Jim Bentley’s memoirs Part 1 The farming year at Manor Farm, Thurgarton

Jim Bentley was the youngest of seven children whose parents, Ernest and Ida Bentley, farmed Manor Farm in Thurgarton.

Jim Bentley between his parents with Philip, John, Ernest, Hilda, Rene and Mary -taken on Ernest’s 21st birthday

Jim’s memoirs of his early life in Thurgarton provide us with a first hand account of farming and village life from the 1920s to the end of World War 2. They extend to thirty close typed pages and fall naturally into four sections :-    1) a record of the farming year, 2)  life in the farmhouse,  3) life in the  the village and 4) memories of World War 2   His memoirs will be presented in these four parts with some minor editing. The photographs have been kindly provided by his sister Mary and by Brenda Allwood whose family ran the neighbouring Priory Farm.

Part 1 – The farming year at Manor Farm, Thurgarton 

Manor Farm was rented from Trinity College, Cambridge by our grandfather, Robert Bentley, around 1900 after moving from Park Farm, Woodborough. Ernest Bentley, our dad, took it over prior to the outbreak of the First World War: he was helped by his two brothers, Robert and John. Robert was killed in 1915, aged twenty-five, at Thurgarton blacksmith shop by one of the farm horses – Prince.  John William Bentley joined the Rifle Brigade and was killed in 1916 aged 20 at Ypres, Belgium.

Wedding of Jim’s parents -Ida and Ernest Bentley

Manor Farm at Thurgarton was a mixed farm of over 300 acres with hay meadows of many luscious grasses and wild flowers, grazing fields and arable land where they grew wheat, barley, oats, rye, clover and silage, potatoes, sugar beet, turnips, mangolds and swedes. During the war rape seed and flax were also grown as well as peas and tick beans for animal feed.

All the fields had names: – The Paddock, Cow Close, The Plot, Little Tylers, Big Tylers, Little Bontibrigg, Big Bontibrig, Rye Close, Ghent’s Field, Bookers, 21 acres, Swales, Bottom Meadow, and several more. Crops were grown in a four year cycle – wheat fist year, clover second year, oats barley or rye third year and in the fourth sugar beet, potatoes, mangolds etc and then it all started again.

Hay time and harvest were the busiest time of the year.  In June the hay meadows were cut in the early morning with a mower drawn by two horses. Later in the day, if the weather was right, the hay was turned by hand or a hay tedder drawn by one horse. In the evening it was either raked by a horse rake or put into swathes by a swathe turner. It was then put into haycocks by hand with a hayfork ready to be loaded onto the wagons and brought to the farmyard and stacked as winter feed for the cattle and horses.

A full hay wagon at Manor farm – Mary Bentley is holding the horse

August saw the start of corn harvest; wheat, barley, oats and rye, when ripe, were cut by a binder drawn by three horses. Before they could start the field had to be opened up  – enough room for three horses had to be cut by scythe all around the field edge and the corn tied into sheaves by hand. The binder then cut the corn and tied it into sheaves which had to be stooked up by hand, left to dry out and then carted in wagons back to the farmyard and put into corn stacks.

Opening the field –by hand

These were then thatched for protection against the winter weather. Before the binder a Sail Reaper, drawn by horses, was used; this only cut the corn into swathes, it didn’t tie it into sheaves. Years later the combine harvester took over.

Sail reaper on Priory Farm (Mr Allwood)

Autumn was also a very busy time. The fruit in the orchard- apples, pears, damsons and plums all had to be picked. In the fields potatoes were dug out by a potato spinner and then picked by hand into buckets, loaded into carts and then sorted and stored. Likewise the sugar beet, turnips, swedes and mangolds were picked by hand and carted off and stored before winter. Kale was also grown and cut as required.

During winter threshing days came round which meant a job for everyone.  Peter Massey and his two brothers, Matt and Philip, would arrive with their steam traction engine, threshing machine or drum, straw elevator (picker), straw chopper or trusser depending on which type of straw you required. One corn stack per day was threshed. There were lots of rats and mice and that’s where the cats and dogs came in. You had to tie your trouser bottoms up if you didn’t want a rat or mouse running up your leg- it did happen sometimes.

The threshing machine consisted of about 12 men and boys – two or three on the corn stack; two on the drum one who cut the binder string and the other to feed the sheaves into the drum; two or three on the corn stack; one to tie off and weigh the sacks of corn; one to remove the chaff; one to carry water to the steam engine; and one to mind the engine and keep the coal fired up – all in all it was dusty noisy hard work. Several visits were made to the farm by the threshing set during autumn, winter and spring until all the corn in the Dutch barn, in the farmyard and in the fields was gone; usually about 25 stacks in all each year.


There were six working horses, Clydesdales, six young horses, colts and fillies; two bred each year on the farm. The horses had names – Bonny, Flower, Blossom, Prince, Duke, smart, Violet, Beauty, Jewel, jubilee, tinker, gypsy, Nettle, daisy and Bouncer are just some of the names I remember; these gentle giants worked the farm for over fifty years.

Bonny, Blossom and Flower on Manor Farm, Thurgarton  1927
Ploughing match at Thurgarton – Mr Allwood, Priory Farm

There were twelve to fourteen milking cows, Lincolnshire Reds, and about a dozen calves were reared at any one time; also about fifty beef cattle – Aberdeen Angus, with a Leicester Red and an Aberdeen Angus bull for breeding. We also kept half a dozen large white pigs for breeding, around a hundred Border Leicester ewes with a Hampshire ram, fifty Rhode Island Red hens, two Collie dogs and ten cats made up the remainder of our animals. The horses and cows were brought in from the fields at 6o’clock in the morning. The horses were fed , groomed and harnassed ready for the day’s work. The cows were fed and milked by hand twice every day, seven days a week and fifty two weeks a year.

