Peter’s Farm Part 3


Sunday was a very different day. It sounded different on waking in the morning. Though the cows had to be milked twice during the day and the hens continued to lay and had to be fed, even the animals seemed to move with less vigour and purpose. The very air itself hung still over the farmyard and the sun moved more slowly across the sky. A later start to the day and breakfast over, it was time for church. The church bells rang out their peal over the hill, the changes joyous and uplifting. We walked the three hundred yards to the church with its square tower, past the smithy and the cottages up to the lych gate. The peal of bells changed to the single toll of the five minute warning bell and the ringers came out to chat by the side gate. They were in semi working clothes but would dress up for the evening when one or two would go back into the church for Evensong, sitting somewhat self consciously in the back pew. The family pew was to the right of the right hand aisle, two rows from the front. The Rev Trevaldwyn was an ascetic Cornishman who had a permanent dewdrop at the end of his nose. He gabbled through prayers and readings  in an exaggerated and artificial voice, sucking great intakes of breath at the end of each petition. The Litany gave him the chance to play the game of beating the congregation by starting the next petition before they had finished the response – Good Lord deliver us. He never did and the Vicar droned on!! One always felt he was giving a music hall impression of a parson. His sermons were dreary, only enlivened by his frequent loud and prolonged sniffs as he attempted to control the dewdrop. I spent the time counting the worm holes in the shelf for books at the back of the pew in front. There were 72 and the number didn’t vary year to year. It was a large church – I never saw it anywhere full – and was lit by oil lamps hanging on chains from the ceiling. It must have been an independent parish or been specially licensed for weddings as I believe Mother and Dad were the first couple to be married after this as they head the marriage records. On our return from Church after morning service, Muriel and I usually made our way round to the cider cellar on the other side of the old kitchen. Here were 4 or 5 hogshead of cider and Uncle Stanley used to met several of his friends here for a drink and a gossip before Sunday dinner, Tom White, Alf Heath, Cousin Fred, Joe Heath. Muriel and I as youngsters entertained them with songs and poems and then passed the hat round. We were mercenary little beggars!

It was the custom on Sundays in the afternoon for Aunt Sue and Uncle Stanley to retire to their rooms for a well deserved  rest – they worked very hard during the week. Uncle Stanley, an ideal uncle and always ready for a bit of fun, would pretend to be drunk and helpless in the armchair by the fire in the kitchen. Muriel and I had to remove his boots (and expose his pungently sweaty socks!) and then drag a limp, yet protesting body up the stairs. The house then became silent and this could become one time when time might hang a little heavily. Once in each holiday during such a period, Muriel and I would have a wild flower gathering competition, seeing how many different kinds we could find, We searched the orchards, along the hedgerows and the farmyard itself. We picked Herb Robert from the walls and water mint from the stream, ivy leafed toadflax and white dead nettle. So our knowledge of the flora increased – we knew the names of many of the flowers from our cigarette card collections. Grandma was usually press ganged into being the adjudicator and little prizes were produced. Five o’clock came and Aunt Sue would appear in Sunday frock and clean apron. Sunday tea was always in the front room with fresh raspberries or tinned peaches and a bowl of Devonshire cream topped with a thick yellow crust, followed by Aunt Sue’s homemade rock buns and a fruit cake. Evensong sometimes or an evening walk along the lanes to Mother’s cousins at Aptor.   But everyone and everything knew it was Sunday and a strange reassuring peace pervaded everywhere. In church I was absorbing the beauty of the Te Deum and the Magnificat, outside the beauty of all creation  – this all became part of my heritage.

We knew many people in the village, many had known Mother since she was a girl. Mr Seaward worked on the farm and Mrs Seaward, a bright, cheerful, round, little woman came to the farm on Saturday mornings to clean through. Muriel and I were the boss’s grandchildren and so, she obviously thought, had to be treated with due respect. ‘Good morning sir, Good morning Missy’ she always greeted us. It was an age when everyone knew their station!!! One of her jobs was to polish the brass top of the scalding stove using a type of bath brick grated down and mixed with I think water. After cleaning the stove gleamed as did the warming pan, the same one that now hangs over the stairs at Tarn Crag.

Bert Bridgman owned the blacksmith shop in Compton, the next village (Compton Castle now National Trust was associated with Raleigh and Gilbert). This developed into an agricultural engineering firm. He was a stalwart of the church and sang in the choir for 70 years, and was very proud of his acquaintance with  the Bishop!   Mabel, his wife kept the village shop and took in holidaymakers. Margaret and I stayed there when Nick was on the way and again when he was about two. Her shop kept a wide range of foodstuffs and household goods. She always had a good selection of sweets, mintoes and liquorice ‘belts’ which could be torn into bootlaces, tied together and nibbled as if one were eating a continuous string of black spaghetti.

The Marldon smithy was only a few yards from the farm and it was always thrilling to go in and watch a horse being shod. What a fascination to watch the bellows blow the dull embers of the forge into the red hot strip of metal into shape and making the nail holes. The red hot shoe being placed onto the horse’s foot, held between the blacksmith’s knees, and smelt the acrid smoke of burning hair and hoof. How was it, we thought, the horse didn’t feel anything. When the shoe was ready, came the nailing of the hoof, the nails coming right and being bent over. And throughout the whole operation, the farm horse stood placid and patient. It was quite a different story when a frisky pony came in.

