Roy Baxter's Memories of His Life at Church Farm
Written in August 2015
I was born 11th May 1939, in Lichfield. Church Farm, Whittington is home.
Sydney Baxter & Ida Baxter were my parents. My father was from Cheshire, he bought the farm in 1919 and moved in 1920, he came here because his brother Thomas Baxter came to farm at Freeford. My father’s brother was one of the first in the country to grow sugar beet and he eventually became the Chairman of the Milk Marketing Board.
As far back as I have looked, my family has been in agriculture. Baxters were originally from Appleton, in North Cheshire. All in and around that area.
Dad bought the farm, the year his father died. My father was the first in the family to buy a farm. His father was a tenant farmer. It was seen as better to put the money into livestock because land hasn’t always been a good thing, a lot of landlords went out of business years ago – farming was that hard, tenants would just abandon it. When they wanted to let a farm they would offer 2 or 3 years rent free, just to find someone to take it on.
He inherited the money to buy Church Farm when his father died. The Dyott’s sold a lot of land and farms in 1919 in lieu of Death Duties.
My father didn’t get married until 1934, when he was 49 years old and my mother was in her mid-20s. When he came here he was a bachelor for 16 years. He had a housekeeper, Miss Platt. She didn’t last long when my mother married him!
During the War, the War Ag [War Agricultural Executive Committee] dictated what went on. They had the power to make you plough your pasture up for crops and they could tell you what crops you’d got to grow. It was all about increasing food supplies.
Farming was a good living during the war, but as soon as the War ended, the prices fell. It was a simple supply and demand situation. As soon as the foreign imports came in the price dropped.
Church Farm was mostly a dairy farm, but my father grew potatoes, carrots, grass, wheat and barley. He had some sheep, pigs, hens, everything. Farming was very mixed in those days. It’s only during my lifetime, when it’s become specialised. Those farms that didn’t specialise disappeared.
He had a milk round, he used to bottle it, but some of it was ladled straight from the churns. We’ve still got some of the unused bottles in the cellar. The milk would go around on the back of a pony and float. In the morning they did the village and in the afternoon they did the Barracks. There was a lot of people at the Barracks in those days.
Belle Wincup and Cath Carol used to deliver the milk. Belle came to stay with us during the War. There was a time or two when Belle stopped at the Barracks to have a cup of tea and the pony walked itself home!
There was another occasion when it had been raining heavily and the weights and measures official reported my father for selling diluted milk. The headline in the paper was Pennies from Heaven!
They also had a little milk round on a bike with a big frame on the front. It covered Darnford Lane and Whittington Common Road, the cyclist was Hotch Biggin who lived at Brewery Farm.
It all finished in the 1950s. There was competition. It was a lot of work, getting the money in, counting the money etc. He sold it to Midland Counties Dairies, the local dairy at Shortbutts Lane (before that they were opposite the Friary Girls School in the centre of Lichfield). They sent some churns, we filled them up and off it went on a lorry. The Milk Board were the middlemen between the farmer and the dairy.
I was 15 when my father died. My elder brother, Sidney Gordon, was 18 and we both took it on. We had to do, there was no-one else to do it.
I worked with my brother until he got killed in a car crash. We had another farm at Rugeley. We farmed together, the two farms as one. We shared everything. We were tenants at the farm at Rugeley.
We had about 4 men working for us. In my dad’s day he would have had about a dozen.
When we set out there was very little in terms of pesticides, it was just getting going in the 1950s.
I can remember the horses, there were two left when I was a boy. They were Shire Horses one was called Captain and one was called Prince. But during the war we first had tractors, subsidised by the government to increase productivity. The men had gone to war, so they needed them. In earlier days they would have had 6 heavy horses.
I can remember going to the dances at the old Church Hall. It was a wooden hut. Everybody cried it down, but during the war that building gave a lot of pleasure to a lot of people. There was nothing else.
We used to go swimming in the canal. We used to go down by the Swan. There were other lads down there. I played cricket for the village from time to time, when they were short.
I went away to boarding school between the ages of 8 and 16. I went a primary school in Lichfield called Miss Barry’s, where the Garrick theatre is now. It became Borrowcop School.
Then I went to Smallwood Manor, then I went to Grammar School at Peterborough. I didn’t get in to Lichfield Grammer School because I couldn’t pass the 11 plus. My father knew the headmaster at Peterborough, they were desperate to find some boarders to keep it going. So I didn’t have to pass the 11 plus.
I started off in 1A, the second year I went to 2B and in the third year I went to 3C! I didn’t really enjoy school. It was a strict school, I had the cane many a time. Good thing as well.
I used to come home for school holidays, they used to pick me up from the train station. I used to muck in on the farm a bit, but not too much.
