Aldbourne Heritage Centre

Q: I thought it would be useful to start by asking you why you decided to become a vet in the first place and how you came to settle in Aldbourne.
DM: Well, I came to settle in Aldbourne because, when I qualified, they were desperately short of veterinary surgeons and they were very keen to clean up the herds of tuberculosis; and they said that if I went into an agricultural practice, they would count that as my National Service – eighteen months of that would count as National Service. So I wrote away, from the periodical called the Veterinary Record, to box numbers for jobs. And I picked out six that looked promising and three of them offered interviews with all expenses paid, so I thought I would see a bit of England travelling around. I landed in Shropshire and the boss there knew about the old vet at the practice in Scotland, so I took the job there. I didn’t really like it, but I learnt my trade there. They had more dairy cows there than in any other part of the world; the Cheshire plain, it was North Shropshire, a village called Hodnet. Then after eighteen months were up – I stuck it out to get out of the “calling up” business – I stuck it out for eighteen months and then I looked for another job. Then I did the same thing again. There was a veterinary surgeon here called Alistair Fraser and I was taken with him, thought he was a good man to work for, so I came to Aldbourne. The reason why I became a vet was because the first thing I ever fell in love with was a cow, a black and white Ayrshire cow called Lang, who belonged to my uncle and I adored that cow; I don’t know whether she reciprocated or not. But that was the deep psychological reason. But when I had to make up my mind, at the end of my schooldays, what I was going to be, I asked my Aunty Betty who had run away from home during the First World War, because her mother wouldn’t put up the money for medical training. So she ran away and joined one of the nursing organisations and she had a very exciting life out in Russia at the time of their Revolution and in Egypt and Persia- so I asked her what she thought I ought to be. So she said “Oh, go in for medicine, it’s the only thing worth going in for”. And I thought, well, I don’t really much like sick people; but my mother said “Why were you talking to Aunty Betty so earnestly?” I said “She suggested I go in for medicine but I don’t like sick people very much”. She said “Well, you don’t mind sick animals, why don’t you try being a vet? You’re young enough that you can change your mind if you don’t like it”.
So I went to veterinary college and just dropped into my slot; and never regretted it. In those days there weren’t the chemical zonkers which we have nowadays. The fact that I was a tall. heavy, rugby player helped a lot. I think the farmers were always impressed if a cow knocked you down, you could always bounce back up and carry on the battle. That doesn’t apply nowadays when little slim girls with chemical drugs at their fingertips.
Q: But being able to wrangle a cow was a definite advantage.
DM: Yes, I must have been fit in those days because, during the very bad winter of ’62, ’63, it was terrible really, went out stratagem driving and digging myself out of snow drifts, and getting to farms, coming back and eating something – dropping into bed exhausted. And this went on from Boxing Day to the middle of March. It would have killed me if I had been any older, I think. But I didn’t particularly like Aldbourne when I first came here; I thought the Downs were rather bleak – I came here in the winter time and thought the Downs were very bleak. I thought the farms were the muckiest farms I had ever seen in my life. Something which was like clay and chalk, especially mucky with tractors. But I settled in and it grew on me. And after about eighteen months they said “Would you like to become a partner?” I suspected there was more money involved so I was trapped by my own greed. I became a partner and worked until ’92.
Q: And how did you find the people?
DM: Found the people a little bit difficult to understand. There was the Wiltshire people and the Berkshire people who still spoke their best English to me, I suppose, but it was still dialect influenced. I can remember going to Charlie Hale’s farm and he was looking in the pen at a sick pig while his man was going to catch it and he pointed with his big stick and said “That b’she, you”. This must be the old Wessex dialect. I found that in Shropshire I hadn’t any trouble understanding people but I found it very difficult to understand educated Southern English because there were no vowels. They were all flattened out. So I used to take down some terrible telephone messages – nonsensical telephone messages. I survived !
Q: Did you ever suffer the other way? Did they have difficulty with your instructions?
DM: Well, they used to fall about laughing when I asked for a pail of water because you don’t get pails, you get buckets of water and I used to say “What did Jack and Jill go up the hill to fetch?” A pail of water – pails and pails – the only thing to which pail applies is a milking pail which have gone now, it’s all milking units.
Q: And there must be many differences veterinarying between then and now.
DM: The biggest difference now, we had no antibiotics, we had no sulphonamides; we had drugs about the strength of aspirin and something like that. It did allow you to watch the uninterrupted progress of various diseases; tuberculosis was still in the herds. We had the power to seize any animal we suspected of being with tuberculosis and have them destroyed.
Q: Did that mean that farmers would be reticent to call you in?
DM: No, not at all. No, we had to inspect the dairy cows – we had to inspect their udders every quarter. And if there was anything suspicious, we took samples and, if TB came up there, they got compensation but the cow was worth nothing to be full of TB. But tuberculosis, we managed to clear up the herds very quickly. And that stayed clear until the badgers started spreading and multiplying. And, of course, they carry animal tuberculosis, the same as cattle.
Q: Were there any other real killers then that are more easily treated nowadays?
DM: Well, one of the other diseases we stamped out – I think it’s pretty well stamped out now was brucellosis which produced a sort of undulant fever which caused the cows to abort and it affected children particularly. All my generation of vets became infected with brucellosis and for quite a few years afterwards, I used to get a recurring fever which was rather like malaria. It felt like ‘flu, but you could eat, unlike ‘flu – people with ‘flu go off their food rather quickly. The temperature would go up at night and come down in the morning. One would feel better and feel cured, but during the day the temperature would slowly rise and have night sweats and so on.
