Page 10 of 19
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.