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[13] John (Jack) Wales: Evocative walk; cows, calves and milk

(John Wales speaking and standing in Earith High Street) My father was a calf dealer and farmer, as was his forebears and we had a yard full of Hackney horses and a stallion used for pulling the traps for delivering the calves and also a team of very smart cart horses for the land work.

Father would attend St. Ives and Ely markets every week buying and selling calves and cattle and, once a week, he would go by train from St.Ives to Derby market.

The traps would carry four calves with their legs crossed and tied and on the train they would be sewn into a sack with a label on them and put in the Guard’s Van.

The old Earith Suspension BridgeMy uncle worked for father and he was horse-keeper. Ploughing the land and helping deliver and collect calves from the station and as a lad I went with him to lead the horse when ploughing under the plum trees and also ride bareback on the horse in front of two others pulling a grass cutter, which was hard work for them.

In the 1920s and 30s, farming was at rock bottom and much of the land was left derelict, hedges were overgrown because farmers couldn’t afford to pay to have them cut and all the land in Over Fen, opposite Earith, was rough grass grazed by sheep.
Plums would be picked, packed and sent to the markets but they wouldn’t make enough money to pay for the carriage.

It was not until the coming of the war in 1939 that farming not only picked up, but thrived.
There was a serious demand for products, because of ‘U’ boats and the blockade.
Every spare scrap of land, like tennis courts and gardens, was dug up to produce food,

I started farming on my own when I left the Army in 1949 after war service, at Stud Farm in Earith (now Vermuyden).
The farm of 60 odd acres was all grass, except for one field of six acres, the Bank ground (later the site of the Hovertrack) and included Little Fen and the fields down Wash Drove.

We milked about 40 Friesian cows and became tuberculin tested (TT) — something unheard of in my father’s day.
In those days, milk was drunk ‘raw’ with no heat treatment.
We milked by hand at 6 in the morning then delivered round the village by eight o’clock and served from a large milk churn holding about 17 gallons and carried on a horse-drawn milk float, direct to the householder’s jug.
There were no hygiene regulations or rules how or where the cows were kept and I suppose we just built up a strong immune system against any germs.

See all of John Wales‘ blog posts.

(Extracts from ‘Keeping Time by the Crows’ University of Cambridge
John Wales retains copyright on original contributions)

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