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The Fernhurst Society

Oral history interviews: forestry & agriculture

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Robin Barnes | A farmer’s daughter | Alf West | Jeffrie White

Robin Barnes

Granny was near enough….widowed at the age of…well, middle 30s. It was really quite young. And then to have to run the estate on her own, with no other income.  Which is the reason why it got slowly nibbled off at the edges, because she had to keep selling things to provide a living for herself. Because even in those days it wasn’t very financially productive…We’ve got the woodland records  since 1871, which gives the name, obviously of the piece that was cut and what it was cut for, how much it went for and who cut it. So again it’s quite nice to see a lot of the old names, like Jesse Mann, people remember… recently there’s been a sort of builders merchants. But out on the piece of grass in front of them that’s where the old steam engine that ran the saw mill used to sit…and the records of, I think it was sort of 10 or 12  loads of oak to Jesse Mann. And so on. And obviously chestnut all over the place, for hop poles or hoops for barrels and faggots to go to…what’s his name, who ran the bakery up in Kingsley Green, ..

Mills?

Mills, that’s right., yes. David Mills, his dad.

Another Fernhurst family.

Absolutely, yes. So, …the woodland produced a fair amount but I think it was 1870 odd you would get 100 16 foot chestnut poles and that was worth £50…. And that was delivered to wherever it was going to. You know, horse and cart job. Pretty amazing, pretty amazing. …Even just manhandling 16 foot poles is not the easiest thing in the world. I’m not sure when they started growing the chestnut. The theory in Linchmere that all was planted up at the end of the 19th century. I don’t think so. I think it’s been growing some time before that, but not as long ago as the ironworks and the charcoal that was produced for it. We’ve done quite a lot of research into ironworking and so on, and they used alder and birch as well as oak for the charcoal for the ironworks. There are a lot of myths about the iron industry of the Weald and so on that the industry denuded the Weald of oak trees. Well you only used up to 4 or 5 inch diameter cordwood for charcoal. The rest of it went into houses or shipbuilding.   But they did get through an awful lot of charcoal, I agree but again that was really where all the coppicing came in. Alder and birch and stuff like that, if you cut it, it will regrow. So you just have a rotation of sort of 15 or 20 years. They reckon nowadays that you would need for a medium sized furnace like North Park was,  (we’ve had to rename it Fernhurst Furnace, for various reasons), you were only allowed to carry your charcoal 3 miles. Well in those sort of bone rattling carts they had, if it shook around for more than 3 miles it gets smaller and smaller and it ends up in dust. And it wouldn’t support the weight of iron ore that you put in on top of it in the furnace, apparently.

 

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A farmer’s daughter

Life on a Fernhurst Farm sixty years ago

When the farmers’ boys came home from school there was plenty of work for them to do.  Some of the easier cows would be left for them to milk and the rest of the eggs to collect and to help feed the pigs and calves.  Of course at haymaking and harvest time they quickly joined in and worked with the men.  The boys were also keen mole and rabbit catchers and were out every morning early looking at their traps and rabbit wires before going to school - a 6 mile cycle ride from the farm for some.  The moles were later skinned and the skin was cleaned and stretched out and tacked on a board to dry then sent away and sold.  The rabbits were mostly taken up to Haslemere in the milk float to the butchers.  The herd of 30 dairy cows was milked by hand until 1942 when a milking machine plant was installed.  The machine did the milking but the milk still had to be carried in buckets to the dairy to be cooled.  A few years later a pipeline was installed which piped the milk straight to the dairy.  In the early days the milk was always taken to Haslemere in the milk float morning and evening.  The milk float was a wooden cart which tipped down at the back for the churns to be lifted in.  At one time the milk was taken to the station and put on a train then later to Haslemere Dairy.  Then about 1936 a pick-up truck was used and the farmer often gave lifts to others up to Haslemere as in those days there was very little other transport from the village.  In those times all the work on the land was done by horses – horse drawn ploughs, mowers – rooting machines and wagons.  Not until 1939 was there a tractor to help alleviate the labour.  This was a second-hand Fordson.  At haymaking time the grass was cut with a mowing machine drawn by the horses and a man with a scythe would cut the verges. 

Later the hay was turned with a hay turner or by hand  and when dry collected into stooks and carted on a wagon to be stacked in the hay barn in the yard or made into a stack in the field and later thatched to keep it dry until required.  Of course there were no balers then and no silage making until about 1940 so the farmers were very dependent on the weather for drying the hay and when it was ready everyone had to help to get it safely under cover.  At harvest time when the corn was ready to be cut the binder would be prepared.  This was drawn by horses again and the machine would cut the corn and bind it into sheaths tied with twine.  These sheaths would be arranged standing in wigwam fashion until dry and then loaded on wagons and built into a rick and thatched to keep out wet until the thresher could come.  After the corn had been cut and stooked local women and children would go round the edges of the field gleaning and gathering all the stray ears of corn left behind and would get quite a nice little store for their chickens.  Threshing day was quite an event and all hands were needed – there had to be a supply of steam coal ready and the water cart and buckets at hand to keep the engine going and everyone got very hot and dusty. 

The corn was thrashed out and put into sacks, some were taken to the granary in the barn and some were collected and taken to the mill. All were thankful when the corn was safely thrashed and stacked away after hard work over the year Soon after the corn was harvested the next year’s work would begin.  The stubble was ploughed in and the ground prepared for the autumn sown crops to be drilled in while the ground was dry.  Then it was time for the other autumn work of hedge trimming, ditch cleaning, repairing fences and out buildings.  At haymaking and harvest time the workman never went home to tea and often not at midday. The work was too urgent . So there were always hay teas and harvest teas for the farmer’s wife to prepare and to take where they were working and all stopped for a short time while they were refreshed with substantial sandwiches, cake and plenty of tea. 

