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  Farming in Langley in the 1950s

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Douglas Savill was born in Laburnum House on Langley Upper Green, the first child of Frederick Savill and Florence (Nee Wombwell). Both parents had been born and bred in Langley, and both families had lived in the village for many years.He grew up in the village and was educated at the village school (missing quite a lot of his schooling through illness). Between the age of fourteen and fifteen he started work on the farm, first at Church Farm and then later at Langley Lawn Farm


He shared in the activities of the village, playing cricket for Langley and supporting the football team. He became involved, as were many of his family, with the Methodist Church and became a Methodist Local Preacher. In 1962 he went to study at College in Derbyshire (The Methodist Lay College) and in 1963 was accepted to train as a Methodist Minister at Handsworth College in Birmingham. He left college in 1966, was ordained in Wolverhampton, and served on circuits in County Durham, Cleveland, West Yorkshire, Shropshire, and Cheshire.


He is now retired and lives with his wife Pat in Cheshire. After retiring he has had more time to follow his interests in family and Primitive Methodist history and to write up his memories of those early years. He has never forgotten his Langley roots, and the formative years, spent in North West Essex, and still takes the opportunity to visit the area where he has brothers and a sister and numerous other relatives and friends.


He has very generously agreed to allow the Recorders to place his memoirs on the Langley pages of our website. The second article is given here – a memoir of farming at Church Farm, Langley and Langley Lawn in during the 1950s.

Farming in the 1950s – part 1: Church Farm

by Douglas Savill

Starting Work

Because my health had not been too good I started work in the late 40s with my Aunt Evelyn’s husband, George Radford, at Church Farm. The Radfords had come from West Wratting in Cambridgeshire where they had kept a public house and ran a carrier’s business from West Wratting to Cambridge, and had come as tenant farmers to Church Farm which belonged to one of the Cambridge Colleges. Uncle George ran the farm with his brother Jack, who had come from London when the war broke out. Their parents John and Mary Radford were also living in the farmhouse.

Church Farm

Church Farm as its name implies stood next to the Parish Church of St John the Evangelist in Langley. It was a large house facing the roadway that led up to the Church. Just behind the farm house there was a fenced cattle yard with buildings for livestock along the right-hand side, and a big corn barn at the rear. Alongside the cattle yard was an open yard on to which the back door of the farm house opened. Round the left-hand side of this yard were various buildings that served various purposes. A cow shed opposite the barn with a gate that led in to the meadow. Then a garage for the car; and a shed in which to keep a tractor. Two storage sheds came round to the front gate that opened on to the road. There were other sheds through a gate on the left-hand side of the yard which were used for various purposes and this led through to an orchard, in which there were a number of chicken huts. Chickens would roam around the farm. Beyond this was the farm vegetable garden.

Church Farm consisted of some 76 acres, all arable land except about 5 acres of meadow land,with a field of 12 acres on the other side. Three fields were reached through a track along the edge of land belonging to Langley Hall. Another 30-acre field was rented about three-quarters ofa mile away at the bottom of the village on Lower Green (High Field) and then there were another few acres near the centre of the village set between the public allotments.


The Radford’s kept a cow to provide milk and butter for the house (all hand milking), reared some calves to sell, and some reared and sold as fat-stock. These were kept in the meadow during the summer. and sometimes were sent out to graze on the common land of the village, but this involved paying a boy a few pence to ‘cow-keep’, to make sure they were kept on a certain part of the green, did not get into the gardens of the inhabitants, and to bring them back to the farm after a certain time.

During the winter the cattle were brought into the open yard. There was an open-fronted shed in one corner and some loose boxes that could be used. When in the yard they had to be fed morning and evening with a mixture of crushed oats, and chaff. Some hay was used, and some barley straw which the cattle seemed to enjoy.Mangels were sliced up in the mangel-grinder and used in the feed. Sugar-beet pulp was used when it was available. In the mangers was provided a block of rock-salt for the animals to lick.

Any calves born on the farm were soon weaned from the cow and taught to drink from a bucket. They started on cow’s milk and one had to encourage them to drink by allowing them to suck your fingers and draw their heads down into the bucket.After a few days the cow’s milk was gradually changed to a mixture of calf feed.

The cow had to be milked morning and evening and this was done by hand, sitting on a three-legged stool with a bucket between the legs. The milk was taken and put in large pans in the dairy at the farmhouse. I remember taking a three-pint can home with me on the handlebars of my bicycle every evening.

After standing overnight some of the cream was skimmed off the top of the milk, using a skimmer, which was a kind of metal plate with holes in it. My Aunt had a little hand-churn in the form of a large bottle with paddles operated by a handle and cog mechanism. This agitated the cream until it turned into butter. The whey was then drained off, and the butter formed into shape with wooden butter-pats.


There were also pigs - and a number of sows were kept for breeding, to produce some litters of pigs to be reared and sold when they were large enough for porkers, or kept longer and then sold to make bacon. When the sows were farrowing they had to be watched closely as they could easily lie on the young piglets.Farrowing rails were put round the edge of the farrowing pens to give them a place to escape. There was also an area in one corner with a heated light to encourage them to creep away from danger to the warmth of the lamp. The mother sows were very protective of their young, and if a piglet was picked up and started to squeal - which they did -the sow would come after whoever was holding the piglet. One did not wait to argue with an irate mother sow!

The pigs again meant feeding morning and evening. A mixture of bought pig food and farm ground barley meal was prepared from one feed time to another. This was mixed in a small tank and then at feed time taken round in buckets and tipped into the troughs in each pig-sty. The sties had to be cleaned out each week and clean straw provided. Pigs are very clean animals if provided with clean conditions.

Food for the Beasts

The animals had to be fed all the year round, and while some feed was purchased a lot of it came from the farm itself. Barley and oats would be ground up to make mea. We had a Bental Mill that stood in the barn and was driven with a belt and pulley through an aperture in the wall using one of the tractors which stood in the yard - and every so often it would be someone’s job to grind the corn to provide feed for the next period - a very dusty job in the confines of the barn.

At the end of the main barn there was a section that stored chaff, and this would be used as a basis for the cattle feed with other ingredients mixed into the feed.

