Other Stan Clark Picture Stories

 

Painting of Threshing Scene Campion's Rick Yard, by Stan Clark.

This painting is to try and recapture by artistic licence, as to how the goings on looked like when I was a young boy growing up in Bugbrooke, this was when they were threshing the corn ricks by the use of a Allchin steam engine, I was told that this particular engine was built in Northampton in the late 1800s, it belonged to Bill and Mont Grant of Bugbrooke, who for many years travelled around to all the local villages threshing the farmerís corn ricks etc.

These engines needed great quantities of water along with coal, most farmers had at the ready a water tank upon a farm cart of sorts nearby to quench the thirsty engine, along with sacks of coal to keep the engine in steam, while it worked away driving the threshing box and elevator, the noise from the engine would change when the sheaves hit the drum inside the box, due to the riddles that were driven back and forth within the box, the motion would be transmitted through the driving belts from the box to the engine, or to the elevator, as the whole lot of equipment would be gently rocking back and forth, hence all the wooden blocks under all of the wheels of the threshing equipment and engine to stop things moving about or getting out of alignment, for if and when things moved the belt would not stay on the driving wheel.

The air would be filled with smells, not only from the smoke, and steam from the engine, but from the dust pouring out from every orifice on the box, not only were the riddled driven to sieve out the corn etc, there were fans that were driven around at great speed to create the drafts that were required to help sort the chaff from the wheat or corn, the noise from these fans and the noise from the drum, along with the changing tone from the engine, not forgetting the click-clacking sounds that came from the elevator that moved the straw from the box up onto the rick that was being constructed, was forever being constant, in the background orders from different people were being shouted out over the top of the noise from all the machinery, for all the belts that were driving parts of the elevator and box from the engine, had steel joints on them and these were to make a rhythm of clicking and clacking as they sped over the wheels that were driving or being driven.

One man would be constantly keeping an eye on the engine along with it needs, several people would be passing sheaves, up to the two men that worked on the top of the box, one of them would pass the sheaves to the person who fed them steadily into the drum, this was after the strings that held them together were cut and gathered up so they would not fall into the fast rotating threshing drum and clog it up,

One man would be at the rear of the box looking after the many sacks that were hanging under the different shutes where the thrashed grain steadily ran out into them, the ones on the right hand side were for the wheat grain, but the ones on the furthest left were for the fine seeds such as poppy seeds etc, they would have a set of scales with four half hundred weight weights and a twenty eight pound weight on them, for all the corn sacks were to be two and a quarter hundred weight each, to lift these sacks they would have a elevating sack barrow, where by winding a handle on the large sack barrow, lift the sack to shoulder height, this was to cut out the heavy lifting from off the floor, a very strong man could quite easily lift them up and carry them away, but on average it was normal practice to use the lift before carrying them to a wagon or farm cart of some sort, some men were expected to carry them across a rick yard, followed by carrying them up a flight of stairs to a granary store on the first floor of a barn, most of these flights of stairs to these granaries had no hand rails or whatever to stop you falling off them or down, while carrying the heavy sack, many a man has been ruined for life through mauling some of these heavy sacks about, along with the odd accident with them, the sacks from the left hand side of the box with the fine seeds in would weigh if full, three to four time the weight of a bag of corn, so they only quarter filled them to make it easer to move them about, the railway sacks always had a purple streak down the centre of them, whereby some of them had the name of the local miller on the sides of them, it was common practice to have 18st, bags of wheat, 16st, barley and oats, 21st, for field beans and peas, they took some man handling.

Some farmers saved or used the corn ricks as a means of raising money, especially at Michaelmas Day (the feast of St Michaelmas the 26th of September), this was to pay their rent, as this was normally done through the agriculture calendar, this was for those that did not own the land that they farmed, some local farms belonged to large estates, some belonged to the church, others belonged to different universities, be they from Oxford or Cambridge, there were very few that owned their own farm.

On the rick that had to be thrashed their were normally two to three men passing the sheaves towards, and up onto the box, one other very dirty and dusty job took another person full time, this was removing all the cavings from under the box from one of the riddles, these cavings were taken and stored in a barn, and later mixed with the cattle food during the winter months, they normally used a very large wicker basket or skip to carry them away in, for it was not a heavy job to do but extremely very dusty, I have known men or Land Army girls to go down with what they called Harvest Lung, through getting too much dust down them, some never really recovered from it and were never really any good health wise after, this job in later years was given to many of the prisoners of war, that worked on the farms, they wore different coloured patches on their clothing, with P.O.W. in black on a white background stitched onto one of their trouser legs.

On the rick itself that the straw was elevated up onto, that came out of the box, there could be as many as three to four persons doing this job, as one of them had to be very experienced in rick building for it could go drastically wrong if care was not taken, another job not particular heavy work but very skilful.

Many of the Land Army girls that worked on the farms wore their uniform but if they had intentions of going out to a dance or such likes in the evening, it was quite a common sight to see the girls with a turban like head dress on covering their hair, for they would come to work with rags or hair curlers in or whatever during the working day, for a Kathleen Faulkner (Nee Theobald), who worked on the farms when I was very young would tell me about many of the tricks they got up to, to save time in the evenings so as they could get off early to such dances etc or to see their boy friends, Kathleen Theobald first came to Kislingbury Land Army Camp, this was during the early war years, and from there to work for the Norman brothers, who were agriculture contractors, who worked from an old building at the bottom of Camp Hill Bugbrooke, Kath used to lodge with the Nightingale family at Bugbrooke Wharf.

