Individual Farm:

Howsyke

[This section  is under construction].

By Tom and  Rosemary Stephenson, formerly of Howsyke, Thoralby, published October 2016.

p. 5 "Rosemary's early life

I was born on January 12th 1927 at 2 Hope Cottage in the Sussex village of Hurstpierpoint. ...

p. 26 On Sunday September 3rd 1939 I was in chapel with my mother. Half way through the service was interrupted. My uncle came and told in and told us the spine-chilling news that war had been declared on Germany. ...

p.32 We all travelled to school with three things - satchel, gas mask and knitting bag. ...

Paper was in very short supply so it was almost impossible to replace text books and they had to be taken care of, covering them with brown paper to protect them. In rough notebooks we wrote all our notes from lessons and the homework we had to do was in pencil. When the book was absolutely full we then wrote in ink, turning the book sideways and writing across all the pencil. Books were not replaced until closely examined by our teacher. If there was the smallest space we had to use it up first. ...

p. 34 I was due to start at the teacher training college in Chichester, Bishop Otter, in September 1944 but the government had different ideas. The college had been taken over by the RAF and the only building available for Bishop Otter students to use was in Bromley, Kent, using premises vacated by a college that had been evacuated to Wales. ...

 

p. 42 Our only free times were Saturday afternoons and Sundays, though we were supposed to be at all the meals. These were quite formal and considering food was rationed for many years after the war, were not too bad. ...

p. 56 [1951] I invited Tom to come down one autumn half term to the Young Farmers to shoe us some cine film that he had made of farming in Yorkshire. The films he showed were very interesting but some of our members had problem with his Yorkshire accent, as he did trying to understand the Sussex dialect. ...

p. 60 Tom's early life

I was born on March 15th 1930 at Arras, a farm on the Beverley road three miles out of Market Weighton in the East Riding of Yorkshire. ...

p. 64 We were fortunate to have electricity in our house but, like many people then, used it only for lighting. Washing was a huge chore in those days, carried out in the wash house next door. On wash day, always Monday, an enormous boiler bubbled away in there over a fire of coal and wood. This was used to fill a dolly tub into which soap was grated, the whole lot stirred with a long stick called a posher.

After rinsing in a large sink the clothes and linen were fed through a mangle on iron wheels, its heavy wooden rollers three feet wide turned by hand using a big wooden handle, the water cascading into a bucket. A wooden shelf below caught the washing. Large items were carried to the line to be strung across the orchard from one old horse chestnut tree, the small things hung in the yard.

One large room in the farmhouse had been the old kitchen and dining room where meals were served to the single workers in my grandfather's time. The big table was still there and could seat three across each end and seven or eight down either side. A wide board full of horse brasses hung above the fireplace. This was where mother and her helpers served hot meals ...

p. 65 Not every house had a bathroom in those days but we did and a flush water toilet. Smaller country cottages often made do with an earth closet, a wooden seat over a bucket or pit which had to be emptied from time to time. ...

p. 66 With no fridge, food was kept cool in a cellar and the kitchen pantry. The pantry window was covered with a fine mesh so that when it was open insect could not get in.  It faced the fold yard and if we were leading muck and the wind was blowing in the wrong way the window had to be kept shut.  ...

p. 69 In those days pigs on farms cleaned up absolutely anything and everything left lying about, which included dead lambs and calves. ...

p. 70 The first tractors arrived at Arras in the 1930s, marking the gradual disappearance of the working horse from the farm. 

p.71 One of Grandad Boyes jobs was to turn the butter churn once or twice a week. They would sell what they didn't eat but with such a large family they probably didn't sell much at all. ...

p. 72 After a long spell in the field [the shire horses] clopped back into the yard, hot and sweating but the men who looked after them would not allow them to drink too much of the cool water they craved. This could cause a serious bout of colic and only once the horses had been rubbed down and rested could they quench their thirst. If a horse did go down with colic it had to be walked round and round for hours until, with luck the problem eased. Once down they were hard to get back up again. 

