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James Chuck - My Life in the Village

Oral history recorded by Albert Thom

Photograph of James Chuck on a tractor at Potterells in the 1940s. Image from L. Maxwell
James Chuck on a tractor at Potterells in the 1940s
Image from L. Maxwell, from the Images of North Mymms collection

James Chuck was born on 18 June 1903 in a cottage which then stood on the site occupied by the car showroom, in Welham Green in the Parish of North Mymms, Hertfordshire.

He had three brothers, two of whom have died, and five sisters, all living in Hertfordshire. His paternal grandfather and grandmother were both illiterate.

His father, John, born at Water End in the parish, worked for Mr. Crawford at Potterells Farm. His mother, Lucy, née McCullick, came from Ireland and worked in the kitchen at Potterells, the big house then owned by Mr. Seymour, (who had retired from Diplomatic Service).

He left the Parochial School for Boys in Welham Green when he was twelve, exempt at that age under the “labour examination”, to start work, also at Potterells Farm, and when seventeen, at Potterells.

Soon after, he worked for a number of contractors, digging sewers, at the local waterworks, on a gasometer, and for local builders. Finally, as storekeeper at Mowlems, retiring at 70.

Grandfather Jimmy Chuck - born 1842

My old grandfather, Jimmy Chuck, learnt hisself to read but my grandmother never did, though you couldn’t twist her out of a ha’penny. But they made enough money out of laundry work to have those houses in Holloways Lane built and we lived in one end and my uncle George lived in the other end. Five in that row they had and they had their own at Water End, where they did the laundry. That was six houses they had. When he was at home there, my father used to get up at four in the morning to fetch water for the laundry. Out of the stream - there weren’t no well there.

Used to have an old pony and cart to take the washing out with and I think they used to do Salisbury’s. On Saturdays, grandad used to take me with him like and he’d call in the Maypole Shop and get sixpennyworth of bullseyes and give them to my mum and say, “Here you are missus, that’ll keep them quiet for a little while.”

He was a lovely old man. When he got a bit older I used to go down and dig his garden for him. At one time he used to do hedging and ditching in winter time, piece work. He’d make a bit of money, then he’d have a week on the booze, pay somebody to go with him. Then he’d start again.

Did plenty of walking them days. I’ve heard my aunt say that my old grandad used to walk to Cuffley, tree felling there, walk there and back, that’s a good old step you know. He always wore his hat - outdoors and indoors. A bowler, then later a trilby. Wouldn’t take it off for nobody.

My grandmother, I couldn’t stick her a lot, used to sit and watch you, her eyes used to go right through you, you know. Used to go there Sunday nights with my father, take the old dog with us. They’d sit there talking and I used to sit and didn’t say a word and I said something one night and my father clipped me side of the ear and he said, “You speak when you’re spoken to,” and I never spoke again after that, down Water End.

Father's Time: 1876 - 1954

My father used to work for Jimmy Crawford at Potterells Farm, which he rented before he bought it from Burns. He worked there all his life and I remember him telling me he left there once to go on the river down Water End to clean the river out and he couldn’t stick the foreman standing watching him all day long, so he left it and went back to the farm and he spent his life there till he died.

My father, he used to scythe round the fields before ever they went in the fields. Them days they were just binders. Wasn’t like they are today, combines, and it was a crime to go into a field without cutting round with a scythe before you went in. And my father, he could mow a swarth seven foot wide with two men tying up behind and that was pretty good going. The corn was longer than what it is today, they’ve improved on it, so they don’t get so much straw. It was nothing in them days to see corn about five or six foot high and that wanted some pulling through with a scythe.

When he was younger, he used to drink a lot down at the Sibthorpe on his own and he’d come home perhaps at a night time and he’d get hold of the corner of the tablecloth and switch all the things on the floor. I said to my mum, “If that’s what beer does I’ll never touch it”, and I never did.

And the funny thing was, they used to have a saw bench come up to saw the wood up and he used to put the wood to the saw, like. And one day he must have been three parts drunk and the saw had three of his fingers off. He went to hospital and never touched another drop of beer from that day till he died. Whether it was an act of God, I don’t know, but he was a real teetotaler after. And they took him into St. Albans Hospital and he used to smoke his old pipe and they couldn’t stop him smoking in bed so they turned him out before they should have done and he had his fingers off.

