Excerpts from “NOTES ON MY LIFE” by Anthony Beck 1901 -1995 These excerpts from Anthony Beck’s diary have been published by kind permission of his family.
The diary is presented here in two sections: World War II memories and Post-war agriculture ~ cows to combines!
World War II memories
Before my father fixed on Heydon I had kept my eyes open for places where he might live. He came over to see Green Farm at Thorpe Market which was for sale. There was an off licence for the sale of beer which went with the place and when he decided against the farm he wrote saying that he “did not fancy the idea of living in a pub.” With the growth of my milk round I needed more cows and more land, and in 1936 my father bought this 95 acre farm for me, saying with a chuckle “Any fool can farm light land.” He bought it through Limmers in Cromer and it was not until the contract was completed that he found that the vendor was the widow of his nephew John; she had let the farm out to the Craske family and she used to bring her son Roger out to tea here from Greshams School at half term. Craske stored his seed corn in the front bedroom where it was dry and free from vermin. His mother and sisters supplied teas to summer visitors. My first foreman at Green Farm was Jeremiah Coleman, who had been Frank Bird’s foreman at Winspurs Farm; they lived with me in the farm house and Mrs Coleman cooked for me. During this year, until her notice expired, Miss Brockwell lived in the farm cottage with her uncle. It was a period when many a farmer was short of cash; one day Jerry said “If you’re short of a bit of money……” and gave me a nudge in the ribs; it was good of him but I was able to say that I was all right. When his wife found it too much to do for me, they left. Father then found up Rush from the Thornham estate to be my next foreman, and Mrs Rush cooked for me. On the milk round some babies found Guernsey milk to be indigestible and I gradually changed to Jerseys. A bigger, better change came as a result of my selling cream, to the Parkinsons in Sheringham; staying with them on a short holiday from their secretarial work in London were their cousins Margot and Gertrude Rouse; on later visits I taught Margot to drive a car and we were married in 1938. The war clouds thickened. The day before England declared war children were evacuated from London by coastal steamers and thirty of them from Dagenham arrived on Thorpe Market Green by coach from Yarmouth. We had intended looking after two children, but when we found four Allen sisters wishing to stay together we put four beds in our big bedroom overlooking the green. They went to Southrepps village school, stayed for eight months and then, went to Wales, fearing invasion in the East. Then came the Battle of Britain. In England, with the fall of the Netherlands and the threat of invasion, the Local Defence Force, later to be known as the Home Guard, and portrayed on television in the 1970’s as “Dad’s Army”, was formed. At a meeting in the Reading Room the men elected me to command the Thorpe Market Section with the rank of sergeant. The half dozen old soldiers in the Section were nervy, but not the ex-officers who commanded us. Retired Brigadier General Blake who lived in Thorpe Market commanded our 5th Battalion Norfolk Home Guard, retired Major Christopher Guerney of Northrepps Hall commanded our Company and Sir Robert Lyall Grant of Northrepps, who had been a judge in Southern Rhodesia was in charge of the Platoon. When two years later he left the district I took over from him; the other sections in the Platoon were those of Roughton who had as sergeant Captain Gibson R.N. retired, as well as Northrepps and Overstrand. At first we were short of arms and equipment. We wore arm bands bearing the initials “L.D.F.” There was a small issue of 12 bore cartridges loaded with ball for use in our shotguns. In August 1942 Thorpe Market had on charge 26 battledresses, 19 rifles and bayonets, 1 Lewis Machine Gun, 2 Thomson sub-machine carbines, 179 grenades of various kinds, 24 Molotoff cocktails (glass bottles filled with petrol to use as incendiaries), 10 40-gallon Flame Fougasse, 2 Northover projectors, 72 Anti-Tank mines and much other equipment. We had 4 Spigot mortars; these were Anti-Tank weapons mounted on a 2 inch metal cylinder fixed atop a 3ft diameter concrete cylinder sited to cover roads and other likely tank approaches to our “Keep” in Green Farmhouse. Their range was some 200 yards; designed for static defence they were suitable for the Home Guard but were not issued to the army. To this day their metal cylinders remain bright and smooth. The explosives were stored in a shed attached to the end of our house. Margot had returned in 1941; she and I felt it desirable to move our bedroom to the other end of the house. Army sergeants stationed locally helped to train us. I went on a short course for junior Home Guard commanders in a country house at Sandy near Bedford. Barham Savory the Fakenham lawyer was second in command of the unit. One of our first duties was to post two men to keep watch by night for parachutists; we did this from the top of Gunton Tower. Cpl. Albert Hurn reported that men were scary of the job, so I told him to put me down for the first night and I was joined by Billy Mobbs; thereafter the men kept watch without trouble. Later in the war Home Guards were put on night guard over the house in Trimingham where R.A.F. radar men slept at the top of the cliffs; when guards found that these key men were bringing members of the women’s forces into the house they decided that the R.A.F. would have to mount their own guard. We might have to fire our