Aldbourne Heritage Centre

I. How long have you lived in the village?
BH: I was born in the village. I’ve lived here all my life, so far.
I. What is the first thing you can remember?
When I was about 3, my great grandfather lived next door. He was 93, and he was a very keen gardener. One day he asked me what I was doing, so I said, “I’m helping you, Bamps.” I called him ‘Bamps’. I’d pulled all the heads off the pansies. He chased me and beat me, he had a great cane and he hit me round the backside with it. I went in crying and Mum came out to see what I’d done and gave me another clout!
Q: Tell me about farming practices as far back as you can remember.
BH: It was very hard work. When I was still at school I helped a bit. It’s far different to today with hand milking, and the dung being cleaned out by hand. It wasn’t the ‘good old days’, it was the ‘hard old days’. We got by.
I. How big was the farm?
C. We only started as smallholders. I think when I left school Dad rented about 30 acres and 6 cows. Then we’ve built up since. I think altogether Michael farms, even after he sold some, over 200 acres. He goes to work and grumbles, like I always did!
Q: How many people did you employ?
BH: One. First Mr Harry Wootton, then Raymond. Raymond Edwards was here 50 years, and then died. He was a good lad. He came from school when he was 15, retired when he was 65 and died before he was 66. Tragic.
Q: Did you ever have any arable?
BH: Yes, we’ve always grown a little bit of corn, but mostly dairying. Now the cows have gone, it will be like it all over England. Michael’s got a few beef cattle that will soon be going, and then he grows corn, and there’s not much money in that these days.
Q: Were you just a dairy farm during the war or did you have to produce other things as well?
BH: We always grew some corn, quite a bit of dredge corn to feed the animals, and for the war we always had to grow 2 acres of potatoes, I don’t know why, but they didn’t do well, not on this chalky ground. They were hand picked after we had ploughed them.
Q: After milking the cows, did you have coolers?
BH: Yes, we cooled it and then retailed it around the village. We gave that up in 1963. After that terrible winter of 1962/63 my father retired, and I carried on until Michael left school, and Raymond was here then.
Q: What was the maximum number of cows you had?
BH: We did actually get up to 100 a few years ago. Milking was alright while it paid but it’s no good now. I read the other day that 2 dairy farmers a week are packing in, so in a few years there won’t be any. They get this old rubbish from France and Poland.
Q: What was the best time for a dairy farmer? How much would a cow give?
BH: They would give up to 5 gallons a day, some more than that, they averaged nearly a 1000 gallons a year. We calved most of them in the Autumn. First of all we started with Guernseys and then gradually changed to Friesians but they didn’t want the rich milk, although they (the Guernseys) gave more. When the quotas came in we were based on butter fat, at the time we had Guernseys, so although we did not have such a big quota, we had high butter fat, which was valuable. As the herd grew we bought quotas in, and eventually sold it all.
Q: As a boy did you farm with horses?
BH: Oh yes, only horses. Our first tractor was in about 1940, just as the war started, it was an old Ford Standard, did that want some starting! It was murder! I was trying to start it one day, swinging and swinging my guts out, and Father came round and said, “I’d have thought you’d have done an acre of work by now …” I could have thrown the tractor at him!
Q: And they had those old spring seats?
BH: Yes, if you had one of those you could sell it well now. I know mine broke one day and I went down with a bump, had to have another put on then. We had that old tractor for years. I think Michael’s got 3 now.
Q: Previous to that you were ploughing with horses; how many horses did you have?
BH: Three, or maybe two, I didn’t do much horse ploughing just a little bit before we had the tractor. I hated it, I don’t like horses, they always trod on your running toe!
Q: Did you thresh your own corn?
BH: No, the thrasher came round from Whatleys in Burderop. They used to go all the way round in the Autumn. We had a binder and we stooked it all up, which was alright as long as there wasn’t too many thistles in it, or barley. We had our first combine in about 1948. That picture up there of an old bagger. It’s a painting actually. That wasn’t nice. Michael’s got a little drier as well. It’s vastly different to what it was.
Q: Did you get any holidays in those days?
BH: No, we had to work all weekend and Bank Holidays as well. If you didn’t, nobody did it. You had to do it 7 days a week. When we were in the Home Guard you still had to do your work 7 days a week, no holidays, no leave, no nothing! Still, we got through.
Q: You mention the Home Guard. Tell me a bit about your time in the Home Guard.
BH: I was 17 when I went in, I think I was the youngest for a little while, then we were disbanded about 1944, I think, in the church in Marlborough which is now redundant. I think it was the Bishop of Salisbury. By the time we come to the end we were fairly efficient, a bit above Dad’s Army, not much but a bit!