Bringing in the cows

The milk was first put through a sieve or milk sile into a churn. It was then put through a cooler which was a corrugated box with cold water from the well running inside as the milk ran down outside the corrugations into the churns. The churns were collected every morning by Wheldon’s lorry from Nottingham. The milk delivery round the village (about half a dozen houses) was carried in metal cans and measured out in pint and half pints into their jugs – no milk bottles or cartons.

During winter all the animals, except the sheep, were kept in their respective stables, sheds or crew yard which had to be cleaned out twice a day and fresh straw put down. The sheep were kept near the farm buildings and had hay or straw stacks for shelter in winter. It was one long battle in winter to keep the animals contented but come the spring when they were all let out again into the fields, they would all hop skip and jump, happy to be free once more.

In the late spring, after lambing time, the sheep had to be sheared of their wool. In summer they were dipped to prevent ticks and maggots and to prevent foot rot their hooves were trimmed with a knife.

Sheep shearing on Priory Farm (Mr Allwood)

Every year we killed a pig for our own use; it didn’t seem right to me to fuss and spoil a pig to fatten it up and then kill it. I hated to hear the squeals of the dying pig – no stun guns in those days. It made a lot of work with sausages to make, pork pies, pigs fry and chitterlings. Sides of bacon and hams were salted then hung on hooks in the kitchen to dry out before being stored away – no refrigerators. 

All had to be done in one day but the end result was enjoyed by all. They said that the only part of the pig that was wasted was the squeal- the trotters, ears, snout, tail and brains were all used, as was the head. A plate of pigs fry, sausage or chitterlings was taken to each of the old people of the village.

Horsepower and machines

Bringing the loaded wagons down Thurgarton Hill was always a bit of a trauma. You had to stop at the top of the hill and scotch one of the rear wagon wheels with a drag or slipper which prevented the wheel from turning and the wagon wouldn’t overrun the two horses – the one in the shafts and the other trace or gear horse. At the bottom of the hill the slipper, which had become red hot, had to be removed without burning your fingers.

A most pleasant sight in the village was the timber wagons which came from Nottingham to haul tree trunks from the woods and farms. They were pulled by up to eight Clydesdales, depending on the size of the tree trunks, and to watch them passing through the village was a lovely sight. 

Tree felling, Thurgarton 1912

The first tractor we had was an old International with iron wheels; as well as cultivating and ploughing it was also used for driving a saw bench when cutting logs for winter. Just before World War 2 it was replaced by a Case tractor which had iron lugs on the wheels later converted to rubber tyres. One of its many tasks was to drive the silage machine which chopped up the silage and blew it up the long pipes on the outside of the silo (about 100ft) onto the top of the silo. Inside the silo about a dozen of us had to tread down the silage to pack it tight. We wore sacks over our heads and it wasn’t unusual to get hit on the head with the occasional stone. If you were picked to go into the silo you knew you were ‘ grown up’. It was a very dirty noisy job.

The first rubber- tyred cart we had on the farm was collected by me from Arnold Lodge Farm (Archie Huckerby’s farm) during the war. I had to take Jewel, a quiet gentle strawberry roan; we took a hay tedder from Thurgarton to Arnold and collected the rubber- tyred cart and brought it back to Manor Farm.

Autumn time and the ploughing season sometimes saw the steam cultivator engines. Two large Fowler engines stood on either side of the field and pulled an immense plough (eight furrows) to and fro. A steel rope was wound round a horizontal drum positioned below the boiler. An eight furrow plough could work eight acres in about five hours.

Jobs for all the family

Every morning before school there were jobs to be done – sticks, coal and logs to collect, milk to deliver in the village, the dogs to feed. After school there were mangolds to cut up and mixed with straw to feed the cattle; clover and hay to chop up for the horses , eggs to collect, the cows to bring in from the fields for milking, the horses to turn out into the fields after their days work, water to pump by hand for the animals, slabs of linseed and cotton cake to be crushed in a cake breaker and also the garden and lawn to look after – there was never a dull moment.

When not at school we picked up stones in the hay and corn fields before cutting commenced to prevent damage to the mower or binder blades. Also weeding out large weeds (fat hens) from the corn and root crops, singling out sugar beet, turnips, mangolds, kale and swedes and keeping the birds away from newly sewn seed with a pair of clappers similar to the ones one sees at football matches

Jobs for 12-14 year olds involved harnessing the horses with collars, bridles, saddle, breech band and reins and then taking the wagons out to the fields and bring back the loads of hay or corn to the farm – a round trip of up to 2 miles. Other jobs included hoeing, turning hay, harrowing with chain harrows, and rolling the corn and grass fields with a flat or Cambridge roller. After driving horses and wagons all day until nearly 11 o’clock at night in the summer months (even later with Double Summer Time in the war) you didn’t need much rocking to sleep.

Jobs for all ages

One thought on “Jim Bentley’s memoirs Part 1 The farming year at Manor Farm, Thurgarton

  1. This brings back memories of stacking corn sheaves and Mum making food and bottles of cold sweet tea that she took out to the field for Dad and Uncle Vernon. I think I remember threshing time but don’t think the threshing machine was steam driven, maybe I’m wrong?
    When it came to pig slaughtering day I too hated to hear the poor things sqealing and the smell of the hairs being burnt off the carcass so I would avoid being in the farmyard. Eiry

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *