Norman and Sue Butler Miles remember.

On 29 November 2018, Norman and Sue Butler Miles talked to Catriona Bass about their early years. Here are some highlights of their 2 hour long conversation.

Eynsham Farming 1950s: small scale mixed farming, a mosaic of habitats.

Norman: I was born just up the Witney road in a cul de sac there in 1940. The A40 was a busy road when we were children. We weren't allowed to cross it or bike to Witney on it, we had to go the Stanton Harcourt way or South Leigh to get to Witney. Dad banned us from going on it. 

Hay meadows

Bill Hoskins farmed at Abbey Farm plus a lot of the Duke's meadows, the ones beyond the Wharf Stream. They belonged to the Duke of Marlborough originally. The Duke of Marlborough owned a lot of land… The railway line went along the top of it and we used to have to go over the railway line. It was a wiggledy place to get down to because we had to go down Cassington Lane and then down Mead Lane, we called it, and it was a rough old lane, full of water. These were all hay meadows then. And there were lots of flowers. 

The yield was poor yield but nobody worried about that, they cut them once and then they were grazed, you know.

Sue: Wildflowers need poor soil.

Now they've all been sprayed and burnt off like Duke's Meadow. Last time we went down there it was covered in ragwort, wasn't it?

Norman: 1968 -  that was the year we lost the hay in the Neyotts (the meadow going down to Eynsham Lock). It didn't wash all away that was the biggest snag. I had to bale some of it up. I didn't cart it home. I put it in a heap down at the Neyotts and we had some cattle down there and do you know they ate that as if it was sugar. It was as black as black. But I had to bale it to get it off the ground and there wasn't half the crop there.

The Wharf Stream - there was a weir on the wharf stream before it went into the Thames. Of course, so many of these ditches now they let go to pieces and they cause so much flooding. They are not worried about flooding. They want it to flood. All those willows in Neyotts. That used to be all meadow, both of them.

The meadows beyond Long Mead, there used to be a man called Andy Hunt, he used to make loose hay there when I was first working for Hoskins and cart it to Stanton Harcourt and then he got a pick up baler. This was the 1950s when pick-up balers were just coming in. And then, these big balers came in about 10 to 12 years ago, the round ones and the square ones. Lakes at Twelve Acre Farm had a round baler - a little round baler and Mr Leach had one over at Amprey Close. If it rained on round bales they didn't get wet. But if it rained on a square bales it was ruined. I liked the idea of round balers especially the medium weight ones. Then of course the big square bales come in but I don't think they make the quality hay and of course it has all gone to silage now. All the farms in Eynsham used to feed hay. Only Mr Blake at Twelve Acre, he was the only one who used to make silage. Then Mr Bamptin started making a bit of silage but you never had plastic sheets to cover it so a lot of it was wasted. Bill Hoskins, when he started making silage, we had a lime lorry come in and spread lime all over it. Buckinghams – now they have the best idea – they have orange peel.

Bill Hoskins had a saying: 'Cut the hay on a friday,  go and play cricket on a saturday, go to Church on sunday and start messing around with it on Monday' and he was about right. And then you didn't have to work weekends and you had the week to it made and baled up and carted home. Bill was very wise like that. Some said he was too tight to pay overtime, but I think it was wise. It did depend on you having a week of good weather.  There again 'And if we can hear the trains from over at Hanborough we know it is going to be fine for a few days,'

Mixed Farming

Abbey Farm was about 540 acres. It also incorporated Foxley Farm and the Charity Field. The Charity Field, we rented that - that was about 10 or 11 acres. His main crop was barley for malting. He grew about 200 odd acres of that. And we had 100 acres of wheat and 100 acres of oats for feed. He had 35-40 cows and kept the followers for fattening because they were all put to the Hereford bull, and he had about 160 sheep, ewes. We used to have 3 rams in amongst them. The lambs were sold off and he kept a few young ones for breeding from. He sold most of them off through Oxford market. It was a weekly market at Oxpens. I took pigs in there from here. It must have stopped in the late 70s. His barley, it was malting barley, we used to have two or three reps fighting over who was going to buy it. It was used for making beer. It used to go mainly to Banbury -  there was a big grain merchants and they used to supply Edmunds Brewery at Banbury.

