Some recollections from "I Got On My Bike" by Reg Green
a) Visits to Grandparents in Guarlford
My Grandfather Panting was a farm worker all his life and the most he ever earned was eighteen shillings (90p) a week. His last employment was on the Madresfield Estate, the ancestral home of the Beauchamp family. I never remembered him working because for many years before he died he was crippled with gout and was only able to get about on two sticks. At that time all they had to live on was 'parish pay', a mere pittance. They lived in a small cottage on the Clevelode road. The old saying 'God bless the Squire and his relations, and keep us in our proper stations' was lived up to in the country in my grandparents' time. I well remember my grandmother telling me that it was woe betide any villager who did not doff his cap or curtsey to 'Her Ladyship' when she passed by. As a small boy I had some very happy times at the cottage (before World War One) when with our family we had our annual summer holiday there. How we all managed to get into that small cottage I can't imagine, for it had only two rooms downstairs and two bedrooms.
I had a great love for my Grandmother Panting, who was in many ways a wonderful woman. She made no secret of the fact that I was one of her favourites and there was a great bond of affection between us. My grandmother, who for many years had lived on alone in the small thatched cottage at Guarlford, died in 1926, having reached the great age of 96 years. I felt her loss very keenly at the time, having had such a great love for her. In passing it is worth mentioning that during the First World War she knitted hundreds of pairs of socks for the Red Cross. While the War was on she was constantly knitting; she was so skilled at this that she never bothered to look at her needles and when in later years her eyesight failed, she could tell how she was getting on simply by feeling how the sock was progressing. Travelling to Malvern from Dudley by train was for me an exciting time. The steam engines of those days always greatly interested me. It was a wonderful sight to a small boy to see those lovely Great Western Railway engines with their 6 ft. driving wheels and gleaming brass boiler-domes and always immaculately kept, steaming along the tracks. Before going on holiday my parents always arranged for Mrs. Polly Birch to meet us at Malvern Station with her pony and carriage. She lived at Guarlford and was the local 'taxi' proprietor. When our holidays were over she conveyed us to the Station and she was always alarmed because of the amount of luggage we had. I remember one porter at Malvern Station, when he handled one of the tin trunks filled with apples, commenting to my mother, "Blimey, Missus, what have you got in here - pig-iron?" Beside the River Severn at Clevelode there was a huge walnut tree from which my parents used to get walnuts (locally called 'bannuts') for pickling. These were gathered green, salted down and then pickled in vinegar. I hated them, they were not at all to my liking.
Guarlford was a real village in those days where everyone knew everyone else. Most of the villagers were engaged in agriculture, and all activities centred round the School and Church. Mr. 'Bandy' Martin was the 'School Boss' and the Reverend Hubert Jones was the Rector. A regular occupation for my grandmother at Michaelmas and Christmas was plucking poultry for the local farmers and this went on for two or three days at a time. This meant that there was always a good supply of goose-down for the making of feather beds which was popular in those days. As a boy I found it rather wonderful to snuggle into a feather-bed made of goose-down - not very healthy perhaps, but always snug and warm! My grandmother did all the cooking in a large iron pot suspended on a chain over the fire in an ancient range, most of the fuel being wood. All the vegetables were put into the pot in nets together with the boiled puddings we had. For most of the year they had their own vegetables from a large garden and an allotment. They always kept chickens and a pig in the sty which provided them with meat for most of the year. How I loved the smell and taste of the small potatoes which were boiled in the copper out in the washhouse for pig feed. My father had a friend, a Mr. Crowshore, who was a gamekeeper at South Wood, Guarlford. We frequently visited his house in the wood and could generally reckon on being given a rabbit or two. Something that I enjoyed doing at the time was walking over the fields to Madresfield Court to get a basin of dripping or a can of skimmed milk. The poverty of my grandparents made this necessary, but looking back on it, it is a sad reflection on the times when the poor were driven to this kind of thing.
