Saturday, 26 April 2014

Agricultural Shows

The Armstrong family from Newtown at Cockermouth show.
Holme St Cuthbert is a farming parish and, agricultural shows were and still are a very important part of life, which often involves the whole family.

A number of shows are still going but the ones held every year at Silloth and Aldoth no longer take place.
The Armstrongs at Workington show.
Joe Armstrong remembers taking part in Aldoth show which was usually held in August.  He had to get up early in the morning and walk the show animals to Aldoth a distance of 5 miles from Newhouse, Silloth. Then prepare them ready for judging at 10 o’clock.

He remembers the marquee, which housed the ‘Industrial Section’, consisting of all classes of vegetables, baking, knitting jams, chutneys and handicrafts, all to be judged and awarded prizes.
Aldoth Show Committee.
The beer tent, put up and run by the local pub, was, some would say, ‘an essential part of the proceedings’.

Important people attending the show were, the vet, local policeman, doctor or St John’s Ambulance and the ice-cream man!
Hound trail at Aldoth
In the afternoon hound trailing took place and it has been known for a few bets to take place.

There was also Harness racing and Sulky trotting racing which attracted some serious betting.
Silloth Show
The show ended late afternoon with a grand parade of the winning livestock around the show ring and then many would have a long walk home.

In the evening a dance was held in Aldoth School, with Billy Bowman playing the music. Joe always went to the dance and then walked (staggered) home again about 2am.

Prize giving at Silloth Show.
The Holme Cultram Agricultural Society originally held their annual show at Abbeytown. In the 1920s, they moved the venue to a field on Skinburness Road in Silloth. After this, it was always known at ‘Silloth Show’.
The latest technology in use
Occasionally there was a local foxhunt.  In the early 1900’s the master of fox hunting was Sir Wilfred Lawson who lived at Brayton.  There was one lady follower called Miss Parkin who always rode side-saddle.  
Cumberland Foxhounds on Silloth Green
Sometimes, the hunt started at Edderside with about half a dozen riders.
A Stirrup Cup at Edderside
Adapted from 'Plain People'
Holme St Cuthbert History Group, 2004.

Friday, 25 April 2014


Not only farmers kept pigs. Many villagers also raised one in their back yard.
Prize-winning Cumberland sow

The Cumberland pig was the usual pig kept for killing, but because the bacon was so fatty the breed became extinct and the Large White and the Landrace became popular.
Landrace Pig

Large White Pig
Once a year a butcher came to butch one of the pigs, which kept the farm in ham, bacon and lard to last all year. This happened in a cold weather month (a month with an ‘r’ in it). As there were no fridges, the flitches of bacon and hams, cured in salt, were kept on sandstone shelves. Black pudding and yards of sausage were made.  Some of the excess was given to neighbours and they in their turn, at their pig killing time returned the kindness.

Adapted from 'Plain People'
Holme St Cuthbert History Group, 2004

Hired help on the farm

Most farmers had to have hired help and also a maid was needed as the farmer’s wife had to feed the hired men and wash all their bedding besides looking after her own family.
Hired lads at Edderside, 1930s
These men and maids were hired for six months.  At the end of six months, bad workers and farmers could terminate the contract. In the 1930s, West Cumberland was a depressed area so these lads and lasses were pleased to find work, though their wages were very poor. Boys and girls might be only fourteen when they first started as hired help and often had to move away from their homes to find work.
Hired lads washing cart wheels at Lesson Hall
Work was constant.  The only time they were free was between milking times on a Sunday.  Other days they finished work at around 5.30 pm having started at 6.30 am.
Hiring fairs were held twice a year at Whitsuntide and Martinmas.   Many towns including Carlisle, Cockermouth, Penrith and Wigton held hiring fairs.  During the morning the farm workers would meet with the farmers in the market place. Those wishing to be hired chewed a piece of straw as a sign they were available for hire.  Farm workers without straw were known to be “stoppen on”.
Eric Laws was a hired lad during the late 20s to early 30s. He used to go to the hiring fairs at Cockermouth, which were always held on Mondays. He remembers standing between Cockermouth Bridge and Station Street waiting for a farmer to say, ‘is you for hire lad?’ If you said ‘yes’ you would start bargaining about a wage. When you had struck a deal you would shake hands and the farmer would give you a shilling to seal the deal.  The shilling was known as a fairing.
Cockermouth Hiring Fair
How well the farmer’s wife would feed you was an important thing to be considered. The lads would meet and say to each other, “is ta stoppen on?” and  “what swort of a meat shop is’t?”  The farmers who didn’t feed their hired help well soon got known as a bad meat shop.