Q: How did you recover from that; did it just work through the system over the years?
DM: Well, I don’t think – I still have a very high blood titre; so it must be in the system somewhere. There was no medical treatment for it. We heard on the grape vine that there was a sulphonamide drug that was very good for it. We used that so vets who felt a bout of brucellosis coming, dosed themselves up with this socatyl, it was called – it had a different medical name. That usually aborted the attack. But if you go and ask the medical profession about brucellosis, they are not taught about it now, it’s one of those vague tropical diseases. It was also called Malta fever because it’s closely allied to a fever of goats; all the milk in Malta at one time that the Army had was infected with goat brucellosis. That used to be Malta fever.
Q: But you, as vets at the time, just accepted that this was a part of the job?
DM: Yes, that’s right. I’d a student who came out and when I was removing the after-birth from a cow that had aborted, and all he did was hold the cow’s tail and I heard that, when he went back to college, he went down with brucellosis.
Q: He got more than he bargained for in his work experience.
DM: Yes; but then we all had it – most of us survived.
Q: So what would you say was the biggest step forward then?
DM: The biggest step forward – well farming has changed so much – there are very few dairy cows around here – there were a lot of dairy cows around here when I first came here. I came here at the height of farming in this area; before the war most of the land was rather poor and it was Down-land – sheep land. During the war, they were desperate for grain, barley and oats – barley and wheat, and they found that, if they ploughed up the Downs and used fertiliser it was rather like these hydroponics. The fertiliser fed the corn and the sun and the rain made it grow and the ground just held it there. So people with 1,000 acres of Down-land suddenly found themselves quite wealthy farmers instead of being small-holder farmers before that.
Q: So I guess that would change how the land was used.
DM: Yes, there was a farmer from Collingbourne Ducis called Hosier who invented milking bales – a corrugated iron hut where you milked the cows out on the Downs. There was no buildings, the cows just ate their food and came in and were milked. So quite a lot of milk came – and the cows became better milkers and better milkers and better milkers. So they needed fewer and fewer cows and the price dropped down. The amount of work which went into producing a pint of milk, compared to say a pint of beer, is tremendous. And you get next to nothing from a pint of milk and they charge – I don’t know what the cost of beer is now.
Q: About £2
DM: £2 ! I say, I can remember when it went up to nearly a pound and people thought this was terrible. And it’s only water and chemicals stirred up. And the poor farmer’s got to look after cows and invest money in cows, milking apparatus and things like that.
Q: So I guess once it had been demonstrated that it was possible to grow arable crops on this land, then that made an easier life for the farmers.
DM: It made them big farmers and big farms and combines. The first combines were very dusty machines. The corn gave off so much dust that the farmer had problems. Now modern combines are very different, they are air conditioned.
Q: Radio contact?
DM: Yes, that’s right. One thing in Aldbourne has changed; when I came there was a Pig Society. During the war if you kept two pigs, they would supply you with cheap meal. You boiled up the swill, the household waste, added some meal to it and fed your pigs. If you had two pigs, you had to give one to the Government but were allowed to keep one for yourself and your friend. Half a pig. So at the back of many premises they had three of four pigs in Aldbourne. And they had an insurance policy, free veterinary treatment, if you put in half a crown a year, which was ridiculous. Whilst I was here they had a disease called erysipelas went right through the pig flocks and penicillin got them right very quickly. But I bankrupted the Pig Club with my charges.
Q: I’ve heard somebody else speak about the Pig Society but I can’t remember who it was now. I believe they were quite commonplace.
DM: Oh yes. There were lots of them round about and there was one – there was an old Thatcher, – Wilkins, Thatcher Wilkins, he lived down Lottage Road, and he had a great big sow and she used to produce twenty four piglets at a farrowing. And she only looked after 12, so 12 died and she brought up 12. She was a colossal great big Wessex sow. They brought out a milk substitute for pigs and I managed to persuade him to buy a packet to save the 12 piglets. But his heart wasn’t in it, it was too much like hard work compared to thatching. So that wasn’t a great success. There were quite a few smallholdings, two or three smallholdings, for the service men coming back. There were three Hale farmers. After the War, the First World War, you know LLoyd George and ‘The Land Fit for Heroes’ and all that; and all the parishes provided, I think it was about 10 acres and a cow or something, they were supposed to have to give them a start. And I think Charlie Hale was probably one; he was out in Gallipoli during the First World War. And his brother Bert, who lived in Kandahar, which was a smallholding down where the houses are now, Kandahar, I suppose somebody came back from India, I believe it’s Afghanistan now, isn’t it? He came back from there and called the holding Kandahar. That was Bert; and Bert’s son, Gordon, he married a Stacey – and he more of less inherited his mother’s brother’s smallholding which was where the Glebe Cottages are now. And there was Jack Hale who had a smallholding where that mast is on the way to Axford.
Q: Just beyond Crowcastle as was. Gosh, that would be quite difficult land because it’s a big slope isn’t it?
DM: Yes, yes. It wasn’t the best of land – they just bought what land was available. They did the same thing over at Lambourn; that’s another story. They got the worst land; most of them went into chicken farming. The land didn’t matter so much there. And up there – they went bankrupt in the Great Depression.
Q: So they fared better in Aldbourne.
DM: Yes – the one down West Street, called Glebe Farm. There was another Glebe Farm which was where the houses beside the Rectory are now.
Q: Turnpike?
DM: No, not Turnpike; before – straight across from the Pond.
