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Walk in 1930s
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A Walk Through Hilton in the 1930s, continued

I spent a very happy childhood in Rose Cottage with my sister, two brothers and mother and father. My father was wounded in the Great War and on discharge in 1918 worked for a time erecting telephone poles. As this meant staying away during the week and mother being on her own, he left the job and worked on the land as an agricultural labourer. He later worked as a jobbing gardener. One of his customers was co-owner of the Hemingford laundry and when she found out that father could drive, she would call on him to drive the laundry van if the regular driver was off sick. He eventually drove the van full-time until he retired. He was also Sexton and grave digger; he always insisted he was doing the job temporary. This was after forty years. Mother was church organist for over fifty years.

Adjoining “Rose Cottage” was a one up and one down cottage which was used as a washing room and general store by my family and adjoining this was a stable with a door opening onto the drive.

In 1945 Dorothy and I decided to get married and my father offered us the plot of land where the small cottage used to stand to build a house on. This was just after the war and there was a great shortage of all building materials and before you could start to build you had to get a licence. A lot of men were getting discharged at this time and had wives living with their parents and were rightly given preference to a licence over such ass Dorothy and I. We were told it could be five years before we would be granted a licence.

My father suggested that we converted the old stable into living accommodation and as it was an existing building we would be able to convert it. I did get a licence to buy some new timber, so with a lot help from my cousin, we converted the stable into a living room and kitchen and built a bedroom on the back. My father thatched the roof. At this time there was a lot of timber being brought down from London from the bombsites and sold by auction at St Ives. I bought all of the timber I needed for joists and rafters from this source, also doors, as my licence was only enough to get architrave and skirting boards. We added another bedroom and bathroom.

My father offered us the washroom and store, on condition that I knocked down some old wooden pigsties and built him a barn and new pig sty. So I built a barn and two pigsties with concrete blocks and tiled the roof. My father always kept a couple of pigs and when large enough, he would have them slaughtered. One he would sell to the butcher, the other would come back all jointed. The sides of the pig were hung up on hooks either side of the chimney, some were salted in a large “Ali-Barba” type earthen jar. The hams were cured, they were brought onto the kitchen table to be rubbed with saltpetre.

We put a door into the old washroom from the kitchen. The old washroom had a very low ceiling, a box stair in the corner leading to an attic bedroom. So we raised the ceiling in the washroom, put in another window at the front and it is now our lounge.


A Walk Through Hilton in the 1930s, continued

The next house is the Old Rectory (my mother could well remember it when it was the home of the village priest. She learned to play the piano by Mrs Souper, wife of The Reverend Souper. The Soupers were a very tragic family; one son was killed in the Great War, another was killed mountaineering, one daughter committed suicide and another daughter married Wilson, who perished with Scott at the South Pole.)

When I was growing up it was Mr and Mrs Atter who lived in The Old Rectory. Mr Atter was a sales rep for Simplex Fire Extinguishers and would visit farms and businesses demonstrating his product and obtaining orders. His wife used to keep Angora rabbits. They were housed in hutches around their garages and she would regularly comb them and collect their wool. I do not know if she spun the wool herself or sold it to a spinner in bulk. They did employ a woman and her brother; the woman was house maid and her brother, Bert, was gardener and handyman.

There were two grass fields attached to the house, each an acre in size in which they kept chickens and would also graze their two cows. There were “common rights” with their house which entitled them to graze their cows on The Green during the summer; it was Bert’s job to milk the cows. Bert was a good worker but was a little backward; he had an obsession on counting and would come round to talk to my father saying “do you know how many times I turned my spade over today?” or “do you know how many times I pulled those cows tits?” and so forth!

Mr Atter also used to go otter hunting he kept a pack of about eight hounds. They are much like foxhounds but smaller. They used to hunt the banks of the river at St Ives and he would wade in the river with his dogs. In later life he suffered with severe rheumatism and could only walk with the aid of two sticks. I think that his condition was due to him wading in the cold river!

Mr Wilfred Furniss lived in The Limes with his wife 3 daughters and son. He was a farmer butcher; his farm was Grange Farm (his family home) and his butcher’s shop was also there. He captained the village cricket club for many years. He was knocked down and killed at Kisby’s Hut when crossing the road delivering meat.

Johnny White owned and lived at Park Villa now called the Old Bakehouse. He was the village baker; the oven was at the back of the house and heated by a coke fire that was never allowed to go out. Quite a few of the cottages in the village had very small ovens and several of the occupants would bring their Sunday roasts to be cooked at the bake house. Johnny sold his house to Mr Fred Britten and moved into the house next door, now called Manor Cottage.

In those days Manor Cottage was two cottages; Johnny and his wife lived in the largest part and the small “one up and one down” at the Manor Farm end was occupied by Miss MacKenzie Smith, a retired school teacher and deeply religious.


A Walk Through Hilton in the 1930s, continued

Johnny White still had use of the bake house; he employed one man, Reg Martin who used to deliver bread round the village on his trade bicycle, which had a side-car attached. Besides being a baker, Johnny also reared ducks and geese. He hired the field behind the cricket pavilion and kept a few sheep. There were no buildings in this field. (The Vicarage that stood at the end of the field nearest to the maze was burned down one hot Sunday afternoon in 1928)

Mr Tyler lived in the Manor House with his invalid wife; he was a retired hotelier having run a hotel in Newmarket for many years. There were no buildings where Pecks Coppice now stands; it was the Manor House gardens.

There were no houses in the field facing Reeve’s Ditch. It was a long meadow used for grazing and the field beyond this meadow was an orchard. The small cottage at the end at the end of Reeve’s Ditch was once the village Post Office. Between this cottage and Reeve’s Ditch was a hand pump mounted on a platform; it was erected this way so that the water carts could be filled directly from it.

Winters in the thirties were much colder than now and most years there would be skating on Reeves Ditch.

The pipes under the road at Brands Pit used to be dammed in early winter causing the water to rise and flow down the small ditch that runs into Reeves Ditch. When Reeves Ditch was full, the small ditch would be blocked. There was no mains water in the village at this time, so this large volume of water was most useful in case of fire and in summer the metal wheel rims of harvest carts would become loose, so the carts would be taken through the pond. The wooden wheels would expand, thus tightening the rims.