He was a tough old character, he was. He was pretty hard, my old dad, but he had a good heart. When I got married there was not a lot of work about, you hadn’t got a lot to eat and it was nothing for him to send round a couple of rabbits, you know, to keep us going. I thought that was pretty good of him.

I remember we got the church charity once. The poorest families had to write to the vicar who chose the most needy case. We received £1. A lot of money.

Childhood and Schooldays

Photograph of the Chucks outside Sunnyside in the 1900s. Image from L. Maxwell
The Chucks outside 21 Holloways Lane in the 1900s
Image from L. Maxwell, from the Images of North Mymms collection

I was born in the old cottage up Whites Corner, then we moved from there up Holloways Lane, Pretoria Cottages. We had four rooms, two up, two down, no bath, no sink, cooking range, iron saucepans. Baths in the wash-house. Well for five cottages. Main well for the Village outside Mr. Crawford's. Eleven in the house. Slept where you could, boys and girls together.

I left school at 12, exempt from school, three of us, me and Walter Venables and Percy Carter. No, four, Daniel Woods - forgot him. Venables lived in Woodbine Cottage, Newsagents, well, used to do it once a week like - Sundays. Hated school, except for drawing. Used to like drawing. Played truant many a time. One day we was out in the playground, this balloon come over. A gang of us said come on let's follow it. So we cleared off right across the fields and it dropped at South Mimms.

Went to school next morning and Mr. Mallett said, “All you boys that followed the balloon step out here,” You had six cuts on each hand. Some was crying, some wetted their knickers and all sorts.

Then another day a balloon come over and the anchor was down and it took time chimney pots off opposite the Mens’ Institute, them three houses there. Knocked the chimney pots off No. 23 and landed in, the Sibthorpe field. The man in charge said, “Nobody smoking because of the gas”: They let the gas out, you see. Anyway, they got it all down and folded it up and Nash had them two old carts - never had no cars them days - they folded it up and took it to Hatfield Station.

Before I was twelve I did odd jobs. Used to fetch coal for people, from Dover’s yard, half cwt. at a time, that sort of thing, you know - a ha’penny for a half cwt. Then we used to fetch skimmed milk from Potterells all weathers. Used to go early in the morning, like. Because my father worked at the farm, couldn’t afford new milk, so we used to go up Potterells and buy skimmed milk because it was cheaper, you see. Mrs. Large, the dairywoman, would make butter, which Seymour sent to these gentleman’s houses, Seymour did. Important people, Mr. & Mrs. and Miss Seymour of Potterells, related to the King and Queen. Had to doff our caps to them - always thought it wrong.

Then we did bird scaring. Six pennies a day bird scaring, evenings, weekends. Rattled the old rattle and shouted that little old ditty:

I come with my clappers,
To knock you down back’ards,
Away, birds, away.

Before I left school, they used to come down to school, want two boys to go to market. Every Wednesday up to Barnet with cattle. We knew who got to go, that was me and somebody else - Percy Carter had to come with me sometimes. One used to come back, used to help to do the milking, one used to stop there, perhaps six o’clock at night, perhaps bring some stray cattle home what he’d bought, you know. And we used to have a little lamp with a candle in it, before all the traffic was about, one thing and another. And I went there one morning when I took about 20 sheep, I think it was, that was when cars first come out and when I got to Hadley Wood round that corner, a woman came steaming along there, oh, must’ve been about 40-50 mile all among these sheep, killed two or three of ‘em and I just had the presence enough to take her number, so they got her and she had to pay for it.

Then another day I went there, took some cattle. That was getting on in the spring-time and they’d been shut up all winter, like, fat bullocks, they were. They got on the common, they could smell this water and they got in the pond. I couldn’t get 'em out and I stood on the side of the pond crying. Policeman come up on his bike. He said, “What’s the matter sonny?” I said, “I got these cattle in and I got to be in the market by eleven o’clock”. “Oh, don’t let that worry you”, he said.

So he gets on the bike up the town somewhere, come back with a mounted policeman. He come over, took his feet out of the stirrups, went in the pond and got ‘em out. Wasn’t I pleased! Because I had an old dog with me, fast as he went in the water to get ‘em out, they knocked him under the water and I felt sorry for him and called him out, you see and that was that. Them ponds in them days was bigger’n they are now, that one on the right hand side was a great big pond, that was, and, of course, the cattle being all that time walking, they was thirsty.