rifles wearing gas masks. When on the range between East and West Runton, firing seawards at butts,I put my mask on and continued to score some bulls. Other men, afraid of making fools of themselves before their comrades, did not do this. Towards the end of the war men from the Thorpe Market and Northrepps sections made a team to man the coastal defence gun in an emplacement on Cromer cliffs; commanded by Maurice Grief, who still farms at Northrepps, they made better scores on towed targets than did any other Home Guard unit manning coastal guns. John Radford from Sheringham was a regular soldier. When stationed at Cromer he was instructed to issue Lewis guns to the Home guard; being a friend of mine he told his serjeant to see that Thorpe Market got a good one. As there were occasional air raids I got Harry Wade the Roughton blacksmith to make a mounting and fix it on top of the unused water pump outside our back door. when an air raid alert was sounded by the Cromer siren I would dash out with the gun and mount it, Margot followed with my tin hat. Once, after a bomb dropped on Cromer, a plane emerged from low cloud over me; unable to see its markings I did not fire. FitzPatrick was a rich man who lived with Tommy Upcher in Bradfield Hall. He now served as an A.B. in the Navy. When on leave he met a Free Frenchman at a loose end in the Cafe Royal and brought him home to Bradfield. When FitzPatrick’s leave was up he brought Rene along to us as Margot spoke French. The siren went when I was out of the house. “come on” said Rene, “lets put up the gun.” Margot protested. Rene insisted, “think of the headllines – Free Frenchman brings down German plane!” Tin-hatted Margot walked round the house and glimpsed a plane which emerged from the mist and then disappeared. It was out of our impetuous ally’s view. One evening he and Margot cycled to visit the Parkinsons; Rene refused to comply with the air raid precautions of vehicle light dimming; a policeman stopped them; Rene pretended to know no English and was let off with a caution. After a week or two he left to return later for one night with his English bride. They could hardly speak each other’s language. Like all the Free French he had an assumed name; Margot wrote to his mother after asking for his true name. The letter was delivered and answered after V.E. day. Margot joined the Women’s Volunteer Service. She cycled to Wolterton Hall to help Lady Walpole who was the Centre Organiser for Erpingham Rural District. Later Lady Walpole became C.O. for Norfolk and Margot became C.O. for Erpingham until we retired from farming. One night there was a heavy bombing raid on Norwich; the next day Margot and Miss Doris Harbord from Gunton Hall went to a rest centre in Norwich to help the homeless. The Home Guard was disbanded at war’s end. Later the Russians were considered to be a threat, a new H.G. was formed including some demobilised soldiers. Again I was a lieutenant. With the threat receding this was disbanded and I joined the signals section of the Civil Defence until this too was disbanded. There was no petrol pump on the nine mile road between Cromer and North Walsham. In 1937 three motorists ran out of petrol and called on Green Farm to see if I could help them, which I did from my one can. So I installed a petrol pump at the farm gate from which to make sales and supply my vans. When the risk of a German invasion arose petrol supplies were confined to a few garages and all others, including mine, were closed down. To compensate for our loss of trade those remaining open had to pay us a levy. After the war I re-opened my pump. A few bombs were dropped on Cromer. Nearer us one fell on wet grassland between Green Farm and Gunton station, but the nearest to our village was dropped from an American plane returning from a raid to the Sculthorpe aerodrome; perhaps the bomb had jammed in the bomb release door and had to be dropped before landing; it fell in the belt of woods between the village and Gunton Park lodge gates. Mrs Nichols’ windows were broken; officers came from Sculthorpe to see the damage. Towards the end of the war the Germans fired V2 bombs from Peenemunde in Holland. Their vapour trails as they rose were seen from Gunton station. The only one to fall locally made a crater in marshland at Ingworth. During the war Miss Almey, whose father had the farm next to mine in Felbrigg and Miss Wright, a Metton farmer’s daughter, drove my retail vans. Later I retailed in Holt supplying my old house in Greshams School, but there were not enough customers to justify the extra mileage and I gave up, as I had done for the same reason in North Walsham. Again, after a longer time, I gave up in Sheringham. However, the milk was cleanly produced, kept well and was rich, so sales in Cromer and the nearby villages increased; there were now three roundsman, one for Cromer, one for Roughton and one for Southrepps, Northrepps and Thorpe Market. Roundsmen’s wages rose; in 1964 I sold the goodwill of the rounds to the Cromer retailing branch of the Milk Marketing Board. They bought my bottled milk and continued to employ three roundsmen: in 1984 Percy Riseborough was still with them. Two landgirls worked on the farm during the war; Rosemary Blake was one; her father a retired brigadier commanded our Home Guard battaliion; they lived in Elderton Lodge south of the village. She later married Peter Savory who farmed at Langham. The other was Molly Gotts from Southrepps who married an airman. After the war a German prisoner of war worked in the dairy and on the land for some months until his repatriation; he worked well and ate and slept in an outhouse with a stove.
