all the cottage furniture back to the Skegness sale room I offered it at 'knockdown prices' to my workmates on the farm who purchased most of it. I put a list on the Aswardby corn store wall advertising everything we wished to get rid of and almost all of the items were taken.

We moved in with Mother while Eileen and I cleared the cottage.

Once again I borrowed Stepfather's car and horsebox. Anything that we had not sold and which we did not want we burned on a massive bonfire in the back garden.

While we were clearing the cottage Bill arrived home for his mid-day dinner and came round to inspect just missing a chest of drawers that I had chopped up and was throwing out of the back bedroom window on to the fire.

"Cor mate, I wouldn't have minded that myself" said Bill.

"Well you should have bought it - it was on the list for a quid" I replied.

Bill stared deep in thought into the 6' high flames of the bonfire.

"Yis, I should've dun" he said.

                                                THE CAST

During my 18 months or so at Sausthorpe I not only acquainted myself with up to date methods of farming which stood me in good stead ever after but I also gained an appreciation of the attitudes and outlooks of everyone concerned with running the estate. It was a great change from the circumstances I had left at Hukanpukri where I had been managing some 400 Indian labourers. Looking back now I can appreciate my time at Sausthorpe. It was time very well spent.

I had been working some two months on the estate before I met the owner, Harry Markham-Cook himself. In view of his non-farming background he left the day to day management of matters totally to Doug' Handbury. He no doubt had continuing interests in the fishing industry and was often away from Sausthorpe for weeks at a time. He had divorced his first wife but their son Jo kept in touch with his Father and from time to time worked with us on the farm. Indeed it was when Jo was spending some time on the farm working a pre-university stint that I first had any conversation with his Father. Old man Cook was always very genial but one could not help forming the opinion that for all his pleasantries he was probably something of a tyrant in a board room. His greatest interest in the estate was planting trees and pheasant shooting. Indeed the two interests very much went hand in hand. If ever one required evidence of how shooting improves the environment of the countryside Harry Markham-Cook was an excellent example.

The 'Old Man', as he was inevitably known, used to drive round in a very smart top-of-the-range Triumph saloon. It was often seen about the farm with the gamekeeper sitting beside him with a spade and a bunch of tree saplings protruding from the boot. As the shooting season approached the Old Man would often be seen inspecting various release pens he had sited all over the estate. Some of the release sites were old pits, often in the middle of fields. In the autumn when the winter corn was starting to grow I spent some time spraying weedicide and fungicide and on several occasions the Old Man would un- expectantly emerge from nearby undergrowth, rush up to me and order me not to spray near the cover. When there were hard frosts Markham-Cook could drive his Triumph across the fields over the frozen ground and thus inspect all his release sites. Unfortunately he often got distracted at a particular site. While he would be engrossed inspecting or feeding his flock the sun would melt the frost-hard ground with the result that when he came to drive back he would soon be bogged down in the middle of a field of autumn sown corn. Several times I was sent on what Doug' smilingly referred to as 'Lifeboat Duty' to retrieve the Old Man.

The only time the men were invited to the hall was during a shoot and at Christmas when a number of us under the leadership of Cid Morris went round the parish singing carols collecting for charity. We were invited into the hall where the Old Man produced a huge platter of mince pies and generous glasses of sherry. Inevitably the call at the hall was usually the last of the evening. Cid himself could not sing a note in tune but was nothing if not enthusiastic and Martham-Cook was always very generous in his support of Cid's various charities.

Doug' was the ideal character for a farm manager. Always calm and both firm and fair with his men. He always gave me great support and was aware that I was regarded as something of an oddity by many of my workmates. At his invitation I often used to drop in to see him on occasions when I was not working. He would explain many matters on the farm, how he managed them and why he followed a particular course of action. In turn he was fascinated to hear how I had spent my time in India. Not only was he a good judge of men but he always treated me exactly the same as the others in dealing with matters on the farm. An attitude for which I was both grateful and very much respected his approach. I believe Doug had worked all his working life in farming, apart from a wartime spell in the RAF and had acquired his skills mostly through experience - not for him agricultural degrees and high theories of management. Most of what he told us to do he had himself done at some time during his career.

The farm employed 13 permanent staff as well as casuals during the potato season. Most of the men had worked under Doug's leadership since Markham-Cook had purchased the farm 8 years before. Whilst there were grumbles from time to time; generally the men worked very well together despite the great diversity of characters involved.

Jack Smith. Foreman.

Jack was well over six foot tall with a thinning crop of fading ginger hair which was usually covered by his flat cap. Though large framed he carried no weight. Many of his attitudes to work I judge to have been very influenced by his days in the army. He had a tendency to be somewhat 'regimental'. He walked very erect and one could always spot him in the distance striding purposefully over the fields. It was probably only the jests from his workers that held him back from allowing his military manner to more dominate his dealings with his men. I discovered that Jack had seen active war service towards the end of WWII where he had played a distinguished part. Like many servicemen Jack could only rarely be coaxed to talk of those times.

Jack was always cheerful. Even, when perhaps he was not, he continued whistling a selection of tunes known only to himself. Because of this he was known throughout the Spilsby/Partney area as 'Whistling' Jack Smith' to distinguish him from several other Jack Smith's in the district. On the farm he was known as 'Front': This reflected his rather military habit of completely subconsciously standing to attention in front of his men when issuing the morning 'orders'. 'Front' also had obvious rhyming connotations for unpopular orders and rowdy harvest suppers!

I always got on well with Jack. He often provided quiet encouragement to me when tasks on the farm became what he referred to in his Lincolnshire dialect as 'a bit constant' (i.e. boring).

As is often the way in life, Jack's son was the complete opposite to his Father.

Mick was 19. He had shoulder length hair and seemed almost physically attached the radio in his Fergi tractor cab. His main interest in life was his car. A two-tone four year old Ford Anglia with reverse sloping rear window and white walled tyres. Mick had lowered the suspension, put on a very loud 'straight-through' exhaust, fitted a twin-choke Webber carburettor and wide wheels. He was regularly seen noisily making his way at high speed along the A158 through the village. Unfortunately for Mick he was also often seen by the local constabulary and spent much time juggling the endorsements on his driving licence dished out by Spilsby Magistrates for speeding offences.  He neither drank or had a girlfriend. He was not committed to working on the farm, indeed he hated being given the more tedious jobs and did he best to get his Father to favour him with the more interesting tasks. Jack however, as might be expected, treated him exactly the same as the other men under his charge.

Mick's more ambitious style of motoring came to a perhaps predictable end one frosty morning on the A158 at the bottom of Cinder Hill half way between Sausthorpe and Hagworthingham. It was reported that Mick had been lucky to escape unharmed from his overturned car which had failed to negotiate the 'S' bend at the bottom of the hill.

The other young man on the farm was Walt Kerwin. Walt lived in Spilsby in a council house. He irregularly made his way to work each day, often arriving late, much to Jack's annoyance. He liked his beer and was frequently hung over when he arrived and any work other than sitting on a tractor was quite beyond Walt's capability or will. Because Walt had no transport of his own Doug generously allowed him to take home an old Nuffield which was about to be scrapped. All went (fairly) well till Jack received reports that the Nuffield was regularly being seen outside the cinema in Spilsby and the Kings Head at Partney where it was providing a much needed taxi service to Spilsby's young people. Walt was soon reprimanded by both Doug and Jack and it was not very long after that he was either sacked or handed in his cards.

Apart from Bill, my next door neighbour, Cid Morris was probably my closest friend amongst the men on the farm. Cid had been brought up locally in the countryside and had ambitions to better himself. He recognised the disadvantage of not having formal academic qualifications and unlike several of his workmates expressed admiration for what I was doing. Cid had a Downes Syndrome son whom he doted on. He recognised the plight of such children and was very active in various charities to support families of Downes children. His enthusiasm made up for Cid's lack of formal training. He always had some money-making scheme for the numerous charities he supported.

Cid was thick set with a magnificent square chin. He was approaching 40 with a shock of thick black hair. When, rarely, he arrived at work unshaven he reminded me very much of the Desperate Dan comic character. He had a great sense of humour and was something of a practical joker; not always appreciated by his workmates.

His specialism on the farm was corn and sugar beet drilling which he did over the whole estate singlehanded. He lived in one of a pair of cottages on the Partney Road. Jack Smith lived in the other half. Cid's wife helped in the house for Jean Handbury.

At the hamlet of Aswardby there were a pair of farm cottages opposite Aswardby Farm. These cottages were occupied by Charlie Motley and Alan Thorhill.

Charlie was a local man who had numerous relations in Sausthorpe village, Partney and Spilsby. Charlie was quiet and largely kept himself to himself. He was nonetheless a very approachable character. He drove the only crawler the estate owned and did most of the autumn ploughing. He had ambitions to be foreman but his wife also wanted a different style of life. She was attending part-time study at Lincoln to qualify as a teacher which limited Charlie's ambitions.

Alan Thornally was very much a man for his own company. His main job on the farm was to look after the main corn store and drier at Aswardby. Alan's appearance was dominated by very large ears which had earned him the nic-name of 'Cloth' [as in cloth ears]. Cloth was quite at home in his dusty store - a job that would have otherwise struggled to find any takers. The dryer comprised both bin and floor storage and while there were plenty of elevators etc. there was still a considerable amount of hand shovelling on occasions. Cloth rolled his own cigarettes which reflected his notorious reputation for being very mean. Cloth could roll his cigarettes so thin that it took considerable skill to hold them between his lips to smoke them. His workmates often took the ‘micky' out of him by suggesting that he could make a roll-up out of a single strand of tobacco! He was renowned for being literally tight lipped as well as tight fisted! Whether because of his smoking style or because of working most of the time in dusty conditions Cloth's lips were in fact very thin. Alan was in his mid-40's but his wife Joyce looked considerably younger than him which gave rise to many jokes and leg-pulls. His sense of humour was decidedly lacking which, of course, made matters much worse. His wife was one of the casuals who worked sorting potatoes.

Between Aswardby and Sausthorpe Hall there was another pair of cottages. These were occupied by Doug Dickenson and Jeff Howsham.

Doug was a gentle giant of a man. In his early thirties he stood over 6' 6". He drove a Nuffield by necessity as it had a very high cab which prevented him bumping his head against the roof which he did if he borrowed any other tractors. Doug was quiet and had a typical droll Lincolnshire sense of humour. His wife Margret also worked on the farm potato sorting. They were childless and both took a great interest in events when Eileen and I took Julia as a 3 day old foster child who we eventually adopted. They were both very friendly and sociable and took part in all village social events with quiet enthusiasm.

Jeff Howsham was related to a local haulier and was always considering whether he had made the right decision to work on the estate rather than join the family business. Jeff was a quiet man who never objected to working for days completely on his own. He drove an International. His wife worked at home piecework tying fishing flies for the famous salmon angler Esmund Drury who lived in the nearby Langton Vicarage.

Set back from the A158 between Sausthorpe and Partney was Grange Farm. The main farmhouse was occupied by Doug and Jean Handbury but the original, much smaller, farmhouse originally known as East Farm was in the middle of a redundant set of farm buildings set back from the road. This was occupied by the Water's family. Percy Waters had worked the farm for many years and had officially retired. This said, he still worked more or less full time; he helped the keeper, worked on the harvester during the potato season and helped Markham-Cook with various tree planting projects. Percy was a real countryman entirely content with being able to potter about the farm. From Doug' Handbury's point of view it was very convenient to have someone like Percy about. Percy was a widower who lived with his Son, John.

John had married Jack Smith's daughter. John's chief duty was lorry driver. The estate ran a Commer Comet which John kept immaculate with great pride. He delivered the sugar beet crop to the Bardney processing factory as well as much of the corn to local merchants. 'His' tractor was a Fordson Major.

Fred Miller I have mentioned. Fred was an 'outsider' who lived at Raithby. He was also one of the few people who had not been born and bred in the Partney area. He definitely regarded fen men as a superior race - apart from those who lived 'in the hills'. He took particular pride in his ability to plough or cultivate keeping immaculate straight lines down any field.

Fred had a wonderful Fen expression which he applied to working with younger men.

He would expound:- "When you've got one boy - you've got a boy. When you've got two boys - you've got half a boy. When you've got three boys - you've got bugger all!"

He illustrated the philosophy very well when he took me, Walt and Mick stone picking at the Sutterby end of the farm. Walt and Mick were very displeased to be given a job that was not tractor driving and worked without much enthusiasm. Very few stones got picked up till Fred found some old quart screw-top beer bottles under a hedge. He set these up on the side of the trailer and very soon stones were being thrown with great gusto, most of which landed in the trailer.

Despite the individual differences in the characters of the men employed on the farm I was amazed to find how well they worked as a team and how there was a terrific camaraderie between them. Much of the credit goes to both Doug' Handbury and Jack Smith. Doug was always very approachable to all his men and often arranged his supervision of the farm work to give the men opportunity to talk to him on a one to one basis He earned their respect and was always fair even when it might lead to unpopularity from some men.


Towards the end of September as I was backing yet another load of potatoes into the Aswardby Farm store Doug' approached me and said.

 "Roy its time we did something about your tractor. I have arranged that you take it to Boston Tractors for an overhaul and refit".

He went on to explain that rather than have it as the 'spare' tractor he was going to have it fitted out specifically for loading work. By the late 60's the use of pallets was fast expanding. Commodities such as fertiliser and seed corn were increasingly supplied in 500 kg polypropelene sacks. Because the farm did not have the equipment to handle these items it was unable to take advantage of the cheaper prices offered for such semi-bulk supplies. Potato storage was also beginning to use pallet boxes in preference to bulk storage. It looked like my Fergi was going to do all the loading.

Bill was working with me and was most impressed with the prospect of both the tractor being overhauled and also me having to take it all the way to Boston.

As arranged with Doug'; setting out early one morning I drove the tractor the twenty odd miles to Boston Tractors, the Massey-Fergusson agency.

In fact although the tractor looked somewhat neglected it had not actually done much work. Many of the other men's tractors had far more hours on the clock than mine.

It was a cold and frosty as I set off for Boston and the tractor's cab was far from weatherproof. Despite coat, hat, scarf and gloves together with a little warmth from the engine and gearbox; 20 miles at full throttle left me near frozen by the time I reached the workshop. After about five minutes stamping round the agency yard I had just about restored my circulation when Doug' arrived in his pickup. I went with him to see the workshop manager and listening to their conversation it was apparent that my Fergi' was due for a very substantial (and expensive) refit.

The overhaul took about a fortnight during which time I was directed to various 'odd jobs' round the estate. These included helping the women grade potatoes in the potato store and clearing a fallen tree across the Sausthorpe Hall drive with the forester. I helped the gamekeeper repair some holding pens for his pheasants. Jack gave me an old butcher's bike for transport which was a very pleasant change from spending much of my time sat on a tractor.

Doug' took me back to Boston to collect my tractor. We went to the workshop office and while Doug sorted out the paperwork he said that I had better go and find my tractor and get started for home. I went into the workshop which was full of Fergusson tractors of all descriptions in various stages of repair and overhaul. There were several '35's' but of mine there was no sign. As I searched the workshop I spotted the remains of my tractor's muddy cab in the 'scrap' corner of the workshop. It began to dawn on me that my tractor must indeed have had a very substantial refit. The workshop foreman had been quietly watching me with some amusement.

"Can't you find your tractor?" he asked with a smile.

I had to admit that I could not; whereupon he led me to a '35' at the end of the workshop that looked as if it were almost new. It had double hydraulic rams powering an industrial type loader. It also had a new cab, anti roll bar, new driver's seat, new bonnet with headlights mounted on top as well as a floodlight mounted on top of the cab. It also had had power steering fitted and a heavy duty front axle. It had been steam cleaned and polished and shone brightly. The foreman showed me how the new hydraulic controls worked and how the loader was fitted. He explained there were a number of different pieces of equipment for handing different goods. Some of the bucket/hook fittings for the loader were to be delivered to Sausthorpe by lorry including a pallet hoist.

I arrived back at my cottage in time for lunch. Bill heard me arrive and spent the whole of his lunch hour, plate in hand, eating his lunch while inspecting my 'new' tractor. He was very impressed. Not all of my workmates were necessarily so impressed. Several suggested that it was 'not right' that the 'boy' of the workforce should have such a sophisticated machine.

Any excess of pride that I might have had was soon dissipated by Doug'. My first job was muckspreading. I was to load three muck spreaders. All those who thought I should not have the loader tractor suddenly changed their minds!

Although the farm had no grass, it did run a large herd of pigs. The pig enterprise was a separate company, albeit several of the directors were common to both farm and pig companies. The informal arrangement was that the pig enterprise could have as much straw as it required free from the farm and in return the farm would have the muck from the piggeries. The farm had little use for the straw and in those days most of it was burned in the fields.

[Jack Smith was in charge of straw burning - a job he loved and jealously guarded. It perhaps took him back to his wartime service days where he had been a sergeant in the Royal Army Service Corps.] As soon as the combines had finished harvesting in a field, Jack would fire it. His method was to dip a sack in diesel and/or paraffin, hook the sack to a piece of wire about 5 yards long and fasten the wire to the back of his van. Having made the crucial decision on wind direction and which way the fire would 'run', he would light the bag and drive slowly along the windward side of the field lighting the full length of the field. Jack achieved some spectacular burns with huge clouds of smoke rising into the sky of almost nuclear bomb proportions which could not only be seen from all over the farm but often from many miles away. Jack could have been singlehandedly responsible for bringing in subsequent legislation to control straw burning! He had several 'narrow escapes' while I was working at the farm having surrounded himself with a wall of flame. [Notable was his total absence of eyebrows at my first harvest supper!]

The pig muck hill was built up over the year. Usually Doug' 'sacrificed' a field for this purpose as by the autumn the muck hill could cover as much as three acres - it arose from a large breeding and fattening pig unit.

Jack Smith organised the muckspreading operation:

I was to load three tractor trailed muck spreaders. Manning the muck spreaders were Bill Sutton, Jeff Howsham and Doug' Dickenson. Jeff drove an International and Doug another Nuffield similar to Bill's. All three resignedly accepted their lot in a none-too-favoured job. The idea was that I should be fully engaged in loading the three spreaders and that they would therefore be able to keep going with the minimum delay. For the muck loading I had a brand new bucket with a hydraulic top grab. Double water ballasted wheels and cages front and rear were fitted to my tractor and a big new concrete counter-balance attached to the three point linkage. My new outfit not only looked impressive it also worked very efficiently. Three bucket-fulls and the spreaders were on their way back to the field to spread their loads.

Muckspreading was not only unpopular with the men on the farm but with most of the village population - especially the womenfolk and, more especially, on Mondays which was traditionally washday when clothes were hung outside to dry. The muck hill was in the field behind our cottage and most of the muck was spread (thickly) on the same field prior to a crop of potatoes. I now understood why, in the summer, sacks of Sausthorpe 'tates' left in the sun soon acquired a very characteristic scent. Eileen and Margaret had clothes to wash for small children and were keen to see the job completed without delay.

We spent two weeks spreading the muck and the job largely went without any serious hitch. The main problem was that the pig men tended to leave the baler twine in the muck and this would wrap round the spreader tines and eventually cause them to jam or break the drive chain. This necessitated thoroughly hosing the machine down and then cutting away the string. The pig men, of course, denied that it was them that left the twine from the bales in the muck without offering any cogent explanation as to how it might otherwise have got there. The other, somewhat more horrific problem, was that the muck hill contained carcasses of dead pigs. The pig men were paid a bonus to bury or incinerate any such casualties. Small suckling piglets were no problem in that the spreader easily ejected them out the back of the machine. There were however three or four quite large gilts which had died while farrowing. These too the pig men had quietly buried in the muckheap. These were just too big for the spreading tines to pick them up at the back of the spreader. Bill was luckless enough to get the first one. He spread the load but the tattered putrefying remains of the pig carcass refused to exit the spreader. When he came back for the next 'fill' we had something of a conference with Jeff and Doug as to how it would be possible to eject the pig without having to manhandle it - not a prospect that appealed to any of us. Jeff offered a solution. If it did not get chucked out with the next load of muck then he suggested as follows: If Bill went to the bottom of the field where there was quite a steep slope down to the Steeping Beck, he should run the tractor as fast as he could along the side of the beck and then without slowing turn uphill and keep full power on. He reasoned that either the pig would get flung out on the corner or, failing that, as Bill sped up the hill the pig would likely be ejected due to the spreader being on the uphill slope. Bill pointed out that there was a third alternative which was that the tractor might turn over. However, as an alternative to having to handle the carcase Bill decided to give Jeff's plan a try. Sure enough he emptied the machine - except for the pig. We all watched as Bill sped off down the field to the beck with the empty muck spreader bouncing wildly along behind him its spreading tines revolving at great speed. We heard him change into top gear and saw him pull the hand throttle right back. Soon he was flying along the side of the beck, large clods of mud and muck were flying high into the air. As he turned uphill the note of the tractor exhaust became harsher and a plume of smoke rose from the exhaust stack. Almost immediately after heading uphill the carcase of the pig was seen thrown some 20' in the air behind the spreader. Bill received a great cheer when he arrived back at the muckheap.

It was a job that generally had few cheers.

Bill was just relieved.

Thereafter, as loader, I had the added responsibility to 'search' the muck with my loader bucket to make sure I did not encumber the spreading gang with any further porcine 'booby traps'. I dug holes and buried the remaining bodies.

At the end of a fortnight's work the four of us spent a morning hosing down tractors, loader and spreaders. The final ignominy was blocking the workshop drain. Thankfully that was the end of the job for another year.

We had managed without a single visit from Jack during the fortnight!

It was about this time I had my only 'accident' while working on the farm. During the winter when the days were short there was very little overtime and tractors were garaged in the farm buildings. Mine was housed in a large open fronted shed at Church Farm some 5 minutes walk from my cottage. Because it took some time for the hydraulic oil to warm the hydraulic lift was very slow first thing in the morning, especially when during cold weather. In consequence I developed the practice of backing the tractor into the shed and then lifting the loader to its full height and locking the hydraulics off. This meant in the morning I could simply start the engine and lower the bucket and exit the barn. One dark December Monday morning (probably after an evening in the Raithby Red Lion with Father-in-law) I forgot to lower the bucket and drove off tearing a gaping hole in the asbestos roof and removing all the guttering - fortunately and more importantly to Doug the tractor was undamaged. To this day as one travels through Sausthorpe towards Horncastle one can still make out the new sheets of corrugated asbestos on the barn roof at Church Farm!

Part of my agreement for entry to the Royal Agricultural College had been that I would avail myself of whatever experience was available during my time working on the farm. Because it was an intensive arable farm the College Principal had stressed that I should get some experience of livestock. I approached Doug' Handbury and asked him if I could spend some time on the Sausthorpe pig unit. He met my request with something of a smile and asked me if I really wanted to. Did I know what I was letting myself in for?

He explained the background to the pig enterprise.

After Markham-Cook had bought the estate Doug had been appointed Farm Manager and they had made some attempt to breed and fatten pigs in a piggery left by the former owner. Doug had limited experience with managing pigs and the venture had failed to make any money. The estate was about to totally abandon the venture when a Harper Adams graduate called Roger Hawkes appeared on the scene. He had purchased a majority share in the practically defunct company and set about to rebuild the business. I had met Roger socially as well as occasionally seeing him rushing about the farm in another Bedford Dormobile that made Jack Smith's look like an exhibition model. Doug suggested that I should go and have a word with Roger before committing myself.

Roger, his wife Jane and small son lived in a house (formerly the gamekeeper's but rather grandly called the Dower House) at the back of Sausthorpe Hall.

As Doug had suggested I went round one evening to see Roger.

After some discussion, during which I explained to Roger that my Stepfather had for many years run a herd of pigs and that I had spent much of my boyhood working with him. Roger stressed that the enterprise was expanding and that all available cash was being reinvested back into buildings and new stock. He went on to say that he had got through several stockmen because the job involved not only long hours but hard and sometimes unpleasant work. He had ambitious plans. I assured him that I thought I could cope and we arranged that Roger would show me over the unit the following Sunday morning. In fact one of Roger's pig men had gone sick and my visit was delayed another week as Roger worked the Sunday in place of his absent pig man.

The unit was run on three sites around Sausthorpe village. A breeding unit on Langton Lane, a fattening unit a mile and a half away on Partney Road near Doug' Hanbury's house and another recently completed fattening unit in the village at Church Farm. The Langton Lane unit comprised several yards made from former agricultural buildings and a number of individual wooden sties for sows with litters at foot. There was a very basic farrowing suite inside the old farm buildings. This unit had evolved rather than had been specifically designed and a feed mill had also been installed in the former agricultural buildings. Everything had to be shifted by hand; food, muck and pigs - even the barley mill had to be loaded by hand from sacks. The mucking out was essentially with shovel and brush The empty and in-pig sows were kept in the yards on (very) deep litter. About 100 sows were managed in the unit.

The Partney Road fattening unit was converted out of former bullock fattening yards and it was possible to use the tractor scraper to clean the dung areas of the pens. The feeding was by ad lib. hoppers which had to be filled from sacks. It had an infamous rat population.

The Church Farm unit, being the most modern, was the easiest to manage. It could effectively be cleaned out with the tractor scraper and front loader only. The feed hoppers could be filled from outside the building direct from the back of a trailer.

When I told my farm workmates of my proposed move they were aghast that anyone would actually 'volunteer' to go and work on the pig unit. They regarded Roger as a complete 'slave driver' and pointed out that he got through a very large number of pig men.

Cid Morris summed it up. "You have to like pigs to work there Roy."

Cid said that Roger himself 'lived and breathed pigs'. It was a standing joke amongst everyone that Roger's sole topic of conversation and interest in life was pigs.

"I'm amazed he had time to get married" Cid unkindly said, "Jane must have been presented as a prize gilt".

Nonetheless, after we had finished harvesting the early potatoes in the summer of 1968 Doug released me for a three month spell with the pigs and wished me well.

My farm mates continued to be astonished.

When I joined the pig unit Derek Goodwin was both sole and head pig man. As I joined yet another pig man had just resigned.

Derek had been born and bred in Sausthorpe and was the third generation in his family to work on the Sausthorpe estate. Basically he loved pigs but found great difficulty in communicating effectively with people. Although only in his 30's he had left school at 13 on the grounds that the schoolmaster thought he would be better off working. Derek's literary skills were limited. He always got Roger (or later me) to read the instructions on feed additives and medicines. He rarely sat still. He smoked 40+ Park Drive a day. He started work at 6 a.m. and often stayed at the piggery when sows were farrowing though the night. Roger had long since given up asking Derek to keep a record of the hours he worked and paid Derek a 'special rate'.

One could never get Derek to discuss anything. His language was however basic and colourful. The 'f' word featured in almost every sentence.

Derek's nic-name was "Bobes". Given to him by Doug' Handbury.

On one rare occasion Roger had been away. In his absence Doug had agreed to ‘keep an eye' on the pig unit.

Doug was having a quick look round the Langton Lane piggery one day following up a complaint that Derek had (once again) left a generous trail of pig muck down the village street. Doug had tried to tactfully suggest that Derek ought not to overload the muck trailer and should generally try and keep the place a bit tidier. While Doug was talking Derek continued shovelling away at the back of the pens only acknowledging Doug's instructions with the odd grunt or nod of the head. Derek eventually stood up to light yet another Park Drive and said to Doug'.

"I need some bobes mate".

As an ex-WWII Squadron Leader Doug' was not entirely in accord with being addressed as Derek's "mate", and beat a tactical retreat wondering why Derek needed bulbs. Presumably daffodil bulbs - perhaps he had taken to heart the question of tidying up and was going to plant them along the track to the piggery. Doug thought it a matter that Roger might well sort out when he returned. However, each time Doug' went near the piggery Derek gruffly repeated his request - where were the f . .'ing bobes? - each time clearly becoming more aggrieved.

Roger duly returned from holiday and, as might be expected, immediately went to inspect the unit. In particular to see some recently acquired gilts in the farrowing stalls which were due to farrow. [Typically this was the reason why he came back from his holiday]. The farrowing stalls were in darkness apart from a paraffin hurricane lamp.

By this time Doug had arrived to report to Roger that all was well.

Derek also arrived and said to Roger "Mr Handbury didn't bring me any bobes"

Doug' said "Well I was leaving it to you Roger to sort out what sort of bulbs you wanted when you returned."

"What do yer mean, what sort of bobes? Fook'in light-bobes o' course!" retorted Derek.

And so Derek became 'Bobes' to everyone as the tale spread through the village!

Roger was always rushing between the piggeries in his mud spattered Doormobile.

I recall one day walking back to the piggery after lunch (Eileen would not allow the piggery tractor to be parked outside the cottage). Roger drove up Langton Lane to the A158 crossroads. As I walked towards the crossroads I could see that Roger intended to cross the A158 as he kept looking for a gap in the traffic in both directions. I could see him keep looking first right then left. As I got nearer I saw that there was a young Durok boar sat on the spare wheel beside Roger. (Roger's Doormobile only had one seat for the driver next to which was kept the spare wheel). I could not help but noticing how both pig and Roger kept looking right and left in complete unison!

I began my days working with Derek.

Even he could not understand why I had volunteered to come and work with him. He showed me his routine. We worked side by side and although Derek was slight of build I soon discovered he was both strong and had extraordinary stamina. Each day he would stop for a quick cigarette at precisely the same point in the routine.

Derek's machinery comprised one ancient T 20 grey Fergi' with front loader and one trailer. The only parts of the tractor that were not covered by an encrusted inch thick layer of dried pig muck were the seat, steering wheel, throttle and hydraulic control lever. The Fergi' was about twelve years old and long since in need of an overhaul. The tractor came from the vintage of models which started on petrol and, when they had got sufficiently warm, could be run on paraffin. Bobes's ran all the time on petrol and used copious quantities of cheap lubricating oil - most of which was emitted from the ever smoking exhaust. The electric start never worked but fortunately there was so little compression in the cylinders that starting it on the crank handle was no problem. It had neither roll bar or cab.

Apart from the sow yards the piggeries were managed as 'straw-less' accommodation. While this was not usually a particular problem during the summer. In winter however, because the dung areas on the Partney Road and Langton Lane piggeries were outside and exposed to the elements, then, during heavy rainfall cleaning out became very much a slurry operation. In recognition of this problem Derek had with great pride developed a special mucking out shovel which could scoop up a couple of gallons of liquid muck.

It was certainly hard work keeping pace with Derek but I was determined to complete my 3 months.

My cigarette consumption went up to 20 a day.

Roger, to give him his due, was quite happy to roll up his sleeves and get stuck into any job along with both of us.

I think Derek probably thought that I would not continue working with him. After about a fortnight he kept asking whether I was going to stay. The fact that I had explained that I had come to work for 3 months he seemed to either completely ignore - or forget.

Derek had travelled even less than Bill Sutton. He had been to the stock markets at Boston, Spilsby and Horncastle when he worked previously on another nearby farm as junior cowman. He had been to Skegness as a boy on holiday but "never fancied it" since. He went with his wife regularly each Saturday night to Spilsby where they played bingo. He had two small daughters who were at the local primary school. The rest of his outlook was entirely wrapped up in his work. He recognised every sow, most of them without having to look at its ear identity tag. He had an odd relationship with Roger. He admired Roger's willingness to step into the piggery enterprise and get it back to a profitable business. He could not however understand why Roger wished to keep expanding the enterprise. He seemed to be under the impression that Roger would require him to do more and more work and he worried whether he would be able to cope. It never occurred to Derek that the enterprise might one day grow to include sites away from the village run by other pig men.

The year during which I worked on the piggery Doug' had arranged to accommodate the unit's muck hill near Grange Farm. This meant a trip along the A158 to get to the muckheap field from all three piggeries.

One hot June Saturday morning Bobes was about to drive off with a load of muck when a delivery of feed additive arrived unexpectedly. Derek told me to take the load to the muck hill. The trailer was brim full with very liquid slurry and I had to drive very carefully to prevent it slurping over the side of the trailer, especially when cornering. I had to wait for some time at the junction of Langton Lane and the A158. Eventually there was sufficient gap in the Skegness-bound holiday traffic for me to gingerly pull out on to the main road. Even so, there was a large puddle of slurry left at the crossroads where part of the load went over the tailboard of the trailer.

It was downhill through the village and soon the old tractor was travelling full speed albeit only 15 m.p.h. - flat out. It was wonderful to feel the fresh air (a commodity in short supply while mucking out at the Langton Lane unit). However, the traffic soon built up behind me and before long there were impatient attempts to overtake me. One car in particular was aggressively driving right behind the tailboard of the trailer and impatiently kept blowing his horn. Pulling over on to the verge would have caused a major spill of the contents of the trailer and in view of the fact that I had less than a mile to drive down the A158 before reaching the muck heap field gateway I decided to ignore the motorist behind me. He however continued to angrily sound his horn. I eased the throttle back a little and slowed down but the oncoming traffic gave no opportunity for the motorist to overtake. I pulled the throttle control right back and as the old tractor lurched forward a huge quantity of slurry sloshed over the back of the trailer - all over the bonnet and windscreen of the following car. Windscreen wipers were totally inadequate for the job and the motorist had to blindly pull in to the side of the road. I drove on at full speed with the wind blowing pleasantly on my face. I stole a quick glance at the stranded motorist; the last I saw was him trying to clean the windscreen with a bottle of orange mineral water.

The summer of 1968 was exceptionally wet. Not only did the weather make mucking out laborious but the field in which the muck hill stood soon became very rutted and the muck hill spread like some giant amoeba over the field. The "hill" in muck hill seemed less and less appropriate as the year wore on.

I should, at this point, explain that the famed Fergusson System involved a then unique trailer coupling system. A hook, lifted by the three point linkage engaged with an eye on the trailer drawbar. The idea was to allow the tractor driver to couple up a trailer without dismounting. Up to that time most drawbars had used pins through jaws on the tractor drawbar but this system was slow and could often require two people - one to manoeuvre the tractor, the other to engage the drawbar pin. There had been many accidents with tractor drivers attempting to manage singlehanded.

As a result of the pig unit tractor's age the hydraulics were worn and the hook would only lift the trailer drawbar when the trailer was empty. However, in theory, once the trailer was coupled up it was locked in position by the three point linkage and nothing could go wrong.

So went the theory.

The rutted approach to the muck hill worsened as the year wore on. It was necessary to approach the heap at full throttle in order to reach the ever expanding edge of the heap. Without sufficient momentum one got 'stranded' long before one reached the tipping area. The tipping area itself was, by late summer, in considerable disarray. Odd loads having had to be tipped through necessity where the tractor had bogged down.

I was determined to get a 'good tip'.

It was a left turn off the A158 into the field so when there was no traffic I swung the outfit over to the right hand side of the road so that I could go through the gateway into the field almost flat out.