Then, one day he bought a cow and calf, what he bought in the market, so Bert Dilley had to stop behind and I had to go home to help milking. Bert was frightened of the dark nights, when it got dark he was scared, so he got half way home and it got a bit dark and he got as far as the Duke of York and he opened a gate and put the cow and calf in there.

So nothing was said till next morning we was milking, so Mr Crawford said to Bert Dilley, he said: “Got that cow and calf home yesterday, boy?” “No, Sir.” He said: “Why?” “The calf got a bit tired, so I opened a gate and put it in the field.” So, he said, “You two best go and get it this morning both on you.” So Bert Dilley being a bit brave he said, “How am I going to get there, Sir?” “Don’t care if you crawl there,” he said, “I’m not taking you.” So we had to walk there and back and that’s how we got the cow and calf home.

What games did we get up to?

Well, just boys’ pranks, that was all, nothing like today. We used to go out at night and muck about, one thing and another. My dad always knew when we’d bin up to mischief because we come home early. So he clouted me once, the old policeman did, and I come and told me father and he give me another one. He said, “I know very well you was doing wrong, else that man wouldn’t have hit you.” So I didn’t tell him any more tales.

And the policeman had a son who was in the Navy, Stan Carter, younger than Percy and us boys was talking round the corner one night and he said, “No drunk man ever frightened me,” he said. So I said to myself, I bet they do. So I said to another bloke we’ll have a game with him tonight. So I got me coat and turned it inside-out. Turned me hat inside out, so that the coat showed the white sleeves. And they was outside the Men’s Institute with this boy, Carter, so I went up the road and come dawn on the other side and started staggering all over the road. Went towards him and he flew. He were’t frightened of drunks! That was a real laugh in the village, that was.

Them days you knew everybody and everybody knew you, sort of style, you know, whereas, now you don’t know nobody. We spent quite a lot of time on that corner before they built the triangle.

There were lots of bats flying in Holloways Lane, they lived in the spinney on the corner, and the boys used to throw their caps in the air to catch them.

Saturday we used to go down Hatfield to the pictures. It was a sloping floor and the chairs was all loose. Me and another bloke used to get at the back, get back against the wall, gave the first one a good shove and all the lot used to go bang, bang, until they got to the bottom. I got banned from going to the pictures. They wouldn’t let me in any more.

Cat's Eyes

In them days there were no street lights, you crept about in the dark - you got like cat’s eyes. Before we had the electric light, it was all oil lamps and candles and my old mum used to spend half her time cleaning these old lamps what we used to have at night. She was a lovely mum - don’t know how she did it all with all us kids to look after.

Lots of people couldn’t afford to buy a lamp, a proper lamp, so they had candles. And water; there was no piped water, that was all got from the wells. Where we lived in Holloway’s Lane, there was a well for the five houses in the middle of the five, like. Soft water tank and water used to come off the roof and the women used to use that for washing, you see.

And I was round there the other day and I see the old soft water tank still there, iron top of it, and that brought back memories to me that did. The big well that was in the middle that was sealed over and nobody knows it’s there, not now they don’t know it’s there, the one by the telephone box.

Earning a Living

Started at Crawford’s when I was twelve. Seven day week, half a day off every seven weeks - if someone sick you lost that. Can’t remember wages, my father took that, just give me pocket money.

We’d have to get up the farm at half past five in the morning and up to about eight o’clock to milk all these cows by hand you see, about 80 in milk, all Shorthorns in them days. Then from there I had to go home, have my breakfast, come back, get six churns on the old cart and take to Hatfield Station. What they called the milk train, eight o’clock in the morning and again at night, six o’clock at night. Used to be seven o’clock or half past before you got done.

Them days when you used to go in the milk cart, the horse’s shoes was drilled out to take these studs, so they couldn’t slip, you see. Then, when they wore down they’d screw them out and screw four more in, so they could get a grip on the icy roads. But they don’t do it now. about six cowmen were working there altogether. During the War, the First World War, used to have women come to help milk the cows.

About half a dozen women of the village used to come up. Mrs.Raggett, Doreen Chatman and Nellie Nash, I think. My father at that time was foreman there. I did other jobs out in the fields, looking after sheep and all that kind of caper. Used to have about 200 sheep. Used to breed their own, you see, when my father was alive.

