Farming Memories

Remarkably, in 1921, two of the larger farms in Mulbarton were run by women: Mrs Draper at Hall Farm and Mrs Hill at Lodge Farm. Both were widows and quite elderly, and would retire within a few years. Mr Tuddenham was at Kenningham Hall and Mr Fairman at Malthouse Farm and also farming the land of Paddock Farm. Out at Wood Farm (at the far end of Wood Lane, Swardeston, but then part of Mulbarton parish) was Mr George Downing. These farmers were the major employers of the village, and in many cases provided housing for their workers, too. Farms in adjacent villages of Swardeston and Bracon Ash also employed Mulbarton residents. Below are some memories and photos of farming life, with details of the farms in separate sections.

Two extracts from 'Within Living Memory - a collection of Norfolk Reminiscences' (written and compiled by members of the Norfolk Federation of WIs, 1971):

The Season's Round Mulbarton, c.1900

One of my earliest recollections is of grandfather's farm at Mulbarton at the beginning of the [twentieth] century. All work was done by hand, milking, broadcasting seed, reaping with sickles and stacking while horses helped with the ploughing, harrowing and carting. The great event of the year was the harvest. Men worked while daylight lasted, then by the light of the moon, wives bringing their meals, 'elevenses' and 'fourses' to the field. When the last load was carted the labourers were paid an agreed sum for the harvest. One year I remember it was ten pounds. Then came the harvest home in the big barn, an abundant feast prepared by grandmother and aunts, followed by an evening of singing and dancing. The harvest money was spent in Norwich on clothes for the coming winter.
The skim milk was sold to the labourers for a halfpenny a pint. Corn was taken to the mill for grinding, and the huge sails and roaring machinery fascinated me, as did too the fiercely burning fire and flying sparks as the blacksmith fashioned shoes for the horses.

Tallow Dips Mulbarton 1910

At my grandfather's farm at Mulbarton, where we stayed as children, grandmother made clothes and knitted stockings for her family of eight, made preserves, pickles, butter and tallow dips for lighting.

Men and boys with their pitchforks for the hay harvest, probably c.1936. L > R Mr. Beaumont; Mr. Kedge; William Stackyard; Roger Brewington – others not known.
Men and boys with their pitchforks for the hay harvest, probably c.1936. L > R Mr. Beaumont; Mr. Kedge; William Stackyard; Roger Brewington – others not known.

Evelyn Smith remembers:
'In the 1940s there were three farms in Mulbarton: Mr. Fairman at Malt House Farm; Mr. Jackson at Paddock Farm; and Mr Ralph Cross at Lodge Farm in Rectory Lane. I remember Mr & Mrs Cross mostly went to church in a pony and trap.' 

Animals (& eggs)

Tony Kent remembers:

In the 1930s and '40s cows were milked by hand. The milk was run over a cooling radiator into 12-gallon churns - later 10-gallons. These were taken to the road, lifted chest-high onto a platform for a lorry to collect. After this came the bucket-type milking machine.
W Lincoln, at the dairy farm, sold milk, butter and cream/milk cheese around the village. His was the egg depot, too. Jack Stackyard lived in the Rosery and kept cows. He sold milk from a churn carried on his bicycle. Ambrose Broom lived in an old railway carriage off Long Lane. He kept animals more for a hobby and sold eggs.
One man...was the finest stockman I ever met: he could calm any animal with a word and a touch. He cured their illnesses without antibiotics. He could walk up to a beast, speak to it, then jump on its back to ride through a muddy gateway. He told the story of a man he knew who sold his soul to the devil to gain the knowledge to handle animals! He used to tell his apprentices, "It's a poor man who can't beat his master". Many years later they met up and after listening to the former apprentice talk of how he'd done his job with stock, he said, "You have beaten me!". It was a great moment for him.


Chris Mickleburgh worked for Dr Burfield at Kenningham Hall from the age of 11 to 14:
During the War [World War 2], children were alloed off school for 11 half-days in term-time for farm work, and all the holidays. Dr Burfield kept horses as long as he could - he had 8 horses and 1 tractor, and used horses for ploughing. After the war he'd take his horses to the Norfolk Show at Keswick, all trimmed up with braids and brasses.

Tony Kent remembers:

As most farm work was done by horses, there was a need for replacement stock and this was bred on the farm. As stallions were dangerous and could be difficult to handle they were kept at stud farms and had a regular round. They visited different villages on each day. They wore braided mane and tail and had plumes in their manes and brasses on their faces and chests. They wore a wide girth strap to which a martingale was attached to. Their massive necks were arched like swans. At 18 hands and up to a ton in weight they were a sight to behold. They walked beside a cart drawn by a 12-hand pony. In the cart sat the groom in a herringbone worsted suit, black waistcoat, neckerchief ('wropper' in Norfolk), a flat cap and boots and buskins - every bit as smart as his 'Tire' (a Norfolk word for an entire, or uncastrated animal). They were indeed 'kings of the road' and they both knew it!


