Oral History

Gladys Spencer memories of the life and times of farming in Hinckley

Interviewers: Mr. D. J. Wood (DW)

Interviewed: Mrs Gladys Mabel Spencer (GMS)

Date of Interview: 6th November 1984

DW. What age are you?

GMS. I’m 71

DW. Where were you born?

GMS. The Old Toll Gate on Sapcote Road

DW. The Old Toll Gate; now let’s see, you were born on the farm that was there in Sapcote Road?

GMS. Yeah, you know, it went down to the wood, me dad’s farm went down to the wood, Aston Woods weren’t it, yeah.

DW. Now what would you say, starting from early morning was a typical working day?

GMS. Well now, we’ll leave Sapcote altogether now, because I can’t remember anything about that.

DW. The first farm you can remember was .....?

GMS. Bridge Farm, can’t remember much about that, only a little bit about when the war was on, the First World War.

DW. Tell me what you can remember about the First World War.

GMS. I can remember me dad having [pause] me uncle Arthur worked for him and he were rejected from the war, like there were something wrong wi’ his feet. And then he had me uncle Fred, and me uncle Arthur, kind of half the army worked for him on the farm, they were allowed out for so many months and he had them, I can remember that ‘cause they used to play shove ha’penny in their dinner break, them sort o’ things I can remember, all that.

DW. You had how many cows?

GMS. We’d got ‘bout 30-40 cows, then pigs… umm… fowls, cause as little kids we used to run round and shut them up at night.

DW. And how long did it take to milk the cows? ‘Cause it were done by hand then weren’t it?

GMS. Yeah, oh how long would it take....let me think, 3...bout an hour and ‘alf I should think, that’s all.

DW. So if there’s 3 of you, it took quite a while to do one by hand?

GMS. Ooh, oh it ‘ud be, say, well it’s accordin’ to how much milk they gev you see... So a good milker it ud tek ‘er quarter hour, 20 minutes.

DW. I bet that made your hands hurt?

GMS. Oh I dun’t know cus I done a lot o’ hand milking later on when I got older, no it dun’t, just go like that look, quite good.

DW. When the milking was over, then there was the general farm work?

GMS. There were milking then, well that ud be cooled and put into the churns for a start off, that were at Bridge Farm and then when we left Bridge Farm…. I can remember more now about Woodhouse Farm and the milking there and the cooling there, me dad went in for grade A milk and it were all bottled you see, on the farm then, it were all bottled.

DW. You used to sell your own?

GMS. No, Hardy of Hollycroft sold it.

DW. But you used to bottle it?

GMS. We used to bottle it, then they’d take it from the farm bottled and then they sold it in the town, in Hinckley.

DW. So it was just cooled and bottled, it wasn’t pasteurised?

GMS. No, no it weren’t pasteurised, definitely coz it were…[whispers & laughs].

DW. So what else did they do between the 2 milkings?

GMS. Ploughing, so shall we talk about the winter first, there were the Ploughing to be done, erm, the thatching of the stacks that had been put up during the summer, you know, haystacks and wheat stacks and things like that, cus when you gather the corn in you see, you …..it were all stacked in them days.

DW. Ah put it up in big?

GMS. Big stacks

DW. Stooks?

GMS. Ar, that were on the field, the stooks on the field and then it were stacked and erm left then till say over Christmas I should imagine, and then it were all thrashed you know, you had to go through having thrashing machine in, Powers used to come in and do that for me dad till he had one of his own, and erm, Powers at Barwell House, they used to do that.

DW. Him and his old tractor?

GMS. Ah, and he used to do that and then we used to help and I always got the job of band cutting, you stood on the top of the drum and you used to have to cut the string as goes round the sheaves of corn and I alus had to do that job and I hated it ….[laughs]…..I used to stand on the top of that drum and oh, I kept thinking I wish it would go wrong so I could have a rest.

DW. When the machine used to cut it and tie it up into the sheaves, it used to be stood in how many together?

GMS. It took...6 I think.

DW. 6 to make a stook?

GMS. Stook, 6 yes 6 to 8 or so. They stood there for 3 weeks.

DW. And then they were stacked under cover?

