At 7am, today’s five year olds are most likely tucking into a bowl of cereal with milk. A century ago, in what is now Milton Keynes, it was five-year-old local schoolboy Dick Webb’s first job of the day to actually get the milk from the cow.
Interviewed for Living Archive’s Book of the Month for May ‘Calverton Manor Farm: a century of memories’, Dick recalls: “We had to do whatever was wanted up the farm so I was milking when I was five, and it really makes your arm ache. I’ve only got small hands.”
Ironically, those early morning sessions in the cowshed put young Dick off milk for ever. “I don’t think I’ve ever drunk a glass. The smell of the milk when we were getting the milk out – that put me right off.”
Though the contributors to the book are all connected to a farm that is said to have been one of the last in Buckinghamshire to be powered by horses, before Milton Keynes’ arrival as a new city this part of north Bucks was primarily agricultural. Dick’s experiences would have been familiar to many a local lad and lass –adding to the poignancy of recollections giving a real insight into a vanished way of life –from the delights of ‘stealing’ swedes from the fields to peel and eat raw, to trying to outwit the local bobby, Sergeant Rollings.
Dick Webb recounts the time he and brother Bob were spotted carting corn when they should have been in school. “Two days later the old policeman come up to the farm. But we knew nothing would happen because old Bob Fountaine (who owned the farm) give him a couple of pheasant and a couple of hares.”
The brothers were not so lucky when they’d snatched some eggs. “Sergeant Rollings was walking along the road: ‘Hello my boys...what you been doing?’ ‘Oh, not a lot.’ ‘Ah, OK, well behave yourselves!’ And he went boop, boop, boop, boop on Bob’s head. He’d got a cap on but what he’d got underneath was eggs. Sergeant Rollings knew.”
The Second World War brought its own challenges with getting farmwork done and German soldiers were brought from the prisoner of war camp at Sherington to help out, watched by just two special constables. At the busiest times, Dick Webb recalls: “The farmer would come down to the school and say, ‘I want so many children to come potato picking.’”
Nor did peace make life any easier in north Bucks. In scenes reminiscent of this year’s extended winter, Dick remembers March 1947 when sheep were buried under 12ft snowdrifts while lambing was going on. “They were having the lambs as we were digging. We got the dogs smelling to tell us where they were...I don’t think we lost hardly any because we was all out there.”
For anyone who grew up at a time when Milton Keynes was simply the name of a small village surrounded by fertile fields, the book will bring back hundreds of childhood memories. For later generations, it offers a fascinating insight into a way of life we can visit only at Milton Keynes Museum – where Living Archive now has its offices.
Calverton Manor Farm is available at 50 per cent off the normal cover price of £5.
According to another of the book’s contributors, Eric West, the £2.50 it will cost you was precisely what he earned a week at Calverton Farm in 1955– plus a pint of milk a day.
To buy a copy visit www.livingarchive.org.uk