After my father died, they sold ‘em all and never had no more, because he was shepherd there, used to breed their own lambs. Us kids used to think it was wonderful when he’d bring an orphan lamb home, you know, used to be half dead and when it got warm it’d be jumping about the kitchen.

The Brewers

About twice a week we had to go to the brewers. Pryor Reids in Hatfield, expect people don’t remember it. Used to have a brewery where Walters Garage is now. Used to fetch these wet grains that had got the beer out and these hops. Used to bring ‘em home, mix ‘em, put ‘em in the big silo in the ground like - brick place it was, in the yard - back your cart up and tip ‘em in and they’d mix it with the cow food next morning.

They weren't fed like they are today, it’s all pellets today, what they feed ‘em with, but it took two men all the morning to mix this food up, what with, oats and grains and pulped mangel. Used to use six load a day of’ mangels for his cattle, the was all pulped up in the pulping machine and mixed together with chaff and all that. sort, well mixed, then you went along with two skips, you had a yoke, two skips to do two cows, you see, then you’d go back and feed all the others. It was real hot when it come from the brewers, steaming hot it was. That was in your day’s work.

You could have as much beer as you wanted at the brewers and the old bloke - been an old drayman, he had - Crouch his name was, he was used to it, you see, he used to have a good wallop of it. So he said to me one day, “Go on boy, you have a drop.” I said, “No, not that.” “Go on he kept on coaxing me, so I have about a pint, I think it was and laying on these wet grains, they was hot and by the time I got back I was drunk. I went home and father said, “Where’s the boy then?” Mother said, “He’s upstairs”. Whether anyone had told my father or not, he come upstairs yanked me out of bed, got his belt and give me a good belting. I didn’t have no more beer after that. That was the finish of me with beer.

I was at Crawford’s three years or so. Got the sack for hitting Mr. Crawford. Them days he kept some pigs and 4 horses at Skimpans. Rented it from Gaussen, bought it later. Kept the in-calf cows in the big barn, about 30, fifteen in stalls down each side. I had to go down and lay ‘em up at night, put the hay in the mangers. Bit scared of them old cows I was. Instead of going between 'em, I’d pitch the hay in with a fork. One Friday night Mr. Crawford ‘came in. “Here lad,” he says, “that’s no way to do it.” Took me by the ear and hauled me outside. That’s what he did those days, caught you by the ear or kicked your behind. It’s not often I remember seeing red, as you say. I did then, picked up an old fork handle and hit him back on the neck. He went down flat. Next morning he told my father to sack me and that was that.

Potterells and Poaching

From Crawford’s I went to Potterells till I was about seventeen, with the Jersey herd and I got the sack from there for poaching. Poaching in that little wood just before you get to the station, what they call the Firs on the left hand side, where they got the Scout Hut now. And the old gardener see us, that was Colville, Dick Colville’s father. He told Mr. Seymour and he give me the sack.

Me and my brother Joe used to be the biggest poachers, ever all over the place we used to go. And the boys used to go down the corner Sunday mornings knocking ‘em over in the grass. They’d sit in the grass like, and you could knock ‘em over, rabbits. Me being a bit artful, used to go up that I little wood and I used to know where they lay, used to take the dogs up there. Of course, because they couldn’t find ‘em they used to clear off and after they’d gone me and my brother used to come along. Used to be some old yew trees standing there and it was only like leaf mould and perhaps you’d get about six rabbits up one hole.

They could never make out where we used to get ‘em. Then we used to come back and they’d be standing at the corner and we used to sell ‘em, these rabbits, one shilling each. We never did tell ‘em how we got ‘em. Then if they was all down there Sunday morning, they used to say, “Jim and Joe here?” No, they ain’t here this morning. So they’d say, if they’ve been round it’s no bloody good us going round because we shan’t get none if they’ve been round.

There were four of us boys and my father thought we was going to carry on as he did, you see, and we gradually cleared off - the money weren’t no good in them days, so we all left it. I had one brother was quite keen on it, Will, he died when he was 18, he died of liver trouble, but his heart and soul was in this farming, sort of style. And Mr. Crawford thought the world of Will. He was a quiet boy and I remember when he was buried he made more fuss than my father did, he was that upset about it.

Digging Sewer

After leaving Potterells, I went on contract work. On that big sewer up Brookmans that runs towards Mymms Drive through the Park, that went. Working with men, and I got men’s money and all. That was the only time I had any money to myself. Used to give my mother what she wanted and the other was mine.