The men always had a leather strap around their legs just under the knee, or top of their calves, it not only stopped the rats from running up there trousers legs, but to keep the bottom of their trousers up from out of the mud or muck that was normally about in and out the farm yard, most men wore a shirt without a collar, with a red neckerchief around their necks, this was to help stop dust or particle of wheat or chaff from falling down next to their skin, a waist coat with a watch chain from an eyelet leading to a pocket with the watch in it, this covered the braces that kept the trousers up that normally had a gusset that reached half way up their backs, along with a very wide leather belt hanging very loosely around their waist, that normally had a very large brass buckle to it, some of them could take this belt off so fast it was unbelievable, and catch you one with it, if you were to try and play them up in any way, some men who could not afford a pair of leather gaiters, would cut the tops from off a pair of old wellingtons, thus helping to keep the mud from off the bottom of their trousers, most men wore cloth caps at work, some an old army beret, and the odd one wore a bowler hat, to keep the dust and muck from out of their hair, old Bill Pool, Henry Jeffs and Mr Dent always wore bowler hats as to whatever they were doing, even for Sunday best they still wore hobnailed boots with a leather strap under the knee, for they came to chapel dressed like it when I was very young, as we were made to attend whether we liked to go or not, along with wearing our cleanest clothes, I think that it was one of the times in the week that mother and father had any peace from us all while we were in Chapel, for neither of those ever went.

From ploughing of the land to harrowing it down to a fine tilt, to sowing the grain, along with tending to it as it grew, followed reaping it when it was ripe enough, be it by a horse drawn binder as some farmers still did when I was very young, or to be pulled by one of the lease lend tractors from America, from the stacking of the sheaves from the binder into stooks to help keep them dry ready to be collected either by horse and cart, or trailer and tractor, and taken to the rick yards to be stacked into ricks ready for threshing time or such likes, when the stacks were completed old Mr Bill Pool would be kept very busy thatching them, from start to finish it was a very labour intensive job, for during the early war years when many men had gone from Bugbrooke into the army, they would allow the senior classes out from school to go and help get the harvest in, us younger ones were sent out picking Rose Hips and Black Berries etc, for what I really enjoyed doing as it was better than being in school as I found it so restrictive.

In the painting are some old stacks stools some have been knocked down, that in the past they always built round tapered ricks on, they tapered outwards hence helping to keep the rick dry in wet weather, along with very thick thatching on the top of them, these stack stools were used not only used to keep the ricks up from of the floor, to stop the damp or away from the flooding of surface water, but to help stop rats and mice from getting into them, from seeing them still standing with oak beams traversing from the centre out and from stack stool to stack stool around the outside, these oak supports were covered very thickly in black thorn browse to stop any other animals from tunnelling up into the Rick from underneath such as badgers and foxes, lots of these old stack stools were broken up and used for repairing sandstone walls or buildings around the farm, or were placed in gardens or in front of houses within the village as ornaments.

The old men used to tell me in the early days they would come with horse draw stationary steam engines and threshing box, along with an elevator, this was before the days of the likes of Bill and Mont Grant with their traction engine.

I was told that they stored the crop not only in ricks in the rick yard, but inside of either sides of the very large barns that stood within the farms, these large barns had large doors either side that they opened up to help blow away the dust and chaff in the winter months when they would thrash the corn from out of the sheaves on the barn floor, this was with flails, to separate the corn from the chaff they put it through a hand cranked Winnowing machine, that dressed the wheat by separating the chaff, along with different sized sieves within the machine separating stones, thistle heads etc, producing clean grain to be stored, or took to the local mill.

After the harvest was taken from the fields, it was normal practice to hang a sheaf of corn on the field gate, this was to signify that you could start and glean the field; this practice had gone on for thousands of years, it is mentioned it the book of Leviticus Chapter, 19, verses 10-11, we are told how the custom or practice became about, the best loved Bible story of gleaning is found in the book of Ruth Chapter, 2, verse 3. And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thy harvest, thou shall leave them for the poor and of the sojourner".

For myself in my early youth during the second world war, I was often taken into the harvest fields, to help glean, for my first recollections of doing this was to finish up with very sore and bleeding legs where the stubble had pierced and scratched my legs, but after having my legs covered with sacking, as well as learning to shomack along instead of stepping, stopping my legs from getting sore, the job became quite pleasant to do collecting many ears of corn, but I think that we will be one of the last generations to go gleaning in the fields.

Every harvest Festival in my youth that was held in Bugbrooke Baptist Chapel, Mr Campion would always let me carry a sheaf of corn that he presented for this festival; I always looked forward year in and year out doing so.

From threshing wheat, with the different types of riddles that are needed to do so, along with the understanding of the different methods of threshing of oats, barley, beans, or threshing for small seeds, there was so much to learn and do with lots of adjustments that have to be made on the workings of the box to get a good result at the end of threshing, be it fitting different riddles or opening shutters to control the different strengths of draft that is needed to help separate chaff etc along with the maintenance of all the equipment.

With the changes of working patterns in agriculture over the years, from information reaped by talking to many of the old timers, they talked about the Saxon ridge and furrow, that was left in the fields from their method of tilling the land, along with keeping it drained, along with many tales from feudal times on the land, and of the ways of paying rent or such as tithes, they talked of the days when the Saxons ploughed with oxen, until the Vikings came and brought with them what we now know as Suffolk Punch Horse's, and others with Pecheron horses from France, (William the Conquerors time).

In the painting, a field that has ridge and furrows on it is called the Banks. Also in the same field next to the track way that led to the water meadows, was a spring that never stopped running, Mr Campion once told me that during the medieval period, this spring once fed several fish ponds, that were situated in the very next field, the earth works from them can be seen to stand out on some aerial photographs.

Stanley Joseph Clark.