Crowle at War: Part 10. Dietry Supplements – submitted by Bill Goldthorp
All the lads were at it. I firstly with my cockerels and two year old hens. We all were after rabbits and woodpigeons, which the farmers regarded as pests. Rabbits at first without much success trying to use snares. Then my father bought me a Webley air rifle for a birthday present. My rabbit total suddenly shot up. At eight years old I knew how to finish a rabbit of with a rabbit chop to the back of its neck. A penknife quickly gutted it. Rabbits had to be gutted immediately other wise the meat went off. When I got home, mother expected me to skin and decapitate it as well so that it was ready for the oven. Wood pigeons had to be dressed, that is plucked and gutted.
Harvesting was still binding, stooking, and gathering and stack construction followed by threshing in the winter.
Binding as the binder got closer to the centre the rabbits and hares were concentrated. The cutting of the corn had destroyed their runs and they were disorientated. The call would go out, Mr. So & So is cutting his 15-acre on Godnow Road, he should finish this afternoon. All the local lads armed with stack pegs and their mongrels would congregate. one side would be covered by a man and shotgun, the other three by urchins and dogs. When the disorientated rabbits broke cover very few reached safety.
Very few people fished the canal, dykes and clay pits; all the large fish we caught were taken home for dinner.
In summer, when the miners in nearby Thorne, Barnby Dun and other mining towns around Doncaster had their summer holidays large numbers came and camped in fields around Crowle Wharf and the woods that can still be found on the Belton Road on the other side of the river Torne, beyond what is now the Hirst Priory Golf Club. They spent their days fishing and their nights in the pubs at Crowle Wharf. The local potato and pea fields were raided but the farmers just regarded them as another disease to be put up with.
The summer school holidays were reduced to four weeks and an extra holiday for two weeks arranged for late September and early October, the potato-picking season. I had my first job at eight years of age earning the magnificent total of seven shillings and sixpence a week. I did not get it the farmer gave it to my mother. I set off on my bike to a field on Crowle hill, with a thermos of hot tea and a sandwich lunch. We were in teams of three. The youngest boys and girls of 8 to 11 at the front. My job was to pick up all the free potatoes in my section of the row and put them into a large wickerwork potato basket. Full it was far too heavy for me to lift. A farm worker came and emptied into a cart for me. Next came a girl of 12 to 14, her job was to pick all the free potatoes in her section and all those sticking out of the soil in both our sections. Finally there was a woman who picked all visible potatoes and broke down the outside furrows to remove any potatoes there. Then the field was harrowed and we covered the field in a line picking any potatoes we could see. Again the field was harrowed at right angles to the first harrowing and we went over it again picking any remaining potatoes.
The next two years I worked unpaid with my cousin Arthur at Boltgate. I stayed with my aunt Nellie at Boltgate cottage. Arthur and I were each in charge of a horse and cart, thereby relieving a man for a heavier job elsewhere. Standing alongside a carthorse at the age of nine was a bit like an adult male standing alongside an elephant. Fortunately they were friendly beasts, especially Gypsy, Bob and Duke. Gypsy was an old dear but we both hated Queenie who was difficult and fractious with a tendency to bolt at the slightest noise. We had a couple of old Fordson tractors if one of them backfired Queenie was of like a rocket.
We solved that predicament, instead of trying to quieten Queenie, if sitting on the cart we promptly bailed out over the back and left her own devices. With a cartload of potatoes scattered all over the field it did not endear us to our fathers but eventually had the desired effect we were banned from looking after Queenie.
Our duties. A “potato pie” was built at one side of the field. We drove the horse and cart from the pie to where the pickers were working, and then led the horse at the front of them while farm-workers emptied the baskets into the cart. When full we drove the cart back to the pie, about 5foot high and six foot wide, backed the horse until the cart was near the pie. Removed a steel pin at the back, the cart swung down and the potatoes poured onto the heap. The cart was so finely balanced that when empty it swung back into its normal position and we inserted the steel rod to keep it there. We then drove the cart back for another load. The pie would be covered by a thick layer of straw and two rows of earth clods to hold the straw in position. When potato picking was over the pie would be totally covered in earth to make it frost proof.
When the time came for marketing a gang would open the pie and using a hand driven riddle the potatoes would be prepared for bagging. All the dirt and small pig potatoes fell through the riddle any damaged potatoes removed and the rest sent to market.