Hay would be given to the cattle, and this had to be cut from the haystack with a hay-knife (an instrument with a large blade and a handle at right angles that could be used to punch out sections of hay from the stack).

Animal Care

Sometimes one of the cattle needed medical attention. If it was something serious then the Vet would be called in to treat the animal, but that was expensive, so some ministration was done by the people on the farm. Sometimes this involved giving the animal a ‘drink’ and this was done by tying up the animal and then holding its head up by gripping a horn and grasping the nose with fingers in the nostrils, while someone else stuck the neck of a bottle in its mouth and tipped a mixture down its throat. Sometimes it was necessary to call in the Vet, and it was a chap called Clifford Welsh that my Uncle used. You only used a Vet if really necessary – as they had to be paid! The Vet also came at times to castrate any male animal, calves and piglets that were intended to be fattened.


Chickens were kept on the farm and these were allowed to roam around the farm.The hens provided eggs, and these had to be collected every day from the nesting boxes in the hen-houses but sometimes a hen would creep away into one of the out-house and one would find a clutch of eggs - but you never knew how long they had been there! The hens were fed by throwing down some ‘tail-corn’ in the orchard, and they added to their diet by scavenging in the orchard – free range in the widest sense. They also provided an occasional meal for the house, which meant catching them and finding a hen that was not laying. This was done by checking the pelvic bones which indicated if that particular hen was still laying. The chosen hen had then to be dispatched, plucked, drawn, and prepared for the table.

Other Birds

At times a few geese were to be found, and Langley years ago had a tradition as a place where geese were kept and allowed to roam on the village green (I kept a few geese for a time until they got in Father’s garden – and then it was a quick trip to Market.) We had a few geese at Church Farm, at one time some guinea fowl, which were marvelous at letting you know when people were around, but used to roost in a tree and the only way you could catch them was with a shotgun.


There were dogs around the farm - my Uncle had an Old English Sheepdog - called Rover (he would help round up the cattle and loved to go for a swim in a pond). His brother Jack had a whippet type of dog called Spider, and then there was a Greyhound called Roger who had at one time belonged to an American airman who had been killed on a bombing raid over Germany.


The farm cats could not really be called pets, although they did come into the farmhouse, but rather were quite wild and were seen as part of the system in keeping down the rats and mice that were found round the farm.


The farm when I knew it first had two horses , one mare called
Kitty who was a bad-tempered beast, completely unpredictable,and had the habit of running away -and once Uncle George had to let her run five times round the village green before she stopped - Uncle used to call her Hitler because of her bad nature. By the time I started work at Church Farm Kitty had gone.


There was just one horse left by the name of Punch who was good-natured and a good worker. One of my first jobs on the farm was to lead Punch in horse-hoeing some sugar beet and I can still see those great hoofs coming down beside my feet. He was very intelligent and knew when it was time to knock off for lunch break or the end of the day. He did various jobs round the farm, pulling the tumbrel cart, which could be tipped up to empty the load, he was used with harrows to prepare the soil, to pull the horse-rake, on which one had to ride and with a foot pedal and handle had to be emptied when the rake was full. He was used with a bogie to pull trailers when loading in the harvest field. If one was going to the other side of the farm for a job he could be ridden and a little leafy twig would encourage him on his way. If out for the day his food would be taken in a nose-bag, which would be attached to his head for the mid-day break. He had a sense of time for at the end of the day he would indicate that it was time to go home. On one occasion when he was being used to pull a trailer in Church Field he looked up and saw the church clock and immediately set off home!

Occasionally I had the job of taking him to the blacksmith’s to have his shoes replaced, and this involved riding him to the next village, Duddenhoe End, where the blacksmith, Charlie Blyth had his forge. Charlie was a typical blacksmith and it was fascinating to watch the process, as new shoes were made and fitted. Eventually Punch had some trouble with his hooves - and had to go.


There were always pests to be dealt with round the farm.

Rats and Mice:

Rats and mice are found in the countryside, mouse traps were part of the equipment for the household, and most people kept cats on the farm and in the cottages not simply as pets but to help control the mice. Rats would sometimes appear in the outbuildings and in the early days the usual method was to set gin-traps (illegal these days). and these traps were set in the places where the rats were thought to run, covered with tiles and bricks to safeguard other larger animals that might pass the same way. These had to be looked at every day and sometimes there would be a rat that had simply been caught and not killed, and then that had to be disposed of and the trap reset.

When the time for thrashing out the corn stacks came we had to surround the area with wire netting as the stacks were places where rats and mice gathered in the winter, for they were ready made larders from their point of view. If a rat was trying to get over the netting someone with a stick - or thatching spindle - would deal with it. Stories were told of rats jumping off the top of a stack straight down the shirt of a worker on the ground - and I know that this could happen.

Later there was more use of poison and ratcatchers appeared (other terms like Rodent Operatives
were used at times and I can remember the term Pest Control Officer), who would lay down poison round the farm buildings.


Grey Squirrels were also counted as a pest and at one time you would get paid one shilling and six pence if you shot one and produced the tail.


Moles: Moles could do a lot of damage to pasture land and another job was that of the mole-catcher, whowould trace the underground passages of the mole, dig it out and set a mole-trap in the run. These were pincer-like traps that held a mole in its grip. The mole-catcher would come the next day and remove any that had been caught.Mole skins could be sold at one time.


Foxes: Foxes aroused mixed feelings in the countryside (as they still do.) The hunting fraternity was anxious that foxes were kept for hunting purposes, but for many of the farmers and poultry keepers they were a pest that could do a lot of damage.A fox would not just kill a chicken to eat, but kill many more if it had the chance, and a person could find a dozen dead chickens after a visit from a fox. One of my Uncles who reared turkeys for Christmas had them in an enclosure opposite his bedroom window and used to take his shotgun to the bedroom so that if he heard a commotion he could open the bedroom window and shoot at the foxes.


There was a pack of hounds that were kept in a nearby village belonging to the Puckeridge Hunt and they met regularly in the surrounding villages. Vernon Sainsbury, who lived at and owned Meesden Manor, and for a spell had Langley Lawn Farm, was at one time the Master of Foxhounds.


When the foxhounds met it was a very colourful occasion, with the red coats of the huntsmen, and the horses of the various followers of the Hunt.