Eric Laws remembers one lad who struck a deal with a farmer who promised him beef for every dinner, but alas he got liver every time.  After two or three weeks of this, he went out one night and, on his return, the farmer said to him, “Whatst night doin lad?” and the lad replied, “Master its, starlight and misty, moonlight and frosty, knee deep in snow, raining most tremendous”.  “Nay lad, niver”, said the farmer. “Ay its true, as much as beef is liver!” said the lad.

The hired lads all had small trunks usually made of tin which they kept their few possessions in. Some of the lads only had the working clothes they stood up in and possibly a spare shirt or two and extra socks.  Apparently some of them didn’t wear underpants and their trousers were never washed.  The better off lads had clothes they could wear for best.  Sacks would be tied around their shoulders to keep the rain off.  If they got very wet and dirty, some of them would struggle to find dry, clean clothes to change into.

From 'Plain People'
Holme St Cuthbert History Group, 2004

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Farming Memories by Winnie Bell

Winnie Bell (née Jefferson) and John Cockburn, West End Farm, Edderside, 1930s.

Taking butter and eggs to Maryport Market

The butter was always churned on a Wednesday in our house at Edderside because Maryport market was on a Friday. I suppose the butter had to set.  The churn was a barrel, four feet high and two feet wide. 

Cream was separated each day from the milk and kept for a week and put into the churn, which was turned with a handle for an hour or sometimes longer. You knew when it was butter by the sound. The butter was taken out and put into cold water from the pump; it was washed and washed until all the buttermilk was out of it and then salted. 
Mary and Jinnie Pattinson with Jim and Winnie Bell,
Edderside, 1930s.

My mother weighed a pound of butter and shaped it with butter pats.  The butter was laid onto   greaseproof   papers, which when folded were higher than the butter so that the portion could be lifted by the paper without touching the butter.  All the papers had to be marked with a lb mark.  The butter was then packed into a special butter basket.  The first layer of butter was put in and covered with a board which rested on a ledge on the inside of the basket and then the next layer added.   The basket had handles at each end, as it was too heavy to lift for one person when it was full. 
Winnie Bell, 1939
On Friday mornings my mother and aunt packed the butter and any spare eggs, usually about two dozen, into the trap.  My mother Sarah Jefferson and Aunt Isabella Pattinson always wore a veil, which covered their faces when going to market; I don’t know whether it was just fashion or whether the veils helped to keep their hats on.
Hannah, Lizzie, Alan and Winnie Bell, Edderside, 1940s.

They used to go through Allonby and a fellow there called Punch had a donkey, which always terrified my Aunt Isabel’s old grey pony.  When the pony saw Punch’s donkey it used to go like the clappers and my mother and aunt couldn’t control the pony and trap – a funny sight I imagine. When they got to the market square in Maryport they all had their own places – a wooden bench.  It must have been starvation cold in winter.  The pony was taken to some stables to have a bite to eat and stayed there until they were ready to come back home.
Postcard of Maryport Market
People came round to buy the butter mostly the same customers each week. When they first got there someone would come round to ask how much you were going to charge this week.  Probably a shilling or one and three a pound.  Sometimes people would scrap along the butter with their thumbnail and say “a bit salty this week Missis”.

Shopping in Maryport, Mary Pattinson, Sarah Jefferon and Ann Messenger.

Once the butter and eggs were sold we would all go for our dinner. We went to a place in Maryport in Wood Street; it was Mrs. Skelton’s Café.  There was a big square table in not a very big room, which was covered with scones and cakes and teacakes.  It would be about a shilling for our dinner but if you wanted meat or pies it was one and sixpence.

