A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode
George Barton (1922-1999) gave a talk to the Slimbridge Historical Society entitled:
‘From Horse to Tractor – An Account of Farming in the 1920’s, 1930’s and 1940’s’
‘I have been in farming all my life, and when my brother Jack became an agricultural engineer and my brother Norman an industrial photographer, I was obliged to stay at home and work on the farm. I was fifteen and a half years old.
We managed 56 acres at Narles Farm – a part of the Berkeley Estate, 20 acres Cory Cam Estate, 17 and a half acres of Canal Bank stretching from Shepherd’s Patch Bridge to Purton and 8 acres in Slimbridge.
As was customary, Shire Horses were used for heavy work and Welsh Cobs for riding and driving. The vehicles used were:
The Shire Horse was very important and in the 1930’s some farmers in the Berkeley Vale formed the Berkeley Heavy Horse Society, of which my father, Mr E.P. Barton, was the Chairman. Their object was to improve the breed. The stallion, Theale Camrose, was hired from Mr Cumber of Theale, Bucks. To travel the area. It stayed one night a week at Narles Farm where there was a secure lockable stable. The groom was Mr Bill Browning of Berkeley. The United Horse Societies of Gloucestershire including Berkeley Heavy Horse Society held a sale of foals in Gloucester Market in 1938.
The Farming Year began after Harvest. All operations were carried out with horse drawn implements and the farmer walked behind.
1st Skimming. The two blades of the machine cut just below the stubble which was allowed to dry, chain harrowed then burnt.
2nd Manure Hauling. Manure from the previous season was tipped in small piles over the field and scattered with a hand fork.
3rd Ploughing. A single furrow plough was used drawn by two horses. Kell of Gloucester and Ransome of Ipswich were the makers. It was important to roll ploughing with a ring roller in dry weather as soon as possible to prevent baking. To plough an acre was considered a fair day’s work for a full time carter.
4th Harrowing. The rolled field was harrowed to break down earth to a good seed bed.
5th Drilling. A Kell horse drawn 11 or 13 coulter drill of simple construction was used. A spindle went the length of the seed box. It had discs at intervals which were welded on, on which there were small spoons. These picked up the grain and tipped it into cups attached to chutes and went down to the coulters. Drive was taken from one ground wheel. Amounts of grain were controlled by varying sized cogs attached to the spindle. The ground was harrowed immediately afterwards and left loose until spring when it was firmly rolled to discourage wire worm. An old adage went: ‘Wheat after oats for ever, after barley never’
Early on in the Second World War the Aberystwyth Plant Breeding Station produced two new varieties of oats:
S147 with soft straw suitable for cattle feed.
S172 with very hard straw used for winter bedding
Also a winter hardy barley which made autumn planting possible instead of waiting for uncertain spring wather and also a long strawed wheat ideal for thatching ricks of hay, corn or horse beans.
6th Reaping. The outside swath was cut by hook and crook and was tied by hand into sheaves. Then came the horse drawn reaper which had adjustable fans which turned the cut corn on to a flat canvas which carried it between two elevator canvasses to the knotter which tied up the sheaves with a single string. A spring loaded lever engaged the drive from a ground wheel. Great care was taken to put the lever in a neutral position before.
Sheaves were put up in stooks before hauling for corn to dry and to prevent over-heating in the stack. Traditionally oats stayed out for three Sundays. Sheaves were hauled on wagons to the barn to await Mr Blunsdon’s Threashing Machine and workers – usually in a dry spell in winter. In wartime, wives of local factory workers helped, together with three land girls. A man stood high on the Threashing Machine cutting strings and feeding sheaves into a drum, seed grain came out in four chutes, two first grade, one chipped grain and one fine waste seeds. Straw was tied by two strings into botings (probably spelt bolting – a bolt being a tied up bundle of osiers) and stored.
Corn sacks were hired from Coaley Junction LMS Railway Station, Gopsill Brown – a sack contractor from Gloucester – and from the West of England Sack Contractors in Sharpness. Each bag contained four bushels i.e. oats one and a half cwt, barley two cwt, wheat two and a quarter cwt. Full sacks were loaded on to a cart and stored in sheds or sold immediately to Workmans at Draycott flour mill or to animal feed compounders.