Q: Glebe Close.
DM: Yes, Glebe Close. That was another – I suppose that was the Glebe to the Rectory.
Q: I would think so.
DM: You know the one that’s called the Old Manor now – it was the Rectory in those days. Another boy called Liddiard – Old Man Liddiard, I can’t remember what his first name was – his grandson used to come and give him a hand. His grandson had a smallholding on the way out to the Shepherds Rest. On the left hand side on the way.
Q: Beyond the motorway?
DM: No, just outside Aldbourne – about half a mile outside Aldbourne. He had a smallholding there, but he used to come back and help his grandfather. And one time I was standing there watching the school kids going to the school and waiting for the grandson to arrive and Old Man Liddiard said to me “Half of these children belong to foreigners – they don’t come from Aldbourne, half of these children”- he looked at me and suddenly realised he was talking to a foreigner. It struck me as strange about the Aldbourne children. A lot of them were very fair haired and yet they darkened as they got older and there were very few fair haired adults. The Celtic blood came through and swamped the English.
Q: I wonder if anybody else has noticed that – there is a study to be made in that.
DM: There’s another study too – most of the Aldbourne women were short and plump, most of the Aldbourne men were tall and thin. Sexual dimorphism I think it’s called.
Q: And that continues on through the generations.
DM: Well, I suppose – I go down and read at the school because they wanted a man to go down and read; because of lot of the kids come from single parent families – they didn’t want them, boys in particular, thinking that reading is a sissy thing – a thing that women and girls did, so they wanted a male role-model and they got me. Don’t laugh!
Q: My mother is a volunteer reader in the village I come from, so I understand the importance of it.
DM: I am reading with the great great grandchildren of the people I knew when I first came to Aldbourne.
Q: That’s the joy of living in the village, the carrying through – and do you see the same characteristics?
DM: No, I think people change when – I mean your grandchildren, some of them probably do look like their grandparents but a lot of them don’t. There’s sort of other blood coming in and when you get down to the great greats, there’s not a great deal of similarity.
Q: So, give me a run through of, if there is such a thing, a typical 1950’s working day.
DM: Well I started when the farmers got up – 5 o’clock – they, the dairy farmers, mostly started early in the morning – they went out and found a cow ill overnight and phone up and you got – particularly the milk fever cases, when cows calve, they take so much calcium out of their blood to produce milk for the calf, they get hypocalcaemia which produces a coma……
Q: And they just fall down?
DM: Yes, that’s right and in those days they used to call out the vet to inject them but today farmers are cleverer nowadays and they can inject them themselves. In those days we had to go out and perform the magic and bring the dead cow back to life. It’s curious that on frosty – or freezing – mornings, you’d walk out to the field where the cow was and you would find where she was lying was the warmest part of the field. It would be several degrees warmer than the surrounding places. That’s where they lay down.
Q: And you think that’s the good sense of the cow?
DM: Oh yes, of course, if you are walking around in your bare skin, one or two degrees must make an immense difference – even although you’ve got a leather skin. So every morning there were milk fever cases. I quite enjoyed getting up – you felt so virtuous getting up early. Everyone also was still sleeping and there were you, working away.
Q: You feel you are getting more out of the day.
DM: And when we had very big herds I liked to start early and you finished before afternoon milking. That suited the farmers very well. We could go and start doing the young stock and then when the cows were being milked they could come through the crusher and test them. There was no typical day – you were dependant on people telephoning you, whatever. Because Lambourn was a horse practice, a racehorse practice, really, I probably did twice as much horse work as the average country vet. Because we’d all the equipment – the X-rays and things like that. And my racehorse partner rather scorned looking at ponies and donkeys and things like that. So I tended to get rather more than my fair share of them to look at. And, of course, the cat and dog work we did; the great thing about the cat and dog work is they mostly brought their animals to you so you didn’t have to spend hours going round the countryside.
Q: And you were comparatively warm in the surgery.
DM: And you were involved in interesting operations and if you told a farmer that the operation would cost £50, he said to send it to the butchers. But, with cats and dogs, it was save it at all costs. Yes, its strange – the odd snake or two – Yes, there was a circus collapsed during the War – it just broke up. There was one black man called Darkie Barrett, who lived up at Lambourn Woodlands. He’d been a fire-walker, he used to walk on what were red hot coals and also walk up swords – a ladder of swords. And his daughter was a snake charmer. There was another snake charmer who lived, ended up in a caravan, at Baydon and she was dying of tuberculosis. When she did die, they just put a match to her caravan and had me come up to put down her old decrepit dogs and a great big boa-constrictor – it was about as thick as my thigh. That was the first snake I actually touched and I was quite surprised to find it was quite warm. I expected it to be rather cold and slippery and it was quite warm and nice to touch.
Q: And what happened to him?
DM: I don’t know – perhaps he died too.
Q: So you would get the occasional interesting animal then
DM: Yes, everything was interesting because no two cases are exactly the same – the populace think that all cases as such are all the same and all look alike. But they are not, there are grey areas which shade into other conditions, and so on. You suddenly find that you have cleared up one condition and you have still got a sick animal because you have got this other something else.
Q: A bit like humans really
DM: Yes, very much so.
Q: So what time would you finish at night? Would you be working in the evening as well?
DM: Yes; surgery was at six o’clock with a tea break at four or five, whenever. And I did what paper work I had to do and then the cat and dog surgery began at six o’clock and went on to seven or one might finish at half past six depending on……….
Q: So a good twelve hour day then.