Great care was taken to ensure the harness fitted properly and was not rubbing. Any sores which developed, in particular under the collar, were slow to heal. After the busiest time of winter and spring the horses would be turned out to grass to have them fit for the demands of harvest. 

p. 75 Tractors could not always do a better job than horses. When overwintering stock in the yard we left trailers of straw for them to pull at. By spring these had sunk down in the straw and muck and the tractors could not get a grip and would get stuck. Then we had to fetch Captain, who by that time was our only remaining horse. He knew what he was there for and, leaning into his collar, he would pull the front wheels out at a right angle and we could out the tractor back.

After the war Uncle Guy, Father and I went to a military sale at Castle Donnington where they were selling all kinds of surplus military vehicles - lorries, even tanks and bren gun carriers. Amongst a lot of other stuff we bought a four wheel drive armoured car with a winch and wire rope about forty yards long. No more problems in the fold yard! The vehicle ended up at the garage at Aysgarth and was used for towing broken-down vehicles, especially in snow or floods.

Ensuring an adequate water supply for stock was always a problem on the Wolds. Near the farmhouse was a pond yard which in the early days was a very important asset. ...

p. 77 Sheep would also be fed hay in long nets hung at head height. Hay was baled only to if it was to be sold and otherwise was stacked until needed then sliced off with a sharp hay spade. Hay was viewed as money in the bank and could be kept from year to year if not needed, retaining its goodness and forming an insurance against the severe winters which would strike from time to time. ...

p. 78 ... At lambing time it was crucial to be there from daylight till dark and Shep was paid a bonus for every live lamb. At other times there were always things to look out for, such as sheep laid fast on their backs as the Old English Leicester often did ...

p. 79 When it came to tailing time for lambs Shep always had a very sharp knife. We would pick a time when the weather would be fine for a day or two. The ewes and lambs were penned up separately. Gimmers [2 year old females] just had their tails cut off at about three inches and were let free in the field. Tup lambs had to be castrated and this needed to be done cleanly, hence the need for a couple of dry days for them to heal up. They had to be caught, held firmly with two legs in each had, held up chest high and Shep would cut the end off, squeeze the testicle downwards and pull the testicles out one at a time with his teeth for cleanliness.

p. 80 Then the tails were cut off the lambs set free with the gimmers. ...

Fleeces were rolled then stacked in the granary, up to 700 sending out an oily smell quite unlike any other on the farm. ...

Until the late 1940s we dipped sheep down Kip Lane below a dew pond by the side of the road. ...

p. 86 The old fashioned method to lay a hedge, taking branches almost horizontal so that the following spring the sap could still rise, they would come in leaf again and grow up and make the hedge stock proof. During the war there was not the skilled labour to do this, hedges deteriorated and many had to have wire poles added to keep the stock in. ...

p. 88 The early tractors, though revolutionary compared to the horse had many drawbacks. The Fordsons were hard to get into gear, especially on a cold morning. The worst characteristic of the Fordson was the clutch, and brake were the same pedal ...

p. 89 In 1946 the new lightweight Freguson tractor was launched, much more reliable, easy to use and more flexible than the old Fordsons. Known as the Little Grey Fergie, it was a great step forward ...

p. 93 Our early married life

Our wedding took place on 5th July 1952. The day before it poured with rain and a high wind brought leaves tumbling down from the trees. It was terrible. ...

p. 95 Some of the time was spent preparing for Tom's Royal Observer Corps exam which was only a short time away. The Corps  formed a voluntary network across the country looking out for planes, for everyone was scared that the Russians might attack. Rosemary remembers, "He had to know the silhouettes of all aeroplanes from all all angles so I had to flash the cards at him while he gave the answers. I remember lying on the grass at Land's End going through these cards with him. It was very funny really but he passed!" ...

p. 106 The move to the Dales

In the summer of 1962 we took our three young children on holiday to Ingleton ...

Tom's father had decided to get rid of the Hereford cattle, as they produced rather fatty meat, which was going out of fashion. ...

p. 107 So we began to search for our own land. Having viewed two farms, in  Newton Stewart in Scotland and another in the Yorkshire Dales, we were unsure of what to do. Then Tom's father tipped us off about Howesyke Farm near the village of West Burton in Bishopdale, North Yorkshire. ...