Post-war agriculture ~ cows to combines!
In 1945 I sold my 50 acre Felbrigg farm as it did not seem worth while to send a man and a tractor three miles to work there. In 1949 I bought land adjoining Green Farm from Longhursts timber merchants. During the war they had felled trees in Thorpe Wood and did not wish to replant the 44 acres; they first sold me Repps Heath, a light scrub land of some 20 acres, then Thorpe Woosd which lay between the farm and the church, and the 5 acres of marsh between Heath and Wood. I hired a bulldozer and driver from the War Agricultural Committee; he excavated the oak stumps which were later blasted and burnt. I cropped it all in 1950 using the marsh for grazing. The steeper land on the edge of Thorpe Wood I planted with Scotch fir, and the wet land on the north of the Heath with poplars, for which there was a government grant. East of the poplars were 1.5 acres of land approached over a bridge; this was not rich soil and hardly worth cultivating. In our final year on the farm, before receiving an offer to sell, Margot and I planted it up with a mixture of 3 fir trees to 1 beech. The extended farm was now 151 acres of arable and pasture and 10 of woods and premises. The cows, Jerseys with a few Guernseys and Friesians, increased from 29 in 1949, to 46 in 1951, 50 in 61 and 55 pedigree Jerseys all home bred in 1962. There was 1 bull which was sometimes bought from outside, sometimes home bred; occasionally I used artificial insemination from bulls selected and sometimes proven to sire high yielding daughters with a satisfactory butter fat; this service was provided at a reasonable fee by the Milk Marketing Board. A note on the Norfolk Four Course Rotation may be of interest. In the days of strip cropping each man grew corn on his strip. Under continuous cropping yields were low; it was found that if a strip was left fallow, ploughed but not cropped, for a year, then subsequent yields from that strip picked up at first before again they slowly fell. After harvest each man turned out any cattle in his possession to gather what they could from from all the strips in common; so it was not worth his while for any strip holder to grow grass or hay. Then, in the seventeenth century some enclosure of land by owners using hedges took place in Norfolk. At this time this may have been illegal, preceding the enclosures acts. On the enclosed land farmers grew on any one field wheat one year, turnips the next, then barley and the hay, to be followed by wheat, turnips etc. Other fields had the same succession of crops but at different stages in the rotation. This Norfolk Four Crop Rotation spread to other counties and other countries; it was common until World War 1. The wheat was sold for bread-making; the small grains, less valuable for bread, were separated out at threshing and kept for feeding to hens; the long wheat straw was suitable for thatching the stacks of corn and hay, and as bedding for cattle. During growth of the wheat weeds also grew; although ploughed in after harvest their seeds grew; in the spring the seedlings were killed by another ploughing or cultivating. Turnips were sown now; but more weeds germinated; hoes were drawn by horses between the rows of turnips; labourers used hand hoes to leave single turnips growing 9″ apart, in the same motion they uprooted weeds growing in the rows. After corn harvest the turnips were either food for sheep folded on them or were carted off to feed cattle in the yards. The barley crop, if of suitable quality, was sold for brewing, if unsuitable it was ground on the farm for feeding to cattle or pigs; in later years it could be sold to merchants for grinding for use in their compound nuts. Immediately after sowing the barley a mixture of grass and clover seed was sown; this mixture grew with the barley and in a wet year there would be enough of it in the barley straw to make the straw palatable to cattle. After harvest and again in the following spring and early summer the grass-clover mixture grew until it was cut for hay. The hay was turned or tedded until fairly dry, it was then raked up by a horse-drawn rake, run up into heaps by a horse-drawn toppler and then heaped into cocks by men with forks; a month or so later when the hay had “made”in the cocks it was carted to a stack; if carted too wet the stack heated and caught fire. In common with all legumes clover has nodules on its roots containing bacteria which fix the nitrogen in the air, changing it into substances which supply the legume with nitrogen. After carting the field was ploughed burying the lowest parts of the hay and clover plants; these slowly decomposed, feeding the following crop of wheat. This rotation included two cash crops, two animal feed crops. The turnips were a weed cleaning crop, hay enriched the soil. It ensured the health of the crops: any disease in the wheat did not affect the following turnips, its germs had died before wheat was again drilled. The need for