DM: Yes, could be. Occasionally I worked all through the night and the following day, just carried on; which I didn’t feel too bad about. It’s surprising how your body can adjust to lack of sleep. I found, particularly, – I didn’t go to bed before midnight because I found the cat and dog people would phone you up to midnight and if I could get three or four hours after midnight – real sound deep sleep – I could go on for long enough. If I was called out a couple of nights running at one o’clock in the morning or two o’clock in the morning, within a couple of days, I wouldn’t know whether it was Monday or Friday. But as long as I got these three or four hours deep sleep; I still do it, my brain’s been trained for it.
Q: And did you have any favourites?
DM: Cattle were always my favourite. Yes. I liked farmers, yes; I’m of farming stock, as you might say. The farmers are there, small farmers in particular; they are there, helping you. And they know when you have done a good job. They know when you haven’t too, but they know when you’ve done a good job because they’ve been there. The average big farmer doesn’t even know you’ve been on the farm until he gets your bill, usually. The farm manager – and farms did get bigger and bigger as the years progressed. When I first came to Aldbourne, I worked for Captain Brown who was William’s grandfather, you know William Brown at the Manor, he was his grandfather. His foreman was Charlie Price who used to wear a long black – a long karki dust cost rather like an Arkwright, All Hours, and his son was Bill Price who was the shepherd. His son was Bernard Price and his daughter has a boy called Josh. So that’s five generations at the School.
Q: And all connected with Brown’s farm?
DM: Yes.
Q: And how did you get about? Were you driving, walking..?
DM: Just after the war it was difficult to get cars and they gave me a little banger – it was a Ford Ten, I think, or an Eight. It was difficult to start. I found a garage to park it in, in the village and on frosty mornings it was quite difficult – if somebody would give me a push, it would start without any trouble. People started avoiding me early in the mornings because they didn’t want to push this car. I think it was quite a few years before the supplies of cars – you know people drove old cars, old wrecks. Certainly I did; as the lowest man on the totem pole. Then, when I became a partner and the supply of cars became easier, I bought myself a TR3; that did wonders for my image. I found it much easier to get hold of girl friends having a smart sports car.
Q: Funny how sports cars do that. It doesn’t reflect well on us.
DM: Well it does; it’s rather like the Middle Ages – if you could afford a horse, you became a knight.
Q: And were you ever subject to the petrol rationing?
DM: Yes; when I came petrol was rationed and during the Suez debacle, they issued coupons. But I don’t think they ever actually got round to rationing. Certainly when I first came to Lambourn, you had to produce coupons when you bought petrol.
Q: Were the farmers likewise affected?
DM: The farmers, they got a pink petrol – they put a dye stuff in the petrol so they couldn’t use it for pleasure; just for tractors and machinery.
Q: So you couldn’t get any farmer’s petrol then.
DM: No it was all rather precious – I have heard that unscrupulous farmers used to strain the petrol through a gas mask which took the dye out – the charcoal in the gas mask. I don’t know how true that is. Oh we didn’t have any problem, they had to keep the vets mobile for the sake of the animals.
Q: Well agriculture was still a very important part of the economy and valued at that time.
DM: Yes, well considering we nearly starved in the war when the U-boats sank the wheat ships.
Q: And are there any particular characters that you remember?
DM: Well, I remember Siddy Pizzy who was the village idiot when I came; he used to stick nails through his cheeks for pints at the pub where the Barnes Office is. It used to be a pub – it used to be The Bell. He was the last of the Pizzys. I saw a map of the village at the time of the enclosures. And all the fields – there were a lot of smallholdings and every field had the name of the owner and half the fields were owned by the Pizzys. There must have been a big clan of them. They were brought in, so I am told, by James the First to start the silk weaving industry. He was going to turn England into … not only to produce wool, but silk, that would have brought a lot of money in; that would have been a good idea; but they planted the wrong type of mulberries.
I. I was going to say, wasn’t he the chap who planted the wrong type of mulberries?
DM: He planted black mulberry and they needed white. So the Pizzy’s were stuck in Aldbourne with no prospects. But I noticed all the names were religious – there was an Hezekiah Pizzy, an Ezekial Pizzy, and I think that maybe – too much religion can make people die out, it seems. And poor old Siddy Pizzy was the last. He was – when he was getting quite old, he had a rupture –a lot of the Aldbourne men had ruptures, and the doctor sent him into the hospital and they kept him in for a few days and people went to visit him. And they couldn’t find him; they used to walk around the ward looking for this scruffy old character. And of course, he’d been scrubbed up and he looked like Father Christmas with snowy white hair and a big red face; and they all walked past him and nobody recognized him. And then the barber came one day and shaved him down below. And he said “what’s ye doing down there? What be you doing?” The barber said he was having to shave him as he was to have an operation tomorrow. “Operate; you’re not going to cut I.” And he demanded his clothes and discharged himself. And he died a few days later.
Q: Oh dear.
DM: “You’re not going to cut I.”
Q: How sad.
DM: Of course another old character was old Geoff Wentworth, Guy’s father. He was a great old countryman; he gave me an apple tree. When he used to prune his apple trees, he used to stick them into the ground and some of them grew. And I’ve got one growing in my yard, my orchard there. It’s called ‘The Beauty of Stoke’; it’s a good eater, it’s a good cooker and it keeps in the loft until the middle of March. Sounds like the perfect apple, I thought.
Q: And is it prolific?
DM: It hasn’t actually done terribly well – it’s a bit cramped for space – but I do get some apples off it.
Q: Because, often, when you strike them from the graft rather than from the rootstock, they don’t do terribly well because the nature of the wood is for fruit bearing but not for growing. They don’t actually thrive in the ground.
DM: Well, you get a big apple tree because most of the rootstocks are used to dwarf – they use special rootstocks to dwarf them so that you’ve got a small tree for a small garden. But I’ve got plenty of room there, so it doesn’t matter how high it grows.
Q: And when we spoke the other day you were telling me about some of the lore, the old farming lores that – like the sheep rotating and such like …
DM: Oh yes – I remember old Charlie Hale said you should never let sheep hear the Church bells in the same field twice. And years later his grandson married a girl and kept some sheep, milking sheep; they’re quite different from ordinary sheep, they’re more like thoroughbred sheep with long pointy noses and they deliver a lot of milk. She made some cheese, very successfully, until she wanted to have children herself and she got rid of the sheep then. But one year they had some lambs die from coccidiosis and the lambs were worth about £100 apiece, newly born. So this was a big loss, but fortunately it is a disease which is treatable, especially if you get it in time. I was dosing these lambs and cleaning them up. I said “you must move them onto fresh ground, away from the infected” the ewes carry the coccidia, and infects the ground. And then the lambs pick it up. So I said “your grandfather used to say “never let the sheep hear the Church bells in the same field twice.” So years go by, several years go by, and I was on the farm one day and I said “This year you seem to be free of coccidiosis. Do you take precautions?” “Oh, we’ve never had any trouble since we took your advice.” And I said “What was that?” And he said “Well, we never let the sheep hear…. we divided our big field into four and we never let the sheep hear the Church bells in the same field twice.” And these old sayings – people didn’t know why they work, but just knew they worked. Another disease to which this also applied was a cattle disease called Husk. It’s caused by tiny little worms – well, not tiny, the length of a bit of cotton thread, growing in the windpipe. Cattle pick them up, they hatch out and they start – begin to burrow their way into the lungs and get into the bronchi, really. And the cattle start coughing, hence the term ‘husk’. Now the husk – once an animal has been infected by husk, it becomes immune. And there was an old folk lore was that husk was caused by the spiders’ webs on the grass. You know, in the autumn, on a sunny day you will see them all – lots of spiders, spiders’ webs and you must never let the cattle out until the spiders’ webs have gone. Now, they haven’t gone, it’s just that the drops of dew have evaporated and they have become invisible. There’s no way, it’s not the web that makes them cough, and it’s the little larvae. But as soon as the grass is dry, they migrate down to the roots. So the animal can eat the grass with impunity and not infect itself with the husk. So there again, it was the spiders’ webs that was the cause of the husk. But if you put the cattle out after the spiders’ webs had gone, you would be alright.
Q: Did you ever have any experience of coming as a ‘comparatively fresh out of college’ vet, with all the things that you learnt at college, to be dumbfounded or contradicted by some of the farmers who knew the ways better?
DM: Well, there wasn’t a – I learnt in two ways, I learnt by observing in practice – I used to go round with a veterinary surgeon and I found, later on, what I did was what I saw him do. I learnt the theory at college – I learnt the thinking – the way of thinking. But very little actual practical work at college. The third year we had a subject called Materia Medica, that was all the medicines, the different medicines, we used. People used to have their own prescriptions; they used to compound a white liniment for rubbing on legs.
Q: That you would make up yourself?
DM: Yes, you made up all these things yourselves. And, quite a lot of trouble – you spent a little bit of time making up these bottles of medicines which you flogged to all the farmers. The whole subject was based on a Greek who wrote in Latin called Galen in the second century A.D. and the drugs we were using were the Galenicals, the same drugs and the same thinking. Medicine hadn’t progressed from 200 A.D. until the 1900’s. It was only when the sulphonamides came in and, they were developed, some of them from prototype sulphonamides used by the Germans, who were very good chemists, about the time of Alamein. And our chemists went to work at it and came up with the sulphonamides. And one of which saved Churchill’s life during the war when he had pneumonia. These sulphonamides we got our hands on them and then, later on, penicillin and streptomycin and drugs like that came out. And we had a most valuable – we could actually cure an animal which we couldn’t before. Nursing was very important – I mean putting a mustard plaster on cows’ chests or horses chests – skilfully putting on the brown paper – ‘Jack & Jill went up the hill – went to bed with vinegar and brown paper’ – well, we would use brown paper just like………….. When I was a veterinary student, Fleming, came to Glasgow to talk to the medical profession, Sir Alexander Fleming, he then went to the dental profession and then he came to the vets on the one spare day before he went back to London. And he said – well you know experts are almost always wrong – he said “You’ll never get any – as far as you’re concerned, penicillin is academic, and you’ll never get any penicillin. We can’t produce enough for human needs, let alone for……….and you’re just not going to get it.” Within the year the Americans had produced the flask system of growing the fungus and, suddenly penicillin became cheaper than a bottle it was in. And we’d lots of penicillin, which was good. And he also said “In any case, it’s only a flash in the pan” – those were the words he used “we are already meeting organisms which are becoming resistant to penicillin, so it will only last a year or two”. Well, when I retired, we were using just as much, if not more penicillin. Except, of course, the names had changed, it was gloxacillin and penbritten. Basically it was penicillin with changes – changes to kill the bugs. We’ve always said you must be very careful and not waste it because the bugs will learn, which they have, – they’ve become penicillin resistant – the bug they’ve got now killing in hospitals. But we’ve always managed to keep one step ahead of all these nasty bugs. A bacterium was a tiny little thing and the investment that it has to be made to become resistant must cripple it. They did swabs of pig pens where there is a scour of pigs caused by e-coli, E-coli, and this sow was dosed with antibiotics. Gradually the organisms within these pens became resistant to this mycin, but stop doing it and, within a matter of weeks, all these organisms have died out and been replaced because they can’t compete with the ordinary e-coli as a specialised……..
