Tom Camp's Commentary

Tom Camp in his garden Tom Camp 1916 - 1999

This recording of Tom Camp's memories of working at Thorley Hall Farm was made in May 1996. Amongst the many anecdotes Tom recounts are his early experiences of working with horses, preparing the Essex pigs for local fat stock shows, and herding bullocks to market through the streets of Bishop's Stortford. His vivid memory also recalls tales from the 1930s of a plague of fleas, the coming of tractors to the farm and incidents of horses bolting in front of cars!

Listen to Tom Camp's commentary - Play the audio

Edited text of Tom Camp's commentary is shown below:


Edited Extracts of an Interview with Tom Camp in the St. Barnabas Barn, May 1996

"I first started working at Thorley Hall when I was a houseboy. I was about eleven years old. When I was at school I used to work every morning and every night even Saturdays. 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, which was quite a lot of money in those days. This would have been about 1930 and that was for old Mr John Tinney.

Storing grain in the barn
They used to bring the corn in here (through the north east pair of double doors). They used to be able to drive in one way and out the other as the two doors were opposite each other. That would be the midstrey. You'd back your carts down there and they would start stacking and work up to this end (south end). They tell me that the barley in those days was cut loose and wasn't tied up in bundles so it had to be carted loose. They would start unloading at one end and work towards the door. They used to have a horse and the job of the horse was to keep walking round on top as they built the stack up so as to tread it down. The horse that was doing that would have worked harder than any of the other horses. I remember saying, how do they get the horse down? They said they were so pleased enough to come down that they sort of slid themselves down. I think somebody had to be with the horse to guide it round. They thrashed it (by thrashing machine) in my time but before that I heard my grandfather say they thrashed it on the midstrey floor with flails.

Livestock in the barn
After that the livestock was kept in here until about spring time and then they used to look at them to see if they were ready for market. They used to be driven down the road. Just imagine they had been shut in all winter. When they got outside and they saw all that green grass and that, they nearly went mad. We used to drive them through the town, because the market was at Northgate End. We took them right down Thorley Lane and along London Road. I always remember on one occasion when we drove some down, because opposite my house (junction of Thorley Lane and London Road) there used to be what they call the park. That used to be the park for Twyford House. It was mostly grass kept there and on this particular occasion the cows were put out in the park to keep the grass down. The bullocks were being driven down and they got into the park. The cows were behind us and when they saw them they came chasing up behind us. The bullocks went straight across into Pig Lane down that steep bank. I remember for some reason this car had stopped there. The bullocks were just on the right side so they missed the car but if they hadn't they would have made a mess of the car. We guided them down town but if there was a gateway or anything, unless you had got somebody in there, they would make a bolt for it. We had to get them up passed the shop windows. They used to look at themselves in the window but we never had a window smashed. In those days we used to have heavy boots with nails in, you had to for walking on the land. They were nailed in the bottom and when you got on to pavements they were slippery. The other thing that used to be in here was a machine that used to chip up all the mangles for the bullocks. We brought the meal in here and put some chaff at the end. This machine had got a hopper in one end. We put the mangles in one end and the little engine used to drive this thing. The mangles used to roll to the other end and then you'd have this cutter which chipped then up like chips, potato chips. They were fed to the bullocks mixed with chaff and the meal and that.

The Farmyard The floor in here was considerably higher than the floor of the yard. I think this new floor has been made up as well. It used to be in the middle of the yard that the thrashing machine stood. Of course when the stack was there you couldn't get out that way and they had to pull it back the other way. A lot of barns if you look at them are all made the same way so that you drive in and then out the other side. When I first remember the barn it was tiled and then the tiles were stripped off because the barn was going over. I think it has been re-roofed twice since I can remember and after that I suppose it was galvanised. There was a shed on the side where we used to put the tractor and the grinding machine just inside the barn. Of course the corn was all shot loose around the end where we used to fill it up and we kept filling it up for the machine to grind it up. That was ground into meal and fed to the animals as barley meal and cornmeal.

Infestation of fleas
I remember quite a few years ago we were plagued with fleas in here and on the whole farm because they used to keep machinery down that end, the hay sweeps and that. When we got them out, it would be about this time of year, they were alive with fleas. All that summer, it didn't matter if you went into the stable, where you went was infested with fleas and in this barn too. You'd only got to walk in the farmyard and you got them. It was incredible. It was just like a plague of them. It was just that particular year. They tried everything. In the stables they had hot lime. They lime washed the walls and where the lime was on the floor you could break the lime and see these fleas hopping about. In this barn was washed right down, scrubbed down and it was treated with creosote and paraffin mixed up. The place was black with it. Every bit of dust that we could get out was swept out. After we had done it we put a tin lid down with paraffin in it and it would attract the fleas. I remember Mr Wilfred Tinney telling us he'd give five pounds if they could get rid of them. That was a lot of money in those days. It went on like that and we had to work in it. What we used to do is that we had two sets of clothes. We used to go in the woods or somewhere else outside and strip off. We had an old set of clothes and we put them on to work in. Then afterwards take them off and put the others on. You still had to take them home. They bit some people to death but they never seemed to worry me much. When I went home my mother used to get them but they didn't stay on me. Yet I remember on someone he had them down the back of his shirt and it was just as if someone had been all over his back and stung him with stinging nettles. It lasted all summer and suddenly they went just like that. With all our efforts and that it didn't seem as if we could get rid of them. Then just suddenly they decided to go and they never came back. It was just that one year. (1933/4)

