"Memories of Maisemore 1944-1947" - a short history by Norman Taylor

I first became acquainted with the village of Maisemore in March 1944 as a fifteen years old boy who had spent the previous eight years in Catholic orphanages following the death of my mother in 1934. At the age of fourteen I had been sent from an orphanage in London to Blaisdon Hall which at that time was run by the Catholic Salesian organization, teaching boys the rudiments of a trade that would enable them to obtain employment after two years training.

I was born in London’s East End and my knowledge and interest in the agricultural industry was zero. Nevertheless, the authorities at Blaisdon Hall decided that I was to become a farm worker, and they set about training me in the basic skills that would hopefully enable me to be useful to any farmer wishing to employ me. And so it was in March 1944, that I was told by the Rector of Blaisdon Hall that a job on a farm in Maisemore had been found for me, and I would be collected by my employer the next day.

The following morning my employer arrived at the entrance to Blaisdon Hall with his wife in his large rather large impressive motor car to collect me and my few belongings to commence my employment on his farm in the village of Maisemore. My employer’s name was Mr.Walter Brown and his wife’s name was Nell, and the farm that he occupied was Bellhouse farm.

My knowledge of the county of Gloucestershire was scant, and my first question to Mr. Brown was “Where is the village of Maisemore?” and how far was it from Gloucester. I was delighted to learn that Maisemore was only two miles from Gloucester. This was good news to me as Gloucester represented the only centre of civilisation that I was aware of since leaving London.

Bellhouse farm was a dairy farm and occupied fifty three acres. Mr. Brown was a tenant farmer and he rented the land from the Church Commissioners. The farm buildings were mainly constructed of wood, were in excellent condition, and they had been built to a high standard. There was a good water supply to the farm, and the water was connected to the drinking troughs in the fields grazed by the cattle. Mains electricity was also connected to the farmhouse and farm buildings. The farm had the appearance of being well managed. Just prior to my arrival at Bellhouse farm a modern dairy had been built. The new dairy was equipped with a boiler to generate steam for sterilizing the milking machines, cooler, milk churns and all other ancillary equipment, and also to provide hot water. On the farm at Blaydon we had a similar boiler, and as I had previous experience in using this type of boiler I was told that the operation of the boiler was now my responsibility. At five a.m. on my first full day at Bellhouse Farm, I filled the boiler with water to the correct level in the sight glass, laid and lit the fire, raised steam and to the amazement of Mr. Brown and his wife the boiler did not explode.

Mr. Walter Brown was born in 1889 in Westgate Street Gloucester. He was a self-made man and he was proud of his rise from humble beginnings. In addition to Bellhouse farm, he owned property in Gloucester and in Ledbury. He joined the army at the outbreak of World War One, but he was discharged from the army because of his skills in horse management and training. The army required a constant supply of horses, and men who could identify a good horse and buy it at the right price, and train the horse to the required standard. Walter Brown was the man to do this job for the army.

Mrs. Brown was born in Much Marcle, Herefordshire in 1888. Mr. and Mrs. Brown married in 1909, and in 1910 their daughter also named Nell was born. They took over the tenancy of Bellhouse farm in the early 1920s. There was also one other employee at Bellhouse Farm. His name was Arthur Powell and he began his employment with Mr. Brown in 1924. When I arrived, Arthur was sixty four years old, and he had served for twenty four years. Sometime during those twenty years Arthur had lost an eye. This was caused by the horns of a cow gouging out his eye. In those days there was no right to compensation. Arthur bore his disability stoically, and he always wore a patch to cover his missing eye. He always said that the Browns had promised to take care of him. Arthur was unmarried, and as far as I was aware he had no other relatives other than a brother who had a tobacconist shop in Colchester. Some years after I had left Maisemore I did visit Arthur’s brother in Colchester.

Mr. and Mrs. Brown’s daughter Nell married Clifford Jones of English Bicknor. They had two boys. The eldest boy’s name was Norman. I am unable to recall the younger boy’s name. Mr. and Mrs. Brown loved their family and they idolized their two grandsons.

Mr. Jones was a haulage contractor and his business was based in the village of English Bicknor. His main business was the haulage of coal from the coal mines in the Forest of Dean to factories and businesses in the West Midlands area. Clifford Jones was a son of the Forest of Dean, a natural born forester.

Every day including Sunday I would hitch the trailer to the car, load the full milk churns onto the trailer and Mr. Brown would take the milk in the dairy in Gloucester. During the week he would attend to his business in Gloucester.