Then we used to go to get our groceries at Nixon’s on High street.  I can still remember the smell of ground coffee.  We would return home to Edderside in the pony and trap about three o’clock in the afternoon.

Winnie Bell (1918-2011)
From 'Plain People'
Holme St Cuthbert History Group, 2004.


An annual event was going to one of the Scottish markets at St Boswells, Hawick or Peebles to buy lambs.  This meant getting to a railway station early in the morning in order to get to the auction early. Time was needed to see which lambs they wanted to buy, and assess how much they were willing to pay for them.  It meant staying in a hotel or boarding house overnight. 
Lambs having been chosen and bought were sent by rail to Aspatria station and walked to their destination. The lambs were then penned into an area and fed each morning and night on turnips and mashed haver until they were fat and ready to sell again. The farmer used a turnip cutter to slice the turnips into large chips, which fell into a swill and then emptied into long troughs.
Mrs. Warren (Vicars wife) and Margaret Warren feeding a pet lamb
 with a bottle, Edderside 1934.

John Ostle sheep-dipping, Newtown 1980s.

Grading Sheep

During the last war, sheep were taken to various markets in the county to be ‘graded’.  This was to ensure that the population all had a fair share of meat. At the market three appointed people were given the job of establishing the average weight of a batch of lambs.

This was done by feeling along the back of the lamb to see how much meat would be on the carcass when butchered. Three people were employed to do this: one representative from the Ministry of Food, one from the butcher and the third from the farmer.
Grading sheep at Wigton auction in 1940’s. Auctioneer Robert Hope, Representative from the Ministry of Food Tom Ridley, and William Jefferson representing the farmers.   
Each passed an opinion on what the average weight of the lambs might be and eventually agreed the weight. The sheep were duly slaughtered and the meat allocated according to the number of customers the butcher had.

Adapted from 'Plain People'
Holme St Cuthbert History Group, 2004.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Harvest Time

The oat crop known locally as corn was cut with a binder, which was drawn by two or three horses.
Stooking oats in the priestfield at Plasketlands
As the sheaves left the binder they were hand lifted from the ground and put together in heaps of eight or ten to form “stooks”, in such a way that the air circulated and dried the sheaves. Arms and legs were scratched by the straw if not covered.
Joe, Dick and Will Armstrong at Newtown, 1959. Dick just back from
the auction in collar and tie. Ferguson tractor (left) and a David
Brown tractor with Michael Whitebread at the wheel.
The sheaves coming through the binder were tied automatically with string, known locally as, “John Robert”.  This name was derived from the man who owned the threshing machine, who was called, John Robert Holliday and lived at Abbey town.
Tea break
From 'Plain People'
Holme St Cuthbert History Group, 2004

Hay Time

Horse drawn mowing machine from the 1930s.
Midsummer brought hay time. The grass was cut as early in the morning as possible because an insect called a cleg used to bite the horses in the heat of the day and they were unable to work.
Margaret and Bob Edgar with their horse drawn hayrake, 1930s
Hay time was another time of hard labour as so much depended on the weather. Every day before mowing began the mowing machine knives had to be sharpened.  They were triangular steel teeth which needed two sides ground on a circular grindstone.  As the wheel was turned water was poured onto the grinding stone.
Bringing in a load of loose hay. Ida Pearson with son John, driving the Farmall
tractor, and cousin Raymond. Plasketlands, 1950s.
After the grass was cut, sun and wind was needed to dry it.  It was then raked into rows using a horse drawn rake, separated and forked into haycocks which were about a yard high - small heaps that could be forked to the person loading the cart. In wet weather the haycocks had to be dispersed to let the hay dry.  This meant extra work and poorer quality hay.
Haytime at Edderside. Wilf, Fanny Carrick and Winnie Jefferson
Corn and Haystacks.
Corn and haystacks had to be constructed by a certain method otherwise they collapsed.  The heads of the corn went into the middle of the stack, making a circle as the sheaves were forked from the cart to the person making the stack.  The stacks were made after much hard labour in the field.
John Nattrass at Mawbray, 1925. Note corn stacks and
horse cart with shelvings to carry a larger load.
Adapted from 'Plain People'
Holme St Cuthbert History Group, 2004.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Dairy farming in the mid-twentieth century