There is a detailed account of the Harvest at Paddock Farm from the Farm Account Book 1865-66 under Work & Wages.

Harvest and haymaking also features in the School log book in Victorian times, before holidays were set and attendamce enforced:
1878: Aug 8th - Attendance very poor owing to Harvest having commenced. Closed school on Thursday for the Harvest Holiday.
Sept. 9th - school reopened but Attendance not good owing to harvest not being quite finished.
Oct 11th - Many children were away picking up acorns, so few were present on Friday morning that the school was closed in the afternoon.

1886: July 3 - poor attendance owing to haymaking
July 17 - A half holiday was given today on account of the Agricultural Show in Norwich. 
Sept 17 - Attendance has been bad on account of the harvest not being finished.


'Another species in the same mould [as the steam-roller drivers] were the traction engine drivers - to a true Norfolkman, "Thas thowd boyze wut druv tha troshin tarkle". What drivers! To one who has driven gun tractors and tank transporters they were gods! The steering wheel had a large knob on the rim which the driver gripped. The steering rods were chains, and when the driver wound the wheel one side tightened and the other slackened. [Towed] behind the engine was the drum, and behind that the pitcher (elevator). Imagine going along the average country lane and taking that lot through a 12-foot gate in one swing. They did it day after day. If the entrance was too muddy, the tackle would be unshipped, the engine taken in, and everything was winched in, and those boys could put the tackle to an inch. Now came the rough part. In the winter the tackle left huge ruts, and a boy with a horse-drawn 3-wheeled water cart had to negotiate those to keep the engine supplied. Much would be spilt. Frequently, the cart would overturn and lose its load, and the boy was called anything but a boy.

The threshed corn was weighed off the drum - 12 stone oats - 16 stone barley - 18 stone wheat - 20 stone clover. Two men lifted it into a wagon which was shoulder-height and it was then taken home to the barn. It was carried off 'one man - one bag' and stacked upright, two sacks high and one flat on top. The weights mentioned were known as 'combs'. Chaff from oats and wheat was bagged up at the drum and taken to the fodder barn to be used as animal feed. These same engines were used to drive chaff cutters which cut up an entire stack of straw in a day. They were also used to drive balers that tied the bales with wire.

Traction engine working on a farm at Bracon Ash – the Contractor is G J Desborough of Wattlefield, near Wymondham (who appears in 1916 Directory). Engine is a Wallis Patent, registration AP527
Traction engine working on a farm at Bracon Ash – the Contractor is G J Desborough of Wattlefield, near Wymondham (who appears in 1916 Directory). Engine is a Wallis Patent, registration AP527

Notable [local] drivers were Bob Loveday who smoked a 'snout-warmer' [a short pipe], often upside-down. He lived in Birchfield Lane and rode a 'sit-up-and-beg' [bicycle] with his back ramrod straight. He was not very polite. When loaded with alcohol he caused many a bet on a dark night as his bike rear-light zig-zagged along the road, sometimes disappearing into the hedge accompanied by much rich Anglo-Saxon.
Sid Sheldrake was an owner-driver from Swainsthorpe - quite mild, but at least a week late for bookings.
Harry Smith from Hapton was about the first of the tractor-drawn tackles. Harry drove a Marshall Diesel with a single horizontal cylinder which bounced when on tick-over. When the going was hard it threw out raw fuel. The tractor did not have the weight of the [traction] engines, so more winch work was needed - but NO water carting!

Traction engine threshing on a farm at Swardeston, where the straw stack is being built in the background.
Traction engine threshing on a farm at Swardeston, where the straw stack is being built in the background.

Each set of tackle had a crew of two - some had three. These were driver, and drum feeder, who cut the strings on the 'shoofs' (sheaves) and fed the corn into the drum. Strings had to be kept out. Some had a 'chaff & coulder' man who bagged up the chaff and cleared the coulder (weed seeds, husk, barley havers) from under the drum. His was a twilight world of dust. It was often the 'not so bright' who 'done' this job.

['Orchard House' on Norwich Road, Mulbarton, had its thatch set alight by a spark from a traction engine travelling from Bracon Ash to Swardeston, slowing for the bends at the north end of Mulbarton then accelerating to get up the incline north of what is now the Vet's - see North End of Village.]

Catch it - or shoot it...