men’s labour was spread over the year: after harvest came stack thatching, then mucking out of cattle yards, carting and spreading the muck on the fields where turnips would grow, possibly also before the wheat. Ploughing lasted over autumn and winter. Some of the wheat was drilled, some in spring, then barley and finally turnips. There was hoeing in early summer, haysel in late summer; if oats were grown instead of part of the wheat shift they were the first corn to ripen before wheat and barley. Often the fat cattle were ready for market before harvest, leaving the stockmen free to help at the busy harvest time. When I started farming, turnips had been largely replaced by the more nutritious mangolds which stored better; when lifted, carted to a hale, covered with straw and then soil to keep out the frost they were drawn on through winter to feed cattle. When drilling a field for roots, horses and drill turned round on the headland churning up the soil. So a headland the width of one drill was left around the field to be sown later; it was bes to wait until horse-hoeing with its headland turning was finished and then to drill it. It was then late in the season to sow mangolds and the quick- maturing turnip was generally sown on the headland. After the war I grew a few acres of sugar beet selling it under contract to the Cantley factory. The beet tops after wilting in the field were fed to cows. There were great modifications of the four course system; wheat was sometimes grown for three consecutive years; dairy farmers instead of a single year of hay grew a mixture of seeds giving a three year ley which might be cropped for hay the first year and then grazed. With traffic increasing on the Cromer road it became undesirable to drive a hered of cows at least 150 yards on the road two or four times daily to and fro their grazing. So I used the four course rotation for the Cromer road fields with an occasional three year ley; heifers could be grazed here without having to go on the road. Behind our house, with easy access to cowshed, leys were all of three year duration. I forget the reason for the note in my farm diary of 1957 that I would work towards a unified rotation over the whole farm. It would be: year(1) Oats, (2) Wheat, or Oats for silageThree years followed by Canson Kale, (3) Roots, (4) Barley, )(5,6 and &7) 3 year Ley. The oats for silage were cut green in early summer, carted to a long pit and covered with earth until cut out for winter feed; immediatelyafter cutting the oats the land was ploughed and sown with kale which was folded using an electric fence for cows; thus in year (2) as an alternative to wheat two food crops were grown. My first motorised vehicle was a 3-wheeled Motocart; its front wheel driven by a single cylinder engine, its flat tipping body carried a good load of fodder. My first tractor was a Fordson with iron wheels and road rims; then this was replaced by a rubber tyred Ferguson. in 1951 I bought a second Ferguson and about this time sold my last horse. Until 1955 we had “opened up” our ripe cornfields by scything the headlands; other farmers were now starting straight in with a tractor-drawn binder although this flattened some corn under the wheels; so my men didn’t think much of scything; after opening a field with a scythe myself I too followed suit. From 1966 I got a contractor to use his combine; this avoided the expensive process of threshing from the stacks. In ’55 a bulldozer removed some of the hedges; this made tractor work easier and reduced the time spent on hedge-trimming. In ’52 we made wooden tripods and forked hay onto them; this kept hay off the ground while hay at the bottom of the cocks had always been damp. Still it was a labour intensive job, in ’60 I bought a baler and baled hay off the windrows. When Father bought Green Farm he employed a builder to make alterations to the house and the milking shed. The builder brought his water divining rods and found it close to our back door; Mother and I found that the rods twitched also for us. A bore was made, a 4″ metal pipe lowered and a Petter engine used to pump to house and dairy; later pipes were laid to troughs on every field behind the house, fields on the Cromer road were supplied from the public mains. Soon I got a milking machine operated from the same engine, later, when the village got electricity, to be replaced by an electric motor. In ’56 the milking shed was improved: it became a 3 point 6 stall milking parlour; milk now passed from cows to glass jars where it was weighed before passing by suction to a point over the cooler in the dairy. Cows were collected in one yard, brought into the parlour as required and thence to the dispersal yard. From ’52 the herd had been kept in these two open yards at night, sheltered from wind by walls; hitherto they had lain out in open fields. In winter hay, roots and any silage were sufficient for maintaining cows’ body weights and for them to produce half a gallon