GMS. And then you’d tek the wagonettes next and go and load em all onto them and tek em back and put em into the stacks... And then it were all stacked and left then and they used to thatch them, you know how they used to do the cottages, thatched cottages, they used to thatch em then.

DW. So it weren’t kept in a barn or anything it were...?

GMS. No, out in the stack yard, big stacks, um thatch and they used to stand there till they come to thrashing it, then we used to have days and days of that, mice runnin’ everywhere and, it were good fun though.

DW. And everybody had to sort of turn a hand?

GMS. Everybody had to go then, yeah.

DW. What sort of wages did the farm labourers and that get at that time?

GMS. Well I can remember how much the herdsman got, he got 28 shilling a week and a pint of milk.

DW. A day

GMS. Yeah, no a week, he got a pint of milk a day but...

DW. No, I meant he got one pint of milk a day?

GMS. Right yes, it was about tuppence.

DW. And how many hours was he expected to work for that?

GMS. Well let’s see, 60 hours a week.

DW. 60 hours a week?

GMS. Umm, yes and more in the summer.

DW. In calving time?

GMS. Yes um, definitely more in harvest time, they used to work till dark, many a time. Now I can’t think, I remember coming from the field one night and the biggest harvest moon, I’ve never forgot it shining, I was singing ‘Harvest Moon’ as I come back with the cart. You know, loaded up with the corn. I used to lead ‘em, the horse from the stack yard to the field you see, then bring the full, tek the empty one to the field and bring the full one back.

DW. Was there many in the family?

GMS. Meself, me sister Marjorie, me brother Jim, me sister Vera.

DW. So quite a big family?

GMS. And then Betty was born when we went down the Hollycroft, there were 4 of us. We used to walk from, go from, [pause] Elmsthorpe in the milk van to school then we used to walk back from the Council School down Leicester Road and across the common under the bridge and back home.

DW. At that time, did the children of the farms tend to have time off during harvest time?

GMS. Well not much, me dad used to, if they were rushed at any time me dad would say to me ‘would you like a day off today?’. You know. We used to help on the farm but..., he wouldn’t keep us away from school no more than he could. Well, I think it were only odd times, he never kept us away from school, he made us go school.

DW. You’d just grow cereal besides your milking?

GMS. No, potatoes or anything like that.

DW. For animal feed?

GMS. Yeah.

DW. Now that’s a job and a half to harvest that!

GMS. Ah, specially when the frost were on them you used to have to go down there pulling them and cutting the tops off and all that, but then again it were such an interesting life, I think. I were talking to a lady once and she said ‘if I had my time over again’ and I said ‘I shouldn’t mind having my older years over again, but me childhood and younger years’ I says ‘I shouldn’t want them cause they were so ‘appy and carefree like, on the farm’.

DW. You wouldn’t say that at that time farm life was a hard life?

GMS. It were hard work, definitely ‘ard work when you see em today, it’s cushy life today, in’t it?

DW. You think so?

GMS. I do, well did you see Emmerdale Farm last night?

DW. No

GMS. Well they were on there wi’ a combined harvester, all you do is sit up there and going along the corn, it’s all thrashed and the straw’s all put down and just bale that and that’s the end of it. I think that’s the easy life. You know when you was stookin’ that corn you got bloody thistles down your arm, they used to bleed [laughing] I can remember an’ all that, everybody used to stook the corn, happy days.

DW. How about your mum, have you got a dairy.?

GMS. Me mum looked after the dairy work and the house work, cause she got, she used to feed every, not the……Uncle Arthur, me dad and me mum and us kids, she used ‘o cook for all us like, besides people who used to drop in and she’d do all the dairy work, she were...

DW. Cheese and butter?

GMS. Butter, no cheese, never made cheese, did make butter and cream, used to serve cream. And then from that you see, when he left Elmsthorpe, the reason he left Elmsthorpe was he wanted to make tuberculin tested milk. Well them days, before the government thought about it, before tuberculin tested milk, you had to pay for your own cows to be tested and he used to pay for that, well he couldn’t get a free herd of tuberculin tested cows you see, so that’s when, the few cows that passed the test we brought down to the Hollycroft farm.

DW. Why, did you get more for the tested milk? Or what was his reason for doing it? Or did he see the legislation coming in?