The Farming Year


The work on the farm followed a pattern - and the work for the year really started with the ploughing of the fields after the harvest had been gathered. There was of course an overlap, for when we started ploughing there were still crops like the potatoes and the sugar beet that were still waiting to be harvested.




By the time I started work horses were no longer used for ploughing which was done with tractors. My Uncle had two of the old standard Fordson tractors. These were started by hand and they ran on TVO. - Tractor Vaporising Oil (paraffin)which needed to be at a certain temperature to vaporize, and meant they had to be started on petrol. This involved draining any TVO from the carburettor and making sure the fuel line was turned to the small petrol storage tank. A basic pull-out choke was used to set the mixture. One then cranked the engine with a handle, and hopefully the magneto with its impulse action would provide a spark to set the engine running. When the engine had warmed up a switch was used to turn the fuel supply over to the main tank which contained the TVO. In very cold weather it could be difficult to get the engine running, and dodges like putting hot water in the radiator, taking out the sparking plugs, cleaning and heating them in a tin lid with some burning petrol, were all used.


These tractors had a very basic gearbox, with three speeds and reverse, a clutch, that also operated a kind of brake on the transmission. No cabs in those days - and one had to brave the elements and an iron seat which one sought to soften by having a bag of straw to sit on. Sitting in the open air, it was very pleasant in the summer, but once winter came you needed a good thick overcoat. The exhaust pipe, without any silencer, stuck straight up in the air, and you were surrounded by the noise of the engine. Most of the work was done on iron wheels, and there were different types - spade lugs for example - although there was a set of wheels with rubber tyres that were put on when some road work was to be done.


But as time went on these Standard Fordsons were replaced - we had one of the first Fordson Majors - what we called the Upright Major - larger and more powerful than the Standard, but still basically the same system of TVO.


Then at one point my Uncle bought a Ferguson Tractor - a smaller tractor on wheels with rubber tyres to replace the other Standard Fordson. This was a great development in tractors, designed to have implements mounted on a three-point hydraulic system, which helped with traction and general performance (my Uncle never had any mounted implements - and we used it as we had the Fordsons). When it arrived it ran on petrol, but when the price of petrol went up my Uncle had it converted to TVO. It was a grand little tractor and very useful in many ways.


Later on the Fordson Major was replaced with a Nuffield Tractor and this had quite a few improvements, including a comfortable padded seat.


When I became old enough there was a question of obtaining a licence to drive a tractor on the road. Having got a provisional licence on 19 September 1950 I had to take a test. This took place on 12 March 1951 and involved the examiner coming out to the farm, taking me out with one of the old Fordsons on the roads around the village green and putting me through certain manouvres and standing and watching while I did the things he requested. All went well and I passed the test for Group B, which qualified me to drive an agricultural tractor and I received my driving licence, and could go wherever was required with tractor and trailer, or implement.




But with all these tractors we had trailed implements and because of the heavy clay soil of the area we could only pull two furrows with the Fordsons when ploughing. Ploughing would normally be done by marking out and drawing furrows some thirty yards apart, usinga stick with a piece of white rag on it as a marker guide at one end of the field, then measuring the same distance the other end of the field. The plough had a lifting mechanism and was lifted out of the ground at each end of the field, and then dropped back in as one turned down the next section. A section was ploughed out and finished and then the next section was started. Not many fields were square and there was inevitably some short work needed to finish the field. When the middle of the field was done the headlands were ploughed by going round and round the field keeping as close to the edge as possible.


Some farmers had caterpillar tractors and could pull more furrows.


Steam Ploughs


Also around in those days were the steam ploughs, operated by two steam engines.Drage & Kent, a firm from one of the villages, had a set that appeared on local farms from time to time. The two engines took up station one each side of the field and then a steel cable from a power-driven drum underneath the engine was attached to a two-way plough. This was then dragged across the field by one engine, turned over, and then dragged back by the other one which had moved the required number of feet to keep in place with the furrow. There was a driver on each engine and a man who rode on the plough to steer and operate it. Another job was to keep the engines supplied with coal and water, and one of the farmer’s men would do this job. These ploughs with six or seven furrows could cover a lot of ground in a day, whereas a single furrow horse plough would be expected to plough an acre a day, and a tractor with two furrows it could be three or four acres. The steam ploughs could do considerably more.


The steam engines were also used for drainage.The heavy clay soil need to be drained to get the water away from the top. Lead trenches were dug by hand (and there were two men in the village where I grew up who were professional ditchers, and because they had been ditching all their lives they were perpetually bent over),earthenware pipes laid in the bottom and covered with a layer of gravel and then mole-drainers were used, being pulled by the engines to make a round hole in the clay just above the level of the pipes. The leads led into the ditches round the edge of the field, which also had to be kept clean to carry the water away.


The aim was to complete the ploughing as soon as possible before the winter set in with wet weather, for with the heavy clay soil it was almost impossible to work the land.Just occasionally when there was a nice crisp frost it was possible to do some ploughing during the winter time.


Once the ploughing was done the land was left to weather during the winter when the elements would help break down the soil and make it easier to work in the spring. There was some sowing that took place in the autumn, weather permitting, with such crops as winter wheat, but the main sowing would be done in the spring.


There was the sugar beet crop to be harvested and this task came in the autumn - and again most of this was done by hand. First a lifter loosened the roots in the ground, they were left afew days, then were pulled by hand, knocked together to get as much soil off them as possible, and laid in rows across the field. Next, the tops had to be chopped off (the tops were fed to the cattle, and they were very fond of them as an addition to their diet). collected up and carried to a site beside a road ready for the contractor to load them onto a lorry to take them to the factory, which for us was at Felsted, some 25 miles away. When the time came for a load to go to the factory, Bill Abrahams would arrive first thing in the morning, pull up beside the heap of sugar beet and we would load by hand using sugar beet forks - which were large fork-like shovelswith round ends on the tines so they did not stick into the beet. Seven to eight tons had to be thrown on to the lorry by hand, which took quite some time.  


At the factory the load wouldbe weighed, a sample taken, from which the amount of clean beet, tare and dirt, percentage of sugar, were calculated. Uncle would getpaid according to the analysis, with deductions for dirt and tare.




