In 1996, just before the opening of the St Barnabas Centre, Tom Camp was kind enough to share his experiences of life in Thorley and especially his memories of working in the Thorley Hall farm barn. Tom was born in 1916 and came to Thorley in 1921 when his father went to work on Mr John Tinney's farm. Tom was a strong supporter of the church serving as a bell ringer and a member of the choir for over 70 years.
Tom Camp in his garden 1996
'I first started working at Thorley Hall when I was a houseboy. I was about 11 years old. When I was at school I used to work every morning and every evening. The only free night I had was Sunday night. My jobs included cleaning shoes, chopping wood for the fires and doing the fires. I was paid about seven shillings a week.'
Farm workers used to cart the corn into this barn and used to be able to bring the horse in one way and out the other as there were doors opposite each other then. The barley in those days was cut loose and they would start unloading at one end and work towards the door. They had a horse and its job was to walk round and round on top as they built up the stack so as to tread it down. I remember asking how they got the horse down from the top of the stack. They said it was so pleased to come down that it sort of slid itself down!
Livestock was kept in this barn till spring time and then the bullocks were taken down to the market. When they got outside and saw all the green grass they nearly went mad. We used to take them through the town because the market was at Northgate End. We guided them through town but, if there was a gateway or anything, unless you had someone there, they would make a bolt for it. We had to get them past the shop windows too as they used to look at themselves in the window. But we never had a window smashed.
I remember quite a few years ago we were infested with fleas on the whole farm. It was just like a plague of them. In the stables they had hot lime and they limewashed all the walls. This barn was washed down and treated with creosote and paraffin. Every bit of dust was swept out. Mr Tinney said he would give five pounds to anybody who could get rid of them. We had to have two sets of clothes - for working and for going home in. Then the fleas decided to go and they never came back. It was just for that one year (1933/4).
In the farming year there wasn't really much of a quiet time at all because all the ploughing had to be done after the harvest. It was all done with horses and a man could plough about half an acre a day. There were fifteen men and eight horses on the two farms. The horse keeper had to get there early to feed them, groom them and keep them in good health. He used to work them in the fields as well. Ploughing was hard to keep straight and we used to have competitions amongst ourselves to keep the straightest line.
We used to get accidents with horses as they would bolt away sometimes. I remember once one bolted with a car in the farm gateway. The wheel hit the gatepost, the car turned over and the horse went with it. The first thing you do when you've got a horse that's gone over is that you jump on its head. You have to hold its head down because you've got all its harness to get unstrapped.
The early tractors were very basic. (1930s) You hadn't any mudguards or anything, just wheels and a metal sprung seat. One chap had his seat break but luckily he managed to hold on to the steering wheel otherwise he would have fallen off backwards. When it was dusty and dry the wheels threw up all the dust and dirt. There was no canopy over the top as there is today.
There was a machine in the barn that used to chip up all the mangel beet. The machine had a hopper with a little engine to drive it. We brought the meal in here and put some cut straw in at the end. We fed the mixture to the bullocks. An old International tractor used to drive a machine to grind up flaked maize and barley that we fed, with oats, to the pigs.
The first job that Tom's father did when he came to the farm in February in 1921 was to sow the spring wheat. That year it didn't rain until after it was harvested in August. John Tinney said that he had never had such a good harvest and gave Tom's father all the credit!
This is just a brief selection of Tom Camp's memories. A fuller transcript of our conversation can be read - and heard - on the St Barnabas website - www.stbarnabasbarn.co.uk .
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