Q: That’s interesting. So that the core level bacteria was somehow stronger.
DM: Yes, it’s able to resist a bigger variety of conditions. And the specialists, the organisms which specialise tend to die out. If you specialise to grow a long beak to winkle certain grubs out of trees, then, if the grubs die out, you’ve got a beak that’s useless.
Q: On a totally different subject, working up at Lambourn, I guess I have to ask you if you had anything to do with any successful racehorses.
DM: Yes, yes. There was one horse; I got phoned up, although my partners were racehorse experts and they had time off at weekends and so on. And I’ve always said that, on Saturday night, everyone’s a racehorse expert as you couldn’t find them. And they’d got this animal I had to treat, from Newbury, it’s trainer phoned up and he’d got a horse with a prolapsed rectum. I had seen lots of prolapsed rectums in pigs and you have to carefully push it back and put purse string suture round the anus and tie it off. It’s quite hard to get it just right – the aperture has to enable it to pass its faeces and yet not put the whole thing out again. And I went out and gave it an epidural under the tail, froze the back end of the horse and put it back in. It was a great success and the partner who usually went out, he came back and, when he heard about it said “Didn’t you shoot it?” and I said “No, I just put it back and kept it on penicillin for a couple of days it was doing quite well”. “Oh, we usually shoot them.” The head lad eventually retired and took the Shepherds Rest, the pub, and I was there one day and he said “You were on for a case of champagne if that horse had won the Great Metropolitan Handicap two weeks after you had put its backside back in place. And he ran it. It was beaten by a short head; and he said you would have had a case of champagne from the Governor if it had actually won.”
Q: But the sad thought is that all the other previous ones weren’t given the chance.
DM: Well, I can’t do it all – I can’t do it all. I did get another case – a lady called Mrs. Grosvenor had a mare at Benham and one of her mares had a prolapse; and when I got to the farm, the stud, they said I’d got to ‘phone Mrs. Grosvenor before I did anything. She asked if it was definitely a prolapse and I said “Yes.” So she said you’d better shoot it. I said “You don’t have to shoot it – we can put it back.” And she said “Would that do any good?” I told her that all the ones I had done had done remarkably well. One. And it was very successful – I put that back. So that’s why I liked being a general practitioner because the skills you learn, say in pigs, can apply to horses. Operations you can do on dogs train your tactile skills when operating on other animals. I mean it’s just a matter of getting the tension of the stitches right. You’ve got to do a lot of operating to get quite good at it. Mind you with large animals you don’t have to operate on them all that often; you have to stitch them up when there’s barbed wire. But if you’ve been operating on cats and dogs, you learn a lot. Your fingers have learnt a lot. When I retired I threw all that skill out of the window. And I’ve become an old fogie!
Q: Well I imagine that things are very different now.
DM: Yes, they are.
Q: How would you change things, going back, if you had the magic wand?
DM: I don’t think you can change things. The biggest difference in the veterinary profession is that Herriot wrote his books and did the TV programmes and the applications to veterinary college went up four fold right away. The only way they could fairly choose students is to demand higher and higher qualifications. So you get very, very clever exam passers and I don’t think they make the best vets. I think they get into the veterinary college and work because they are narrowly focussed and they haven’t got people skills. They can’t talk to people. They haven’t played sports. If you’ve been stuck in your books; and I think that’s a bad thing. And I’ve spoken to a great friend, a professor, the Dean of the Veterinary Faculty at Glasgow University and he said “But what can we do? You’re quite right, but what can we do? We’ve got to be fair and be seen to be fair.”
There was a skeleton found – Charlie Hale built a house for himself and then when his son got married, he built another house beside it. And, when they were laying the footings, they came across a skeleton. So they notified the police – the police thought it was a very interesting skeleton and went to find the archaeologist and I heard about this and went up to look at if. And there it was – the bottom half of his body was still under the house, but they had got the top part and his skull. The teeth were worn right down and the archaeologist happened to arrive and took a look at it. She said “Oh yes, she was about 21”. But I said “Her teeth were all worn down.” And she said in those days, they had very primitive grindstones and they had so much grit in the bread, it wore down their teeth. And Charlie Hale said “Ah, we always called that field ‘The Maiden’s Grave’.” Instant folk lore! I suppose she was the oldest inhabitant of Aldbourne I knew and, curiously enough, she was in sight of North Farm which was a Roman settlement. So whether they had buried her so that she could see….
Q: Were they able to put a date on her?
DM: Oh, just Roman.
Q: Of course, that covers quite a wide period but not in archaeological terms.
DM: No; they weren’t so skilful in archaeology. They hadn’t got all the tests they can do nowadays. DNA and so forth..
Q: I remember going to a lecture by Andrew Sewell and amongst a whole load of other fascinating artefacts was a little tiny collection of tiny little flints, perfectly worked. You or I would have seen them and thought they were debris. But he’d recognised them and described that they were what he called an Iron Age mending kit, that the wife had had and carried with her for stitching skins, and such, together. And he’d found it on the top here, up beyond here. But he painted a story of the man and the wife and the children moving from one place to another. And how had she come to drop it? Did she fall over? Had she been exhausted after a long walk? Had they fallen out and the husband knocked her down? Or had it just come out of her pocket? And it was just the instant connection with the history of the people who’d been here and lived here. I found it very evocative.