GMS. He were a man who were years ahead of anybody else if you know what I mean. And I dun’t know whether it were rumoured then that all these people as were dying with TB, they were getting it from the milk, from cows milk and his own sister died with TB. So I think that prompted him to go in for it more than anything. And when we got down Elmsthorpe he’d got a tuberculin free herd of about 10 short horns then and I used to help him look after them when I left school and we won some cups and all that and you know, had a good time of it. That’s probably because we were all shared up and then of course he’d got a... free herd of cows for 3 years, never had a reactor in them, of course he..[very quiet]… got killed.

DW. You used to go to shows and show?

GMS. No, he never done no showing, this were Leicestershire and Rutland Milk Recording Society as he won the cups through.

DW. It was for the quality of his milk not the quality of his herd?

GMS. Well everything, got em for management, cleanliness, the yield of the cows, how much milk, we were milking 3 times a day then with a machine, milking 3 times a day when we got down to the Hollycroft, that’s when I started to be his cowman then, when we went to the Hollycroft, we used to love them cows, we used to go out at 11 o’clock at night to water ‘em. He had water bowls in after, and they used to drink no end of water an’ all.

DW. What about the breeding? Did he keep his own breeding herd?

GMS. We kept all the young stock, heifers, young stock yeah, used to sell the little bull calves when they were born, [pause] about how much were them, about 10 shillings each. We’d tek ‘em to Nuneaton.

DW. What would they be sold for?

GMS. Butchers, um.

DW. They’d go for something like veal?

GMS. For veal and stuff like that. If you got 10 shillings for a calf, about a fortnight old, you’d think you’d done well, we only used to make about 5 shilling up Hinckley market, Hinckley used to have a market as well, where the Leisure Centre is.

DW. I’d heard of it, how far’s that going back? Cause the only thing I remember on the Leisure Centre corner is the old Trinity Hall.

GMS. Ah there were that.

DW. Next to that was the Council Yard?

GMS. I can remember Laurence’s’ the blacksmith next to the Leisure Centre, next to the Trinity Church were it and then the sale yard. The sale yard gate were straight opposite Ellis’s gate.

DW. That must have been when the council took over the yard then.

GMS. Ah I bet it were, ah the council had it after the sale.

DW. I didn’t realise that there was a market there. Was it a big one?

GMS. The cattle market? Pretty big it were, course we only used to go and drop the calf and leave it, then it’d make what it did.

DW. How often?

GMS. Well when we had one.

DW. No, I meant the market?

GMS. Every fortnight I think, yes it were every fortnight.

DW. Would a cow fetch more than a bull of the same age?

GMS. I’ve got some prices of the cows in there, ...what we made at Elmsthorpe, the price of the cows and things like that, I think the highest one were about 21 guineas and they’re making thousands now in’t they?

DW. Now about the time when you come to er, did you have your own bulls.

GMS. Yeah pedigree bull, yeah.

DW. Was that an organized thing or was it left to putting them together or leaving them to it?

GMS. Ah, puttin’ them together, well I think me dad stayed with them to see if things were done right. [laughs] but we weren’t allowed to do things like that.

DW. How about when the calves were born?

GMS. Well we used to leave them.

DW. No I meant did you go and help?

GMS. No. Well we did when we got older, but not when we were 15 or 16, but we used to leave them out in the field, they used to sleep out night and day, they were never brought in, only for milking, they used to calve out in the field, wi’out there were trouble of course, me dad knew then and used to fetch ‘em in. and look after and fetch the vet if they needed and all that. When we first ‘ad the Ayreshires from Scotland, we had about 3 lots, 2 of the cows just dropped down, after we’d had ‘em a bit, just dropped down dead and the vet reckoned it were meningitis, a lack of minerals in them, but me dad overcome that by feeding minerals to ‘em.

DW. How about the diseases? Were they, er, very much in evidence, like foot and mouth?

GMS. No, no they were, [pause] I think the nearest we got to foot and mouth was a farm next to ours when we were at Elmsthorpe, some young stock in the field, that were the nearest we got to that. So instead of going that road to the town we used to have to go out the way.

DW. How would you say that the farming family lived in comparison with the rest of the community? Well?

