Robert Cassell (1913-2001)

My farming life
I was not quite fourteen when I left school in 1926. The only work for boys was farm work and you was lucky really to get that. Girls usually went into domestic service. My parents didn’t have to pay for my schooling.

Soon after I left school I went to work at a smallholding called Seaview Dairy just off the Military Road, up the hill and across the field nearly opposite where Compton car park is now. It was owned by a widow, Mrs Cheek.  It ‘s not there now, well the house is, but it has changed its name to High Grange. All the farm buildings have been pulled down to use the stone for building or something. Lovely old barn there was up there. Anyhow, I suppose someone told her I’d left school and she asked that I go up and see her and she said I could go there to work - nine shillings a week. She kept cows, horses and several pigs. I just did general farm work - helping to milk the cows, muck out the stables and see to the pigs.  When I started at Seaview there was two other men working besides myself, later there was only one other but for the last five years there was only me there.

I had a two and a half mile walk to work, so in the winter it was well and truly dark. I would have a candle in a lantern or a hurricane lantern - you really wanted another one to see that one... In summer when I got there, I would have to go and bring the cows in, but in winter they would already have been in the stable.

I had fifteen cows to look after, three horses and about fifteen pigs. The horses’ names were Chale Diamond and Joe. The cows had flower names like Primrose and Cherry. Some were Fresians, but most were Guernseys. We would start the milking at half past six in the morning and I milked them by hand. Before
starting milking you had to clean them up a bit first. They was milked in a pail. Afterwards, of course, everything had to be cleaned down. The milk was then taken to the separator where you turned a handle and the skim came out one side and the cream out the other. The cream was for butter-making and most of the skim was fed to the little pigs who went crazy for it. Some  of the skim was kept back to mix with whole milk to feed to the calves what was being weaned. They didn’t want the milk too rich for them. The butter was made in a great wooden end-over-end churn every Wednesday.

One day, I remember, when I took the cover off I found a blessed great rat in the butter with its tail sticking out. I went along to the widow and said, ’I shan’t want no butter this week.’ ‘Oh why,’ she said, ‘Whatever’s the matter?’ So I said ‘ You’d better come out and look.’ When she saw the rat she said, ‘I don’t want no butter either.’ I said ‘Well, leave it to me now.’ I just got some butter pats and scooped around the rat and got him out with a little bit of butter all around him and dealt with him. I gave the churn an extra good wash after. A local grocer used to take the butter. He had a butter round at Freshwater. The following week he came and he said, ‘Whatever did you do to your butter last week, Mrs Cheek?’ She said, ‘I don’t know, what did I do?’ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I couldn’t get enough of it. Everybody was crazy for it.’ I can see that rat’s tail now...

The reason why I eventually left Seaview was because of my father. He was about 70 and wanted to retire from work but the Elms, where he lived, was a tied cottage that went with his job at Hulverstone Farm. If he left his job, he would lose his house, so when father retired he wanted me to work there so that he could go on living in the house. They wanted me, so I went to work there and took over my father’s job as carter. I stayed for another nineteen years, until the owners died and the farm had another tenant.

Yarns of some of the local characters
Ben and Phil Jacobs
Well ‘ere we are down Brook Green, there’s Ben Jacobs. Well ol’ Ben used to be Coxswain of the lifeboat years ago. A kinder fellow never existed once upon a time by the sea. Ol’ Phil was ‘is younger brother. Well, they always called ‘im Phil, but ‘is proper name was William. Why the ‘ell they called ‘im Phil I don’t know, but they did, like. O’l Ben Jacobs was thirty year in the lifeboat - never missed a practice or a ship wreck and darned if that ain’t something to be proud of. He and Phil lived on their own after the ol’ folks died like. I mind that out there in the lifeboat once poor Phil’s bowler’at blew off. “For God’s sake,” ‘e said, “Will somebody get that ‘at.“ There was a bit of a swell on and the ol’ ‘at was either at the top of the wave or the bottom.  Anyway eventually somebody reached over and got ‘old of the ‘at and the first thing ol’ Phil done was look inside, “That’s awlright,” ‘e said, “it’s awl there.” You know the band around the inside of an ‘at? Well, it was filled up with pound notes. No wonder ‘e didn’t want to lose the ol’ at’.

When I was a nipper working up Seaview  Phil says to me, “Ever see Len Morris?” I said “ Sometimes Phil,” ‘e said, “ ‘ow’s ‘e gettin’ on?” I  said, “Awl right as far as I  know,” “Yair,” ‘e said , “When y’ gets ‘andy to ‘im ask ‘im the time.” I said, “Yair, I will, but why d’ya want me to be askin’ ‘im the time for?” “Well ‘e said, “ Jest see ‘ow many westcoats ’e got on.” “Westcoats?” I said. “Yair,” ‘e said, “I saw ‘im t’other day an said t’ im, “Ullo Len,” an’ ‘e said, “Ullo Phil,” and I said, “Ow y’ getting on then?”  “ oh, awl right,” ‘e said. I said “Any idea of the time, Len, I don’t seem to ‘ave me watch on?” And do y’know what ol’ Phil said? He told me that before Len come to ‘is westcoat with ‘is watch in, ‘e turned up seventeen flaps. I said, “Seventeen flaps?” “Yair” he said “ That’s honest fact. Now y’ ask him- just to see if ‘e’s left one off cause now it’s summer like, but ‘e didn’t reckon to take off much clothes winter or summer ‘cause what kep’ the cold out, kep’ the heat out see.”

Fred White
There was ol’ Fred White. ‘e was landlord up at The Sun pub there. Ol’ Freddie was always up for a bit of fun with different people expecially if ‘e ‘ad a nipper in there. Then Fred was just in ‘is glory like. But any’ow there used to be a fellow come over from Lymington years ago. ‘ E used to come over ‘ere and do anything. ‘E’d sleep rough, like. Cuckoo, they used to call ‘im. ‘E used to play an ol’ whistle pipe. Well every year about March/April time Cuckoo come. Well ol’ Fred used to give ‘im a bit of grub an’ Cuckoo used to sleep either down the pigsty or else in the ol’ cow stables somewhere like. ‘E had a bag or two o’ straw to lay on, like. So, any’ow, one day ‘e said to Cuckoo, “Ere Cuckoo,” ‘e said “Tomorrow mornin’ I want y’ to go out and catch a pony.” “Catch a pony?” “I don’t know if y’will be able to manage it but y’ go an try.” Well, Fred knew damn well he couldn’t do it on ‘is own like. Well next mornin’ ol’ Cuckoo was down there an’ the ol’ pony galloped around like and Cuckoo could get nowhere near ‘im. Then ‘e come up to ol’ Fred and said, “ I can’t get near the damn thing, Fred,” “Oh no “ Fred said, “I forgot to tell y’ if y’ wants to catch ‘im quick y’ve got to put on a ‘igh ‘at and wear a sparrow tail coat and then ‘e’ll come up to y’.” Well,” said Cuckoo, “I ain’t got none.” But Fred said, “I ‘ave, ere” ‘e said “ This is what I keeps it for,” So ‘e went into the pub up there like and ol’ Fred brought this ol’ coat and ‘igh ‘at out for Cuckoo. I wish y’ could ‘ave seen ol’ Cuckoo, ‘E looked like a bloody ol’ circus fellow or sommat. Any’ow ‘e went down to where the pony was and called to ‘im. The pony upped with ‘is ‘ead and, my God, ‘e went. So round that there field ‘ollering and so on went Cuckoo and that made the ‘ol pony a damn sight worse. Ol’ Fred was up there leaning over some wooden rails and ‘e laughed and laughed.

Rol Hayter and Hayter’s shop
Rol Hayter used to live down there in the village, an ‘e was another character. ‘E was the coxswain o’ the ol’ lifeboat. Rol ‘ad two or three fields left ‘im, like, an’ ‘e used t’ go up in the fields in t’ morning, like, an tie the ‘orses on an nip off t’ Hulverstone for a pint or two an come  back an there was the ‘orses where ‘e left ‘em, like, but  there wasn’t much work done see awl the time ‘e was gone. But there, they (the family) scrabbled through some‘ow, an’ they lived. I mind Rol’s wife used to serve in this ‘ere shop, y’see, and she used to say she ‘ad three kinds o’ customers. She ‘ad what she called ‘reg’lar customers’ and then she ‘ad ‘er ‘now an’ againers’, like, and then the rank outsiders were what she called ‘er ‘poppers in.’ The ‘poppers in’ ‘ad to pay like. I mind me sister went in there once an’ I suppose she ranked ‘er as a ‘popper in’. She wanted a pound of raisins or summat. The ol’ girl put the raisins on the scale. The scale went up a bit so she took one off an bit it in ‘alf, put alf back and said. “ There, that’s just right, “she said. I mind another time I went down there and I said, “I suppose y’ ’aven’t got such a thing as a jar o’ fish paste?” “ No I ain’t, “ she said, “ but  I got some new kind o’ boot polish, if that’d be any good to y’? “ I don’t know if the ol’ girl thought we could knock the boot polish into us or what.