Apart from a large 'dollop' of slurry hitting the gatepost I got into the field o.k. and was soon tearing across the rutted stubble area towards the muck hill. I was concentrating on not letting the tractor wheels drop into tracks left by previous trips. Despite my efforts the tractor suddenly lurched into some deep ruts but I kept the throttle wide open. Unfortunately, the ruts were so deep that the trailer drawbar was ploughing a furrow in the wet ground between the wheel marks. All of a sudden the trailer drawbar eye was lifted off the very worn linkage hook on the tractor. The tractor, released from its burden, accelerated wildly forward. The only thing connecting the tractor to the trailer was the hydraulic tipping pipe. I cast a fleeting glance back to see the rubber pipe stretching alarmingly but saw that the trailer continued to career after the tractor. In an automatic reaction I applied the tractor brakes. In the split second I did so I appreciated that this had not been the most sensible thing to do as the trailer continued on lurching menacingly towards the now stationary tractor, the hydraulic pipe acting like some huge rubber band. I jumped off the tractor. The trailer collided with the back of the tractor and most of the load swept like a tidal wave over the back of the tractor covering the seat, controls and washing halfway down the bonnet.

I walked across the fields back to the piggery and told Bobes that I had had 'a bit of an accident'.

Bobes was fortunately highly amused. He came and inspected the scene and having sent me to fetch his leggings offered to drive the outfit back. He even suggested I give the tractor a hose down. That was its only wash it had in three months!


                                    BEET AND ‘TATES'.

The exit from my tea planting life in Assam did not go strictly according to plan:

Whilst on U.K. leave during the winter of 1966/7 I had attended an interview with Frank Garner, the then Principal of the Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester. Technically I was not eligible for entry to the three year Estate Management Course not having obtained the necessary two A level GCE's when I had left Gresham's. However, during the interview I managed to persuade Garner that in view of my farming background together with Army and Assam experience I would be both a reliable student and have both the capability and incentive to complete the course successfully. He agreed and I was accepted for entry September 1968. I gave him an assurance that I would find myself a suitable pre-college position to re-familiarize myself with the general U.K. farming scene. He explained that either I would have to be taken on as a premium paying student or work on a progressive estate as a farm worker.

After the interview, before Eileen, James and I returned to Assam I searched for such a post. The choice was eventually based upon the economic circumstances of the matter. Basically a 'premium student' rode about with the farm/estate manager who explained how the unit was run and gave an insight into all aspects of management of the land. For this privileged position the student paid up to a £1,000 per year in return for which he was either given a cottage or housed with the principal but received no salary. At the other extreme of the choice one worked simply as a farm labourer but with the understanding that the farm should be modern and using progressive methods. In addition the anticipation was that the student would be employed in all aspects of the farming of the particular holding. One was further required to keep a detailed diary on which a thesis had to be submitted after joining college.

While I might have fancied the luxury life of a premium student; the fact that I was married with one small child meant that I would have to earn a wage. I had some savings from Assam but these would be used over the college years and I also needed to buy a car. Premium students generally came from moneyed backgrounds - they were not married with a child.

Stepfather was quite certain that I should find what he referred to as a good Lincolnshire farm and work 'with the men'. His view was that while I might not always appreciate the niceties of certain management issues I would get a good understanding of how a farm worked in practice and that this knowledge would stand me in good stead for whatever agricultural career I followed.

How right he was. As an example (perhaps extreme) of a premium student; I shall never forget the exasperation of a farm economics lecturer being asked by a third year student, who had been a premium pupil, how a rotovator worked!

Eileen and I returned to Assam by sea via Bombay in early in 1967 with the intention of my working till September. I had been posted to Hukanpukri where I was in charge of the out garden. The main garden Manager was Mike Blakeway, a pleasant enough character though more committed to tennis meets and club life than being an effective tea estate manager. However, he largely left me alone to run the out garden which I was quite competent to do. Eventually, rumour reached Mike that I intended to start another career. Inevitably he discussed the matter with Jimmy Foster who was the Superintendant for the Tinsukia/Doom Dooma group of Jokai (Assam) Company gardens. While Mike and I got on reasonably well; Jimmy Foster and I were very much at opposite ends of the social spectrum and he felt my impending resignation was a personal sleight against his good name and reputation. Foster called me to his office and after a somewhat stormy 'straight talking' interview I decided to resign there and then rather than wait till after the monsoon. I had had originally offered to work on till after the rains in the knowledge that at such short notice it would be difficult to find a replacement. Mike appreciated my offer but not Jimmy Foster who, I suspect, had never forgiven me from earlier resigning from Lahaul Planters Club of which he had been Club President during my days at Jamirah.

So towards the end of May Eileen and I flew home with James on a Boeing 707.

Mother and Stepfather had established themselves for their retirement in their new bungalow at Wall's Lane, Addlethorpe near Skegness. My Stepsister, Anne still lived at home where she kept a number of horses in the former piggery on the smallholding opposite the bungalow. Mother kept some poultry but most of the land on the holding they let for grazing to an adjoining farmer.

Almost as soon as we arrived in Skegness Stepfather had found a job advertised on a farm which he knew. The farm was in fact the Sausthorpe Estate. It was owned by Harry Markham-Cook who had made a considerable fortune operating a trawler fleet out of Grimsby but had decided to quit the fishing industry in favour of farming and a country gentleman's image. Stepfather had at some time sold breeding gilt pigs to the estate although that particular Sausthorpe Hall pig breeding enterprise had subsequently failed.

I suppose, that, looking back, Stepfather was pleased that I had both returned to England and also that I planned to make a career in agriculture. He had often encouraged me to get involved with agriculture when I was younger in the long days when we had worked hard together on his two smallholdings.

I had only been in Skegness a few days when Stepfather drove me to Sausthorpe to meet Douglas Handbury, the Farm Manager of the Sausthorpe Hall Estate. Doug' looked after the arable side of the estate comprising some 2,000+ acres growing wheat, barley, sugar beet and potatoes. Fourteen men worked on the farm under a foreman, Jack Smith. Having ascertained that I was prepared to do whatever was required as a farm worker Doug' agreed to employ me. He warned me that it was quite usual to work not less than 20 hours overtime on a 48 hour week. He took Stepfather and I up to a cottage on the western outskirts of Sausthorpe village which I arranged to come back and look at with Eileen before giving the final confirmation that I would take the job. Doug gave me the cottage key.

Eileen and I returned the following day with my Mother in her enthusiastic 'advisory role'!

The cottage faced south fronting the A158 Skegness to Lincoln trunk road. It was one of a pair and the westernmost dwelling in the village. It had three bedrooms and had been recently modernised. The modernisation comprised a flat-roofed ground floor bathroom extension with toilet and included an immersion heater. Outside there was a derelict piggery (also semi-detached with another serving the other cottage). There was no garage. At the back of the house was a copper house, coal hose and the derelict remains of the former pail closet - recognisable by its ventilation pattern cut in the top of the door. The garden was badly overgrown, apart from where the builders had recently completed the construction of a new septic tank. The cottage was situate right at the top of a hill and exposed to winds from all points of the compass. There were sash windows throughout and a cream enamelled solid fuel range that heated the water.

The couple next door were Bill and Margaret Sutton who had twin girls slightly older than James. We decided the cottage would be o.k. and accordingly I confirmed with Doug that I would take the job. I fixed up a start date about a week later.

Mother end Eileen attended Gale's monthly household chattel auction in the Tower Garden pavilion at Skegness and I was soon instructed to deliver the household items they had bought to the cottage. For this purpose I used Stepfather's horsebox.

I had meanwhile found myself a second hand car - an 850 cc Mini, green with a white roof - very basic - for £350. We had equipped the house for £57 which included furniture, cooker and some carpets. Every member of both Eileen's and my family descended with various hand-me-downs which they thought would be useful. We were nonetheless grateful. Somehow Eileen miraculously managed to sort it all out into a comfortable home.

Indeed we were very comfortable.

We received news that our heavy baggage had been held up on a ship on the Bitter Lakes half way down the Suez Canal in the middle of the Arab-Israeli War.

I started work on the farm.

My first job was hoeing sugar beet in a huge field at the Dalby end of the farm. It was cold and windy even though it was early May. Not only was it a change in climate for me but it was the first time I had been exposed to constant hard physical work for a long time - some change from cycling round Hukanpukri managing my 400 strong Assam labour force.

'Chopping beet'. Lesson 1 of 'Back to English Farming' proved to be that what at first appeared to be very simple, was however, like many farm jobs not as simple (or easy) as one originally thought.

In the late 1960's the seed boffins were still working on producing a sugar beet seed which produced one single stem per seed. When seed was planted in 1967 several shoots grew from the single seed. This required the surplus shoots to be cut away with a hoe. Hoes came in all shapes and sizes. Many of the old hands had their own personal hoes.

Jack Smith, the foreman, issued a hoe to me saying that it would be o.k. 'with a bit of sharpening'. In fact it was an English ('pull' as against the Dutch 'push') hoe. Its handle was very rough and the cutting edge both rusty and very blunt. My new farm worker colleagues muttered their sympathies and offered advice (and the loan of a file). Oil the woodwork with a bit of diesel and file a decent edge to the hoe being the most practicable of suggestions which I followed. Jack gave me a quick demonstration as to how the job should go and set me off next to Bill Sutton, my next door neighbour. Bill kept a close eye on my efforts in the row of beet adjoining his own and visibly winced each time I clumsily wiped out several plants in error. Gradually my performance improved and Bill's exhortations and reprimands subsided. The monotony of hacking away with the hoe while shuffling along the row I found mind-boggling. The field we were working in was very long and narrow; perhaps 100 yards wide and at least a mile long. Hoeing started at about 8 a.m.. There was a stop for "first bait" usually eaten at 9 o'clock under the shelter of the nearest hedge. I made the mistake (only once) of not taking my lunch bag with me as I hoed - by the time I had walked to the other end of the field to fetch it and back, the morning break was over - much to the amusement of my colleagues! There was a speedy exodus of personnel, each on their 'own' tractors back to cottages from 1 - 2 p.m. for 'dinner' when I would ride, somewhat precariously, on Bill's tractor's three point linkage. More hoeing from 2 - 5 p.m. and finally overtime from 6 till dusk. It was a long day and the art was to "go you steady" as Bill encouraged me as I stopped increasingly frequently as the day wore on to massage my aching joints.

After a week's chopping and gapping Eileen complained that I shuffled across the bed in my sleep!

Bill Sutton, my next door neighbour was in fact only some 5 years older than me but looked considerably older. Most people would have judged him to be 40+ rather than still in his thirties. He had been brought up in Sausthorpe village leaving secondary school at Spilsby at 15. His wife, Margaret, who Bill referred to ‘Grit', was a local girl, in fact distantly related to Bill. Bill always wore a flat tweed cap. He had two; one 'working'; one 'best'. On the rare occasions he took off his cap he displayed thinning hair and a startling white forehead that hardly ever saw the direct rays of the sun. The remainder of his face was ruddy and weather beaten. His work clothes he bought from a second hand shop in Spilsby where he favoured suits with matching waistcoat. He bought several at a time and operated a 'mix and match' policy in his dress. Only during the warmest summer months did he go to work without his waistcoat. [Quote Bill "Doo'n yar carst a clowat afore the month of May is owwat"]. While the rest of the farmhands wore parka or reefa type jackets, Bill stuck with full length belted gabardine macs'. Bill wore both belt and braces. Bill had a front tooth missing in both upper and lower lower jaw. His gappy smile did not however inhibit him from sharing the laughter of his colleagues. His outlook was entirely centred on Sausthorpe; the farm, his work, his garden, his family and his tractor. I am sure he dearly loved his two twin daughters who were something of a tearaway pair. Margaret was not the most quiescent of wives and occasionally the sound of her raised voice would reach our side of the cottages. If they went 'away' on holiday they usually took a caravan or chalet at Skegness some 16 miles down the A158. Bill did not own a car; his Driving Licence was for tractors only. He had taken a tractor driving test in Spilsby - details of which he would keenly relate at length if given the opportunity. Bill's favourite Sunday leisure activity was to watch the traffic at Gunby roundabout - just sit and watch.

Bill was very particular about tending his neat garden which not only grew a profusion of flowers but also a good selection of vegetables. Despite the fact that he spent several months of the year cultivating and harvesting potatoes on the farm he took great pride in growing obscure early varieties in his own garden such as Duke of York and Kidney. It was a serious matter, sometimes of great controversy, among his work colleagues where the seed potatoes originated from and what fertiliser should be applied - not to mention the 'magic spells' necessary at planting to ensure success. One of Bill's great regrets was that he was no longer allowed (by the farm management in compliance with public health regulations) to keep a pig in the sty at the end of his garden. Bill would wistfully relate tales of huge pigs his father had reared and all the fat bacon that had been cured. He would recall how Sunday mornings had been spent processing round each cottage looking at pigs and feeding them a traditional bit of coal 'for luck'. There had been a Sausthorpe Village Pig Club. He was a great fan of steam engines. Indeed, it was only nearby steam engine rallies that ever tempted him to travel beyond Spilsby. In his boyhood he had started his farming career after leaving school by 15 working as a labourer for an agricultural contractor who took thrashing drums round the district. The mention of steam engines could be almost guaranteed to bring Bill into any conversation. His enthusiasm was recognised amongst his workmates in that he was universally known by the nic-name of "Steamer".

Late one afternoon Jack arrived on to the sugar beet field at his usual breakneck speed in the farm's battered Bedford Doormobile [How he never got his arm severed by the door slamming shut when he rammed on the brakes I shall never know] He called Bill Sutton and myself over to the van.

"You'll be glad to know I've got a new job for you two" He announced. I was relieved to be doing anything in preference to chopping out more beet. Bill had noticeably less enthusiasm; 'Whistling' Jack Smith's sense of humour he knew from years experience.

"You're to go irrigating 'tates' in the Church field near your cottage. You need to spend to-night getting the pump set up and laying out the pipes for an early start to-morrow at 5 a.m."

My immediate thoughts were that Lesson II - Irrigating 'tates', was, if nothing else, going to yield good overtime. Bill meanwhile looked very unhappy and asked Jack.

"Which tractor will we be using on the pump?"

"Use your Nuffield Bill and you can use the spare Fergie for running about and going to and from home on"

At this Bill sighed audibly but looked resigned.

I followed Bill's gleaming Nuffield and drove up to the Sausthorpe Church Farm buildings where I got the pump out of the barn. The Fergi which soon became 'my' tractor, was the odd job/farm runabout - very beaten up, unwashed, rarely serviced and generally neglected - unlike Bill's Nuffield. Bill cared lovingly for his tractor and had long meaningful conversations with 'her'. When he went home on the Nuffield he would always spend several minutes polishing it while his wife Margaret got his lunch on the table.

Bill and I arranged to meet at the bottom of the potato field. I would go and get the pump and he would go and get 'the old gal' filled up with diesel and make sure that he had spare lube' oil and distilled water for what he clearly saw as a long and heavy job.

Before dusk we had set up the p.t.o. driven pump on the back of the Nuffield, dammed the infant Steeping River and got the intake pipe properly positioned with the mains pipes laid up the field with a line of side pipes off each side of the main. It was 250 yards to the top of the main and each sideline was about 75 yards. Doug Hanbury arrived and was pleased to see we had got most of the work done but said we should call it a day at 10 p.m. We could get the system into operation to-morrow. Doug's A60 pickup lights disappeared towards the village in the gathering gloom.

Bill drove the Fergi' back to our cottages murmuring with irritation "This is a bloody thing" when he discovered only one light worked as we bounced across the potato field headland. He was plainly upset at the prospect of the job we had been given. He parked the tractor outside my cottage and arranged to call me in the morning for a 5 o'clock start. As we said goodnight I felt quite exhilarated at the thought of not chopping beet the next day. Bill was still fretting about his beloved Nuffield shackled to the pump in the late evening mist down by the stream.

"Hey up!" a voice shouted from my back garden.

Bill was stood there hatless and in his shirtsleeves thumbs hooked behind his very substantial braces.

I acknowledged his call and said I would be ready in 5 minutes. As I hurriedly ate my cereal and drank a cup of tea I heard the Fergi' start up.

I was soon outside sitting on the three point linkage which felt icy cold through my trousers. For once there was no trouble getting out of the field next to the cottages onto the A158. The sun was just rising and  beginning to peep over the horizon. We soon arrived at Bill's tractor which was glistening with the morning dew. Bill struck up the tractor engine and let it run for a while to warm up. Meanwhile we both clambered into leggings which came up to our waist, held there somewhat insecurely in my case by baler twine. The 'farm' leggings which Jack had supplied me were 'one size fits all' basis. Bill, of course had his own stowed in the back of his tractor. Soon Bill brought his tractor up to nearly full revs and engaged the p.t.o.. Initially as the tractor engine took the pump load it laboured to maintain the revs and the exhaust roared very loud in the still morning air. Bill visibly winced but became more relaxed as the water was forced up the mains and the load became more constant. After about 30 seconds the water reached the irrigation sprinkler heads which began their characteristic ticking noise as the heads rotated.

All of a sudden there was a 10' high column of water rising in the field about 40 yards from where we stood; one of the mains had come unclipped. The tractor engine, released from its load, revved to maximum and Bill made (for him) a lightening jump into the cab to disengage the p.t.o. and rescue 'the old gal'.

"Irrigat'in tates" turned out to be hard physical work. In theory, every 30 minutes we moved one of the sidelines 20 potato rows further along the main. In practice they often came undone for various reasons necessitating a good deal of sprinting through 3' high potato tops to the tractor to prevent a serious 'blowout'. Where the side pipes blew out there were often several clumps of new potatoes washed out of the ground. These were usually collected by us and taken home on the basis that (Bill assured me) left exposed to the light they would go green and be inedible. Bill and Margaret had a prodigious appetite for potatoes of all kinds - and figures to match

May 1967 saw wonderful hot days, showers and several heavy storms. We kept the irrigating going through it all. Doug', on one of his visits explained that the weight of the crop of early potatoes could double with irrigation.

"If the public want to pay good money for water, I'm quite happy to let them" he sagely explained.

Irrigating continued seven days a week 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. but Doug' agreed at my request that we could be excused working Saturday evenings. I normally arranged to take Father-in-law out for a Saturday night to the Red Lion at Raithby and persuaded Bill to shut the pump down at 5 p.m..

It had been a scorching hot June day and by the end of which we were, as usual, covered in mud and sweat. We drove home and I was soon enjoying a nice relaxing warm bath. Getting dressed afterwards I spied from the back bedroom window Bill standing in the bottom of his garden. He was waist-coatless, hands on hips, cap on the back of his head clearly looking perplexed about something. When I had dressed I went out into the garden. Inspection showed that the soakaway to the septic tanks had overflowed. The same soakaway served the septic tanks from each cottage.

As I approached Bill he announced the obvious. "The soakaway has flooded but its beginning to go down"

He then went on to say that we should make arrangements to have the land drain soakaway renewed to which I agreed to help as soon as we had some time.

Bill seemed satisfied with such arrangements but continued to Canute-like scrutinise the receding flood.

He turned to me and said thoughtfully. "Fancy us both having a bath at the very same time."

"Amazing" I replied returning to my cottage backdoor, only just succeeding in not bursting out with laughter. In fairness, Bill, of course, came from the tin-bath-in-front-of-the-fire era where one bathed only each Friday "whether you needed it or not"!

Bill and I stayed at the irrigation pipes for three weeks before two other men took over. Bill's first job on being released was to take his Nuffield to the service area in the machinery barn and give it a thorough service. I was returned to beet chopping just in time to (gladly) see the job finished.

My next job was to be part of a team operating a potato harvester. Apart from those potatoes Bill and I had washed out of the ground, Doug' Handbury was to be seen daily digging trial clumps of potatoes in the field we had irrigated. When to start lifting the crop was a question of judgement between the weight of the crop and the market price for early potatoes. Inevitably supply and demand meant that early lifted potatoes commanded the highest price albeit the crop was not at its optimum weight.

There were two potato harvesters, both single row Whitstead machines. The machines lifted tubers and tops and parted the tops which were discharged from the back of the machine. The potatoes went up an elevator onto sorting elevator tables either side of which stood three people who discarded clods, stones and damaged/bad potatoes. During the day the sorting table was operated by six local women who were employed on a temporary basis. In the evenings the sorting job was shared among the farm men. One machine was a year old and the other brand new. I was surprised to find that I had been allocated to the team running the new one. My job was to weigh and bag the crop. To do this one stood on a small platform some 5' x 8' hung on the side of the machine. The potatoes having been sorted dropped off the end of a conveyor into an automatic weighing machine. When there was 4 stone (56 lbs or half hundredweight) in the bag on one side of the weigher the machine diverted the flow of potatoes into another empty bag waiting on the other side of the weigher. As soon as a bag was full I had to remove the bag, tie it with a wire twisting gadget, stack the tied bag on the back of the platform, put an empty sack on the weigher and re-cock the machine so that the operation could repeat. At the end of field the tractor driver and I would unload the sacks. Each evening they would be collected direct from the field by the potato merchant's lorries.

In theory the system worked wonderfully. In practice there were numerous things that could go wrong: The women above me at the sorting conveyors could be forced to hold potatoes back while they sorted excess clods out of the crop (often when the harvester went through a wet patch in the field). When they let them go all at once the weighing machine would not be able to cope (or me). Sometimes the twist wires broke. Sometimes I forgot to re-cock the weighing mechanism after removing a full bag. Sometimes I did not get the empty bag on the machine in time and potatoes would cascade all over the platform. All such occasions would promote a loud chorus of "Whoa" to the tractor driver who would stop the p.t.o. that drove the harvester while order was restored. When the crop was light weighing and bagging was a simple job but as the crop increased the bagging operation became far more frenetic. Before the end of the summer the position would be reached when the tractor would have to go very slowly to enable the crop to be bagged on the machine. At this stage the bagging platform would be removed and the crop conveyed straight into tractor drawn trailers alongside the harvester. The potatoes were then stored and/or sorted in the store.

I soon found that "bagg'in tates" was yet another farm operation I learned to do like an automaton; similar to the experience I had had chopping and gapping sugar beet.

The women who operated the sorting conveyors on the machine were employed from among the wives of my workmates as well as some who had done similar casual jobs on the farm for many years. Some of the women would roll up in the morning in Jack's Doormobile with small children.

I recall one particular lady who had a two year old. She brought the child to the field each day. She had an old fashioned coach built-type pram in which the child was tethered being left at the end of the field in all weathers to either sleep or watch the harvester. One evening when it was time for the women to go home the mother of the child asked me to help her lift the pram into Jack's van. Till I went to lift the pram I did not realise that over the course of the day the bottom of the pram below the child had been filled with 'tates'. There was a good half hundredweight in the bottom. As I helped lift the carriage into the van the woman winked and said "Don't you tell Jack".

Jack, I suspect, was well aware of what went on but sensibly pretended he did not know.

During the day there were just two men on the harvester; Cid Morris and I. Cid was a hardworking pleasant character who occasionally let me drive the tractor as a change from the constant bagging task. This he did partly for my benefit and partly because he enjoyed the banter with the women working on the machine. Like most land workers they had an earthy sense of humour!

I was relieved to notice that Cid had as many calamities at the weigher as I did.

After about a month Cid was moved on to some other task on the farm for which he had some special skill which required his presence. Cid was replaced by Fred Miller.

Fred was 60 and had spent much of his working life as a tractor driver in the fens near Boston. He felt that he was a skilled driver and not a labourer and, unlike Cid, left the bagging job entirely to me despite the occasional suggestion from the women that he should change places with me for a while. Fred firmly maintained however that no one else could drive 'his' tractor.

Fred's wife ran the Post Office at the nearby village of Raithby. With the post office was a small village shop and the premises stood in about one and a half acres. Fred had been persuaded to plant Norway Spruce trees on the surplus land 'as an investment' and he spent much of his time anticipating the expected profit he was going to make selling them as Christmas trees. He was outraged when someone stole two trees (out of about 4,000). To this day, I think the culprit was probably one of the women who worked with us. They used to take great delight in 'winding Fred up' by asking whether he was keeping the Police on the track of the thief!

In those days I smoked cigarettes.

I used to limit myself to ten Player's "Number Six" each day.

Fred smoked a pipe which he fuelled with Digger Shag. This tobacco was a dark coarse mixture which burned with an unmistakable acrid smell. One day, for whatever reason I now forget, I had run out of cigarettes (and cash - it was probably a payday). One of the women on the machine used to roll her own cigarettes and agreed to give me a Risla paper if I could persuade Fred to give me some of his tobacco - she thought it most unlikely. In the event, Fred gave me quite a generous pinch of the leaf from his 'bacci' tin which the woman rolled into a 'sensible' sized reefa while the machine turned at the end of the row. Fred and I stacked the full sacks of potatoes and as he started the harvester down the next row I lit the cigarette.

It was approaching 4 o'clock in the afternoon, the crop was heavy  and it had been a long hard day. I took a couple of deep 'drags' as the potatoes started to tumble down the conveyor into the waiting sack. I leaned down to grab the sack and close the wire on it and the World suddenly spun madly. Next I knew I was laid on my back on the ground surrounded by potatoes. Much mirth all round! Perhaps that was why Fred's Digger Shag was so economical!! We finished the row before the women went home - highly amused.

Potato harvesting started in June with early varieties such as Arran Pilot and Home Guard. There were pink coloured Red Craig Royal's which had a specialist market in Northern England for fish and chip shops. Main crop varieties grown were mostly Pentland Dell and Desire both of which were put straight into two massive environmentally controlled stores and sorted throughout the winter. A few virus free King Edwards were also grown. How long it took to complete the harvest depended largely on the weather but the task was usually completed by the end of October.

As were reaching the point where the weight of crop would force us to abandon bagging the potatoes on the harvester I was having an ever-increasing problem with the automatic weighing machine. The re-cocking device was controlled by a crude spring. This spring operated a flap which redirected the flow of potatoes into the new (empty) bag. After many thousands of bags weighed the spring had become weak. Often it fell off and potatoes would cascade all over the platform. There were many 'Whoa's' to sort out the resultant mess. Everyone was getting fed up with the problem. On several occasions I had asked Jack to bring me a replacement spring. Each time he forgot.

Jack arrived in the middle of a particularly chaotic stop and got a severe heckling from the women.

He looked closely at the spring and said "Well you could bend the end over a bit to tighten it"

This we had already done on numerous occasions.

Undeterred Jack got a pair of pliers out of his van and bent the end of the spring re-connecting it to the weigher.

Not five yards further down the row potatoes were once again all over the platform as another paper bag collapsed under the weight of an uncontrolled flow of potatoes.

Groans from the women and Fred.

I ripped off the offending spring and threw it angrily with all my might into the middle of the remaining crop of potatoes.

Jack just grunted.

When he brought the women to work the following morning he had a new spring.

At the point when the crop came impracticable to bag up on the harvesters I was assigned to haul the crop to the store.

I had the beaten up Fergi and did the job with Bill Sutton. Even though we were only using 3 ton trailers my tractor struggled to manage the task. Several times Bill had to pull me out of wet places in the field.

There were 14 men who worked on the arable unit of the estate and each had their own 'personal' tractor. Two Fordson Majors, three Internationals, three Nuffields and the remainder were Fergusson 35's or 65's. My Fergi was the farm spare tractor which was also used for any front loader jobs Most of the time the loader sat in the yard. Not only was my Fergi the oldest tractor but it tended to receive less care than any of the others. All the other tractors had been 'personalised' by way of having full toolkits and the cabs being weatherproofed and generally made more comfortable. Some of the men had fitted radios and internal mirrors. It was unthinkable that anyone borrowed anyone else's tractor.


June 20 2012

Most people dread the thought of being called for Jury Service, I attach                                                                     
 The Law Gazette - Morton's Musings

         Suggested letter of "acceptance" for reluctant jurors:-

Thank you for the summons requiring me to appear for jury service at (insert) Crown Court. I have long been awaiting such an invitation and am delighted that, at last, I have received one.

I have over the years believed that not sufficient funding and support has been given to our Police, who have the unenviable task of trying to clear the streets of the vermin who clutter it and the courts.

I also note that the conviction rate in this area has fallen drastically in recent months and I shall look forward to doing my bit to restore the status quo (use of Latin tag is obligatory).

It has also come to my notice that trials are taking far too long and as a result public money - which could be better spent on building more prisons - is being wasted.

You may rest assured that I will be doing what I can from the prosecution's opening statement to lobby my fellow jurors into expeditiously dealing with the case in accordance with the prosecution's wishes.

Perhaps you would advise me on dress code: However, unless I hear from you in the meantime, you will be able to recognise me from my bowler hat, furled umbrella with whangee handle, regimental tie, and' if the Court sits on St. George's Day a rose.

In closing, I should add that if there are any vacancies for jurors before the date on which I am summoned, despite my almost total deafness, I shall be pleased to fill them.


  June 20 2012
GREAT WITCHINGHAM,    NORWICH                                                                                               The 2nd October 2009.

Kenzie Thorpe was a well known fen character.
I had the good fortune to know him.
There is a biography of Kenzie by Colin Wilcox which, despite the original publication being only a limited number you can pick up through the net. It is called Kenzie Wild Goose Man. As is often the way; someone borrowed mine and has not returned it so I cannot quote you chapter and verse.
I can however recall several times Kenzie and I met:
After short careers in the Regular Army and tea planting in Assam I returned to England, qualified as a chartered surveyor and was appointed to work in the District Valuer's Office of the Inland Revenue at Boston in 1971. I was allocated to work the area in the south of Lincolnshire then known as East Elloe Rural District. The function of the District Valuer's Office was to value property for tax purposes, oversee the Government's acquisitions and disposals of land and also maintain the Rating Valuation List, which, in those days included residential property.
One morning shortly after I had made a start at the Boston office my senior surveyor, Maurace, called me into his office. I should add that he had himself worked the East Elloe area many years previously and knew the area and its inhabitants very well.
He passed me a file which related to an appeal against a rating assessment of a house. From a cursory reading of the file it appeared to be about two neighbours who had clearly fallen out. Knowing that I had very little  experience (none in fact!) in rating matters Maurace asked me if I could do the case - he added that it was more a question of man management than technical valuation. His advice was to visit the property and see what it was all about and then to see if some sort of compromise might be arranged between the warring parties.
In due course I went to visit. The appeal related to one of the Council houses situate on the Kings Lynn side of Sutton Bridge below the road up to the lighthouse then owned by Peter Scott. Viewed from my car from the road atop the riverbank there was no obvious problem except possibly that one of the houses had both back and front garden full of wild geese of which a number appeared to be injured.
Donning my Wellie's I set out to inspect.
The house from which the appeal stemmed was next door to the garden in which about 30 wild geese were penned behind very flimsy netting fence. From the amount of droppings around it was obvious that the geese spent much of their time free range. Closer inspection revealed that not only was the whole area liberally covered with some 2" of goose droppings but the geese had eaten every flower and vegetable in the surrounding gardens.
I knocked on the door of the appeal property which was immediately opened by a very large lady also wearing wellington boots. Pointing to my now dropping-clad feet she explained that I could not come into the house and we could discuss the matter in the remains of her garden. Over the next 10 minutes, suffice to say, she administered me a fair ‘earwigging'.
I promised I would go and see her neighbour who, of course, was Kenzie. He offered me a coffee generously laced with rum and explained how his lifestyle had in effect changed from poacher to what amounted to game keeper. This new image involved him collecting injured geese which had been winged and nursing them back to health. He agreed he had got a lot and eventually agreed that the droppings were "a bit of a problem".
Over the next few weeks we had several more meetings to try and decide what could be done with the casualty geese and eventually Peter Scott was persuaded to keep the birds at the nearby lighthouse at the mouth of the Nene.
While I have not visited the lighthouse recently I recall the pens still being in use in the 1990's.
I left Boston in 1976 but over the following years met Kenzie numerous times; often in the back bar of  Mrs. Mitchel-Glendenning's Bull Hotel at Long Sutton. Kenzie also used to give informal talks at the Gedney Drove End Red Cow. Kenzie would always have interesting tales to tell of the marsh and was great company. I recall he had ancient cine projector and often showed a sequence of wildfowl shots he had filmed himself;
The film started with a shot taken with a long lens which showed a number of shell ducks feeding avidly on the green marsh. Suddenly one of the ducks looks up and gives the alarm and the ducks scurry away. At this stage Kenzie swung the lens to focus on a Phantom fighter dropping out of the sky over Sandringham and firing a burst of rounds into the targets on Gedney Marsh. Next shot is of the rounds exploding in front of the target followed by the ducks re-emerging from  the nearby fleet dyke and resuming feeding. Though of only amateur quality it was so quintessentially Kenzie.
Kenzie was well known in East Elloe and his distinctive green Reliant three wheeler van was often to be seen sheltering behind the marsh bank. If I had time I would often track him down and enjoy a chat sheltering behind the sea bank. As time went on Kenzie's health began to fail but he was still occasionally to be found on the marsh banks with his binoculars.
The last time I saw Kenzie I spotted his van and found him laid nearby in the grass watching some ducks. Kenzie was shod in a pair of well worn carpet slippers and I jokingly asked whether he was spending the night out on the marsh. He explained that he was strictly under doctor's orders and that his doctor had said that he must only go where he could go in slippers. I assume the doctor had intended that Kenzie stay at home but, as usual, Kenzie had his own interpretation!

Roy Church

Below are 3 pics of the Wash marshes where I and my family spent many happy days.




 June 19 2012


My tea estate Manager, Swynn Dyer, was married. Betty, his wife, was a somewhat 'pukka memsahib' who ran an immaculate bungalow on which she furnished great care and attention. The garden might well have been in the depths of the English countryside and was an oasis of Englishness

                                    MYNA FAULT

While enjoying tea on Betty's veranda one day I remarked on a hill myna bird that she kept in a cage.

"Joe", as the bird's name was, was Betty's pride and joy.

Swynn had little time for the noisy bird. While Swynn was at work Betty allowed the myna free range of the bungalow and compound. It was totally tame and came when called.

As I sat on the veranda, the myna obviously appreciated attention for very soon it was talking busily and was able to mimic Betty amazingly.

Shortly after I had moved into my bungalow Betty's elderly Mother died suddenly and Betty had to return to U.K. at short notice. Swynn asked me whether I would mind looking after the bird.

"Just keep it on your veranda in its cage. There's no need to let it out unless you want to. Betty, of course, spoils the damned creature rotten - I'd wring its neck" he added menacingly.

I agreed to take Joe for the period Betty was away.

The cage was set up in the shade on my bungalow veranda.