There was always work to be done through the winter period, for as well as looking after the animals there were many things that needed attention. Hedges had to be trimmed back and this was done by hand with the billhook, slasher, axe, saw and various other tools. A strong right arm was required for this job. The off-cuttings and trimmings from the hedge were burnt on a fire and sometimes it needed some paraffin or waste oil to get the fire going. Once the fire was burning it soon disposed of the waste. It was a welcome job on a cold frosty day with the labour and the fire to help keep you warm.


Sometimes a hedge had to be laid to make it a stock-proof barrier. Laying a hedge was quite an art, for it meant thinning out the hedge, and half cutting through what was left and laying it down and weaving it together so that it grew with new growth to make it an effective barrier. Stakes were used to hold it in place until the growth had strengthened it.




Ditching was a job that often went with the hedging for ditches had to be cleaned out , and all this done by hand. With the heavy clay soil it was essential to keep ditches and drains clear to allow the water to get away and to enable ground to dry as quickly as possible.


Winter Work


There were other jobs to be done during the autumn. One was never without a job on the farm. and as well as outside jobs there were always things to be done in the buildings. There were implements and tools to be serviced and repaired.




Another job that occurred through autumn to spring was the thrashing out of the corn stacks. The thrashing tackle would be booked, and we used a firm called Drage & Kent, which came from the village of Chrishall. On the appointed day the tackle would arrive, and in my early days it would arrive drawn by a steam engine. The thrashing drum would be set up beside the corn stack with an elevator to stack the straw, or a baler to make bales, or a chaff cutter, according to the requirements at the time. The engine would be set in position with belts put in place to drive the various implements. Coal and water had to be brought for the engine, the thatch removed from the stack, some wire-netting put round the area to stop the mice and rats, which inevitably would have found a place in the stack, and this was part of the pest control procedure. A supply of sacks was brought, the weighing machine set up, and a sack-lifter to load the sacks on to a trailer.


With it being a small farm we would need extra hands for the task and so people from other farms would be brought in to help (we would go and help them when they had the thrashing tackle), and some casual labourers to make up the team. The team for thrashing would consist of the engine driver and someone to feed the drum (these normally provided by the contractor), and then three people on the corn stack to pass the sheaves on to the drum, two people on the straw stack (or if we were using the baler two people to insert and tie wires and someone to stack the bales - or if a chaff cutter a person to bag the chaff). Someone needed to look after the cavings and head chaff that came off the drum. One person would be designated to take off - weigh up and tie the sacks of corn. This was an important job because hopefully the corn could go straight to the Corn Merchant and accurate weighing was necessary. (Corn was weighed according to what it was - oats were weighed at twelve stone -one and a half hundredweight a sack - 168 lbs, barley at 16 stone , two hundredweight a sack - 224 lbs, wheatat 18 stone - two and a quarter stone or 252lbs.)As well as the ‘good; corn there was the ‘tail’, that was dressed off and the best of this would be used for feed.


There would be a break mid-morning when my Aunt would arrive with a big urn of tea and some sandwiches. At midday there would be an hour’s break and some of the helpers would come back to the farmhouse for a dinner (the midday meal).     


We would normally have about six stacks to thrash - and this would involve probably two or three visits of the thrashing machine.


Once the corn was taken and stacked in the barn - normally two sacks high - the next job was to take a sample in a small bag to the Corn Exchange in the local market town - Saffron Walden - where the Corn Merchant would offer a price, and it was a case of getting the best price possible - and the better the sample the better theprice. With wheatif it was a ‘milling sample’, then you would get a good price and the same with barley if it was a ‘malting Sample’.


Once the corn was sold, a few days later the Merchant’s lorry would arrive and collect the amount that had been bought.


Spring Sowing


The next stage was to prepare the ground for sowing - if the ground laid over the winter, the rain and frost helped break it down to a working tilth.


With the coming of spring there would be all the cultivations and sowing to begin. North West Essex with a heavy clay soil meant that it was later than some places (in Cambridgeshire to the north with a light chalky soil they could be a month ahead of us). It was usually March before we could do much on the land, and there was a careful watch kept on the state of the land to see when the spring cultivations could start.


First the soil when it was dry enough had to be moved and loosened with a cultivator - or some other earth-moving implement - to prepare a seedbed. Whenthis was ready the corn drill would be used to sow the seed - which involved two people -one on the tractor and one riding on the platform at the back of the drill to keep an eye on what washappening and to switch the drill off and on as it turned at each end of the field.First we would go round the out side of the field for aboutfive times, to make an area where one could turn at each end, and then backwards and forwards across the field - and it was a matter of pride that the rows should be straight - for this would show when the corn came up. At first we had a Smyth drill which picked up the seed from a hopper and dropped it down a spout through the coulters in to the ground. Later my Uncle purchased a combine drill which dropped corn and fertiliser at the same time. Behind the drill we dragged a set of harrows to make sure the corn was covered. The person on the back of the drill had to make sure they did not slip off and fall into the harrows.


Later on the field would be rolled to consolidate the soil and perhaps a top dressing of nitrogen to feed the crop. At first we would spread sulphate of ammonia, broadcasting it by hand as we walked across the field. The sulphate of ammonia came in two-hundredweight bags and this could set up in storage into a solid block and so had to be broken up before we could use it. Later we had a fertiliser drill which made the job a lot easier.


As well as the corn there would be other crops to plant. Sugar beet as a row crop wassown in rows some 20 inches apart using the Smyth drill. Peas were sown in rows in much the same way. Potatoes were planted by opening up ridges with a ridging plough - the seed potatoes laid in by hand, then the ridge spit again to cover them up (fortunately we only grew a small patchto provide for the household and just a few to sell).


Uncle George one year decided that he would grow a half an acre ofBrussels sprouts. These we planted by hand using a dibber and watering them after we had planted them. We had to hoe them a few times and put on some fertiliser as the season progressed. It was when the time came to pick them by hand in the middle of the winter that one began to wonder if it was worthwhile, for picking Brussels sprouts on a cold frosty morning was not a very pleasant job.