Going away meant that I didn’t know too many in the village. I was in the church choir, so I knew a few there. We used to go on Church outings to Skegness. I knew Rose Beckett very well because her Dad was my Dad’s foreman.
As kids we used to live on bikes. Peterborough is very flat country. We had school Saturday mornings and we had to go to Peterborough Cathedral on Sundays. It was a cathedral school really. The choristers boarded.
Parents did their shopping at Wighams in Lichfield and Manley’s the butcher, there was a pork butcher called Quantrills by the Old Crown. This was a working farm, there was no shortage of fruit and veg, although this was supplemented by Iversons and Locks. Now it’s all lawn, but in years gone by it was either orchard or vegetables. They made butter here, they made cheese. It’s never been a gentleman’s residence.
The farm workers tended the veg, and they took some of the crop home. In latter years Charlie Boston next door used to bring us runner beans – he had more than he knew what to do with!
Bread came from Aston’s or Garrett’s who used to deliver it. We used to go to Lichfield once a week. It was either an Alvis or a Rover. He had it off Mr Linney at The Green.
I remember big presses in outbuildings next to the farm where they made the cheese. It stopped before I came along. My mother used to make butter, but that was only for her own consumption. There were old mangle chopping machines driven by belts and rolling machines for grinding your own corn.
We didn’t have many holidays. I never went abroad until I was 18 or 19. We had the odd trip to Blackpool. When we were older we’d go to the Tower Ballroom, find a girl to dance with.
I remember a lot of the old village characters. Tom Spinks and Ron Kerr, Erne Snape, Jack Smith, the postman.
The biggest change in the village has been the increase in traffic!
Some changes are for the better and some are not. There is still a fair bit of activity in the village which is good and most people are well behaved. People don’t drink like they used to. When you think there were 3 pubs and the Club. I’ve seen people stumbling from one side of the road to the other!
I remember Reverend Davis used to like a drink. The Sunday service was at 11 o’clock and we used to be in the Dog at 12:30 and he used to be a few yards behind!
I met my wife on a blind date, my mate Gerald Barlow had a girlfriend who introduced me to Jane. We both tagged along on this date and the rest is history. We were courting for about 18 months. I was 21 when I married.
We married at Tamworth in 1960. Her maiden name was Jane Moulton.
At one time I was on the committee of the Working Men’s Club, Tom Flaherty roped me in. Then someone else got me to go on the Parish Council, I was Chairman. I was a member of the Rural District Council, then I was a member of the District Council for some years, until my 3 girls grew up a bit and I decided to spend more time with them, so I packed it all in.
When it was just the Rural Council, 50% was Burntwood and 50% was the villages. When they joined up with the City Council it was 60% the city, 30% Burntwood and 10% the villages. I lost interest in it.
When they built the new precinct, they were building some toilets there, there was a big argument about it at the first meeting I went to and after 4 years they were still arguing about it. I don’t want to talk about bloody toilets! It was all Lichfield.
I was on the Whittington Parish Council for about 10-12 years. Other members of the council at this time were Mrs Jameson, Maurice Fisher, Ron Ferney. Harry Berks was the Clerk.
The two semi-detached houses on Back Lane were built as farm labourers’ cottages in the late 1960s. George Shanno worked at the farm as Cowman, he was a German prisoner of war who settled in the area after marrying a girl from Wolverhampton. He’s passed away now, his wife still lives there and she’s in her 90s. Mick Wood lives in the other one. They both worked for me for many years.
I stopped milking cows in 1990. One reason was staff issues, but the traffic was getting to be a big problem. We’ve got 50 acres attached to the farm and 200 acres elsewhere. We used to walk the cows up Cappers Hill to get to the pasture, but with the increased traffic it was becoming a real problem.
I still farm, I have a contractor, Wylies at Hopwas, to do it all. I pay him to plough it the sow it, to spray it, to combine it and to store the corn and then I get paid for the corn.
I’m a member of Whittington Golf Club. I’ve been a member for years. My dad was President and Captain at the golf club. My wife played up at the club, she played with Valerie Horton, Bill Pass’s daughter.
In those days the cattle market was at Lichfield (where the Tesco supermarket is now), then it moved to Fradley, I’d be up there twice a week. I used to go Uttoxeter as well, if the price was right for the cows, calves or lambs. Farmers mixed a lot there.
I knew the other village farmers, Horace Ball, Jim Cooper, Tom Cope at Huddlesford, Ted Barlow at Whittington Hurst Farm and John Gray at Sheepwash, but I didn’t have anything to do with them socially. They were a lot older than me.
Church Farm was built around 1780-1800. It was owned by the Levett family originally I believe, then when the Levett’s sold up, the Dyott’s bought what land they had.
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