Oliver documented his life before he died in 2016 at the age of 96. The museum carries his account of his life from the age of four, when in 1924 he came with his parents to live with his grandparents at Manor Farm in the centre of Winsham. This continued until his Grandfather's death in 1934.
A fascinating account of the life of a schoolboy on a busy farm, between the two World Wars.
The handwritten memoirs of Oliver have been typed up below:
When I was about 4 years old we moved from ‘Check Ridge’ to the village of Winsham, which is near Chard in Somerset, where we lived in the ‘Manor Farm House’ - a much more elegant place than ‘Checkridge’. We lived with my grandfather and his 2nd wife ‘Louise’ who owned Manor Farm, which was a lot bigger than Checkridge, about 125 acres.
My grandfather George, whose house was in the middle of the village, had 5 bedrooms, which were entered by 3 stairways. He used two bedrooms, so did Dad, Mum, my sister and myself, I always had my own bedroom in this house. The 5th bedroom was above the dairy in which fruit and vegetables were stored in winter time, plus cheeses that Dad used to make. This was a very cold house in winter with a flagstone floor in the dairy, the kitchen and passageway to the sitting room and stairway.
The kitchen had a large chimney corner, the large kitchen table encircled on one side by a curved style in which we sat for meals. Along the side of the fireplace was a sink set about 6 or 7 inches in the ground with about a 2 foot square recess into which a wooden side panel could be fitted on 3 sides about 3ft tall. Into this butchered pigs were placed, then boiling water from several 4 gallon boilers hanging in the chimney corner were poured to enable the hairs on the pig to be scraped off before it was cut up. The hams were covered with muslin & hung in the chimney to be smoked. The sides of the pig were placed in lead trays, filled with salt in the dairy, from which pork was cut as required. These trays were about 6ft long by 2ft wide by about 6inches deep, the lead being about ¾ inch thick.
There was a cold water tap above this sink which was supplied from a tank, which was situated in the ceiling in a recess in the corner of the kitchen above a ‘copper’ in which water was boiled and clothes were washed. The kitchen was always full of steam on wash days. This tank held about 100 gallons of water which was filled from time to time from a pump that was situated over a ‘well’ outside the kitchen in a little yard-come-garden. Dad, and I when I was about 9 years old and upwards, had to go and pump for about half an hour to fill this tank up. This pump used to freeze up in winter which was always a nuisance.
This kitchen was unusual in that there were no rooms above it, the ceiling being about 14 foot high, the windows on the road side were about 6 feet from the ground, hence no one could look in, or out for that matter. At the back of our kitchen was sizeable ‘yard’ in the corner of which was our front door, seldom used except to go to the toilet which was situated in the corner of the farm kitchen garden at the top end of this yard, some 14 or 15 yards away. This toilet was one of those that had to be emptied every year or so, the contents of which was buried in the garden or taken away in a ‘put’ to be spread in the fields.
We grew lots of fruit apples, plums, gooseberries, logan berries etc in this garden as well as all our root vegetables except potatoes which were grown on the farm. My grandfather kept a lot of bees in this garden that used to ‘swarm’ every summer, by which I got stung a number of times.
Our grandparents had a modern flush toilet, but that was in the corner of their yard opposite our pump, and of course outside of the house. We all went to the Congregational Chapel in Fore Street, using granddads front door that opened into that street, which was only about 150 yards up Fore Street from that door. We visited the chapel 3 or 4 times every Sunday, most of my friends also went there.
The great highlight of the year was the Sunday school outing, which was always a day to Weymouth. There used to be usually two coaches (we called them char-a-bangs) & in later years a car or two. We went several times in my dad’s Austin Seven, which at one time was the only other car in the village. The husband of one of my day school teachers, Mr Boiat, had the other which he often used as a taxi. These cars and coaches often broke down & sometimes we all had to walk up a hill as the engines would boil over with clouds of steam.
Sometimes we had concerts and all the annual festivals at the chapel, there being no radio & in my early years no electricity in the village, so we did what we could to entertain ourselves, Dad eventually got a radio but it was seldom used.
The minister (Mr Way) used to visit my grandfather most Sunday nights and we used to assemble in his drawing room and the fire was lit. Aunt Louie, as we always called her, played the harmonium and we used to sing hymns together, sometimes I had to sing a solo. We had a piano in our sitting room that Mum could play a bit. I was taught for 4 years but I never mastered it, I think it cost Mum 6 pence a lesson for me, so I don’t suppose she was very pleased with me, not as far as I know did she ever complain about it.
As I got older me and my friend ‘Tom Loaring’, he was the son of the village carpenter, used to spend all our time together working on the farm. I don’t know how many times we trimmed every hedge and there were miles of them, it being about 125 acre farm, with 3 orchards and about 12 fields, some ploughed where corn, mangolds or cow cabbage was grown. We used to plant a row or two of potatoes on Good Fridays, which would last us to next year, and so did several other people that worked for granddad.
It was always nice at haymaking and harvest time out in the fields. I remember many times lyng in the long grass in summer time in the meadow listening to the bee’s and watching the skylarks soaring above. I used to have to pick up all the stones in these meadows, I didn’t like that job much. In winter we would go out and catch rabbits with ferrets and nets. I also used to catch all the moles for my grandfather, who used to give me 2 pennies a tail for each one I caught. He once found a mole in one of my traps and cut off it’s tail, and then tried to tell me he was not going to pay for any mole without a tail. But I must have caught hundreds of these moles and later I caught a lot for my Uncle Jack who had a farm at Tatworth about 4 miles from Winsham.