of milk daily; cows giving 1.5 gallons were fed 4 lbs a day of dairy nuts, those giving a further gallon a further 4 lbs etc, half at each milking. Nuts were weighed and tipped from bins into troughs in the parlour. In autumn cows were fed a mixture of ground nut cake, hoe grown crushed oats and minerals. In April, with grass production at a peak, only cows giving over 3.5 gallons received any supplementary ration. I was glad to have the advice of the District Officer of the Advisory service on feeding, manuring, varieties of crop and other technical matters. In ’54 we started milking the 12 highest yielders for a third time in the evening; this increased their yields, but by ’63 the extra yield was hardly worth the cost of a man’s overtime and it ceased. Between ’55 and ’61 the average 305 day yield of cows was between 800 and 883 gallons; the latter was probably the year in which the herd topped the average of herds in the county for the breed. Cows calve more often under the cover of darkness than in daytime. The calving boxes were opposite our bedroom window; I would hear a cow starting labour, put on some clothes, help deliver the calf, cut, tie and disinfect the navel cord, give the cow a bran mash and go back to bed often without waking Margot. In later years this help was considered unnecessary; I would examine the cow last thing, seeing that the calf was going to come head first, and leave her to calve naturally. But some of the lowest yielders, from whom it was not worth breeding replacements for the herd, were inseminated with semen from a Charollaid bull; these cows needed assistance in calving. In 1966 it was pointed out that instead of two men milking the herd one was enough and Arthur Jarvis did it alone. In ’65 I grew 1.5 acres of Runner Beans and an acre of Calabrese, which resembles Brooccoli, for sale to Ross the frozen food firm. In one or two years I grew Tic Beans for stock food, and 4 acres of Potatoes in a number of years. Lucerne with its deep roots was most useful in a dry season and Ryegrass gave an early bite. A mixture of Oats and Peas was cut green for silage. In ’68 I stopped growing Sugar Beet because sprays were only partly successful in seed control, partly because hand hoeing clashed with silage making. More than once cows were upset by frozen mangolds. Husk was an occasional trouble. In November ’60 there was an outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease in Eastern England; it was possible that starlings carried the infection on their feet to fields of grass so we confined the herd to the yards for 2 weeks. We searched for a supply of water for IRRIGATION. A firm of well borers forced a perforated 2″ pipe into the ground at various points and pumped water from the pipe. Between Repps Heath and Thorpe Wood was marshy ground. Here they found water-bearing sand 6′ below the surface extending for more than another 17′. In ’62 the reservoir was excavated. It covered .25 of an acre and was 6′ deep when full. A pump and 15h.p. electric motor were installed; luckily overhead power cables were only a few yards away. 787 yards of 4″ asbestos underground mains were laid; there were 4 take-off hydrants; from each hydrant up to 900′ of portable aluminium pipes could be laid and from them 22 sprinklers were used. There was a time switch enabling the plant to be left running in the evening and stopped at a preset time. The plant rained 1″ of water in 3 hours. It was used on grass, kale, potatoes and sugar beet. Ducks on the reservoir ate the algae which clogged the fine strainers in the sprinkler lines. The cost of the excavation, pump house, plant and consultant’s fees was £3080. Bernard Matthews of Great Witchingham produces turkeys on a large scale and processes their meat. He had tried using their guts to feed trout. In ’63 his manager gave me 300 5″ trout to grow in the reservoir as an experiment and provided pellets to feed them. In ’64 two of his staff came to see how they had grown; they caught a couple; that season I caught 26 which averaged 9ozs; this was satisfactory growth due to the water having come up through the chalk which suits trout. Alas, in ;65 a weed killer merchant supplied me with material which would not kill trout: but it did. Jack Fisher was a tenant of a farm in Gunton Park where there was a pond with carp in it; his sons brought 5 carp to the reservoir. I hope that they are still there. Amongst our neighbours were Tyler Bros. who had exported bulbs to Holland. Another neighbour sold his farm to the secretary of “Punch”; the secretary’s son came home from Australia and planted the farm with Cox’s apples on cordons – the largest acreage of cordons on one farm in the country. It is now called “The Golden Apple Orchards” and is owned by the late Peter Tyler’s family. Scotchmen have come south to farm in our part of England: Alstons, Cargills and Pattersons amongst them. They are successful, many have milking herds and some have more than one farm.