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The Fernhurst Society

Oral history interviews: industry

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Wally Dzenis | Frank Jones | Brian Silver | Arthur Waitt | Lillian White | Roy Woodward

Wally Dzenis

I wanted to come to Great Britain (from Latvia) so I think I arrived in Great Britain it must be in April 1947 from London which was actually where we all assembled.  I got sent to a little hostel in Midhurst, West Sussex.  This little hostel was only for about fifty or sixty people and we all were supposed to be under the agriculture from West Sussex County Council.  In those days I suppose as the agriculture was the main part after the war and as I spoke a little bit of English (or reasonable English), I was made the charge-hand for about twenty people which was designated to the ICI, Fernhurst.  My first introduction to ICI was, as I said, as a charge‑hand of a small working party which was mostly divided between the greenhouses and the building staff.  I seem to remember they were building not a swimming pool but a water reservoir and the greenhouses must have just about started.  I remember seeing youngsters, the younger generation of Fernhurst, digging out stones from the fields as they tried to expand and work the fields to produce whatever they were growing.  The greenhouses, I think, had just started because I remember a chappy called Smithy who was in charge of the greenhouses.   I seem to remember in the builders department up there Reg White, he was a bricklayer and I seem to remember Ray Jones and he was a carpenter and it is the first time that I come across young Jimmy West but he was either an improver electrician or maybe he was already qualified as an electrician .  He was wiring the barn out which I suppose is Hurstfold now.  They had no heating in parts of the greenhouses but to my mind I see this old boiler with a large chimney…

Unfortunately or fortunately I had a job offer as the maintenance and stoker at King Edward Hospital with accommodation – living accommodation which I took up and I think I left in February 1948.  While I was working there I happened to meet Vera Booker and I married her in 1952 at Fernhurst Church.

 

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Frank Jones

So we were going to go back to ICI and some of the days there.  Now, we were students who were invited to work either for a straight year or two years or whatever.  There would always be certain jobs for us to do.  Now back at home, I had got a lovely collection of cacti and of course my parents weren’t going to spend the rest of their lives looking after my famous cactus collection, so I brought it along and they actually converted one of the small greenhouses as the cactus greenhouse, and my famous cacti lived there for many years after that…We had a hothouse where we would grow bananas and things like that.  The Latvian people generally… the foremen who would look after various sections of the area and us students would work for them and dig all the borders and put all the plants in the garden and of course we used to do the garden around Mr George Lockie’s house of course.  George used to chat to us whilst we’d be working there, and his rather annoying dog had a tendency to dig up the things we’d planted.  In the hostel you had to be very careful with your slippers because Bobby, the dog, used to come up in the hostel upstairs, pinch people’s slippers and take them off and chew them to death.

So they had lots of funny things happening there and of course as students we all were trying to study various bits and one of the boys was going into entomology – looking at insects and he had got his collection of various moths and bugs and things like that. Some of us students, as you can imagine, were a little bit devious and we decided to have a bit of fun.  Woolworths had just started to sell the first of the felt-tip pens which used a type of ether as a solvent.  We caught some white butterflies and we put red dots or little RAF circles and things like that on their wings and set them free to see what would happen.  Now Dave Phipps was working out in the garden there quite unaware of what the other lads and myself had done, and he kept a great big butterfly net because he was keen to have all the butterflies in the area.  We worked in these gardens near the canteen which grew all the vegetables and things for the food there, carrots and lettuces and cabbages and so on… cauliflowers – and they’re all in lovely neat rows.  All of a sudden you see him spring up, “Look at this butterfly, look at this butterfly!”  He grabs his net and irrespective of all the rows of all the plants and things, he went trampling over them chasing this butterfly.  He caught it and it was one of the ones with the little red dots on it, and he was fascinated with this new species which wasn’t in any of the books and he caught another one later on with a different marking – a blue marking – on it, but it was only when he came to put it in the ether, because they have to kill the butterfly by putting it in ether, so it then gasses the poor damned thing, and of course all the ink ran and the truth came out

But there was a lot of antics going on.  There were lots of local parties and things held there.  Typical students.  And another well-known thing of course – they started the ‘Pick-your-own’ and just opposite the hostel was a little copse of trees and beyond that were the strawberry fields.  Well of course not all the strawberries… people would go to pick strawberries but they’d only walk as far as they had to, so the bits that backed on to this coppice were often left, overripe and so forth.  So we’d sneak out at night and positively feast on these spare strawberries in the dark with a torch. We had all the strawberries we ever wanted, you know, faces all red with them in the dark and I always remember, when I saw the lads going off one night I played a record which had been released by the Beatles at that time which was ‘Strawberry Fields forever’ …Of course they came back with big red faces.