Another thing that always fascinated me was the bees which my grandmother kept and which she looked after. These were in round straw skeps in the garden and for me the most interesting time was when the local bee expert came to extract the honey from the hives. Standing some distance away we admired the very clever way he would smoke the bees with his smoke-puffer and I always marvelled that he was able to handle the bees without ever getting stung. One day my brother poked a stick into one of the skeps and got very badly stung all over - something which was very frightening and painful for him. Our holiday at Guarlford sometimes coincided with the visit of Aunty Harriet and Uncle George. They had a herbalist shop in London and we helped to collect herbs in hessian sacks. We picked betony, scabious and agrimony and we were paid 6d a sack - it took us ages to collect a sackful! My Aunty made a green ointment with them - it was a very effective 'cure-all' for all sorts of complaints, including boils and ringworm. It is often said that country people in those days were happy but I don't think that this was true. They were often contented with their lot, but a wage of 18/- (90 pence) a week, which was the highest wage my grandfather had as a farm labourer, did not make for happiness.
b) Hop Picking
For us children, holidays spent at Guarlford were very happy and carefree times, but for our mother it was a time of real hard work. At that time Mr. Medcalf of New House Farm grew a large number of hops in hopfields situated around Guarlford. The picking was done in September mostly by local people and my mother usually spent a month in the hopfields. We children were expected to spend some of the time picking at the crib, but as often as not we would be having a good time - wandering round the meadows, apple scrumping or riding on the farm waggons taking the hops to the kilns for drying. The hops were picked from the bines into cribs made of sacking and were measured at intervals by the 'busheler', who came round with a large basket and entered into his book the amount picked by each picker. The highest price I remember being paid was 6d (2 ½ p) per bushel, but even at that low price a good picker could earn quite a considerable amount during a month's picking. I was often allowed into the hop-kiln and was fascinated to se the hops being dried - a process which went on night and day - the hop dryer being at work all the time, not taking his clothes off or getting any real rest for weeks on end until the whole drying was completed. Sulphur was burned in the drying process to give the hops flavour and this could be quite overpowering at times. The hops when quite dry were then pressed into large sacks known as 'pockets' and sent off to the hop warehouses, the nearest being at Worcester. How we all enjoyed the meals in the hopyard! Bacon and sausages etc. cooked over a wood fire tasted so good. I also remember the fish-man who hawked his fish which he carried in a large basket, and how good the kippers tasted. Then at the end of the day - after so long in the open air - how we relished a substantial evening meal of pig-meat or bacon with fresh vegetables straight from the garden. When we were not hop-picking we spent a lot of time blackberrying, and how I hated that job! My father was very good at this - it seemed to be a relaxation he very much enjoyed. One day we had filled all our baskets, and my father, eager to go on picking, put his blackberries into his Panama hat! The stained hat was not much use afterwards. What we picked my mother made into blackberry and apple jam, which usually lasted us for a whole year.
c) Reg "gets on his bike" to find work
Following World War One I had about six months of unemployment, with much feeling of frustration in spending my time in idleness, so I decided to go and spend some time with my Gran, who had got to a ripe old age and was living alone in the cottage at Guarlford, close to Guarlford Church. I remember that I cycled from Dudley to Guarlford and to me this journey at that time was a great adventure. My Gran was pleased to have me staying with her; she always made a great fuss of me and looked after me very well. After a few weeks I heard that Mr.Medcalf required a milkman to deliver milk in Malvern, so I asked him to try me to see if I could do the job. Had I known that this job was to keep me for twenty-one years I do not think that I should have been so keen to apply for it! I remember at the time I thought it great fun to work on a farm. I was very fond of horses and thought it great to be driving a fast pony. This was something that I had experienced when I was younger when working for Davis's the Butcher's at Dudley and I had ridden beside the driver on the delivery-cart behind a high-stepping smart horse. This job on the farm was a seven-day-a-week one. I had to start work at 6 o'clock in the morning. My first duty was to milk four or five cows - no milking machines in those days! I well remember my first attempt at milking a cow - a large white shorthorn named Daisy, who always took a particular dislike to strangers, and I was no exception. A well-placed kick knocked me backwards with the bucket and stool on top of me! This was before the days of stringent regulations regarding the production of milk. The milk was drawn from the cow by hand, put through a cotton wool strainer, then straight into the churns and was then ready for retailing to the customer. Housewives often used to refuse to have the milk unless it was still warm from the cow; in that way they knew that it really was fresh milk.