GMS. I should think so, we never had to grumble, now I can remember a lady I used to work with, she said she used to walk miles and miles so she could get a drop of skimmed milk so they could have a blancmange for their tea, you see I never had to do any of that kind of living. I can, in my younger days; still the kids seemed happy and fat enough at school when we went. Last night on there [television], the Bakers Dozen, did you see that, you see I couldn’t imagine anybody living like that, but they must’ve done cause you think of Fox [?] Garden, all them living in one street...

DW. This is it you see, this is what I’m getting at...

GMS. You think of all them little ‘ouses.

DW. I mean you was well clothed, well fed, well shod...

GMS. Umm

DW. So really you were quite well off in comparison?

GMS. Wi’ them yeah, and yet you see there weren’t a lot of money on the farms, you had to, what you got you had to work bloomin’ ‘ard for, I mean lots of farmers went bankrupt didn’t they cos yer know...

DW. You’d got your money but it was tied up somewhere.

GMS. Tied up all the while, I mean you couldn’t say ‘oh I’ll go to America next week’ or anything like that, I mean I never went to the sea till I were 21.

DW. What, because you were too busy or because you couldn’t afford it?

GMS. I should think because we couldn’t afford it, then we were took be me uncle, me dad and mam and all us kids went, I can remember, I think I were going paddling in the sea and said to me uncle Clarence ‘will yer ‘old these purses fo’ rus while we go in the sea?’ and he had a look in all on ‘em to see what me and our Vera’d got, ‘alf p. Oh, that was the first time we went, we went to Skegness for the day.

DW. Getting back to the farm, did you er, did you help your mum make butter?

GMS. Um, I used to turn the churn, like that, we had to tek turns in turning the butter, she kept her eye on us to see we didn’t go too far with it.

DW. The stuff you put in the churn, what, it’s the top of the milk, sort of thing?

GMS. Ah, cream, cream yeah, then you’d got to separate it first, got a separator and you separated the milk from the cream, that’s the whey from the cream isn’t it, and um, you just made butter with the cream.

DW. And what happened to what was left?

GMS. Calves or something would have that, calves would have skimmed milk. But they sell that for human consumption today, skimmed milk.

DW. How much milk to the pound of butter, would you say?

GMS. Now you’re asking me.

DW. How much did you get out of your container, you know, if you put 2 gallons or 4 gallons of milk in, how much cream, butter did you get out?

GMS. Um, I couldn’t say, I can’t remember that.

DW. You just put it in, you just churned it, you didn’t put anything in with it?

GMS. No, you just made the butter out of the cream. You put a bit of salt in and stuff like that and that’s all. Then you used to batch it up, like that.

DW. And how long did you have to turn that for?

GMS. Not all that long, no.

DW. What about an hour?

GMS. Half of one, I bet, 20 minutes to half an hour. A big wooden thing it were, like that, you used to turn it round and then the water would come from a 60 foot well, you used to have to pump that every night, that took some doin’. DW. By hand?

GMS. Yeah. Had to do that by hand. We used to tek it in turns, everybody would pump, have a do at that, all the men like.

DW. What sort of pump did you have.?

GMS. You used to pull it back’uds and for’uds like that, beautiful water though.

DW. It was said before that a lot of the TB was caused by the water from the wells round here.

GMS. I never heard that me husband [?] said it come from milk, cows milk and that’s why, you see, they made everything pasturised, after, me dad did make certain tested milk, it sold well in Hinckley. It were good. It died out, and everything was pasturised. I think there’s some kind of unpasturised in’t there, that golden top, I dunt think that’s pasturised. We used to tek the milk, when we went down the Hollycroft, we used to tek the milk up to Hardy’s in the float, all the crates of tuberculin tested milk. Then there was mowing, when they used to mow the grass for the cattle for the winter, used to go out with the horse and the mowing machine.

DW. The mowing machine was pulled by horses?

GMS. Horses yes, with the mowing machine.

DW. And of course the Ploughing as well?

GMS. Ah, that were all pulled by horses. Yes. It used to take days and days, weeks to mow a big field, um, plough and mow a big field.

DW. How many horses did the farm have?

GMS. At times there would be about 6. I think.

DW. Big ones?

GMS. Um, big horses.

