(December 2004) Recollections of a Farm Worker by Eric Payne

In February 1933, when I was 14, I finished school in April on a Friday, came up to Elmridge Farmhouse, above the pond in Sibford Gower, on Saturday to collect my Dad’s wages. He had been a carter in the employ of Mr. John Lamb since age 16 till he died when he was 60 in 1940. I came to collect my father’s 1.0.0 per week wage and Mr. Lamb said “Eric, I understand you have left school. Would you like to come and work for me”, and I said “Thank you very much Mr. Lamb, I would”. He said “You can start on Monday” I said “No, because it is my cousin Lizzy Payne’s marriage (to Ambrose Sabin) on (Easter) Monday, but l can start Tuesday“. He said “Alright”, and I arrived on Tuesday morning at 7:00a.m.

The first job I did was to go up to Elmridge Barn to collect a horse and cart and bring it back. Then I had to collect a pig, put it in the cart and take it back to Elmridge Barn. This took 2 hours and then I had my lunch, 9:00 – 10.00 a.m. Lunch would consist of a crust of dry bread, no butter, white cheese (from the co-op) and cold tea (in a glass bottle). After lunch I put the horse in a flat roll and went and rolled wheat in a field rear Elmridge Barn.

From 12:00 to 1:00 we had dinner consisting of a crust of bread, boiled bacon (home cured) and a bit of cheese and cold tea. After lunch we continued working in the field. At about 3:00p.m. we would stop for a drink of tea, my father scolded me once for sitting down to drink my tea, saying there was no need to sit down during this short break. At 4:30 p.m. I put the horse in the stable at Elmridge Barn, took off the harness, fed it and then let it out in the field. Work finished at 5:00 – 5:30 p.m. Then we went back home to the Colony for tea – a cooked meal consisting of boiled potatoes, cabbage, swede. Afters – boiled apple or jam pudding. In the evening sometimes I would play football or help my father in the garden. We didn’t have a radio and did’t get one until I was 17: a crystal set with cats whiskers.

This routine would be for 5½ days per week (till 1 p.m. on Saturday) and the pay was 7s 6d per week. Of this money l would give 5s. 0d. to my mother for groceries and the other would be used for clothes. A good pair of hob nailed boots cost £1.0.0 and last about one year. Jacket and trousers cost about 30s. between them.

On Sunday we had a best suit which would last for years, a pair of light boots costing about 15s. I was in the choir, so church at 11:00 a.m. and again at 6:30p.m. We would be paid to be in the choir – 3d per service. The vicar then was Thomas Coles. In the afternoon we would usually go for a walk around the Elm at Sibford Ferris or Traitors Ford. The only holidays we had were the 1st Monday in June – Sibford Club Day and Christmas Day.

In March 1933 we used to cross plough the ground with horses. With a good pair of horses on reasonably sandy ground you would achieve up to ¾ acre per day. Then the ploughed ground would be scuffed (long tines to break up the ground). Then it was dragged and harrowed to get the squitch out, which was then burned. Then in April you could plant your oats and barley. Then more ground would be prepared for mangle – planted in May (mangle is like beets – food for cattle). Then swedes and turnips would be planted in June.

After these chores – end of June – we had to get ready for haymaking. Two horses on a mowing ‘”machine”; a four foot blade pulled along between two horses. On average every hour you would have to get off and sharpen the blade with a file. The hay would lay for a week then would be turned with a swath turner. After another 3 or 4 days it would be stacked in heaps then pitched on the wagon. The wagon would take the hay to the ricks near Elmridge Barn. This job would last until harvest time -August. The first harvesting job would be cutting the winter oats (planted in October of the previous year). They would be stacked in stooks and “Let the Church Bells ring on them for 3 Sundays” by which time they were ready to rick up. The Spring barley would be ready to cut and then the wheat was left to the end (September). The wheat was cut down in a field in ever decreasing circles. The rabbits would stay in the middle and work would stop at some time and the guns would come out. The rabbits would be shot, gutted on site and taken home to be eaten.

Alter harvesting, we would thatch the ricks, 5 or 6 hay or corn ricks and it would take 2 days for each rick.

October time would be time for hedge trimming with a splashing hook, this for a week; then ploughing the clover back in and planting wheat. At the end of October the oats were planted. November, get the mangles up and store them in a trench (buried them in a “clamp”) Then get up the swedes. The sheep had the turnips.

The winter months would be for hedge laying or, if the weather was bad, clearing manure out of pens.

In December and .lanuary the “corn” (wheat, barley oats) would be threshed. Mr. Gibbs used to come from Ascott with his Fordson Tractor and Threshing Box. This would involve 7 men: the tractor would drive the pulley which would turn the drum and thresh the corn. One man on the cornrick to put the sheaves up on to the threshing box. Another man would cut the string (and save it). One man fed the drum. Another man carried chaff and cavein. Two men would pitch the straw on to the rick. One man building the rick. One man would take the corn away. The machine would start at 7:00a.m. and stop at 5:00p.m. Cider would usually be taken – sometimes quite strong because Frank (Wealsby) and I used to add some wheat to the mixture.