Mrs Yates (an elderly lady) lived in the small cottage at the end of Reeves Ditch. She was at onetime the landlady of the Red Cow Public House. She kept a few hens in coops on the piece of green at the front of the house (many cottages kept hens at this time).

Mr Garnet lived in Hilton Hall with his wife and two sons. The thatched dwelling next to Hilton Hall was two semi detached cottages; the one closest to Hilton Hall was the largest and was the home of David Harradine (the village roadman) and his niece Phyllis West lived with him. In the adjoining cottage lived a retired gentleman Mr Jim Cook. The small house in front of these cottages was the home of the Melbourn family.

Cross Roads Farm was owned by Hugh Leicester, a gentleman farmer. His farm manager was Sam Lane, who lived with his wife and daughter in the farmhouse.

Sidney Peters MP for Huntingdonshire lived with his wife, son and daughter in Hilton House.


A Walk Through Hilton in the 1930s, continued

Charlie Tyler was the landlord of The George Public House and lived there with his wife, three sons and two daughters. Next to The George was a small semi detached house, the home of Mr and Mrs Chris Fordham and their lodger, Jimmy Seargant who was the retired verger and grave digger.

The other half of the building was the village shop owned by Mr Oakett, a widower who lived there with his sister Annie, his five daughters and two sons. His eldest son, Joe, used to deliver groceries around the village, he also repaired shoes.

New England was a row of terrace cottages. Living in the cottages was Miss Lovel, Teddy Childs and his wife, Joe Roslyn his wife and family, Emily Childs and Mr and Mrs Groom.

Proceeding from the entrance to New England towards Gravely is Duck Pond Cottage (now Kidmans Farm Cottage), the home of Ernie Carter, his wife and daughter. Ernie was a Game Keeper and one of his many tasks was the control of “vermin”. Stoats, weasels and hedgehogs would be trapped and carrion crows, jays and magpies (egg stealers) would be shot on sight and their carcases would be hung on a tree close to a gate where the shooting parties would pass, so that his employers could see that he was doing a good job. These displays were called “Game Keeper’s Gallows”. He would also organise the beaters and game would be driven towards the guns who would be hidden by butts.

The butts consisted of a piece of hawthorn hedge about four feet long and five feet high grown about forty yards apart along the boundary of a field. On some drives the gunmen would be concealed behind a continuous hedge. The farmers would be paid for the shooting rights over their land, sometimes by a rich person who would invite his friends to a shoot and sometimes by a syndicate.

The shoots always took place in the winter and farmers would usually release some men to act as beaters and any men who were out of work would be employed for a day. The pay for a beater was six shillings a day and a pork pie and a pint of beer for his lunch, this would be consumed outside of the George Pub. The gunmen would dine in the pub.

St John’s College Farm was owned and farmed by Mr Walker who lived there with his wife and son Herbert. Several villages in this area have “college farms” and it is reputed that they were purchased by the Cambridge colleges during the plague. They housed their students there to minimise the chances of them catching the disease.

At the crossroads end of the weir are two cottages, these were the homes of the Crisp and Carter families. In front and on the same side of Potton Road are two semi-detached cottages, one was the home of Charles and Maria King (my grandparents). In the adjoining cottage lived Sam Martin with his wife and son Reg.


A Walk Through Hilton in the 1930s, continued

Opposite these cottages was the blacksmith’s shop. The blacksmith was Tom Rule, affectionately known as “Clanker”, his main source of income was shoeing horses. He also repaired or made new parts for farm machinery. There was an area of flat concrete in front of his shop with a recess in the centre, allowing a cart wheel to be laid down flat with the hub in the recess. He would then make a new rim for the wheel, get it red hot and with a couple of helpers it would be placed over the wheel. It would then be quickly dowsed in water causing the rim to shrink tightly around the wheel. He lived in Blacksmith Cottage with his wife, three sons and two daughters.

The small bungalow to the left of Blacksmith Cottage was the home of Bob Smith his wife and son. To the other side of the blacksmith’s lived the Beck family and about twenty yards down the Potton Road were two semi-detached cottages, the Darlow family lived in one and Mrs Jennings (a widow) lived in the other.

Opposite these cottages was a grass field with a pond in the centre. In the far left corner of the field were two semi-detached thatched cottages, called Tythe Cottages. Mrs Ada Lovel lived in one and Chris Hardy, his wife, two sons, Robert and William and his daughter Alice, lived in the other. Chris Hardy was a carpenter and worked for a firm of Agricultural Engineers, where I served my apprenticeship. He would repair the woodwork on the thrashing drums, corn dressers etc.

The crescent of four pairs of semi-detached houses was built by the Alen brothers in the early nineteen twenties. They lived in Hemingford and the three of them cycled to Hilton each day.

Hubert Brickwood, his wife and two sons lived in the first one, George Tyler, his wife and two sons lived in the adjoining house. Wally Martin, his wife, son and three daughters lived in the next house, then Harry Childs, his wife, son and daughter.

In the next house lived Mrs Darlow and Charlie Martin, his wife and two sons lived in the adjoining house. Mr Carter, his son and daughter and their aunt, Miss Fishpool lived in the next and Mr Hammond lived in the last house with his wife, who was the village school governess.

The Methodist Chapel was built in the eighteen eighties. The left one of the pair of houses facing the Chapel was the home of Casey Hurst a carpenter and undertaker. Annie Hurst who taught infants in the village school lived with him. In the adjoining cottage lived Mrs Burton her son and two daughters. Next to the Chapel was a track leading to Tythe Lane and then the White House Public House run by Pat Mulligan who used to tether his goats down Church Lane. There were no houses down Church Lane, just a path and a wide grass verge. Adjoining the back of the White Horse was a small cottage, where Teddy Elwood lived with his sister Martha.

On the opposite side of the road in the bungalow lived Harry Lee, his wife and three sons. He owned two buses, which he housed in a garage next to his bungalow. He also had a Nissen type garage on the opposite side of the Road.

The landlord of the Prince of Wales Public House was Harry Hurst, his wife Nellie and daughter Ivy, lived with him. They had two lodgers Jack King and a middle aged man, Jerrie. I haven’t known him by any other name. There was a large black barn at the back of the Prince of Wales car park, identical in size and position to the one that is there now. It was a two storey building, the top storey was Casey Hurst’s workshop, underneath was hovels, open to the rear.


A Walk Through Hilton in the 1930s, continued

The two semi-detached houses opposite were occupied by Frank Starling and his wife Naomi (my grandparents). They had a lodger, Bobby Knights, a small retired gentleman who walked to St Ives almost every day. They lived in the house nearest to the White Horse. A Mr Fuller lived in the other one. The house next to the Prince of Wales, which is now the village shop, was the home of Christopher Britten, his wife Mabel and son George. They were farmers and behind the house was their farm with stables and milking parlour. Mill Hill, Rutland Green etc were the grazing meadows.

Mr Fred Rule lived in the farmhouse at New Farm with his wife, son and four daughters. Living in the two semi-detached New Farm Cottages were the Hinson and Lock families

Mr Asplin lived in one of the thatched cottages at Church End, Bob Davies, his wife and son lived in the other. On the opposite side of the road were two small semi-detached cottages. Fred Neil lived in one with his wife and daughter and Mrs Semark (a widow) lived in the other. On the right between the fords where the house “Cross Brook” stands, was a small farm with a dovecot, called Church Farm. The farmhouse, which was the home of the Windell family, was burned down in the early nineteen twenties.

Oaktree Farm was owned by Jim Roberson a farmer, his wife and four daughters lived with him and his mother and father lived in one end of the house (the end nearest to the church).

The Village School was where I was educated. It was a Church of England school; I believe that at one time it was founded by the Church. Children started school when they were five years old and were taught by a Mrs Hurst in the small classroom. At seven years old they moved into the large standard room to be taught by Mrs Hammond, a strict but fair teacher. She would teach children from the age of seven until they left school at fourteen. All subjects were taught: Maths (it was called arithmetic in those days) English, History, Geography, Music etc.

The only heating was a large slow combustion stove. If the wind was in a certain direction it would belch out clouds of smoke and very little heat. In really cold weather, we would be allowed to keep our coats on.

The school would be used for many social events. Whist drives were very popular as were dances. The floor of the school was constructed of softwood timber and over the years the areas between the knots became well worn, leaving the knots half and inch or more proud of the rest of the floor, so this did not lend itself to any fancy footwork. The music was provided by George Tyler on the piano. There was no electricity in the school; hanging paraffin lamps provided the lighting.


A Walk Through Hilton in the 1930s, continued

Towards the end of the war, Dr Peters was converting the Coach House at his home, Hilton House, into a ballroom and when it was completed he allowed dances to be held there. This was a much better venue with oak panelling and hardwood polished floor.

Every year, usually before Christmas, a concert would be held in the school similar to the current Feast Week talent show. Several people in the village played various instruments and would give a recital. Others would sing a song. My father was a good singer and used to sing the old ballads: “Bless This House”, “Danny Boy” etc also the old comic songs. There would be monologues and sketches. The school children would recite, sing and perform short sketches. I remember being one of the ten little nigger boys. The entire entertainment would last about two hours.

The house nearest The Grove, now called Grove House, was a general store. It was owned by Mr Bob Hardy and his wife and son lived with him. There were very few private telephones at this time and if you wanted to make a telephone call, the public telephone was in a small cubicle inside the shop. You would go into the shop and tell Bob the number that you wanted. He would then ring the exchange by turning a handle on the telephone rest and when he got through to the number you required, he would hand you the phone.

The first of the three terraced houses was the home of Tom Smith (an agricultural engineer) his wife, three sons and a daughter. Jack Beck and his wife lived in the centre house and Mr and Mrs Childs and their son Stanley lived in the house nearest Maze Road.

The first four houses in Maze Road were built in the early nineteen twenties, others were built later. Jimmy Key lived in the first house with his wife three sons and one daughter. Jimmy earned a living by running a taxi service, he was also the village handyman; he repaired motors and bicycles and farm carts. Jimmy also had an ice-cream stall by the pavilion when cricket matches were played.

There was no mains water in the village until the nineteen fifties and all of the water had to be drawn up from wells. Some you had to just throw a bucket in attached to a rope and haul it out by hand, others had a simple hand operated winch. A few of the larger houses used semi-rotary pumps which were designed to push the water up to tanks in the roof, the most popular pump was the feed pump and Jimmy would be called upon to maintain and repair these pumps. He would make and fit new clack valves and plungers. Of course these pumps had to be sited above or very close to wells and they in turn had to be above a spring.

(Those unfortunate enough not to have any underground water would have to fetch their water from a parish pump. There were several of these located around the village, though some villagers had to walk up to a quarter of a mile to fetch their water. While the women would collect their water in cans and small buckets their men folk would fetch water in two large buckets which would be suspended either side of a yoke worn across the shoulders.)


A Walk Through Hilton in the 1930s, continued

In the adjoining house lived Fred Childs, his wife, two sons and a daughter. He was a butcher and was employed by William Furniss the village butcher. The next house was the home of Fred Neil, his wife and daughter. Fred was a farm labourer. In the last house down Maze Road lived Mrs Dawes a widow.

At Park Farm where the modern dormer bungalow now stands was a large farmhouse it was the home of Lavinia Britten and Betty Britten, her niece. Lavinia was an elderly lady and died in 1936. Betty joined the forces and contracted and died of TB during the war, the house was then unoccupied. It was intended to restore it and convert it into the village hall but the war came and it became dilapidated and eventually collapsed.

The Grange Farmhouse was the home of two brothers, Alf and Fred Furniss, neither of them did any work. The farm which included most of the land to the south and east of The Green was farmed by their brother, Wilf, who lived on the south side of The Green. Wilf was also the village butcher, the butcher’s shop was a wooden building on the side of the left drive to Grange House, at the end of the drive was the open fronted coach house and beyond that, the slaughter house.