By this time tea was being plucked daily in the garden and the factory was very busy processing the leaf. I used to work irregular hours depending on whatever problem I might or might not have in the factory. In consequence, it was my custom to return to the bungalow at irregular hours. I would go up to the veranda, switch on the large ceiling fan, collapse into a comfortable old wicker armchair and call for Abdul, my new bearer.

Abdul would bring me a very welcome ice-cool fresh lime or lemon drink.

I was surprised to find that within a day or two Joe could so accurately imitate my call to Abdul, that from the servant's quarters across the bungalow compound, Abdul could not tell whether the call came from me or the bird.

Abdul however, was far from impressed. It transpired that, left on the veranda to his own company, Joe, presumably, soon became bored. To brighten his life he took to regularly calling Abdul - more often then not when I was not there. Abdul would promptly arrive with a cool drink on a tray to find that I was not there. Not surprisingly, Abdul became very angry with the bird on such occasions and understandably used to swear at the bird for the unnecessary journey.

Of course, it was not long before Joe was also happily imitating Abdul swearing at him.

There was, in the circumstances, very little I could do about it.

Eventually Betty came back from England and Joe was returned to the Burra Bungalow.

Several days later Swynn was making an inspection of the processing in the factory. When we had returned to my factory office to taste tea samples of the manufacture in progress he said

"I never thanked you for looking after Betty's wretched bird."

"No problem" I said "I quite enjoyed his company".

"I think the bird enjoyed his stay" said Swynn with something of a twinkle in his eye, "However I had to explain to Betty what 'Hutt - Sarlar' meant".

He went on to explain that every time he returned to the bungalow and called his bearer, who was also called Abdul, Joe immediately retorted with this particularly offensive Indian oath as unfortunately he now did when Betty called him.

Swynn rightly guessed precisely what had happened.

He said "Anyhow don't worry about it, I told Betty it was a term of endearment used among the servants!"

I just hoped she never used it as such!

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   June 17 2011


I suppose that I should have been grateful that my parents were so concerned with my wanderings about Skegness that they felt I would be better off sent away to school. They both worked hard and had limited time to look to my childhood needs. At the time I most certainly did not want to go to any boarding school and it was with some trepidation I heard what they planned.

I was to be sent to a privately run school as a weekly boarder. Donington was some 10 miles the other side of Boston and took over an hour to get there in Stepfather's old Hillman.

I would have been rising 7.

To me Donington seemed like the other side of the World.

The Donington school was run by the local Doctor's wife in a large house overlooking the Market Place. It had one large cold dormitory in the attic which ran the length of the building and housed about 16 boys in fairly Spartan conditions. In addition there were several day pupils.

The school was run by the Doctor's wife as headmistress. She had one younger female assistant and a 'domestic' who did all the housework and the cooking.

The house had an extensive stable block at the rear which was no longer in use other than one former stable which had been converted into the Doctor's surgery.

[Years later in dealing with a surveyor who had lived all his life in Donington I discovered that the Doctor had something of an alcohol problem and was renowned for doing the majority of his surgeries in the back bar of the Red Cow public house just opposite the school].  All I remember from the time was that the Doctor had very little to do with the running of the school. Probably just as well.

I did not stay very long at the school and remember nothing about lessons. My clearest memories are long tedious walks across the surrounding fen landscape and, extraordinarily, a visit to the local gas works. There was a commonly held belief that the emissions from the works were "good for one's chest"!

There is however one incident which is crystal clear in my mind:

Some items of food were probably either rationed after the War or simply in short supply.

In particular cheese.

The cook had painstakingly skimmed the milk for several days and had made a soft cottage cheese. This cheese was hung in a large muslin cloth to drain. About the size of a football it was tied to a projecting iron hook in the stable yard wall.

Sensibly the cook had tied it above the reach of small children.

I watched fascinated as the water slowly dripped from the glistening muslin. Unfortunately, nearby was a piece of elm blown down from one of the nearly trees which shaded the stable yard. I was the only pupil about and before long I was poking the distended muslin with the stick with entirely predictable results. Suddenly the bag burst and the whole contents were spread all over the blue brick flagstones - just as the cook arrived.

I recall reluctantly taking part in an end-of-term play which was watched by a number of parents packed very tightly in the front drawing room of the house. Mother came to the play and took me home.

The school moved to a larger house in Damgate but by then Mother had decided that Donington was not for me. I was not making what she regarded as sufficient progress. [Three different schools in three years - was it any wonder?]

She had arranged a private tutor - which sounded rather ominous.

My tutor was a gentleman is his 40's. Edgar Lyman was a Ukranian Jew. I suspect he was a wartime refugee. He laid claims to be an 'academic' and had not served in the forces during WWII and may well have also been a Conscientious Objector.

My mother engaged him to teach myself and two other boys: David Fergie was the Son of a local shopkeeper and Graham Palmer was the Son of the S.U.D.C. Foreshore Gardens Supervisor.

Lyman conducted lessons in the small back lounge of the Waldorf Hotel.

The day would start with prayers including a hymn sung falteringly by the three of us while Lyman hummed the tune. The back lounge of the hotel had a hatch through to the adjoining still room. Stepfather was at the time an enthusiastic member of the St. Matthews Church choir and on occasions I remember Lyman's humming being supported by Stepfather singing the base part behind the closed hatch.

Of formal lessons I remember very little other than we spent a good deal of our time drawing and painting and very soon I became quite competent with oils even winning a couple of local art competitions.

Lyman acquired two further pupils and the back lounge became somewhat overcrowded.

Soon Lyman acquired the tenancy of The Beacon at Chapel St. Leonards.

The Beacon was half way between Chapel St. Leonards and Chapel Point. It was a large Victorian house built on top of the sand hills overlooking the beach which could, as its name might suggest, be seen from all directions.

Chapel St. Leonards village comprised little more than a few houses and bungalows some of which were holiday homes, a large hotel and a village centre consisting of a small row of shops with an arcade in front. There was a penny arcade. In the summer the village was full of day trippers and holidaymakers who enjoyed the simple pleasures of a beach holiday. In the winter it was deserted and when the north winds blew the sand off the beach and sand hills looked more like a Wild West film set. To the south of the village the beach was bordered by large sand hills which had been partly built as sea defences but had also been enlarged by sand blown off the beach. These hills were perhaps 40' high in places and constantly being eroded by the high tides. There were no 'hard sea defences. The sand hills to the north of the village, in the middle of which The Beacon stood, were not so high as those to the south of the village but they were much wider - perhaps up to 400 yards in places. The only 'hard' defences were at Chapel Point. All along the sand dunes the high tides eroded cliffs of varying height while at the same time windblown sand replenished the sand lost to the tide; it was a self-maintaining system which had survived without hindrance from man for several decades. Indeed the hills were locally referred to as 'The Roman Bank'.

The Beacon had a huge, largely un-kept, garden and a number of outbuildings. The house had no heating other than open fires. On these we burned driftwood which we three boys collected off the beach. Lyman's cooking skills were extremely basic and we lived mainly off sandwiches and a weekly visit to the fish and chip shop in the village. One of Lyman's extra-curricular activities was snaring rabbits, some of which we three boys hawked round the village. I ate rabbit stew till I was sick of the sight of it.

Lessons were held in the house in front of the fire in winter. In summer we were taught in an outhouse which also served as Lyman's studio. He himself both painted and made sculptures which he sold with limited success locally. He carved wood washed up on the beach as well as making sculptures out of concrete.

David, Graham and myself formed Lyman's regular clientele. There were other boys who came and went in quick succession and even at one stage a couple of girls.

While Lyman did teach us the basics of maths and English; much of our lesson time was once more devoted to painting and drawing. However, much to our delight, for most of the time we were allowed to roam the sand dunes unsupervised.

On the higher dunes south of the village we would find an area where the sea had eroded the dunes so that there was a near vehicle sand cliff of up to 40' and 'ride' down from the top on a root of sea thorn. Luckily no one got buried although Graham and I did on one occasion have to frantically dig David out with our bare hands.

Between the Beacon and Chapel Point there was an outfall to a large drain which served the hinterland aided by a big diesel pump behind the dunes. The drain outfall across the beach was made of wood being about 20' high and approximately the same width. It was particularly dangerous (and perhaps fortunately, frightening) when the tide was coming in. In the summer we used to jump off the outfall quite oblivious to the danger.

I enjoyed the freedom Lyman allowed us: Beach combing, making numerous dens, tree climbing, paddling in the sea, catching edible crabs and razor fish and Lyman's successful attempts to teach us to swim when it was warm in the summer.

I do not recall Mother ever visiting The Beacon which may have been just as well.

I used to travel to Chapel from Skegness on the Lincolnshire Road Car service bus which took almost three quarters of an hour to do the 8 miles. I travelled to Chapel Monday mornings and came home Friday nights by myself - as a 7 year old.

I remember my Mother complaining that my overcoat was ingrained with salt and sand as well as being almost permanently damp. Unknown to her I had usually made great efforts to dry out the coat in front of the blacksmith's forge just down the lane from The Beacon on my way to the bus.

I suspect she soon came to the conclusion that, once again, my education was not progressing as she wished for by the end of the first summer we went to Norwich to be interviewed for my entry to Taverham Hall.

Lyman ultimately achieved notoriety in later life by being found guilty in Lincoln Crown Court of a substantial fraud involving a great deal of money for which offence he served a long spell in Lincoln jail.


Surveyor, Nelson White of White, Sons and Lumby who had an office in the market place at Donington followed the Doctor's tradition and also did much of his professional work in the back bar of the Red Lion.

 The Vine only opened in the summer.

 The 1953 East coast floods swept away most of the original sea bank which was replaced by a hard sea defence

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   June 17 2012


                         ADDLETHORPE SMALLHOLDING

It was a scorching hot summer's day - not a cloud in the sky.

A bluebottle buzzed noisily, coming to rest on a swill bin full of waste collected from Mr. Edgeington's fish and chip cafe´ in Skegness High Street. After one or two further short flights the bluebottle settled on a particularly succulent piece of fish remnant and all was quiet.

Although, in fact, all was not quiet on the smallholding. A gentle sea breeze stirred the leaves on a massive ancient grey willow which had grown nearby, probably since the area was grazing marsh reclaimed from the North Sea. In the other direction could be heard distant announcements preceded by an electronic chime from Butlin's Holiday Camp regularly exhorting their visitors into some further organised activity. Periodically an aged De'Haviland Rapide, doubtfully airworthy by to-day's standards, took off  labouring into the sky from the Butlin's grass strip to take ‘trippers' for a ten minute flight over Skegness.

Apart from the unmistakable odour from a large muck hill no one would have guessed that there were some 200 pigs and around a thousand poultry on the smallholding. Pigs in the yards and sties slept through the mid-day heat disturbed only very occasionally by squeals of young pigs playing. The pigs which were kept outside had retreated to shaded areas next to the buildings where they lay motionless stretched out in the cool. There was an area near one of the buildings where a hosepipe had leaked for some time and the ground had become soft, cool and muddy; this was an area especially favoured by the pigs who stretched out contentedly on the soft damp ground. The only movement was the occasional flap of an ear or twitch of a tail to disturb some errant insect. A few hens scratched about the yard scavenging the odd piece of grain in the shade of a wheat straw stack clucking quietly among themselves.

All was thus relatively peaceful. Rusty, an Alsation/Labrador cross dog lay asleep near his kennel by the gate where he was tethered on a long stout chain. His ears pricked up and he opened one eye. Soon he was on his feet barking furiously at a vehicle approaching unsteadily from the Addlethorpe Mill direction along the very bumpy access road to the smallholding.

The vehicle was a Hillman 5 cwt ex-Army WWII pickup which Stepfather had acquired at a disposal sale. Originally finished in a matt khaki, Stepfather had hand painted the outside only with a particularly bilious lime green. The cab had a round observation opening in the passenger side roof, the cover of which rattled incessantly. The rear of the vehicle was covered by a canvas tilt and with the tailboard suspended on two chains could just carry four galvanised dustbins of food waste.

It was the period when rationing continued after WWII. Indeed, the post war period was in many respects even more severe than during the actual conflict.

My Mother ran a boarding house and Stepfather acquired the Addlethorpe smallholding. The two businesses complemented each other. Mother's clients greatly appreciated food produced on the smallholding and also that, unlike other Skegness boarding establishments, she rarely asked them for any contribution from their ration books. Her guests not unsurprisingly returned regularly each year.

Stepfather, prior to marrying my Mother, had farmed Brickyard Farm, Sapcote, a small dairy unit near Hinkley in Leicestershire. He had served as an eighteen year old boy in the Great War as an ammunition wagoner at Passchendaele, a subject that he only ever talked about to me twice but which had clearly been a profound experience. He had no conscience about being exempted from WWII as a farmer.

He had married a local girl who had tragically died of cancer before there were any children.

Brickyard Farm was typical of small dairy farms built throughout the Leicestershire countryside in the late 19th: century; the whitewashed farmhouse was surrounded by the farm buildings and a Dutch barn. The house was small, lit by paraffin lamps, had one hand pump in the kitchen over a large Belfast sink and elm draining board. There was another larger pump in the farmyard. The principle heat in the house came from a cast iron solid fuel range in the kitchen. There was one double seat earth closet across the yard from the back door of the farmhouse.

At Sapcote Stepfather milked some twenty-five Red Poll cows by hand and managed the farm almost singlehandedly. His solitary life was only interrupted socially by his being a member of Sapcote cricket club. He was also a keen chorister at Sapcote Church and knew most of The Ancient and Modern Hymnal by heart. He had an elder Brother, George and a younger Stepbrother, Bill. Stepfather's Mother had died in childbirth and his Father had re-married. Perhaps, not surprisingly, he was a somewhat reserved, shy character who, only when angered would have much to say on any subject.

Quite why Stepfather and Mother decided to get married I find difficult to understand. Their compatibility was far from obvious. My Mother and I lived during WWII at Fields Farm which adjoined Brickyard Farm. Why my Mother moved there is not clear. She was a complicated character who managed to hide my illegitimate birth from me and others till after she died. She was however a very different character to Stepfather. During the War she kept house for Bert Lucas, the tenant of Fields Farm. Her only common interests with Stepfather appeared to be playing bridge and attending local whist drives. At what stage they decided to marry I have no idea. However, after Mother had moved to the Belgrave Hotel at Skegness and even after their wedding in June 1945 at Spilsby Stepfather continued to occupy Brickyard Farm for some time. During this period he made occasional trips in his ancient Hillman saloon to Skegness usually towing a pig trailer loaded with black market farm produce.

To reach the Addlethorpe smallholding one approached along a long narrow strip of land bordered on either side by deep dykes. Although well drained the area was low lying and the land heavy with the consequence that vehicles often become stuck en route. Stepfather managed to acquire (free) much of the rubble of the Tower Cinema which had been bombed during the War. The front of the cinema had originally been Art Deco style and covered in white tile. This rubble was laid in two leaks down the smallholding approach road and although very uneven was a great improvement. The most serious attempt to level the surface was Stepfather running his spud-wheeled Fordson Standard tractor up and down the strip. Some future archaeologist will no doubt ponder how hundreds of Art Deco tiles got in the middle of Addlethorpe Marsh.

Mother and Stepfather's daily routine at the smallholding was as follows:

After breakfast Stepfather would set off round Skegness on his 'swill round', picking up waste food from cafes, boarding houses, hotels, schools, holiday camps, the Hospital etc.. The waste was collected in galvanised dustbins hauled down the smallholding where it was cooked in large steamers. Depending on the time of year Stepfather might make up to three collection trips in the morning and one in the afternoon. In latter years Mother managed to persuade him to return to assist serving lunch to her guests. After lunch had been cleared Stepfather and Mother would both go down the smallholding.

On arrival Mother would open the gate and release Rusty, making much fuss of the old dog. Rusty had been given to Stepfather by an owner who could not cope with the dog. Rusty was very fierce but ideal as a yard dog. Although the smallholding was left unattended at night Rusty's reputation kept all prowlers away. He was well known to allow anyone in and then corner them against the muck hill making sure never to go to the full extent of his chain and preventing the intruder escaping. Several times Stepfather had had to 'rescue' travelling agricultural salesman from the top of the muck hill. Neither did Rusty reserve his wrath solely for visitors; when it came time to put him back on his chain before we returned to Skegness he would bite any of us - and did regularly.

Considering their busy lifestyles Mother and Stepfather achieved a remarkable division of labour to ensure the two businesses worked efficiently. At the Hotel Stepfather was eventually persuaded to serve guests at table. At the smallholding Mother had charge of the breeding sows and litters which would often involve her sitting up all night with a farrowing sow.  The sows she knew individually by name. Any sow having difficulty farrowing Mother would sit beside the animal calming it. As the piglets arrived she would carefully put them in a warm box till the sow had finished farrowing before allowing them all to suckle.

Mother also took charge of catching, killing, plucking and dressing any poultry required for the hotel or to meet "business favours". She also collected the eggs and washed them before they were collected by the local packing station. 

Stepfather did most of the mucking out and any arable work as well as taking pigs to Boston or Louth markets and transporting the Landrace and Large White boars about the district to service sows elsewhere. In addition he hand milked Buttercup, a single Jersey cow which was kept for milk and dairy products (cream, homemade butter, ice cream and cheese) used in the hotel.

Stepfather rented the smallholding from Bob Stowe who farmed nearby as well as running a butchers shop on Roman Bank. The land on the smallholding was very heavy and had originally been used by Bob Stowe as lairage grazing in connection with his butchery business. At the time Skegness Urban District Council were attempting to eliminate 'back of shop' slaughterhouses and the lairage had become surplus to requirements.

Bob Stowe and Stepfather did not get on. I recall witnessing several heated exchanges across the dyke that, perhaps fortunately, separated Stowe's farm from the smallholding. Much of the argument centred round Stepfather's plans to erect buildings and run the land as a livestock unit. Fortunately the Agricultural Holdings Act 1948 was in the course of passing through Parliament which clarified matters in Stepfather's favour in that a landlords consent to improvements could not be unreasonably withheld. It was a time of shortages: Production was king

The holding originally comprised three bare fields totalling 23 acres plus the access track. The field nearest the track Stepfather split into three with 6' chicken wire and pig netting fences - Known as "The Yard", "the bottom field" and "the top field". Apart from a Nissen hut in the top field all the buildings were in the yard. In addition there were two arable fields where Stepfather grew either beans or barley which were consumed on the holding. He occasionally put one of the arable fields down to clover or Lucerne from which he took a hay crop for Buttercup and let the cow graze the land with the poultry from the top field.

In the period after the War building materials were in short supply and builders themselves heavily engaged rebuilding bomb damaged properties and/or erecting thousands of council houses throughout the country to house people who had been bombed out. Stepfather had a friend, Billy Jackson from Friskney. Euphemistically known as a 'General Dealer', Billy was always on the lookout for buildings and building material: As military establishments became decommissioned Billy had the necessary contacts to be able to buy ex-WD surplus. This included Nissen huts.

Stepfather and Billy managed to buy two surplus Nissen huts at Gibraltar Point.

It so happened I was on holiday from school when they went to dismantle and collect the huts and I went with them. We approached Gibraltar Point via unmanned barbed wire road blocks and passed a line of redundant army vehicles awaiting disposal. We were met by a War Department official who pointed out two huts near the present day Skegness Sailing Club clubhouse. Cash changed hands and the official drove off. Neither Billy nor Stepfather had any experience of dismantling the huts and they both wandered round the huts contemplating where to start.

What the official had omitted to tell them that there was a family of Londoners' squatting in one of the huts. Billy entered into' negotiations' and soon a little more cash changed hands and the problem was resolved. By the end of the day Billy and Stepfather had dismantled both huts. Billy took one and sold it on to a Friskney farmer at a handsome profit and Stepfather hauled his off with borrowed tractor and 4 wheel dray to the Addlethorpe smallholding. Stepfather soon had a concrete base laid but after a while he discovered that erecting the hut frame single handed was a near impossibility. As soon as he assembled a second frame; the first fell down etc.. With what seemed to my innocent young ears a great deal of cursing he finally had the hut erected and it did not seem long before internal sty walls were built of concrete blocks and pigs were in residence. Where the lying areas were positioned in the sties Stepfather laid Bellamy's Mineral Water bottles within the concrete and it seemed incredible to me how the sows always chose the 'insulated' areas to lie on. Later Stepfather's copious thirst for mineral water was found to be symptomatic of diabetes for which he was years later diagnosed.

Just inside the gate he built three very low pigsties. Bricks were limited in supply hence the small size. They had a single sloping corrugated asbestos sheet roof which was only about 6' at the front and sloped down to the rear - cleaning out required midgets, or as I soon discovered, me.

Outside the brick built piggery was a large concrete apron on which stood the swill cooker. This was a 3' diameter cylinder about 6' high heated from underneath by a coal fire. It pivoted in the middle so that the cooked waste could be tipped into a Victorian cast iron bath that Stepfather had miraculously found at Billy Jackson's. The cooker had a lid with a weight to set the pressure. It worked on the principle of a giant pressure cooker. It was basic but effective. The chief drawback being that the swill had to be lifted head height to load the cooker which led to one or two memorably smelly  'accidents' with the more liquid waste. There was at least one cooker-full processed during the day and also another overnight. Everything was cooked and on occasions the contents smelled quite appetising. Rusty was always solely fed with bits from the cooker - and thrived on it.

Semi-open yards used in the summer to fatten hog pigs and in the winter to house dry sows. They were timber and tarred corrugated iron structures. Being close to the swill cookers any pigs in these yards were always the first to be aware of an imminent feed and their excited calls would set off squeals of anticipation from every other pig on the smallholding.

Nissen huts brought from RAF Ludford high in the Lincolnshire Wolds. One was almost always used for poultry but the other had various uses including rearing calves on several occasions (Mother's project).

Next to "The Office" was a corrugated iron lean-to which housed a well used Fordson Standard tractor. Building 8 had originally been a wooden chicken shed for laying hens which, after a concrete floor had been laid, became "The Office". It had a Calor gas double ring, telephone, a table and chairs including a couple of ancient deck chairs in which Stepfather occasionally had "forty winks" when Mother was away. What few papers and files Stepfather maintained were kept in the original laying nest boxes.


Last to arrive, acquired from Jack Brittain in yet another cashless deal to cover the use of Stepfather's Landrace boar. This was a showman's traditional caravan which had spent many years prior to WWII being towed about the countryside by a steam engine as part of a thrashing set. It was hand built of hardwood and had an intricate mahogany interior with brass fittings. It was occupied by various people who Mother "employed" to help as required on the smallholding or hotel. Many of whom were people displaced from London by the Blitz and for whom Addlethorpe was their first experience of rural life. For most of them it was just too remote and they soon moved on. Mother's employment arrangements tended to mean that she gave them free lodging in the caravan and as much milk and eggs as they wanted (which she reasoned they would likely steal in her absence anyway) - no money changed hands and I doubt if there were any records of employment.

Much of the time I was away at boarding school but I vividly recall several incidents:

Pig breeders were quite a social community, regular contacts being made through the many breed societies and markets. Before the days of hybrid breeding; great importance was laid on retaining the pedigree blood lines of breeds that then existed, many of which have now disappeared or are on the verge of extinction; Large Black, Berkshire, Wessex, Large White, Middle White, Welsh, Gloucester Old Spot, Tamworth and others that I have long since forgotten. As I write it is reported that less than a hundred Essex breeding animals survive - there were times when Stepfather himself had more than that at Addlethorpe.

Most of the larger breeders had an annual pig sale. These were popular events attended by most pig farmers in the area taking the opportunity to acquire new stock. Some of the smaller breeders would combine their sale to include animals from other herds.

The Dennis's of Kirton regularly held an annual pig sale to which Stepfather always went. John Dennis ran a herd of Essex and Stepfather had bought many pigs at different sales over the years. The Dennis sale was a large affair which, as well as hundreds of sale pens full of pigs, also included a well stocked beer marquee where all victuals were free to those attending the sale. Often, as much business was done in the beer tent as elsewhere at the sale. It was usually a very convivial meeting of pig breeders from far and wide most of whom knew each other.

Whilst Stepfather had a prodigious capacity for Bellamy's Ice Cream Soda he lacked a similar capacity for alcohol. He enjoyed a drink but usually reserved such for special occasions - no doubt an annual Essex pig sale qualified as such a special occasion.

At one particular sale having, no doubt, spent far too long in the beer tent with friends, Stepfather made his way towards the crowd surrounding the auctioneer. Stepfather was well known to the auctioneer who introduced him to the rest of the crowd. Stepfather being somewhat shy remained at the back of the crowd and studied his sale catalogue. The sale moved on pen by pen. After a while Stepfather raised his hand bidding for a particular lot he had selected from the catalogue which was soon knocked down to him at what Stepfather thought was a very reasonable price. It was only after the crowd moved on that Stepfather discovered that he had misread the catalogue and had purchased two young Tamworth gilt pigs.

Tamworths, as well as being bright ginger in colour, are famed as being not only the ultimate escapologists of the pig world but also being the fastest porcine runners. Indeed, as the crowd of bidders moved on the two young Tamworth gilts were already trying to climb out of the pen. The pigs were quickly loaded and taken to Addlethorpe where they regularly dug themselves out under the foundations of their sty and eventually were allowed to wander at will around the farmyard. At the time Stepfather had acquired an Airedale dog, Scot. Scot was about 6 months old who, perhaps fooled by the Tamworth's colouring, developed a special affinity with the two young pigs with whom he would play for hours tearing about the farmyard.

In due course the Tamworths were put to the boar and as they neared the point of farrowing became increasingly reluctant to participate in Scot's energetic games. One of the Tamworths soon learned that a degree of peace could be obtained by burrowing under the straw stack. However, by this time Scot had grown to his full size and was a powerful dog. It was not long before he learned to drag the unfortunate Tamworth from its hide. Matters came to a head when Stepfather arrived one afternoon to discover a distressed Tamworth hopping round the yard on three legs. He immediately dispatched the unfortunate creature with his 12 bore and if Scot had not fled at the sound of the gun might well have allocated the second barrel to him. The casualty was hung up in the tractor shed by its back feet and left to drain. In the cool of the summer evening Stepfather butchered the carcass and it was taken to the hotel where numbers of unsuspecting guests were very grateful of such tasty pork, albeit three legged.

Ever after when Stepfather attended pig sales he would be sent off with Mother's admonition to make sure what he was bidding for.

The Connels' had been bombed out of Chigwell. Mr. Connell had done some military service during the War and received a small War Pension. What precise injury he had sustained no one ever knew and Stepfather maintained he was essentially bone idle and simply did not want to work. Mrs. C., by contrast, worked energetically non-stop. A slight woman with a broad Irish accent. Mother gratefully employed her in the hotel where Mrs. C. willingly turned her hand to any job required of her. The Connells' had been squatting in a bomb damaged property near the clock tower on Skegness South Parade but it was not long before the local council evicted them.

Mother offered them the showman's caravan at the smallholding. Mrs. C. soon had the showman's caravan immaculate and very comfortable. If it was not convenient to get a lift to or from Skegness with Stepfather Mrs. C. would walk the mile and half up to Roman Bank and get the bus. As well as working for Mother she did any shopping required herself and under protest placed bets for her husband at the local bookies. Meanwhile Mr. C. did absolutely nothing. The limit of his activity was to amble down to Addlethorpe windmill where he had a daily newspaper delivered to enable him to study the horses.

Stepfather asked Mr. C. if he could 'keep an eye' on the yard when he let the boar out to cover any in-season sow. Mr. C. asked what the pay would be. Stepfather, just managing to retain his temper, pointed out that the couple were already occupying a caravan rent free as well as having all the eggs and milk they needed not to mention the odd chicken. In addition Stepfather explained Mother was also employing Mrs. C.

Soon after, one Sunday afternoon as Mother and Stepfather drove down the lane to the smallholding to their great amazement they saw a small crowd of people outside the smallholding gate. It soon became apparent that the crowd of some dozen adults and children were watching the boar perform his duty with a sow in the yard. The boar's efforts were accompanied by general cheers and ribaldry from the onlookers and it was also clear that several of the crowd were strongly under the influence of alcohol.

Mother took immediate charge of the situation and after enquiring what was going on threatened to set a very angry Rusty on them. In a very short time everyone except the Connells' was making a very hurried exit down the lane. Enquiries of a less than fully coherent Mr. C. revealed that he had felt entitled to invite his friends to watch the boar on a ticket paying basis as it was the only way he could make it pay.

Soon after this incident Mr. C. disappeared. Mrs. C. wished him good riddance and it seemed that they were not in any event actually married. Mrs. C. stayed on in the caravan for some time and on occasions the hotel was full of guests I often spent several nights staying in the caravan. Mrs. C. came from a remote rural area of Ireland and was entirely at home at the smallholding. She had an almost never ending store of tales from her rural childhood upbringing. She greatly missed Ireland to which she eventually returned. She was of doubtful literacy and certainly not a letter writer and, sadly, we never heard from her again.

Stepfather always kept two boars, one Danish Landrace and the other Large White. Boars will, if left together, naturally fight. On one occasion Stepfather had to shoot one after a boar fight and on another occasion a boar seriously injured a pony belonging to my Stepsister necessitating much trauma and vet. expenses.

However, like most animals, if properly handled, boars can be as docile as any other animal.

Jo was such an animal: Unusually, he had been hand reared. Normally boars were bought in sales when they had reached maturity so that they could be immediately used.

Jo was allowed to wander about the yard and loved nothing better than being rubbed between the ears after which he would squeak affectionately and lie down so that he could have his stomach rubbed. You could call him by name and he was as obedient as any dog and loved being fed titbits by hand.

He enjoyed his trips out in the pig trailer in the knowledge that he was off to perform for some of his local harem.

On one occasion when there was little work for him he wandered off and spent three days munching his way through a field of beans before we found him.

This should have been a warning to us that he was developing a wanderlust.

One sunny afternoon Stepfather found that Jo was not snoozing in his favoured place on the west side of the straw stack and it soon became obvious he had absconded. Stepfather was not particularly concerned and explained Jo would either find his own way home or someone would 'phone having spotted him.

About 1.30 in the morning the ‘phone rang in the hotel . It was the police. They had found Jo. He was on a caravan park not far from the smallholding. Stepfather woke me and we went down the holding and hitched up the pig trailer before driving to the caravan site as directed by the police. Not far from Butlin's we drove to the centre of a caravan park where there was a large crowd in the middle of which Jo chattered to the assembled crowd. Much to the alarm of the caravanners he kept going up to various members of the crowd in the hope of being given some titbit. Most of the assembled company were miners from Derbyshire and any approach by Jo caused considerable alarm. Somebody had however had the good sense to give Jo their left-over fish and chips which Jo was gratefully eating as we arrived. The crowd parted at our approach to reveal people armed with deckchairs, cricket bats, wickets or anything with which they could defend themselves against the boar. As we arrived Jo instantly recognised the truck and trailer and came happily trotting towards us. Stepfather gave him a handful of calf nuts and rubbed him between the ears. I dropped the ramp on the trailer and Jo gleefully climbed aboard chuntering quite happily. The crowd were amazed how such a great beast (he would have been 4' at the shoulders) could so easily be handled. A retired miner insisted on recounting to Stepfather how he had been fast asleep with his wife to be suddenly awaked by the rocking of the caravan. Peering from the caravan window he spotted Jo rubbing himself contentedly against the corner of the caravan. He had raised the alarm and marvelled how Jo just stood patiently and watched with interest as more and more pyjama clad caravanners appeared. His mining mates ribbed him with the usual "earth moving" jokes - not appreciated by his wife.

Mother was a skilled hand at catching and killing poultry. I can only assume that she acquired such skills during her own childhood from her parents when she must have spent time on various farms near Haynes. I was often required to help and it may be she too similarly acquired such skills as she helped Grandfather James.

Even when she only proposed to catch one chicken she would lure the flock into whatever building was being used as a chicken house by the simple expedient of leading them in with a bucket of corn some of which she would throw on the floor of the chicken hut. While the chickens were eating she would pick out which bird(s) she wanted making sure I also understood. We would then, very slowly, drive the flock up to one end or corner of the building. There was no flapping about and the whole philosophy was to keep the birds calm.

Mother had had a 'crook' made from a piece of 6' aluminium tubing. With this she would slowly approach her intended victim and put the crook round either its neck or legs depending on whichever was easier. Having checked the bird she would deftly wring its neck. If we were catching several birds then as she dispatched them she would put them in a corn sack so as not to frighten the other birds.

If she were catching ducks which spent most of their time outside and were often wet and muddy she would get me to spread a bale of wheat straw over a chicken shed floor and leave the ducks to forage about in the straw for grain for a couple of hours before catching them. This ensured that the ducks were good and clean before she caught them. She was particularly careful to make sure that she killed ducks when they had no pen feathers.

Stepfather's fowl catching technique was however very different - he chased them round the chicken hut until, eventually, he caught one - often flying by him at head height which required all his former cricketing skills. If he had to catch several fowl we had to take a break to let the dust settle in the chicken shed so we could see our quarry. Helping him was more fun but one needed a bath afterwards!

Both geese and turkeys were kept on the holding. These fell easily to Mother's chicken crook but were more of a challenge to kill. The simplest expedient proved to be to hold the bird head down, put the yard broom across its neck which was held down by Mother's foot, Then, holding it by the breast and feet to give it a short sharp pull to dispatch it.

Inevitably I was taught to both pluck and dress birds which I could do entirely proficiently by the time I was 12 but I never was able to keep pace with Mother's work rate.

Most Wednesdays Stepfather took pigs to Boston market. As well as the livestock market there was a produce, dead stock and poultry market where everything was sold at auction by Jack Killingworth. If there was any item that Stepfather thought a 'good  buy' he would often buy it on the spur of the moment. One Wednesday afternoon he arrived back at Addlethorpe with a large cardboard box full of day old Guinea fowl poults. Mother found two or three broody Rhode Island Red hens who each 'adopted' a clutch of Guinea Fowl chicks. The rest had to take their chance in a paraffin heated incubator. Despite the predation of the smallholding cat some 60+ chicks were soon feathered and darting speedily about the yard. By the end of the summer the birds could fly up to 50 yards.

Mother's technique of luring them into a chicken shed did not work and there was no way anyone could catch the birds by chasing them. By the autumn they were clearly in prime condition for the table. Various attempts were made to catch them but they always evaded capture. They also reacted to being continually harassed by retreating into the field of Stepfather's tic beans or perching high in the willows that grew along the dyke side. Stepfather attempted to stalk them with his shotgun but they soon found sanctuary in the inner recesses of the bean field.

Finally Mother and I were given the job of beating the beans while Stepfather waited at the headland with his gun. The beans were about head high for me and it was with great difficulty that Mother, who carried my toddler Stepsister in her arms forced a way through the beans. We pressed on through the crop and there was the frequent sound of Stepfather's gun in the distance. When we emerged from the crop, scratched and dusty, Stepfather had an impressive pile of Guinea Fowl at his feet.