DM: Yes, something similar happened – there’s a Roman blue, Roman glass; when they were putting the sewage in the Lambourn Valley, they found these by the stream. They saw this blue, the driver saw it, got out – it was about the time Wheeler was doing his archaeological programmes, so the public were becoming educated; and it’s in the Museum at Newbury. Now it must have been extremely valuable article – and why was it hidden beside the stream? Whether somebody had stolen it or – I don’t know.
Q: Put it there for safe keeping – never came back to retrieve it. The possibilities are endless – but somehow it makes them seem more human – less like dried dusty theories and they become real people.
DM: Yes, there was a chap had a farm, Huzzey, up at the Woodlands; he was widening a gate to get his machinery through. And in the bank he found a gun, an old gun, almost rusted away – it had a very long barrel and, of course, it must have been a poacher’s gun. This was where he hid it. He died and nobody knew where his gun was. It’s like the hoard of silver they found up on the way to Wentworth’s. Why somebody should have gone there and hidden a bag of silver coins…
Q: The closest we get, of course, is when we dig in the garden and find sections of old clay pipe and I have a picture of Thomas Hardy type characters sitting around in the old yard, chewing the fat and having a smoke.
DM: I was digging in my garden and found half-a-crown; quite a modern half-a-crown. I picked it up, looked at it and thought – Oh, this is jolly useful – put it in my pocket and carried on digging. I found another one, picked it up, looked rather like the first one, put it in my pocket. I’d picked up about seven half crowns, all in this one patch of land. Then I discovered it was my half crown. There was a hole in my pocket. It was the same half crown all the time. When we lived at Windy Ridge I saw a, what we used to call in Scotland, a cleak – an iron hook. And I worked with horses, heavy horses and harnesses and this was the chain hook which hooked onto the collar. So I thought, I wonder how many people nowadays would recognise it. Instantly that was quite clear to me – I knew what if was because I’d worked with it, I scythed – not many people have operated a scythe. Yes, we used to work a reaper and binder up in Argyle but we used to open the roads to start there. That was quite a skill; I was never able to set the scythe but I could do the scything if somebody would set the scythe for me. That was quite a skill.
Q: I believe that, once you get into the rhythm of it, it’s a very pleasing thing to do; but, if you can’t get the rhythm right, it’s a real up-hill struggle.
DM: Yes: you don’t take too big a bite to start with.
Q: And would people still be hand scything here when you first arrived?
DM: No, don’t remember them. They milked by hand; a lot by hand. Captain Brown had a couple of dairy cows just for his own milk. All the small farmers kept a few hens for the eggs. Then, sadly, all these cows … either you kept a dairy and milked cows or you didn’t have any cows.
Q: Yes, Audrey Barrett told me about a lady who lived up at, somewhere on the road up to Baydon who kept cows and milked them. She was a tiny frail little lady, and she had this contraption which she put the full milk churns in, tied it to herself and then either dragged up the hill or down the hill. I can’t remember which way round.
DM: That must have been before my time.
Q: Yes probably so, it was during her childhood. It is just the amount of physical effort involved in it.
DM: Farming is hard work. They had milking machines but they tipped the milk into the cooler and cooled it. Then ran it into churns and the churns were wheeled to the road end so that the driver would come and pick them up. They vanished, they don’t use churns now.
Q: No but when I was at university in the late 70’s, in Aberystwyth, there were still churns out on the tables at the end of the driveway.
DM: Yes, around here they had wooden places they put….
Q: And how much of the stuff produced would be used locally? And how much of it would be sent away? I am thinking that nowadays farmers produce animals which go off to centralised abattoirs. They then get distributed all over the country. I imagine it didn’t happen like that then.
DM: There were far more slaughter houses about then but they gradually closed them down. They just decided – it happened in my career – according to the EEC regulations every slaughter house ought to have a resident vet to examine all the carcasses and most of the small houses couldn’t afford that, so it just closed. Farmers used to hang up the sheep, shoot it themselves, hang it up, dress it.
Q: And the people who had the pigs in their back yard would either slaughter them themselves or
DM: Well, there was a pig slaughterer in the village – Humphries – what was his name now – it was probably Billy Humphries uncle. But then when I bankrupted the pig organisation in Aldbourne, he probably lost his job. The milk – Charlie Hale supplied the village with milk. He used to go round and deliver in the morning – shout “Milko.” I don’t remember him coming with a can, at one time people used to come round with a can and they filled up your can – it was all bottles in my day.
Q: I am trying to think if there is anything we haven’t covered. Even just your general recollections of the village when you first arrived.
DM: When I first arrived I stayed with the Barnes – the coach people – Tom and Ada Barnes – Nellie Barnes, she was the driving force behind them. So I slept there and had my meals there and they had a little dining club – Luncheon Club – that certain favoured people in the village could go along and pay 2 shillings and 9 pence to get a two course meal. My landlady used to send me there.
Q: And where did that take place?