Wheat was a sellable crop and the oats were grown for home feed for our animals. All the wheat and oats were cut with the binder - tractor and binder. It makes sheaves and then it was all stooked. The oats had to have three sundays - three lots of bells ring over it -  before you carted it in. You stood them all up like that. There were about 6 to 8 in a stack of sheaves. And the wheat you could cart in damp. And it was all stacked into corn ricks with the sheaves and with a ridged top. We had about 8 to 10 oat ricks and they were 6 yards by 8 yards and the wheat ricks were 8 by 10. You stacked them - Will Savings was fantastic at building wheat ricks. He also grew about 16 acres of potatoes, 18 acres of swedes. 8 to 10 acres of kale for feed. Also, he grew 3 acres of mangles. They were big. People said that there were only full of water but it was damn good water. They had to be protected from the frost so they were all clamped in and the potatoes we used to sort some in the barn in Abbey Farm on the left hand side and some in clamps up the field where you put them in a row and you covered them with straw and then covered them with earth. You had to open the clamp up and you put them in the riddle to sort. 

The corn and the oats were left on the stalks. And you'd stack them in ricks and when you needed the corn or oats you'd thresh them with the threshing machine.  I can see it now, up the Stanton Harcourt Road up the side of Foxey Farm. There were about 8 or 10 ricks there and throughout the winter, the chaps went out as soon as they needed some oats to roll for the cows. Then the straw was used for bedding or it was baled, some of it was sold, not a lot. We used a lot of straw for keeping the potatoes covered and in the barn they were covered over with a thick layer of straw to stop the frost. 

All the ricks were placed apart so that you could pull the threshing machine between. The sides went down and that was exactly the width between and you'd done one rick. The threshing machine would be left there for a week maybe a fortnight and then you'd do the other side. Like the oats, you'd harvest, you'd thrash a rick of oats out and that was enough feed. It was all taken down to the granary and the straw went for bedding or it was baled. But the wheat straw went out loose and that was used for thatching for following year. And he sold some. I remember taking a load along to South Leigh. It was a terrific great big load. It weighed a ton and a half. It was for a thatcher. He had it loose. He never had it in bundles. Then we had so much straw left for when we'd made the ricks and after harvest you'd be thatching the ricks to keep the moisture out, to keep the water out. There was an art in that because you pulled all the straw out and made it into what we called 'yelms'. They were about that long, all straight straw and it was thicker at one end than the other and you put them into a jack and you had to get them up the ladder to man who was doing the thatching and if you didn't make good ones he'd cuss and if you took too long he'd cuss.

Sometime in the 1950s we got a stationary baler. That was a baler with a belt and it stood in the field. They used to push it with what they called a hay sweep. You had to fork it up about seven foot high and the baler was sunk in the ground about a foot to try to lower it a bit. It was stationary bales and they were tied with wire and they weighed about a hundred weight and a half. And the bags of corn, we used to bag the corn off of the threshing machine. And they were two and a quarter for wheat. Two and a half hundred weight for beans, two hundred weight for barley. And one and a half hundred weight for oats. And we used to put them all in the sheds in rows with a gap between to let the cats in so the rats couldn't get in there. And we used to double them up. We'd put one on top of the other. I got told off when I was 17 because you weren't supposed to lift weights like that until you were 18. We had thing called a chap lift. You wound it up and it lifted the bag up and then you got it on your shoulder and you put back it on the sack in front. And all the tractors and things were stood out because all the barns had barley stood in them. And it was put through an old threshing machine to clean it because when it come off the combine in those days it was in a terrible state. It was all dirt and dust. But when you put it through the threshing machine, it came out beautiful. It sorted out all the grass seed and weeds and rubbish. You never had sprays like you have now. Bill never started spraying until about 1956 and the sprays weren't very good. Some of them were evil. But you know they wanted to stop the weeds.

The yield was a lot less than what they are now. You know, if you got 25 to 30 hundred weight per the acre, that was as much as you could get. Nowadays they are getting a ton. But it's full of chemicals and sprays. I don't like it. They are even spraying corn with roundup before it goes into the millers. Sue makes her own bread. And we buy the flour from Wessex Mills and its pretty good.

Sue: They are not cheap these sprays. Sometimes you wonder how much profit is in it because they are buying the results.

Norman: Whereas years ago you had a little less but you didn't pay so much for it.

Sue: I think it is lack of manpower now.

Norman: Yes, they haven't got the manpower. They've down cried it. I've said that the education system is wrong. It doesn't train people to do the physical side.

Potato picking and Eynsham girl-power

Bill used to supply mainly the shops around Eynsham with potatoes and then he would sell some off as well. I remember when I worked for him he put me in charge of the potatoes one year. And come harvesting time - we always dug some early so that they had earlies in the shop and he 'Norman,’ he said, you're going to have a lesson in man management, this week. You're in charge of the ladies picking up the potatoes.' I was 17 years old. Some of them ran circles round me. Molly Harris was the gangmaster. She was lovely. She used to tell them 'Behave yourselves! You're playing on him.' You'd mark the field along its length and then divide it up, so many yards each and you'd put sticks in and they had to pick between that stick and that stick... and if they had a chance they'd move their stick into their neighbours so that they were picking up less than their neighbours. And Bill kept telling me that I was having a lesson in man management!