Clover seed was under sown in certain crops to be cut and harvested as Hay. This was sometimes donewith the Smyth drill, but occasionally we would use an implement we called a fiddle, which broadcast the clover seed as you walked across the field using two sticks as markers and pulling a long handle back and forth to operate a spinning mechanism.


Between Times


When the sowing was done there were other jobs to keep us busy. The cattle yard had to be cleaned out once the cattle were out in the pasture. Over the winter there would have accumulated a very thick layer of straw which had been turned into manure with the cattle adding their droppings, and walking round on it. This was another job done by hand using dung forks, which had sharp curved tines, digging up the dung and loading it on to a trailer. It would then be taken out to one of the fields where we made a dung heap - or dunghill - and this would be allowed to lay and rot until early autumn. There would be added to it as time went on manure from the pig sties and cow shed. When autumn came before we started the ploughing it would be distributed over a field in heaps and then spread around by hand before being ploughed into the soil. Farmyard manure was an excellent product to provide organic nutriment to the soil.


Caring for the Crops


As spring progressed other operations had to be carried out. The Sugar beet crop had to be hoed to clear out the weeds - first between the rows with a horse hoe or a tractor hoe. and then the plants in the rows had to be chopped out and leftassingles. Later the rows had to hoed again to remove all the weeds. This was a back-breaking job and it could be very hot when this task was being undertaken.


Top Dressing


We did a certain amount of top-dressing by hand, but also had a fertiliser distributor that we towed behind a tractor. In the spring as the crops were growing we would sometimes put extra nitrogen on the crops.


Never short of a job any time of the year. There was always something to do round the farm.


The farm buildings were of wooden frame construction covered with overlapping feather board, and usually with corrugated tin roofs. These needed a certain amount of maintenance, and the usual method was to cover the woodwork with tar, and the tin roofs with bitumen paint, or red oxide.


On one occasion we were tarring some of the buildings, and this meant we had to heat up the tar on a stove in the small workshop. It was a hot day and we were getting on with the job when someone shouted ‘Fire!’. The tar heating on the stove had boiled over and the shed was on fire. As this stood quite close to a neighbouring farmer’s thatched cottage we had the vision of the cottage going up in flames, but fortunately we had a good fire-extinguisher and the fire was soon extinguished.As soon as we had done this the fire-engine arrived, for the neighbours had seen the fire and being worried about their property had rung the Fire Brigade. All ended well but it could have been a nasty situation.


Construction and RepairWork


As well as maintenance we did some construction work, adding a large building to store implements. We also added a lean-to on the back of the large barn, and did all the work ourselves. It was the only time I did any amount of bricklaying, for I had the task of building a five-foot high wall as part of the lean-to. Not really a very professional job, but it stood as long as that particular barn remained.


On another occasion Uncle bought the remains of the floors and foundations of some old buildings to use as hard-core to put in the bottom of the cattle yard.


I think the principle was never pay anyone to do a job that you could do yourself.



Corn Harvest


The Corn Harvest would normally begin in August depending on the weather and how the crops had ripened.There was an August Bank Holiday in those days at the beginning ofAugust (the first weekend normally) and we would reckon it would be after that before we could start.


Uncle used to inspect the crops and when he adjudged a crop was ready we would make a start. The first thing to be done was to cut round the edge of the field to make a place for the tractor and the self binder to go without running on the crop.   This would be done with a scythe, and the corn tied into sheaves, using some of the straw to bind them together, and these sheaves were stood in the hedgerow out of the way. When this was done the self binder would be brought out.


We had a Massey Harris self binder, and the machine consisted of a cutter bar with a knife made up of triangular sections - which had to be sharpened every so often on a stand using a file - which ran between steel fingers which provided a cutting edge. There was a series of canvas belts on which the corn fell and was then carried through the machine to the knotting mechanism, which tied the corn into sheaves using binder twine, and then threw each sheaf out on the other side.


As time went on the area of corn in the centre of the field grew smaller, and this was the time when one was on the look out for rabbits that would have trapped and hiding in the centre. There was usually someone around with a gun looking to shoot a rabbit for a meal at that time. If possible a field would be finished in a day otherwise the rabbits would escape - and no extra for a meal.


As the cutting was progressing other people would start setting up the sheaves into what we called shocks (called stooks in some parts of the country), which consisted of eight to ten sheaves set up in a triangular fashion so that the corn and the strawfinished drying out. These would be left for a few days - again depending on the weather - until it was adjudged that they were ready to be put into a stack.


The carting and stacking process involved quite a number of people and quite a lot of operations. A base of straw for the stack would be laid down; the size according to what it was anticipated would be needed to contain the crop of a certain field.


Trailers and carts would be taken to the field and two people had the job of pitching the sheaves on to the trailer, and some times a third person to stack the load. The trailer was pulled alongside the row of shocks from one to the other, and this involved sometimes the use of a horse or a tractor with a person to lead the horse or drive the tractor (this job was often given to one of the younger members of theteam).Pitching could be quite hard work for if it was wheat sheaves there was a good deal of weight in each sheaf. Barley sheaves were lighter and easier to handle.


When the trailer or cart was loaded it was then taken to the site of the stack. This could be some considerabledistance away and thensomeone was needed todrive away, and they would take a load to the stack and hopefully return for the next by the time it was finished loading.


At the stack the elevator was set up and someone designated to throw the sheaves from the trailer into the elevator which carried them on to the stack where a number of people passed them to the stacker whose job was to build the stack - avery skilled job for if the job was not done right the stack could fall down or part of it slip out (my Uncle always took some large pieces of wood - which we called lawyers to prop up the stack if this happened). If a stackwas built properly and finished off correctly you ended up with one that was a good shape and would keep the water out if there was a rainstorm.


We had extra help from various people from around the village during the harvest period, and sometimes there would be relatives staying on holiday and they would be drawn in to help. We worked through the hours of daylight when the weather was fine. The workers had to be fed with some coming to the farmhouse for the midday meal, and sandwiches and tea provided for the teatimebreak. The harvest would go on through August and towards the end of September, depending on the weather.