After a quick breakfast in the farmhouse kitchen I had to be out on the road by 7.30 am. This was before the days of milk in bottles, and one had to ladle it out of carrying-cans into the housewives' jugs or basins, in half-pints, pints or quarts. I think the price was about 3d. a pint. My delivery round covered Chance Lane, Hall Green, Old Elm, Poolbrook, Pound Bank, Barnards Green, Court Road, St. Andrew's Road and the centre of the town. After delivering I then returned to the farm and had to wash the churns and cans. After the mid-day break, I set off for the afternoon delivery of milk and finished work at 5.30 pm. I had to deliver milk to most of the houses belonging to the Malvern Girls' College, the largest of these being the ex Imperial Hotel in Avenue Road which had been built during the time of Malvern's popularity as a spa. It had been closed down during the Great War and was bought by the Girls' College early in the 1920s. I was the first tradesman to deliver milk when it opened as a school. Over the years I must have carried thousands of gallons of milk into the building, all of which had to be carried in churns down the backstairs and trundled along various passages into the cold-room attached to the kitchen. The great difficulty in supplying such a place was that you never knew in advance how much they required - if it happened to be a 'milk pudding day' they required many more extra gallons of milk and it had to be found for them. All the cooking was done in huge coal ovens in the middle of the kitchen. The coal was wheeled in from the coal cellars, and not much heed was paid to the dust getting on to the food. The coal was brought in railway wagons which were switched from the railway lines into a tunnel which runs underneath the College buildings. With the exception of Sundays we had to make three deliveries of milk a day to satisfy the Head Cook's requirements.
d) Cottage in Guarlford
My father retired from the Police Force in 1921 and left Dudley to live at Guarlford, Malvern. As I was working on the farm the farmer let us have one of his tied cottages where we lived for about three years. My family found living in the country very different from life in the town, but quickly adapted to it. The cottage had few if any amenities - no indoor sanitation - the 'privy' being down the garden next to the pigsty. I had the distasteful job of emptying the bucket in the garden, usually in the early morning when no one was around. We always kept a pig and it fell to me to clean out the pigsty, which I did not mind doing, as I had by that time got used to farmyard smells! We had no piped water. We got our water from an old fashioned pump which served three cottages. This was in the days before electricity came to the country and we depended on paraffin lamps and candles for illumination. Eventually my parents decided to move to Malvern and they bought a house on Pound Bank, Barnards Green. This was by far the best house we had lived in and we appreciated the amenities - flush lavatory, piped water, gas and electricity. For me, however, it meant further to go to my work on the farm and I then acquired my first motor-bike - a large BSA model with belt-drive which I bought from my brother for £15. I later exchanged it for a brand new BSA model which I bought from Ranfords in Barnards Green and which cost me £45. How proud I was of that bike.
e) The Agricultural Workers' Union
At that time work on a farm was very hard and farmworkers had a great deal to put up with, not least the very small wages which were paid. About 1925 the farmers proposed reducing the farm labourer's weekly wage from 30/- (£1.50) to 28/- (£1.40), but this was fought by the Agricultural Workers' Union with much bitterness on both sides. A large number of workers joined the Agricultural Workers' Union in this struggle and I started the first branch in the Malvern district by holding a meeting in a shed at the back of The Green Dragon Inn. We had to be very careful to see that the 'bosses' did not get wind of what we were doing because we knew that it could have meant the sack for any one of us found joining the Union. From that time onwards the lot of the agricultural worker was very slowly and painfully improved. The display of a very small amount of militancy at that time when the farmers were defeated in their attempt to deprive men of 2/- (10p) a week in their wages certainly paid off. I think that at that time I was getting about £2 for working a 70 hour week. I started at 6 am, and this meant getting up at 5.30 am every morning, weekdays and Sundays with no half-day off, and normally 6 or 7 hours work on a Sunday. Farm workers in those days had no holidays or time off except for a few hours on Good Friday and Christmas Day. But, of course, even on those days animals had to be fed and cows milked. As no one except the well off had any form of refrigeration, milk also had to be delivered every day of the year without any exception. How different today (1983) when milk delivery men are able to take time off at Christmas and other Bank Holidays.