DM: Where the Barnes house is. There was an annexe, as it were; it’s now part of it and that was where the cycle – it had started as a cycling club where the cycle club people could call and get a cup of tea. But that didn’t happen when I was here – there was just the Luncheon Club. And various elderly people used to go down and Hope-Johnson, who was very well educated, went as a tutor to various rich families, he was very learned but started to lose his marbles a bit. And there were two elderly ladies, one was a Miss Sinclair – oh dear, my memory – she was a weaver and she lived – you know the old shoemaker’s house, Palmer, the shoemaker – the one on Castle Street facing – the one, if you go up Castle Street, there’s the Post Office on the right, the house on the left, you can see that was a shop window, and it used to be full of old shoes – I think old Palmer had pretty well finished cobbling, he was a cobbler. And the shoes were of people who didn’t go back or didn’t bother to go back to collect them. And he lived in that end house with Mrs. Palmer and their son Bas, Basil. Basil eventually inherited that place but he couldn’t thatch it – thatching’s expensive – and he wanted to put tiles on. The Council said you can’t put tiles – you must put thatch. He just let the roof fall in and they realised the whole row, they would lose the whole row. So they let him put tiles on. About the only man who beat the Council. Yes; Mrs. Walters, she was one of them, Mrs Walters. Her husband was connected with the Times – the Walters family were proprietors I think.
Q: And she was one of the Luncheon Club.
DM: She was one of the Luncheon Club. And Mrs. Deuchar who still lives in the village. She used to bring her children down; the last one, Jessica, I think her name is, a last girl. She had four boys and a last girl. She used to come down often. And she got bigger and bigger and bigger. And we were getting rather alarmed at the idea of a baby in the middle of the Luncheon Club. There was an Irish student; Alistair Fraser was my boss and he’d been friendly with this chap in Ireland and he sent his son over to see a bit of practice, as veterinary students did; and they put him up at the Barnes’. And he said on Thursday night “Mrs. Barnes I only eat fish on Fridays being a good Catholic.” Mrs. Barnes looked at him and said “But you’re not a Jew, are you?” There was a big difference in Aldbourne in those days. There was very much the foreigners and the natives.
Q: There still is now. We’ve been here 12 years but we are still very much incomers.
DM: There still is a bit. Somebody said to me when do you stop being an incomer in Aldbourne – and it’s when people stop saying “Who’s house did you buy? Where do you live?” When they stop that, then you are accepted. But there were also two religions in Aldbourne – the Methodists and the Church of England. Intense competition particularly for the faiths – two separate fetes
Q: I have noticed this.
DM: Yes, there were two chapels – three chapels, counting the Baydon one. The Wesleyan and the Primitives, there were three, but I can’t remember where the other was – West Street and Lottage Road Chapel and the Baydon Chapel – yes; that was three. The greatest upset in the village was the Sunday cricket; I can’t remember exactly when it was but the Cricket Club, we had one then, wanted to play on a Sunday and they asked permission and there were so many objections. Families were divided; the old fogies, the religious people and the young people. It got so bitter that, it was rather like the Ramsbury tree, they decided that the only way to settle it was to have a plebiscite. It cost quite a bit of money to get the Plebiscite Society to come down and we had to vote as to whether we should have Sunday cricket of not. It seemed that the whole village was pretty well evenly divided but, in actual fact, the pro-Sunday side won by about 3 to 1 which upset the anti – the very religious people. But the following year it rained every Sunday. So everybody was happy.
Q: And now we don’t have one at all, which is a great shame.
DM: Yes.
Q: We have so many other things in the village that other villages don’t have and yet we have no cricket.
DM: They used to play on the football pitch; they used to mow it in the centre and make a wicket. But, the league they were in said we are not coming, it’s too dangerous to play on that bumpy pitch, the football pitch, even if you roll it and mow it. It’s still too dangerous. So unless you get a proper cricket pitch, you’re out of the league. And they couldn’t find a pitch so that was that.
Q: That’s sad.
DM: But I don’t know why they don’t mark out a pitch on the field below us; we’ve got land down there for the village. I always said I would buy that field, if I won the lottery, or won the treble chance – the lottery wasn’t going then. Buy that field, present it to the village so that they could have a cricket pitch.
Q: Well we had all that debate in Dabchick last year about the Sports Club, the facilities and what was going to happen. And it’s such a good idea. But it’s all gone quiet again. I don’t know where we are.
DM: Well I went to the meeting when they were talking about what they might use it for and why couldn’t they think of cricket and, there is supposed to be a cricket organisation in the village. They play on other people’s pitches. And they were at that meeting and sat there without saying a word all the cricket people. Yes, they used to have the Captain’s Match and Podge Pilkington (the President), who used to be at Ford Farm, asked me to play. I agreed as long as they promised to use a tennis ball. I’ve seen cricket balls and they were very hard.
Q: Tennis seems to be what the village excels at; I’ve never seen such a small village with so many tennis courts.
DM: Well, it’s not quite as successful as Ramsbury. A lot of the Aldbourne people play in Ramsbury, I don’t know why. My wife is one of them, thought she plays down here. You can’t really expand at Castle Street. I don’t know how you… I think you can now go and play on this tennis court here, but it’s a bit bumpy, I think.
Q: Yes, it’s not –it is definitely for beginners and enthusiasts rather than the keen amateurs – they would want a better surface. Speaking as somebody who can only serve underarm, it suits me fine.
DM: That’s how it started – I am not sure they should be made to serve underarm now, not power serving.
Q: Well it would be interesting to see them rise to the challenge, wouldn’t it?
DM: There used to be a tennis court here; that used to be a lawn tennis court. But my wife doesn’t like to play on grass, and we had to put wire all round it; and it spoilt the view a bit.
Q: Much better as a lawn. I feel we’re straying off the topics now, so shall we call it a day?
DM: Right.
Q: This concludes the interview.