n those early days we had a “Kitchener” stove in the living room on which the food was cooked. It had an open fronted fire which could be shut down at night and an oven to one side. On the top were hotplates – rather one large long one over the fire and the oven – for the saucepans of vegetables and the kettle to be placed. This burnt coal and wood. My mother very religiously black-leaded this complete cooker at least once a week.
At weekends dad and I had to get the wood and logs ready for the week so on a Sunday morning dad would saw and I would be stacking logs and then I had to chop wood for the lighting. Finally I had to regularly clean all the shoes for the week – about two pairs each – to earn my pocket money. About 11 a.m. mum used to call us for a drink and elevenses – this was a cup of hot cocoa and hot cheese straws. Went down extremely well.
We had no bathroom and the toilet was up the garden. We had a large tin bath which we got in once a week and after all three of us had bathed then water was scooped out and emptied and the bath hung up outside. The toilet had no running water so we had to carry buckets to wash it down. It had a long wooden seat with a hole in and a lid folded down with a smaller hole for children. The toilet at the farm had two holes so you could sit side-by-side – very cosy!
Another recognised thing was that boys wore boots to school – not shoes – and I went to school in shoes one day and got into terrible trouble from the headmistress. The row was so bad that eventually my mother took me away from Chiddingstone Causeway and I had to cycle to Leigh school every day - just over two miles winter and summer, rain or snow. Well, that’s not entirely true because my Gran’s house was on the way and I used to take a sledge in the winter when the snow was on the ground and was able to get as far as the Compasses on the sledge and walk the other mile and a half to school. There was very little traffic on the road and no nasty happenings either!
The farm where my mother worked had a herd of cows to be milked every day and I used to help with the milk deliveries. This was done by having a milk churn - containing about ten gallons of milk – perched on a three-wheel cart. We used to push this round the village and the people came out of their homes with jugs or some other container and we used proper pint or half pint measures and filled these from the tap on the churn and then poured the milk into the jug. All milking was by hand till well after the war when they installed milking machines.
The farm also had two horses for all the work and at the age of 9 or thereabouts my friend Kevin Summers and I used to prepare a bonfire on his father’s field for the Guy Fawkes celebrations. This meant a lot of material was required for burning. I used to go round the roads with a cart and horse to collect all the hedge brushings left by the council workers to enable us to have a substantial bonfire. We would go round the village and collect donations for the fireworks and then get fireworks that all could enjoy and let them off when the villagers gathered round on bonfire night.
Mrs. Porch at the farm was rather a large lady but she had to do her share on the farm and during the hay harvest one of her tasks was to take one of the horses with a buck rake and turn the hay in the fields to allow it to ripen before collecting up for the stack. The rake had a very springy metal seat and the horse used for this job was a van horse, more like a cob, which was quite frisky and did not hang about when working in the field. I used to ride with Mrs. Porch round the field at this time and it was a hair-raising experience. I also used to help her by cleaning the two large chicken houses out and collecting eggs for which I latterly got paid ten shillings (equivalent to 50p) but worth more than today – this would have been when I was about 15 or 16.
In preparation for Christmas they bred turkeys for the oven and another unpleasant job was to caponise these so they put on weight – more like being sterilised so they would not lay eggs etc. To do this Mrs Porch used to sit down on a stool, I used to catch the turkeys and hand them over for her to stick a large needle containing pellets into the back of their necks. They did not like it either.
The two horses were Jubilee (the van horse) and Blossom. One day after haying the carter sat me on the saddle of Blossom and clouted the other ones rear end. As they were tied together they went off fairly quickly with me hanging on for dear life but Blossom was a steady old girl and soon slowed up and Jubilee didn’t get her own way.
I used to help with the horses in the stable. Each one had its own stall and they had to be groomed and harnessed up. Being only a boy meant it was very difficult to reach to the top of the back to use a currycomb to clean the mud and mess off their rear ends but we managed somehow. The harness had to be cleaned and the brass areas rubbed as well. The collars for these two horses would be almost as high as I was and was pretty heavy. They had to be put on the horses head upside down to get them over her ears and then twisted round when they were resting on their shoulders. They were not always very co-operative. The saddles were made out of enormous lumps of wood with leather covering and no way could I lift them up but once they were on we had straps to do up underneath – the horses would deliberately bloat out their stomachs so that you could not get the straps tight and then the harness would slip. There were many straps and chains which had to be attached to the collars, saddles, the bridle etc. Very hard work for a young boy.
Harvesting time at the farm was quite a busy affair because during my younger days all the corn was cut and stacked up in bundles to dry before loading on to carts and bringing in to the farm. It was then threshed in a static threshing machine driven by a steam engine and the bundles of straw were then stacked in round stacks and thatched.
Hay was also put into stacks and thatched – some round and some shaped much like a house. When the hay was required for feeding the cattle it was cut out of the stack with a large knife with a strange shaped handle and the wedges were about three feet cubed.
