PLASHETT PARK FARM ALMOST 100 YEARS AGO

by

Anna Beckwith

George Lovering Andrew brought his young wife Constance and baby daughter Nellie to Plashett Park Farm in 1892.  His sister Agnes had married Constance’s brother Dashwood Buckingham, and the two families farmed side by side first in Essex, then in the ancient settlements around Clayhill.

George Andrew, farmer by profession, was a very religious man, a member of the non-conformist church and a lay preacher.  Quite a social circuit was to evolve between ministers, lay preachers and their families, both staying with them and holding meetings in their home.  On Sundays he and his wife used to attend the old Methodist Chapel in Station Street, Lewes (now a rather classy pine shop) leaving his pony and trap with the ostler at the White Hart.  Dr Scott Lidgett was Minister at that time and both he and Mr Gillson Gill were frequently invited to the farm.  He showed his concern for the children and folk living around the farm by opening part of his farm as a meeting house for Sunday worship.  One old pupil recalls the Sunday School held every week at the top of the Granary steps for the local children.  Attendance was keen and there were prizes for competence.  Adult gatherings were also a feature of farm worship.

As a farmer George Andrew was down to earth and efficient.  He kept a farm diary for most of his working days, from which this account of his early life is drawn (1).  Besides the factual record of each mans daily toil or allotted task, there is often a comment or anecdote illuminating for us the lot of the farming community in an age when agriculture depended on the pace of a man, the skill of his manual dexterity and his sheer physical strength.  Alive and well and still living in the village is Mr Luke Verrall, now aged 95, who worked for Mr Andrew and his son from a lad until his retirement at the age of 73.  He started work at 13 for 6/- a week as a carter boy at Ringmer Park Farm.  At 16 he went to work for Mr Andrew.  At that age he could do a man’s job for a man’s wage.  For working from 7 am to 5 pm six days a week he received 15/- a week plus his tied cottage.

On average the farm was run by three men and a boy, with additional hands for harvest and threshing.  A typical entry for a working Saturday, which was also payday reads:

22.4.1893. George (his Farm foreman) rolled tares and the ground he ploughed yesterday and began to harrow.  Pond filled.  Booth and boy jobbing about.  Sold calf bought off Carey to Jim Weekes for 32/6d.  Paid Ted 18/-, Booth 14/- Candy 8/- up to 4th April.  Milk 5/5d skim milk 2/1d bread etc. 1/8d beans 8d. £2. 9. 10d.

Cows laid out first time.  Beautiful day – hot. (George and the boy were paid 2 weeks wages the following Saturday 40/- and 10/- respectively).

George and this man often drove flocks of ewes and lambs to Lewes, Uckfield or Chailey markets.  Seldom did they achieve the sale of all, so that the remainder had to be driven back again.  They carted chalk from the Southram and Earwig pits and flints from Lewes.  Crops were rotated and bone, nitre and phosphate used on the soil, and clover ploughed in as fertiliser.  Tares and mangel were grown for cattle feed and of course cattle dung used as manure.  They harvested wheat, oats and hay, grew potatoes, cabbages, Swedes and turnips and bred cows and sheep.  At one point it is noted that there are 320 chickens as well.

The old farming terms belong to a bye-gone age.  Swapping (cutting wheat with a scythe), winnowing, rolling harrowing, drilling, threshing, jobbing and spreading and hand milking. All were laborious processes not truly appreciated in this age of automation.

Stuart Andrew’s description of harvesting not many years later was that it took a whole day to cut and stook a 10 acre field of corn.  This had to be left for 10 days to ripen, and then carried and stacked in ricks, which took two men working in the fields, three men on the stack and another carting between the two.  It was then kept until after Christmas when Mr Hobden and his threshing machine gang were hired - the only serious mechanisation at this time.  Nowadays the same field can be harvested, threshed and the straw baled by one man with a combine harvester.

A large part of his income would seem to come from his diary herd.  His cows gave up to 120 galls of milk per week during the summer and this was sold to a Mr Talmay who had a dairy in Brighton.  He later supplied a Mr Adams also in Brighton and Mr Ford locally.  Mr Message a butcher took his ewes quite regularly.