Q: So what did you have to do?
BH: Oh, just drills and rifling , a bit of signaling. Then we had to learn Mills Bombs, sten guns and rifle; fieldcraft, map reading. About once a fortnight we were on duty all night, waiting for the parachutes to come, they never came when we were there. We would parade every Sunday from about 9 till 1, and I think Wednesday nights as well. There were 8 of us, 2 on, 2 off for 2 hours, sometimes you went 4 hours on, 4 hours off.
Q: Where did you go for these duties?
BH: Some little huts up Castle Street, above the seat, or back of the Rectory, there’s houses there now, and once or twice we had to help Baydon out up over Peaks. We had to stop there all night
Q: Did you have to stop traffic?
BH: Yes, one night one come up there with his lights on, so we stopped him. He reckoned he was an officer, he had all his red tabs up here, he was going to Tidworth to inspect some troops before they went abroad. He wasn’t very happy, he said he was glad he wasn’t a German, but we were only doing our duty.
Q: Let’s go back to your childhood. You went to the village school?
BH: Yes. We had a good head teacher, Mr Jackson, nicknamed ‘Puffer’ because he was always smoking! He used to walk round the class with a cane in his hand. He was a wonderful, good teacher. He taught us right and wrong, and discipline, which they don’t get today. It wants a few more like him today walking around with a cane in their hand! That’d learn them! I quite enjoyed school, I started at 5 and left at 14.
Q: How many classes were there at that time?
BH: There were 2 in the little school, and in the big school 3 and 4 that side of the curtain, and Jackson had 5, 6 and 7; by the time you got to 7 there weren’t many left, because if they were getting a job at 13 they left. I didn’t want to leave until I was 14 because I knew I had a job.
Q: What other things did you get up to with your friends?
BH: We used to play football, and cricket. Most of the pitches we played on are now housing estates, so there isn’t many places for the children to play these days. The village had a football team, they were quite good, played in the Swindon League and the speciality was the Greystone Cup at Newbury. Aldbourne used to win that every 3 or 4 years. I know we went once, it was on the Boat Race day, and Aldbourne played in light blue and dark blue quarters. After the match, there was quite a gang of us, we went up to the Market in the middle of Newbury and the old market boys asked us if we’d been to the Boat Race, and did we back the winner! That would have been in the 30s, I suppose, before the war. Each street more or less had a football team, there were quite a lot of children about in them days.
Q: How many of those children are still about?
BH: Not a lot, ‘cos I’m over 80. I’ve lost a lot of friends in the last few years.
Q: What else did you do as a boy?
BH: The usual boys tricks, I suppose. We used to go for rides on our bikes, mostly Sunday nights. Through the war a lot of my friends were in the armed forces, so there weren’t a great lot of us about. You had to make your own entertainment, there was no wireless, television, I think electric came to Aldbourne in the 30s, and the water right at the beginning of the war; with the sewerage in the 50s. A lot of people were against it because it went on the rates.
Q: What did you use before electricity?
BH: Oil lamps and candles. The lamp would be worth a bit now. We had a lantern which you carried wherever you went in the dark. You took a candle outside to the toilet which blew out before you got there! My wife won’t have a candle indoors now because it reminds her of the old days.
Q: Do you remember any buildings that have disappeared?
BH: Yes, the old school where I went to school, that was a lovely old Victorian school, it should never have been pulled down, it’s only a car park now anyway. Also there was a long thatched barn on West Street where there’s a housing estate now, it was originally Liddiards barn. It was a long old Tythe barn; a very long thatched barn. It should never have been pulled down. That came down in the 60s. That was a decade when they just destroyed everything, including half of Swindon. Of course the school was pulled down when the other was built. There’s a picture of it up there. They gave that to my father when he retired as Governor.
Q: And then the Methodist Chapel?
BH: Yes, there were 2 of them, one at the bottom of the hill, and one round West Street, a new one was built at the bottom of the hill and there are houses on the site round West Street. It was Wesleyan Methodist at the bottom of the hill, and Primitive Methodist round West Street. Then they amalgamated, but they’re still at loggerheads! Then there was the Sunday School Anniversary. The Prims was always on Whit Sunday, and Lottage the week before that. I had to say a recitation, one in the afternoon and one at night, I didn’t like doing it, I was too shy; I still am. It used to be absolutely packed out, and I’ve seen people sat on the bank outside. It used to go on and on. We had to learn special songs and hymns. It was a real old palaver. Then there was the Sunday School outing. Generally to the seaside, Bournemouth or Weymouth mostly. We went by charabanc, old ones, not like Barnes’ have got today. I know once we started at 6 in the morning, and didn’t get to the seaside until 12, then left again at 6 pm, home about 11 pm. We’d take our own sarnies with us, you couldn’t afford to buy nothing. Aldbourne Feast, Sunday School outing and Christmas. That was it.