During harvesting time we used to have our meals out in the field, cold tea in a bottle, bread and cheese. Somehow the weather was always better in those days!
Another job at the farm which I did was to make the butter. There was a butter churn – just like a wooden beer barrel – mounted on legs. The barrel had a hole cut in the side in which was inserted a door which could be clamped shut and a handle was on the end. The milk for the butter had the cream skimmed off before using. The mixture of cream and, I believe, salt were put in the barrel and I had to sit in the very cold larder winding this handle for an hour or more. Eventually the mixture curdled and the whey had to be strained off and the butter was removed to be patted up with two wooden bats into workable lumps of butter. Sometimes these were broken down into little balls and were dished up on the table in that form. If there was need to make butter in lesser quantities there was a jar which one could sit and shake for ages to achieve the same result.
I also helped in my meagre way with the milking. At odd times there would be a cow and calf is a separate stall so I could milk that on my own by hand. When the milking machines were installed then I used to help with the feeding – each cow knew its own place when they came in from the field and I would tie them up and give them their bowl of cow cake etc. Then we had to go into the barn adjoining the cowshed or the stack in the yard to cut out enough hay for feeding whilst they were in overnight.
The horses had to be shod and there was a blacksmith in the village. It was opposite where I lived and I used to spend quite a lot of time in there. This meant that I often got the job of pumping the bellows to help the blacksmith keep his fire going. Besides that the horses had to be held whilst he was fitting their shoes. The smell of the hooves burning when he put the hot shoes on the horses’ feet was horrible but this was done to make sure they fitted securely. A great many of the horses were large carthorses and used to tower way above us boys.
During hop picking I used to have to go with my mother and she had half a bin with another friend of hers from the village. Mrs. Warner’s son Bill became the local Scoutmaster later on and I spent a lot of time with him because the Scout troop was virtually split into three and we attended Chiddingstone Causeway, Chiddingstone and Chiddingstone Hoath. Remember there was no television as a diversion so the scout troop was well attended. More of that later.
During hop picking we had to leave home more often than not about 6 a.m. to be in the garden to start work at 7 a.m. when the whistle blew. It was always very cold and wet at that time and when the bines were pulled we got soaked. Quite often it was also foggy so took some time to warm up during the day. The children such as myself and Bill would have to pick either an inverted umbrella or a wooden bushel box of hops before we were allowed away from the bin and this was only so that we could collect wood for the fire to make the mid morning and lunch time tea. Sometimes we would also have to go across the fields to collect fresh water which was coming from a spring straight out of the ground. As the last poke cart (sacks of picked hops) went back to the farm for lunch time – pulled by two large cart horses which were all dressed up in their ribbons and plaited manes – Bill and I used to get a ride back to the oast house where his father was the dryer. He would have put large potatoes in the hot embers of the coal fire and baked them for our lunches. As soon as we had these we would run like mad back to the hop garden so we could sit down and eat. Our hands would be stained with the hops and added flavour to our food. The tea was made by boiling a billycan of water and then throwing loose tea leaves on the boiling water. Smoky but very nice and refreshing. My mother used to make jellies or blancmanges in little glass jars to have with our sandwiches as a pudding.
It was no problem to go out for long walks through the fields and woods and in the spring we often used to go primrosing. One of my aunts - Vi – and her daughters came to stay one year and we had several pictures taken out in the woods picking primroses.
My father kept a considerable garden of vegetables and on our return from the hop garden our meal would probably consist of an enormous plate full of runner beans simply oozing with butter, potatoes and perhaps a rabbit pie - rabbit caught in the fields. There were no diseases with rabbits then and they were quite a normal diet. Strangely enough beef was more plentiful then than chicken, and of course offal - liver and kidney was commonplace. This sort of meat has now turned round and become a delicacy.
Because they were vermin we also caught moles. The mole trap was like a calliper on a spring and was set and put down one of the mole hills and the theory was that on its travels the mole would put its head through the hole and cause the trap to clamp shut and catch it. We would then have to skin the moles and we were able to sell the skins for a shilling each - a vast amount of money in those days – so that the pelts could be made into coats for ladies.
I used to go hunting occasionally, not with the foxhunt but with the beagles. This was a pack of hounds which hunted hares. It was quite a job to keep up with them and kept us fit running across ploughed fields, jumping ditches and streams (if we were lucky) and if they managed a kill it was not thrown to them like the foxes.
I also went on pheasant shoots, as a beater and “stop” in order to earn a bit of extra cash. As a boy it was our job to be placed at the farthest outpost of the empire all day in the freezing cold, making a noise in order to keep the pheasants in the woods until the beaters and guns came along and chased them out to be shot. What a life. When we were a bit older and promoted to beaters we would get a bottle of beer or cider and a lump of bread and cheese at lunch time - usually in the cart shed of a farm. We received half a crown a day as a “stop” (equivalent to 12½p) and five shillings when beating (25p).