Most autumns' Mother had guests who came for a week's duck shooting at Gibraltar Point. Having well hung the Guinea Fowl she served them up as 'pheasant' and not one wildfowler noticed. The remaining birds were sold in the Boston dead-stock market.

The few birds that escaped Stepfather's gun could sometimes be heard, almost mockingly, roosting in distant willow trees making their characteristic warning call "Come quick, come quick, come quick . ." For several years occasional birds turned up in the bag of neighbouring pheasant shoots.

In view of the fact that rationing continued after the War it was hardly surprising that animal foodstuffs were in short supply. This meant that every opportunity had to be taken to utilise any food source. As well as general food waste (swill) Stepfather collected stale bread from a bakery and gallons of sour milk from Skegness Co-op Dairy. He was then offered the spent malt grain from Bateman's Brewery at Wainfleet. During the summer his fattening pigs were fed a mixture of bread, sour milk and brewers grain which was often heavily fermented. The young porkers thrived on this mixture and when not feeding spent most of their time asleep in a drunken stupor.

On one occasion Stepfather returned from Boston market with the trailer filled with sacks of rejected Sanatogen vitamin pills. These were fed ad lib to laying hens who produced eggs with spectacular orange coloured yokes for a period. Sadly, no more "Snatch again" came Stepfather's way.

Stepfather was on excellent terms with Alistair Crosby, the Skegness vet. but only called him out professionally for dire emergencies. Otherwise, Stepfather used a number of home-made remedies including a bright purple solution of potassium permanganate which was painted on to cuts and bruises when pigs had been fighting. This last treatment would be evident by the presence of purple pigs running round the holding. At the other end of the spectrum of home-made remedies; Mother used to scrub any in-pig gilts going to market with warm water and Omo washing powder and then powder them with flour to ensure they looked at their very best. Chickens that took to feather pecking were treated to a covering of Stockholm tar which though crude was effective.

Any animals which required putting down went by courtesy of Stepfather's shotgun for which purpose he kept a supply of LG cartridges

When piglets reached 8 weeks they were weaned and castrated. Castrating pigs was done by Stepfather with the help of someone to hold the piglet which turned out to be me as soon as I could hold a small pig upside down by the back legs with the pig's head gripped firmly between my knees. Stepfather 'operated' armed only with a bowl full of Dettol solution and an Ever Ready single-sided razor blade. Normally he would have completed the operation almost before the inverted piglet was aware what was going on. Rusty and Scot scrapped over the surplus testes cast on to the floor. Scot usually had to wait until Rusty had had his fill but as we would do several litters together this was not a problem.

Despite scrupulously cooking all swill the herd twice got swine fever involving all the pigs being destroyed. Jo, who was away servicing sows elsewhere survived an outbreak but had a pretty frustrating life when he eventually returned 'home' to find no other pigs on the holding. The holding also suffered an outbreak of fowl pest. Although the Government had compensation schemes for such events Stepfather took the effect of such outbreaks badly. On one occasion, I recall, he became quite depressed; even re-joining St. Matthew's Church choir after an absence of five or six years.

When Stepfather finally moved from Brickyard Farm he brought with him Judy, a much loved Welsh Collie. Judy had been taught to herd cattle but would, perhaps understandably, have nothing to do with pigs and as a result became overweight and very much a family pet. She travelled everywhere with Stepfather and woe betide anyone who attempted to get into his truck which she saw as very much her personal territory. She made daily visits to the smallholding but always went back to the hotel each night. While at The Belgrave Hotel there was a particularly rampant dog next door who when Judy came into season would try every means to get into the Belgrave's garden, including climbing over the fence. Stepfather decided that the best course for Judy was to shut her up in the "Office" at the smallholding where she could also escape the attentions of Scot or Rusty. To make doubly certain of matters Stepfather tied her to the leg of the large kitchen pine table he used as dining table-cum-desk. The following afternoon we met Judy coming down the lane to greet us still fastened to the table leg which she had plainly gnawed through. There was also a large hole in the corner of the former chicken hut that served as the office where Judy had pulled off several planks to escape. Rusty did not stir from his kennel on our arrival where he slumbered with the canine equivalent of a broad smile on his face and had clearly been the found by the feckless Judy. Fortunately, by then Judy was old and no whelping followed.

As a small boy Stepfather's Fordson Standard spud wheeled tractor was a great attraction and I would be only eight when he first let me drive it. He and Jimmy Coupland, who lived in a cottage by Addlethorpe mill, were leading bales of clover from the field beyond the top field. The bales were too heavy for me to lift and though they originally put me on the trailer to stack the bales I was not strong enough to manage the job. This meant that with Jimmy on the trailer Stepfather had to fork up all the bales and keep climbing on and off the tractor as we moved down the field. He showed me how to depress the clutch with my right leg which required almost all my weight. I then had to select first gear and very gently take my foot off the clutch. I stopped the tractor when Stepfather or Jimmy shouted "Whoa". I followed Stepfather's instructions, all went well and I felt very proud.

Starting the tractor was often fraught. It started with a handle on petrol and then one changed over to paraffin. It was an imported Lease-lend model and, I suspect, little maintained as vehicle parts were in very short supply. It seemed to either start second or third crank or not at all. If it did not initially start Stepfather would curse it soundly them go off and do something else, returning to start it later. On some occasions this took numerous 'goes' and often by the time he had it started he had forgotten what the job was he was originally going to do - which made him even angrier.

Later Stepfather acquired a Series 1 Land Rover which he used to allow me to drive about the smallholding and down to Addlethorpe mill to collect barley meal. I remember him supervising my first trip to the mill yard where I parked so close to the mill that he was unable to get out of the passenger door. It required two circuits round the yard before I got it right!


I recently returned to the smallholding to revisit old memories.

I parked my car where the lane left the public road and walked down the lane. The grass had grown over and there was little sign of where the original two leaks existed but occasionally a large lump of white tile showed through the grass sward. When I got to where the showman's caravan had stood everything had been cleared and all the land was in arable production. It was late autumn and the land had been drilled with winter wheat. As I walked up the side of the dyke where once Rusty had cornered intruders against the muck hill I could see through the young wheat shoots that there was the odd sign of its former occupation. Fragments of brick and concrete, a galvanised bucket handle, a short length of rusting chain (Rusty's ?), Nissen hut fastening nails, a pony's shoe, a boar's copper nose ring and the remains of a child's plastic dummy which was probably my Stepsister's.

I kept the copper ring as a keepsake of days long gone and as a tribute to all the hard work of Mother and Stepfather which I probably never appreciated at the time.

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      June 16 2012

The "Long Pull".

Section 175 of the Licensing Act 1964 made it a criminal offence for landlords of Clubs and Pubs to serve over the measure ordered by customers. Any landlords found guilty of such offence could be ordered to pay a fine up to £500.

What's it all about?

The "long pull" dates back to days of austerity when unscrupulous landlords struggled to keep their pub viable (and full of customers) by serving more beer than the customer had requested.

The custom had grown for the customer to order a pint of ale, drink three quarters thereof and then order another half pint in the same glass. This second glass the landlord filled to the brim but only charged for a half pint.

In days when pub rents reflected the fact that landlords were ‘tied' to only sell beers from the brewery who owned the pub the practice became known as "Brewer's Halves" but as the number of tied houses diminished so did the old practice.

Parliament under the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 finally recognised the reality of the situation and decided that the long pull should not be a criminal offence.

It is thankfully still possible, especially in rural areas, to seek out pubs where Brewer's Halves are served.

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        May 12 2012



The Nelson's apparent sole claim to fame was that Admiral Nelson was born in the nearby Thorpe Vicarage. The pub was, from the outside, only what could be described as an ordinary village pub. It was whitewashed, pantile roof and out buildings which suggested that it may once have been a beer house where beer had been brewed on the premises.

It was till recently a tied house owned by Green King. In the 70's as the number of agricultural workers on the surrounding land declined the Nelson showed only a very modest profit for the brewery and it was soon on Green King's list of properties to be disposed of.

The locals were however in uproar and, led by the licensee, Les' Winters a campaign was launched to save the pub. Eventually the brewery did a deal with Mr. Winters whereby he agreed to sell Green King, Abbott and IPA ales but was not required to be restricted to what the brewery might require him to sell had the pub remained formally tied. Les' was in his 50's and the brewery ambitiously granted him a 21 year lease which appeared to suit all parties.

My Father-in-Law, Aubrey Patrick and I had established a long tradition of going together for a drink on Saturday nights to a pub "of character" while My Wife, Eileen and Mother-in-Law stayed at home catching up with the family gossip.

We arrived at The Nelson about 7 p.m.. The lights were on in the pub but there were no cars in the car park. Through the front door we were met by another door that bore a frosted glass panel proclaiming Public Bar, there did not appear to be any other public rooms.

We went into the public bar. By the light of a single light bulb suspended from the smoke stained ceiling  we saw that there were 4 large pine settles and a number of wooden chairs, thee large tables and two smaller ones. One of the small tables was covered with dominos which were firmly stuck to the table with dried beer. Some 7 or 8 men were sat behind pint glasses of beer. There was however no bar. We sat down on one of the vacant settles and were soon in conversation with the locals. The walls were clad with numerous Nelsonian memorabilia

No licensee appeared and just at the point I was about to make enquiries how one got a drink the gentleman sitting next to me introduced himself as Les' Winters.

He explained the history of the pub and that it was run primarily for the locals; thus he restricted his stock to items of their choice. The drinks on offer were Green King IPA but this Les explained was nearing the end of the barrel and was for locals only till the brewery brought another barrel. Otherwise he had draught Guinness and Abbott. "For the ladies" he had a modest stock of Mansfield Brown Ale. This last item I much later discovered was the tipple of his elder spinster Sister with whom he shared the pub.

Les' carried no spirits other than his home-made "Nelson's Blood". This was a rum based mixture with cloves and other (unknown and undeclared) additives supposedly based upon the traditional belief that after Nelson had died of wounds at Trafalgar his body had been preserved in a spirit filled barrel. Several of the locals had got a small "chaser" of Nelson's Blood to help their IPA down.

Aubrey opted for a pint of Abbott and a Nelson's Blood chaser. Even though it was early days of the breathalyser, IPA at 5.%  a.b.v. seemed quite enough. I did however buy a bottle of Nelson's Blood for Aubrey to take back to Skegness.

Before long Jim was drinking Nelson's Blood and having the Abbott as chasers. He was in addition generously sharing out the bottle I had bought which spurred Les' to fetch a large white enamel jug of Abbott ‘on the house' which was also passed round.

It was developing into a very jolly evening

About 9.p.m.a group of four or five smartly dressed couples came in through the bar door. They were obviously Londoner visitors or second home'ers.

Les' introduced himself and one of the group asked the girls of the party what they would like to dink which turned out to be one soft drink and three gin and tonics. Les explained he did not have either. They finished up very self consciously supping a Mansfield Brown Ale each and left as soon as their menfolk had got their pints of Abbott down.

Murmers of "Hooray Henrys'" and "foreigners" from the locals spurred Les to fetch another "on the house" jug of Abbott. The bottle of Nelson's Blood was empty and it seemed a good time to go home while we could still find it

                                                                                   Roy Church



Ada and Henry Griegs had held the licence at the Brisley Bell for many years. Ada was the first woman in Norfolk to hold a Justices full on-licence when she took over aged 22 from her Father in 1922. Shortly after she married Henry Griegs although she remained the sole Licensee.

My first associations with the pub were in the early 1980's when I used to walk my spaniel dogs on Brisley Common, one of the few registered commons in Norfolk. One could walk southward from the WWII pillbox standing beside the B1145 to Beck farm buildings and Old Hall Farm or do a circular walk to the north of the road. The common rights were owned and utilised by local farmers who grazed sheep and cattle on the common for much of the year and in addition often taking a crop of hay.

The pub stands at the north side of the B1145 and in the early ‘eighties was in need of some maintenance. Adjoining the pub were some disused outbuildings in a dilapidated state which provided doubtful shelter for users of the very primitive toilets therein. The only indication to passing strangers that it was a pub was a very modest battered sign facing the main road. It was nonetheless a popular pub, not least with the Brisley Cricket Club who had a small ground fenced off from the common. The Cricket club thrived and the venue attracted village cricket teams from much of Norfolk and although the standard of cricket may not necessarily have been memorable Ada's simple hospitality was well known and appreciated.

One warm summer evening having walked my two dogs down to Old Hall Farm and back I fancied a pint. It was not yet 7 p.m.. The car park was empty and there was no sign of any drinkers in the pub.

I knocked on the door which I later learned was kept unlocked throughout the day. No one answered and I went in.

The front door led to a room at the western end of the pub. There was no bar. In earlier days the adjoining room had been used as a dining room or as a function room for Cricket matches.

There was no one to be seen, neither landlord nor client. The public bar was a small room in which there was an eclectic and crowded collection of chairs and tables - but no bar.

Eventually Ada appeared from the direction of the cellar. She wished me good evening, welcomed the dogs with much fuss and asked me where I was from. It soon became clear that she knew several of my neighbours and this led on to questions about where I had gone to school, how long had I known Norfolk, what did I do etc. etc. and when I said that I had spent five years at Taverham then Ada remembered more boys than I did. By this time both my dogs were fast sleep. I tactfully interrupted Ada's recollections of even more Taverham boys who lived in the Bell's vicinity and politely asked if she might get me a beer.

She and Henry kept a very limited stock of draught beer and Henry's task was to man the cellar. When a client made an order Ada would shout the order down to Henry which would be followed by Henry chalking the order up on a blackboard before he drew the same from the barrel. Henry very rarely appeared in the bar and only when the pub was brimming with customers would he get involved in bringing the beer into the bar.

Several local customers arrived on foot and clearly treated the Brisley Bell as an extension of their home. As well as clients from local farms Ada's regulars included a High Court Judge, a London Newspaper editor, a writer and an artist. Everyone was on first name terms and I was made very welcome.

The next time I called at the Bell was late at night while returning from Kings Lynn on a very stormy night. As I reached Brisley Common a light shone forth from drawn curtains at the pub and looked most inviting. I pulled up in the pub car park where there was one other car parked. I opened the door to the bar and adjusting my eyes to the light quickly saw that the room was full to bursting in front of a roaring log fire. Once again I was warmly welcomed by Ada who introduced me to the rest of the drinkers several of whom I had met previously.

There was one somewhat rickety armchair next to the fire and I plonked myself down in the same to enjoy my pint.

The chap sat next to me said.

"You know you are sitting in John's chair?"

I apologised and assumed John had gone to the toilet.

No one said anything further on the matter and I began to search my fellow drinkers without conclusion as to who might be John.

I said to Ada "Does John want his chair?" whereupon there was a hushed expectant silence in the room.

After a pause Ada said that she did not think John would be wanting his chair as he had been in Brisley churchyard some 5 years!

Guffaws all round - it was obviously a long standing joke oft' shared by the regulars.

I later learned that it had long been tradition for Brisley Bell drinkers to bequeath a chair and/or table to the pub in their last Will and Testament.



Scremby House was situated some three miles north east of Spilsby in the Vale of Partney on the southern end of the Lincolnshire Wolds. Scremby House overlooked the A158/A1115 crossroads. It was an impressive Queen Anne period house standing in parkland having formerly been one of the principal houses on the surrounding Gunby Estate owned by the Massingbird family. The house was used during WWII to accommodate RAF officers and NCO's from the nearby Firsby (Great Steeping) airfield following which it was left empty and boarded up for a number a years.

In the mid-'fifties an enterprising couple, Mr. and Mrs. Simpson, having started a successful small restaurant business in nearby Burgh-le-Marsh, leased Scremby House which they advertised as a country club and restaurant.

At the time I was stationed at Sobraon Barracks in Lincoln doing my basic infantry training with the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment. Scremby crossroads was on my route back to Skegness where my parents lived and occasionally I called in on the newly opened premises.

'New' was something of a misnomer: The Simpson's, obviously somewhat strapped for capital, had carried out minimal improvements to the property, no doubt, relying on their skill as hosts and the goodwill of their clientele. The property had no mains electricity having been supplied power during its military occupation from an ancient Lister generator in an outbuilding which had long since given up the ghost. The property was lit by a selection of paraffin lamps very much as it would have been over the preceding 100 years. Indeed, entering the old house was like stepping back in time.

Mrs. Simpson slaved away in a huge kitchen dominated by an ancient solid fuel Aga range. Service was slow but the food was wonderful. Mrs. Simpson specialised in local Lincolnshire dishes and soon deservedly earned a great reputation. The speed of service was not an issue in pre-breathalizer days. Many convivial hours could be spent at Mr. Simpson's bar.

I decided it would be a good place to take my then current girlfriend, Jean. She was a Nottingham girl from a strictly urban background and had no experience of such rural style of living.

It was November and we arrived at Scremby House on a dark evening as the cold north wind howled off the Wolds. Entering the building we were met with the welcome sight of a huge log fire and the all encompassing smell of cooking food, beer and paraffin. Mr. Simpson greeted us and found us a comfortable upholstered settle and table near the roaring fire. I had a pint of Bateman's best my girlfriend drank brandy and ginger. We ordered our meal and another round (or two) of drinks.

Mrs. Simpson eventually bought the meal which was, as usual, first class.

After finishing the meal I joined Jean in a brandy and we decided to set off back to Lincoln. Jean said she wished to 'use the facilities'. Typically, there were no notices indicating where such might be. She discretely asked Mrs. Simpson who explained that "the girls" went upstairs and "the boys" across the yard. Mrs. Simpson went on to say that the plumbing was not working which required Jean to take a bucket of water upstairs with her to flush the toilet. Jean complied with the instructions and soon returned explaining that all was well - albeit not a practice at which she had much experience.

I said I would just nip out the back to "the boys".

From previous visits I had noted there was an old fashioned earth closet across the yard distinguishable by the vents cut in the top of the privy door. However, seeing it in the daylight was one thing; as I stepped out into the yard my kerosene lamp blew out and I was surrounded by pitch blackness. I groped my way across to the outbuilding and felt my way along the wall till I came to what was unmistakably the privy door which I opened and went in. Inside it seemed even darker. I felt my way round the wall till I found what was a toilet seat. In fact the seat was set in a scrubbed pine bench.

Whether it was the meal, the cold, the beer or the dark; my body decided I needed to urgently attend the call of nature. I hurriedly sat down and performed the necessary task.

The next problem was to find the toilet paper.

I felt along the wall to my right but found nothing other than a nail on which normally there was squares of carefully torn paper. There was no paper, neither roll nor torn newspaper

By now my eyes were becoming accustomed to the darkness and I could just make out the dim light from the house across the top of the privy door. I could also distinguish a small red light to my left.

While I was trying to work out what the light was a nearby voice said.

"Looking for the paper mate?"

There was a man sat immediately (about two feet away) to my left smoking a cigarette who illuminated the scene with his lighter and passed me the sole roll of toilet paper.

The privy was a traditional 'three-holer' and my fellow user was sat on the adjoining place.

Scremby House was something of a novel experience not only for Jean. Real rural living

                                                                    R.C. November 2002.

Footnote: The Simpson's moved on to become the licensees of the Red Lion at Partney and by the mid-sixties Scremby House had been demolished.

    May 7 2012  


I arrived at Skegness on a cold windy March day in 1945.

My Mother had acquired a share in a boarding house and we had made what seemed to me an interminably long journey from Sapcote near Hinkley with all our worldly possessions in an ex-Army lorry. Mother's partner in the boarding house venture was a businessman who had been dubiously rumoured to have made considerable wealth on the Black Market during the War. He had provided the 3 ton ex-Army lorry together with the petrol (which was rationed) for the journey.

Mother had been helped by two old friends, Mary and Walter Wilmer, who, before the War had been her neighbours at Holywell in Huntingdonshire.

To a five year old, the trip of about 100 miles had been long and arduous. I had sat in the back of the canvas covered lorry with Mary Wilmer while Mother, Walter and the driver had ridden in the cab. I recall it being bitterly cold despite being wrapped up in several blankets. The canvas tilt flapped noisily and it had been necessary to make stops en route to re-fuel and let the engine cool, notably at the top of the hill out of Grantham.

We arrived about mid-afternoon at the Belgrave Hotel which was opposite what is now the children's play area on South Parade. I recall the lorry being unloaded of everything required for our new life; furniture, carpets, soft furnishings, cooking utensils, crockery and cutlery as well as a huge tarred wicker trunk full of clothes. To me it seemed a confusing if not frightening time. I had little appreciation as to why we were moving. While the truck was being unloaded Mother made tea and found some home-made cake which was left over from the journey. We sat in the bare boarded curtain-less front room and I have a lasting memory of being frightened by screaming seagulls swooping outside the window - not something I had ever heard before.

Eventually, Walter and the driver decided they would go and have a look at the beach. They took me with them and we drove down the Tower Esplanade which finished abruptly at the Boating Lake Café, beyond which were lines of barbed wire effectively preventing anyone going on to the beach. There was however, a narrow opening through the wire opposite the end of the esplanade guarded by two soldiers who sheltered from the rough weather in a small wooden hut nearby.

Walter was an old soldier who had fought in both the Boer War and Mesopotamia. He went over and chatted to the soldiers guarding the entrance to the beach soon returning to say that we were permitted to drive along the beach, provided we kept away from the sand dunes.

Earlier in the War when a German invasion had been anticipated, much of the East coast of England was protected with mines and barbed wire. Skegness, being an open, gently shelving sand beach had been anticipated to be a likely landing site and had been defended accordingly.

I remember clearly that first sight of the beach. Indeed it was my first sight of the sea. The tide was out and the sea seemed grey, cold and far off. The pier had had a 20 yard section dismantled which Walter explained to me and the driver was not the result of enemy bombing but was done to prevent it being used to assist in any German landing. The area between the tide-swept beach and the boating lake was blown sand hills to the south of the esplanade. To the north of the esplanade the tide came up to the concrete sea wall that protected the waterway and amusement park. Coils of continuous barbed wire stretched away as far as the eye could see in both directions. I do not recall seeing any weapons along the sea shore. Presumably, as the threat of invasion had receded, resources had been re-deployed to support the D Day landings.

We drove down the beach to the edge of the sea. Very excited, I sat in the warm cab.

On the way back across the beach the lorry got inextricably stuck in a creek, the bottom of which held a lot of black silt. Walter disappeared to find help. The driver and I sat in the cab. I remember the tide was coming in although not yet flooding the creek in which we were stuck. Soon Walter re-appeared with the lifeboat tractor and driver. I had never seen a crawler tracked vehicle before and my initial thoughts were that it was some sort of World War I tank. By the time we were pulled clear of the mud the tide was beginning to flow under the lorry and it was starting to get dark. I felt very relieved to be back in The Belgrave where Mother had lit a welcoming fire in the front room.

My first visit to the beach had been a salutary lesson.

In fact, parts of the sand dunes were kept wired off for some time even after VE day. Inevitably, because of the drifting nature of the sand dunes; many of the mines that had been laid proved almost impossible to locate and remove. Parts of the dunes were wired off for two or three years. I recall being taken for walks along the seaward side of the boating lake and watching what I assume were R.E.M.E. personnel at work de-mining the area.

Removing all the mines must have been an almost impossible job. Local children were constantly warned not to touch anything suspicious they found on the beach or when digging in the sand. Despite such warnings, there were sadly several tragic deaths of both children and adults.

I recall two occasions when large marine mines were washed up on the beach - huge spheres with projecting spikes - just like those which appeared in post-War boy's comics. I remember one occasion when Mother and I watched from the safety of the Belgrave's top floor front bedroom one such mine being blown up on the beach. There was a great bang that made the windows rattle and a spectacular cloud of smoke as well as a huge quantity of sand being blown into the sky. It certainly served as an effective deterrent from straying on to the beach.

Gradually the foreshore was cleared, as far as practicable, to allow Skegness to once more welcome its summer visitors on which the local economy relied.

By summer 1946 the pier had re-opened to the public.

The pier had been constructed in two parts. In 1881 the steel structure extending seawards from the sea wall next to the amusement park was opened. This portion was typical of many seaside resort piers being cast iron stanchions piled into the sand and fastened together with iron cross-ties over which the decking was laid. On such an exposed coast the structure was always at risk from the adverse weather conditions. Gangs of workers were employed each summer to keep the ties between the stanchions in good order and to paint them with tar.

The part of the pier which extends back towards the town was completed some time after the steel structure. This was a 1930's covered amusement arcade to which entry was free. A visit to the steel part of the structure which extended over the sands required an entrance fee (3d. immediately after the War), paid at a small kiosk at the entrance to that part of the pier. As young children we soon learned that, if we played on the beach nearby and kept an eye on the kiosk attendant, that eventually he/she would be temporally absent from the kiosk due to the call of nature. That was an opportunity to quickly sprint up the steps, climb over the turnstile which had been locked and hurry away to the pier head. The tongue lashing we often received when we left the pier was well worth the risk.

By 1947 the theatre on the end of the pier had been re-opened. There was a café and nearby an open area, protected from cold sea breezes where a three piece orchestra played to an audience comprised mainly of the elderly. I recall it being a somewhat highbrow selection of music - definitely not designed to attract small children. There was a public toilet at the pier head which discharged direct into the sea - a factor to be considered when swimming off the beach, or for the men periodically painting the pier struts below.

Over the top of the theatre was an observation deck where the Coastguard kept watch. As children we would climb the circular cast iron stairway and watch the Coastguard surveying the sea in the hope that he might let us have a look through his telescope or binoculars. Rarely did he. Indeed, he was plainly happier in his work when not distracted by small boys whose noses pressed un-endearingly against his nice clean widows.

The landward end of the pier, being enclosed, was a venue where local children spent their time when the weather was too rough to be on the beach or sand hills.

At the entrance to the pier was a kiosk used by Wrate's Photographers. Wrate's had a number of photographers at strategic points on the foreshore and the North and South Parades who used to take 'snaps' of visitors as they walked along the front. The photographers would be dressed in blazers luridly coloured in black, orange and green stripes. When photographed the subject would be given a numbered card which would tell them when they could view the photo at the pier kiosk. Shots taken in the morning would be ready for collection by 4 p.m.. The photographers used all sorts of tricks to get photographs taken, and, despite what must have been a high wastage, it was obviously a business that made money. The photographers soon got to know the local children and we would only get 'snapped' at the beginning of the season or when a new photographer was employed.

As well as the usual fairground-type side shows, the covered area of the pier arcade housed many and varied 1d. slot machines including 1930's versions of "What the Butler Saw". Even though the attendant made valiant efforts to keep small boys away; the latter were inevitably a great attraction to us. The peepshow machines worked through a series of photographs being viewed in sequence through a lens. Some were more exciting than others. As small boys we soon identified what was considered to be imperative viewing for the initiation of any new members to gangs of local lads.

'One arm bandit'-type slot machines had not reached Skegness. The public's gambling habits were met by a simple machine which allowed a steel ball to be fired vertically round a circuit after which it had the opportunity of falling into one of 7 cups - Five "Win" in the middle and one "Lost" at either end. Despite the 5 : 2  odds in favour of the player, the ball seemed somehow to nearly always fall in one of the two "Lost" cups.

My Stepfather had purchased an old Fordson Standard tractor for work on his smallholding. The machine required extensive overhaul which he did himself with the aid of a mechanic friend. He proudly showed me what he was doing in the belief that such mechanical things interested me. He showed me the powerful 9" magnet from the tractor's magneto which he demonstrated to me by lifting numerous ball bearings off the garage floor. He even let me have a go myself.

I was impressed. I got to thinking. . . .

Unknown to Stepfather, I 'borrowed' the magnet.

I set off for the pier arcade and met up with a friend. We carefully planned the operation. He was to keep 'KV' while I 'worked' the slot machine. We inserted a hard earned 1d. into the machine and I carefully led the ball with the magnet through the glass to a position opposite "Win", then took the magnet away. The ball went into the "Win" cup, I turned the handle, got a 1d. prize and a free ball. The free ball was duly led to the Win" cup in a repeat performance. It worked time and time again. I was enthralled. I had soon made nearly a shilling. At this point there came a hand on my shoulder which I thought was my friend's. I was just at the crucial point of dropping the ball into the "Win" cup and did not turn round.

The hand however proved to be that of the arcade attendant: My friend was nowhere to be seen. Very soon I was being briskly escorted down Scarborough Avenue to the old Police Station on Roman Bank. I was frog-marched, gripped firmly by my coat collar into the front of the station where I was stood facing a small kiosk opening beyond which sat a stern red faced Police sergeant. I got a very severe lecture, cuffed smartly round the ear and the magnet was confiscated.

Stepfather spent days looking for the magnet which was almost impossible to replace due to wartime restrictions. I regret to say I never told him what had happened to it. 

Underneath the pier there was a small cinema. It showed ancient black and white cartoons featuring Laurel and Hardy, Popeye, The Three Stooges and a selection of early American comedians. The projection machine regularly broke down to much cheering/jeering. The show lasted half an hour and cost 6d. entry. Every half hour there was a 5 minute interval following which the film was re-started. One could go into the show at any time and stay as long as one wanted. It was quite common, especially on wet days, to see the show several times.

As tourism re-established itself after the War, visitor numbers soon increased. The hub of beach activities was the esplanade access to the beach. Many of the visitors were day trippers arriving by train or coach. Most of them made a bee line to the beach where they spent the whole day.

The Boating Lake Café had an ideal position at the beach end of the esplanade. It did a roaring trade selling simple fare. Visitors purchased large jugs of tea (made with dried milk and sugar already added) together with four mugs. It cost about 2/6 and there was 1/- deposit on the jug and mugs. As small boys we always kept a very keen eye for any jugs or mugs left on the beach. The 1/- deposit was 're-invested' on the boating lake, funfair or pier. Visitors who might innocently fall asleep in the sunshine were at risk of losing their deposit to some of my less scrupulous playmates! Food comprised only thick sandwiches filled with margarine and red sweet jam of no distinguishable flavour.

Mr. Moir was a fierce unfriendly Londoner who ran a cockle stand on the esplanade and also a shop in the Tower Arcade. He had a son Kenneth who he employed occasionally, despite it being well known that Ken was not too bright. One of us would often buy a saucer of cockles and persuade Ken that the shellfish were bad and that he should throw them away. When he did so we shared them out as soon as he was out of sight.

We noticed that Mr. Moir's cockle stall sold winkles. We knew that the vertical sides of the nearby waterway were covered with winkles. One of my more enterprising friends decided that if Mr. Moir could sell winkles then we could. We spent several days hanging precariously over the near vertical sides of the waterway and soon collected a small sack full. We persuaded my friend's Mother to boil them. My Mother had refused. When boiled the cockles smelled horrendously 'fishy'. (Obviously, my Mother knew more about winkle cooking than we did!) Nonetheless, we were soon sat optimistically on the end of the esplanade with a number of paper bags full of "Fresh Cooked Winkles" at 1d per bag.

I assume that Mr. Moir did not take kindly to our friendly competition and very soon "The Man from the Council" (beaqch inspector)  appeared. He said he would take the lot. Our initial delight at such an instant sale was short lived when he explained he was confiscating them. That was the end of yet another money-making scheme.

I recall watching with awe the first candy floss machine which was set up next to Mr. Moir's cockle stall. The floss appeared as if by magic. Fascinating to watch. Occasionally, if there were some left over at the end of the day, the stallholder might be persuaded to let me have one. By which time it tended to be somewhat deflated and very sticky. I often got more stuck to my face than in my mouth!

Many visitor's idea of a day at Skegness was simply to hire a deckchair and spend the whole day relaxing on the beach. As the tide went out a number of 'local fishermen' would utilise old wheeled stage'ings which had originally been used with Victorian bathing machines. These were manhandled over the beach to provide 'bridges' over the creeks that ran along the beach. "Donations" were sought by an appropriately placed flat cap on the approach to a 'bridge'. The 'local fishermen' were in fact demobbed soldiers who could find no employment. Half buried in the sand dunes near the Fairy Dell paddling pool there were the derelict remains of three old bathing 'machines' which we used as dens.

Though many visitors paddled genteelly in the sea; very few swam.

Not all beach users however followed such sedate behaviour. Soon after the War crude sand yachts appeared briefly on the beach. They were built on car or small truck chassis and powered by clumsy gaff rigged sails with a jib. Despite their heavy build; on windy days they sped alarmingly about the hard sand area of the beach. Before long there were several incidents of visitors being run down or having a "near miss"and the sand yachts soon disappeared. I had in the meantime pestered one operator till I finally got a ride. It had no brakes and seemed to travel at breathtaking speed. I recall it being an exciting experience which I did not volunteer to repeat.

Any Lifeboat launch during the summer became a major attraction. The first people would know of a launch was the maroons (rockets) being fired from the green opposite the old lifeboat station on South Parade. Local children, unlike the visitors, knew exactly what was going on as soon as the maroons were fired. We would head immediately for the lifeboat station. Crew and beach members would quickly arrive on foot, by bike or car. In the lifeboat station the boat tractor would be started and warmed up [It was powered by a petrol-kerosene engine made by Bristol]. After 'cutting the corner' at the clock tower, (the boat was excused by tradition from having to 'keep left' round the clock tower) the boat on its carriage would head down the esplanade with the characteristic "tak-tak-tak-. . . ." of the tractor's wooden blocked tracks hitting the tarmac. When the tractor reached the beach the track chatter lessened. The nearer to the beach it got the more the crowd on onlookers following the boat swelled. The tractor driver and the beach crew would frequently shout to people to stand back - often with little courtesy! The boat crew would be donning their yellow oilskins and thigh boots while riding on the boat or as they walked along.

The boat would be manoeuvred down to the water, the crew climbed aboard and the carriage backed into the surf.

Even in the calm of summer the actual boat launch off the carriage had a certain drama:

Soon the tractor was uncoupled from the carriage drawbar and the slack on the launch cable was taken up. The life boat engine was started, evidenced by a puff of blue smoke from the stern exhaust. The tractor driver stood at the controls looking behind him watching the coxswain intently.

When all was ready the coxswain checked that the two bowmen, who, on his command would have to release the bow securing chains, were ready. They would nod their acknowledgement and hold up their thole pin hammers. The coxswain would look again at the tractor driver who would also nod in acknowledgement.

The coxswain raised his arm above his head and concentrated on watching the surf which would be breaking against the bow of the boat. Even in calm conditions in the warmth of a summer's day the coxswain's raised arm was an unspoken signal to spectators to hush. When he judged the right moment the coxswain would suddenly lower his hand - the bowmen would hit the tholes releasing the securing bow chains and simultaneously the tractor would roar and leap forward up the beach. The boat quickly gathered speed as it slid off the carriage mounting the first wave of surf as the propeller thrashed in the shallow water.