After harvest when allwas finishedthere wouldbe the job of thatching the corn stacks and this was done with straw from a previous harvest. The straw was thrown out loosely into a large pile with water added to make it damp. It was then drawn out by hand into bundles - that we called Yellams, and these then packed together between two sticks linked with cord, to be carried up the long ladder that had been laid up the roof of the stack. These would then be laid up the roof of the stack in a course, starting at the bottom and overlapping for one third. My job was drawing the straw and carrying the bundles up the ladder (I could do this without holding on to the sides of the ladder – clever – I don’t think!).




As time went on there were changes in the farming scene. I remember when we had the first combine harvester.After much debate my Uncle bought a MasseyHarris Combine Harvester - this was a six-foot, side-cut, powered by an engine mounted on the draw bar of the combine, and drawn by a tractor. It had the same cutter bar and canvas belt system that we had on the self binder, but these conveyed the corn up to a drum and then there was a shaker system (with straw-walkers) that threw the straw out of the back of the machine, and the threshed corn was put into sacks. At first these were slid down a chute on to the ground and had to be picked up by hand. After a while we fitted a platform on to it, and corn sacks could be moved straight on to a trailer. It was a cumbersome machine, and if we wanted to travel down the public roads the cutter-bar system had to be removed and taken as a separate item, and then re-attached before the combine could be used in another field. The combine meant that the old system with self binder, thrashing tackle etc, was gone and it did make a great deal of difference. The number of people needed to get in the harvest was greatly reduced in number.


The straw was left on the field and had to be gathered up, either into a straw stack, or baled with a pickup balers which really came in with the advent of the combine. If the straw of a particular field was not needed there grew up the custom of burning it on the field. A few furrows were drawn round the field with a plough to make a fire break, a match applied to the straw, and in dry weather in a matter of minutes the straw was reduced to ashes.


That brought us back to the start of another round with all the different activities involved in the farming year.


There were also other things that came up as the year progressed. Sometimes we would go to the local Cattle Market at Saffron Walden, and that was a day out for many of the farmers, and a meeting point of the agricultural community. And then occasionally to the Market at Cambridge, which I think was the largest in the area.


There were Agricultural Shows, a local one at Saffron Walden, but also the Essex County Show held somewhere in the middle of the county. This was an excellent day out (if the weather was good, and I can remember some wet ones!). There was always plenty to see with the horse and cattle parades and demonstrations in the main ring, cattle, sheep and pigs to be seen in the pens. There were trade stands to be visited, and the firms with whom a farmer dealt were always anxious to provide hospitality where tea, sandwiches, cakes, beer were available for clients, with the idea of encouraging their continued custom.


There were a number of guns available round the farm, and if things were slack I sometimes got the job of taking a 12-bore shotgun round the fields and getting something that my Aunt could cook for dinner. There were rabbits and hares, pigeons, pheasants and partridges, all of which made a very good meal, and I usually came back with something. There was also a 410 shotgun and I would often take this with me if I was working on the tractor out in the fields, and particularly at harvest time. Guns were dangerous weapons and one had to treat them with care and respect, making sure that they were not loaded and cocked if you were going through hedgerows or thickets.I once had the 410 go off as I jumped down from the tractor, which took the paint off part of the tractor, but it was a good lesson for me and made me more aware of the care that was needed.


It was during the time at Church Farm I obtained my first car, when I bought a second-hand 1936 Ford Eight for £25, on 19 December 1955.


I only kept the Ford Eight for about three months, and then one day in March 1956 the representative from the local agricultural merchants, S.R.F. (Sutton, Rowe & Foster) came to see my Uncle, and persuaded me to buy the car he was driving, a 1935 Austin Ten, Lichfield Saloon, which I bought for £76 on 6 March. I sold the Ford Eight for £25, the same as I paid for it, the only time I have ever managed to do that. The Austin was a grand little car and I did many miles with it in the local area, and to other parts of the country.


My tractor Licence did not qualify me to drive a car, so after practice on my Uncle’s farm car, an Austin 12 of about 1939 vintage. I took my driving test in Cambridge, on 8 March 1956.Not the best of place to take a test for in those days, there seemed to be hundreds of students from the University riding cycles with no regards for people like me taking the driving test. When we had finished and got back to the Driving Test Centre the examiner told me all the things I had done wrong, and then to my surprise gave me a pass mark, and a Certificate of Competence to drive. I then had my own transport and was then able to go where I wanted without relying on public transport or other people. On the way home the car conked out and we found that when I had done the emergency stop, the battery had fallen down on to the top of the engine! We put it back and all went well, but I was glad it did not happen during the test.


Uncle George and his brother Jack had been partners in the farm, but there came a point when they decided to go their own ways. Jack left and went to work at Acrows in Saffron Walden and I remained for a time working with Uncle George, but then eventually moved to work at Langley Lawn.


© 2008 Douglas Savill



FARMING AT LANGLEY IN THE 50S – part 2: Langley Lawn

by Douglas Savill


To Langley Lawn


There came a time when I felt it was right to change my employer, having worked for my Uncle for about ten years. In many ways as a member of the family and spending a lot of time in the farm house, but I wanted to earn a better wage so began to look around for another job. A farmer, Tony Clarke, at Langley Lawn on the other side of the village, was looking for someone to do some hedging and clear out an old lane, called Up-Ends Lane, so I got the job on piece work at so much a chain (the old measure of 22 yards – the same as the length of a cricket pitch). At the end of the week Tony would come and measure what I had done in the week and pay me for the week (I still cannot remember how much a chain I got for the work). After about three weeks, having seen what sort of workman I was, Tony came up one day and offered me a regular place on the farm as a full-time worker.


Langley Lawn


Langley Lawn was a much larger farm than Church Farm, with over 300 acres - mostly arable land but with some sows for breeding and then pigs were reared for the bacon factory. There was a deep litter house with chickens. But it was mostly arable land and crops of wheat and barley grown extensively, with some potatoes and other crops. It was a much more modern farm with a lot of machinery, and quite a number of people working on the farm.


It was just on the edge of the Nuthampstead airfield, which the Americans had vacated, and some of the runways had been broken up, but others left and sometimes used by private aircraft. There were some holes in the walls of one of the barns, and I was told they were the result of the Americans trying out the guns on the aircraft (friendly fire!).


A number of people were employed on the farm, and on the whole I think we had a good team and worked well together.