Q: When was the Feast?
BH: Same as it is now, end of July. That was it; that was the three things we looked forward to. We had the roundabouts, before the days of dodgems, tuppence a go, I know because I got on once for a penny, and got kicked off. The place would be packed out for the Feast until the end of the 50s, especially just after the war, because anybody anywhere in England who had anything to do with Aldbourne would come to Aldbourne Feast. Then there was the Carnival, at the same time as it is now. Sometimes we would go in on a cart with a horse, never walked round. I went in several times. I can’t remember ever winning anything.
Q: Going back to the coaches which took you to Bournemouth.
BH: They were the old fashioned ones in the 30s before the war. I think they came from a firm at Newbury, that was before Barnes had started. All Mr Barnes had then was just his little old carrier van. He would bring things from Hungerford, in fact he was very busy. Then they also had the coal business, then they turned to buses, much cleaner than coal.
Q: Which way did you go to Bournemouth?
BH: We went through Salisbury. At night we used to stop in Salisbury for half an hour or an hour and get fish and chips.
Q: Can you tell me about the road coming up the hill here?
BH: Yes, there was no tarmac beyond where Ronnie Wilkins lived, just on that bit of flat; it was just chalk. I know one very hard winter, mostly horse and carts went up there then, the frost made ruts a foot wide and a foot deep for the horses to cope with. It was just solid chalk which is why White Pond is called White Pond. After a good thunderstorm there was a pond, not a dew pond, where the flag is now, just inside the garden, the thunderstorm would wash the chalk off and go into the pond. I have seen it full several times; it would look like a big saucer of milk.
Q: So this was just a track up to Baydon?
BH: Yes, from half way up it was just a track right into Baydon. They used to chuck a bit of gravel on it. It was tarmaced in the late 30s. It was not a good road for the carts going down with weight on the back with the skid down; that would hold it back. Then coming back up with a load wasn’t so good, the horses would slip and skid about. They would give them longer nails, frost nails, to grip better.
Q: Do you remember any bad winters?
BH: Yes, 47 and about 34 and 63.
Q: Going back to the 30s, how did you feed the cattle during that bad winter?
BH: You would take the food out with the horse and cart and feed them by hand. The food came from the hayricks. You would put turnip tops or mangels into a rick and then cut it out in the winter, very labour intensive. We grew mangels, that meant a lot of hoeing, then gather and put them in a big heap, then all through the winter you would have to grind them up, about 6 bushels a day, for 12 Saturdays, into a big heap. We wasn’t allowed to do it Sundays, we had to go to Chapel all the time. Then in the late 30s we got a little petrol engine, a Lister, fixed that up, and ground the mangels up with that, then I could do 100 bushel a day, my first taste of machinery, wonderful, saved all the hand turning. After the mangels we mixed it in with chaff, which we’d saved from threshing, put a bit of mineral with it, and give the cattle half a bushel a day in their mangers along with a bit of cake and a bit of bran. But it was hard; we don’t grow mangels now as we can strip graze. That was hard drag, hoeing; saved a lot of work. No sprays around them days.
Q: If the cows got ill, did the vet come, and where from?
BH: Our vet came from Lambourn. Mr Fraser lived in the village, same as Mr McPhedran does now; they more or less does horses now; and there were some in Swindon. The doctor also came from Lambourn, although our surgery was at Neals in South Street. Dr Bell came from Lambourn, and his favourite expression was “Keep off the frying pan!” In them days.
Q: What about your family?
BH: I was an only child. My father had 2 brothers, and 2 sisters. One sister died when I was a baby. My mother had 2 brothers and a sister, they’re all dead now. My father’s father and I think, his parents, were all Dabchicks, and my mother’s parents were both Dabchicks, but Gran Hale, that was Dad’s mother, my grandmother, she came from Southrop in Gloucestershire. All the rest were Dabchicks. That makes me 100 per cent full blooded Dabchick, and proud of it, but there aren’t many of us left! All three of my boys were born in this house so they’re Dabchicks. There’s not many of them. Dr Osbourne would come from Lambourn and he believed in children being born at home. Lambourn and Ramsbury surgery were amalgamated with Ramsbury doing more general practice and Lambourn seeing to the worse cases. Dr. Osbourne was the gynecologist, looked after the births. Dr Mills was at Ramsbury when Dr Morrison was in Lambourn, and Mrs Morrison, they were both doctors. Dr Mills and my father were in the ARP.