Summer launches always produced a cheer from the spectators at this point.

The area between the esplanade and what is now the Seacroft car park was sand dunes, some of which would have been 30' high. The first development of the area was the erection of a bandstand on the site of what later became the Festival Centre and roller skating rink. Listening to local and visiting brass bands was very popular among visitors.

The bandstand was constructed of 6' long and 3' diameter concrete conduit pipes half buried on end in the sand on top of which was laid wooden decking. Because of the shifting nature of the sand, the decking was constructed some 3' above the sand. As young children we used to crawl under the decking while the bands were performing. The decking was fairly open to allow the sand to drop through. An occupation that always gave rise to boyish hilarity was to climb under the decking taking a long piece of marram grass. When the musician overhead was playing one poked the marram grass up the available trouser leg. Real success was judged by being able to disturb a player during a solo. The local bandsmen soon however assessed the problem and used to retaliate by pouring flasks of hot tea through the gaps in the boards.

Many of the sea front hotels, including The Belgrave, had been used to billet soldiers in preparation for the expected German invasion earlier during the War. By 1945 the threat of invasion was, presumably, reduced and in consequence many of the hotels were de-commandeered. There were however still several Territorial infantry regiments and RAF units who used to drill occasionally on the Seacroft car park by a dilapidated row of beach huts. When the parade had fallen out, groups of local young boys used to ape their seniors by 'drilling' each other using chestnut fencing staves instead of rifles. It was only the 1953 East Coast floods that finally obliterated the markings on the former drill square. The floods also demolished the beach chalets in the area which had always been popular with visitors as in that part of the beach the tide came regularly up to the steps immediately outside the beach huts.

The 1953 East Coast floods caused substantial damage to the foreshore. The South Bracings, started as part of the 1951 Festival of  Britain had only just been completed. It was designed to, above all, make the sea appear closer to the visitors. Originally there were grandiose plans for the development; even, at one time, involving a marina. When the sea broke through in 1953 it did so with a vengeance. It swept away almost the whole of the Bracings concrete sea wall and filled the boating lake and Fairy Dell with sand, flotsam and sea water. The Bracings had to be rebuilt virtually from scratch and the grandiose plans substituted by a modest car park and model train line

The area of sand dune and marsh at the southern end of Seacroft Esplanade running parallel to the Seacroft Golf Course was a wild and remote area where I enjoyed spending my time. In the thirties it had been used for racing cars on. No doubt very much a sport of the rich in those days. The wooden markers which indicated the ends of the oval race track were only removed in the 'eighties by the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust who I doubt appreciated their historical significance. During the War the Army built a rifle range just off the end of Seacroft Esplanade and also used much of the area as a live firing 2" mortar range. For many years one could find craters left behind by mortar bombs. A few of the larger craters can still be traced, although most of them have been filled with silt from incoming tides.

One day I noticed an old man carefully searching the sand at the rifle range firing butt. The butt comprised a 30' high brick wall with the firing side backfilled with sand. Curiosity got the better of me and finally I asked him what he was doing. He showed me a handful of spent .303 and 9 mm. bullets which he explained he sold to the scrap dealer on Wainfleet Road. On my next visit I filled the saddlebag of my bike and having delivered the booty was rewarded with 2/-. I did several trips but soon my saddlebag was showing signs that it was not designed to carry loads of lead. One day, half way down High Street the bag split and after that I lost my enthusiasm for lead recovery.

As a 10 year old I would walk or cycle down to the Seacroft foreshore accompanied by Mother's old Airedale. I greatly enjoyed the isolation of the place. I used to help myself to whatever could be purloined from Mother's hotel kitchen while she was "doing the beds" and then spend the whole day at Seacroft. I had a pup tent which lived well hidden in the depths of the sea thorn bushes. Trips to Seacroft were very happy times. I enjoyed my own company in a world of make-believe shared only with Jill, Mother's faithful old dog which spent most of the day catching rabbits.

Many local people collected flotsam timber off the beach as fuel or to build with. At the back of Lifeboat Avenue there stood for many years, hidden behind 1930's-built bungalows, a 'living hut' made entirely out of driftwood. It was latterly used as a garden shed before being knocked down to make way for some ubiquitous B & Q type shed - it should have been listed as a piece of Skegness history.

The beach also yielded 'coal'. Some was from ships that had foundered in the area but there was also a never ending supply of the peaty remnant of the pre-Ice Age forest, which had one time grown between Skegness and the present German coast. Nonetheless, the coal burned well and was keenly collected by Skegnesians after high winter tides with an onshore wind. On one occasion a whole deck cargo of grapefruit arrived on the beach to the delight of the local population.

Other activities on the beach included trips in the Grace Darlings. These were three de-commissioned former RNLI lifeboats. All the fittings had been stripped out and they were fitted with slatted seats down each side. The boats ran on kerosene engines and took visitors out to the 'Seal Islands' i.e. the area around Gibraltar Point at low tide. I think the trips were 5/-, far too much for young local boys with little or no pocket money.

Most of my summer holidays as a young boy would be spent on the beach or foreshore. I would leave The Belgrave telling my Mother that I was going to play in the Fairy Dell, which was only 200 yards from the hotel. I did indeed play in the Fairy Dell but also wandered much further afield. With other boys I spent hours climbing up the side of the Axenstrasse, on the boating lake, in the funfair, on the pier and even occasionally venturing to Thompson's Amusement Park at the far end of North Parade.

In the summer when the weather was warm I rarely wore shoes. We paddled and swam in the creeks on the beach. We soon learned that they were warmest when the tide was flooding in the late afternoon. Towels or swimming costumes we never bothered with. To this day I do not find it necessary to use a towel to dry my feet after paddling in the sea: Like all true Skegnesians, we would walk though the dry sand till our feet were dry(ish) and roll our socks back on (if we had any).

Old habits die hard!

Even now, on the rare occasions I walk across the beach on a cold winter's day with the stinging sand blowing against one's legs I am reminded of so many memories of my boyhood - days in short trousers.

In 1978 a severe storm finally demolished most of the pier, leaving the pier head stranded and forlornly surrounded by water. The pier head suffered the final indignity of being burned by vandals before any refurbishment could be funded. Eventually, on safety grounds, the remains were demolished.

Ironically the pier almost has 'the last laugh': Obviously the pier had had the effect of a breakwater since it was built in 1881. When the pier head was finally removed the sea reacted with the result that once again The Bracings are being eroded and the whole coastline running south to Gibraltar Point is changing.

                                                     Roy Church. October 2000


Editor's note: Skegness is an unsophisticated coastal resort in Lincolnshire which had been virtually closed down by WWII military activities and the period of austerity which followed. This tale from Roy recalls how the town then was and also the freedom enjoyed by the children of that era 

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In the summer of 1945 I was six years old.

My Mother had formed a partnership with a road haulage operator from Sapcote in Leicestershire to run a guest house on South Parade at Skegness. My Mother's financial partner Jack Brindlay had avoided war service and was rumoured to have amassed considerable wealth by his wartime dealings on the black market. Other than providing his share of the finance in the business Brindlay took no part in the running of the guest house.

Number 30, South Parade at Skegness was one of a long row of terraced three story guest houses overlooking the foreshore gardens and boating lake. Like many properties throughout Skegness the freehold of such premises was vested in the Earl of Scarborough. The Leasehold Reform Act had not even been thought of and the benefits of the Earl of Scarborough controlling development throughout the town were happily accepted.

Number 30 bore the somewhat ostentatious name of The Belgrave. During the period a German invasion was anticipated many properties including The Belgrave had been taken over as billets for RAF and Army personnel and were in poor condition reflecting the fact that no maintenance had been done for six years.

The Belgrave was three storied and in addition had a basement. It had 7 bedrooms and the basement provided a kitchen, scullery and a room used as a lounge. The guest's dining room was on the first floor overlooking the back garden and the nearby Lincolnshire Road Car bus station. In the garden was a corrugated  asbestos hut where Mother and I slept when the guest house was full of guests. To transport the food to the dining tables there was a noisy rope operated lift which operated between the scullery and the dining room.

Mother and Brindlay acquired the leasehold of The Belgrave early in 1945 the aim being to get it into use for Easter. Mother quickly made friends with the local tradesmen who together with a selection of Mother's more practical friends soon had the property habitable. I remember in particular finding a 2" mortar bomb under a loose floorboard that presumably had been hidden as a memento. As Easter approached the combined smell of wood stain, lacquer, distemper and paint gradually subsided. Mother had advertised in the local visitors guide as well as several local papers including Leicester Mercury and the Nottingham Evening Post. The house was full for Easter but the Whitsun holiday was less successful.

In 1946 summer many people did not have money for sophisticated holidays and Mother's "value for money" principle was very popular which was just as well as the visitor season at Skegness was confined to Easter, Whit' and the school summer holidays. "Cash was king" and much local business was done on a barter basis. It was not unknown for her farmer visitors to pay for their week's lodging with half a side of pork!

Mother also had access to farm produce through Charles Abell, a Leicestershire farmer whom she later married. This was a distinct advantage over her competitors and her reputation soon spread amongst her clients to the point that she also opened for Christmas. Sleeping in the corrugated shed (euphemistically referred to as The Summer House) at Christmas is however my lasting memory of Christmas at The Belgrave

Many of Mother's visitors became "regulars" and many families simply booked their next year's holiday as they booked out. Some families had children of my age who virtually grew up with me and with whom I formed associations for many years.

I cannot clearly remember what commodities were rationed although I clearly recall sweets being de-rationed which was one of the last items to be de-rationed. Sweetshops thereto had provided some sweets off ration but generally speaking these were not very attractive and tended to be made from weird ingredients many of which were bi-products of food processing. Tiger nuts that really tested one's dental capacity were available and also almost equally challenging, liquorice roots.

Despite the fact that Mother and  Charles Abell married at Spilsby in June 1945 it was some time before Stepfather took up permanent residence with Mother. He was tenant of a small dairy farm near Sapcote where he had been our next door neighbour. He had previously been married and had lost his first wife to TB.

At Brickyard Farm Stepfather led a somewhat lonely life and had very much withdrawn from a social life. The farm was small but supplied a living based on a small herd of Dairy Shorthorns which Stepfather milked by hand.

Considering my Mother and Stepfather I always marvelled at how two people so different should marry.

Stepfather had a well used pre-war Hillman and a pig trailer with which he used to regularly bring Mother cream, cheese, eggs poultry, hams on which Mother's guests dined better than if they were at home. The guests used to hand over their ration books to Mother on arrival but it was only very rarely she used any of their rations. In the circumstances it was perhaps no wonder her visitors returned year after year.

In an attempt to get Stepfather to move to Skegness Mother suggested he rent a large allotment between Saxby and Beresford Avenues. A tenancy was acquired and before long the allotment had a jersey cow, a herd of pigs and large numbers of poultry including Khaki Campbell ducks. What did not go to The Belgrave went to Boston Market which Stepfather visited each Wednesday.

Stepfather was, perhaps understandably very reluctant to become involved in the running of The Belgrave and after a short while to evade action from Skegness Urban District Council who considered, rightly, that Stepfather was not complying with the Allotment's Act Stepfather found a smallholding comprising some 30 acres of land near Addlethorpe Mill some 5 miles from The Belgrave.

The holding comprised   bare pasture in 3 fields. The land was owned by Bob Stow who was essentially a Skegness butcher but who had used the land as lairage. The land was very heavy silt and all enclosed by wide dykes.

Access to the land was via an unmade single track with deep dykes either side.

Stepfather's business plan was to keep pigs and both breed and fatten. His products were weaner pigs, porkers, bacon pigs and in-pig gilts. There was to be a selection of poultry including  turkeys and very fierce and noisy geese. In what seemed to me a very short time Stepfather had erected a brick piggery and  bought three ex- War Department Nissen huts which he also converted to piggeries.

Not only were human foodstuffs difficult to obtain but animal feed was also difficult and very closely regulated. The answer Stepfather reasoned was to take advantage of Skegness's holiday resort status and collect food waste from hotels and  other food outlets. Even in those days he had to have a licence to collect food waste and it was required to be cooked for which purpose he acquired two 40 gallon coal fired pressure cookers 

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Austerity 2

War scars.

WWII had not passed Skegness by. Although not affected like Midland industrial cities and towns careful observation and enquiry would reveal quite a lot of activity in Skegness during the war.

The beach was mined and the public excluded therefrom by uninterrupted miles of barbed wire running from Chapel St Leonards to Gibraltar Point. Any access points were controlled by military police. Similarly the foreshore gardens and attractions were wired off and only cleared through the summer of 1945 leaving the risk of mines being washed up which they continued to be till 1948.

Skegness was en route for German bombers headed to heavy industries in Lincoln, Coventry, Grantham, Nottingham. A ‘decoy' town was erected at Gibraltar Point which was lit up as flights of enemy bombers crossed the coast. The decoy was built mainly from timber and paper mashé and heavily armed with ‘ack ‘ack. There seems little evidence that German navigators were fooled by the decoy and bearing in mind under the paper mashé it was so heavily armed I suspect they knew only too well it was a decoy.

The clock tower was presumably a target as houses on either side on South Parade and Grande Parade were bombed and one bomb dropped near the Arcadia Theatre. Miraculously the clock tower survived undamaged. It seems likely that the bombers used the clock tower as a ‘marker' then released their bombs. Hildred's Hotel, The Trustee Savings Bank, Smith's Roller skating rink (later Smith's Bazaar) and the glass arcade on the north side of Lumley Road were all hit in the same pass as was the front of the Tower Cinema. This last destruction proved to be fortunate for Stepfather as he was able to acquire the brick rubble and white facing tiles from the damaged building to "bone up" the track to the Addlethorpe smallholding. Though the smallholding is long gone there are still pieces of white tile scattered along the former access track to the smallholding. Some archaeologist will one day ponder what tiles are doing in the wilds of Addlethorpe Marsh.

Another bomber who had not found his target in the Midlands chose to jettison his load on a newly built hotel and the indoor swimming baths on Scarborough Avenue. This raider also hit the pier from which a section had already been removed as part of the measures to deter German beach landings. The only person who suffered any hardship from the raids was the Coastguard who had a lookout on the end of the pier and now found he had two stretches to cross on a rickety plank.

On reflection one might have some sympathy for the Germans in that very little in Skegness could be termed a prime bombing target

During the inter-war years a group of well-to-do motor racing enthusiasts used to meet on the beach off  Seacroft Esplanade. During neap tides there was a large area of dried out sun baked mudflats. There was no formal course, simply a post in the ground marking each end of the circuit. The enterprise was very much a playground for the rich and was curtailed by WWII

A rifle range was erected almost opposite the end of Seacroft Esplanade with firing points at 100 and 200 yards. Remains of the brick butt still survive. Much of the former motor racing track became a 2" mortar range and the whole area was pitted with mortar bomb craters.

Once the barbed wire had been removed and the area de-mined the rifle range area became a popular play ground for local children. The tailfins of 2" mortars were a regular and prized find. Occasionally the Army had to be called out to deal with unexploded mines or mortars when the bomb disposal team rounded up all the local children to watch from a safe distance. This practice had the desired effect of local children being very careful with any explosives they found on the beach There were occasional fatalities as the sea uncovered mines. Collecting lead rounds from the rifle range butts was an accepted method of raising some pocket money from Mr. Dennis the scrap merchant off Wainfleet Road.

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Austerity 3

The Physical Entity

While most of the beach was wired off and many hotels had to be refurbished after their military residents had left, the 1945 summer season was disappointing for the tourist industry despite valiant efforts by Skegness Urban District  Council. The Midlands coal industry was going through social change; privatisation and annual paid holiday known as ‘Wake Week' were in prospect. While few people came to stay many people took their first opportunity to visit ‘Skeg' as a day tripper travelling mostly by train or coach. I recall Saturday mornings when Skegness railway station had every platform in use disgorging hundreds of folk keen to get a look at the sea after 6 years with no holidays

By 1946 more guest houses and hotels opened up but the majority of Midlanders' still came by coach or train. The Lawns bus park would fill completely and I can remember counting 16 identical Barton Buses from Long Eaton parked side by side. Holidaymakers for the week had luggage and this gave rise to a service quickly developed by Skegness children to provide a ‘luggage delivery service' for visitor's luggage, much to the annoyance of Skegness taxi drivers (of which there were no more than a handful). Any child that could convert a set of old pram wheels into a luggage ‘truck' was soon in popular demand to porter luggage to the appropriate hotel or guest house. One quickly learned the street names, especially those to be avoided, i.e. a long way from the railway station or bus park!

Most day trippers made a bee line for the beach where gradually more and more was opened up and declared free of mines. Unemployed de-mobbed soldiers bridged the creeks across the beach so that pedestrians could reach the shoreline for a paddle. The bridges comprised timber wheeled platforms which had originally been used by the Edwardian bathing huts of which two remained, albeit very dilapidated and half buried by blown sand  on the seaward side of the Fairy Dell. A few people paddled but very few swam - it was all very genteel. The men offering the services of the bridges would put a cap out on the sand at the more prominent crossing points where generous minded public would hopefully make a contribution of a few pence.

During the war Butlin's Holiday Camp had been commandeered as a "stone frigate by the Royal Navy as a training establishment known as The Royal Arthur. Any luckless ratings who passed through will remember above all sleeping in summer chalets which were ill equipped for cold winters on the East Coast. Even to-day a keen eye will spot chalets throughout East Lindsay district that have had a second life as a garden shed or summer house. Billy Butlin also owned the funfair between the pier and the Tower Esplanade which partly opened in 1946.

Skegness's swimming pool was built in the early 1930's at the height of popularity for outdoor lidos. It was a massive 110 yards long and some 25 yards wide. With two shallow ends it had a spring board, water slide and high board about 12'. The diving boards were situate in the middle of the pool where the water struggled to be more than 6'6" The pool always opened on the first of May when the water was very cold. The water was salt water pumped from the sea, filtered and chlorinated in the pump room at the northern end of the pool. It was noticeable how "well covered" children learned to swim first as their thinner brethren did not have the stamina to stay in the near freezing water. When the pool was busy local boys circumvented the pay kiosk by climbing over the wall from the adjoining Compass Gardens

Donkeys soon reappeared on the beach although not having been worked for 6 years they were initially something of a handful and could often be spotted rider-less galloping wildly down the beach. As small boys we quickly learned to keep clear of the rear hooves of the animals. They were kept each night on some rough grazing off Roman Bank at the back of Key's Garage and each morning driven at a frantic gallop with much shouting and waving of sticks to the beach by boys on bikes. The public, gently perambulating up Lumley Road quickly learned to take cover at the sound of the approaching rodeo.

The seaward side of the foreshore boating lake had built up substantial sand hills as a result of being mined and no one using the area for the duration of the war. Indeed the sand had been driven by the wind to the extent that the ornamental island was in fact no longer an island. The area being near the Boating Lake Café, Tower Esplanade and public conveniences was very popular with the older generation many of whom spent the day in a deckchair listening to the strains of the Skegness Town Band. The boating Lake Café dispensed large jugs of tea and thick spam sandwiches. Local boys kept a keen eye on the visitors who occasionally forgot to return their jug and claim their deposit. Nearby were shellfish stalls, Fravigar's Ice Cream and before long machines which almost magically made candy floss. The band concerts became so popular that the council went to the expense of building a bandstand. It was a simple decking structure on 36" diameter concrete pipes laid on their end. It offered the opportunity for us local boys to crawl under the decking and poke pieces of marram grass up bandsman's trouser legs which was considered great fun especially if it were at the point a bandsman was concentrating on the music. Sadly the bandsmen retaliated by pouring flasks of hot tea through the decking boards.

All Skegnesians could tell the difference between Fravigar's ice cream and that of their main rivals The Skegness Ice Cream Co.. While the majority of the produce was plain the ice cream the Skegness Ice Cream Co was reputed to use lots of ‘secret' flavouring and food dyes with the result that some of their lines not only tasted pretty odd but they also had a near psychedelic appearance.

For those who could not afford ice cream there were drinking water fountains at strategic points round the town and foreshore. The town centre was dominated by a large underground public convenience where drunks from nearby Hildreds used to sleep off the effect of too much Bass. Gangs of young children would dare each other to bang on the cubicle doors and wake the slumbering occupants.

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Austerity 4.

The Skegnesians'

Post War Skegnesian's pulled few punches about their social aspirations. Trippers were a commodity from which Skegnesians had to earn their livelihood. Other than unemployed servicemen almost everything was in short supply which included cash and jobs. The town was notable in that there were very few wealthy residents - retirees or at work.

After 6 years of war the town looked careworn and run down. Paint for example was a luxury many residents decided they could manage without for the time being and even those who sought to smarten the place up managed to do so with sandpaper and gloss paint only.

There was a very fine line between buskers and beggars. The latter tended to congregate at the railway station, by the Baptist Church outside the Lawn's bus park and the Drummond Road bus station. Genuine buskers used to set up on the beach till apprehended by the S.U.D.C.'s Beach Inspector. Occasionally buskers would be very good and attracted large crowds. I recall two competing Punch & Judy shows who, much the worse for beer, had a fight on the beach to much cheering from the assembled audience.

The local council had lots of work to do but no money; the pier needed refurbishing by way of putting back the section removed to prevent German landings. Workmen clambered all over the pier with altogether little thought as to their personal safety. It was quite common for groups of paddlers to watch workmen struggling to re-fit the iron tie bars that kept the pier together as the waves washed under the pier.

On arrival many trippers from the Midland mining areas sent their children and wives to the beach while the men folk assembled for a ‘serious' drink in the Red Lion, Walnut Shades, Hildred's Hotel or the Marine where they would spend the rest of the day visiting the beach only to sleep off the effects of too much alcohol. Some indeed never made the trek to the beach and spent the whole day drinking Hole's Beer in The Lumley Hotel a mere 100 yards from the railway station.

Throughout the town and foreshore for those wanting non alcoholic refreshment were water drinking fountains. They comprised a marble column about 4' high which had a brass stud on the side which one pressed to get a jet of water to spurt from the top. They were free.

Two ex-servicemen, "Titch" Johnson and Fred Miller ran the boating lake and as Mother's hotel fronted the lake I spent much of my holiday time there. "Titch", as his nic-name would imply, was short but very fit. Fred was the opposite; a massive man who struggled to fit himself into a rowing boat. Both were very good to me as a small boy and appeared to consider it their duty to teach me to row.

"Clapper" was a product of pre-Social Security days: All through the summer he would stand at various vantage points throughout the town selling newspapers from a sack. Despite a substantial impediment to his speech he would call out (almost in his own language) to would be purchasers "Nott'm Pope, Nott'm Pope". Fortunately many of Clapper's clients recognised the newspaper if not the newspaperman's call. If sales were not going at the speed Clapper anticipated they should he would put down his newspaper bag and clap loudly at passers by including children - hence his nic-name. He was however somewhat frightening to small children.

Horse drawn landaus plied their trade from Tower Esplanade; a remnant of Skegness's classier inter-war days. The Compass Gardens between the clock tower and Butlin's amusement park comprised an area planted with a spectacular display of roses. The reason for such roses was that each evening the coachmen used to shovel all the horse droppings on to the gardens. The gardens took their name from a concrete compass laid into the ground with a perimeter circle with brass inlays of the names of cities all round the world. As a small boy it took me a long time to work out that the gardens only showed direction - not distance!

Mr Fox was an elderly gentleman who ran an ancient bus between the clock tower and Thompson's Fairground at the north end of North Parade. The bus had been one time before WWII a charabanc which had provided ‘tours' round the resort for Skegness's "better class" of  visitors. The ‘chara' had originally been built on a chassis powered by a noisy Morris Commercial engine but during the war years Mr Fox too old for military service had spent his time rebuilding it to what was affectionately  known as The Toast Rack. It had uncomfortable wooden slatted benches full width of the body but no sides. Mr Fox's call of "Penny all the way" would soon fill the seats and after a handle start the vehicle would groan its way round the clock tower and up North Parade. As small children we used to congregate at the back of the bus and wait till the arthritic Mr. Fox was about to let the clutch in at which point we scrambled into the back seats reversing the procedure as the bus came to a halt at The Pier or Thompson's amusements. Mr. Fox stoically put up with the antics of small boys seeming to regard us as a natural hazard of his business.

Skegness was an excellent venue for window shopping. Most of the shops were in Drummond Road and privately owned, several by Jewish families who had arrived at Skegness after being bombed out of the East End of London. Vendors ranged from people with baskets of cheap goods for which one had to haggle; to the posh end of the market with Inis Bentley's Antiques and John Nelson the jeweller.

Mrs. Wrate ran a post office and a photography service. The latter comprised a studio portrait enterprise where much of the work was still in sepia or hand tinted but the business also included "walkie" photographs taken mostly by temporally employed Cambridge under graduates. These young men would be kitted out with a half frame 35mm camera and a blazer in lurid stripes more suited to deckchair manufacture. The lengths the photographers would go to get a good snap was quite amazing including , I recall, tame parrots and a monkey borrowed from Butlin's Amusement Park. The photographers would hand out a receipt for the snap and the recipient would collect the photos from a small kiosk next to the Pier steps. If required, the snaps could be enlarged although they were accepted to be "cheap and cheerful. I imagine the photographers were paid piecework despite which it appeared to be a very profitable line.

Opposite the Baptist Church was the Skegness Rock Factory. On the Lumley road frontage sticks of rock in varied  bilious colours were stacked as high as a shop assistant could reach. The frontage of the shop was shuttered and had no glazing as was the frontage to Beresford Avenue. It was open to all weathers and did not start serious rock production until the school summer holidays. When the season got going there would be large hand painted placards on the nearby pavement announcing when the next batch of "Skegness Rock" was to be made and inviting the general public to come and watch for free!

The Rock factory manager was something of a showman and would cheerily invite passing member of the public tempted by a sample of rock to come and watch the process Using coloured slabs of toffee, green for the "Skegness" lettering, pink for the outside and white for the inner portion the warm rock would be manipulated so as to form a large cylindrical slab of rock into which the lettering had been built. As soon as the rock had cooled enough it was passed to an army of girls who rolled it out by hand on to long aluminium topped tables. At this stage swarms of wasps seemed to appear from every direction which the women much to our admiration totally ignored. When the roll had extended to the length of the table it would be cut in half and the two pieces rolled side by side by the girls (known as ‘Rock Pullers') till the rock reached the length of the table etc etc. Eventually the rock was rolled down to its required diameter following which it was left to cool. Unlike most of the visitors, local children did not clear off at the end of "the rock making show" as we knew that there was every possibility of being thrown nuggets of waste rock from the ends of the rolled lengths.

Smiths Bazaar was a large open plan fancy goods shop next to the bomb damaged Tower Cinema. Before WWII it had been run successfully as an indoor roller skating rink which accounted for its all-pervading smell of "3-in-one" oil and preponderance of loose parquet flooring tiles. Initially after the war it had been run along the lines of a modern day car boot sale where individual traders each brought along the goods and rented a length of counter. Obviously the Smith Family soon decided it was in their best interest to run the premises as a large shop. Their other competitors were Marks and Spencer, Woolworths, Keightley's and Crofts but Smith's great advantage was that they were near to the beach and foreshore.

Skegness had its own lifeboat and pre WWI a paddle steamer had plied between Grimsby, Cleethorpes, Skeg', Boston and Hunstanton. However, even in summer The Wash is infamous for short seas and rough boating. The Edwardian demand for gentile boating soon abated and after one or two spectacular groundings the steamer service disappeared from the scene.

The paddle steamer was followed by a somewhat eccentric entrepreneur who ran trips along the beach to Gibraltar Point in an amphibious ex-Army DKW. I was taken on the craft by one of my Mother's generous guests and remember the operator telling his passengers that they should not be over concerned to note that the craft leaked quite appreciably - so long as the engine kept driving the pumps - we would be o.k. he explained. He proceeded to enthusiastically demonstrate his confidence in the craft by driving it 100 yards through the breakers into the sea and turning off the engine so that we could see the craft did indeed leak. I recall everyone being very relieved when the engine finally fired up again at the third or fourth attempt.

The next venture to encourage boating at Skegness was for the council to run three ex- R.N.L.I. former lifeboats off the beach. Known collectively as "The Grace Darlings" they were former Watson Class open lifeboats which had been de-commissioned and converted for the holiday trade. The boats were powered by the original lifeboat kerosene powered engines and all the fittings of the boat had been removed and replaced wooden slat seats. Having had all their RNLI equipment removed they were very light and provided a very ‘bumpy' ride for up to 30 paying passengers. Nonetheless they provided interesting rides out to "Seal Island" alias Gibraltar Point. I was fortunate in that Freddie Miller was detailed to look after one of "The Darlings" one summer which guaranteed me plenty of trips which otherwise I would not have been able to afford. Bitten fingers of visitors over zealous to feed the seals, I recall, were common.

Sadly the boats came to a tragic end: Left chocked up on the beach near the Fairy Dell the 1953 East Coast floods swept all three boats to oblivion. Occasionally small pieces of a Grace Darling will still appear from where the wind has eroded old sand hills.

Crudely home made sand yachts made a brief appearance. One ride was enough for me and very soon there was a predictable serious accident and the Skegness U.D.C. banned them from the beach.

The pubs of Skegness say much about the pre-war holiday makers. They fell into two classes: Pubs for the masses which tended to be very large and which were owned by local or Nottingham breweries (Holes, Hewetts, Home). The North Shore had a visitor's bar which must have been 100' long and was regularly full to bursting including numbers of tripper's children. The Ship at the end of Burgh Road was also a bar for serious drinkers as was The Royal Oak at Ingoldmels. The Forty Club off Castleton Boulevard catered for Skegness's few well off as did the Conservative Club on Scarborough Avenue for those, even fewer, with political ambition.

Eduardo  Galone ,like many of his Italian countrymen regarded the prospect of being ruled by Mussolini with some alarm and in consequence joined the ranks emigrating to England. Most of his countrymen joined the brick making industry in the Peterborough/Bedford area which coincided with the inter war building boom. Eduardo however was a skilled ice cream maker having learned his trade from his Grandfather and he started a small business at Welford Road in Northampton in 1935 and within a year or two had opened Skegness's only ice cream parlour opposite Smith's Bazaar at the top of London Road. The ice cream parlour was finished in bright green marbled glass had a kiosk opening on to the pavement. Inside was Skegness's first expresso type coffee maker which as one passed the parlour could usually be heard burbling away behind the counter. The kiosk was manned by a large Italian lady with an equally large voice calling to all passers by (even me) "Ices Madam, ices Sir, tea and coffee served inside" Often I used to divert down Arcadia lane rather than risk being called out.

The Skegness lifeboat followed traditions from days when it was a rowing boat launched by local fisherman off the beach. In the days before the RNLI  it was funded by dubious salvage rights and local donations. About the turn of the 19th century a purpose built boat house had been erected about half way between the clock tower and the Lincolnshire coach station. The modus of operation was that when the boat was called out it was pulled out of the boathouse on to South Parade and then went via Tower Esplanade down on to the beach. The Coxswain always great play of the fact that the boat had 'privilege' not to have to keep left round the clock tower on its way down to the beach. When the boat returned from a call it would enter the boathouse from Drummond Road.

The Coastguard would report any incident to the RNLI Secretary who, in consultation with the Coxswain would decide on whether they would launch. If affirmative, ear shattering rockets referred by all locals at "The Maroons" would be fired from the waste ground in front of the boathouse. The crew (minimum 6) would arrive on foot, bike, car and the tractor driver would start up the tractor engine, which, being kerosene/petrol would take a few minutes to warm up. The crew meanwhile would be putting on their sea gear which was no more than Sou'ester, oilskins and thigh boots. The Ann Allen had been launched before WWII and was almost an open boat and although it had dispensed with oars still had a jib and mainsail which were used regularly. The engine was a modestly powered petrol/kerosene 4 cylinder unit. The crew were in the open most of the time and when the sea was rough it called for great stamina especially when they might be at sea for as much as 12 hours.

  Locals could judge the progress of a launch from the characteristic tak . .tak . .tak . . of the wooden blocks on the tractor and carriage crawler. You could tell when it was at top speed going down South Parade and when it got to the beach the sand would deaden the noise.

Launching a 47' Watson Class lifeboat called for skill, leadership and teamwork. Much hinged on the competency of the Coxswain. The Grunhill Family had been associated with the Skegness boat  The Anne Allen for several generations. It was said that they had ‘emigrated' in the late 1800's from inshore fishing the Norfolk coast and had fished off the Skegness beach since.

The boat was loaded on to the carriage bow pointing  (backwards")away from the tractor. The tractor itself was on crawler tracks.

On a launch the beach launch team would usually be first to reach the shore and subject to the approval of the Coxswain they would identify a suitable launching point. This would have to be away from creeks and mud and preferably on hard sand. The Coxswain would order his crew aboard and the tractor driver would back the carriage into the waves with the boat stern-first secured to the trailer by chains. The limiting factor was how far into the waves the tractor could go before it got swamped. The Coxswain stood in the stern of the boat with a clear view of the tractor driver.

When the Coxswain felt he had sufficient depth of water to launch he would signal to the tractor diver. At this stage the tractor driver would by pulling a rope lanyard uncouple the trailer drawbar and edge the tractor towards the beach. The tractor was still connected to the boat and trailer by a long steel hawser which passed under the boat from the back of the trailer and which was doubled back to the stern of the boat. Next the tractor took up the slack in the hawser and as the hawser tightened it locked the brakes solid on the crawler section on the trailer. It was a moment of great tension as the Coxswain watched the waves breaking on the shore trying to judge the best moment to launch the boat from the trailer. Two (bowmen stood with their thole pin hammers above their heads indicating their readiness - when to Coxswain dropped his raised hand they would have to instantly free the boat from the trailer. By this time the tractor driver would be stood at the steering wheel so he could get a clear view of both Coxswain and Bowmen while the tractor roared at maximum revs.

Suddenly and with a loud shout the Coxswain would drop his hand and a great plume of exhaust would shoot from the tractors exhaust pipe and as the Bowmen freed the boat it would shoot bow first into the water. In the summer the trippers would give the boat a hearty cheer as the boat's propeller thrashed at the water driving the boat to deeper water. By contrast at a winter launch there were very few spectators other than the official beach party.

 I recall asking Father-in-law, who served many years on the lifeboat, how, in view of their very rudimentary instruments they found their way back on dark nights to Skegness beach.

"Steer North or South till you smell the fish and chips"

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Austerity 5

The ‘Archaeological' Remains

Despite it being some seventy odd years since Skegness reverted to being a seaside resort there are still signs for the sharp eyed which indicate the past.

The military remnants are understandably few: There is a car park at the south end of the boating lake which used to be a parade ground for RAF and Army. Most of the Army presence was at Gibraltar Point.