I went to Draycott with horse and cart to get broad bran and wheatings – bi products of milling, to feed our pigs and horses. During the war about 30 acres were under corn by order, which entailed three days threashing.
Later we used an early model Claas Combine Harvester owned by Mr Brunsdon. It was towed by a Field Marshall Tractor and powered by a David Brown Engine. The threashing was carried out whilst moving. Full sacks were tied and stored on the deck – a railed platform – then transferred to a waiting trolley.
The first tractors that I remember in the parish were:
My first tractor was a Henry Ford. For a few years I used a Massey Harris Self Propelled Combine Harvester with bagger.
The hay-making season was in June and July. Horses pulling the mower were a little difficult on the first dew rounds. Machines were lighter because a driver on a seat at the back counter – balanced the pole attached between two horses. A swath turner turned each individual swath, two at a time for drying. A tedding machine tossed the drying hay, two ranks at a time. A side rake moved the hay when dry into lines – brays. I remember three different types of hay loader towed behind hay wagons – requiring two sure-footed workers on a wagon to cope with the hay coming over.
An alternative was a sweep pulled by two horses forcing the hay into piles to be tidied up into haycocks. Later a tractor push sweep was constructed for moving hay to a rick being built in a field. The rick was thatched by a thatching contractor as soon as it settled. A friend boasted about his new tractor push sweep and invited my father to see it. My father took a tape, pencil and paper at the ready and took its measurements. He returned home and made his own out of a railway sleeper and two pieces of pickled timber.
Later hay was pushed to a stationary baler in the field. Each conventional bale was tied with two wires inserted by hand into the machine. Later still, bales were automatically tied with string. The wire baler was a Fisher Humphries and the string baler was a Jones, made in North Wales’.
‘George spent the first five years of his life in the cottage next door to the Forge. He won a scholarship to Dursley Grammar School and passed the Oxford Examination with excellent results. The headmaster wished him to go to the Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester but he had to stop at home and help with the farming as the family had moved to Narles Farm, Cambridge, in 1927. George improved his knowledge and skills by attending classes and successfully passing examinations organised by the Berkeley Hunt Agricultural Society. He was Chairman of the Young Farmers’ Club when it was established in Dursley and meetings were held in the Secondary School.
When his father attended Gloucester Market or farm sales George carried on with the seasonal work – ploughing, sowing, reaping, mowing, and caring for the cattle, sheep and pigs. He enjoyed considerable success in local Agricultural Shows and gymkhanas, particularly at Brookethorpe. He enjoyed following the Berkeley Hunt on horseback and later in his Land Rover.
George returned to Slimbridge after his father’s death in 1977. The major part of the machinery and animals was sold from the farm. George retained a nucleus of 12 young heifers to start his own business since the land – other than the farm estate – was retained.
He took great pleasure in the appearance and quality of his animals, and pride when the price for his heifers topped the market. He especially enjoyed walking on a clear fresh day through his fields at Shepherd’s Patch and along the canal bank towards Purton to see them.
He was a keen naturalist and often came home with news of interesting newly arrived birds, of foxes and any unusual flowers. He regretted that he no longer saw skeins of geese flying over to the hills as in the past. Since retiring his new delight was in the Historical Society and in gardening. George enjoyed meeting people, chatting about old times or present developments. His ready smile, his genuine interest and quiet humour won him many hearts.’
Exceptionally good quality milk was the report of the judge, Mr Rowland H. Ellis in the Gloucestershire Root, Fruit and Grain Society’s milk competitions, the results of which have just been announced. The number of entries in some classes, he states, was disappointing, but in the Cadbury Class the entries were very good when the national circumstances were taken into account. The continuance of the competitions acted as a great stimulus for the production of high quality milk, and the Society was rendering good service to the community by its work in this direction.
The results were:
Cadbury Class: 1, Mr C.J. Merrett, Overton Farm, Arlingham; 2. Mr. E.P. Barton, Narles Farm, Cambridge; 3. Mr Cyril Dowdeswell, Manor Farm, Whitminster…………..’