There was a large insulated cupboard in the corner of the coach house and in the hot weather, sides of beef etc would be hung in the cupboard and blocks of ice would be placed in the bottom to keep the meat cool. There was no electricity or gas at the farm, so no refrigeration. I do not know where the ice was purchased from but I remember seeing it arrive in a T ford van.

Beyond the slaughter house was a large room with an access door into the farm house and another door that opened onto the farmyard. This room was called the dairy as it was here that some of the milk from the farm cows was brought and turned into butter. The milk would be put into a separator which was a machine that by turning a geared handle on the side would rotate the container of milk at high speed and separate the cream from the milk, some of the cream would be turned into butter.

The cream would be put into a small wooden barrel which was suspended on trestles. The barrel had two spigots on each side to which a handle could be attached and slowly rotating the barrel, end over end, would turn the cream into butter. This could sometimes take a long time and was the job of Nellie Bently, who was housekeeper for the two Furniss brothers.


A Walk Through Hilton in the 1930s, continued

Most of us village boys would work on the farms on Saturday mornings and during our school holidays. You had to be twelve years old before you could be employed, I was employed by Wilf Furniss and was paid one shilling and sixpence (71/2 p) for six hours work on a Saturday morning.

During the winter, I would be leading the horses at plough. If it was rough ground that you were ploughing you would be pushed about by the two large farm horses all the time to lead them straight. The ploughman would be walking behind, steering the plough in a flat furrow. We would start work at 7 am and plough until 2pm, in that time you would have ploughed one acre and have walked eleven miles. The horses would then be taken back to the farm, put into a stable, have their harness removed and fed with chaff, oats and chopped mangolds. You could then go home for your lunch.

After lunch you would check over the horses for rubs sores lose shoes etc. and sometimes you would comb their manes and hair. They would then be let loose into a meadow and fed with some hay. In bad weather they would be let into a yard which had an open hovel and a manger for their food. Most of the farms had a stockman and it was his job to look after the welfare of the horses. He would get up early and when the men arrived for work at seven o’clock, their horses would have been fed and ready for work.

All of the farmers kept milking cows and as half of the village was permanent pasture, there was plenty of grazing land in the summer. Some of the houses in the village have Common Rights; this entitles the owner to graze a cow on The Green during summer. If an owner of one of these Rights had no cattle, he let a farmer use his. There are seventeen Common Rights and there were always seventeen cows grazing the common in the summer. There had to be someone looking after the cows to prevent them from straying. He was paid seventeen pence per week for this job by the owners of the cows. Most of the owners of the cows would sell milk to the public.

One farmer’s daughter delivered milk round the village. She had a pony and trap to convey two churns of milk from which she would fill a smaller container. With this container and a pint measure she would visit her customers and ladle out your milk into your jars. Wives of farmers would usually be in charge of the dairy. They would make and sell butter, also sell skimmed and unskimmed milk. Those who produced large quantities of milk would put the milk in churns which would be placed on a table on the side of the road to be picked up by the Fenstanton dairy lorry.

Some of the fields would remain stubble through the winter and into March before they were ploughed. Most years a few fields would be ploughed by steam plough. A steam engine would be sited each side of a field and a large four furrowed plough would be winched to and fro across the field and a man would steer the plough from a seat on top of the plough. Of course this plough would plough much deeper than a horse drawn one and if the land was very compacted, a cultivator would be used , its long tines would break up the sub soil.

Steam ploughs used a lot of water. They did store quite a lot but this tank had to be continually topped up. When I was not at school I would be given this job. I would take a horse drawn water cart (a tank on wheels) to the village table pump and place a wooden trough from pump to water cart. The water cart would hold about 300 gallons. Sometimes they would be ploughing over a half a mile away from the pump and I would be kept on the go all day long.


A Walk Through Hilton in the 1930s, continued

Walking across the stubble in winter, you would put up flocks of finches, linnets and sparrows which would be feeding on the corn left behind by the binder. They would also feed on weed seed and insects. The modern combine harvester is so much more efficient in gathering the corn than the old binder that there is very little left for the birds and the land is drenched with herbicides and insecticides that many species of wild flower have gone. This means less butterflies and although much reduced, we do have quite a few species of birds due in many instances to people feeding them in their gardens.

In the 1930’s, yellowhammers were common, also corn buntings, linnets and finches. Plovers were resident all year and nested both in pastures and arable land. Barn owls would be hunting every evening, often on The Green. In some cornfields you could find wild pansy, antirrhinum, scarlet pimpernel, cornflower scabisus and corn marigold. There is hope that with the Government’s farming for wildlife that many species could return.

Over winter’s job that I did enjoy, was hedge cutting. Some of the hawthorn hedges bordering pasture fields would be allowed to grow to their full height to give shelter to the livestock, others would kept down to about five feet and the sides would be trimmed. This would be done with a hedge hook and my job was to burn the trimming. Any trees which were growing out of the top of the hedge would be left to produce mature hedgerow trees. Hedge cutting today is done by machine and the tops are all kept to a uniform height and unless there is a change in farming methods, there will be no hedgerow trees.

In cold weather I had to make sure that there was a good glowing fire at break times. We would either find a pronged piece of wood or split a piece of ash stick and put a pebble in to keep the split open, sharpen the two prongs and use them to toast our chunks of bread. No “toaster toast” can compare to toast toasted over an open fire!

Our mothers or wives, would pack our chunks of bread, a nub of butter and either a piece of cheese, bacon, pork chop etc, sometimes hard boiled eggs, also jam turnovers and pieces of homemade cake. When our lunches had been prepared, they would have been placed on a square of cloth, the corners would have been drawn up and knotted and the package would then have been put in a flacking basket, with a flask of tea. (A flacking basket was made from coarse raffia. It was about fourteen inches long, nine inches high and four inches wide, with a hinged lid. It had straps and was normally slung over one shoulder and carried on the back.)

