Arthur’s Life Story
I was born at my Grandfather’s farm in Sherrill. As a baby I went to Woodtown with my father and mother, I lived there 12 months short of 80 years. I know Dunterton area very well because my family all lived around there. It was all the Duke of Bedford’s estate. My uncles also lived in Dunterton, so I knew Dunterton parish very well. We moved to our house in Milton Abbot in 2004. I went to Milton school, luckily for me the bus picked us up as it was a mile long lane to Woodtown. The bus took me to Milton school, but my father and uncles had to walk to school, it was a distance of 3 ½ miles. I went to school during the war. I had quite a few days off school because of potato picking and harvesting as we were exempt to help on the farm. It was all horses then, there were three of us working on the farm then. When I finished it was just me with contractors doing big jobs. There were no contractors then except at threshing time when all the neighbouring farms would send one man to help for the day’s threshing, then when they were threshing you went to their farm. After the war I stayed on at the farm, it was horses and they were never my best thing, horses. I was not 100% horsey minded, but there was no option. Talking about horses I shall always remember going out with another workman to get hay because hay was then made into loose hayricks. You used to go out with a knife to cut it into 4 foot lengths, throw it on the wagon and take it in the barns. One day we were out towards the end of the war, or just after, we had just finishes loading a bundle of hay and a plane came over, then we heard it, it was the first jet plane. I said ‘crumbs, you didn’t hear it coming – that’s going to be deadly with horses’, because with farm work and with horse and cart taking out dung for instance, you come to a gate, jump out, you open the gate, speak to the horse, he walks, you stop him then you take the dung out of the cart and spread it. The horse would be about ten paces ahead of you most of the time and if a plane came over you would have no way of stopping the horse.
All the farms in the Dunterton or Milton area were generally 140 to 180 acres, it was all mixed farms. Everybody had a few cows for milk and butter, 200-300 hens, sheep and pigs, everything except goats. They didn’t have any goats. It was, I suppose, Government policy. There was a time when we had about 300 hens and you would have an eggman come around with a lorry. With boxes of 30 dozen eggs, he would come every week, that was fine, Then the big boys came in with thousands of eggs and the eggman stopped collecting. The farms like Dunterton with no passing trade could not sell the eggs, so the hens, except a few, went. The same happened with dairy, our cows were hand milked. We had two butchers who would come, midweek and the end of the week, and two bakers van came twice a week, also a hardware van which would sell nails, paraffin and suchlike. They all disappeared in turn. We stopped milk because they stopped picking up churns. They wanted to pick up milk in bulk, but our lane was a mile long with 4 gates. I can’t see a milk lorry coming down there.
Then Father died and I took over. It was the Duke’s farm and they were perfect landlords, they wanted me to stay on and I wanted to stay. I stopped milk when my father retired and went into stock bullocks (rearing for market), sheep and pigs. Then the pigs went. When you were on your own it was much easier to tend to say 200 – 300 sheep than say 50 sheep and so many pigs, because there are so many different jobs. Then the butcher stopped and nobody came around. We had a car then and we used to go to the market more. I think it was a very busy life really. I had a cousin from Plymouth who used to come up and stay weekends occasionally; he said you are doing a lot more here socially than we do in Plymouth. We used to cycle to Milton and other places. We did church bellringing, we went to the table tennis club and the players Amateur dramatic society. This year was the first year I was not involved in the Amateur dramatic society. I did the scenery and was stage Manager for 40 odd years.
I was married and we had 2 girls. We still see both daughters, in fact, we are just packing for one to collect us and to go and visit the other. We stayed in the farm until 1994 when I retired because I had a medical condition, which was treated. We were very friendly with Henrietta the Marchioness of Tavistock at that time and they did not want us to leave. They said that we could go in the barn and they would have the house. We stayed in the barn until it wasn’t practical to be a mile off the road. We were told we could stay there for our lifetime, but we decided to move to Milton Abbot. The farm has now been done up into a beautiful house, the conversion was completed just before last Christmas. The house is for the use of the Bedford family and Holland farmers work the land.
I used to have about 120 ewes and I use to rear between 80 and 120 calves a year up to about two and a half years old to be sold at Tavistock market. We started to cross the old Devon ewes with Suffolks and breeds like that. We used to fatten all the lambs. When I finished, I only had sheep and bullocks. We had a feeding machine you put in milk powder, water and laid on electricity, it had 4 teats and if you had 4 pens with 10 in each, and they would just help themselves, it worked as well as any cow. That would take the cows on until about 2½ years old – they don’t do that now, they do that quicker. That old fashioned way of farming is gone now, replaced by better methods. We had about 30 acres of corn oats for feeding stock. We used to cut about 30 to 40 acres for hay, later we would get a contractor. Contractors became more popular then; you could get hedge trimming done by contractors whereas before it was all hand work. Threshers were replaced by a combine. In the old days hay harvest was, well if the weather was like this (wet), it could take months. You would cut a field and then about 3 days later cut another one. You had to make ricks and then you had to bale it. In the old way it took the whole summer. The hay has to be reasonably dry or else you get mildew. Then, when the balers came in, if you had 30 acres of hay , it use to average about 100 bales an acre, it would take well over an hour to bring in a cart and unload it, so at most you would bring in 600-700 bales a day. Now the harvest is done in a day. It is the same with hedge trimming, it used to be any spare minute in the winter you would be out paring hedges and we never did do them all. Now a contractor does the whole farm in no time. I suppose general living is the same, what used to take weeks is now done in hours. You wonder what you do with the spare time, but it’s always taken up with something. The farm has a mile of riverbank with the Tamar. It’s now sold to the Endsleigh fishing club. The water bailiffs records used to show about 300-400 fish a year taken. Today they struggle to get to a 100 fish. There up to 10 people fishing whereas there used to only be a few. I know my Grandparents used to have a party to fish, which was with the Duke’s Harley Street dentist, they would come for a fortnight and one time they squeezed in 7 or 8 doctors. The children would have to sleep 3 or 4 in a bed. They would fish for trout and sometimes catch so many they didn’t know what to do with them. The Duke’s estate had a Gamekeeper and an underkeeper, they had 2 gangs, one Devon side and one Cornwall side, both with quite a few men. They used to do general repairs every 5 years and they would come in with their benches and do all the repairs outside for all the farm buildings. Also, there were odd people who, if you had slates come off, would tend to that while others would do drains or gates or things like that. The majority of men in Milton village worked either on the estate or on farms on the estate. Milton was unique then – everyone worked for the estate. Endsleigh had about 20 working on the gardens. There was no other work. There was no mining in Dunterton and when the mines closed down Gunnislake way, there were so many people out of work that the Duke made work with miles of stone drives. The people had a long way to walk to work.