Page 11 of 19
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.