History of Stourton Caundle

Early Childhood Memories

By Phil Knott

Manor Farm

I spent most of my time outside of school hours on Manor Farm. In my primary school days this was usually with the owner’s son Reg Garrett. The dairy herd at Manor Farm was made up of about seventy shorthorn cows. Two tractors were in use on the farm in the early 1950s, an International and a Case. Two shire horses called Punch and Toby still had plenty to do. My earliest recollections of Manor farm include placing the sheaves of corn into stooks in a field by the name of Garvey at the far end Caundle Lane, and watching my grandfather making spars in the outbuilding below the farmhouse. The copper for heating the water, for use in the dairy at milking time, was located here and on inclement cold winter days provided him with a warm refuge to make spars, using hazel sticks collected when hedge laying. Faggots from hedge laying provided fuel for the copper and the hot water was carried in two large buckets to the dairy, suspended by chains from either end of a yoke carried on the shoulders. I can also remember driving, or rather steering the Case tractor, while potato planting in Townsend, as my legs were not long enough to reach the brake or clutch pedals.

At the end of each school day I would race down the road to our home at Bridge Cottage and change into my old clothes, before dashing across the road to the farm, to assist with the milking and to suckle the young calves. My first memory of hay-making was in a field called Little Mead a meadow adjoining the Caundle Brook now incorporated into Barbeys. The haystack was being built beside the brook and the hay was brought to the elevator with a hay sweep attached to the tractor. Bob Green, the landlord of the Trooper Inn, who worked part time on the farm during the busy summer months, joined forces with my father in the evenings to pitch the hay into the elevator.

David Bond driving the Case tractor, Reg Garrett operating the binder
David Bond driving the Case tractor, Reg Garrett operating the binder
Ernest Palmer left and Eddie Bond pitching hay to Reg Garrett
Ernest Palmer left and Eddie Bond pitching hay to Reg Garrett

My father’s working day began at 6am sharp, with the morning milking and ended at 5pm. During the hay-making and harvesting seasons work continued until dusk. The case and international tractor drivers were Eddie Bond and his son David. Eddie and his two sons David and Peter worked on Manor Farm at this time, and lived next door to me at number 1 Bridge Cottages.

As soon as the hay-making was complete, the corn harvest was ready to start. The corn was cut by means of a self-binding machine, with the wooden shafts replaced by an iron tow bar to enable it to be drawn by a tractor. The sheaves of corn were picked up from the ground and placed into stooks by the other farm staff. These included my Grandfather Ernest Palmer whose normal duties were hedging, ditching, thatching and spar making. The stooks were erected in parallel lines around the field and between each double line an aisle, was left just wide enough to allow the wagon to pass between them. The loaded wagons were then hauled back to the farm and corn stacks erected in the rick-yard at the rear of the farm buildings.

The annual visit of the threshing team of Art and Bert Cooper, with their threshing tackle and Field Marshall tractor, was another enjoyable occasion for me and signalled a very busy few days for all the farm staff. The threshed corn was bagged off into large hessian sacks known as West of England and stored in the tithe barn adjoining the farmhouse. The separated straw was re-bundled and tied into manageable bundles by a straw trusser, positioned at the rear of the threshing machine and then placed in a new stack, which was later thatched by my grandfather. On reaching the bottom of each corn stack mice and rats started to run in all directions, trying to make their escape. I was waiting for them with a stout hazel stick in my hand, with the farm dog, a spaniel by the name of Dash, alongside me. On wet weather days each sack was weighed on a set of scale, and the contents adjusted by adding or removing grain until it contained the correct weight. In the case of wheat this was two and a quarter hundredweight. On one such occasion Dave Bond bundled me into a West of England sack attaching a rope to the neck, which was then thrown over a roof truss and I was unceremoniously hauled to the roof of the barn much to the delight of those present.

Shep Knight was a shepherd in his younger days in Wiltshire and he teamed up with my father in the winter months to cut and haul the kale for fodder for the cattle. They cut acres of kale, mostly the narrow stemmed variety, both were on the short side and in a good season the kale was often taller than they were. They used reap hooks to cut the kale, and then lay it in small straight heaps, to make the loading onto the wagon as easy as possible, using long handled four prong picks. This cutting had to be done even in the most atrocious weather conditions, at times the kale would be frosted and freezing cold to handle. On other occasions it would be pouring with rain with mud up to their knees. In these conditions Shep and my father would dress up in oilskins from head to toe. The kale was hauled to the field where the cattle would spend the night and spread around a wide area so they had room enough to feed. Punch and Toby were the two horses used for hauling kale. Punch was the shaft horse, while Toby was in the traces. It was heavy going for the horses in the depth of winter, with the mud as deep as the axles of the wagon wheels in the field gateways.

Hay also had to be hauled to the cattle. A round trip up Holt Lane and across several fields to the rick could take a couple of hours by the time they returned with a load of hay. The hay was cut from the rick with a hay knife, then my father lifted each truss onto the wagon for Shep to load. Old Shep liked his pint of cider and most lunch times he would walk out of the farm gate across the road to the Trooper, before walking up Golden Hill on his way home for dinner.

