A changing way of life

In the early decades of the century life was very simple away out among the fields. The farm and farming activities dominated our lives.

The village boys and girls seemed almost townie and sophisticated compared with us clod-hoppers. They even dressed differently. And we identified ourselves so closely with the changing seasons, the weather, the crops and their rotation.

The winter days saw the great farm horses plodding steadily across the fields, seagulls and rooks foraging along the brown furrows in the wake of the plough.

The hedgemaker displayed his craft in newly turved hedges, neatly footed out with a finishing cope of earth that looked as if a spirit level had been used.

There were echoes of a woodman's hook, and one could find him deftly twisting his withy bands (he would have called them beans) round a shapely faggot which, together with others beside the hedge, would later be stacked in the woodrick beside the homestead.

W.J. Oke

W.J. Oke outside his forge

Spring brought the harrowing, rolling and tilling of the soil, and later the men would be in the cornfields with their weeding irons, and backs were bent to the hoeing of green crops.

And the year moved on through a good or bad summer, for we talked and speculated, praised or complained about the weather all the time.

Come harvest time and we even called our summer vacation harvest holidays, much of which we spent with the men in the fields, where there were always small jobs we could do.

In corn harvest I was fascinated as I watched wave on wave of corn flowing onto the canvasses of the self binding machines which had superseded the reapers.

Then we helped to set up the sheaves in shocks where they stood for a couple of weeks before the carts and wagons rolled to carry great loads of rustling corn back to the mowhays.

The last big harvesting operation of the year was the lifting of the potato crop. Working with two pronged diggers we lifted and turned over the stacks as we moved along the drills.

The best potatoes were thrown into a large wicker basket known as a mawn, and the inferior tubers, which we called pigs potatoes into another receptacle. Later they were all carted in bags back to the farmstead, the good potatoes being stored in a building, or outdoors in clamps, which we called caves. The small potatoes would be boiled in crocks over the hearth fire and fed to pigs.

Besides the harvest there were other high days for us on the farm, which again were just hard work for the grown-ups.

There was not much large machinery about in those days, and the most impressive was the great mobile steam engine which chugged along the lanes, drawing the big threshing machine from farm to farm.

They threshed from the stack and several extra hands were required on this important day.

Men were needed to pitch the sheaves on to the machine, cut the bands, feed the fly, carry the bags of grain to the granary and clear away the bound straw.

I can hear now in fancy the pleasant drone of the threshing machine and see the great belt revolving over the engine fly wheel and the pulley of the thresher. But it was a dirty, dusty job for those engaged on it.

Farmers' wives put on a special meal for threshing days, some better than others, as one would hear from the remarks of the men who travelled with the threshing gear.

Harvest thanksgiving services - we called them harvest homes - brought everybody to church or chapel, even if they were absent for most of the rest of the year. These services continue of course today and, unlike most things, have changed little with the passing years.

As the late autumn day closed in we began to look forward to Christmas. People celebrated the festive season in their own different ways as they do now; but nowhere did we see the luxury and ostentation in material gifts as we find today.

We were content with a few simple presents and they would give us a lot of pleasure for a long time.

Rabbits were very plentiful and sold for about 1/-. Many were trapped and sold to Messrs Tonkins of Truro, who employed Mr. G. Lock of Holsworthy to collect the rabbits from the farms and despatch them to the London markets via Holsworthy railway station.

During the winter some men, often small holders, earned a living as rabbit trappers. These included the Walter brothers, B. Wade, A. Beer, S. Bond, E. Turner, W. Tremeer and A. Brimacombe.

Thus did the rhythmic cycle of our rural life turn full circle, and Nature and Man's harmonious processes on the land begin again.

It may sound very unexciting. Yet we now know that better standards of living and all the modern amenities (and I for one would not like to be without them) do not necessarily bring us complete happiness.

The times of which I have written could perhaps in one respect only be described as the good old days, inasmuch as people then felt a sense of contentment and fulfilment which often seem to be lacking in the present age.

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