A herd of Shothorn Cattle, Kirkbride 1930s.
The first job of the day was milking and feeding the stock. Most local farmers in the 1930’s would have had between eight and twelve cows, which were hand -milked.
Mary Carrick feeding the calves, Highlaws 1930s
The milk was carried in buckets to the dairy to be cooled.  The milk ran over a zigzag cooler into a dish which had a gauze and cotton wool disc in the base through which the milk drained into the churn.  This pad caught all the dirt, hayseeds and other debris and had to be changed morning and night.
The milk in ten-gallon tins was taken to the milk stand and stood in the lea of the hedge or a building as protection against the sun, where it was picked up by lorry and taken to the dairy at Aspatria.  Sometimes in the summer heat, tins were returned as unfit for human consumption.  These red tickets were dreaded because the monthly payment for milk was an important part of the farm income. 
Elizabeth Pearson and Bess, the farm dog, Plasketlands.
The youngest calves were fed on milk with the farm cats trying to steal a drink and sometimes tipping a bucket over and bought-in gruel was fed to the older calves. Children helped with hand milking before school.
Margaret Carr, with pail and copy, ready for milking,
Beckfoot, 1940s.
In the 1900 –1930 period the railways were used to convey cattle to the auctions.  At Edderside the cattle were taken to Bullgill station for transport.

In winter two people were required to do this; one man in front with a stable lamp and the other to chase the animals along.  The man in front had to close any open gates and turn the cattle in the right direction at road junctions.

Cattle going to Annan were loaded at Bullgill and taken over the old viaduct on the Solway from Bowness to Annan.  The men had to leave at 4 o’clock in the morning, as it was a five or mile walk.

One of the main auctions at Annan was the bull sale.  Often these animals were reared and looked after by the farmer’s wife and a good price was eagerly awaited.
Dick Armstrong with his Ayrshire bull, Newtown

Adapted from ‘Plain People’
Holme St Cuthbert History Group,2004

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Springtime on the farm

Spring is the season of hope, the beginning of the farming year, when fields are ploughed and cultivated for planting of potatoes and sowing of seeds. Originally, this was done with the help of Clydesdale horses.  It was very important to plough a straight furrow, a matter of pride, because other farmers would walk miles on Sunday mornings to see how straight their neighbours’ furrows were.
After the Second World War, most farmers replaced their Clydesdales with a tractor. 

Sowing with a fiddle drill`

The fiddle drill hung by leather straps round the shoulders, and consisted of a woven sack containing the grass seed attached to the body of the drill.  The seed was metered onto the round-flanged disc, which was spun round, by the action of the leather bow against the spindle.  The bow shaped like a violin bow, was moved backwards and forwards, flinging the seed in an arc onto the ground.  This method of seed sowing was very tricky as the walking speed and the bowing action, together with the calibrated machine governed the rate of seed sown.  
Planting Potatoes

Tom Pearson, from Plasket Lands built a potato planter to fix on the back of the tractor, which could plant three rows at a time, instead of walking up and down the stitches carrying the heavy potatoes in a bratt.  

The planter was very simple.  It was a large wooden box, big enough to cover three stitches, which was supported behind the tractor.  Between the box and the tractor, Tom, wife Ida and daughter Helen sat on a seat with their legs dangling in the stitch. Tom’s son Jack drove the tractor.  The box was filled with seed potatoes and they, using both hands to take the potatoes from the base of the box, dropped them one by one into the stitch. 

To keep the seed at the correct planting distance the family sang all the songs they could think of – keeping a strict tempo. Popular songs, music hall numbers even nursery rhymes and hymns.  It was all very enjoyable as they were a tuneful family; not like work at all.
The Pearson family at Plasket Lands.
Adapted from ‘Plain People’
Holme St Cuthbert History Group, 2004.