 

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Brian Silver

When I left school, I was waiting for a vacancy really in the Police Cadets, I joined Surrey police cadets, and there used to be fruit picking down at ICI. I think they were mostly sort of housewives if you like who used to do the fruit picking down there. Anyhow I went down there and sort of got involved and I think I was a bit on my own - there weren’t many youngsters down there. It was thoroughly enjoyable. I used to.. you know, strawberries and blackcurrants and I think down in the dip as you went to Surney there was raspberries and at Surney itself there was all the fruit trees. And at the back of Surney I can remember there used to be Victoria plums which I think we used to eat more than we actually picked, or I used to. You know, that was a period, during that particular summer that I spent quite a few months down at ICI sort of fruit picking. I think obviously the housewives they had to earn a lot of money and they used to be extremely quick but …I  was down there to earn a bit of money but I wasn’t too worried how much.

Was it piece work?

Oh yes. You got paid by the pound. Blackcurrants I think were the worst because they’re messy aren’t they? Strawberries were backaching.

Were there greenhouses at that stage?

Yes, there were greenhouses there, yes.

Was tomato…?

There might well have been but we certainly weren’t involved in picking tomatoes or anything like that. It was all out in the fields. As you went down through Hurstfold on the right was all strawberries and blackcurrants and there were a few vegetables I think, but it was mostly fruit.

Soft fruit?

Yes mostly soft fruit.

Except for the apples.

Yes. That’s right. There was a good crop of raspberries. As I say the raspberries were down in the dip as you go down to Surney, a load of raspberries through there.

 

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Arthur Waitt

And when you came to Fernhurst this was Plant Protection or ICI?

No, it was Plant Protection at the time. It became ICI not long afterwards…ICI Plant Protection, and then it became a division in its own right.

Can you remember any of the people who were there when you first came?

Yes, quite a number of them – Jim Cronce, Howard Kneller...

George Lockie?

George was in fact on the estate side at the time. Roy Woodward wasn’t there then, but the people who, funnily enough, I had contact with didn’t live locally. They lived perhaps in Liphook or Haslemere or Midhurst side….

And your job then, was it still to do with root crops?

Oh no. They recruited me for a development team to develop their new crop protection chemicals overseas and I was given the task of opening up a development team in West Germany, initially for three years. Then I worked in Hungary, Yugoslavia, Czechoslavakia and, to a certain extent, Italy. And that went on for about six years, seven years, and then I was asked to take over a new department called Registration. Now this was a time in the world after “Silent Spring” and governments were starting to shake up their regulatory processes and requirements for chemicals being used in agriculture. This was a tremendous challenge, particularly in the United States, because it went hand in hand with our new development programme there. In the end we got the nucleus of a very good team and succeeded quite well. Then I moved from there to take over Product Acquisition and Licensing which was licensing our own products out but, more importantly, trying to find chemicals to fit gaps in our crop protection range. There were two main areas – Japan and the United States, and I travelled there extensively, but not only trying to fill gaps in our product range. We also had subsidiaries overseas whose requirements were quite different to what we had here, so I was trying to find chemicals to meet their needs. But that meant finding out what they needed, so I had to visit many overseas countries.

Where did you work at Verdley?

Initially there was a laboratory building which has now been demolished. It was demolished I think in the ‘80s.  Before in fact we bought Highfield, you know the old camp. We moved to the camp and then of course into the new building which is there now, and the fate of which we’re not sure about.

 

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Lillian White

We used to work on the land there - grow all the crops – they grew everything down there.

So you were in at the very beginning then of Plant Protection?

Well I suppose so yes.  I know for a fact that the toilets had not been laid on for us I remember that as plain as anything. 

Outside privies?