All the drilling was done in the spring, there was no over wintering corn and oil seed rape was unheard of. It was a three man job to drill corn, one to lead the horses, one to steer the drill by walking along side it, holding a steering bar protruding from the side and the third man would walk behind to make sure that the seed corn trickled into the ground. The land would then be lightly harrowed and rolled. I have often led the horses at drill.


A Walk Through Hilton in the 1930s, continued

When the corn had grown a few inches high it would be hoed using a horse hoe which was an iron frame on wheels with several narrow hoes attached enabling several rows to be hoed at the same time. The hoe would be pulled by a horse usually led by a boy and steered by one of the farm’s men by handles which were attached to it. Of course all of this activity was not very wildlife friendly, especially to ground nesting birds.

Lapwings and skylarks nests were often destroyed but as drilling and hoeing took place in the spring, they would probably have had a second nest. There was always lots of skylarks and lapwings, both species are a lot less common now. I think that being sprayed with various chemicals in the spring must be one reason for their decline in recent years. Hopefully, with the new farming for wildlife measures that farmers are being encouraged to adopt, their numbers (and also those of others species of birds) will increase.

Besides cereals, mangolds (wurzles) would be grown. The seed would be sown with a drill and when they had grown about 2 inches high, they would have to be spaced to about 12 inches apart. This was called “chopping out” and was often done “piece work”. A man would agree a price with the farmer for chopping out an acre of mangold in his own time, usually evenings. Often his wife would go with him. He would hoe the spaces, leaving little bunches of plants and she would follow and (single) the bunches, leaving one plant to grow on. Sugar beet was also grown this way but being smaller, the spaces would be smaller. In the larger fields there would be several men chopping out at the same time. They would work in a row across the field each hoeing one row. Keeping together enabled them to converse as they worked.

Brussel sprouts were a popular crop. They would be sown and grown on in a nursery bed and when large enough, they would be transplanted into the fields. Picking sprouts when it was wet and cold was a rotten job but it did give winter work for men when other work and jobs were scarce.

During the winter the store cattle would be kept in the stock yards and as the straw got dirty and trodden down, fresh straw was added. In the spring the fully grown beasts would be driven to St Ives to be sold at the cattle market and the others would be put out to graze in the meadows. The stock yards would then be cleaned out and the manure would be put in a heap to rot down. In the autumn it would be spread on the stubble with forks then ploughed in.

There was no artificial manure but there was bone meal (ground and baked bones) and also fish manure (ground and baked fish offal). This was foul smelling stuff! Soot was also used and it would arrive in Hessian sacks to be put into a metal skip and then spread by hand. This was another rotten job although there was extra pay for the job. When the men came home there was no jumping into a hot bath! Very few cottages had fixed baths and none had hot and cold water on tap. Water was heated in the copper and bathing was in a portable zinc bath, usually in the kitchen.


A Walk Through Hilton in the 1930s, continued

I think that April and May are the best months when the browns and greys of winter are transformed into many shades of lush green, gardens are full of spring flowers and the birds are in full song. With the corn now growing, there was no work to do in the cornfields but there would be the thrashing of the last stacks of last year’s harvest. The stacks would usually be built side by side and the distance between them would be the same width as a thrashing machine, so that both stacks could be thrashed without having to move the machine.

The thrashing tackle, which consisted of a steam traction engine, a thrashing machine (locally called a drum) and an elevator, always came with two men, the engine driver and his mate. The mate would assist with the driving when travelling and it was he who fed the sheaves into the drum. There would be three men on the stack that was being thrashed. The first would work himself round the stack, picking the sheaves up one at a time with a pitch fork and throwing them to a man at the centre of the stack. He would then pass them to the third man who would be standing on the side of the stack next t o the drum. The third man would pass the sheaves to the driver’s mate on top of the drum who would then feed them into the machine.

Inside the drum were the beaters which were similar to the cylinder on a mower but instead of blades they were bars of steel. The cylinder was the width of the drum and would revolve at high sped in a “concave” which also had steel bars. As the sheaves of corn were fed into the drum, the beaters would thrash the grain from the ears of corn. The grain would then pass through several sieves and discharge down chutes at the front of the drum. The best grain would come down one chute, the small grain down another and the chips of grain and weed seed down another.

The chutes had hooks to hang the grain sacks from. It was one man’s job to be in charge of the sacks and when they were full, he would wheel them on a sack barrow to a weighing machine, where he would adjust their weight to eighteen stone. After tying, it would be moved on to a sack elevator, which was a steel platform in a steel frame. There was a handle with a ratchet on the side of the elevator, which when turned, would raise the sack to shoulder height. The sack could then be pulled on to the shoulder and carried to the barn. The distance they had to be carried could often be thirty yards or more. The man had to be very strong and fit to do this job for eight hours each day!

At the back of the drum and to one side, was another chute which discharged the husks of corn (the chaff). This was caught in a large sack, then taken to and emptied into a barn called the chaff house and used for feeding the farm animals. This was a dusty job but the sacks of chaff were not very heavy and would often be carried by boys, if available.

The thrashed straw would drop from the back of the drum on to an elevator which would discharge it on to the straw stack. Usually two men would build a straw stack.

The corn stacks were often infested with mice and rats and would often be enclosed with a small mesh wire netting before thrashing commenced. A gap of about four feet would be left between the stack and wire and terriers would be put into this compound to kill the rats as they tried to escape from the diminishing corn stack. All farms had a couple of farm dogs who were good “ratters”. I have known some stacks to have so many rats (fifty or more) that towards the end of the day, the dogs would be so fed up with catching them that they would hide up for a sleep!


A Walk Through Hilton in the 1930s, continued

June was hay time. The grass would be cut by a horse drawn mower which was an iron frame mounted on two wheels. It had a seat on top and a scissor action cutting bar, about six foot long, protruding from one side. The cutting action was activated by gearing from the wheels.

The length of time required to dry the cut grass depended on the weather. In really good weather, the grass could be cut one day, turned the next and gathered the next. The loose hay would be loaded onto a horse drawn cart, usually by two men with pitch forks and a third would be on the cart spreading it evenly. When fully loaded it would be taken to the farm, made into a neat stack with an apex roof and thatched.