Just beyond the southern end of the Seacroft Golf Course off Gibraltar Point Road was a concrete ramp facing out to sea on which two 6" naval guns were sited to prevent anticipated German landings in the wash. The guns were camouflaged to look like a large hotel.

Incredibly, as soon as VE Day was announced most of the Army were demobbed immediately and most of Gibraltar Point left unattended. The authorities appeared to be more concerned about squatters taking over the empty Army accommodation and unexploded mines on the beach.  I recall Stepfather taking me to Gibraltar Point to find other than Waite's Farm the place was completely deserted and abandoned vehicles left everywhere

Where the present birdwatcher's car park stands was a "decoy" township complete with streetlights which covered the marsh next to the River Steeping between the sea bank and "the point" at the southern end of the area. What is now the visitor's centre remained in the Coast Guard's occupation throughout The War. Near Skegness sailing clubs boathouse stood several Nissen huts the bases of which can still be seen in the undergrowth which for many years inexplicitly included two gooseberry bushes.

My Stepfather purchased the disused huts for use as piggeries making "a contribution" to the occupiers to persuade them to move on or squat somewhere else.

The only accepted resident occupant was an elderly member of the Grunhill family who lived in a former bus on the sand dunes between the sea bank and the present car park. Before the war he had been an unofficial marsh warden taking visitors, mostly Cambridge under grads' wildfowling or bird watching. This involved him in long tales as to how dangerous it was to wander about the mudflats without a guide - it all helped the contribution made by his clients. The old chap had no transport and used to rely on others to give him a lift into town. His staple diet was rabbits, potatoes and wildfowl.  His hobby was collecting unexploded ordnance which he painted and proudly put on display in front of his bus home. In due course Grunhill reached the point that he could no longer manage such a solitary life and Skegness U.D.C. moved him into old people's accommodation where after several years the council discovered that the bombs etc. Grunhill had made into a display in the centre of the sheltered accommodation were still live which gave rise to a major emergency involving police and the Army Bomb Disposal Team when Mr Grunhill died.

Remains of tank workshops still exist in the sand hills near The Point although their neighbours are now natterjack toads.

The butt of the rifle range is partially hidden in the sand hills opposite the southern end of Seacroft Esplanade and where occasionally the tide still washes up tail fins of 2" mortar bombs.

In the town the only sign of the war was bomb damage. The likelihood is that such bombs as were dropped on Skegness were to prevent in-flight accidents in German bombers while flying back home. At the end of the War bomb damage was evident at:-

The old indoor swimming baths (formerly the Turkish Baths)

Tower cinema

Smith's Bazaar

The kiosk next to Galones Ice Cream Parlour

Next to The Arcadia Theatre

South Parade adjoining the clock tower

The National Savings Bank

Lownes Fancy Goods

The Tower Gardens Arcade

The Tower Gardens Pavilion

Other signs of earlier years range from the mundane to the extraordinary:

In Victorian times the sea often came up to the South or North Parades and the steel balustrade fencing was erected from Thompson's Fairground to the seaward end of Lifeboat Avenue - today there are still occasions when the sand at the top of Lifeboat Avenue is moved by the wind to reveal the old railings.

The Fairy Dell paddling pool off South Parade had a covered seating area known as the Axenstrasse, named it would appear, by the S.U.D.C Surveyor who spent many of his inter-War holidays on the Italian Lakes. Generations of Skegness boys climbed up the side of the Axenstrasse and a few (me included) fell into the boating lake below. The Axenstrasse was sadly demolished as being an unacceptable health and safety risk.

Outside the Roman Bank frontage of the Red Lion Hotel at the bottom of Lumley Road stood a limestone full sized carved lion which despite it standing guarding the pavement and providing scope for boy's imagination for nearly a hundred years suddenly became a health and safety hazard and was sold to the owner of a Thai Restaurant at Sutton-on-Sea.

After the War Skegness supported two blacksmiths, one at the bottom of King George Street run by Sam Clarke and one on Roman Bank. The latter run by a Mr. Moreley specialised in shoeing the horses drawing landaus as well as a number of tradesmen who still delivered by horse and cart. Mr Clark who welded with both gas and electric was regarded as more modern.

Like most towns Skegness has seen supposed "progress". Hildred's and much of The Lawns bus park was swept away to make way for the inevitable shopping centre and car park. The Ship pub is derelict.

The Beeching Plan eventually reduced the rail connection to almost nothing

The A 52 Boston to Skegness road which, in the days of poor headlights and ineffective brakes, used to put the Fear of God into Mother's visitors. Many of my Mother's boarding house guests would set off home to The Midlands well before lunch in order to put the dykes of the area behind them before dusk. The Croft Bends and The Friskney "Snake" were the site of many aspiring Sterling Moss as well as numerous accidents. Today's drivers tear along recent road improvements perhaps wondering why there are so many large lay-bys along the route which only appear to provide access to fields of cabbage

For small children brought up in hard times window shopping was for many all the shopping they did. Most of the shops in High Street and Lumley Road were privately owned and in contrast to to-day the one thing they offered was pride in good service which may be why I so well remember shops that appealed to me

Toys from Smith's Bazaar which included Brittain's 1/72 scale die-cast models of army lorries, tanks, field guns and boxes of lead soldiers as well as a comprehensive range of farm animals and equipment. Especially favoured was a Fordson major on ‘spud' wheels. Lownes also stocked toys but it was the one place shop window viewing was discouraged by two very stern elderly sisters that owned and ran the place.

Receiving second hand toys bore no stigma whatsoever and I remember being thrilled when my Mother bought me a wind-up Hornby "O" Gauge train set for Christmas. It was a modest 0 - 4 - 0 engine, 3 trucks and a single circuit of track. From this I progressed to a 4 - 4 - 2 engine and slowly amassed a larger collection of rails. With the help of the owner of The Doll's Hospital in High Street I gradually moved on to Hornby "OO" which I had laid out off the cellar of the Waldorf Hotel among its crumbling foundations.

Sheath knives one could buy from Mr. Dent in High Street. Boys felt little inhibition about going to school with a William Rogers ‘I cut my way' 6" bladed sheath knife strapped to one's belt.

Austerity 6.


Skegness  was originally a ness (long strip of sand) settlement from which locals fished The Wash. Prior to the coming of the railway Skegness was isolated and in fact the main seaside resort locally was Freiston Shore where the rich stayed at The Plummers Arms now behind the sea wall. In early Victorian times much of the Freiston Shore was uninterrupted sands rather than mudflats as far as the eye can see to-day.

Skegness had few pretentions to be ‘up market' although the period between World Wars saw some ‘upper class' hotel development, one presumes, in anticipation of moneyed clients. The Seacroft Hotel (originally The Seacroft Hydro) must be a case in point and to a lesser extent The County, The Imperial, The Pier, The Crown and The Vine. The Vine had been one of the first hotels to open its doors to visitors and was well established by the time the pier was built in 1881.

Skegness's hey day must be the early 1950's: The 1940's saw legislation requiring the industries of The Midlands to grant paid holiday to their employees which provided an unprecedented boom to Skegness's economy. However, by the late 1950's relaxation of exchange control gradually meant that more and more of Skegness's visitors travelled abroad taking advantage of cheap package holidays. By the late 60's many hotels had converted into self contained holiday flats but this did not make up for the loss of overall numbers of visitors.

The reorganisation of local government in 1974 saw the demise of Skegness Urban District Council and it seems likely that being a small part of East Lindsey District has acted as a disincentive for public investment in the town. There has been talk of developing a marina on Skegness's foreshore for 60 years but nothing has come of such plans or is likely to in view of the nature of the shifting sands.

Ironically the town has almost gone full circle cheap car ownership may well yet see the days of "trippers" return.


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Mum's Cooking

My Mum was a very good cook.

Throughout her life she had friends who, I am sure, often appreciated her cooking as much as her company. She however, in return, certainly drew great satisfaction from seeing her guests enjoy the food she had prepared. She was no gourmet herself in that for much of my memory she suffered chronically with gastric ulcers which led her to adopt a somewhat unusual diet of sponge cake filled with home made strawberry jam, sandwiches and rice pudding.

She would have been 10 years old at the cessation of the First World War which probably accounted for her unswerving philosophy of 'waste not: want not'. Every left-over was, only with great reluctance, thrown away - at the very least it was fed to chickens, pigs, cats or dogs; some or all of which she always managed to keep throughout her 81 years. Leftover potatoes and vegetables were liable to be fried up as 'bubble and squeak', meats made into various rissoles, fish to fishcakes etc. etc.

I recall one occasion where she found a 'nest' of Guinea fowl eggs. [Flocks of Guinea fowl quite naturally tend to lay a great pile of eggs when they are not brooding a clutch - usually in the thickest clump of undergrowth they can find - often nettles] There were about a hundred eggs, obviously laid over some considerable time such that some would definitely have been bad. Mother carefully collected them up in a metal bucket, took them home, meticulously scrubbed them and then 'X-rayed' them by the light of a 100 watt light bulb!  In the days when she used to keep geese and ducks, these eggs too she never let go to waste. However, usually because of their strong flavour, she would have to utilise them in her well loved fruitcake mixes.

My earliest memories of Mum's cooking are from the days when we were evacuated during World War II to Fields Farm, Sapcote. Fields Farm was an isolated farmstead where Mother cooked and kept house for the bachelor farm tenant.

She used to make milk fudge from dried milk. In view of the fact that the farm ran a herd of Ayrshire dairy cattle Mother always had a surplus of dried milk which was subject to strict wartime rationing. Inevitably sweets were also rationed and Mother's plain milk and chocolate fudge were the only sweets I tasted during my infant years.

The rarest treats Mum made in sweet rationing days were peppermint creams. From where she managed to obtain the necessary sugar I have no idea. The peppermint creams were always made for Christmas and their manufacture was something of a ritual. The mixture was made up carefully, heated and even more carefully cooled. I believe that if it was either cooled too fast or too slow then the result was a disaster. In the first instant the sweets turning out as tooth-breaking rocks and the second as a glutinous mess which could not be lifted from the plate. Mother always used a pair of old Dresden Indian Pattern meat dishes on which to 'settle' the peppermint creams - quite why it had to be those particular plates I have not the vaguest idea. When, as it usually did, all went well, the results were mouth watering snow-white creams most of which Mum sent to her special friends as Christmas presents "as repayment for favours" - much to my personal disappointment.

Despite such intricacies as were required for her sweet making; Mother was essentially a 'plain' cook. She would have been appalled with to-day's 'trendy' cooks and their artistic placing of spots of coloured sauces etc. etc.. A gravy boat full of thick rich gravy made directly from prime meat stock was very much her style - if her gravy was allowed to cool in the gravy boat it had to be removed with a spoon! She preferred full plates to artistry. She always claimed that galleries were the places to see art and that dining rooms were for eating!

In the late 1940's Mother ran a guesthouse and later a 24 bedroom hotel on the Lincolnshire coast. Fortunately for her, Stepfather ran a diary farm and was able to meet Mum's demands for eggs, pork, bacon, poultry, milk, cheese which transformed her guest's menu. All the produce was fresh and the cheese and butter made at home. I remember vividly hours spent laboriously cranking the handle of her butter churn watching the cream though the glass and wondering if it was ever going to turn to butter!

In theory her holiday guests were suppose to hand over their ration books to Mother at the start of their week's holiday. Often in practice she never bothered - especially with her 'regulars'. Needless to explain, many of her guests came year in year out during those austere post-war years.

Despite these huge advantages Mother had over her commercial competitors, she was not averse to the odd culinary deception:

During the winter months she used to accommodate parties of wildfowlers who spent their evenings at Gibraltar Point vainly endeavouring to shoot wild duck or geese. For these 'sporting guests' Mother would put 'pheasant' on the menu. Braces of pheasant were totally unavailable through butchers. However, Mother instructed Stepfather to shoot several of the farm guinea fowl [in reality it was in fact the only way to catch them]. These she hung for some time to 'ripen' before serving them to her guests. After due warning about the shot in the meat the guests consumed the birds quite happily in the full belief that they were pheasants. She would also boil ox hearts and having pressed and pickled them serve them up as 'pickled beef' to the more urban of her guests. Writing to-day I am perhaps thankful that the British public had not developed a taste for curry - there is no telling down what avenues such an opportunity for culinary disguise might have led my Mother!

In the 1940's regulations regarding the slaughtering and butchering of animals were very lax by to-day's standards: In the countryside it was common practice for farm labourers to keep pigs at the back of their cottages and feed the animals to very heavy weights. It was a common sight to see large pig carcases hung up on an outside wall 'to set' in the cool of the north side of a country home. Mother, likewise, would arrange with Stepfather to occasionally kill a pig for the hotel guests. Immediately after pig had been killed in the pre-freezer era all the offal had to be consumed before it went off. This meant that the guests had pigs fry, sausages, chittlings and liver for breakfast, pork for lunch and brawn, haselet and pork pies with salad for high tea. I assume that at such times any guests who did not like pork products simply had to abandon their holiday. Mother herself hand made the pork pies which were delicious. The production of brawn was a somewhat grisly business using the extremities of the pigs anatomy - best not thought about. Once made however, brawn looked remarkably appetising. The excess fat was either rendered down as lard or kept as suet for steamed puddings - jam rolly-polly and 'Spotted Dick'.

Not all Stepfather's butchering was planned: On one occasion his large Airedale dog bit the leg off a Tamworth pig. After Stepfather had butchered the luckless animal no one noticed that the meat hung in Mother's still-room had a leg missing.

Mum also developed a consummate skill in knowing how hard she had hit a pheasant that chose to leap out in front of her car. Anything that was just dazed, she would spring out of the car and quickly wring the bird's neck. Any bird she hit at speed she would not bother with. Such 'free food' was not to be wasted.

Such thinking extended to her occasional walks in the countryside. Whenever I was required to take any of the family dogs for a walk I was always instructed to take some sort of bag in case I were to come across mushrooms, green walnuts for pickling, wild damsons or bullace, blackberries, crab apples, hazel nuts, beech nuts, sweet chestnuts - she used them all in some recipe or another. Fresh moorhen and pigeon eggs she always rated highly for cooking and for making souffle's.

In 1947 a ship was lost in the North Sea off the Lincolnshire coast. It had been carrying grapefruit as deck cargo. In the post war period grapefruit was to all intensive purposes unobtainable except at exorbitant prices. I had, as a small boy, never even seen one.

Following the shipwreck I was dispatched to the beach with my Stepsister's pram and brought about 6 pram loads home. The hotel guests got grapefruit for breakfast, lunch and tea. Despite this Mother decided that the only way to 'use' the fruit was to bottle it. She had hoarded numbers of pre-war Kilner preserve jars and the outer still-room at the hotel was soon a production line reminiscent of any busy food factory - even the guests were called on to give a hand. (I suspect they 'volunteered' in preference to being given even more grapefruit to eat!). One of the slight problems Mother had was that, despite having the preserve jars, the rubber sealing rings for them were unobtainable. However, such a matter was not such as to baulk Mother when she got going - she had several of the lady guests cutting an old tractor inner tube up and soon had the fruit safely bottled.

One evening late in the summer there was a loud explosion from Mother's store room. Immediate investigation revealed that the seal on a preserve jar had failed and had allowed the fruit to ferment following which the jar had exploded. Indeed, closer inspection revealed that most of the other jars were also fermenting. Mother decanted the whole lot into another large container (a former 10 gallon battery acid carboy) and made 'Grapefruit Wine'. It was the driest wine most people said they had ever tasted and some unkindly suggested there must have been some battery acid left in the carboy! It was all drunk by Christmas nonetheless.

In her retirement Mother went to live in rural Gloucestershire. Her last days were spent in a comfortable flat in a rambling village rectory in the countryside. She always enjoyed entertaining any member of the family and would be keen to provide a meal. It always seemed that she thought we should all be ' fed up a bit' as if we had been on some starvation diet elsewhere. Some of her dishes were unique. In particular I remember well her rice pudding: Cooked very slowly for a long period, it was near solid, having to be cut with a knife, like cake. It had a thick dark brown skin which she topped with home made blackberry vinegar and custard! The blackberry vinegar was one of her personal recipes.

For some years Eileen, my wife, never discovered why the children were often and unusually such a handful after they had had tea with their Grannie till she caught Mother decanting about half a bottle of sherry into the trifle with plenty of home made strawberry jam to disguise the sherry!

With the advent of bulk buying and freezers, her culinary enthusiasm was fortunately more or less contained by her modest economic means. Nonetheless, I am sure that had an infantry company needed to camp in the rectory garden overnight she could have easily fed them without having had to leave her flat. She had a huge chest freezer that contained numerous cuts of meat, chops, steaks, garden produce, fruit, pies, mince pies (for the next Christmas), cakes, ice cream and more. Much more.

In her later years when she had finally given up driving a car; I recall taking her out for a ride in the nearby countryside. We passed a field of vining peas being harvested. When she saw several tons of de-podded fresh peas being discharged into the waiting lorry at the roadside I was told to go and offer the driver a £1 for a bucketful - which he duly (and amusedly) obliged.

After Mother died in March 1989, clearing her freezer was akin to a cross between a history lesson and a geography lesson. My Stepsister reckoned that some of the foodstuffs must have been frozen for 5 or 6 years.

When we finally cleared her furniture and household effects; there, under her bed, were a couple of hundred Bramley apples carefully laid out on newspaper - just in case we fancied one of her well known baked apples stuffed with dried fruit and topped with cream or ice cream and a small tot of brandy.

It was a touching memory of an inimitable cook

                                                                    R.C. 15.07.02.


April 29 2012

More on the memory of the stalwart lady --Fay
supplied by Alan lane and Roy Church

Further to my recent contribution to Koi Hai, below is another reminiscence of the stalwart lady from the editor (using Alan Lane's recollection) which emphasizes what an outgoing character she was. My bachelor recollection of Fay may however be dimmed by the memory of Kitty Briggs's very attractive daughter
Roy Church

Alan's Memory

I have just read Roy Church's little story on Fay Gibb, and it brought back a memory to me of this couple at Dikom. I had told Roy of the particular event when I spoke to him a few years ago.

I was staying with Pat Briggs (burra sahib of Nahortoli TE - James Finlay) when carrying out a cold weather overhaul of a Crossley QVD 4 at that estate in the Dikom area in 1965, and Pat and Kitty Briggs had been invited to dinner at the Gibb's bungalow. Kitty asked me if I would like to join them to which I agreed. Kitty did pre-warn me about Fay, but Kitty did say that it could prove to be an entertaining evening!

We all had a good chat prior to dinner being served, and as far as I can remember the meal, and pre-dinner drinks, was excellent.

As Roy has stated, Fay had been a nurse prior to being a mem-sahib, and it was after dinner that Fay decided to ask us if we would like to see some 'medical' specimens. Kitty was not too sure of what was going to be brought in, but decided it would be interesting to see what Fay had got 'pickled' in glass jars.

One 'specimen' that Fay brought out of her store-cupboard, was a 'pickled penis', which she passed around for inspection. On the specimen being returned to Fay, she promptly removed the rubber bung and poured out a glass of the 'formalin', shouted 'Cheers!!' and promptly downed it in one go.

The shock, and awe, on Kitty Briggs face was something to behold, and on being offered a swig of the 'formalin' she nearly ran out of the dining room.

Fay then consumed another good measure, and said, "You really aught to taste my parsnip wine, it's frightfully good you know!! "

So, the pickled penis was in fact a well crafted parsnip!

Editor says that unfortunately he never met the Briggs daughter but she was greatly admired by both Alan and Roy. 
Alan commented
"I noticed what Roy had said about the Brigg's daughter! Yes, I was the envy of many a young chota-sahib as I had breakfast, lunch and dinner with her"

April 25 2012

         SOLDIER ON

Join the Army. Learn a trade

Adventure, travel, be well paid.

These are the lies you're bred on 

so quite unknowing you sign on.

First you're issued with your kit.

A uniform that doesn't fit.

Boots left and boots right.

Black gymshoes to be scrubbed white.

So now they have you in their grip.

Where then the smiles - that comradeship?

Where're those friendly helpful types?

Who is that Devil with those three stripes?

"Squad Attention!" "Stand at ease!"

Obeying orders such as these

the days drag by to your release.

And then you'll tell the younger lad

of all the smashing times you've had.

 "Stick it boy, keep smiling through.

Someday you'll have days to do."


April 23 2012


 Characters of Tea's yesteryear - Fay Gibb

When I was sent to Tippuk in the cold weather of 1959/60 Fay and David Gibb were at Daisajan. David Gibb was noted for his overbearing attitude to Assistants and I had little to do with him.

During 1960 I had acquired a shotgun and spent a considerable time wild fowling on the bheels to the west of Daisajan. Fay was often sitting on the veranda when I cycled back past her bungalow at the end of a day's duck shooting. It would have been impossible for me to eat all the ducks I had shot and I used to regularly give Fay a pair of mallard or pochard. 

By the end of October 1961 things were slowing down in the Tippuk factory as the cooler nights began to slow the leaf growth down.

With some surprise I returned to my office one afternoon and was surprised to see Swynn lost in deep thought sitting in "my" office chair -  so much so that he hardly noticed my arrival.

"Just as well we are nearing the end of the season" said Swynn. "I have some news for you". Swynn went on to explain that because of Senior Staff U.K. leaves due and resignations there would be considerable to'ing and fro'ing while Senior Management sorted out the staff postings. Steve Ruane who was Tippuk garden Assistant was to go on 6 months U.K. leave but would in any event be unlikely to return to Tippuk in accordance with Jokai policy. He was to be replaced by a newly appointed assistant unknown to Swynn and there appeared to be no immediate replacement for me bearing in mind I was to start as garden assistant at Dikom on the 1st November 1961.

The only thing I knew of Dikom was that it was next to the Government Distillery and one was forced to close all car windows when passing by to keep the horrendous smell at bay. [Known locally as "Dikom Death"].

 As an aside Swynn confirmed that my application for help in funding to buy a car had been agreed by the Calcutta agents Balmer Lawrie.

I could understand why Swynn looked a bit glum but for me I thought life looked very promising.

Swynn left it to me to make my own arrangements and to meet David Gibb who had just taken Dikom over. Swynn suggested I arrange for all my bungalow kit to be moved.

I soon discovered David Gibb was a very different character to Swynn. David had no military experience and had a very limited sense of humour. From my first meeting I felt he was not a natural leader of men. Above all he was extraordinarily mean both on a personal and garden basis. He was unpopular with the garden labour and staff who spent much of their time re-casting fictitious performance figures so that they looked good for the benefit of Visiting Agents. Even the factory which was near David's office rarely received a visit from him other than to occasionally check the tea samples.

From my first meeting I decided the less I saw of David the better we might get on.

My first job having left Abdul to sort out my bungalow was to supervise the women who were employed light pruning. They had started with Dikom No.1 section which happened to surround the burra bungalow screened by high hedges. The ‘Jem' came with me and pointed out the basic standards we should expect. Rumour had preceded my arrival and the women were curious to meet their new ‘kamjari' Sahib.

As I chattered to the women I heard a repeated call of "Hello there". The women told me it was the Burra Memsahib "hakkow'ing" me adding various suggestive remarks as to why I should go and see her. I went to the bungalow and found Fay drinking coffee on her spacious veranda.

 Fay was the absolute opposite from David, she welcomed me to Dikom and insisted I stay for a cup of coffee. When, having drunk two cups of coffee I suggested I ought to check what was going on in the garden. This suggestion was totally rebutted by Fay who said that at that time of year the garden virtually ran itself. She was insistent I stay and try her home made wine. She further pointed out that she enjoyed a bit of company and in particular that my predecessor had resigned before David had even introduced him to her.


Did I know wine could be made from tea? I did not so we went to the bungalow godown to find some tea wine. It was a large godown and almost all the shelves were stacked with both bottles of wine carefully labelled and a number of large ex-acid carboys which gurgled away as they fermented.

We returned to the veranda and Fay called the bearer to bring some "burra glasses". Fay's wine glasses would have been almost half a pint.

It was 10'oclock in the morning and the tea wine went down very well.

The women's "challan" chattered quietly out of view behind the compound hedge occasionally peeping through gaps in the hedge. During the next bottle of wine (pea pod) the Sirdar brought my cycle round to the bungalow and asked whether he should take it back to my bungalow which Fay without further consultation decided that such would be a good idea and also signalled the uncorking of the barley and wheat wines. Time slipped by during which Fay told me all about her life including her war service as a Queen Alexandra's Nursing Service Sister when she had been torpedoed on a hospital ship in the Bay of Naples.

Fay and David had spent a long spell on the North Bank of the Bramaphutra which she had found lonely especially when she had to send her boys home to complete their education. She was much happier on the South Bank and threw herself into club life with great gusto.

Lunchtime was approaching but when I made an effort to find my bike [I had "forgotten" the Sirdar had already taken it to my bungalow.] Fay suggested we have a glass of David's much prized Shillong Cherry Brandy at which point David appeared for lunch. Suffice to say was not best pleased to find his new assistant thoroughly inebriated and chatting with Fay. His lunch was not ready and his new assistant was consuming much of his favourite tipple.

He took me back to my bungalow in the Jeep.

The next I recall was Abdul gently waking me and explaining he had prepared a light supper. It was dark but I forewent my usual peg of "rum pani". I ate my scramble egg and chips and I soon felt better but decided on an early night.

Life as a garden assistant was good. I purchased a Fiat and explored the surrounding countryside. The south side of Dikom and Wilton still had considerable scrub jungle and my evening walks with my shotgun usually resulted in at least "one (junglefowl) for the pot."

I also bought a second hand 10 h.p. Johnson outboard which put a considerable strain on my financial resources. I explored not only the Bramaphutra but also the Dibru and occasionally also boated on the Dhebong, Cissery and Sibia Rivers at the top of the valley. Soon my financial circumstances reached the point that I would have to give up boating or give up the club.

I resigned from Dibrugarh Club. David Gibb was on the club committee and I was very soon called to his office where he told me I could not resign from the club. The discussion got fairly heated to the point I asked him how he proposed to stop me resigning to which he rather lamely replied that he would write to the Calcutta Agents. I never heard anything further. In due course I joined Ledo club as an out member which entitled me to visit Dibrugarh on an occasional basis which situation did not endear me to David.

There was no factory assistant at Dikom when I arrived as two had resigned in quick succession and David required me to supervise the overhauls in the factory as well as do my garden tasks.

In fact any Dikom factory assistant's first priority was to keep David's car going. It was an Ambassedeur which had done several years "hard labour" on the North Bank and in truth had reached the end of its economic life despite which one fitter spent most of his time keeping the car going. It required a replacement battery and would not start if left for any amount of time. The fitter had to take a tractor to the burra bungalow with jump leads and start the car each morning. David was adamant he would not purchase a new battery.

Late one club evening the car would not start for its return journey from Dibrugarh Club to Dikom some 4 miles away. Fortunately there was still a gaggle of hard drinking bachelors at the bar who Fay corralled to provide a push start. David unsteadily climbed in and sat behind the wheel. Fay typically shoved with the rest while David steered a couple of circuits of the club car park after which the car started and Fay jumped aboard.

The garden road between the Dibrugarh club and Highway 37 was notoriously bad and as a result of the alcoholic mist David managed to stall the car. They were in the middle of nowhere; not a light or sign of life.

After what Fay described later as some "plain talking" she agreed to push. Fortunately Fay was an active lady and very soon the engine fired but before Fay could jump in David drove off.

In her best club rags and high heels Fay muttering dire threats strode after the car. Soon she was on Highway 37. No sign of any vehicle. A lone rickshaw wallah was somewhat surprised to see a Burra Mem in all her finery trudging along the main road at 1 o'clock in the morning. He made the mistake of expressing his thoughts and soon found a very large English lady aboard his vehicle telling him to go to the Dikom bungalow where she was going to kill the sahib. During the bumpy ride she decided better than killing David she would hide and watch his reaction. The rickshaw wallah dumped his charge and fled - unpaid. David was snoring in his bed so Fay decided to sleep in the spare room. In the morning she listened from under the bedclothes to David shaving and shuffling about but like clockwork he disappeared to the office. Fay's fury was growing as David neither asked the night chowkidar or the bearer where the memsahib was or conducted any search: He simply went to the office as usual.

As was usual the Gibb's dining room was separated from the scullery by a screen behind which the bearer kept an eye on the table.

Having dressed Fay explained to the bearer that she would watch events from behind the screen. There were no events David simply carried on as usual; he ate his porridge, bacon & egg and toast, one piece of toast and marmalade and then read the airmail edition of The Daily Telegraph.

Fays temper was approaching boiling point: Having emerged from her hide she demanded an explanation as to why David had not asked anyone where she was. David's reply of "I thought you would turn up eventually" was seemingly totally unsatisfactory. David spent the next week keeping away from his fellow Europeans so as not to have to explain how and from where he had acquired such a corking black eye!

More plain talking.

"Pockface" as his name might imply was a survivor from childhood smallpox. He ran a shop from Digboi from which he sold what he grandly referred to as "arts and crafts" or, if the item was expensive or recently acquired "works of art". He was a Kashmiri and like all good Kashmiris loved to barter. He sold furniture, lamps, ornaments, carpets, Naga spears ect., in fact anything he could get his hands on that he thought would turn a profit.

In addition to his shop in Digboi Pockface was regularly to be seen around the valley in a grossly overloaded Standard Vanguard when he would unannounced call in at all planter's bungalows. After pleasantries and cups of tea Pockface would instruct his driver to lay out his wares on the veranda. After several more cups of tea and bid and counter bid extraordinarily a deal was always reached usually to both parties satisfaction - but not always. Fay was a real sucker for Pockface's wares and sometimes just to upset David would blow the bazaar petty cash on buying various goods.

I happened to meet Fay one evening after a visit from Pockface and we discussed what we had each bought. It soon became clear that Pockface had fixed higher prices for Fay than he had for me. Not to be outdone she laid a plan. Next time Pockface came she would identify what she wanted and send a note over to my bungalow telling me what I had to secretly buy on her behalf.

Pockface duly visited the garden some 6 months later with his latest wares including two magnificent walnut carvings which Fay wanted me to buy for her. Pockface had not displayed the carvings to me as he said they would be too expensive for a chhota sahib of my modest means. He was right! He was however not in the least perturbed that we had schemed against him and thereafter he would smilingly always ask Fay whether I was shopping for her! Thereafter when he excluded to offer me any particularly expensive item he would murmur "that the item would suit the "Burra Mem!"    

 If elephants got into tea estates they were capable of causing a lot of damage especially to tea nurseries and shade trees. One of their favourite grazing areas was in the scrub jungle at the back of Wilton and Dikom. I soon spotted the tell-tale signs that we had a resident elephant at Wilton. David called on the skills of our Government appointed elephant shikari

After about a week of near misses the elephant was shot in some woodland at the end of Chubua runway. Fay went down to have a look at the carcass and discovered that her long ambition of having a dustbin made out of an elephant' foot had come to be. The tribal shikari was already butchering the animal and she left strict orders for a foot to be brought to the bungalow. Meantime she laid on a impromptu party for everyone she knew in the area to celebrate her success. David was less enthusiastic especially when he heard what the taxidermy cost was likely to be.

The party went well but shortly before midnight Fay had disappeared. The shikari laughingly suggested she may have gone to supervise the amputation of ‘the leg'. David sent me to search for her and sure enough by the light of a Petromax she was making sure the leg was not damaged. More amazingly, she was also successful in persuading David to have the amputated leg wrapped in ice and flown down to Calcutta.

Some months later the leg was pride of place in the Gibb's lounge where it remained never willingly referred to by David.

I visited David and Fay after they had retired to Wiltshire and they still had the leg in their modest bungalow. I guess there is some chattel auctioneer who wondered what the provenance of an elephant's leg was in deepest Wiltshire!

As the 1962 War raged it soon became apparent that the Indian Army were in disarray and before long the ABITA and the British High Commission rapidly arranged for staff and women on the North Bank to be evacuated. The womenfolk on the Southbank were not required to evacuate till after the Cease Fire had been announced. Contrary to David's advice Fay refused to go until there was but one plane available from Jorhat. David ordered me to take Fay to Jorhat during which journey Fay was unusually quiet. We stopped en route for a break and a cup of tea during which sitting quietly in the front of my car Fay announced.

"I know cowardice  when I see it"

April 3 2012

Search and ye shall find 

 Finding Dick Scott, was a challenge

Dick and I have known each other from Army days where we were both Regular Soldiers in the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment. I left tea in 1967 while Dick stayed on till the "bitter end" loomed following which we lost touch.

I was busy studying Rural Estate Management at the Royal Agricultural College Cirencester following which I settled in Boston, Lincolnshire, progressing with my profession and raising a family of two boys and an adopted Daughter.

Dick some years ago

I heard from other ex-planter friends that Dick had gone to Papua New Guinea where life was "pretty rough"

Some 2 years ago I decided to let modern technology assist and "search the web" I found that Dick had worked for The Commonwealth Development Corporation but when I spoke to several officers no one actually knew where Dick was - bit like Dick leading patrols in Malaya.

Eventually I found a report on the web from a Cameroon  newspaper about an upmarket social bash held at the residence of the Prime Minister of Cameroon. The reporter, possibly irked at not being invited, had added the fact that most people had been in a state to be able to walk home including Dick Scott, mentioned particularly by name.

No email. No address. So I handwrote a personal letter for the Prime Minister. Back by return came a letter identifying Dick's email.

The wonders of technology!

April 3 2012 


Statute requires that every 5 years the Valuation Office shall carry out a review of rateable values for all eligible properties. This is a job on which much kudos of the Valuation Office hinges.

Statute gives the Valuation Officer wide powers to require tenants submit details to him including with some types of property complex details of accounts and throughput figures from a business.

Needless to say the Revenue had provided long complex returns to provide the information concerned and although the return forms were produced centrally each form carried the telephone number of the appropriate Valuation Officer with the suggestion that he be phoned with any query in the first instance.

Unfortunately the telephone codes for Leicester and Kings Lynn differed by only one digit and in error the Kings Lynn forms bore the Leicester telephone code. Worse still, Kings Lynn Valuation Office and Leicester Zoo had identical local numbers.

Very soon there were lots of businessmen understandably writing to complain that after hours of hard work by the ratepayer; when he/she rang for assistance all they got was Leicester Zoo.

Red faces all round!

  March 23 2012 


The Chowkidar came into my bedroom swathed in a much holed blanket announced by a rattling cup and saucer as he came up the rear stairs of the bungalow.

I switched on the bedside light, (110 DC)  looked at the alarm clock beside my bed and saw that the chowkidar had woken me up once again about an hour too early. It was just after one o'clock. All right for him I thought; once I had taken myself off to the factory he would sleep through till dawn. Much of my tea was spilled into the saucer which nonetheless I drank.

