Faces of farming’s past are brought back into focus

Farming nostalgia UGC  Harvest at Speeton  Chris Coleman Church Farm Speeton
Farming nostalgia UGC Harvest at Speeton Chris Coleman Church Farm Speeton
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IT MAY be some time off harvest season right now but that hasn’t stopped us looking back at what the busiest time of the year was like for yester year’s farmers this weekend.

Courtesy of some quite brilliant photographic submissions, dug from the family archives of Country Week readers, the pictures featured here show some of the graft – and the more relaxed moments – of harvest time in the 1930s.

Threshing day

Threshing day

The star image this time is one of many sent in by Chris Coleman, 85, of Church Farm, Speeton, near Filey, North Yorkshire, whose mother Bessie Coleman captured some wonderful shots of her family – including a young Mr Coleman – on the farm with her Box Brownie camera.

The main picture featured above shows Mr Coleman (far left) aged just five at the time on the farm in September 1935. He is sat alongside (from left to right) his father Arthur Coleman, Arthur Potter, Dorothy Potter, his late sister Judy Coleman and Mary Johnson.

A touching family scene, it depicts “lowance” time, the time allotted to the workers in the harvest field to have a short rest and an opportunity for some refreshments. Typically, the workers would down tools and pause for a well-earned drink of hot tea served from stone jugs and would eat a snack to keep them going until the evening.

Often the food would be bacon pie and then some cake or maybe a scone.

The Coleman family's new tractor in 1939

The Coleman family's new tractor in 1939

The group’s backrest is a “stook” of wheat sheaves which would have been cut earlier in the harvest period and left to ripen and dry in the field. Afterwards, the workers in this photograph would have loaded the stooks onto carts or “rulleys”, to be taken back to the farm yard and be stacked and stored, until needed.

Another of Mr Coleman’s family shots depicts him and his father cutting wheat in August 1939 using a Case model D tractor which was new in May that year. It was the first tractor that the family had owned, everything previously having been done with horses.

The machine behind the tractor is a Massey Harris Binder, which cuts the wheat and ties it into sheaves, which then had to be hand stacked into stooks.

Mr Coleman said his memories of being part of a farming family as a child growing up in the 1930s are dominated by the transition from working with horses to working with machinery; the work being “hard, physical and unrelenting”, and of handling the wheat sheaves and getting prickled by all the thistles that were mixed in with the wheat.

Inman Brothers butchers shop in Norton.

Inman Brothers butchers shop in Norton.

It was always a nice feeling when the ladies brought the “lowance” to the field, Mr Coleman said, adding: “Contrary to the recent images of Poldark, the men always kept their shirts on despite the hard graft!”

Another Country Week reader, Donald Jack, aged 84, who is still involved in farming as a partner in an arable, beef and sheep operation run with his stepson at Sheriff Hutton near York, shared his memories of starting out in farming in the same era.

“We used to work from 7am to 8pm. I would mainly be stooking all day. I was 16 when I started learning farming in 1947 and when I was about 30 I bought my own farm at Welburn.

“It took a bit of back work back then. When tractors came the horses disappeared from farms very quickly and once we got to 1960 there weren’t any left.

“I enjoyed harvesting. If the weather was right it was a nice job even though it was hard work. Every farm had two or three workers in the fields, even the smaller ones so you wouldn’t be on your own.

“Farming has changed from a heavily manual effort into a much more sophisticated way of going about things now.”

The busiest day on the farm each summer used to be known as threshing day – and that’s what is captured in the crowded photograph submitted by Alan Jones of Malton.

The photograph was one of a wad sent in by Mr Jones whose letter told of how he came about this and the many other images in his collection: “In the 1970s a certain Mr Reg Turner was clearing out his family joiners shop at Bridge Foot, Castlegate, Malton. He told a friend, Alan Gibson and I that he had found a stack of old glass photographer’s plates and he was getting rid of them into the nearby River Derwent!

“Alan and I took him straight down to his workshop and I came away with about 50 plates. I then got Michael Scales, our local photographer, to print them up. Not knowing anything about them I put them into a ring binder and lent them to the pubs for customers to comment.”

A curious tale in itself! His picture featured here was taken by Randolf C. Smith of Malton between 1900 and 1920.

A second picture from his collection is shown. Who knows what health and safety officials would make of a scene like this nowadays, but it may cause your stomach to rumble at the prospect of so much meat.

The photograph shows the store front of Inman Brothers, a well-known local family butcher’s shop in Commercial Street, Norton. How times have changed. The very same building is now occupied by a Chinese takeaway, Mr Jones writes.

Share your farming memories

We are keen to continue to take retrospective glances at farming’s great past in future editions of Country Week and would love to receive more of your photographs.

Whether they are images of farm work being undertaken in the fields, the pens or the parlours, all will be considered for publication in what we hope will become a regular slot.

To submit your pictures, please write to: Ben Barnett, The Yorkshire Post, Country Week, 26 Whitehall Road, Leeds, LS12 1BE.

If sending pictures electronically, email ben.barnett@jpress.co.uk

Please remember to include a description of the content and full contact details. All photographs sent by post will be returned.