I had learnt to ride my mother’s bicycle by which I could get around a bit, I remember falling off it on one occasion and broke two of my bottom teeth, the broken remains of which I still have.
In our early years at Winsham my dad used to make cheese which was made in two very large vats (about 4ft diameter) that were kept on one side of our kitchen, he used to put most of the milk for several days (some was sold at the door to villagers who would come with jugs to buy it, some was made into cream via a hand operated separator) into these vats then add ‘rennett’ which caused the curds of cheese to form, the ‘whey’ was then drawn off and fed to the pigs. The curds were compressed into vats having been wrapped in muslin until all moisture was removed and the solid cheeses were produced. It was lovely cheese, not that we ever had much, they were always sold.
Another great winter activity was the threshing time, when it used to take several hours for the steam engine to get the thresher into our ‘rick barken’ having churned up great muddy ruts across the paddock, using pulleys and steel cables to haul everything into position. Dust and shavings blew everywhere once they started, and people would come from the village with their terrier dogs to catch the rats that would try to escape from under the corn ricks as they were taken down and thrashed. This used to be great fun as we rushed about after rats with club-like sticks to kill them. Looking back I think my childhood years on the farm were some of the best days of my life.
Soon after we came to live in Winsham on my 5th birthday, I started school. I never did like it much, having a weak chest, with many bouts of croup plus all the other children’s ailments like chicken pox, measles and scarlet fever, when we lived in isolation for about 6 weeks, so I could never keep up with my class. I remember I got on quite well with my first teacher in the infant classes, a Mrs Perham who lived at a place called ‘Street’ about two miles from the village. My second teacher, probably my best, was very strict, Miss Jordan, who lived in the village and was the daughter of the retired minister of our chapel. Mum and Dad knew her very well, but I cannot say I ever enjoyed being in her class. My 3rd teacher was a very motherly lady, her daughter Monica was in the same class with me, Mrs Boiat whose husband had the taxi. My last teacher in that village school was Mr Lomax the headteacher, I didn’t get on too well with him either, except in music, I was one of four who had to stand behind as he played the piano and sing the descants as I had a quite strong singing voice as a boy, my voice having not yet broken.
When I was 12 years old a new law with respect to schools came into effect, when all eleven year old and older children had to attend a secondary school, so we were all taken by bus every day to Chard Holyrood Boys School. This was a new adventure as up till then school children seldom left the village. I had been to Chard a few times, once to a circus that we attended one night, when a camel put his head over an awning that we were queueing against to get in and I was sitting on my Dad’s shoulders. As I looked up and saw it, I was so frightened and I screamed so loudly, we all had to go home so we never got into the circus.
At this new school, my first teacher was Mr Candy, I think I was somewhere about average in his class, and finally at 13 years of age I moved into the assistant head masters class, who taught art and general subjects. Art was my best subject, I finished top of the school in that subject, my drawings mainly of animals were stuck all around the classroom walls, but again a very strict man who I think gave everybody the cane, certainly me several times most weeks.
I write a few more things about the village of Winsham and the surroundings of what was the most remarkable house I have ever lived in. The village had no electricity when we first arrived in 1925. I think it arrived about 1930, it was soon after this we had it installed only for lights such radio’s that existed ran on batteries, cooking was done mainly in our house on a calor oil stove, that also had an oven. Lighting was by oil lamps or candles that we took to bed with us, all hot water was boiled in the boilers over the chimney corner fire, which was nearly always burning, fed by logs and tree trunks that were stacked outside the front door in the year or wood house, where fagots were kept dry for lighting the fire when needs be.
Also in this yard were two stables where the farm horses spent most of their time in winter and between the stable and the boundary wall was a tiled shed used for chickens and in which for some time I kept a pet fox. In another corner was a much larger shed in which the farm calves were reared in winter and a terrible stench it was when they were taken out and then the shed cleaned out, which was done once a year. Meanwhile while the calves lived there they had fresh straw added about once a week such that their bed became about 2 ft thick by springtime. Next to the stables was a garage in which my grandad kept his lorry. He had a driver as he never learned to drive himself, which was used to take him to markets with sheep etc, but most of the time the lorry was hired out to the council for road work.
On another side of this yard was a smaller garage in which Dad kept his Austin Seven, quite a sizable yard. The lower half of this yard had a cobbled stone surface and Mum used to make me dig out the weeds from between these stones, a job I did not much like doing, and one year, having got these weeds in a pile against the lorry garage wall, I tried to burn them and I was sent to bed with the stick and no supper on that day.
In 1934 my grandfather died aged 68 years, which caused all kinds of changes to take place, the farm was sold and bought by my father’s brother, Uncle Charles. It was split into two parts, one part of which my father took and rented it from his brother, so we all moved from the village to Hazlewood, the name of the house in the middle of that part of the now small farm where for a time we lived. I cannot remember no much about this, my father began to rear pigs, we had always had a few and a few beef cattle, as there was a orchard and 3 or 4 fields about 40 acres I would guess, with a small river on the lower foundry, but I can only presume that he could not make a very good living, because he moved with Mum and my sister to Bridport.