From there I went on all different jobs. That’s all there was in them days. When you’d finish one job, you’d get the sack and then you’d start another job. I was on Mutton Lane sewer, 21 ft. deep in the deepest part. To save stopping the traffic, they used to get one bay out 12 ft. the next one 12 ft. and tunnel each way, 6ft. each way. Had special men to do that you see, tunnellers. Was never on a sewer through here. That one that runs down Holloway’s Lane, that was pretty deep - about 25 ft. deep through there, went down towards the siding.


Lots of men out of work, all except farm labourers. They were all right. Good carpenters, bricklayers standing around outside Miss Town’s shop. Had to go to Welwyn Garden City Labour Exchange, later on to Hatfield, once a week. Most walked. I went on my bike. Got paid in sovereigns.

Tommy Farren, Mrs. Nash’s brother, got me a job at Shadbolts. Hod carrying. You tell ‘em you can carry a hod, he said. Never carried one in my life, but I got the job. First class bricklayer, he was. Lived in Holloways Lane, next the post office. Do you know, when they started building them houses in Welwyn Garden City, he walked there every day - and back, after a day’s work.

No unions in them days, as I said, you worked where you could. When the job finished, you got the sack and had to find another.

I worked at Shadbolt’s when they built the council houses at Little Heath, I was on them. Built some at Cuffley and a row along Cattlegate Road. Pipe laying and all that sort of thing, concreting. That was one day, we was all playing cricket, we used to play in the dinner time and there was one bloke there, Frank Marlborough, a real case he was. Somebody lobbed him a ball and he gave it such a clout. They’d just finished tiling that morning, a pair of em, and the ball went right through the tiles. That caused a commotion that did. Stopped all the cricket dinner time. Then I was on some Council houses at Northaw, firm from Essendon, went there on bikes. That’s all the way you got about, them days, with a bicycle.

And the first day I had my dinner on the handlebars, two or three of ‘em did. And we went to get our dinner and the bloody rats had climbed up the frame and got our dinner, so we had no dinner that day.

And from there I had hundreds of different jobs - what I could pick up - used to get about. I’ve cycled to Southgate, Barnet, I was on that last gasometer that was built. That’s all knocked down now. That was a big job - we was there about eight months. But them gasholders were a work of art really. You’d never think there was the work in them, like the groundwork. Like a big circle, then you get eight foot all round, all timbered up and concreted and that’s where the water used to come into the top and the middle was like a dam.

Outings to Brighton

Several firms, including Shadbolt & Nash ran day outings to Brighton. That used to be a grand day out that did. In them days, they had a big boot at the back and they used to take their own beer, you see, and instead of stopping at a pub like they do today, the’d stop on the road-side, get this beer out and have a good swig of beer as we were going along. And the same thing at night.
And most of ‘em that went never remembered seeing the sea, because they was too bloody drunk Then there was the song I was telling you about.

Riding down to Brighton in a Charabanc,
Fifty miles an hour and we don’t care a hang,
We don’t envy those big Rolls Royces,
Singing a song at the top of our voices,
Though that Charabanc’s a good idea,
Though it shakes your liver up we don’t care,
The engine’s full of petrol, the driver’s full of beer,
Driving down to Brighton in a Charabanc.

It was a charabanc not a coach. Open top one. That was a good day when we went on outings.


I got married at Little Heath. Mildred Bessie Hawkins - her father had a wood yard up in Little Heath. They used to sell props and faggots and her father used to make hurdles which they don’t do today. That’s the only place I ever see hurdles made. He was real good at woodwork and they’d sell these to people in the village. Most of these hurdles was made of nuthazel, because it twisted round easy.

Them days they used to use hurdles for the sheep when they’d got them on green feed. Couldn’t let them have too much because they’d blow theirselves out and kill theirselves, so you put the hurdles out every day so much till they ate it off, then shift ‘em the next day to another plot. My wife’s mother’s father, Irons, used to keep the White Horse. They was there years, 'till she got married, then they got out of the pub and had this wood yard.

We lived with my mother-in-law when we first got married, then we got a place over Moon’s shop, top of Frampton Road. From there we went into a house in Coningsby Close owned by Miss Pittam. When there was not a lot of work about, we were living in Sunnyside, Dixons Hill Road, the first house - that’s when my old dad would send us round a couple of rabbits.