I called to the chowkidar to bring me another cup of tea and not to spill it this time

From the factory which was about 100 yards away from the bungalow came the sounds of activity. The chung boys were busily sweeping the leaf to a point nearest the rolling room and the deep roar of the diesel prime mover exhaust indicated that the line shaft was operating driving the rolling tables. There was always something very re-assuring about the steady roar from the Mirlees Blackstone's exhaust.

I drank the second cup of tea which the chowkidar had, as instructed, left on the wicker table on the bungalow veranda. Once again there was more tea in the saucer than in the cup. It was however no good complaining; the chowkidar was an elderly man and doubtfully in the best of health - no doubt he did his best I mused.

         The view towards Highway 37 from verandah

Bungalow Interior

                                                       " Nockers"

                     Old Tippuk Factory Bungalow now demolished 

It was hot and humid. Even in these early hours the temperature rarely dropped below 30 Centigrade during the monsoon and the high humidity was almost a permanent feature.

As I dressed I put on some Nycil powder which kept prickly heat in check for most of the time. If however one had to deal with a machinery breakdown, especially of a tea dryer the combined effect of the heat from the machine and the tea dust dictated that a rapid return to the bungalow for a shower was the only way to achieve a modicum of relief.

A path ran through the tea bushes between the factory compound and the bungalow. The only light was that coming from the factory and judging where the un-bridged open 3' deep drainage channels ran through the tea was something of a hazard. Several times I had misjudged the whereabouts of the path and arrived at the factory with muddy knees. I did not bother with a torch as Indian made torches were infamously unreliable - one learned by experience.

As I entered the factory through the engine room I could see that several rolling tables were operating and the crew for a CTC were just getting their machine going. Obviously the labourers were arriving at the factory on time.

Getting the factory into full operation was always something of a gamble: From sweeping the leaf up for collection from the withering lofts to the end of the process where the dried tea exited the final dryer could be as much as two hours and the workers who operated the firing machines would therefore arrive long after the chung boys. Difficulties often arose when drying machine operators did not turn up on time meanwhile the leaf piled up at the initial stages of manufacture. This was a particularly regular situation during various Hindu festivals when the factory chowkidars had to go round the labour lines literally dragging alcohol inhibited operators out by the scruff of the neck.

As I wended my way through the engine room to the factory office I noted there were a number of workers queuing up by the Rolling Babu's desk logging in. All appeared to be under control.

On my desk was a note from Sharma, my Head Tea House Babu, suggesting that if sufficient people were available I should employ them filling several ‘breaks' of tea which were ready for dispatch and of which he left me details.

Sharma was approaching retirement. We operated an arrangement whereby he ran the day shift and supervised most of the tea packing and I worked with the night shift. Whilst it might seem that I got the raw end of the deal it was a system that worked well.

Amongst the papers on my desk for signature was also a notice from the Excise Department that they would be arriving at the factory in the afternoon to supervise the destruction of tea waste. Sharma's note was duly sympathetic in recognising that I should lose the opportunity to get a sleep during the day and he suggested that I should take the following Monday off to compensate.

In the days when tax was due on made tea the destruction of tea waste was always a contentious issue: If, for example, the factory recorded manufacturing 5x weight of green leaf the Excise expected us to produce at least 1x weight of made tea. If we produced less than 1x their suspicion was that we were allowing the made tea to be illegally taken from the factory - free of Excise Duty.

In fact there were numbers of reasons why the factory produced less made tea from green leave. The obvious one was the weather - if the women were picking in the pouring rain then the weight of the green leaf could include as much as 20% water. Also, if the women got behind with their leaf plucking then the tea grew much longer and coarser containing much more fibre which had to be extracted from the made tea. It also meant that if labourers were indeed stealing tea this too would affect the green leaf to made tea ratio.

In consequence all the unfit tea and fibrous waste had to be saved and its destruction having been supervised the weight of the same could be added to the weight of manufactured tea. Not surprisingly various unofficial waste got added to the tea waste. It was not unknown for baulks of timber, bits of tea chests, brushes, workers shirts and other equipment to ‘disappear' into the considerable pile of tea waste. By the time the Excise Officers appeared there were often several tons of waste to be destroyed.

The waste was destroyed my mixing it with waste oil and cow dung. Not a pleasant job either to do or to supervise.

At a pre-arranged signal from my factory Sirdar I would offer to "show" the Excise Officers "some samples of really nice tea". This was an unspoken code for not only allowing them to taste some of the better tea grades in my office but presented an opportunity to make them a "small gift". Meanwhile all the extraneous waste was manoeuvred out of sight deep within the waste pile. In my 4 years as Factory Assistant the system never failed.

On this particular day the inspection also passed off without problem.

It was after 4 p.m. by the time I got back to the bungalow and I felt whacked.

After a shower I sat in a T shirt and lungyi under the ceiling fan on my bungalow veranda. The combined effect of the fan and a Peacocks Burma cheroot kept the mosquitoes at bay and a "rum and pani" went down very well. I always restricted my evening drink to one single ‘peg'. Alcohol could be a very slippery slope as exhibited by too many of my planter brethren

Abdul, my Cachari bearer, announced that he would serve my meal and before long I was abed and fast asleep.

During the growing season the women plucked the leaf Monday - Saturday. Only very rarely did they get so behind on the plucking rota to the extent they had to pluck on Sundays. May to the end of October was a period when the factory worked flat out. There were several occasions when the factory ran nonstop for 72 hours which meant I too was nonstop into the grind.

The theory was that Mondays was Factory Assistant's day off because there was no plucking on Sundays. The reality was more often that the day off never happened and at best it would be half a day and a hurried trip to Doom Dooma Planters Club in the evening. There was inevitably always some piece of machinery whose servicing or repair required my attention on a Monday.

In the early 1960's tea processing factories were very basic. A large diesel as prime mover driving a main line shaft and several counter shafts. Tippuk had a newish Blackstone which produced about 450 b.h.p. and an ancient Ruston horizontal two cylinder engine that struggled to cope with the full factory load. The latter was used only as a standby or when the crop had diminished and the smaller engine could cope.

Most of the tea processing machinery was driven from line shafts by flat belts. Each piece of machinery had both free and driven pulleys. On days when the load on the factory was high and there was also high humidity flat belts regularly came off the drive line necessitating stopping the line shaft via a hand operated clutch on the main line shaft. The alternative and very dangerous practice was to "flip" the belts back on without stopping the main shaft. There were minimal belt guards and serious accidents were regrettably common.

There were two areas in the factory notorious for accidents:

After the tea had been rolled it was fed through a machine called a CTC (curl - tear- cut). The purpose of the process of this piece of machinery was to convert the rolled leaf into small sawdust sized pieces. The heart of the machine was two rollers set side by side. Each roller was about 9" diameter, made of chrome steel and both milled and grooved. The teeth on the two rollers meshed together at about an eighth of an inch gap. One roller revolved at about 60 r.p.m. and the other about 600 r.p.m.. The rolled leaf was taken by a 4' wide conveyor and dropped on to the slow roller and as it was carried round by the roller the leaf was cut up into thousands of small fragments. This machine helped produce black tea and aid fermentation as well as make best use of the stalk within the cut leaf.

After several hours nonstop use it was the recommended practice to stop the CTC's and give them a thorough clean to remove any over fermented leaf that had adhered to areas near the rollers. There were, of course, strict orders to stop the machines to carry out the cleaning procedure but very often the machine operators would simply brush the machines without stopping them. The result was that too often the operator did not release the brush and before he knew it he had been dragged arm first between the cutting rollers. Getting what was left of the arm out of the machine was a particularly grisly business usually involving in situ amputation - the alternative was having to strip the machine down and remove the rollers - not something relished by the factory fitters.

Looking back 50 years I am perhaps surprised there were not more serious accidents.

The other area of high accident rate was the tea dryers. Tea dryers were fuelled by heavy oil which arrived at the factory siding by railway tanker. Dryers had a brick built furnace which led to a heat exchanger; the ‘clean' air being dragged through to dry the tea and the burnt air being dragged by a high capacity fan and exhausted through a high chimney stack. The furnaces were controlled by rudimentary nozzles which sprayed oil into the furnace. After the furnace had been in use for several hours the brickwork glowed red hot throughout the whole furnace chamber.

In theory when the line shaft stopped to allow a belt to be re-fitted the oil nozzles should be turned off. Usually they were. However, on occasions the oil was allowed to continue to flow to the nozzles and when the induction fan to the chimney re-started there would be a substantial back blast as the build up of oil ignited which could be fatal to anyone standing within 20 yards of the furnaces.

Back in my office Sharma would leave me the previous day's production figures and the ever important green leaf to made tea ratio. There would be details of dispatches of tea and whether they had been dispatched by road or rail. Orders for diesel, fuel oil and tea chests had all to be approved by me.

I used to patrol the factory on about an hourly basis. I would check the wither of the leaf in the chungs, how satisfactorily the leaf was rolling and whether the load to the rolling table could be increased or should be decreased. Tea was laid out on a clean concrete floor in the fermenting room and I would check the drying was keeping pace with the preliminary stages of manufacture. Probably most important, I would check the dryers to see they were operating at the correct inlet and exhaust temperatures.

When I got back to the factory office my faithful office boy Horibhajan would have a welcome cup of very sweet tea ready as well as check samples of the day's manufacture which he took and set out in my office every hour.

While I had nowhere near the skill of a professional tea taster I soon developed a taste for any tea which was obviously over or under fermented or burned or dried too slowly ("stewed"). Having identified the problem with the tea it usually required some alteration of the process to put it right.

Because of the long and constant hours one worked during the monsoon Factory Assistant's social life was necessarily limited. Add to this the fact that newly appointed Assistants had no transport other than a push bike and had to rely on other planters for lifts or persuade one's Manager to let one have the garden jeep. My Manager, Swynnerton- Dyer was very good about letting me have the jeep and driver but only when he did not need it on the garden.

Knowing that we were only about five miles from the Lohit River I was determined to get to the river and have a reccé. Late one Monday afternoon I set off on my bike for Dholla. Steve Ruane, the Garden Assistant who had been in Assam two years volunteered to come with me. As far as Talup Station the road was tarmac albeit single track and there was very little traffic. After Talup the road was just a sandy track and hard going on a bike. Despite being late in  the day the afternoon the sun was hot and we stopped on several occasions in the shade of jackfruit trees growing by the roadside. It seemed a long five miles but as there had been no other roads branching off the ‘main' road we concluded that we must be on the right track.

We pressed on praying that Dholla would have a tea house (dhabba) open.

Either side of the road the elephant grass grew some 8' high otherwise apart from the occasional mud and thatch dwelling there was very little to look at.

As we passed a small hamlet I noticed there was a black hosepipe laid across the road. As I rode over it it flashed through my mind that it was an odd place to have a hosepipe. I suddenly heard Steve, who was 10 yards behind me, shout "Oh shit!" and I turned round to see him and bike in a heap in the middle of the road. As I watched a 9' rat snake which had been peacefully sunning itself in the middle of the road (till I had run over it) slithering off into the sanctuary of the elephant grass. Fortunately rat snakes do not bite merely thrashing any opponent with their tail. Steve was unhurt.

Very soon having past Dholla Tea Estate (which was the ‘last' tea estate on the South Bank of the Bramaphutra) we came to Dholla Bazaar where thankfully there was a tea shop. The locals gathered round while we ordered "dessi chai". I should perhaps explain that dhabba tea is nothing like the beverage drunk by Europeans; milk, sugar, tea and water are boiled up to which is added various sweet spices predominantly ginger and cardamom. Provided one is not expecting it to taste like Burra Memsahib's tea it is a very refreshing drink though definitely an acquired taste. It certainly "reaches the parts other teas do not reach"!

The tea leaf used in the bazaar tends to be poor quality Dusts, no finesse to the flavour but very strong.

By this time in my planting career I had developed sufficient language skill to follow roughly what was being said even if not always able to join in. Before long the dhabba was full of locals who obviously had little better to do that come and watch  two mad ‘gora' sahibs who had arrived by push bike drink tea. Enquiry revealed that the Lohit river was "about half an hour away" (rural Indians usually measure distance in time). We climbed the slope over the bund and set off again. The river was hidden by a heat haze in the distance and all the intervening land was bright white sand - not bike'able. We left the bikes with the dhabba-wallah and set off on foot.

There was in fact a road of sorts that would have been negotiable by GMC lorry or 4 x 4. Where the sand had not been compacted and was very soft lengths of matting woven from elephant grass were laid on the surface.

In 1950 Assam had been subjected to a major earthquake. By 1960 the surrounding hills in every direction were scarred by huge landslides. In addition the ‘quake had lowered the  level in the floor of the valley and as a result the Lohit, which descends from the very north eastern corner of Assam near Wallong, had substantially changed course and threatened to sweep away many gardens between Doom Dooma and Dibrugarh. The Assam Branch of the India Tea Association had funded the construction of an embankment from approximately where the Noa Dihing joins the Lohit downstream almost to Dibrugarh. It was a massive undertaking which had been completed in one cold weather with Bihari labour.

In moving southwards at the time of the earthquake the river had inundated the railway stationl for Sikhowa Ferry where the remains of the station were clearly visible amongst the sand. One lone signal was ironically stuck in the "stop" position.

Steve and I retuned to the dhabba and drank more tea. The dhabba wallah told us that it would be possible to cycle eastwards along the top of the bund to an old Forest Bungalow from where we would be able to walk to the Noa Dihing Mukh (confluence with the Lohit). The opinion of distance from those assembled in the dhabba ranged from 1 to 4 hours. One had to take into account that very few of the rural population owned a watch!

The Noa Dihing Mukh was however well known in angling circles and it was a piece of information to store for another outing. Almost everyone who fished the Noa Dihing Mukh went from Dholla Ghat by speedboat. I was interested to hear one could get there overland. The mukh was supposedly also a check point for the Inner Line.

Often I spent Monday afternoons just going for a cycle ride round Tippuk familiarising myself with the immediate area. Next door gardens were Talup, Koomsong and Daisajan, the latter being owned by Jokai, like Tippuk. Between Daisa and Tippuk was an area of partly cleared jungle where I soon found many jungle fowl and melanic pheasant. A shotgun looked a good purchase. I knew that to the west of Daisajan there were numerous bheels (inland lakes) left behind after the floods that followed the 1950 earthquake. Bheels varied in size from a tennis court to several miles long.

After a few enquiries among my fellow Assistants at Doom Dooma Planters Club I soon found a second hand  Indian Ordnance made shotgun. Hammerless, nitro proofed but rather heavy and very unsophisticated. Indian Ordnance firearms were very much looked down upon by the keener game shots in Assam several of whom had expensive imported Churchill's or Purdey's.

However, a deal was soon struck and I bought the shotgun with 500 cartridges for Rs 400 which was about a month's basic salary. Getting cartridges was always a difficulty. The Indian Ordnance made cartridges were affected by the damp during the monsoon and often jammed in the breech. Importing British made cartridges was a long and complicated process involving getting an import licence and bribing appropriate officials. I soon learned that if I kept a belt full of cartridges next to the bungalow hot water tank they were usually no problem other than the paniwallah's fear that they would blow up.

Much of my shooting was of necessity ‘for the pot'; a pair of jungle fowl cock birds would keep me in meat for the week. I did however accept several invitations to join green pigeon shoots in the area. "Greener" shoots were however as much a social occasion as a sporting one and not really something that I enjoyed. Steve unknowingly summed it up one day as I was sorting through a pile of birds saying that I seemed as keen to find the best birds as to shooting them.

Several times during my first rains I had cycled down to the village to the west of Daisa and enquired about the duck shooting. I always took a packet of bungalow tea and I soon became close friends with the tribal Muttucks' who lived on the banks of the Daisa river.

The Muttucks' were almost self sufficient buying locally only items of brass or iron from Daisajan Tea Estate bazaar. They grew rice, lentil and vegetables and were skilled at trapping fish and animals. Their houses, tools and accoutrements were made from locally grown materials. Bamboo had hundreds of uses. They kept large numbers of silk worms and wove excellent material. Living on the edge of what had pre-earthquake been prime jungle they had access to large trees from which they skilfully made excellent dugout canoes.

Pekoe, the village chief's son, took me out for a day in his canoe so I could get some idea of the scale of the area covered by bheels. We were too early for the duck and at his suggestion I left my gun at his house. In the space of an afternoon as we moved noiselessly round the area adjoining the village we saw elephant, samba deer, the prints of a leopard and numerous wild pig. Pekoe stressed that I should get some heavy shot cartridges and always carry either a solid ballistic or an SG.

I managed to buy some heavy cartridges from a dubious gunsmith's in the depths of Dibrugarh bazaar where I had to pay an outrageous price for the same. They looked so old I had my doubts that they would detonate properly. I did not want to arrive at a situation of having to defend myself against something only to discover the cartridges did not work so I decided on testing one round the back of my bungalow. I found an old door and set it up across the far side of my vegetable garden. I fired the ballistic at it which produced not only a great deal of black smoke but also a hole about a foot across in the door. It would do I concluded. In fact although carrying the heavy cartridges for years I never used them ‘in anger'.

The first migrating ducks to arrive were pochards and they arrived as if by magic during the second week of November. One day the bheels would be deserted apart from the odd resident Braminy duck and the next covered with thousands of pochard avidly feeding to renew their energy levels to fly on to central India.

From about the middle of October Steve kept pestering me to take him duck shooting. Unlike me he had not done any reccé's preferring to play tennis on his days off. I stressed to him that there would be no ducks till November but he persisted in pestering me to take him to Daisa.

Eventually I gave in and arranged that I would take him on the last Sunday in October. We cycled to the Muttuck village arriving about 0630hrs. Unsurprisingly to me no one was about.

I went to Pekoe's house, woke him and explained that I had brought the Ruane Sahib for a day's duck shooting. Pekoe appeared wiping the sleep from his eyes and explained that we were too early in the year - he had been out fishing on the bheels yesterday and there were no ducks.

Steve was still not convinced. Pekoe finally agreed to take us out on the bheels to prove the point. We went out. There were, as Pekoe had said, no ducks. We shot one unsuspecting resident Brahminy duck for Pekoe's trouble. Ruddy shellduck I should explain are almost inedible to the European palate but welcomed by the Muttucks despite the meat being best described as like rotten anchovy and an uninviting dark grey colour.

Back at Pekoe's house we drank more tea brewed from a packet I had given Pekoe and Pekoe's young daughter brought us a large bag of freshly picked oranges. Many of the Muttuck compounds had several orange trees and the oranges were really delicious and very juicy. Anticipating that there was no likelihood of any duck shooting and an early return to Tippuk I had not had any breakfast and the oranges were most welcome.

Steve and I leisurely cycled back to Tippuk leaving a trail of orange peel and as we approached the factory we noticed Swynn's jeep outside the garden shop. Swynn was buying his daily packet of Charmina cigarettes and gossiping with the Kyar shopkeeper who was always a good source of rumour.   

Swynn, seeing our shotguns slung across our backs asked what we had been shooting. When I explained I had taken Steve to Daisa' duck shooting Swynn  said

"You're too early by a fortnight there won't be any duck yet".

He asked what we proposed to do for the rest of the day and suggested we accompany him to Doom Dooma club for ‘a couple of beers'. He pointed out that if the club cook were about we might even get a breakfast.

It was 0930 hrs. on a Sunday morning

Steve and I piled into the jeep - me in the back (Swynn's bulk occupied two of the three front seats) and we were soon speeding down Highway 37 to Doom Dooma.

When we arrived at the club where, not surprisingly, there were no other members. Indeed there did not appear to be anyone there. After a good deal of shouting "Bearer" or "Koi Hai" a bearer appeared hurriedly putting on his pugri.

Swynn, remarking how hot it was for the time of year ordered three bottles of Kingfisher beer and three pink gins without any consultation. Swynn's beer disappeared only marginally slower that if he had poured it on the floor followed shortly by his pink gin chaser. Full of orange juice I struggled through about half a pint meanwhile Swynn looked expectantly at his empty glasses.

Steve bought another round. This time Swynn made some conversation but very quickly the glasses in front of him were soon empty again.

I bought a round and gulped down the rest of my first beer. I noticed I was getting well behind Steve and Swynn; three pink gins stood on the bar in front of me and two bottles of beer. I knocked back my first pink gin and took a pull of the second one.

I remember the room going round as I fell ignominiously off the bar stool. The last thing I remember is Steve and Swynn manhandling me into the back of the jeep and Steve saying apologetically.

"He's not usually like this". They left me propped up in the back of the jeep in the care of the bearer while they went back and finished their beers!

Lesson: Do not take alcohol on a stomach full of citrus juice.

Suttons Seeds (India) Ltd sent out their annual "English" seed catalogue as the rains drew to a close. Assistants were encouraged to keep their bungalow compounds in attractive good order and Jokai even paid for seeds. Assam's cold weather was such that most English flowers and vegetables could be grown. To my memory only plants that required frost would not grow. Notably celery and Brussel Sprouts. Dahlias grew bigger in Assam when grown from seed than plants grown in U.K. from tubers. It was a very satisfying gardening environment. For many species almost a case of "plant the seeds and stand back".

Sweet peas in particular grew spectacularly well, my bungalow achieved notoriety for the 8' high trellis of flowers that could be seen from the road.

One Monday morning towards the end of the plucking season I was sitting in my factory office checking the dispatch figures for the week when through the door rushed a somewhat flustered Abdul carrying my shotgun and ammo' bag.

He explained in a great jumble of Cachari and Hindi that there was a snake on the roof of his quarter. His brick built house was situate across the vegetable garden at the back of my bungalow.

I accompanied Abdul back the bungalow where we took up position on the veranda at the rear of the bungalow by the spare room bungalow. On the corrugated asbestos sheet roof of Abdul's house was a large cobra which was stretching itself out very contentedly in the warm sunshine. The snake appeared very comfortable and in no hurry to go anywhere.

I told Abdul that the cobra would be unlikely to bite any of them and they should frighten it off in to the surrounding tea. Abdul, two mali's and the polish wallah showed not the slightest inclination to follow my suggestion and asked me to shoot the snake.

I loaded with an SG and shot it

When I returned to the bungalow in the evening Abdul was by then concerned about the large hole in his quarter's corrugated asbestos roof!

Servants were not always the blessing they were often portrayed to be: Jokai Tea Company gave assistants and managers an allowance which it was expected would be appropriately managed.

The first problem appeared to the uninitiated to be the sheer number of servants required to run a bungalow. The better bearers and cooks tended to be Muslim immigrants from Badarpur Ghat area in the Sylhet district of (then) East Pakistan. Being Muslim usually ensured that come the usual Hindu festivals they would not be incapable under the influence of locally produced alcohol as was the case with many Hindu servants.

The small army of servants available to run my modest bungalow at Tippuk were as follows:-


Bearer's paniwallah


Cook's paniwalah



Maliani/ garden sweeper


2 Marli's

Bungalows which produced their own electricity (110 volt D.C.) had two engine wallahs.

Gardens had their own dhobi and dersie with whom one made private arrangements.

Nappit - hairdresser

Juta wallah - cobbler

Dude wallah -  milk supplier

Dakwallah  - postman.

The kingpin to a well organised bungalow was without doubt one's bearer. I was very fortunate in finding Abdul Aziz through another Cachari bearer who worked  in Swynn's bungalow.

My cook, Mahommed, was much less of a success; he presented himself for interview proudly showing me a bundle of recommendations from other planters for whom he had worked. He of course could not read the recommendations and did not appreciate that they were not all complimentary. Numbers suggested that the cook had not always left on amicable terms and one suggested he had left for health reasons - his employer's health! In any event he was the only Cachari applicant and I decided to give him a go.

The bearer had a paniwallah who helped the bearer about the bungalow and the cook had one to help him in the kitchen.

The jaroo wallah was a low cast individual who got all the messy jobs other servants felt below their dignity. In practice this meant anything from emptying the septic tank, sweeping the chimney or drawing  (but not plucking) ducks and chickens.

The polishwallah swept carpets and polished floors, furniture and fittings including a magnificent antique all brass bath in the spare bathroom which was his pride and joy. Under Abdul's direction he also cleaned my shoes.

In the bungalow compound the maliani swept the lawn as well as cutting the same by hand with a long knife as directed by the head mali.(The cuttings she took home to feed her single cow). In addition she had the thankless task of making "gobhur goolis" which were a mixture of waste oil, cow dung and coal. The maliani produced them in vast quantities about cricket ball size and having dried them in the sun stored them under the bungalow. They were used both to fuel the open cast iron range in the cookhouse and also on the bungalow's sitting room open fire where they burned very well and gave off good heat.

The two marlis managed the planting of seeds and production of flowers and vegetables. One of my marlis had been injured in an accident in the factory and could not do heavy work but he was good at weeding and enthusiastic about raising plants. It was entirely practicable to grow most European vegetables in the garden but in addition I had a good supply of lychees, pomalos, papayas pineapples and bananas.

Monday evenings was about the only time all the participants for the Doom Dooma rugby XV could get together. We would assemble supposedly after the heat of the day had passed for an intensive practice session  on a pitch marked out on what was formerly the USAF airstrip at Bordubi. Despite the fact that rugby was played during the rains when both temperature and humidity remained stubbornly high there was usually a good turn out. This allowed a complete range of practice and often finished up with two teams playing 7-a-side. The touchline would be massed with numbers of  Bordubi T.E. labourers who could hardly believe their eyes that their sahibs, usually so reserved, were overtaken by such an apparent fit of madness. As for playing with a ball that bounced unpredictably and clearly was malformed  it merely completed any lingering suspicion that the "Blaarty Sahib'log" were indeed "pugla".

The practice sessions were followed by several beers in Bordubi Club  to restore the participants and it was not unknown for factory assistants to return to the garden just in time to start the factory. Spending Monday nights cat napping in a quiet corner of the withering chung was not rare.

Looking back 50+ years I am tempted to draw the conclusion that the Bordubi labourers may have been right.

                                                                  Roy Church 2005


Editors note: Another tale from Roy Church's tea planting days:                                             

March 23 2012

                                A LOAD OF BULL.

Many tea garden labourers kept cattle. These cattle were milked as well as being a religious symbol for many of the labourers who owned them. Unfortunately the milk yields were extremely low. A good 'labour line' cow was unlikely to produce more than four pints a day. Take into consideration also maintaining a calf and there was very little milk left for human consumption.

In an effort to improve matters the Government of India had several schemes to improve the local stock of cattle. Although A.I. was still in its infancy, the government were keen to supply bulls of good breed to run with the herds of line cattle.

For whatever reason Tippuk Tea Estate was selected for a trial.

Swynn, my Estate Manager, breezed into the tea processing  factory office one day and announced "I've got just the job for you Roy"

"You will be thrilled to know that we have been selected to have a 'prize' government bull to run with the garden's line cattle"

'Thrilled', I thought, was overdoing it a bit.

Swynn continued with enthusiasm, "As you're the one from the farming background from the three of us - I am putting you in charge. You will have to liaise with the local veterinary".

After several meetings with labourers interested in the project, it was decided to build a bull pen and shelter in the supervisor's line. This avoided any favouritism between various labour lines and in theory, being near the tea processing factory, the bull would be where I could keep an eye on it.

The bull arrived, on foot, one day in the autumn when I was sitting in the factory office.

I signed for it and had it led off to its new quarters.

I had already appointed a 'baggarle' (cowherd) who would take personal responsibility for the bull.

The Bull

The animal was an 18 month old Scinde breed. He weighed a good 15 cwt and had the characteristic Indian 'hump'. He was quite easy to handle and much of the time seemed half asleep.


The plan was that each day he would be taken out to the 'miadans' (common grazing areas) where the cattle were herded to from the lines from all over the tea garden. Here he would, as he chose, perform his intended function.


Although initially the system worked well enough there were increasing complaints that the bull was just too heavy for the diminutive line cows. As time went by fewer and fewer labourers permitted their cows to be covered by the bull. In turn, this meant the bull had less work to do and as a result he put on even more weight.


Steve, my fellow assistant, even suggested we shackle him up to a plough or use him to haul in the leaf from the garden. Probably fortunately, neither idea was adopted.


In addition to getting fatter the bull also became noticeably more aggressive and, to the doubtful amusement of tractor drivers, the bull would charge any tractor that came near him.


Inevitably, it all came to a sad end.


The bull charged the local steam train on its way through the estate to Talup station one day. Unlike tractors, the train did not stop. The bull was swept unceremoniously down the side of the rail track by the engine's cowcatcher and was seriously injured.


The baggarle, with the help of a gang of labourers, managed to get the bull back to the bull pen.


I was called.


One look was enough for me to send for the Doom Dooma government vet..


The vet. decided the bull was in shock and recommended several handfuls of Asprin and half a bottle of French brandy each evening for the next week.


I collected 'the medicine'.


When I went to the bullpen to check that the bull was being appropriately dosed in the evening the baggarle was in floods of tears and the bull dead.


I gave the baggarle a half bottle of brandy for which he was most grateful and I reported back to Swynn.


Swynn listened patiently to the sad tale then said "Well you can take the Asprins back - tomorrow!"


Swynn, Steve and I had several most convivial evenings, courtesy of the Government of India Veterinary Service's several bottles of brandy and we were never, as far as I know, again selected for the Herd Improvement Schemes.


 March 23 2012 


I had spent the day fishing in the Naga Hills with a close friend of mine, Dick. We had fished the Dirok River which although a jewel in the jungle and scenically spectacular was nonetheless fairly hostile to human beings during the monsoon as many a WWII Burma campaign soldier would testify. The day had involved wading across the river several times and we had collected more than our fair share of bites from both leeches, "Dim dams" and various other flying insects.

Before leaving the river we had taken the opportunity to have a rudimentary bath in the river before driving back to our tea estates. Dick was on an estate near to mine and I had driven him to the Dirok.

The route home passed through Digboi, the oil town dominated by Burma Oil Company and as we approached Dick suggested that, despite our somewhat scruffy appearance, we call in on "Pockface".

Pockface, as might be guessed, had survived smallpox as a child. His formal name was Mia and he was a Kashmiri. He ran what he grandly called an emporium which was little more that a large store room where he displayed goods that he had acquired from other parts of India but mainly from refugees fleeing Tibet and Kashmir. He not only ran the emporium but also visited planter's bungalows throughout the length of the valley. His grossly overloaded Standard Vanguard was to be seen regularly among the tea estates.

The emporium had an island of goods in the centre of the room and also goods stacked up against the 4 walls. New items for sale were kept nearest the door and if they remained unsold they were gradually moved to the rear. The nearer the rear of the shop the goods got the cheaper they became. For impecunious Assistants like Dick and I shopping at the rear of the emporium was the norm.

We entered the emporium where Pockface enthusiastically greeted us sending off his boy servant to fetch us tea which arrived "ready mixed" in thick glasses.

Just inside the door, hung prominently on the wall, was a magnificent pair of Tibetan rugs: Beautiful design, vibrant colours and very finely woven. They really were collector's pieces.

Dick asked how much the rugs were in full knowledge that they were likely to be beyond his modest means.

Pockface wringing his hands together was soon into a long heartrending story of how he had obtained the rugs from Tibetans fleeing the Chinese, how the rugs had been family heirlooms and smuggled in to India only with great guile and difficulty. The saga threatened to continue endlessly and I interrupted Pockface in full flow to ask how much they were.

After a couple more sales talk efforts Pockface said.

"I should ask a lot more, but for you Sahib, eight hundred Rupees"

Eight hundred Rupees was about two months salary. As no doubt Pockface had predicted, such sum was considerably beyond the means of either of us. We moved to the back of the shop and started searching among the ‘bargains' but even these it was expected we would barter over and Pockface would ask a high price so that we could all have the satisfaction of reaching a deal.

As we reached the dustier nether regions of the rear of the shop, in through the door came Clare and Bill Thorne.

Bill Thorne was the Principal Medical Officer of a large tea company and definitely in the "Burra Sahib" status. He greeted Mia formally with

"Good evening Mia" [Burra Sahibs did not refer to Mia as "Pockface"].

 Pockface's boy arrived with tea; this time in teapot with matching cups and saucers; but still "ready mixed".

Bill and his wife commenced to look round and almost immediately from where we were hidden at the back of the shop we heard Clare say.

"Oh Bill Darling do come and look at these wonderful Tibetan carpets".

It soon became clear that the Burra Memsahib intended to buy them.

Bill asked how much the carpets were.

This prompted Pockface to again launch into the sad tale of Tibetan refugees which this time appeared to be even more heartrending and threatened to go on for some considerable time till Bill insisted Pockface tell him what the price was.

"For you Burra Sahib, two thousand Rupees".

Bill told Clare that such a price he thought far too high but before long a deal was done at  twelve hundred Rupees.

Arrangements for payment were made, the carpet was wrapped and put in the back of Bill's car by Pockface's boy and everyone seemed pleased.

The Thorne's car drove off and Dick and I emerged from behind the mountain of goods in the back of the shop.

"Pockface you are a bloody crook" said Dick.

"Surely not" responded Pockface, completely unperturbed.

"You have just offered the carpets to us for eight hundred Rupees and you have just sold them for twelve hundred Rupees to the Thornes" said Dick.

"Ah "said Pockface with total confidence "but the Thorne Sahib has much more money than you.

We made cheerful good byes and as we drove back down the valley pondered whether India actually needed an official taxation system.

  R.C. 1999.


 March 15 2012 

LESSON 1 Parts, maintenance and operation




"This is the brush GP MarkIII - in "civvy" life often referred to as "a broom".

"This tutorial is designed to acquaint you with the proper named parts of the brush and to reach a standard of competent operation."

"The MarkIII (not to be confused with the earlier MarkII) comprises two principal parts:-

"The ‘edd' from ‘ere to ere'" (instructor demonstrates indicating ends of brush ‘edd').

"You will observe that there are ‘oles' in the ‘edd' and that each ‘ole' has 56 birch bristles glued into each ‘ole'. In the event of the bristles being less than 56 the brush should be returned to the Quarter master's stores as defective together with Form AB 16. [But note the MarkII only has 50 bristles per ‘ole']"

"Understood so far?"

Uncommitted response.

"This ‘ere' is the ‘andle'." (instructor demonstrates)

"From ‘ere' to ‘ere' is known as the fore handle.

"From ‘ere' to ‘ere' is known as the rear handle"

"Note the whole ‘andle' is built of ash."

Any questions?

There would be none.

"We now come to the operation of the brush for which you need to be able to carry out 5 instructions in a soldierly manner."

"Slovenly brushing may find the operator on Company Orders as conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline contrary to S. 63 Army Regulations."