Tractor Driving


There I was given the task of driving one of the tractors - a New Fordson Major Diesel, which was launched in 1952 with a new engine and improved transmission, and which had mounted implements. The stiff Essex clay was not easy to plough and needed plenty of power, and one of the Essex firms, Ernest Doe, had the idea of linking two Fordson Majors together and sold them as the Triple D (= Doe’s Dual Drive). With the Diesel that I drove for ploughing at any depth you could only pull two furrows, but it was a very good tractor.


There was another Fordson Major Diesel and we did have an International Crawler Tractor at one point and I drove that on a few occasions. We also had a Ferguson for light work, later replaced with a Massey Ferguson 65 with a Perkins engine and a six speed gear box and this had twice the power of the Ferguson 20.


I enjoyed driving the tractors, a bit bleak in the winter time, but very good to be in the open air in the spring and summer. You often went out and spent all day in the field on the tractor, sitting down by the hedgerow or tractor wheel to eat your ‘Elevenses’ or your midday sandwiches.One was a little apprehensive if you were in the middle of a field and there was a thunderstorm for you were conscious that the chunk of metal on which you were sitting could be in line for a lightening strike!


Tractors have of course continued to develop and one marvels at what they can do these days. My Grandfather, Henry Savill, would plough an acre a day with two horses, I could plough five or six acres a day with my diesel, but now I believe they can get through thirty acres a day, and with the comfort of an air-conditioned cab, and a radio to pass the time.


Preparation for Harvest


Preparation for the next harvest began almost before one was finished with the ploughing of land as soon as possible when a crop had been cleared. The old system of marking out bouts about thirty yards apart and then ploughing out and leaving a furrow across the field was used. This method showed up the ploughman’s art, with nice straight furrows, debris buried, and soil set up and looking good. It was finished off by ploughing the headlands where the tractor had turned at each end of the field.


But at this time, with the coming of the combine harvester, there was a move to ‘round and round’ ploughing, to leave the ground level. There were two methods of doing this:


1) Was to start on the outside and work towards the middle of the field – and this involved ploughingthe turning areas across the middle of the field to finish the work.


The other method


2) Was to start in the middle of the field and work towards the outside. This involved measuring out to find the centre of the field. This was most easily done with the aid of another tractor (or person) and making a mark some thirty or forty yards in from the edge of the field, and then repeating this operation until a small area the shape of the field was left in the centre of the field. First ploughing out this shape, and then going on until the field was finished. It sometimes meant that adjustment had to be made as one came to the edge, but no headlands and furrows, and leaving a very level field. I think I liked that method the better of the two.


It needed to be broken down by cultivation if a crop was to be sown in the autumn, otherwise having been turned over with the plough left to winter before being cultivated for spring sowing. With headlights on the tractor ploughing was a job one could go on well into the evening and there was plenty of opportunity for overtime before winter broke. Sometimes during the winter a frost would give the opportunity for a piece of land to be turned over.




When the land was ready soon after harvest the time came to sow the autumn crops and this was done with a combine drill which applied fertiliser at the same time as the seed, and this became a much faster process with the development of the machinery. Autumn sowing had to stop once the winter rains came and one had to wait until the spring winds dried out the land.


Sowing in the spring could be quite a cold job, with the March winds blowing – and we used to call the east wind a lazy wind because it went through and not round a person. Spring sowing could be quite a dusty job with the soil drying out – often we fitted the tractor with iron cage wheels outside the rubber tyres on the rear wheels which spread the weight for the tractor, but also picked up the dust from the ground, and with no cab on the tractor the driver got the full benefit of the flying dust.


Often after sowing the field would need to be harrowed (sometimes the harrows would be attached to the back of the corn drill), to break down the tilth and leave a good seedbed – and then perhaps followed up by being rolled, with a heavy iron roll pulled by a tractor. The rolls were a set of three which covered quite a wide piece of land, again the idea to condense the soil, preserve the moisture, and encourage



Caring for the crops


As we moved through winter and spring and on towards summer there were many jobs to do in caring for the crop. Still some hand hoeing to do but much of the hoeing was mechanical.The big change I found was the use of chemical spaying to control the weeds. One had to learn how to use the chemicals and the precautions to be used for the sake of safety. The sprayer had a very wide boom and a very large acreage could be covered in a very short time.


To encourage growth quite often a top-dressing of fertiliser would be given in the spring, again applied by mechanical means. Also there was sometimes the need to roll a field to consolidate the ground after the winter.


Corn Harvest


The corn harvest at Langley Lawn was very much mechanised. We had a self propelled Massey Harris combine harvester (a 726), andlater another one (a 780). This meant that the corn was discharged from the combine straight into bulk trailers that brought it to the barn and tipped it into a hopper from where it wasconveyed to a dressing machine and after dressing was stored in large corn silos in the barn. There were eight of these made of concrete, where the corn was kept until it was sold. At first it had to be put into sacks to be collected. Later we built ourselves some more silos made of steel with bulk loader hopper which meant the lorries just had to pull underneath and the corn would then run into the lorries with no effort required. I remember helping build these new silos, but some of our gang were reluctant to climb up into the roof of the barn to do the top level.


The team required for harvest was much less that the old method of self binder and building corn stacks (no threshing tackle required either).One man on the combine - one driving the corn away to the barn - and two people in the barn to operate the dressing machine - or the dryer. The team would be replaced with other membersof the staff as the day went on to keep the machines going over the dinner and teabreaks.


When harvest was in progress every morning the combine had to be serviced ready for the day. The Boss would go out for a sample of corn to test and see if the moisture content was low enough for work to begin. Even although we had a dryer it still needed to be reasonably low moisture content to start.


When harvest came there was a Massey Harris self propelled combine harvester (a 726) and the corn was taken by trailer and tipped into a pit, from where a conveyor transferred it to the barn to be dressed and stored in bulk in large silos. We had installed while I was there a dryer, to dry the corn if the moisture content was too high, which meant that harvest could proceed earlier thanhaving to wait for the corn to be completely dry in the field.


There was a reminder of past days with a building called the Granary (built for the storage of grain) which had a sack ladder with steps quite close together to enable a man to carry a sack of corn (weighing 16 to 18 stone) from the ground level to the first floor where it would be stored. Not a job I ever had to do, but one that would require a great deal of strength.