Everyone came out for the haymaking, beer, lemonade, sandwiches in the field, same for harvest home. When they done the haymaking, they used to make a stack, not like it is today, baled up. Then after it was there a little while and the corn stacks and all, they were put up in stacks. My old Dad would get a big cartload of straw and make a great big heap of it, then wet it down well. Then he’d go along and do the thatching with straw.

When they come along thatching, you’d pull this straw out and it makes six yelms to one bundle. Six yelms, as much as you could hold, and so they didn’t get meddled up, he’d put one, one way and one, the other and he’d carry six of them up the ladder lay ‘em on one side, take ‘em off and come down so much. Old Mr. Vyse used to make rick pegs with nuthazel. He lived in that old cottage across the green.

I used to have to fetch a couple of bundles when they wanted ‘em, then they’d knock these in the corn and put the string round, what they called thatching. But it’s done away with now, they don’t have no ricks nowadays. In them days, it wasn’t like it is today with combines, they just go along with the combine and it’s finished. You used to make stacks of corn then thresh it in winter time when they hadn’t got nothing to do.

They’d hire the threshing machine and then come along and thresh it. Us boys used to love the threshing because the stacks used to get filled with rats and there must have been a lot of corn wasted them days and you’d see the stacks alive with rats and we’d all have a rick peg each and as these old rats come out, we’d bonk ‘em on the head and kill em.

Then they brought a law out when they was threshing they had got to have netting round so none of the rats got away to breed somewhere else. They’d have it right round where the stack was, short wire netting about one foot high. That’s how we caught ‘em.

A Bit of Carrying

As they was threshin’, it was put in these corn sacks, and they weighed 2 cwt. and a half, these sacks of corn. Used to have to carry them and that wanted a bit of carrying. Then you carry ‘em and put ‘em up in the granary for the winter time. Oats wasn’t so bad, they was 14 cwt. But the heaviest thing you used to get was beans, they was 3 cwt. a sack.
And we used to have to carry these oats up the steps to the granary and they were used for horses in the winter time. Have a trap door with a shute down, so you could get the oats out for the horses. Then the wheat was bagged up again and it used to go to the millers. But as I say, there ain’t so much corn wasted today, as there was in them days. You’d lose a lot of it in the stacks what you couldn’t rick up and what the rats had spoilt.

The old combines have saved a lot of’ work for the horses. I’ve seen two horses on one of these binders when it’s been heavy going, perhaps the ground was wet, come out as live as anything in the morning and come dinner time their heads was hanging down and they was knackered and you had to put two more on. Sometimes, you’d have four horses on to pull it along.

They was heavy, hard things for horses, they was. It was all horses in them days, till the tractors come about like. And all the ploughing was done by the horses. There were six heavy horses at Crawfords.

I often wonder today, how they used to get it done, because they used to take one thorough at a time, whereas now they take six behind the tractors. You’d see a horseman out before it got light in the morning. Used to get up there at six o’clock, feed the horses and clean ‘em out, and they’d be out the stable by seven o’clock, take their dinner with ‘em and come home again at night - I think they used to do about one acre each.

When the Tractors Came

Then they had these big steam tractors on. The only one I ever see was up by Welham Manor, they done a field there. These great big tractors, with a winch underneath used to pull this plough along one way, then the other tractor pull it back the other way. We had to take ‘em water and coal for the engines, you see, and perhaps you got a horse a bit shy and you’d have a hell of a job with ‘em sometimes to hold ‘em. And that was the only field I ever see done with two tractors and how they used to get in them gateways, I don’t know.

And they couldn’t see each other, because there’s a bit of a hill and they used to do it with the hooters. Like a great big thick cable it was wound on one drum, then back to the other one I think they used to take about four thoroughs at a time. Oh, the cable must a been four inches thick and I often thought myself, if even one of them was to break, it’d cut anybody in half, but they had ‘em.

After the harvest, they used to leave two sheaves standing in the field, to let people know you hadn’t finished dragging. When all the corn was carted, we used to go along with the horsedrag, drag it all up in heaps and they’d pick ‘em up and after that was picked up, they’d take the sheaves out and the people could glean it. And you could go along and pick up this wheat and get so much and take it to the millers in Hertford or Lemsford, and get it ground to make flour. Got quite a bit, enough to feed the chicks as well.