Before the corn harvest, which usually started about the third week of July, the farm workers would meet with the farmer to agree a bonus for getting in the harvest. For this bonus, the men would work overtime for a month, sometimes quite late in the evening. They would usually get home for a midday meal but tea would be packed and taken back to be eaten in the fields. Sometimes their wives or children would take their tea into the fields to eat with their menfolk. The children loved this; to them it was a picnic!

Some of the fields were several miles away from the village. The men working in these fields would take enough food for all day, having their main meal when they got home in the evening, sometimes quite late. It was hard work during the harvest month.

No one worked on Sundays and most but not all attended either church or chapel. At evensong the church would be full and at this time there was also a large choir.

The harvest was usually completed by mid-September but if the weather had been bad it could go on to October. Several of the farm workers would always go to the Michaelmas Fair at St Ives to buy boots and clothes for winter. Boots were leather with leather laces and hobnails, trousers would be either serge or corduroy. Some men preferred breaches and either leather leggings or puttees. (puttees were strips of cloth which would be wound around the leg from ankle to knee). After harvest the whole cycle of work would begin again.

I often visit an old friend who was a farmer and we often reminisce about the old methods of farming and we agree that it was often the boys who had the worst jobs. When ploughing, the boy would lead the horses often over very rough ground whilst the ploughman would walk in a nice flat furrow and he would also be holding the handles of the plough.

The ploughman that I usually led the horses for would insist that I led them right up to the boundary of the field. The boundary was usually either a ditch or a hedge and when turning the horses, I would be either pushed into the hedge or stumble along the bank of the ditch.

I remember on one occasion when ploughing a stubble field in the autumn that we ploughed out a wasps nest. Of course the ploughman walked over the exposed nest and the wasps went up his trousers, in his shirt and in his hair. He was very badly stung, his face was swollen and he was off work for a couple of days. The wasps also attacked the horses and they bolted with the plough. I got well out of the way and was the only one of our little party that did not get stung!


A Walk Through Hilton in the 1930s, continued

In the early thirties tractors first appeared on the farms. Unlike the monsters of today, with their air conditioned cabs and with enough power to plough ten furrows, they could only plough two furrows. That is about the same amount of power as a team of horses. The advantage that they had over horses was that they could work all day, where as with horses it was normal to work them for no more than six hours a day and at the end of their stint they had to be fed and cared for. There is not much comfort sitting on the steel seat of a tractor with only a corn sack for a cushion in all weathers.

All the farm workers I have spoken to have said that they much preferred working with horses. The most important part of the horse’s harness was the collar, which was padded with horse’s hair and lined with a thick blanket-type material. To the put the collar on the horse it would be turned upside down, placed over the horse’s head and then turned the right way up and pushed back on to the horse’s shoulders. The collar had two large hooks each side and all the equipment (plough, cart etc) would be attached to these hooks sop the pulling power was from the horse’s shoulders.

There was a saddler, a Mr Johnson, who lived in Fenstanton and I have often cycled to Fenstanton with a horse collar round my neck to get it repaired! It was essential that the inside of the collar was kept in good condition. If it was torn or damaged, it would rub and cause sores on the horse’s shoulders and the only cure was to rest at home until healed.

Most of the horses were gentle giants and if well fed, spoken kindly to and encouraged, they would work their hearts out. But if shouted at and even whipped (as I have seen on a few occasions) they would get very confused and agitated and make life very difficult for you.

In the 1930’s, there were about 30 men working on the land around Hilton and now apart from two farmers that work there are only three men. I know of only two fields that are planted with potatoes and the others are sown with either cereals or rape seed. Given a few dry weeks and the large modern combine harvesters the harvest is over and sometimes only one man is needed. In the thirties, a sheaf of corn was handled seven times before it was threshed. Also large fields of sugar beet were grown and both crops were very labour intensive. One farmer told me recently that his motto is, if you can’t combine it, you don’t grow it!

All the hard work that used to be done by men is now done by machines. Men no longer have to carry sacks of corn that weighed 18stones on their backs and load them on to lorries. In the harvest field, men with the aid of a pitch fork would have to pass heavy sheaves of corn six feet or more above their heads when loading the cart. There was always one stook of sheaves left in the middle of the field until the field had been “dragged”.

A drag was a type of rake mounted in a wheeled frame and pulled by a horse. The frame had a seat where a man would sit and steer the horse and it would be pulled across the field to gather all the loose stalks of corn. Beside the seat was a lever that, when pulled, would lift the drag and draggings (stalks of corn) would be left in rows across the field.


A Walk Through Hilton in the 1930s, continued

The reason for leaving one stook of sheaves, which would be loaded on to the carts at the same time as the draggings, was to let the gleaners (mostly women) know that the field had not been cleared. If the wheat was over ripe before being harvested quite a lot of the ears would drop off, making easy pickings for the gleaner. A sack full of wheat ears would last a few backyard chickens well into the winter. Farmers would also let people glean the potato field after the crop had been harvested as the potatoes would not pick up unless they were a reasonable size and undamaged.

Some farmers reared pigs. The farmer that I worked for as a boy, was also a butcher, so there were always quite a lot of pigs around of all ages. All of his potatoes would be harvested and the small and inferior ones would be boiled in a large copper, then mixed in a large wooden tub with meal and skimmed milk, made into “porridge” and fed to the pigs. The sows and their litters would be hosed in sties until the piglets had been weaned. The doors of the sties had small doors in them that allowed the piglets to go out into the strawed yard, several families of piglets running together.

In the winter, the tops of sugar beet would be a very welcome addition to their feed and in summer, they would be let out into the meadow adjoining the farm, where they seemed to enjoy digging up the ground with their snouts searching for worms and grubs. Sometimes they would make quite big holes, after rain they loved to wallow in the muddy holes. They would always be fed in the yards in the evening. It only needed the stockman to open the gate and to rattle the feed bucket and they would come running for their supper!