The money we had between us paid for the farm, 400 ewes and other stock and equipment. We also had to invest in a new Land Rover. Howesyke had no road or bridge over the river and access was via the village of Thoralby, two miles away along a lane then over fields and through several gates to the house. The gates were only about three inches wider than the Land Rover.

We moved in on October 23rd 1962. The removal van made it as far as the lay-by and a neighbour gave permission for his field to be used to reach the house. The crew, from a firm in Beverley, were heroic in their contribution to the

p. 108 event,  having loaded up 90 miles away on East Yorkshire the day before. From the lay-by everything was hauled across the river by Land Rover and tractor and trailer. ...

The beautiful stone farmhouse stood away from Bishopdale Beck, set back against the fells with the land rising to 1400 feet. Dating from 1727, it had three massive bedrooms and had moved only partially into the 20th century. Electricity had been wired only in part of it and the toilet was an old earth close across the yard. Upstairs was a large bathroom with hot water from an immersion heater and a wash basin. With no central heating, a paraffin heater made the bathroom cosy. For that first year we had to use a chemical toilet. ...

p. 109 That first winter of 1962/63 was one of the worst ever seen in Britain. Rosemary remembers, "Gales swept in on Christmas Day and the electricity failed. I manged to get the duck roasted but could not cook the vegetables nor roast the potatoes and the family made do with bread and butter. Them the blizzards began. It was just snow, snow, snow and bitterly cold. ...

p. 110 The children were dressed in front of the electric heater in the kitchen because it was so cold in their rooms. It was a constant struggle to keep the cattle and sheep waters and fed. Thawing out frozen water pipes was a daily chore. Tom fought his way in the snow to reach the sheep but many were buried beneath deep drifts. Temperatures remained below freezing for week after week. When the thaw came, moths later, the weather had taken a terrible toll on the ewes. A pile of carcasses collected from the fields rose up in the yard. The weather was still bad for lambing but we managed somehow.

 

p. 111 Rosemary remembers, "Despite all this, never for one moment did we wish ourselves back at Arras. We heard later that Tom's family never expected us to survive that first winter. But we did."

Tom adds, "It was difficult country to farm after the Wolds and did not pay as well but the people were friendly and we came to love Bishopdale."

Snow remained on the tops of the hills until clipping time in June. We surveyed the sorry looking survivors of our flock, some of which had only a fleece clinging on, wondering how we would manage to get the work done. Then a message came that help would be arriving and six of our neighbours turned up the following morning, clipping all our sheep that day using only hand clippers. We didn't ask them they just turned up. We were blessed with good neighbours.

Slowly white turned to green once more and we brought in a good crop of hay. Everyone, young and old, took to the fields in the sunshine to help. We were the first farmers in Bishopdale to bale hay rather than stack it, having bought a baler from the previous owner. After seeing Tom driving the tractor and baler, neighbours saw how efficient the machine was so called him in to do their own fields.

 

At Howesyke we all follwed the trailer as bales fell off the back, rolling them into place ready to be piled up. Even Peter at the age of two and half could roll a bale. Being high up and needing to keep fields of grass for stock, there was only one hay crop at Howesyke. It was a happy time, with the children driving the tractor skillfully from a young age,

p. 112 just as their father had done when he was a boy, and proving an invaluable help on the farm. We know it was fun but we would have had a hard job to get by if they hadn't helped. ...

Our top priority was to get a road bridge across to the farm from Bishopdale Road. First we had to negotiate a right of way with our neighbour's field then find a building firm qualified to do the work. Since they came from some distance away, two workmen stayed with us for a fortnight while the job was done. The road had to rise considerably either side of the river so that the bridge was high up above any chance of flooding. We bought second-hand railway sleepers for the bridge at half a crown each (12½p). Replacements 30 years later cost £5 each.

 

For the first two years at Howesyke there was no television signal. We have always maintained that those were our happiest years  because after tea we would all sit round the fire, reading books or playing cards. There was no distinctions. As the children grew old enough to attend school they

 

p. 113 had to walk 15 minutes to the lane where a taxi collected them to take them to West Burton Primary School. ...

FOLLOW ME

  • Facebook Classic

© 2015-2019 by Penny Ellis