DOWN MEMORY LANE Juggling my grammar school with a life down on the farm

Maurice Ayling has kept us royally entertained for the past couple of weeks with his memories of growing up in the area.

Today, Maurice, of Rose Green, reminisces about his school days:

The award of a scholarship to Midhurst Grammar School in 1936 completely changed my childhood lifestyle.

I was kitted out with school uniform, sports kit, and a brand-new bicycle as I had to ride three and a half miles to the railway station for the single-track line from Pulborough to Midhurst where there was a mile to walk to the school.

I was also provided with waterproof leggings, cape and sou’wester for inclement weather.

I had to leave home soon after 7.30am and it was nearly 6pm by the time I was home again. In retrospect, this was a pretty fair old flog for an 11½-year-old.

During my time at the school, I missed only one day for weather, and that was when the snow was over the hubs of my bicycle wheels.

The following morning, I announced my intention of walking to the station, for which permission was reluctantly given as I was only 12½.

When I was halfway to the station, the local coal merchant’s lorry picked me up, and I was put on the back, with a coal sack around my head and shoulders.

Ten minutes later, I was in front of a roaring fire in the waiting room.

The next day, the roads being packed down with ice, I rode my bicycle, only coming off half a dozen times.

The scholarship included a lunch in the boarders’ dining room, and my season rail ticket.

Apart from joining the Cadet Corps, there was little of note in my time there. I was an indifferent soccer player, a good wicketkeeper and bowler, but a poor bat, and a good cross-country runner through Cowdray Park. The playing fields were around the ruined Cowdray house.

It was the out-of-school activities that have been of interest to the junior members of my family.

We had two shotguns at home, one single, and one double-barrelled, both muzzle loaders. When I was 12 years old, father taught me to use the single barrelled one.

There was a ram rod slotted under the barrel and a nipple on the trigger end to take a percussion cap. On shooting expeditions, I carried a tin of percussion caps, a box of wads cut from cardboard boxes with a hollow punch, and two flasks, one for powder and one for shot. (My daughter still has the latter two.)

I became the scourge of wood pigeons, magpies and grey squirrels, which were pests in our garden full of market garden produce.

When I was 13, I earned pocket money at threshing time on the farm where my father was head gardener, sometimes in the winter months, depending on availability of the machine.

The lightest task for a youngster was also the filthiest, and was known as ‘cavings raking’ which entailed keeping the underside of the threshing machine free of riddled chaff, dock seeds, etc.

On reaching home, mother would take my clothes from me, and give them a good shake while I washed in the kitchen sink, as we had no bathroom.

The threshing outfit was exactly the same as my grandfather operated for the first 24 years of the century, consisting of a steam engine which powered the thresher via a belt round its flywheel.

At harvest time, I was taught the correct method of stacking sheaves on a wagon, of which there were two, one drawn by two horses, the other by a tractor, but only to the top of the ladders.

The wagons were the old-fashioned type, with frames mounted fore and aft to retain the sheaves, known as ladders.

Depending on available labour, I sometimes drove the tractor and was shown how to start it. It had a small tank of petrol and was started by swinging a starting handle and, once warmed up, was switched over to the main tank of paraffin.

The two horses were a cob and a mare, quite elderly, and had been working together for at least ten years.

The smaller mare had a soft, silky Edwardian-style moustache which she loved to have stroked. She was also a ‘leaner’ and one had to be careful not to stand between her and a wall!

When in the field, picking up sheaves, the wagon would pass between two lines of what in most parts are known as ‘stooks’ but in our neck of the woods as ‘shocks’.

When the pitchers had cleared around the wagon, one would call out ‘’old ’ard’ to warn the loader to hang on tight.

So familiar were the two horses with the routine, that they would move forward the required amount and stop with no other word of command.

Soon after the start of the 1939 harvest, I was loading a wagon when the farm foreman came to inspect my load, and said: “Right Ho! Put up three turns above the ladders,” which meant I was to load three layers of sheaves with no end support.

Having inspected that, the foreman said: “Right boy, up you go – you put ‘em up there, you rides ’em back to the yard, and if they comes awf, you comes awf with ’em.”

There were five or six gateways to negotiate on the way back which had become deeply rutted during the winter, causing the wagon to sway like mad, and I was hanging on with bated breath.

My load stayed intact and on arrival at the yard, I was given a round of applause, a glass of cider, and sixpence a day extra.

I drove the tractor for a variety of tasks from fodder carriage to muck spreading.

It was a Fordson, with no canopy, an iron seat – on which I put a couple of folded sacks for a bit of comfort – on a great big leaf spring, two forward gears, one reverse, and a temperamental beast to boot.

Father had two Petter oil engines to look after. As there was no mains electricity, one drove a dynamo to charge a bank of lead acid batteries to supply a six-volt lighting system for the estate house.

The other was at a plentiful spring, and pumped water to a reservoir at the top of a slope behind the house, as there was no mains supply. I therefore learned how to re-fuel and start and stop these engines.

There was a large tool shed, off which father had a small office where he ordered seeds, etc. He also maintained four hives of bees in addition to three at home.

In the greenhouse, he grew orchids and floral decorations for house parties.

His boss was a KC, and he and his wife worked in London all week, but spent weekends at Nutbourne.

At Christmas, every employee had a round of prime beef and a bottle of port, and there was a party for all the children of the estate staff. The boss’s wife kept a record of the children, and each had a birthday present and card. He was also a governor of Midhurst Grammar School, so took an interest in my career, which was maintained until his death in the mid-1960s.

I will end this narrative with a tale of those two horses. On one late autumn evening in 1939, I went with father on his turn to stoke the fires and tend the greenhouses.

We had to pass through an orchard in which the horses had been turned out for the weekend.

As we approached, it was obvious that the horses were not quite themselves. One was leaning against an apple tree, the other, with its forelegs crossed, against the orchard gate.

They had been eating fermenting windfalls, and were absolutely plastered.

It took us three quarters of an hour to lead them 400 yards to their stable, where each drank two buckets of water.

We left them to it with only the bottom halves of their doors closed, and told the carter what we had found.

Next morning they were found with their heads hanging down over the doors, obviously with monumental hangovers.

They were put to the plough, the ploughman remarking that, while there was no problem ploughing downwind, up wind was most unpleasant!