I remember after harvest one year, in one of the fields that had been sown with beans (a variety of broad beans), many of the beans had shelled, so it was decided to put the pigs in the field to feed on these beans. This field was quite close to the farm and I was given the job of driving the pigs to the field in morning and back again to the farm in the evening. Pigs are awkward animals to drive as they have poor eyesight and many breeds have long ears which flop over their eyes. They do not flock together like cattle or sheep and while I was chasing one, others would walk off in different directions. I even tried putting a bridle on an old Welsh cob, which was kept at the farm for light jobs and rounded them up like a cowboy!

After a short time they were left in the field and temporary shelters built. They were still fed with their porridge each day but it was much easier to take food to the pigs than pigs to food.

There was always a few sheep on the farm. The farmer who was also the butcher, would buy a pen of sheep from the sheep and cattle market at St Ives. A pen of sheep usually consisted of six sheep, sometimes eight ( but never more than eight). When they arrived they would be released into the meadow to graze. If there was not much grass, they would be fed some hay and also some dry mix, which would be put into a wooden trough. The dry mix would consist of crushed corn and linseed cake, also some locust beans, which were black and tasted like liquorice.


A Walk Through Hilton in the 1930s, continued

There was a large pond in the middle of the meadow and in the summer, if not at school or working, I and some of my mates would go fishing for newts. All we used was a stick, a piece of thin string and a bent pin with worms for bait. We never hooked the newts but when they grabbed the worm they would never let go. You could pull them out and shake them and they still hung on. We usually lost the worm to the newt and some of them were crested newts which are now rare and a protected species. The water in the pond was very clear and if it was a hot day we would strip off and have a swim.

We were not allowed to work on the farm until we were eleven years old and for a couple of years prior to this we would spend a lot of days during our school holidays exploring the fields and woods. Our favourite haunt was the land between Hilton and Connington. One field of about 15 acres was full of hawthorn bushes and was kept this way as cover for foxes. Several rides had been left through the bushes and the huntsmen would wait in theses rides while the hounds tried to flush out a fox for them to chase.

During the autumn and winter, huge flocks of starlings would congregate in the tops of the large trees on the village green. Here they would chatter for about fifteen minutes, then, as if given a signal, they would all take off and fly to the field of hawthorn bushes to roost. At the end of the winter the ground below the bushes would be white with their droppings.

On each side of the bush field were two large grass fields, the land was very impoverished so the grass was only a few inches high. The field nearest to Hilton was called the Rough Field and the one nearest to Connington was called Red Hill. There were lots of rabbit burrows and the soil that had been scratched out was rust colours. The land here is quite a few feet higher than the surrounding land and on a really clear day and good eyesight looking north-east you can see Ely Cathedral.

I recall sitting by the hedge watching a family of foxes playing in the Red Hill field. Bordering the field on the Connington side, was a small wood and two derelict cottages well worth us exploring! There was also the remains of an old orchard and some of the old trees still yielded a few apples of which a few found their way into our pockets. (Two of my mates were once caught red handed scrumping in an orchard by the owner who had tree dogs with him. He tied the dogs to the trunk and left them there for three hours, leaving my mates stranded in the tree. When he eventually returned he just collected his dogs and never said a word

Beyond the orchard was a small wood which was carpeted with Bluebells in the spring. Before you reached Connington from Hilton, there was a large grass field which was used as a landing strip for a local flying club. Most of the planes were Tiger Moths.

In the late nineteen twenties and early nineteen thirties, the vicar of Hilton was also the vicar of Papworth St Agnes. He was a very forgetful man and on several occasions, after he had taken a lesson on religion (it was a C of E school) he would forget where he had left his cycle. Several times some of us boys would be sent out to find it!


A Walk Through Hilton in the 1930s, continued

Each year, during the summer holiday, all the Hilton school children would be invited to have tea with the vicar at the Papworth St Agnes vicarage. Our transport was a farm wagon pulled by a shire horse, provided by one of the Hilton farmers. The vicarage was a large house with a large lawn and gardens. Trestle tables were set out on the lawn for our tea party and afterwards, various games were arranged to keep us amused. We had very few outings so this was one of the highlights of the year for us children. Having one vicar with two parishes, the Sunday evensong would be held in Hilton at 3pm one week and at 6pm the following week. These times would alternate with the services in Papworth St Agnes.

My mother was organist and my father sexton at the parish church and attended all services. When it was the afternoon service, which started at 3pm, they would be home by about 4.15pm and sometimes, if it was a nice summer’s day we would go for a picnic. We usually went to the Red Hill field because the flying club used to meet there most weekends and we could watch them doing their stunt flying while we were eating our picnic. Most of the planes were Tiger Moths and when they landed they would taxi to the side of the field. The pilots would gather in little groups for a chat, all wearing their Biggles type leather helmets.

Living in Grange Cottage was Percy Yates with his wife and son. Percy was a stockman and farm labourer who worked at Grange Farm. Between Grange Cottage and Wraggs Row was a meadow (Whispering Elms was built in this meadow in the mid twentieth century).

Wraggs Row was a row of three cottages which stood on the site now occupied by Clare Cottage. They were separated from the Green by the parish ditch. Recently a hedge has been planted on the Green by the bank, the ditch has been piped and filled in, and is now used as an extension to Clare Cottage car park.

The three Wraggs Row cottages were white washed and had red corrugated iron roofs, previously thatched. Access to the two nearest to Grange Cottage was by wooden footbridge over the ditch. The other cottage was by the side of a roadway leading to a field and the front door could be accessed from the roadway. All three cottages had long gardens and entry to the rear of the cottages was by a path from the roadway across their backs. This path was known as Wheelbarrow right of way.

In the cottage nearest the Grange lived Mr and Mrs Woodward and their two children. Mr Woodward was a farm labourer. In the centre cottage lived Fred Starling, a retired farm worker. He was a widower and also my great uncle. In the cottage nearest the roadway lived Ada Starling, my great aunt and Fred Starling’s cousin. She was also the daughter of my great grandfather, Richard Starling, who lived with her the last few years of his life.