As a farmer he depended upon the land and was wary of the caprices of the weather: crops and livestock were at the mercy of both.  On May 13th 1893 he wrote “Our fields are like fallow fields owing to drought, our cattle will soon starve if it does not rain – no rain since March 1st and again “Obliged to stock young clover as there is no grass and we keep losing lambs”. On July 16th he noted joyfully “Had 6½ hours of beautiful rain this morning”.

However, he could not afford sentimentality towards his farm animals.  When his plough horse Blackbird dropped dead with a ruptured vessel near her heart, he lost no time in receiving 12/- for the carcase from the Southdown Hunt; likewise 8/6d for the carcase of a blind cow.  He had his Devon dog (Skip) shot because he was no longer of use for work.

His cows rejoiced in the names of Brindle, Cherry, Flecky, Smutty, Beauty, Punch, Mermaid, Bonny and Primrose.  One entry records his anxiety over Brindle, and a Mr Stock in Lewes diagnosing indigestion, for which he bought the cow ½ gal beer for one shilling.

As a tenant farmer of William Langham Christie his yearly rental was around £120 p.a. which was paid twice a year and commuted by 15%.  He was also liable for a highway rate, one payment being £3 15s 9d, a poor rate of £9 9s 4d and school rate of £2 18s 7d.  His pew rental for a regular place in chapel was 15/-d.

Perhaps it was the hazardous nature of his livelihood which called him to insure his life so heavily.  He paid the Prudential Insurance Company premiums of £15 p.a. and the Scottish Amicable a further £11 11s 4d or similar sums twice yearly.

He was a member of the Ringmer Parish Council and the Dairy Association.  Also, a staunch supporter of the Ringmer Liberal Association, as were most farmers in those days.  He subscribed 2/6d frequently towards funds, or possibly towards the cost of the numerous dinners he and Consy attended.

To understand the household economy you will have to remember that there were no labour saving devices, save the services of hired help.  Water was pumped from wells, heating by coal fires, cooking on a range and lighting by oil and candles.

Expenses in the home were recorded as stringently as everything else.  Every jot and tittle was accounted for daily: income on one side of the ledger – outgoings the other.  Detailed sums and accounts, milk yields etc. were crammed into margins.  Although payments are recorded for separate items, except at the grocer, it is tantalising that amounts are not, and it is left to speculation to wonder how much castor oil you received for 2d or beef for 4s 3d.

There is no evidence that Consy played the traditional role of a farmer’s wife but with three small babies that may not be surprising.  Although yeast is purchased occasionally, it would seem that the household bought their bread several times a week.  She did however preserve the soft fruits from the garden and made Christmas puddings.  But there are payments made to a Mrs Taylor at 1s 6d a day for washing and cleaning.

As a young wife she enjoyed the company of other young women who often called to take tea at the farm.  There were frequent trips to Lewes in the pony and trap.  For these excursions she was given an allowance.  Diary entries note “Gave Consy £5.  This quarters pin money”. Her brother and sister-in-law lived at Clayhill Farm which was conveniently close.  There were annual holidays to their original home in Chapelton, Devon and exchange visits by the Buckingham family.  Other highlights included Cattle Shows, Congregational teas, annual fairs, Ringmer races and even a Choir excursion to the Crystal Palace as well as more usual shopping expeditions to Brighton.

They appear to have good standing in the community and to be well acquainted with the local gentry.  At one Liberal Dinner he records ‘Capt. Brand and Bisgood of the Eighty Club present.  I proposed the toast and find I am a poor speechmaker’. Again, ‘The Hon. Chas. Brand gave me a brace of pheasants’.

We do not known how much Consy spent on clothes but George promised her £20 a year.  He on the other hand quite often bought items of clothing in Lewes, including several pairs of trousers ranging in price from 10/- to 16/-.  Shirts were from 2/6 to 7/-, a collar front 1/-, an overcoat 25/- and a jacket ordered from Povey the tailor 34/-.

On one spree to Carvills the furnishers they bought a featherbed and bolster for £2 17s 6d, a baby chair for 17/6 and bed sheets for £2.  Their cost of transport had to be reckoned too.  The pony had to be clipped at 2/6d the cart greased for 2/-,  the toll 1/- and an Ostler 1/6d.