We had to carry a bucket down to Bridgelands ponds – take it in turns – they had a rota.  When you were out on the farms you didn’t have toilets.  If you were on the threshing machines you had to go in the hedge.  I don’t know which year they had the toilets built and the packing sheds.  We all worked on market garden – they grew everything down there.  Up at Surney packing all the apples – I worked up there a lot with Joan Glue.  All the produce was sent up to London in the lorries to Covent Garden to the markets there.  Lorry loads of beautiful flowers they used to grow.  Wonderful flowers – very high standard.  I rather liked packing the lettuces in the packing shed.  Up at Surney the apples were all graded and wrapped in paper and you had to get it just right with the apple and make sure the PP showed in the box – very fussy up there. 

That was in George Lockie’s days?

That’s right yes George was there.  I remember it and then Mr Swabey came – he was in charge and then our foreman was a Jack Bacon who used to live round the lane…  Mr Whitcher he was there at that time and quite a lot of people and working on the Dutch lights. They grew the most wonderful gladioli and things.

What are the Dutch lights?

Well they called them the Dutch Lights – it was a special part where you had to plant little seedlings – mind you it was a cramped job – you were between aisles where you had to plant all these little plants in sections covered over with a glass – you had to carry all those frames and put them on so they could grow until they could be replanted. 

That was very advanced in those days.

They had big cucumber houses attached to that.  The chrysanthemums – we had to disbud them to make those lovely blooms – the glass houses full of tomatoes.  We used to put on wonderful concerts.

 

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Roy Woodward

In 1963 I had the opportunity to transfer to Plant Protection Ltd a subsidiary of ICI situated in Fernhurst.  The post was to manage the Personnel and Work Studies Department of the Estate.  My Manager at that time was George Lockie and it was a requirement to live in a company house in Homelands Copse on the Estate. I transferred to Fernhurst in 1963. At that time the Estate was covered in two feet of snow and had been for three months. This was quite unusual and quite a welcome to Fernhurst.  I lodged in the village with Mrs Mollie Newman for about three months.  She introduced me to village life and homemade wine.  In July Elsie and the family moved down – we all travelled in our old Vauxhall car with the three children a cat and a bird.  We made an overnight stop in Reading.  At that time the Estate had six main sections – a large ten-acre area of glass houses managed by Cyril Smith.  His wife, May, was the Housekeeper in Verdley House looking after twenty resident students, ten Latvian refugees and the site personnel.  Fred Harris managed the Dutch Light area, John Miller the Market Garden, John Brent the Orchard, Brian Sewell the farm and in addition Alan Newman ran the ornamental gardens and general site maintenance.  Most of these people lived in Homelands Copse. I spent seven happy years on the Estate being involved in major developments in horticulture.  Tomato yields were increasing from 60 tons an acre to 160 tons an acre.  The growing of protected fruit crops under plastic was being developed as was the bed system of vegetable growing.  The first pick your own of soft fruit was held at Fernhurst at which on one Friday evening over a thousand cars from the local area descended on Fernhurst.  My work study skills in horticulture were developed. I lectured in England, Germany and Holland. 

During this period in 1967 my youngest daughter Sally was born.  In 1970 Plant Protection became a full ICI Division in its own right and Fernhurst became a divisional headquarters.  I transferred to the new divisional Personnel Department under Ken Hughes and for two years we arranged the transfer to Fernhurst of staff from all over the UK as departments were relocated to Fernhurst.  The company had bought the army camp adjacent to the Estate known as Highfield.  The NAAFI accommodation, Officer Mess, Soldiers blocks were converted into offices and when completed, as well as Estate Staff, we had 500 technical staff and office staff on the site.  In 1973 I transferred to the Secretary’s Department under David Bateman – the Division Secretary to become site Administration Manager being responsible for all services on the site and eventually on the retirement of George Lockie the Estate Department was also included in my remit – I had come a full circle.

It was a fantastic time to be involved with Plant Protection in Fernhurst.  The business was expanding rapidly.  We won a number of Queen’s Awards for Achievement.  The site was recognised world-wide and visitors from all over the world came to see our developments in chemicals, growing techniques and new crops.  We had three major open days for the general public to come and see what was going on organised by both farmers and local organisations and up to 4,000 people visited the site on each occasion.

 

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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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