A Walk Through Hilton in the 1930s, final part

The final dwelling on that side of the Green was a bungalow. It was demolished about fifty years ago and St Francis Toft was built on that site. In the early thirties Mr Draper, his wife and two sons lived in the bungalow. He was a poultry farmer and his main business was selling one-day old chicks. He owned a large incubator for hatching the chicks. When they had all hatched and dried, he would put them into cardboard boxes, which had air holes and would be clearly marked “Live Chickens”. He would then take them to the railway station to be sent to various destinations by train. They would travel in the guard’s van of a passenger train as they were much quicker than the freight trains. No doubt his customers would meet the train to collect the chickens when they arrived.

Mr Draper and family left Hilton about nineteen thirty six and Mr Lincoln, his wife and daughter came to live in the bungalow. Mr Lincoln (better known as Jimmy) was a pig farmer who had an arrangement with several restaurants and RAF stations to collect their kitchen waste, which he would feed to the pigs. He owned an old lorry with some tanks on the back in which he would collect the waste. He often talked of the amount of good food that the RAF threw away (joints of meat, whole chickens, packs of sausages etc) and said that his pigs had better food than he did!

At this time after the potato harvest, the crop had to be inspected by a ministry official before it could be sold. If it was deemed unfit for human consumption it would be sprayed with a purple dye and it could then only be used for animal food. Jimmy would buy these potatoes and boil them in a large copper, along with the kitchen waste and feed them to the pigs.

During the war there was a searchlight sighted in the meadow at the south corner of the Green. There was another on the St Ives road, in a meadow now called the “Paddocks”. The soldiers who manned the searchlights had quite a comfortable war! It was for them to illuminate the enemy bombers as they flew over to bomb the towns in the midlands. They could then be seen and attacked by our fighters. These bombers always flew over very high; I often heard them fly over but never saw one illuminated or heard of one being shot down locally. There were no anti-aircraft guns in or near the village and Hilton never suffered any damage during the war. On a few occasions the German gunners fired at the searchlight as they flew over but they were hopelessly out of range to do any damage.

A few bombs were dropped in the fields around the village making some craters and one of our Lancaster bombers was shot down by a German fighter one night when returning to Graveley airfield. It plunged into a field about half a mile down the Graveley Road, killing all the crew.

To complete my walk I only have to cross over what must be one of the prettiest village greens in England, to my thatched home on the north side of the Green.


A Walk Through Hilton in the 1930s, addendum

When I stand in the front porch of my thatched cottage on the edge of The Green, I often think how fortunate I have been to have lived all my life looking out on to what must be one of the prettiest village greens in the country. Many of the mature beech and oak trees, which are about two hundred years old, look much the same as they did when I was a boy in the early nineteen thirties.

All the large elm trees that bordered The Green died in the nineteen fifties, thanks to Dutch elm disease. The local tree surgeons at this time were the Horner brothers and they were given the job of felling the trees. Of course there were no chainsaws at this time so all the felling was done with axes and cross-cut saws.

There were three huge elm trees growing by the ditch in front of The Limes which towered above the oaks and beeches. These and the best of the other trees were sold to the saw mills and the brushwood was left for the villagers to collect for firewood. Only one or two houses had central heating so this free supply of firewood was very welcome.

The pollarded wych elms, locally called doddles, also succumbed to the disease. Many of them were hollow and only fit for firewood but the solid ones were quite valuable when they were sawn into planks. They had a very intricate patterned grain and were used for furniture making.

Some of the houses in the village have Common Rights; this entitles the owner to graze a cow on The Green during summer, May to October. If an owner of one of these Rights had no cattle, he let a farmer use his. There are seventeen Common Rights and there were always seventeen cows grazing the common in the summer. There had to be someone looking after the cows to prevent them from straying and he was paid seventeen pence per week for this job by the owners of the cows. In the thirties it was Jack King, nicknamed "Cusser" as he used to curse and swear a lot.

The only part of The Green that was cut was the cricket pitch, which was an area about fifty yards square. The outfield relied on the grazing cows to keep it short. However, I remember one year the square was extended and one farmer complained, saying "you are taking the grass out of the cows’ mouths"! The wicket area was never roped off as it is today; it was up to the herdsman to keep the cows off it.

After I was eleven years old, I used to work for Wilf Furniss on Saturday mornings and during the school holidays. Mr Furniss owned Grange Farm and most of the land on the south side of The Green. He was a very keen cricketer and was captain of Hilton for many years. During the cricket season and if there was a home game, it was my job to take the wheel barrow and shovel and collect the cowpats from the cricket pitch area!

Mr Furniss (who was also a butcher) owned a welsh cob pony and trap which was used for delivering meat. This pony was also used for pulling the mower to cut the cricket square. The heavy roll was also pulled by the pony. I used to fit large leather shoes on the pony to prevent his hooves from digging in the wicket. I would lead the pony and Mr Furniss would steer the mower. The heavy roll had shafts, like a cart, and didn’t need steering. The actual wicket was cut with a small push mower.

Home cricket matches were always played on Saturday, there was no Sunday cricket. There were enough members to field two teams. The first team was regarded as one of the best in the county and played in the county cup games, also friendly games against the best teams in the county and the Cambridge colleges who had some very talented players.

The most popular game of the season was Hilton versus the farmers. Jim Billings (a village farmer) would muster a team of his farming friends to oppose Hilton. This game was always played during Feast Week and was an all day match with a hot lunch, a tea and a barrel of beer. The lunch was cooked by John White, the village baker, in his bread oven.

 

Additional information provided by Richard Garnett:

The Rectory on The Green, was formerly known as The Pastures and was renamed The Old Rectory in the 1970s by Mr Riches who lived there then. This house was never a rectory.

The Vicarage by The Green was burned down on feast week Sunday in 1928.

Manor House on The Green, was formerly known as Manor Farm.

Mr Cooke who lived in a thatched cottage next to Hilton Hall, was a retired railway guard.

Oak Tree Farm on The Green, was formerly known as The Old Red Cow and was only called Oak Tree Farm in the 1960s or 70s when it had ceased to be a farm.

Jim Robinson, who lived in Oak Tree Farm, later called himself "White-Robinson".

 

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 14 July 2009 23:39