DW. What did they call them? Shires?

GMS. Shires, they’d have a couple for the float. I mean it were hard work when you come to think of it. You see you had to trust in the weather as well, I mean I remember when we come from Elmsthorpe to the Hollycroft, that year, 1927 it were, it rained all bloomin’ summer then I dun’t think we‘d had a dry day all year, the oats had grown that long as they were growing again out the top of the sheaves. Stooks were all stuck together and I can remember cutting the stack of hay and it got that wet it war, it was just like cuttin’ treacle. Terrible that year it were, we’d got the 2 farms on, you see, at that time.

DW. Did the extremes of weather; can you remember any extremes of weather that made life very bad for you? Either exceedingly dry or exceedingly wet. I was told not too long back about a case in a farm in Earl Shilton where a whirl wind ripped all the hay out of the field.

GMS. I don’t remember that. I know one year it when we were down…..it snowed in, it were bad that year, dun’t know what year it were. Me Aunt Nora were coming from Wellsborough, that’s out Bos’orth way, to go to the amateurs [?], and me dad were going to go and fetch her and he couldn’t get through down Stoke Road, couldn’t get through, so he had to come back. I can remember that, that were snowed up well. I can’t remember on the farm whether it were as bad as in 1947.

DW. What happened in 1947?

GMS. That’s when we were all snowed in weren’t it. Got no fuel, no lightin’, no nothing.

DW. I can’t remember that far, I’d only be about 10.

GMS. It were great. Oh it was bloomin’ cold, we used to go down the gas house and queue for a bit of coke to put on the fire, shillin’ a bag it were and the kids used to meet yer and say ‘Got a couple of bags of coke missus if you want it’ and you’d give ‘em an extra sixpence and they’d fetch the coke for you, that were when me husband and son were in bed with the flu and I went down to get some coke.

DW. You seem, with all your animals, you seem to have taken quite a shine to...

GMS. We had a bull, Old John we used to call him. I never had an Ayreshire bull, cause it was one of those killed me dad, never had one of them.

DW. Your father was killed by one?

GMS. Um, he were only 47.

DW. Why was this?

GMS. There were a cow and he could never get her in calf, so he shut her in the stable and um the bull in the stable as well and I said to him I wanted the hands out of the stable to tek some young stock up the field, so he went in the stable, I said ‘Shall I let him out, shall I let the bull out dad’ and he said ‘No wait a minute and I’ll go and see’ and he shouted ‘Let him out’ and I run round to let him out the other door when he shouted me and he were on the bloomin’ floor, bull had hit him just here, anyway he were just going to go for him again, I bellowed at him and he turned away. Of course that were at 4 o’clock in the afternoon and we left him till nearly midnight before we took him to the hospital, of course when they started to operate it were too late.

DW. So he just sort of butted him, he didn’t try to horn him?

GMS. Butted him here but the bull had got one horn half broke off so it didn’t.

DW. Didn’t break the skin?

GMS. Skin you see, I think that’s what put the doctors off a bit. We took him up the hospital and that were that and that’s why I never had one of them. But, I used to love the cows. I’d spend hours with them. They were all named and recorded and all that and how much milk they gave each day, twice a day, morning and night, it were all weighed. 40 pounds of milk to the gallon, I can remember that.

DW. Do you think on the whole, a farm labourer had a better life, whether it were financially or otherwise than say somebody who worked in boot and shoe and such like? Cause then there were tied cottages and things like that weren’t there?

GMS. Yeah, well in my opinion the farm labourer didn’t expect so much out of life as boot and shoe and hosiery, did they, I mean, do you think I don’t know. I mean they didn’t used to go gaddin’ off to the pictures every night, if they’d overtime to do they’d do it and not argue, you knew it had got to be down and you’d do it, well me dad’s had anyway or if they were wanted to stand in for extra hours they were willing to do it, didn’t grumble about Sunday work or anything like that.

DW. Well that sort of thing came with the job, cause the cows had to be milked on a Sunday, as on any other day of the week.

GMS. Quite true, ...the farmers gave milking up now because of the Sunday work, ain’t they?

DW. How about tied cottages?