In 1965 Percy Barton featured as ‘Personality of the Week’ in the local newspaper:
‘Once again the name of Percy Barton figured prominently in the list of prize-winners at Berkeley Show – as it has been doing for the past 40 or 50 years. Seventy-four year old Mr Barton of Narles Farm, Cambridge, can’t really remember when he first entered his stock at the show – but he can recall driving a mare and colt down the quiet country lane’ which is now the A38 to take his first prize.
A drawerful of rosettes and prize-cards testify to Mr Barton’s success at shows. This year he competed at Brookthorpe, Stroud, Painswick and Berkeley and took prizes with Guernsey, Ayrshire, and Jersey cows and heifers and Suffolk ewes. To wind up a typically successful season Mr Barton carried off the Crosfield and Bodey Challenge Cup at Berkeley for most points in the Cattle, Sheep and Pigs sections.
Mr Barton was one of twelve children of a Slimbridge blacksmith and his interest in stock breeding began at the early age of twelve when he bought three ewes at three guineas each.
Mighty oaks from little acorns grow, and slowly Mr Barton built up flocks of sheep, herds of cattle, stables of horses, and a knowledge of farming and the farrier’s skill which were the envy of many local farmers.
Discounting an enforced break in the War years he has been keeping sheep now for sixty-two years: ‘Long enough to learn a little about them’ – admits Mr Barton.
But the interest of this true West Country man does not stop simply at farming. Hunting has always played an important part in Mr Barton’s life and like his brother Frank he was for many years a regular rider to the Berkeley.
Last winter Mr Barton intended to start hunting again, but a car accident laid him low, and a leg injury prevented him in partaking of what he admits to be his favourite sport.
Mr Barton scoffs at the recent threats of hunt saboteurs, ‘Ridiculous and absurd’, says Mr Barton, ‘If they can find any cruelty in hunting, I can’t and I have been watching the sport since I was a boy’.
A man of strong and forthright views Mr Barton also had a word to say about the perpetrators of the ‘evil disease’ myxoematosis. ‘A cruel and disgusting way of killing anything,’ is how Mr Barton describes it,’ and if the hunt saboteurs wanted to turn their energies to something they should have turned them to this.
Many a happy hour could be spent in Percy Barton’s company simply listening to his tales of yesteryear. Who for instance would have imagined that Percy Barton actually helped a team of steeplejacks to replace the weather cock on Slimbridge when the church was renovated many years ago.’ They wanted an extra man so I said I’d help,’ recounted Mr Barton, ‘I must admit it was rather nerve-wracking – and we were relieved when we got the thing up there.’
Then again Mr Barton tells a humorous story of how he saved a man from drowning in the canal. Having seen the man fall in Mr Barton rushed to the spot, and all that was visible was the tip of his fishing rod.
Grasping this he slowly pulled upwards, and on the end was the man, bound up in his own fishing line. Having successfully brought the poor fellow round, Mr Barton was amazed to hear him request complete silence about the incident. ‘If my wife got to hear,’ he said, ‘she would never let me come fishing again.’
Despite his leg trouble Mr Barton is already looking forward to a season of Old Tyme Dancing, as President of the Dursley club. So too his thoughts are turning to the round of shows next year. Local farmers had better look out, Percy Barton probably intends to retain the Challenge Cup’
Percy Barton of Narles Farm, Cambridge
Citizen 17th August 1964:
‘Cow won a prize and then gave birth to a calf – top class animals at Painswick Show. A Jersey heifer belonging to Mr E.P. Barton of Narles Farm, Cambridge, missed the parade of prize winning cattle at Painswick Show, on Saturday. Soon after leaving the judging ring, the heifer, “Twilight 3rd” calved. “The birth was perfectly normal and the calf is a fine animal,” a Citizen reporter was told.
With one more animal than he had brought, and a second prize for “Twilight 3rd” in the class for heifer-in-calf, Mr Barton left the show well satisfied.’
‘Show’s Happiest Event – Soon after Mr E.P. Barton’s prizewinning Jersey cow, ‘Twilight 3rd’, had been judged at Painswick Show she gave birth to a calf. That’s why she missed the parade of prizewinning cattle! Mr Barton farms at Narles Farm, Cambridge (Glos.)’