Each changing season brought with it different jobs. During the winter our main duty was to ensure that the cattle were well cared for, and that we were able to maximize output from each cow to take advantage of the high price paid by Milk Marketing Board during the winter months. In summer months we gathered in the hay, built a large hayrick, and ensured that we had sufficient feed to see us through the winter months. At other times we cleared the ditches, cut back the hedges and maintained and weather-proofed the farm buildings.

Eventually I felt the time had come for me to leave and return to London. In 1947 one could just not walk away from a job in agriculture. In force at the time was something called “The Control of Engagements Order” This in effect meant that it was not possible to leave a job that came within the scope of the order without written permission of the Ministry of Labour. My eighteenth birthday was in June 1946 and I was confidently expecting to be called up for military service with the army.

Mr. Brown had told me that he did not want to lose me to the army and he had written to the Ministry of Labour requesting my deferment. This decision did not please me. I handed in my notice in May 1947and decision was not well received. On my final morning at Bellhouse Farm, Mr. Brown drove me to Gloucester station and when I held out my hand to say good bye “He told me to bugger off”. I have reflected often on the final comment he made to me, and I now believe I understand why he said it to me. I believe that I had disappointed him in leaving. He had often spoken to me about developing his business interest in haulage, and I was to become part of this new enterprise. However that was not to be. Opportunities arose during my working life and I became successful in another enterprise altogether.

Before I leave the story of Bellhouse farm, I must mention the terrible winter and flood of 1947. In mid January we were struck by one of the heaviest snow storms in living memory. The snow was up to four feet deep in exposed places, and fortunately all our cattle were in close proximity to farm and they were therefore easy to bring into cover. The snow and bitter weather continued for two months across the whole country leading to power cuts and coal shortages. These were the days before our homes were centrally heated, and the majority of homes depended on a coal fire in the living room for heating and cooking. Many of the cottages in Maisemore had an oven adjacent to the fire, and this was for many the only source of cooking. Road gritting was unheard of in the 1940s. The continuous heavy snow and frost had made the roads impassable, making coal deliveries impossible. The situation for many villagers was desperate as the continuing cold weather ate into their meagre coal and wood supplies. Farmers in the area helped out with any wood that could be spared. Eventually the snows melted bring with it the flood of spring 1947. Before the rains came the weather had turned milder, melting the snow and giving us a chance to allow the heifers we had in the sheds to graze the fields adjacent to the banks of the River Severn. Our grazing land extended from Maisemore Bridge all the way to Over Bridge. It is a narrow strip of land and because of its closeness to the river is always liable to flood. The heifers had been taken to these fields because there was some fresh grass available after the snow had melted. This decision was driven by the need to find feed for the cattle. We were desperately short of hay. We had taken the cattle down there in the morning at first light and by mid-morning we had been alerted that the Spring tides were coming up the River Severn. The cattle had made their way up towards the Over Bridge end of the field. The water was rising fast and was already too deep to take the car into. I managed to open the gate on to the road and call out to the cattle. Fortunately, they responded to my call and with the river rising we managed to bring them back over Maisemore Bridge up the hill and to safety. To this day I still wonder how we achieved this without Walter Brown or myself drowning.

Before The Bellhouse became a farm it had served as an Ale and Cider House. One of the brick built buildings remained during my time there equipped to make cider. It had a large circular stone trough and in the trough was an enormous stone wheel with a thick pole through the centre. This would allow the breast of the horse to be attached to the pole, and for someone to lead the horse round and round until the cider apples were crushed. Primitive, but an effective method to crush the apples to make cider. 1916 saw the introduction of reduced opening hours for Public Houses and the demise of the Bellhouse followed. The third Public House was the large house close to the opening that leads up to St. Giles Church. I do not know the history of this house.

Despite the passage of time I still have many memories of some of the families who lived in the village. Some unfortunately I am unable to recall others remain firmly in my memory. One family that comes instantly to mind is Mr. and Mrs. Richings. Mr. Richings was one half of the haulage and bus company Richings and Battershell. The business was situated in Staunton and for the lorries the main business was collecting the milk from the many dairy farms in the area. The milk was collected from the farm gate in ten-gallon churns and each lorry always carried a full load. Ten gallons of milk weighs over one hundred pounds and with the additional weight of the churn to lift, the driver would know that he had done a day’s work. Each lorry was manned by the driver only. The milk would be taken to the Cadbury dairy at Frampton on Severn. The buses owned by Richings and Battershell would supplement the services operated by the Bristol Omnibus Company.

The Bristol omnibus company buses that served Maisemore in the 1940s were very infrequent. Two buses in the morning, the first bus to Gloucester was at 6.40am the next at 10.30. The afternoon services were at 1.50pm, and 6pm, and 10pm. Last bus from Gloucester to Ledbury was 10pm. Two daily services in each direction between Staunton and Gloucester were provided by Richings and Battershell. Petrol was strictly rationed and only farmers and other persons on essential war work qualified for a petrol allocation. Petrol was not available for shopping trips. The majority of people had to use the bus for business or pleasure. Petrol for military use had red dye added and petrol for civilian use was clear. If a car was stopped by the police the petrol tank, if the police had any suspicion that the petrol been obtained on the black market, would be dipped to ascertain if the petrol had obtained legally. If there was red petrol in the tank the police would impound the car and make further enquiries.

When I arrived in Maisemore in 1944, traffic through the village was very sparse. The majority of drivers of motor vehicles passing through would be known to the villagers and the drivers would acknowledge the friendly wave accorded to them as they passed by. Buses passed through the village with timekeeping accurate to the minute. Not possessing a watch, I would know the time of day simply by seeing a bus passing through the village. The only people who owned cars were farmers and business men. Occasionally there would be a car parked in front of the White Hart Public house and its appearance on the car park would provoke curiosity from the pub patrons.

The White Hart was the social centre of the village. The majority of its patrons would be farm workers and others of similar occupations. Few people had radios and fewer had a telephone installed. Television was unknown. A television service had existed in the London area from 1936 until it was suspended at the outbreak of war in September 1939. It is doubtful if anyone in the village had ever seen a television set or a television programme. The young people would congregate around the pub car park, there being nowhere else for them to go.

Amongst the visitors to the White Hart would be U.S. servicemen who were based at Highnam Court. They were welcomed by the villagers, particularly the girls. They always brought with them items that were very scarce or rationed: candy Bars, cigarettes, tinned meat and fruit. These items made them very welcome customers, and the gifts they brought would be a supplement to the weekly rations. Today with the Government spending vast sums of money publishing the dangers of cigarettes and alcohol, it is strange to remember a time when both these items were in short supply. If supplies of beer were short publicans would only serve their regular customers. Likewise, tobacconists would keep their supplies under the counter reserved for regulars only. Drugs and drug dealers were unknown. There was the occasional dance in the village hall. The dance music was provided by a radiogram playing the latest dance music. The records would be 78 R.P.M. lasting about three minutes. L.P.s and C.D. were twenty years in the future. The village hall was a timber built construction adjacent to the pub. I never attended any functions that were held in the village hall and it wasn’t because I thought I would be made unwelcome. On the contrary I am sure I would have received a warm welcome. The problem was due to my background. The majority of people were born either in Maisemore or one of the villages close by. Many of the families were related to one and other. This made it difficult for an outsider without a family to make friends.

Orphaned and abandoned children rarely ever left the confines of their orphanages. In the two years I was residing in Blaisdon I visited Gloucester no more than three times. When a child left care, learning how to integrate into the local community was difficult. My cockney accent didn’t help me when I spoke to local people. Unlike today when a standard nationwide English accent seems to be the norm, in those far off days regional accents and local accents were very strong and could not be diluted by school and the broadcasting media. The majority of Maisemore people spoke with a clear Gloucestershire burr interspersed with local words that I was not familiar with. This accent would acquire subtle variation around different parts of the county. My accent on the other hand was pure cockney and it did not blend well with the accent of the local people.

The majority of farms in the Maisemore and Hartpury area specialized in milk and beef production. At the beginning of the war the government set up the War Agricultural Committees. These committees had wide ranging legal and enforcement powers and they would tell farmers what crops they should grow and how their farms should be managed. The government’s aim in setting up these committees and giving them the wide range powers that they did was to ensure that the land available for food production was maximized and effectively managed. Today these committees would be known as Quangos. Members were not elected by the farmers, but were invited by the government appointed chairmen to sit as committee members. The usual appointees were the large land owners who could if necessary bring the small tenant farmer into line if they became obstructive. War Ags as they were known were not popular with the farming community at large. Salaried agricultural specialists had powers to “Walk” any farm after giving one week’s notice to the farmer and order the farmer to put more land under the plough. I can still remember our inspections at Bellhouse Farm. Walter Brown would instruct me to accompany him when our farm was inspected. My job was to open the farm gates and ensure that the inspector had an unimpeded walk around the farm. I did not have any input into any decisions. However, the day before the inspection I would be detailed to cut down all the thistles and weeds in the grazing fields. Weed killing solutions to the problem of weeds were still a glint in the scientist eye.

We always came through these inspections with flying colours. Our fifty-three acres supported up to twenty milking cows, plus at least ten heifers and calves. Our stock was pure pedigree Friesian and its blood line was well respected. We had ten acres under the plough growing root crops for winter feed, and three horses to do the heavy work. During haymaking Walter Brown would employ one or two villagers to help gather in the hay and bring into the rick yard. One man I remember was Mr.Jackson. He was a shift worker in a factory in Gloucester and in his younger days he had been a farm worker so he was ready-trained for the job. Mr. Jackson’s house was one of the terraces of red brick houses at the top of the hill. They may have been built by the local authority in the late twenties or early thirties to relieve the housing shortage.

Wages in the agricultural industry were low. Wages were controlled by the Agricultural Wages Board and the board was made up of farmers, trade union representatives and a senior civil servant from the ministry of labour. In 1944 a skilled farm worker would be paid £3.15s per 48-hour week. Some farmers did pay overtime; many did not including my employer. Saturday morning was part of the working week, and premium time should be paid after one o’clock. My first week’s wage when I began my employment was 12/6 per week (62½p ) plus board and lodgings. There were no contracts of employment in the 1940s detailing the terms and conditions of work. Many men and women employed on dairy farms worked long hours and weekends without payment. One of the problems that made farm workers compliant with the farmers wishes was the tied cottage. The threat of homelessness was an effective way to make employees accept these unfair conditions. A farm worker could be dismissed at an hour’s notice.

Although I never socialised with many people in the village I still have fond memories of the kindness and friendliness of many people in the village. Maybe they sympathised with my circumstances. Amongst the families I remember for kindness are the Cottrells, the Bubbs, the Hammonds and the Browns, no relation to my employer.

Every morning at 6am the red van stopped outside Maisemore Post Office. The Postman Master / Postman Mr. Etheridge would be waiting for the mail to be handed over to him. Winter or Summer the same ritual would occur daily. Today it is hard to believe that despite all the problems that the Post Office must have had during the war years, the mail always arrived on time, every village no matter how small it was had a post office, and the villagers could receive their pension in cash, buy stamps and send parcels confident that these items would, baring enemy action intervening, be delivered the next day.

At 7.30 am Mr. Etheridge would start his deliveries. Always smartly dressed in his uniform and wearing his cap and with the mail secured in the front carrier of his post office issued bicycle, he would commence his deliveries. The post office was situated directly in front of Bellhouse so our mail was always number one delivery. The post office only dealt with the normal business of a post office. In my time at Maisemore it was never a shop. By the very nature of his job, he was the guardian of many village secrets. His discretion was legendary and any gossip he heard whilst carrying out his duties remained with him.

In 1944 the blackout regulations were still in force. After dark the whole of the country would be in total darkness. Mr. Driver was the local special constable and he would patrol the village looking for any visible lights. Mr. Driver taught at the village school. School children would walk to school; the school run was still very much in the future.

I cannot recall there ever being any crime in the village. The nearest police house was in Hartpury and the local constable who lived there would confer with Mr. Driver to find out if anyone unknown to them had moved into the village. As a newcomer to the village, it was only a matter of time before I would be asked to identify myself. It happened to me quite early. I had been to the cinema in Gloucester and as I approached the White Hart pub I could see the constable standing with Mr. Driver. I knew immediately knew that I would be spoken to. The constable stepped out in front of me and asked me my name and where I lived. He was already well aware who I was as he had been informed of my presence in the village in advance by Mr.Driver. I told him my name and where I lived. He asked me where I had lived before coming to the village. He asked if we had any problems with the gypsies. I replied that we had a few camping on the field close to Over bridge, but they had since moved on. He then allowed me to pass by.

Maisemore like the rest of the country in 1944 was at peace with itself. Its people knew that whatever the crisis, help would always be generously given by their neighbours. In the three years I lived in Maisemore I cannot recall anyone’s property being illegally entered or livestock stolen. It seems incredible today to make such a statement bearing in mind that the blackout regulations were rigorously enforced and the village was in total darkness.

By 1947 I felt that the time had come for me to move on. I was aware from the earliest days of working on a farm, that it was not the career for me. Since leaving Maisemore I have always had a desire to return and visit the village that I called home for three years. Perhaps one day I will realise my ambition.


Norman Taylor

January 2009

[ Footnote: Mr Taylor indeed fulfilled his wish in 2012 coming to the village, meeting some of the residents, and enjoying scones and tea! ]