The Farming Year
In the farming year there wasn't really much of a quiet time at all because all the ploughing had to be done. I mean it wasn't done as quick as it is now because then it was all done by horses. Ploughing was done as soon as you could get on with it after harvest. It depended upon the season of course but a man could plough about half an acre a day. Where you've got stock they were always getting the straw in and then there was the manure to get out. That was all carted on to the land and spread. It was all done by hand. We used to cart it out and put it in heaps and leave heaps of manure right across the field in rows. One or two men had to come behind and scatter it across the field. There was anything between fourteen and fifteen men working and now you are lucky if you get two or three. That was fifteen people and eight horses. The horse keeper had to look after the horses and he was working with them all of the time. He 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. All the sowing and that was done by horses and you had to walk behind them. You had to steer them to keep them straight across the field. You can imagine when you've got a really wet season that it was really heavy going because all the mud built up on your boots. We used to have competitions amongst ourselves to keep the straightest line. Ploughing was hard to keep straight. The ground had to be laid level and the furrow cut out cleanly. The sowing was done in the winter and the spring. For the winter wheat you would get that sown in the autumn so it stood the winter. Then, of course, you've got the spring sowing, mostly wheat, and that. The crops were mainly wheat and root crops. We used to do it in rotation. One thing they used to do was have beans. You always got a good wheat crop behind beans because it put nitrogen in the soil. In those days we used to grow a lot of clovers, which you rarely see nowadays. We used to grow a lot of hay for the horses. When the war came along tractors came in more. They hadn't got any before the war. As the war came the tractors came and the horses got pushed to one side. The last horse on this farm was quite a long time after the war. My father (Alfred Camp, 1891 - 1981), he used to be a Moor Hall where he had a team of horses. When he finished he'd got only one. They used to find it useful for odd jobs. One lost interest in the horses afterwards. I used to love being with the horses but you sort of got used to the tractors.

The Early Tractors
The early tractors were very basic, as you hadn't got no mudguards or anything, just wheels and a metal seat, a sprung seat and it was all metal. One chap had his seat break. Luckily he managed to hold on to the steering wheel or otherwise he would have fallen off backwards. When it was dusty and dry with those wheels going round, they threw up all the dust and dirt. There was no canopy over the top like there is today. The early tractors were mainly Fords and Internationals. They had one in this barn here, an old International. They used to use that a lot for grinding up the corn for barley meal or beans for bean meal that we used to feed to the bullocks or pigs. We used to grind our own stuff for the pigs. They used to buy a sort of flaked maize that used to go with it, but we basically used it with barley to feed the animals. Oats too we used to roll the oats, the same as you get with porridge oats. Well they used to come out like that when they were rolled flat and we used to feed them to the horses.

The daily routine
When you went out in the morning you took your own meal with you and you took a nosebag for the horses as well. I mean you were stuck out in the field with the horse miles from anywhere. We used to start mostly at about seven o'clock in the morning. In fact when we were autumn sowing we used to start at seven o'clock in the morning and work through to half past nine when we would stop for breakfast. We would mostly work on until about half past three and then you'd come home, feed your horses, and feed yourself as well. Then you'd groom your horses and see to them. At harvest time we used to start at seven o'clock and go on to about nine or half past at night. It's not like that now with the combines. They speed it up so much now. In those days all the corn was cut with the horses and you had the binder go round to cut it. They then stood stooks up in the field and you'd got to go round and cart it and bring it into the barns or stack it. If they didn't get it all in the barn they used to have stacks. They were stacked and then thatched in the corner of the field. That was our job as well to thatch them. Now the corn is cut and thrashed all at the same time. The first combine we had, that was during the war too. It was a five-foot cut, an Allis Chalmers. It was driven off the tractor. We used steam ploughs too. A lot of land was ploughed up or cultivated by them.

Accidents and incidents
One of the things a lot of people did suffer from was bad backs. They suffered when they had to load the lorries. They used to wire them up so that you could get them on your shoulders and then carry them so that you could load them. If they wanted them on top we had to use what they used to call a sack ladder. I would say they were 20, 19, 18 stone. You had to be strong but like everything else some of it was knack as well. It wasn't always the big chap that could do it as some of the smaller people could do it. You just got hold of the sack in the right place to get the weight even. When I was measured for a suit, one of my shoulders wasn't square. It's not that noticeable but I only knew about it when they measured my suit.

There isn't so much hard work to do now. I mean everything is done so well with tractors and hydraulics now. It used to be difficult when we had the first tractors. You couldn't back them very well. You could only pull with them. It was dangerous getting too near to the edge of the ditch. You'd pull the plough out and suddenly, perhaps for no reason, it would drop in again. Once the plough had dropped into the ground again, it was pulling you round. Before you knew it you were in the ditch. It happened to me and I think it happened to everyone at some time.

We used to get accidents with horses, as they would bolt away sometimes. I remember once it bolted with a car near the gateway and of course when the wheel hit the gatepost, the car turned over and the horse went over 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 the head down because you've got all the harness to get unstrapped. On one particular occasion one chap jumped on the head to hold the horse down and started to undo the harness. Suddenly this horse flew his head up, threw this chap. He hit me in the stomach and knocked me backwards. It knocked the wind out of me. We used to get accidents with the horses if anything startled them. One thing that used to, if you were out in the field, you was when a pheasant flew out in front of the horse. That would really start them off. It used to be fun."

This taped conversation took place with Bill Hardy in the St Barnabas barn May 4th 1996