All the water for the farm and house was pumped from a well at the side of the barn as there was no main water supply until about 1938 when the water was laid on.  This well pumped to the dairy and to a cold tap in the house.  This well would sometimes dry up after a long spell of dry weather in the summer and this meant that all water for the house and dairy had to be carried in buckets from the stream across the road.  The cattle would drink  from the pond across the road from the farm building and someone would dam up the stream and so make it easier to collect the water.  Of course there was no electricity on the farm or in the house. In those days hurricane lanterns would be hung in the cow shed and the dairy and …when it got dark and the men would carry lanterns as they went around.  It was often hazardous in winter when the yard had patches of ice across it. 

It was a great improvement when in early 1930s electricity was brought to the farm buildings.  It was not until 1939 it was installed in the house. Until then the family had managed quite comfortably with oil lamps around the house and an Aladdin lamp in the sitting room and candles to carry around.  There was a fireplace in each room and if anyone was at all ill in the winter a fire would be lit in the bedroom which was much enjoyed by the children.  I wonder how many children today know what it is to lie in a darkened bedroom and watch the flickering of the flames from the fire on the wall and hear the gentle murmur of flames.

The lovely old barn was a very interesting place to the children.  It was unusually high and lofty with huge beams supporting the roof – all sorts of machinery and cattle food etc was stored in here.  It was very dusty and cobwebby and there were swallows nests to be seen high up under the eaves and sparrows flitting around.  The granary on one side was rather a mysterious place.  It was quite dark in there as it had no window only a hole in the wall which was covered with a piece of zinc I suppose to keep the mice out but they did get in at times.  In there there were many sacks of corn and bags of cattle food and usually a heap of loose wheat.  This granary had a flat roof and there was a space above this where other things were stored.  Old pieces of furniture and farm equipment and sometimes apples laid out on sacks – this was a good place to find nests of eggs.

The sheep you say you had in the winter only – how did that happen – what happened to the sheep?

The sheep breeders were mostly on Romney Marshes in Kent and Romney Marshes got flooded in the winter and they weren’t suitable for sheep. So they would go out to lend them out to farmers where the land was dry. A lot of farmers had as many sheep as they could accommodate and they were brought mostly by train to Northchapel.  Northchapel in those days seemed to be the centre where farmers used to go and bring home as many as they had food for in the winter. That was a good source of income to the smaller farmers really having the sheep and they had a certain amount of grazing for them and then they had to be fed with other things – not much else – turnips etc.

That was a very good idea must of have worked very well.  Would you have had to bring them back by the lanes and roads from Northchapel?

We collected them from Northchapel and they were collected at the end of the winter by the farmers.  We brought them back by road from Northchapel.  As many has possible were brought in to help because the roads then had a lot of gaps in the hedges and driveways off and those who were driving them had to go alongside to see that the sheep didn’t wander off. 

I think that must have been quite a day.

It was about 6 or 7 miles altogether.

 

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Alf West

How many were you in your family?

Seven.

And you all took part in the family farm?

No, no, one of my younger sisters, Millie, she died in l929 she was a proper farmer’s girl she was. She used to go down to the farm at Colliers about half past five in the morning milking.

It was all by hand in those days.  How many horses did you have to work the land?

Of course he used to do a lot of contract work with horses, we used to have about 10 horses I suppose.

Were they shires or Suffolk Punches?

We had Suffolks and Dad was quite a believer in the Suffolks, he liked the Suffolks, but we had some Clydesdales, they were good.

What sort of industries were there locally?  What did men do generally in this area?

Either on the buildings, farms or in the woods, there was no industry, nothing else.

I’ve heard your son talking about the clogs that were made round here.

The clogs weren’t made, it was down near Fernhurst pond on the Cowdray Estate there was a big area, quite a lot of alder.  There was some Lancashire man came down. He used to go clogging, he bought all this stuff and he used to cut out just the rough clog bottoms.  We put thousands on rail for him.

How were these made, they were pieces of wood that were gouged out, did they have anything else attached to them?

No they were just simply split, you know round logs were split and then just gouged out to the shape of the boot, that’s all they were, they were just simply put on rail and sent off to Lancashire or something like that.  We used to put them on rail for ‘old cloggy’ as we called him, we used to put them on at Liphook.

What other things did they make locally from the wood they cut down?

Well they used to make a lot of hoops these wooden hoops in those days.

Would they have been used for barrels?

There used to be thousands of barrels made around here because in the woods these people that were used to it they’d pick up a bit of wood and they’d know just what they were going to do with it whether it was hoops, walking sticks, pea sticks, bean sticks, bowls.  Every little stick that you would mention these chaps knew what they were doing, faggots, bavins they used to have for fire lighting and that sort of thing.

 

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Jeffrie White

My father had started in the woods. He was in Verdley Woods. They were cutting the firs for pit-props and that sort of thing, working for the Forestry Commission and I joined him at that. We went around various places and one time, one summer, we finished up down at Arundel, cutting oak trees. We had a bell tent down there and stayed down there during the week. Three of us, there was Fred West and my father and myself., and then we came home at weekends. When we went down, we went by train from Midhurst to Arundel, and then we had to go on to Poling crossroads, which wasn’t far out. As I say we stayed there all week. We’d taken our bicycles with us and we cycled back weekends from Arundel.

 

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The Fernhurst Oral History Project was supported by the Local Heritage Initiative. The Local Heritage Initiative was developed by the Countryside Agency and was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Nationwide Building Society.

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