GMS. Well I don’t know about that ‘cause, there were cottages on the farm but I just think they lived in them while they worked for me dad and then off they went and they left and the cottages come vacant. ‘Cause there were tied cottages weren’t there, there were a lot of trouble over them, one time of day, I’ve read in the papers.

DW. So, although it was a hard life you think they were well looked after?

GMS. Yes, I do, well we were always well looked after, used to have plenty of fun, runnin’ about, you know, everybody seemed friendly and nice like, you know, on the farm. ‘cause when it come to hedge cutting and all that they used to cut their own hedges, we used to have men in to do that, we used to have a man to come and cut the hedges………..Type from Burbage, a man named Type from Burbage, he used come and cut me dad’s, a lot of me dad’s hedges.

DW. Hedging and ditchin’?

GMS. Ditchin’, yes.

DW. You didn’t have a lot of casual work then? Only sort of at harvesting time other than ditchin’?

GMS. Any kind of what?

DW. Casual workers?

GMS. Yeah, they were sort of casual weren’t they? Ooh yeah, you did at hay mekin’ time and all that.

DW. Anything you could get your hands on?

GMS. Um aye, they used to come and help, that’s er, they used to come off the dole and help with the hay makin’, me dad, he’d got a hay loader, you didn’t have to pitch the hay up. You used to run along it with this and do that, had one horse used to pull it, on the wagonette and the hay loader at the back and the hay used to come over and drop in the cart like that, as you went along the row. That’s how you used to do. There were a big wagonette with wire round the sides and then this hay loader were at the back and the hay loader, the wires used to come round like that and the hay used to come up, drop out the top on the wagonette, then you used to, you used to have to be on the wagonette, and then stack it as it come up.

DW. On to the wagon?

GMS. Um. You used to think it were great if you could go one end of the field to the other without stoppin’. You’d be puffin’ and pantin’ but you’d hated to shout woh!

DW. Like, um, an endless belt?

GMS. Aye, yeah, kept goin’ round the fields, big wires on there were, like teeth, used to drag the hay on like that. Pete [someone] tells he’s got some photos of one of them. ...that was me dad’s brother’s wife, she’s 91 now but she can still remember her life on the farm and all that.

DW. I think most fathers do, tell you about tales about when they were young? Can you remember any of the tales your father or your mother told you about when they were young?

GMS. Well, I mean, they were all perfectly out of date for the kids but I can remember when me dad first started you see, he used to work in the boot and shoe factory up ‘arris’s up Factory Road, he used to work in there and then started on the milk round and, er, you know that house at the corner of Druid Street and Derby Road, they’ve built some new houses on it now, just inside Druid Street going into Derby Road, Derby Road starts at the top of Ashby Road...

DW. Yes, yes.

GMS. They’ve built one or two houses there ain’t they.

DW. Yes.

GMS. Well that used to be the yard there, and that’s where me dad’s yard were. He used to have milk, he used to deliver the milk from. …..a big book……. where he’d put all the customers names down and how much milk they’d have and they used to have a ha’penny worth, ha’penny worth, if somebody had one penny worth they thought it were great.

DW. How much were that?... A penn’orth of milk?

GMS. I couldn’t tell you. I weren’t born then, but I can remember the book.

DW. No, I didn’t know whether he’d put it down.

GMS. No, I don’t know. I know it used to have a ha’penny like that and then a penny like that, I bet it were one o’ them little...

DW. Ladles

GMS. Aye, it’d be out of a bucket, you see it’d be a ladle full I bet. I can remember that book and me granddad and granny about how it used to be in there, that yard, dad started from there, then he bought, then he went and lived down the Sapcote Road I’d telled you, had them fields down there. You see I was born down there so I couldn’t remember much about that and the farm, you know where Atkins’s is and that industrial estate and all there down Sapcote Road, that’s where the farm buildin’s were an’ everythin’.

DW. Near the old sandpit?

GMS. Aye on the old sandpit, that’s it, where I was born, it were a lovely little cottage. I was reading, a woman down the road lent me a book the other day, called ‘inckley, History of ’inckley and it mentioned all them... that run in Ashby Road, Coventry Road, Sapcote Road and Leicester Road all down there.

DW. The tapes nearly finished, you can leave it there if you want.

Transcript by: David Leslie & Juliet Perry.