"Is that clear?" (instructor by the un-subtle use of body language makes it clear that any reply other than "yes" to this question is inappropriate.)

"The 5 drill operations comprise as follows:-

1. At ease

2. Atten'shun

3. The carry

4.Ready to sweep - one

5. Sweeping - two.

I need one volunteer" (without slightest delay instructor indicates for luckless volunteer to step forward).

"First: the ‘At ease': Stand as you would with a rifle holding the ‘andle' in your right hand."

"Like this": instructor manipulates volunteer into correct position

"Note ‘andle' gripped firmly between thumb and forefinger and that the handle is held as far forward as possible with the ‘edd' on the ground outside your right boot toecap with the bristles pointing away from your right boot. Note how the fingers of the right hand are held straight and together"

"Can you all see that?"


"Now to come to ‘aten'shun'."

"On the command shun ! lift the left leg so that the thigh is parallel with the ground and stamp it back smartly beside the right foot. At the same time pull the ‘andle' back smartly so that your right thumb is next to the seam on your trousers."

Volunteer demonstrates.

"All clear so far?"

"Now on the command ready to sweep ! grasp the rearward ‘andle' with the right hand. So. (Instructor demonstrates on volunteer) Note how the elbow is bent and remains touching the rear ‘andle'. The left hand grasps the fore handle. So. At the same time take a pace briskly forward with the left foot and brace the right foot."

Following bellowed command ready volunteer assumes ready position.

"On the command sweep ! move as follows to the usual drill timing  1-2-3-1.

 1  being thrusting the broom forward till both arms are fully extended, 2 taking another pace with left foot, 3 bring right foot forward to re-brace, hands back to ready position  and carry on."

"All understood?"

No one replies  - they just look confused!

Instructor adds " Or I could have just told you to get the billet swept!

February 28 2012

The Royal Lincolnshire Regiment (The Tenth of Foot) had its training depot at Sobraon Barracks in Burton Road on the northern outskirts of Lincoln in 1959. Each four weeks an intake of National Servicemen would arrive for their ten weeks basic training. In addition there was a trickle of Regular Army recruit volunteers who were integrated into the intakes at the depot. From the mid-fifties the Lincoln depot had also contracted to train members of the Veterinary Corps who were stationed nearby at Melton Mowbray. Among the 'vets' were National Servicemen who tended to be conscriptees with some veterinary background but also occasionally a Regular Army volunteer seeking to make a career in the 'vets'.

Savvi was such a Regular Army volunteer for the 'vets' and I first met him at Sobraon Barracks. He was a Fijian. Aged about 18 he was very dark skinned, no more than 5' 4" but built like the proverbial brick 'whatsit'. He was a keen rugby player and looked every inch a prop forward.

When Savvi first arrived direct from Fiji at the barracks he was not under my care being sent to another training platoon. He spoke only French and initially understood very little English. He had a wide, wonderfully disarming smile but despite which he was "backsqadded" twice and eventually finished up in my training platoon. Having just had my 18th birthday. I had been given the rank of corporal and the task of training recruits while I waited to go to the Regular Commission Board. I spoke a little "O" level schoolboy French and I was lucky to have a 'vet' graduate recruit in the platoon by the name of Rush who spoke French fluently. Most of my other 'squaddies' came from the rural hinterland of Lincolnshire and spoke English with a strong local accent; it was hardly surprising in the circumstances that Savvi had not made much progress in learning the language.

At the start of the 10 week training my platoon commander took me to one side and explained that he was relying on me to make a special effort to get Savvi through his 10 weeks basic training. Thereafter the other platoon N.C.O.'s regarded Savvi and his problems as my particular concern.

Savvi was an extraordinary character: He was the son of a Fijian prince by a "subordinate" wife - his family were clearly both wealthy and influential in his distant homeland. He was, what to-day would be immediately recognised as a pacifist. He had a natural love of animals. He had obviously been used to a very relaxed lifestyle involving many servants and found great difficulty in coping with orders being suddenly shouted at him. In the barrack room he was always friendly and helpful. His broad smile to a great extent overcame his language difficulty with the result that he was always very popular among the men of the platoon.

When the training platoon was allotted to me into which Savvi was backsquadded I put Savvi into a bed space next to Rush, the 'vet' graduate who spoke French and also ensured that both of them were close to the end of the barrack room where I and four other N.C.O.'s slept.

Because Savvi had been backsqadded twice he had already spent nearly 6 months in the barracks before he came to my platoon. His kit was immaculate and he had learned to obey drill commands (even though he did not necessarily understand precisely what the words of any order were - [who did!]). His dark skin and characteristic Fijian outline made him easily recognisable by many of the depot senior N.C.O.'s and as a result he was often "called out" where other recruits might have remained anonymous.

The initial weeks of training went well. Rush and I spent considerable time helping Savvi with his English and even Savvi's fellow recruits, who had probably struggled through a secondary modern education with no foreign language, joined the spirit of Savvi's "conversion".

Some years later I discovered that when members of that platoon, who had been subsequently posted to the Malayan Communist terrorist campaign, required passwords in the jungle,(which would not be understood by the C.T.'s) they often successfully used French phrases they had learned from Savvi.

I soon found that Savvi's attachment to animals was in fact quite extraordinary. On one occasion he was part of a night-time guard to the barracks when I was guard commander. The guard had to patrol the front of the barracks along the outside of the massive keep and 12' high walls that faced Burton Road. Savvi had the watch between midnight and 0200 hrs. Shortly after he had been posted I went out to check he knew his duties and to see that all was well. Savvi was pacing up and down outside the depot main gate and as I approached he came smartly to attention and, there, beside him, was a (presumably) stray lurcher, which on Savvi's quiet command obediently sat beside Savvi's left boot. When Savvi did his final watch between 0600 hrs. and 0700 hrs. it was there again - clearly 'at one ' with its temporary master.

While Savvi may have had an extraordinary relationship with animals; when it came to things mechanical, especially firearms, he was plainly not in his element. He not only did not understand things mechanical but had an obvious and extreme fear of firearms. To many of his fellow recruits who had been brought up in the countryside with ancient un-licensed shotguns etc., Savvi's fear was inexplicable. Nonetheless, they all recognised Savvi's genuine fear.

Whenever there were rifle inspections, Savvi's rifle was always wonderfully clean and polished on the outside but the barrel almost always failed inspection because Savvi had some inexplicable fear that "'pulling through' the barrel might set it off".

He somehow coped on the rifle range although he was a truly hopeless shot and we never managed to get him to fire a group tight enough to be able to zero his rifle. Bearing in mind his history of backsqadding and the fact that he was joining the 'vets' to be a dog handler; I persuaded the platoon commander to overlook Savvi's complete lack of marksmanship.

Whilst firing a rifle was trial enough for Savvi; when it came to firing 'bursts' from a Bren light machine gun, he simply closed his eyes tight shut while he squeezed the trigger firing one long burst which sprayed the whole of the target area including hitting adjoining targets.

Towards the end of an infantryman's basic training an increasing amount of time is spent on firing ranges. Because Savvi had been backsqadded he had never previously reached this part of his training.

Training now reached the operation of the Sten gun.

In the course of the preliminary instruction on the Sten recruits learned that it was a weapon which had been hurriedly developed for WWII. It was primarily both cheap but also notoriously unreliable.

Soon we reached the point where recruits were to fire the weapon on a thirty yard range. At Sobraon Barracks the range consisted of the usual 30' high brick butt with sandbank in front on which a 'Figure 11' target was set up. There were two raised firing points with trenches to the rear and behind these a small building where arms and ammunition could be stored.

As it was the first time recruits had fired the weapon, one N.C.O. took charge of each firing point so that close supervision could be maintained. Those recruits not on the firing point were made to stand in the weapon pits just behind the firing points and the platoon commander issued the necessary orders from the hut to the rear.

The firing detail was to load the Sten with a magazine of 25 rounds. On command the safety catch was to be put to the "single shot" position and each recruit would fire five single rounds at the target. Then, when ordered to fire "rapid", the remaining 20 rounds were fired in short bursts.

Savvi arrived at my firing point clearly in a state of extreme nervousness. The chatter from his fellow recruits in the weapon pit behind him had died down to total silence. This only increased the tension and Savvi's fear.

I quietly ordered him to pick up the Sten which lay on the ground at his feet and load the magazine. His hands were shaking so much that I had to knock home the magazine. I cocked the weapon for him. Next the other firing point fired its detail. I quietly explained to him that he should press the safety catch over to "single shot" which he managed to do. I got him to bring the weapon up to the shoulder and told him to gently squeeze the trigger. Despite the cold autumn day, the sweat was pouring down Savvi's face and he just could not bring himself to pull the trigger. I quietly got him to re-apply the safety catch, put the weapon down and relax. After a minute we tried again. This time he pulled the trigger.

Unfortunately, the weapon malfunctioned; firing continuous rather than single shot. As the 25 rounds whizzed down the range Savvi turned round towards me in total panic with the Sten shouting "What do I do?" 9 mm bullets sprayed everywhere. The remainder of the recruits had hurriedly disappeared from view into the weapon pit. Bits of asbestos roofing flew off the building behind the firing point where the platoon commander now cowered in the corner of the building. I had somehow anticipated Savvi's move and had fortunately moved round to the other side of him - out of harms way.

In the stunned silence that followed the 25 round continuous burst the platoon commander said in a rather shaky voice "Thank you Savvi, I think that will be enough"!

Some time later in the day the platoon commander, platoon sergeant and I had a short conference when we decided to endorse Savvi's training log "Fired sub-machine gun adequately for Veterinary Corps purposes". It seemed the best course of action - in everyone's interest.

The platoon's training neared its end. There was much preparation for the Passing Out Parade.

Recruits had reached the required standard of dress and drill whereby they were allowed out into the city of Lincoln when off-duty. Savvi became very popular with his fellow recruits, was much sought after by local girls at regimental dances and also developed a great liking for English beer making the Wagon and Horses his favourite retreat.

The platoon commander and my fellow N.C.O.'s began to be quite confident that we would succeed to get Savvi 'passed out' on this occasion.

There was but one problem. The remaining weapon training included gaining competency with the Mills 36 Anti-personnel Grenade. The '36' is in effect a hollow lump of cast iron filled with gunpowder, set off by a 4 second fuse. The fuse is ignited by a percussion cap detonated by a piece of metal rod powered by a spring. When the grenade is thrown; the handle (hereto held by a safety pin) is released allowing the rod to detonate the fuse and four seconds later the grenade explodes in all directions.

"Classroom training" on Mills grenades is done with "Demonstration Purpose only" grenades from which the explosive has been removed. Recruits are taught how to clean the bombs, insert the fuses (priming) and given practice at throwing the grenades. To give confidence and to prove how simple it is to prime and throw grenades, recruits practiced priming grenades in total darkness and competitions were organised to enhance recruit's throwing accuracy. Mills grenades are roughly one and a half times the size of a cricket ball and weigh about three pounds.

Because of the unpredictable nature of the distribution of the shrapnel from '36' grenades when they explode, purpose-built grenade ranges have to be sited well away from occupied areas. In addition it is necessary to provide not only throwing pits but good protection for other range users.

The Regiment used a remote range situate in a secluded river valley near Bekenham on the Lincolnshire/Nottinghamshire border. The range comprised three pits about 6' deep, five foot wide and long enough to accommodate two soldiers. The pits were in a line and about 15 yards apart. From these pits grenades would be thrown. Some 10 yards to the rear there were three more pits about the same size. These pits were used to prime the live grenades. Overlooking all 6 pits was a 20' high tower built of double skinned corrugated iron from which the officer in charge could direct the whole operation. Recruits waiting their turn to throw sheltered behind a high bank some 50 yards to the rear of the tower. Steel helmets were always worn when on the grenade range.

When ordered, the men came forward one by one to the priming pits. On the way each collected two live grenades and two fuses from an N.C.O.. They went into the priming pits and, supervised by an N.C.O. in each pit, primed their grenades. At the next command they moved from the priming pits into the throwing pits which were again supervised by an N.C.O. in each pit. From there, as ordered, they would throw their grenades.

Commands were issued from the platoon commander high in the observation tower:- "Number one pit - prepare to throw - ready - throw - observe - take cover", "number two pit - prepare to throw - ready - throw . . . . ." etc etc..

On the command "prepare to throw" the thrower would stand up in the pit. On the command "ready" the thrower would remove the safety pin from the grenade, check visually that the pin had been completely removed and then the throwing arm would be extended as far back as possible waiting for the command to throw. On the command "throw" the grenade would be thrown down the range.

So went the theory:

Eventually it was Savvi's turn.

I was in charge of throwing pit number 1 to which Savvi headed.

He climbed down into the pit and was clearly very nervous. Soon the order "number one pit prepare to throw" came and Savvi stood up, immediately pulled the pin from his grenade without further order or pause and put his arm back in readiness to throw. The whites of his eyes stood out in his gentle but frightened face and he was clearly in a near state of terror. He dropped the grenade onto the throwing pit floor. The detonator on the fuse 'popped' and, as if in slow motion, I remember picking the grenade up and hurling it down the range. Savvi was slumped in the corner of the pit and plainly in a state that he was not going to be able to throw the second grenade. When the order came to throw the second grenade I threw it on the platoon commander's orders and Savvi just gave me a grateful look from the bottom of the pit. The platoon commander must have seen me throwing the grenade but nothing was said.

During the last week of the basic training the platoon had a celebratory evening in the Burton Road Waggon and Horses to which I was invited. Much beer was drunk. On the way back to the barracks I was passing the roundabout halfway down Burton Road, when, from the roundabout flowerbeds a figure suddenly sat bolt upright from a thereto prone position. It was Savvi who was full of beer and in excellent spirits. He shouted out in his broken English "We've done it Corp - I shall be out of here at last" I exhorted him to come out of the flowerbed and offered to get him past the guardroom provost but he just sat there grinning.

The last time I saw Savvi was on his passing out parade. His drill performance was without fault and his turnout immaculate which then included his much prized Veterinary Corps cap badge.

In to-days turbulent politics of Fiji I often what became of my recruit who was so problematic but friendly.


 February 28 2012


My worst recruit, looking back today, was undoubtedly Sean Kinsella.

He was a soft spoken Irishman who made no secret of his Republican outlook. He was not a particularly bright recruit and my first meeting with him was when he was 'back squadded' into my platoon. (i.e. he had failed to achieve the necessary standard to pass out with his original platoon).

As well as being almost permanently on "Jankers" (a form of punishment directed by the Company Commander) Sean committed a long list of misdemeanours (mostly AWOL) which resulted in him eventually being given 14 days detention by the Company Commander.

Towards the end of his imprisonment term the provost sergeant, totally against Standing Orders, used to leave Kinsella to exercise himself in the guardroom cell yard. The yard exit door was locked and Kinsella inside.

The yard was surrounded by a 12' high wall on the top of which had set in concrete broken glass and there was no record of anyone ever having succeeded in breaking out.

One day when the provost sergeant went out to relock Kinsella in his cell. Kinsella had disappeared.

He was shortly recaptured in a well known brothel at the back of the Bell Hotel in Nottingham by the Chilwell Military Police and returned in handcuffs to Sobraon Barracks.

The CO decided there should be a full enquiry and a formal inspection. The official view was that the provost (who, despite being Irish had served as a boy soldier in Northern Ireland) had sympathy with the Irish political movement and had simply let Kinsella out.

The C.O., the Company Commander, the Duty Officer, the R.S.M., the C.S.M. and the provost sergeant inspected the cell yard and were considering their verdict. The provost, seeing that matters were not going well for him, suggested Kinsella be brought from the cells to explain. Kinsella simply said that he had climbed over the wall and escaped.

The R.S.M. clearly thought Kinsella was lying and requested him to explain further. Kinsella said that at the time it had been raining hard and that he had been turned out to exercise himself wearing his groundsheet. Could he please be given a groundsheet? A standard army groundsheet was produced and Kinsella demonstrated how he had hooked the end of the groundsheet onto the glass topped wall and climbed up the groundsheet. Everyone was very impressed with the demonstration and the C.O. asked the provost to bring Kinsella back.

But in the intensity of the inspection the provost sergeant had not put anyone on guard outside the exercise yard and Kinsella had disappeared for the second time!

He was never seen again.

Although rumour was rife about the incident, the outcome of the enquiry was never published and Kinsella not heard of again till many years after when he had become a well known Republican political activist.

Over the years several times I heard Sean's soft southern Ireland accent on the TV and I smiled to think of the embarrassment he had caused.



 February 28 2012


John Stainton came from the rural backwater of Chapel Hill in the depths of the River Witham Fen. He had a broad, near unintelligible, fen accent that few could readily understand. John, who came from a long line of farm labourers, having only rarely left Chapel Hill in his 19 years and getting sent to Lincoln was like being in another world and something of a trauma for him. He was desperately unhappy. He was also overawed at having to live in such close proximity with 30 others. He had no interests about much other than farming. He called everyone 'Mate' (which he pronounced "Mayatt").

Very early in his Army career he came to the attention of Regimental Sergeant Major Russell who made his presence known to recruits at an early stage of their training. He pointed out that all Other Ranks were required to call him "Sir", adding menacingly " . . . . .but like you mean it".

After giving his introductory talk the RSM would make a cursory inspection of the new recruits who having only just been issued with their kit were pretty dishevelled. There were berets like cow pats, boots with no shine and webbing worn any way but the regulation way.

The RSM wandered along the ranks trying his best not to become totally apoplectic. When he reached Stainton he noticed that the boy was wearing two left boots. He pointed down to the boots and said "What's wrong with your boots boy?"

"Dunno Mayatt" drawled Stainton, [Not the form of address the RSM had been anticipating!] "I've got two more in the locker - point the other way"!!

Instantly Stainton was ordered to be briskly escorted away and shown the inside of the guardroom. Sadly the first of many such trips.

Stainton did not thrive and was threatened with being back squadded.

The intake had reached the point in their training where recruits were to live fire rifles for the first time. Down on the range when it came to the detail in which Stainton was he ran away across the range into the surrounding forest in apparent unmitigated fear. No amount of orders or coaxing could get him to come anywhere near the firing point.

On returning to the barracks Stainton was sent on sick parade. After several appointments with the MO he was declared unfit in that he was medically unable to stand the noise of live firing. The MO recommended him for medical discharge.

I took Stainton to the orderly room where he managed to 'phone up a friend in Chapel Hill who eventually made arrangements for Stainton's Brother to come to the barracks and collect him.

On the appointed day Stainton handed in his kit to the Quarter Master and waited in 'civvies' at the guardroom for his Brother to arrive to collect him.

I happened to be passing through the guardroom when Stainton's Brother arrived on what must be the noisiest most ramshackle motorbike and sidecar that I have ever experienced. Stainton climbed aboard and shouted to me above the ear splitting roar "Cheers Mayatt".

The good Stainton wore a great grin from ear to ear - no sign of nervousness!


February 24 2012

Rt Hon David Miliband MP
Secretary of State,
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), Nobel House
17 Smith Square LONDON

16 May 2007

Dear Secretary of State,

My friend, who is in farming at the moment, recently received a cheque for £3,000 from the Rural Payments Agency for not rearing pigs. I would now like to join the "not rearing pigs" business.

In your opinion, what is the best kind of farm not to rear pigs on, and which is the best breed of pigs not to rear? I want to be sure I approach this endeavour in keeping with all government policies, as dictated by
the EU under the Common Agricultural Policy.

I would prefer not to rear bacon pigs, but if this is not the type you want not rearing, I will just as gladly not rear porkers. Are there any advantages in not rearing rare breeds such as Saddlebacks or Gloucester
Old Spots, or are there too many people already not rearing these?

As I see it, the hardest part of this programme will be keeping an accurate record of how many pigs I haven't reared. Are there any Government or Local Authority courses on this?

My friend is very satisfied with this business. He has been rearing pigs for forty years or so, and the best he ever made on them was £1,422 in 1968. That is - until this year, when he received a cheque for not rearing any.

If I get £3,000 for not rearing 50 pigs, will I get £6,000 for not rearing 100? I plan to operate on a small scale at first, holding myself down to about 4,000 pigs not raised, which will mean about £240,000 for the
first year. As I become more expert in not rearing pigs, I plan to be more ambitious, perhaps increasing to, say, 40,000 pigs not reared in my second year, for which I should expect about £2.4 million from your department. Incidentally, I wonder if I would be eligible to receive tradeable carbon credits for all these pigs not producing harmful and polluting methane gases?

Another point: These pigs that I plan not to rear will not eat 2,000 tonnes of cereals. I understand that you also pay farmers for not growing crops.
Will I qualify for payments for not growing cereals to not feed the pigs I don't rear?

I am also considering the "not milking cows" business, so please send any information you have on that too. Please could you also include the current DEFRA advice on set aside fields? Can this be done on an e-commerce basis with virtual fields (of which I seem to have several thousand hectares)?

In view of the above you will realise that I will be totally unemployed, and will therefore qualify for unemployment benefits.

I shall of course be voting for your party at the next general election.

Yours faithfully,

Nigel Johnson-Hill


 January 12 2012 .


During the autumn of 1940 the British Government anticipated German forces would invade England and that the landing sites were likely to be the flat sandy beaches of the coasts of Lincolnshire and Norfolk. In consequence large numbers of British troops were stationed along the east coast and numerous airfields were hurriedly built in the area.

Edwin Aubrey Patrick was aged 31, married with two small children and lived in Skegness. He had volunteered as member of the Fire Service. With the increased military activity in the area his fire fighting duties were extended to include dispatch riding.

Aubrey had always been keen on motorbikes but throughout the 'thirties he could only afford modest, usually somewhat ramshackle, machines. The prospect of riding about the Lincolnshire countryside on the latest American imported Indian bike was very exciting.

The Indian that was allocated to Aubrey's section was the very latest model, powerful and much faster than most British made bikes. Its only fault lay in the quantity of petrol it consumed.

One cold winter's night Aubrey was detailed to collect some military documents from RAF Manby and deliver the same to RAF Conningsby.

Despite being clad in waterproof leggings, a military greatcoat, leather helmet, goggles and thick gauntlet gloves the night was cold and Aubrey decided that it was essential to stop to get warmed up. It was well after closing time but he knew a pub slightly off his route that was well known to disregard pub opening hours. The Red Lion at Raithby though remote had a very genial host and kept a good pint of Bateman's beer.

As Aubrey drew up outside the pub the first flakes of snow started to fall and parking the bike he noticed that the puddles in the pub yard were frozen solid. Inside the pub was a welcome roaring fire and Aubrey soon felt better - inside and out.

After restoring his circulation and downing a couple of pints he set off down the narrow roads that cross the south of the Lincolnshire Wolds. The snow had stopped and there was a clear starlit sky. There was a biting wind blowing off the North Sea.

About two miles from the pub at a cross roads on top of a bleak hill Aubrey came across a stationary motorcyclist vainly trying to kick start an ancient AJS into life. Aubrey stopped to see if he could help. Occasionally the reluctant machine would fire; only to stop again after a few seconds. Aubrey asked the cyclist, who was well wrapped against the freezing cold whether he might have a try.

After a while Aubrey decided that it was likely that there was a fuel blockage. [Wartime petrol was notorious for not being clean.]

"I think the fuel's blocked" Aubrey said.

"I'm afraid I haven't got any tools with me" said the rider.

"Well let's have a look" said Aubrey and he produced a flashlight from the panniers of the Indian.

The AJS had a very rudimentary fuel line to the carburettor. He soon spotted a filter glass in which there was plainly water and it was also obvious the water had frozen solid in the glass bowl.

"There's the problem" said Aubrey, shining the torch on the offending filter bowl "Even if we can't get the bowl off, we could get some hot water and melt the ice to get the fuel through."

The two of them surveyed the surrounding countryside in which not a sign of a light from any habitation showed.

"God knows where we shall find any warm water at this time of night" said the cyclist.

However, Aubrey, ever a practical man, handed the torch to the rider saying

"You keep the light on the filter" whereupon he proceeded to unbutton his flies and applied the residue of two warm pints of Bateman's to the offending filter bowl.

Magically the ice disappeared before their eyes. Next kick the AJS fired up. The rider climbed aboard and roared away calling thanks into the night.

Some days later the Dispatch Group Commanding Officer called Aubrey into his office. Rarely did Aubrey see the C.O. and he hoped that there had not been a problem in the section.

His doubts were soon put to rest when the C.O. greeted him with

"Aubrey I have received a letter thanking you for your help in rescuing a stranded motorcyclist the other night. Perhaps you would like to read it."

The neat handwritten note on blue headed paper was addressed to the C.O. and simply wished that sincere thanks could be passed on to the dispatch rider involved. As Aubrey handed the note back he noticed that the signatory was a Miss Pearce.


NOTE: Edwin Aubrey Patrick was Jim Church's Grandfather. He was still riding motorcycles when he died at the age of ninety - it's in the blood.


 November 27 2011

Here we have a series of amusing memories which Roy experienced when he was Magistrate in England Please click the item to go to the story

Emergency Call
For Clarity
Transfer Session


It was a lovely early summer day. I could feel the gentle warmth of the sun on my back as I baled out my garden pond with a bucket. Periodically I stopped for a 'breather' and to watch the birds in the garden. It really was a lovely day.

The lawn on to which I was emptying buckets of pond-water was covered with black strong smelling mud and from time to time when I saw a small fish I would climb out of the pond to rescue the rudd and place it in a dustbin half-filled with water. Several large frogs slopped about clumsily in the black mud at the bottom of the pond. When I removed the baskets of water-lillies more frogs and the occasional fish appeared from under the basket.

The phone rang.

I was of a mind not to bother with the call but the bell droned persistently on.

I 'de-muddied' my hands in the fish rescue bin and wandered round to the back door.

Still the phone rang.

I lifted the receiver. It was one of the clerks from the Magistrate's Court.

Did I know I was listed to sit this after noon?


It appeared, for whatever reason, that there was a (lady) chairman in Court 3 but no wingers. The other winger it seemed was sick.

Would I come in NOW?

I explained I was 'gardening' but I would get to court as soon as I could.

I quickly showered, changed and made my way to Court.

In Court 3 sat my lady Chairman - alone.

I entered court - acknowledged the Crown and sat down.

Before the first case was called on, another winger appeared and she joined us to make a full complement for the bench.

After two or three cases had been dealt with I perceived that my two colleagues had retreated together to the far extreme end of the bench where they appeared to be animatedly discussing some point. When I attempted to join the discussion the chairman indicated she did not require my opinion.

I quietly asked the Court Clerk whether there was any point I had missed.

"Yes" he said quietly. "The pervading smell of mud coming from your hair!"

The Chairman decided, unusually, the bench might rise early!

The Women's Barbers Shop Quartet were applying for an occasional licence so that they could serve alcoholic drinks during their forthcoming performance.

A stern-looking lady explained how the bar was to be run, how she would ensure that no youngsters were sold alcohol and gave full details of the event.

My colleagues were happy to grant the licence and I announced our agreement.

As the applicant was about to leave I asked her.

" The only thing I'm not clear about is why the quartet is of lady performers - I thought barbers were men".
"Oh no" the lady replied "Nowadays they are unisex establishments".
"Not the one's I go to I mused."

"No, probably not" she muttered as she quickly left the court.

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The young man in the dock faced three charges:-

(i) Driving an agricultural tractor, a Ford 2000, other than in accordance with his Driving Licence, i.e. not adhering to the conditions required for a Provisional Licence.

(ii) Careless driving.

(iii) Having no valid insurance.

The young man dressed in green overalls and carrying a flat cap in his hand which shook with nervousness. He was weather beaten and clearly worked outdoors. He was plainly somewhat overawed by the Court surroundings and had brought what seemed likely to be his Mother along, presumably to bolster his confidence. Despite his nervousness he had not employed a solicitor to act for him.

The Crown Prosecutor was an attractive well dressed young lady just starting her legal career.

I asked the Prosecutor to outline the facts.

She commenced with the driving Licence offence explaining that the defendant was driving unaccompanied by a supervising driver. At this the defendant looked very puzzled and volunteered that he had 'L' plates front and rear. I interrupted and asked the Prosecutor whether she was aware that the vehicle involved was an agricultural tractor. She confirmed that she was and I then asked her how she proposed that a supervising driver be accommodated on a single seated tractor.

Revealing her urban upbringing she replied "Oh does it have only one seat?"

The defendant looked up to the bench with obvious gratitude that we had understood the situation.

I suggested the Prosecutor might like a minute or two to check her file. After a short consultation with the Clerk to the Court she offered to drop the case which the bench duly confirmed. The defendant looked much more confident.

The Prosecutor went on to outline the facts relating to the careless driving charge. It became obvious that the young man having only limited driving experience had pulled out on to a main road in front of a car which had collided with the tractor. No mention was made of the no insurance charge.

I asked the defendant whether he would like to explain his side of the story or make any observation on the facts put forward by the Crown.

He could only opine that the car had been travelling too fast. In cross-examination he agreed that he may have misjudged the situation. My colleagues required no further explanation.

"What do you wish to say about not having insurance?" I asked.

"I thought she was covered" he replied. I could see my colleagues and the Crown Prosecutor were mystified by the reference to 'she'.

He continued "I also have a vintage Nuffield. She is insured and I thought the insurance covered her"

I understood and explained to my colleagues that it was quite common in agricultural circles for workers to refer to tractors as female.

We decided on the appropriate fines.

When asked how the fines were to be paid he said "Mum will pay to-day".

Chang was a somewhat laid back middle aged immigrant from Hong Kong where he had successfully run a pavement food stall. He had settled in Norwich. He had leased a disused public house and had tirelessly set about to make it Norwich's prime Chinese eating establishment.

His knowledge of the British liquor licensing law was in view of his background perhaps understandably limited.

He had converted the former derelict pub into a fine eating establishment which employed a never ending succession of members of his extended family who arrived periodically from his native Hong Kong.

One evening, through no fault of Chang's, there was a fight outside his restaurant and the victim of the assault ran into the restaurant to escape from his assailant. Immediately various of Chang's cooking staff appeared all armed with large kitchen knives and the troublemaker was soon apprehended and the local police called.

The following day a formal visit was made from the police ostensively to caution the enthusiasm of Chang's kitchen staff. Chang lined up the staff and interpreted to the effect that it was not customary in Britain for the public at large to take up arms in pursuit of offenders. Everyone looked suitably contrite and the policeman was satisfied that they understood the position.

As the policeman was leaving he asked Chang to show him the Liquor Licence for the property. Chang had no immediate recollection of possessing such a document but having plied the constable with several cups of coffee he eventually found the document which was over ten years old and dated from days when the premises had been run as a pub.

The plan with the licence bore little resemblance to the present layout of the property; the original bar had gone and had been replaced by a new larger bar at the front of the property. The former smoke room and bar had been amalgamated to form a large dining area involving the demolition of several walls. For these works it appeared that Chang had neither sought planning permission nor any amendment to the Liquor Licence.

The policeman explained that he would have to report the matter to the local Magistrate's Court and that Chang would be in due course summoned to appear.

"What will happen to me?" asked a worried Chang.

"Well for certain the Magistrate will give you a serious rollicking - even before he considers where you stand with regard to breaking the law" explained the policeman.

"What does the law require I do?" asked Chang now very worried.

"You have various options. Firstly; under the law you can apply for a new licence [which is expensive and takes some time]. This would mean you would not be able to sell alcohol till the new licence was granted. Option two would be for you to put the property back to how it was before the alterations were carried out and option three would be to ask their Worships to exercise their discretion and allow you to continue and order the licence be suitably amended.

Soon Chang was in court before five Licensing Justices.

The begowned Clerk to the Licensing justices announced the options available to the Court. However, by this time they sounded to Chang much far more ominous than when the friendly policeman had explained them over a cup of coffee.

By the time Chang was asked by the Chairman to stand up and explain himself Chang was clearly very nervous.

The Chairman, seeing Chang's plight, asked "The policeman will have explained your options Mr. Chang?"

Chang nodded and agreed that the policeman had indeed explained matters.

"So which option do you seek in the matter?" asked the Chairman.

"Sir" said Chang "I think I will have the bollocking option!"

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The case concerned a charge of careless driving to which the defendant had pleaded not guilty.The trial was proceeding and the defence solicitor was attempting to get an answer from a witness, Mrs Smith, as to whether she had had a clear view of the incident. From the solicitor's early attempts at questioning it seemed likely that Mrs. Smith was not prepared to confirm she had had such a view of the incident.The Chairman of the Court interrupted the solicitor as he tried, once again, to clarify matters."Now Mrs. Smith you must answer the questions put to you in so far as you can - you are under oath and not to answer a question could mean serious trouble for you.The Chairman continued. "Is the bench correct in assuming that the answer as to whether you clearly saw the incident - is 'No'"?"Yes Sir".

On the whole monthly Transfer Sessions before the Licensing Justices Committee tend to be pretty mundane. Despite this there are often numerous applications often necessitating hearings running to two days.

A particular session had reached the afternoon of the second adjourned day when applications for occasional permissions were being heard. Such permissions are required by people organising events for various, often charity related, functions and applications are often made by secretaries or committee members of the organisations involved. As a general rule where applicants have not previously held such a licence or there is a likelihood that the Committee would require particular assurances applicants are required to attend the hearing in person. Normally permissions are granted for similar hours to normal licensing hours unless the event is of a special nature - if it is then applicants are required to attend in person to persuade the Committee why it is a special event.

A number of applicants sat at the back of the court waiting for their case to be called. There were the usual selection of middle-aged females with handbags and briefcases and several gentlemen in sports jackets. Seated with them was a very bronzed fit looking man in his mid-twenties who was dressed in T-shirt, shorts and sandals.

Very soon the lightly clad applicant was called. As he approached the bench it was plain that he was something of a keep fit enthusiast. From the agenda of applications he identified himself as making an application for several evening functions on behalf of Broadland Naturist's Club. The Chairman of the Committee quizzed the applicant as to what the functions were, how they were organised and particularly why it was necessary to have permission to sell and consume alcohol long after normal licensing hours.

It turned out that the Broadland Naturist's Club had invited a naturist's club from France for a petanc tournament that lasted several days. The event featured importantly in the naturist's national calendar. The first night, a Sunday, was planned to be a dinner which required the licence till 1 a.m.. Thursday night was the final gala/prize giving for the petanc competition following which the French club members returned home on the Friday. This however left one further application for the Friday night, also till 1.a.m.

"Why do you need a licence till 1 a.m. on the Friday?" asked the Chairman. "Surely by then everyone will have gone home?"

"Yes, of course." Replied the fit young man. "We were just covering ourselves"!!!

The Chairman, perhaps still considering the Health and Safety implications of naturist's playing petanc explained in all seriousness why the licence could not be granted on the last night while the remainder of the bench did their best to control their blood pressure and to avoid a serious contempt of court!