Winter Work

The work in winter was hedging, that’s an art that’s died out, they don’t do it now. That’s why you get all these floods, I think, that was a recognised thing in the winter time, what they call hedging and ditching, trimming the hedges and clearing all the ditches out, so the water could get away.

My old dad knew every drain there was on the farm, if ever they got bunged up, he knew what to do. He’d dig a hole and clear it and away it used to go. He used to make his own stakes. He’d go along in the wood and pick a tree out, might be ash. Ash was the best because it split down nice and he’d render them down with beetle and wedge and make his own stakes. And Mr. Crawford (Mrs. Crawford’s manager), said to me some years ago, “Do you know what,” he said, “Jimmy, there’s some of those stakes your dad made still in the hedges now.”

There was no such thing as getting holes out them days, just knock ‘em with a beetle, that’s a wooden hammer, what they call a mallet. Apple was the best, because it didn’t split. Ant you’d get this bit of apple and pare it up and then you’d take it to the blacksmith and he’d hot these rings up and pop one on each end. Why it was done, was because an iron hammer would split ‘em, but the wooden one wouldn’t. Drill a hole right through it, the blacksmith would do that, then he’d give you a handle and you’d put it in yourself.

Swallow Holes

During the milking time, when the cows was suppose to come home, save a man going down to fetch the cows, we used to send an old dog after ‘em. This old dog used to go and fetch these cows up on his own. The cows used to sometimes fall in the swallow holes, like if you’d bought any fresh cows, they didn’t know the swallow holes, because the old cows used to know them. And it was nothing to go down there and find a cow had been drowned in ‘em.

Then they used to take the gate off the hinges and get a horse with a rope on the end of it and pull the cow back up the farm on this gate. Just shows how sudden them swallow holes used to come up, there wouldn’t be no water perhaps, when the cows went over in the morning. They got over there because there was a nice bit of fresh grass beside the swallow holes. We’d get a storm a hell of a lot of rain and before they come home at night, the holes was up - used to have to swim across.

I don’t think they come up as badly as they used to be. I’ve seen it back of the little school there, right in the playground, Water End School, where the little bridge is. That little bridge there at the end of the school - the road’s stopped up now - when the new road was made, they was coming along with some big machines and they could see it wouldn’t take ‘em, so they shored it up underneath. It’s a brick bridge, built of bricks and its still there today, and I could never find out why it was called Teakettle Bridge.


In the First World War, standing on Welham Green Nash’s Corner, watching the Zeppelin coming over. Always had advance warning because the pheasants at Burns’s heard them half an hour before you could, started “cock-up, cock-up” calling.
One frosty September night, we thought we were being peppered with shrapnell. It was the frost bringing down the acorns from the oak trees.

Mr. Crawford calls out, “Right lads, down into your cellars.” He was the only one living in a house with a cellar! When the Zeppelins were about they dropped a bomb on the siding. In the Second World War, they dropped two bombs down there, one Sunday morning. That time I was working at the waterworks, stoking I was, shift work, you done eight hours morning and afternoons and nights.

We was all having our dinner one Sunday. I was supposed to be on two o’clock, I’ll never forget it, about one o’clock we heard this terrible noise and that was the bomb dropping. So I said, “Come on, all underneath the table”, then we heard this bang and things jumped up off the table and we heard next they’d dropped two bombs down against the siding. That was that.

Then another night I went to work - I was on the ten o’clock and planes come over and dropped a string of bombs, only small ones. Then we had all them incendiaries one night down the waterworks, what with these flares dropping down, we were running round putting them out. And years afterwards we was in the old filter house and we found one stuck in the gutter, been there all them years and never went off.

I done quite a bit down the waterworks, worked there before I went shift work, helped on two engines there, then I got a job for the water works, like, regular. I was 17 but couldn’t stick it, because it was stuck inside all the time. Being used to being outside, so I left. I was a fool really, I mean to say, I’d be getting a pension now. But I couldn’t stick being tied up sort of style.

I was lucky getting my last job at Mowlems, like I was at Shadbolts. One job finished and I walked down there to see if there was anything goin’. They wanted a storekeeper, so I took it and stayed on that till I was seventy.

The Chucks of Water End (1881 Census Return)

Scan of the Chucks of Water End 1881 census return

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