At harvest, school children went to the harvest field to chase and catch rabbits. In the winter, ferrets and snares were used to catch rabbits. Rabbit pie was very popular. Rag and bone men visited the village to buy rabbit and mole skins.
In the 1930s and '40s people gathered watercress from the stream at the bottom of the Common [alongside what is now 'The Meadows'] 
The local vermin catcher was one 'Waxy' Cooper* who used his hands to explain where the moles could be found. One hand always contained his mole-digging spud which swung with alarming speed as he said, "And there's some more over thar."                                                     (From material written by Tony Kent)

* George ('Waxy' or 'Waxer') Cooper, who lived in The Rosery and whose family were very involved with the Methodist Chapel.

The bag from the shoot - Bracon Ash/Mulbarton area, 1912. (Photo includes George ('Waxer') Cooper, mole-catcher.
The bag from the shoot - Bracon Ash/Mulbarton area, 1912. (Photo includes George ('Waxer') Cooper, mole-catcher.

From Parish Council Minutes:

1920 "Rat Week": Parish Council asked to report number killed to War Agricultural Committee (nearly 2000 killed).

From East Carlton Parish Magazine, December 1915:
The Mulbarton & District Sparrow Club held its Annual General Meeting on Nov. 19th. In the report it was stated that the Club was responsible for the destruction of 13,765 sparrows in the past year, an increase of over a thousand on last year's record. In the four years of its existence, 49,950 sparrows have been destroyed. This figure gives some idea of the usefulness of the Club and the amount of corn saved for national consumption. Mr Hill, in an interesting speech, pointed out that the rareness of hawks made a Club like this necessary, but that there was no fear of exterminating sparrows, who, though they made great depredations in corn, yet were useful in devouring the seeds of the Common Wire Weed, and so helped farmers.

And from the same magazine, in December 1916:
On Friday 10th November the Mulbarton & District Sparrow Club had its Annual Meeting. It is the 5th Annual Meeting and we believe that, with one exception, we are now the only Sparrow Club continuing to exist in the County. It was reported that 10,473 sparrows had been destroyed during the year, making a total of 77,557 (sic) since the formation of the club.

[Gross exaggeration or poor maths there, comparing the 2 accounts!]

That was during World War 1 - what about World War 2?


In 2008 I visited The National Archives at Kew, and I took time off from family history research to find the returns for Mulbarton from the June 1941 Farm Survey. The Government of the day wanted to know the state of farming in wartime Britain and how food production might be improved. Farmers had to complete a questionnaire, and Inspectors assessed the state of each farm.
There were 6 full returns for Mulbarton: 4 from farmers (Paddock Farm - Mr F Jackson; Old Hall & Malthouse Farms - Mr A Fairman; Lodge Farm - Mr R Cross; Kenningham Hall Farm - Mr J Burfield); 1 from a landowner who lived at Arminghall Manor and rented out Hall Farm, Mulbarton; and 1 from Mrs Alice Muskett whose market garden surrounded Hill House.
Most of the farmers were tenants - only Mr Fairman and Mrs Muskett owned their land. Vegetables, fruit and flowers were sold from a number of market gardens and orchards. Barley was the main arable crop, with some oats, sugar beet and other root crops. There was even some flax grown at Kenningham Hall Farm. A lot of land was under grass - no doubt for the cattle and horses listed - and there were varying numbers of pigs and poultry. Generally, the Inspector found everything in good condition.
Labour was in short supply, and many farmers were managing with help from family members. Mr Fairman employed 3 men; Mr Jackson employed 4 men and 2 women. Probably all employed casual labour for fruit-picking and the harvest. But what I found fascinating was the almost total lack of machinery. Questions were asked about 'Motive Power', Tractors - and number of horses. None of the farms had electricity. Malthouse Farm had no machinery, 2 horses. Mrs Muskett had an engine for pumping water. Mr Burfield had 1 electric motor (10 hp) and 10 working horses at Kenningham Hall farm. Mr Jackson at Paddock Farm boasted 2 electric motors (5 and ½ hp) and 1 Allis Chalmers tractor. Mr Cross at Lodge Farm was the most highly mechanised with 3 oil or petrol engines (2 x 6 hp; 1 of 2¼ hp); 1 electric motor (¾ hp); 2 Fordson tractors (each 26 hp) and he still had 9 working horses. It seems that farming in Mulbarton in 1941 - less than 80 years ago and within living memory - was not far removed from Victorian times. Horse-power still meant just that - horses.
Today, only Vic Gray's business is partly a market garden. Paddock Farm relies heavily on pick-your-own fruit and veg (a concept unheard of in 1941). Kenningham Hall has lost its magnificent barns. The Old Hall, the Malthouse, Lodge Farm (now Willow Grange) and Hill House remain, but the farmland that once went with them is now part of much larger concerns.                 Jill Wright