The post office was in a cottage close to the Church House Inn.  It was only a counter in Mrs Selly’s sitting room, though where to sit would have been a problem. Mrs Selly collected small ornaments and they occupied every available niche and cranny. Not one more could have been placed on the large square table in the centre of the room. Many were Gosse and the collection would in these days be worth a small fortune.

The Pethybridges lived on the next farm adjacent to the higher orchard(i.e  Millmans Farm – MLHG). They were family friends and when Peter’s was given up Aunt Sue went to live and work there as housekeeper. Tom Pethybridge once took me to Chagford on Dartmoor. He had to take a calf to someone over there and asked if I’d like to go. I jumped at the idea and the day sticks in my mind largely because we went into a café for our dinner and found bowls of pickles on the tables. I have a great fondness for pickles and chutneys and to find these provided free seemed to me to be the height of luxury.

Not every day was spent on the farm, though nothing would drag me away if they were cutting or carrying out some other special farm activity. We spent many happy hours over the years on Paignton and Goodrington beaches. We visited Brixham and walked out to Berry Head and admired the lovely stretch of coastline westwards. But of all the outings, my favourite was the one which took us by the bus from Paignton to Greenway Ferry. This was often crowded with woman carrying large empty baskets and gossiping in loud Devon voices. Dittisham on the farther bank of the River Dart opposite Greenaway was famous for plums and the women had taken the luscious fruit to sell in Paignton. We crossed to Dittisham by rowing boat and had our lunch at Dawe’s Café, eating our sandwiches overlooking the river. There was usually time for a quick walk up the hill into the village and church before catching a small launch down the Dart to Dartmouth. In the depression of the thirties, there were eighteen or twenty merchant ships laid up in the river above Dartmouth and often a troopship or two awaiting the trooping season, but always the busy sound of riveting and hammering from several small shipyards. Dartmouth was the town of the herring gull. They strutted along the quayside, they called from the roof of the station, they stood on the chimney stacks and they squawked as they flew over the river. To us they were one of the greatest attractions of Dartmouth and even now when I hear the raucous call of the gull I’m taken back there. We had our tea in one of the teashops and then caught the large ferry, The New, from Dartmouth Station. This was the only station in Britain without trains. Tickets were bought on the floating station which rose and fell with the tide and travelled by The New across to the rail terminus at Kingswear. From here we went back to Paignton in cream and chocolate coaches of the old Great Wester n Railway ( G.W.R.). All this I think cost 2/- (two shillings) for an adult.

Our trip to Dartmouth was sometimes varied by going there first and taking the large steamer up the river to Totnes or making the trip the other way round. The Dart must be the loveliest river in England with its tree lined banks. The branches of the trees appeared to have been trimmed in a horizontal straight line but this had been done by nature. The tide rose and fell twice in twenty four hours and killed off any branch or twig which reached the water. There would be herons standing motionless in the shallows, oyster catchers searching the mud and if one was lucky there would be a sight of a kingfisher diving to the fish below. Beautiful in the sun, the Dart held its fascination when the drizzle swept across from the west and we stood in the bows of the ship, coat collars turned up and rain running down our faces.

We usually returned to Marldon from our outings by the local privately owned bus driven by Foxy. The first bus was a box like Ford with seats running the length of the us on each side and carrying fourteen passengers. The door was at the back, below which a step projected. If the bus was full, a local workman who was a regular passenger would stand on the step and carry on a conversation with the passengers inside through the window of the door. The lanes were very narrow and it wasn’t unknown for the ‘matchbox’ as it was nicknamed to be lifted bodily by the passengers into a gateway to allow another vehicle to pass. Sometimes we would walk the three miles back to Peter’s Farm. To encourage us up the steep hill out of Paignton, dad would buy us a pennorth of chips each but these wouldn’t be eaten until we reached the wooden seat under the tree by Java Cottage, over half way up the hill. Tired but happy we reached the farm and another day was over.

These were the golden days of youth. These were the days of the simple life, of close proximity with life itself, life and death, the natural world of animal and plant, of earth and sea, of sun and rain – days of intense happiness and satisfaction. But on looking back, they were days of plain hard work, drudgery often, for Aunt Sue and Uncle Stanley and all those who worked in the countryside. The soft glow of the oil lamp for an hour at the end of a summer’s day may conjure up romantic thoughts, but on a long winter evening to read or sew or write was a great strain. To go to bed with a flickering candle on a warm summer night is quite a different matter to going to bed in a freezing bedroom in the middle of winter. It is hard to realise how much change has taken place in one’s own lifetime but no-one who knew the old would deny the comforts and conveniences of today.

But Peter’s was a world of sheer delight. It has profoundly coloured my life and I shall always be grateful for the privilege I had of experiencing life there.



This Memoir is the property and copyright of Basil Sutcliffe, and may not be reproduced or copied in any format without his written consent.  2018.


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