Bringing in the Harvest

Bygone days

I received the following email from William Diment and it brought back memories of when we moved to Dunton in the 1950

‘I was watching a BBC TV programme of farming in Suffolk which reminded me of bygone Laindon.  It showed wheat farming of today with huge combine harvesters and compared it to the days of harvesting with a horse drawn reaper, which they said lasted up to the 1930s’.   Yet I remember this method being used locally even in the late 1930s’. 

I can recall in my younger days helping out with the harvest which used horse drawn reaper/binders to cut and bale the wheat into sheaves.  We would then make these into “wigwams” of 4 or 5 sheaves called ‘stooks’.   These would be left for a few days to completely dry out and then taken to dutch barns in the farmyard to await threshing.   Most local threshing was carried out by the Keeling families of Crays Hill and Basildon Rd.  The threshing machines were large trailers but without power and were driven by a huge belt drive from steam traction engines and the wheat separated from the chaff and the straw which was baled

The traction engines were then used to plough in the stubble and were fitted with huge drums of steel cable.  Two engines were used, on either side of the fields and the cable attached to a plough with a number of shares which was hauled back and forth between the two engines which moved forward after each ploughing.
It was an unforgettable sight, as were the Keeling men who on their nights out to the local hostelries were easily identified as they all dressed in navy blue serge suits with immaculate white mufflers, even in mid summer.

I can remember both Mr Andeson from Dunton Hall and Mr Robertson using reaper binders to bring in the corn (now called wheat), pulled behind a tractor and helping to collect the sheaves and make them into stokes. I can also remember working with the thrashing team in one of Mr Anderson’s fields the only difference from William’s recollection was that the Traction engine had been replaced with a Field Marshall Tractor.   

My only recollection of traction engines working commercially was watching them being used to break the pan (compaction of the ground) on Bulphan fen. I am reminded of this every time I travel along a road where a traction engine has passed and I hear the distinctive rumble caused by the indents left by the tread of their wheels.  

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  • Ian. I enjoyed reading that and it reminded me of the lovely cornfields that surrounded our garden. The one to the north, between us and the A127 was known as ‘Snaggs’ (now part of the Ford’s site). I loved that field. When the corn was high, it swayed in the wind and appeared to have waves rippling across it and we sometimes played hide and seek there. 

    I remember when I was about 10, walking between the rows of corn on my own one quiet day, when something directly in front of me seemed to ‘explode’. A pheasant had been hiding deep in the corn and wasn’t too pleased at being disturbed. It took off in a flurry of brown feathers, swearing at me in raucous ‘pheasant language’ as it soared into the sky, scaring me half to death and making my heart thump in shock. I sometimes also saw cute little harvest mice and always felt worried for them when the machines came to cut the corn. Do you remember when they used to burn the stubble? The clouds of black ash settled on our windows making a horrible mess and we had to keep them closed or it would have come inside. Thankfully, that practise is no longer allowed. 

    The field to the east of our garden known as Buckingham’s (where Bourne Close now stands) was ploughed each spring in the early fifties using a horse drawn plough. My dad used to chat across the hedge to the chap working the plough. I liked watching the horse swishing his tail at the flies that were annoying him. He couldn’t see me though, because working horses wore blinkers. 

    August was harvest time and I can remember my dad using a scythe to cut the long grass. I can almost smell the sweet scent of the hay that we played with until it was stored away in the shed for the winter. We once made a haystack near our swing. We would swing high and then jump off and land in the haystack. Great fun and lovely memories.

    By Nina Humphrey(née Burton) (12/07/2012)

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