Outdoor staff seemed comparatively reliable compared to the vagaries of the young maids of all work pressed into service at the farm.  The year 1893 opened with Candy who received board and lodging and 8/- per month in wages.  She left on 4.9.93 – we are not told why.  On 12.9.93 Emily Parsons came to live in at £10 a year, but was eventually dismissed on 10.1.94 because “….she was lazy and disobeyed orders and could not get down until ½ past seven mornings”. On 17.4.94 Maud Taylor arrived.  This time George was becoming a little sceptical and agreed to wages of 2/6, with the first month on trial.  She too left a month later.  On 21.6.94 Jessie Morley came to live in at 2/- per week, and there were others ….

One surprising aspect of country life gleaned from just two years accounts is the number of instances of ill-health.  I listed bad colds, influenza, bronchitis, pneumonia, neuralgia, stoppage, measles and a touch of pleurisy.  On most occasions they were thought sufficiently serious to warrant a call from Dr Heneage Legge of Ringmer, who subsequently called daily until recovery was made.  They were fortunate indeed to be able to afford such attention, as his fees ranged from £1 to £5 2s 6d per session.

Self medication was aided by cod liver oil, embrocation, quinine and the ubiquitous bottle of pills from the chemist (those advertised in the back of the diaries claimed to cure every ailment possible!).  Following the birth of her babies Consy had the services of a maternity nurse for a month who was paid 18/- and 21/- on two occasions.

George Andrew wrote his diary in the evenings and at the close of the factual details he recorded the changes in the weather: every nuance was noted.  Reading through these workaday jottings we see glimpses of the man beyond.  He rarely wrote anything on a Sunday because he was about the Lord’s business.  Despite the constant daily round he was sensitive to his surroundings.  Every April he recorded the first cuckoo heard and the first swallows seen.  Also such events as “A nightingale sings beautifully at the bottom of the garden”.

He doodled his wife’s name lovingly over the covers and many pages of his books.  One fine May morning he wrote “Consy got up this morning by ½ past 6 for a wander”. And while she was still holidaying in Devon, “I am longing for Consy to return”.

He recorded sympathetically, if somewhat euphemistically when family or staff felt indisposed.  On 22.2.94 he wrote “Agnes (his sister) poorly in bed (misfortune)”. His entry for 14.12.1893 ran “Boys jobbing about.  Consy taken ill after breakfast.  A little son arrived.  Fine day”. This was his announcement of the birth of his first son Stuart George Buckingham Andrew who is very much alive today and still taking an interest in his farm at Lower Clayhill.  On 16.11.1894 at the end of a very busy day with payments of wages he could again write “A son born today 4.30 a.m.”. This was Clifford, close brother of Stuart, who was to lose his life on a raid against Germany during the First World War.

The Andrews moved to Clayhill at the beginning of the century, but George retired in 1924 and sold the farm.  Stuart bought Lower Clayhill when he returned from the First World War and has in his time farmed all three farms of that name.  For the past twelve years he has lived with the younger members of his family at Clayhill House.

(1)   Altogether there are about 30 diaries, the earliest covering a period when he was farming in Essex, before coming to Ringmer.  This account is based mainly on those for 1892 and 1893, his first two years at Plashett Park Farm.  The diaries are at present in the possession of Mr Stuart Andrew at Clayhill House, but it is hoped that in the future they will be deposited in the East Sussex Record Office.

They are themselves worthy of attention as a mine of information and minutia about the life and middle class aspirations of the late Victorian period.

They are 13” x 8½” in size, card bound and entitled ‘Shilling Scribbling’ Diaries.  An almanac almost entirely covers the front covers, with notes of significance against nearly every day.  There you can discover Saint days, Bank holidays, game dates, long forgotten battles and historical data, literacy deaths and royal births.

The inside cover and first four pages are given over entirely to the Blackwood advertiser, with interminable details of postal regulations, interest tables, rates of exchange, maps and of course superb advertisements.  The actual diary pages are all interleaved with blotting paper.

The advertisements give us an idea about the clothes and furniture etc thought desirable for the status minded acquisitor.  There are also many and various pleas from religious and altruistic establishments offering support to the friendless and fallen, and comfort to the perishing.  Wicked looking sketches of appliances accompany the advertisement form the Surgical Aid Society, and a dramatic storm at sea for the Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen.  All those societies relied on charitable donations.

It was interesting to note that in 1893 Beechams made toothpaste in collapsible tubes.  Their eulogy to their famous pills runs:-

“A priceless boon, a treasure more than wealth:

The banisher of pain, the key to health”.

A classical precursor to the modern advertising jingle.