They were all Eynsham girls.  You used to have to go down and pick them up opposite where the row of shops is on Mill Street. There used to be a water tower there. You'd pick them up from there with the tractor and trailer, There were about 16 of them. They'd come just for the potato digging. They'd come just after nine and want to be home by 3.30. It would take about a week. You would put bags all out and they had buckets and they would pick them up and then tip them into bags. Then you'd close up the bags and take them to where ever you were making a clamp or bringing them home. And they all had a bag that they brought home full of potatoes every day. That was a perk. They got paid. The women had the chance to earn a bit of money. But it was just the potatoes that they picked. They were on so much an hour or so much a day.

I can remember when I was planting potatoes, it was the year that I was told that I was the potato king. I borrowed a potato planter. So we went in the field and Will was put in charge of telling me how to drive. He said 'Right, now I want you to draw and imaginary line down that field and drive along it. And whatever you do, don't turn round. We got half way across and the potato planter had got all caught up with the farmyard manure that we had spread. 'Woah!' Will shouted. So I stopped and automatically turned round. Well, I had a slap round the face with his hat 'I told you not to turn around.' And it had gone dead straight to that point and after that point it veered off. And I wasn't allowed to forget that.  I've told many people how to drive straight since then, You always draw and imaginary line and never look round. When I was being trained at Abbey Farm, you rode on the back of the corn drill to make sure none of the spouts blocked up. Then he said to me, ‘you get on and have a go’. And I went up and down about 8 times but couldn't keep it straight. Will was an expert. His rows were always straight with exactly 7 inches between the rows all the way and you couldn't see where one mark joined the next. 

Sue: He must have started with horses.

Norman: Yes he was with horses. I never forgot, Mrs Hoskins, one day cos I said to Will, I said 'Do you believe in horse whispering?'. 'No, he said, 'Load of bunkam.' But she had this pony, her daughter's pony and they were trying to put it in a stable and there she was pulling and pulling and the horse kept backing out and it beat her every time. And Will said, he turned to her and said 'You'll never put that pony in that shed.' 'Oh Mr Know-All,' she said. 'Let me see you do it then.' I never forgot it. He went up and got the horse on a halter walked it around the yard and walked it straight in. He said 'Never look a horse in the face when you're trying to take it somewhere, look where you're going. It feels safer.

Eynsham dairy farming

At Abbey Farm, we kept all the calves. They were fattened up because there were Hereford shorthorn cross. He bought 4 Friesians but we didn't like them because they were wild. The milk was collected every day in churns. And we would go just round the corner to Swan Lane. There were two farms there. One belonged to Mr Brian. They had about 70 or 100 acres but they also had land down Pinkhill Lane and Chilbridge Lane.

Eric Coates had cattle. He had a milking bale down on Long Mead. A milking bale was a mobile milking shed and then they moved it up to the farm in the middle of Eynsham in the winter. He also had land down the Cassington Road and he used to move the milking bale down there. You could stand about 4 cows in these milking bales. It was covered but it was open to elements it wasn't the best place to be. He had a milking machine which ran with an engine. He used to lower the churns into the stream to keep them cool.

Mr Brian used to let his cows wander up to Eynsham on their own across the A40. Then he would go up and shut the gates. I remember one day, we went round the corner from Mill Street. We were moving some cattle from down the meadows up to Foxey Farm somewhere. We were on our bikes riding and we'd got about 20 cattle. We turned them down Swan Lane instead of up through the farm and poor old Mr Brian was coming round the corner with his cows. And they were all very geriatric and he said 'Oh! my cows will have a heart attack! My cows will have a heart attack!' He only had about 6 or 8 cows. Again, the milk went into a couple of churns and they were collected every day.

It was done through the milk marketing board. You got a better price during the winter than in the summer. So, everyone aimed to have the cows calving in September October to have the winter milk. It was either Bints Transport in Northmoor or Burys Transport in Northmoor, depending on where your milk was going to. If it went to Burtons dairies Bins took it If it went to Coop Dairies, Bury's took it. The Coop Dairy was down the Botley Road. Burtons was in Kidlington. They would have about 110 ten gallon churns on the lorry and Mr Bin came out of the 1914-18 war having lost his leg. And he was trained as a cobbler and he said 'I couldn't make no money at that.' so he managed to get enough money to get a model T4 lorry and he started bringing the milk from the farmers out at Northmoor across to Eynsham Station and it went from there. And he was running about six lorries. He had one for each of his sons and one for himself and a couple of spares. And he'd done coal and firewood and carted bricks when they had brickworks over at Standlake.