Photo: Illustrative image for the 'LIFE AT BUTLERS - 02' page

What was there

By Martin Edgar


If you came from Rochford on the Sutton road, fork left past Sutton and its early Norman church, and down the road to Shopland and Great Wakering, you got to Butlers after about two miles from Rochford. This was Essex marshes country, flat and open with the roads and hedges dotted with elm trees, and there was also the occasional small wood. Those elm trees which were such a feature have now all gone, killed by Dutch elm disease.

The farm was about 400 acres or more, going down to the Creek as we called it (actually the River Roach), where it was protected from flooding at high tide by the sea wall. Just on the far side of the sea wall was a small wharf, where (so we understood) Thames barges used to come down with muck from the London stables, and go back with cargos of corn. Beyond that, saltings stretched out to the middle of the river. You would see mallard, redshank, curlew, and shelduck regularly, and flocks of teal, widgeon and various geese would overwinter before returning to their breeding grounds in northern climes in the spring.

Part of the land inside the old sea wall was old saltings and pure clay, which we called "the Marsh" and was fit only for rough grazing. This was bounded on the farm side by the remains of an old sea wall, now just a low rampart and covered in bramble bushes, - and home to some badgers and plenty of rabbits. The rest of the farm was mostly fine brick earth, but some such as Cow Meadow was definitely on the clay side.

There was a fine four square Georgian house, built in about 1720, made with a timber frame (said to be old ships timbers) and white painted weatherboard on the outside. One result of this was that the house was always slightly on the move, and we always had draughts. Quite noticeable in the early days of no electricity and no central heating - we didn't get electricity until 1947. From the road there was a gravel drive, lined by daffodils in each spring. Mother had planted them. The drive then crossed the moat which went round two sides of the house and garden, and then curled round in front of the house and went through the gate to the farmyard at the back. A separate drive ("The Chase") ran from the road by a different route to the farmyard and farm buildings, for use by farm traffic.

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'LIFE AT BUTLERS - 02' page

The front garden consisted of a long lawn running down to the moat, with a handsome cedar tree to the far right, and Mother's herbaceous border running down on the left. The Shrubbery bordered the drive on the right, consisting of trees and some specimen shrubs, all very shady. The Little Garden round the corner of the house was a small lawn running to the edge of the moat (quite close to the house there) where there was an old garden shed. In fact, it was an old privy - a three holer, two adults and a child - built on the edge of the moat and to overhang it.

From the back door of the house, a path led down to the brick chitting shed, so called because seed potatoes were laid out on wooden slatted trays in winter, stacked on top of each other. The potatoes would start to sprout ("chit") before being planted out in April. That way, you got an earlier crop, and hopefully better prices. On the left of the path was a large Victoria plum tree. It was here that, during the War, we had the air raid shelter, a mound on top, dug down under two feet of earth. Inside there were two parallel tiers of bunk beds, sleeping four or six. I slept only a few nights down there, but it was quite exciting. On the right of the path was the apple orchard, with a mix of early (James Grieve), main crop (mostly Cox's Orange Pippins) and Bramley cooking apples.

Behind the chitting shed was the kitchen garden, fenced off to keep the rabbits out. There were the usual vegetables, and quite a large walk-in cage of wire netting on posts, where the raspberries, redcurrents, blackcurrents and gooseberries grew.

The main farm buildings were:

A traditional great barn, probably centuries old. Bridget held her wedding reception there, all decorated with cut branches of flowering cherry and apple. We Young Farmers held occasional dances of a summer evening, with straw bales for seating.

Two brick cowsheds on opposite sides of their own rectangular yard, with a bull pen on the end of the far cowshed.

Then there were stables for eight horses, various sheds for tractors, two or three four wheeled wagons with their elegant lines and some two wheeled carts (all horse drawn), and farm machinery such as ploughs, a binder for cutting corn and binding it into sheaves, a drill for seeding land, a machine for breaking up cake for cattle feed, a riddle for grading potatoes and separating earth lumps, etc.

There were also the chitting shed and a separate smaller brick barn near the cowsheds where feed for the stock was kept. Out by the stables there were two smaller yards used for overwintering stock, particularly young heifers before they came into milk.

The big barn, the stables and associated yards and sheds were all thatched, which was replaced by asbestos sheeting in the 1960's. Ian has a late watercolour of these sheds in their thatched, but then rather dilapidated, state.

One relic of early days was an old shepherd's cabin - a large shed on wheels, tarred for weatherproofing, which could be taken out by horse and be overnight accommodation for the shepherd in lambing time. In fact all the wooden buildings, such as the great barn, used to be tarred every few years.

Opposite the great barn was an open space - Stack Yard, where there is a modern reinforced concrete barn these days. This was where the sheaves of corn were carted in by horse drawn wagon at harvest time, and stacks built, by pitching the individual sheaves from the wagon onto a mechanical elevator, from where they dropped onto the growing stack. There was a gang of three there, one at the bottom of the elevator (my job) to pitch the sheaf to the second in the middle, who pitched it on to the man (usually the foreman, Walter Cadge) working round the outside edge to make the stack. The trick was to start on the outside ring and get those firm and tight, butt end of the sheaf pointing out, and then fill to the middle while keeping the stack square, gradually building it out so that the bottom kept dry in the rain, and then bringing it in to make a sloping roof. That would then be thatched with straw.

The hen house was also in Stack Yard, home for a couple of dozen Rhode Island Reds. We had to shut them up every night in the hen house, as otherwise a fox would get them. Somebody forgot one night, and the carnage caused by a single fox has to be seen to be believed. We only kept the laying hens for one year, and then they went for the pot. New day old chicks would be bought, and sent to us in a cardboard box by rail, and we brought them on. We would get a phone call from Rochford Station that they had arrived, and would collect ours from a pile of cheeping boxes on the station platform.

The hayricks were put on the open ground beside the Chase just before you get to Alfred Martin's cottage on the bend. They were used for winter feed for the young stock in the yards. We used to cut squares out of them with a hay knife — about 30" long and quite wide with a cross handle at the top. So you set it vertical, and using your weight push it down and up to cut out the square of hay.

Just by the road, in the angle between the drive and the chase, there was a small wooden hut. This was the "mission", and home to one of those strange East Anglian non-conformist sects. I seem to remember that the Andrews had something to do with setting it up, or perhaps supported it. At any rate, most of the families on the farm went to it, and Walter Cadge became minister to the congregation, among his other responsibilities as Foreman on the farm.

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'LIFE AT BUTLERS - 02' page



Chapter title, click title to go there


01How we got there
02What was there 
03 Early years
04 The war
05 Peacetime
07Year 1950 
08Year 1953, and working at home 
09End piece - clay soil and what to do 
10Years 1954 to 1957 
12Editorial postscript
all chaptersLife at Butlers - the complete 12 part article  
This page was added by Bob Stephen on 14/09/2018.
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