When the time came for the corn to be sold it was a case of a lorry being loaded from a large hopper and not having to be handled in sacks.


In 1977 (fifteen years after I had left to go to college) Tony grew a field of wheat which was in the Guinness Book of Records for the highest yield for a crop of wheat.That was 20.4 Acres of Maris Hobbit Winter Wheat which yielded 89.8 cwt per acre. (or 8.25 ha yielding 11.273 Kg per ha.)


That record was later superseded in 1986 by a farm in Scotland with a yield of 111.4 cwt per acre.




We had a John Deer Transverse Action Wire Tying Baler, and after helping to service the combine my task was to bale some of the fields that had already been harvested. During meal breaks I had the task of taking over from one of the combine team, for there was no stopping during the pressure of getting the harvest reaped. One would carry on with this job until the damp fell in the evening, but I think the latest I can remember was 10.30 pm one evening, and we thought we would be there all night, but then the damp dropped.


The bales had to be collected and stored in a large Dutch Barn as time allowed. They were collected by a tractor and trailer with two people pitching them on to the load with bale forks where someone would stack them neatly for the journey back to the farm. At the farm there was a bale-elevator to take them to the top of the barn as the pile of bales piled up.


Not much sale for straw in North Essex but demand in many parts of the country, and for a number of years two men came from Devon with a large lorry and trailer, and loading both with about eight or nine layers of bales set of for Devon.


Sometimes the straw in a field was not required, perhaps because there was no sale for it, or no time to bale and cart, and the field was required for cultivation. In that case it was often decided to burn the straw (something not allowed these days). A few furrows would be ploughed round the outside of the field, so that the fire would not get into the hedgerow. Careful consideration was given to the wind direction, for the fire was lit to burn against the wind. With a few people present to watch over the fire a match was applied. With dry straw and dry conditions it was amazing how quickly the fire would move across a field.


This did not always work out as some farmers planned, and hedgerows did sometimes get alight, and the neighbour’s field, which did not go for good relationships between neighbours. For a while it became quite common practice and it could be quite spectacular if the job was done in the late evening and some fires could be seen for a considerable distance.


Potato Crop


We grew some twenty acres of potatoes - but at Langley Lawn that process was mechanised. We had a machine to plant the potatoes mounted behind a Ferguson Tractor. There was a hopper which held fertiliser and another which held the seed potatoes. Two seats at the rear of the machine which allowed two operators to pick potatoes and drop them down a spout every time a bell rang.


The crop would need to be hoed and ridged up at the appropriate time, and then sprayed with various chemicals as the season progressed.


When it came to harvesting them a potato spinner threw them out on to the ground to be picked up by hand, and a gang of women were employed to do this. At first they were picked up and put into bags - the women were paid so much a bag for picking them up. The bags had then to be collected with a tractor and trailer, lifted and loaded by hand with two people using a short stout stick.


Later on we went over to picking them up in large boxes - which were lifted and moved with the front loader on a tractor.


The potatoes were stored in a barn that had been lined with straw bales to keep out the frost. As the winter progressed we would begin to riddle them to remove dirt and sub-standards and prepare them for market. Again a gang of local women would be employed to help sort the potatoes, for only the best would make a good price when sold. This was a job done in the bad weather and we would have a heater burning diesel oil to help keep us warm on the really cold days. That was also useful in that you could bake potatoes for your lunch as the day went on.


The potatoes were weighed up in one hundredweight bags (112 lbs) and sold, usually to a buyer who came from London.


One year a potato washer arrived and we erected it in one of the sheds, and this was when the public were beginning to look for clean potatoes to buy.


Work through the Winter


We had outside jobs to do and hedges and ditches to look after. I worked quite a lot with Ken Newland, and Ken was an expert at laying hedges. If we needed a stock-proof hedge we would trim out the hedge leaving quite a lot of the upright pieces standing (trimming out was my job) and then Ken would cut partly through these pieces and bend them down and weave the through upright posts, and these would grow into a living fence, that with the occasional trimming and care, would last for years. There was always surplus trimming of which we had to dispose and we would have a fire, often started with the aid of some paraffin or diesel oil, and on a cold day the warmth from the fire could be very welcome. But it was a job where the work kept you warm except on the coldest of days.


We also had work to do in the corn barn, where the corn that had been stored in the silos was prepared for sale. It was put through the dressing machine to remove all the rubbish and the lower standard grain. We had some corn to put in sacks, but a lot of it was sold in bulk which meant transferring it to the loading hopper, and then the corn lorries would simply pull underneath, you would pull a lever, and it would simply run into the lorry, much easier than humping sacks.


We also had a very good workshop, and during the winter we would take the opportunity of servicing all the mechanical equipment ready for when the spring came. At one point Tony Clarke bought an old army truck, a 30 cwt Bedford, and we spent a considerable amount of time fitting it with a tipping mechanism so that it could be used for carting corn from the combine in the field to the barn during harvest. It was a very useful vehicle, but very much under-powered, and I remember bringing a four-ton load of in sacks from the field at Bishop’s Stortford, and having to go down to bottom gear on many of the hills.


We did a certain amount of work round the farm buildings and yards in the better weather.Roofs and walls were repaired, concrete laid down. There were the very busy times when one worked all the hours possible (and got paid overtime) to get the work done.


Through the Year


There was always something to do on the farm, and that had not changed with modern developments. It was a busy life all the year round, but an enjoyable one which gave satisfaction.


And it was not all work – occasionally a shoot would be held on the farm, or a neighbouring farm, and those who worked on the farm would been engaged with workers from other farms as beaters and drive the game towards the guns who were stationed strategically along one side of the area. As the beaters progressed over the countryside and through the woodlands one could hear the shouting and the banging of sticks on the undergrowth and then the guns going off as pheasants, partridge, other birds, rabbits and hares were driven to the guns.


Moving On


As we came to the early 60s I had the opportunity to go to college to train as a Methodist Minister, but I am sure the years that I spent on the farm were a good preparation for what I was to do in later years. On all the Circuits where I served there were some farmers, perhaps with a different kind of farming, but the time I had spent on the farm enabled me to understand something of their circumstances and situations.


© 2008 Douglas Savill