Citizen 8th June 1965:
‘Mr E.P. Barton (right) of Narles Farm, Cambridge, Gloucestershire, with “Beauty”, the Guernsey which won first prize in the Channel Island class at Brookethorpe Show. On the left is Mr Barton’s son, Mr E.G. Barton, with “Aretta”, winner of first prize in the Ayrshire class’
’83-years-old Percy enjoys his weekly old tyme dance. It was business before pleasure for 83-years-old Mr Percy Barton on Tuesday. Instead of attending the weekly Old Tyme dance at St Dominic’s Hall, Dursley, he had to attend to one of his cows due to calf that night.
But on Saturday there was a gala occasion specially planned by the Dursley Gay Nineties Club in honour of Percy’s birthday. At 83 he is the doyen of the club.
Mr Barton first learned to tread the “light fantastic” as a schoolboy of 12. His tutor was his school teacher at Slimbridge, Miss Theresa Pick. She was a stickler for dance floor discipline and insisted on the boys approaching their partners with a polite “May I have the pleasure” and return them back to their seats when the music stopped.
The first steps Percy learned were those of the Lancers. It has remained one of his favourites ever since along with the Destiny Waltz and the Velita. Percy of the Gay Nineties has never lost the twinkle from his toes – nor the sparkle from his eyes.
He has lost count of the number of dancing “pumps” he has worn out. In fact shoe wear became such a costly item he replaced them with a pair of special horsehide shoes that saw years of service.
Percy’s keep fit motto for the younger generation is “Eat when you’re hungry, drink when your dry, carry on dancing and live till you die.”
It is a formula that has paid off for Percy. He is up every morning before six to “do the rounds” of cows and sheep at Narles Farm, Cambridge, where he lives with his bachelor son, George.
Spring is an especially busy time on the farm with the lambing well advanced as well as the kitchen garden to see to. This spring has had its problems with a large toll of young lambs taken by foxes, another the victim of an attack by a dog.
At his home, this week, Mr Barton introduced the Gazette reporter to his pet lamb, orphaned when her mother committed the fatal error of getting on her back.
Another of his animal friends was his black Gloucester bull who has left his identity chalked on the white tails of all his progeny basking in the warm sunshine in a nearby field.
There’s nothing Percy doesn’t know about bringing young animals into the world and rearing them so it’s hardly surprising to him when he gets a midnight telephone call as he does asking for “Gloucester Maternity Hospital”.
But when the beck and call of his day with his animals is over there’s nothing he likes better than to cast off his working clothes and prepare for an evening on the dance floor…beat out that rhythm of the drum… and he’s never short of a partner.
It’s dancing that keeps 83 year old Percy Barton “on his toes”. Here he is partnering Mrs Gay Dowdswell, M.C. of the Gay Nineties dance club.’
‘Doyen of the Gay Nineties and Modern Sequence Dancing Club, Mr Percy Barton, was given a surprise gala party for his 83rd birthday recently. Here he is pictured with Club members at their Ball at the Lister Hall, Dursley, on Saturday.’
Charles Martell of the Gloucester Cattle Society – Dymock Herd – has written in ‘Tales of Gloucesters – The rescue of a cattle breed’:
‘I met my first Old Gloucester – a bull at Percy Barton’s farm at Cambridge near Slimbridge, when I was going round the local farms to look for broody hens to incubate the duck and goose eggs at the Wildfowl Trust. This was around 1966 just after the Hon R.H. Bathurst’s sale of his Gloucester cattle where Percy’s bull had originated. But Percy always insisted the bull came from ‘the late Lord Bathurst’s sale.’
The bull – he was never named – lived in a rough pen tied together with string in the corner of the cow yard. He must have been very placid because he could have just walked out, but didn’t. The bull was the sire of Gossington William and Noent Bigarreau Napoleon. In the milking shed I found Percy’s cows tied up and there at the end of the standing were a couple of black Gloucester cows. There was something magical about that moment – as if I was touching an intangible part of our local history that had all but disappeared and maybe it was then that I decided Gloucesters were for me.’