January on the Farm (2024)

Snow Drifts at the Magpie – January 1963.          Photograph: Colin Wootton

Richard Fonge writes:

With the weather turning colder in the middle of the month, it is much more seasonal and healthier after the milder wet spell we have had. In 1962/63 I had to keep a diary before going to Agriculture college, and looking back we had hard frosts from Christmas to late February, with a deep snow that lasted most of that time. A winter not to be forgotten. Amazing to think but the villages were dug out by hand! Because of the continual frosts after the deep snow in early January, you could walk on top of the snow without sinking in. It was the bus route that was the main priority as few people had cars, so the bus was vital to get to Banbury for work and shopping. The Alcan works on the Southam Rd (now Amazon) was a large employer, as was The Spencer Corset Factory which was opposite where Morrisons now are. It wasn’t till hire purchase came in a couple of years later and a car could be bought on instalments that we saw more motorists. The Greatworth cricket team before 1963 went to away matches in Arthur Barrett’s bulk grain lorry. This meant the team stayed long after finish of play, as the older players liked to visit the pub and have a game of dominoes or crib.

Remembering those days with nostalgia, and good memories of when life was less complicated, but farm work was hugely physical and so very hard work. Most farms were mixed farms and much smaller in size, but with cows to milk, pigs, sheep, beef and some corn to grow, very demanding. It was from the early sixties with the advances in mechanisation, the use of hydraulic power and the coming of the herringbone parlour, where cows could be milked in batches of five or so that specialisation took place, also hastened by the coming of other industries coming to our towns, such as Bird’s or Maxwell House for example in Banbury.

This brought about a much more efficient farming industry, but by so doing with less employed on the farms, we lost many of the characters of our villages. A final note from that diary says that my Father and I went to Cheltenham on the 13th of March to see a horse called Baulking Green, owned by a distant relative, win the Foxhunters’ Chase for amateur riders and later that month Ayala won the Grand National just beating Carrickbeg ridden by the late Lord Oaksey.

Richard Fonge


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