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More Childhood Memories

Two years ago when I last wrote in “The Hooter” I recalled all the shops we used to have in the village. In addition to these there was a fairly extensive delivery service from the butchers, grocers, bakers and milkman. There was also the “oilman” who, as well as selling paraffin for lamps and heaters, also sold items of hardware.

I was reminded of all these delivery services the other day when walking up Nuthurst Lane. I noticed the Waitrose van outside a neighbour’s house and of course we are all familiar with Tesco’s slogan “You shop – we drop”. To many of us this is nothing new, just a re-invention of the wheel, so to speak. Of course, what is new is the technology which enables this to happen. I thought back to my mother’s grocer, Mr Charles Taylor from Tanworth, whose simple system worked like this – fortnightly on a Monday he arrived on his bike, sat down at the kitchen table while my mother called out her list. Remember this was when food was rationed, or in short supply, so sometimes what we take for granted today was just not available. A lasting memory I have was when my mother asked for two boxes of matches (we needed them to light our coal fires as a source of heat). Mr Taylor replied, “Madam, don’t you realise there’s a war on?”. The goods were delivered the following Monday and these were than paid for when he came for the next order. How times have changed.

Clothes and household items were also rationed and these shortages went on for a number of years after the war. Every household had to make do and mend and most mothers would sew for their children and clothes had to be passed down from older brothers and sisters. When I was about eight I started attending dance classes at The Institute (now the George VIth Memorial Hall). There was a great deal of excitement when it was decided we were going to do a concert and all the mothers were busy making costumes. Now this was no easy task, as first materials had to be found. My mother, who had no formal dressmaking skills, set to and made me a ballet dress, which had a satin bodice with a full net skirt. I found it in the loft a while ago and was amused at its size – I must have been minute to get into it. I was also going to be a pixie, which entailed mum having to dye a bedsheet dark green, then she edged the points in red and added a few bells. After all my mother’s hard work, I was unable to take part in the concert as I went down with measles! I think the disappointment was worse than the illness.

Childhood days on our farm were very happy times, because we had so much freedom. Television had yet to arrive, so amusement had to be self-made, but I never remember being bored. My mother was a very busy farmer’s wife and in those days her place was firmly in the home – no driving out for coffee in her 4x4. As well as washing, cooking and cleaning for the six members of the family, she used to look after the hens and turkeys for Christmas with help from my older sister. I suppose one little ‘luxury’ she did have was to send the sheets to the laundry together with the men’s overalls. These were collected each week by the Court Steam Laundry. Despite being very busy she always found time to do things with me, such as knitting and sewing in the evenings around the firside and generally encouraging me to take an interest in my surrounding. One of the favourite jobs I enjoyed doing with her was sitting the broody hens on eggs for hatching, usually chickens or turkeys. We made a nest of hay in a box and the broody hen would be given a ‘clutch’ of eggs – thirteen hen eggs or sever or eight turkey eggs or three goose eggs. A really good broody would site like glue on her nest, keeping the eggs nicely warm to incubate them. The chickens hatched after twenty one days, the turkeys after twenty eight days and the goslings after about thirty two days.

Each evening, before dark, we visited the hens and allowed them off for food and water, to stretch their legs and relieve themselves. It was important that they didn’t stay off too long, as the eggs would have become chilled and the developing baby would die. We usually sat several hens at the same time and occasionally they would play up and go into the wrong nest box or even two on the same nest, so once they were back in the right places we put a board in front and covered them lightly with a Hessian sack.

June Hemming

JUNE WATCHES SISTER JEAN AND COUSIN BETTY SORT POTATOES NEAR NUTHURST CHAPEL DRIVE. THE POTATOES WERE CLAMPED AND COVERED WITH STRAW TO KEEP OUT FROST.

 

The exciting bit for me was when hatching day approached and we tested the eggs in a bucket of warm water. If the egg contained a live bird it would kick quite vigorously. The next day would be even more exciting as my mother felt under the hen to see how many had hatched. Once hatched it was important to get them into a chicken coop with a wire run (made by dad) on to some nice short fresh grass. Young turkeys were not the easiest things to rear and for the first few days we fed them on a mixture of turkey crumbs plus chopped hard boiled eggs and dandelions. No guessing whose job it was to pick the dandelions.

 

My mother also made butter, which was quite a long drawn-out job every Monday morning. There were no real labour saving devices and no easy care fabrics- just cotton, wool, linen and silk, which were washed by hand in soap and water. Allergies were unheard of.

June Hemming2

TURNING HAY

Work on the farm was also labour intensive, four or five men doing the work which today would be carried out by one man plus modern machinery. My father worked the farm with my two older brothers and, because during the war they ere producing food to feed the nation, there were exempt from military service. Dad used to get very frustrated by the continual demand from the War Agricultural Committee to plough up more land for cereal production. Even the animal feeding stuffs were rationed, so crops such as marigolds, Swedes and kale had to be grown to supplement their diets. For seasonal jobs, such as haymaking and harvest, dad worked with his brothers, Ted and Ern, plus their men as mechanised equipment such as balers, combines, etc did not arrive in this country until after the war.

June Hemming3

GATHERING UP THE HAY – UNCLE TED HEMMING AT KEMPS GREEN FARM

Harvest could be a bit fraught, especially when the weather was unsettled. Unlike today’s combines, which can be used in damper conditions and the grain artificially dried, the old binder cut and tied the crop into sheaves and then several people were needed to stack these into stooks of about eight sheaves, which were left to stand in the field for two or three weeks. Now, every time it rained, the drying process had to start all over again. The situation at our place wasn’t helped by the fact that one of the larger fields used for cereals was next to Umberslade Park, which had a bombing range used for firing practice by the army. The officer in charge seemed to have a habit of ringing up to say they would be firing at just the time there were planning to work in the harvest field. This used to make my father so mad and I am sure my vocabulary increased somewhat, not necessarily for the best on those occasions.

 

To the present generation these might seem like hard times and, by today’s standards, I suppose they were, but people got on with their lives and were quite contented. We all knew each other, we spoke to each other and generally there was a good community spirit. Rationing made sure that everyone had enough to eat without excess and generally most people were quite healthy. So there was lots to be thankful for.