Downton Farm

For 159 years, from 1851 to 2010, Downton Farm has meant the Hookey family. Originally owned by the Hookeys, the farm and smithy was bought in the mid-1850s by Charles Seely and became part of the Seely Estate for nearly a hundred years. Jim Hookey was able to buy the farm back in the Estate sale of 1957 and today the farm is owned once more by Charles Seely’s descendants. The last Hookey to farm at Downton was David Hookey, who took over from his father Jim and grandfather David, who was also the village blacksmith (see Village Trades and Occupations). Downton was no doubt a farm long before the 19th century and possibly had a different name. A field behind the farmhouse is called the ‘Round O’ and appears on the earliest maps of the area. Despite much speculation about an early settlement, corral for animals or circuit for leading horses to grind corn, there is no definite interpretation of this distinctive circular field. Jim Hookey’s notebook shows that his research found it to be similar in shape to early human settlements in Cornwall.

Barbara Heal (Hookey) remembered her childhood on the farm between the two world wars: A large Jersey herd gave rich milk and cream. It was often my task to turn the handle of the butter churn until the cream turned to butter and this before school in the morning! The women in the family made the butter. In the heat of the summer the butter was made in the cool of the evening and suspended in buckets in the garden well to be made into half pound pats in the morning. Most of the butter was sold to Mr Cooper of Brighstone Stores, but enough was kept for the village folk who came to the farm with cans for milk, as well as buying butter and eggs. A pint of milk was given daily to the labourers.

As a child, Priscilla Hamlin, grand daughter of Tom and Ella Way Hookey, lived in Myrtle Cottage in the early 1940s: Uncle Jim was at the farm and he used to milk the cows by hand. I used to walk there twice a day to collect the fresh milk in a small metal churn. Back at home the top of the milk was skimmed off into a dish to set, ready for your porridge or cereal to be added the next morning for breakfast. Before milking, the cows would be herded up from the fields to the farm, twice a day.

Anne Ham (Hookey) remembers growing up at the farm in the 1950s:One of my earliest memories (at about 3 years) was the birth of my brother David, Nurse Rann coming and going, my Mother upstairs for some strange reason and me being looked after by Granny Hookey and Aunt Lizzie. I was taken for a walk, to keep me out of the way and down Sheepwash Lane a big man with a long white beard gave me a bunch of daisies for my mother and little brother. Of course in those days I only remember sunshine and the animals. There were usually about three dogs on the farm; greyhounds were a favourite of my Father with perhaps a terrier or spaniel. Cats were a-plenty, the dogs had names but not the cats. There were also some very fierce cockerels! My Mother used to leave an old broom out by the front gate so that people coming to collect their cans of milk could defend themselves. We had two Clydesdale horses called Duchess and Poppet. Poppet used to bolt and I can still see her taking off along the Military Road with a cart load of mangles with Father standing in the middle of the road waving his stick and expressing his annoyance!!! Duchess, our remaining horse (Father sold Poppet the bolter) eventually died. I remember sitting beside her big head, stroking it and crying. Favourite animals came and went as is the way of life to this day. I still cry and remember old Duchess.

Cows were originally milked by Father, ‘Granfer’, occasionally different helpers and sometimes by me (once learned, never forgotten!). The milk was then carried in buckets from the stable to the dairy, which adjoined the house. It was strained, then cooled through a corrugated cooler (water cooled) into churns which were then placed on the churn stand outside the front gate on the opposite side of the lane. At approximately 11am a lorry from Isle of Wight Creameries would collect our milk together with that from Brook Farm. Now and again, during a heat wave, it would all come back to us having soured. Mother would then turn it into cheese. When the hens were in full-lay, the eggs, after a good scrub (one of my jobs) were preserved in an isinglass solution, the surplus sold at the door with milk (sold in cans in pre-bottle days), cream and butter. Summer WAS Brook to me, down the shore, harvest, relations arriving and various scout and church camps coming and going, not forgetting Uncle Alf Woodford’s prawns, I have never tasted better.

We used a binder for cutting the corn. When I was very little it was pulled by horses, but later converted for a tractor. My brother had a stick with a knob on the end, which he used enthusiastically to knock rabbits on the head with. This was always referred to as a “Nobby Jo” and only ever used at harvest time. Us girls, probably Janet (Stone) from Hanover Tea Rooms and me, used to rescue as many as possible! In the spring the men would shoot at the rook nests killing as many rooks as they could, the plan being to keep the birds off the crops. Once again Janet and I went to the rescue. As soon as all the men had gone we would go into the copse and collect baby rooks, wounded rooks and traumatised rooks. These would be taken to our “hospital” (which was the loft over the pig sty) and force fed worms and left for the night. The next morning we had funerals. Shallow graves were dug, the bodies interred and a little cross constructed, to the best of our ability. We then sang Onward Christian Soldiers! I have wonderful memories of a very happy childhood. The sun did not shine every day and when it was cold and wet we got cold and wet. Perhaps an animal’s life was more brutal than it is for farm animals today but I am inclined to think probably not. The rooks most certainly were much worse off!

Barbara Heal (Hookey) also remembered summer on the farm: It was great fun at harvest time to help make the hay pooks and later the corn stooks. Tea was taken out to the fields in a wine bottle covered with an old sock to keep it hot! The children enjoyed riding on top of the waggon loaded with hay or corn back to the farmyard where the ricks were made and later thatched.