By the mid 1950s two grey Ferguson tractors, supplied by Percy Windsor from Yeovil, had replaced Toby and Punch. By 1956 a Massey Harris baler and combine harvest had also arrived as well as the first two Friesian cows named Darky and Fairy. All the dairy cows had names, usually after a flower, including Bluebell, Iris, Violet and Daisy. I knew the name of every cow and the name of every field on Manor Farm at this time. The combine harvester had a six feet cutting blade and the corn was bagged off into West of England sacks, each weighing around two and a quarter hundred weight, which had to be manually lifted from he ground onto a flat bed trailer for transportation back to the barn. At about the same time two covered yards were erected on the site of the former rick yard, to provide overnight shelter for the dairy herd during the winter months.

Health and safety was not such an important issue on farms in the 1950s and children were allowed to ride on farm tractors and on top of the loaded wagons. I can remember as a small boy riding to and from Holt Lane on Dave Bond’s matchless motorcycle, perched between his inner thighs on the front edge of the seat and the fuel tank. I did have one near miss when I was tipped out of the Ferguson transport box in a field called Humpy Knoll.

My Grandfather Ernest Palmer made baskets and clothes pegs from dogwood and willow wood. Wild rose briers were used as rose stocks for budding new roses in his garden as he was also a keen gardener. He built the ricks during hay-making and harvesting and when crop had been safely gathered in; he would thatch the ricks using the spars he had made himself. Spar making was a wet weather job in wintertime, working in one of the farm sheds. The thatch was made from wheat straw, while the spars were made from selected hazel sticks, which were of a suitable dimension, cut by my grandfather when laying field hedges. Hedge making and ditching would commence around leaf fall and continue until March. The excavated material from the bottom of the ditch was placed evenly along the ditch bank. The new hedge was formed by using a bill-hook to cut the upright sticks, with the layered sticks then pegged down with crooks cut from the hedge.

My grandfather spent most of his days working alone in the fields adjoining Holt Lane and Holt Wood, some distance from the farmyard. His lunch consisted of bread and cheese, and a bottle of cold tea. During wintertime his lunch break was usually spent sheltering under the leeward side of a hedge, with only the birds for company. For a little warmth he would light a fire from the waste material from his hedge laying activities. On these freezing cold days a few wild birds such as Robins and Blackbirds would join him for lunch, all looking for tit bits. Most hedges provided a great deal of re-usable material such as pea and bean sticks, spar gads and bundles of wood for fire kindling. These useful items were all neatly placed in their respective piles and tied with a wooden bond, ready for to haul back to the farmyard with the horses.

Mangold hoeing at Manor Farm in 1960 Jim Swaffield, Ken Knott, Jim Gray and Roy Bond
Mangold hoeing at Manor Farm in 1960
Jim Swaffield, Ken Knott, Jim Gray and Roy Bond
1962 the first year of silage making on Manor Farm Ken Knott, Jim Gray and Roy Bond
1962 – First year of silage making on Manor Farm
Ken Knott, Jim Gray and Roy Bond

Whatever job, he was master of it, even when mangold hoeing no one else could keep up with him. Quite a few acres of mangolds were grown and if they were not flat hoed after germination they would soon get choked with weeds. As soon as the flat hoeing was finished they had to start again this time thinning the crop out, known as singling. Another hoeing was necessary when the mangolds had grown a bit, to keep the weeds in check, and to assist the swelling of the crop. The mangolds were then left unattended until harvesting time, usually starting around the middle to the end of October. Taking three lines a piece the mangolds were pulled up by their leaves from the soil, then twisting the leaves from the top and throwing them into heaps at mid distance between us. By keeping the heaps in straight lines, and at the right distance apart, hauling would be made a lot easier. The mangolds were then loaded onto a trailer and hauled to the clamp, located in a suitable place near the cow stall. They were then thrown back by hand into the clamp, which was constructed in the form of a gable roof. The completed clamp was then thatched in the same way as a haystack. This ensured that the mangolds remained in good condition throughout the hardest winter weather.

The memories of the many happy childhood hours I spent in the fields adjoining Holt Lane and Holt Wood have remained with me throughout my adult life. I still return on a regular basis, at all times of the year, to walk through Holt Wood and along Green lane, enjoying the splendid views over the western part of the Blackmore Vale. Then down to the rookery at the top end of Holt Lane, no longer echoing to the sound of the nesting rooks in the springtime. Along the Caundle Brook, through Humpy Knoll, and Barbeys, before climbing to the top of Tinkers Hill named after the Romany gypsies who were still regular visitors to Holt Lane in the 1950s.

There are some very noticeable changes the loss of flower and fauna in the fields and especially around the field edges, including wild orchids. Cowslips and primroses were in abundance then and the cornfields were a mass of red poppies before harvesting time. The loss of the elm trees, the decline in the number of songbirds, especially skylarks, and the disappearance of the rooks from the coppice at the far end of Holt Lane. The whole area seems to be so much quieter now, with no sign of farming activity or of cattle in the fields.

Enid Blyton purchased Manor Farm in 1958 and a young farm manager, fresh from farming college, with new ideas and farming methods, appointed. Hedges were removed, meadow grassland ploughed up and rye grass planted for silage. The remaining Shorthorn dairy cows were replaced with Friesian cows housed during the winter months in a covered yard, and calf pens were constructed in the former milking shed to wean heifer calves. The new decade of the swinging sixties was approaching and life on Manor Farm, as had existed from Victorian times, was coming to an end.