By Sally Duffy
My dad, Aubrey Leadbetter has been regaling “Rye’s Own” for a few years now with stories of his life in Rye. I always buy “Rye’s Own” to read what he’s written and your other regular writers, Jimper and Arthur, but reading your July issue, something caught my eye ‘The Dick Bryant Comunique’. I wasn’t just reading about somebody else’s past, it was part of my past too.
My Mum Phyllis (or Irene) Leadbetter used to work at Clifton’s. Ivy Barden was her sister, they were Irving girls before they were married and I remember some of those ladies that Dick Bryant mentioned. Grace Wilkinson (my mum always called her Wilkie) Ethel Johnson and Marg Bryant.
We were the next generation, the kids that spent all our holidays helping out for pocket money. Terry Barden, me (Sally Leadbetter), Wendy Wilkinson and a few others. When we weren’t picking up potatoes we were allowed to play for a little while. Our favourite place was the barn, climbing up the bales of hay. They were oblong bales, not the big round ones you see these days.
I remember one summer Jeremy Sinden, the actor (son of Donald Sinden) spent a few days out in the fields, he was staying with some people in Appledore, he didn’t want anything to do with us though.
I think the foreman/bus driver’s name was Bill Elliot (not the one of dancing fame). He used to pick us up in an old Dengate bus with wooden seats, but that was part of the excitement, bouncing along the old Canal Road to go to work.
Mr Clifton used to have a big house up on the bank just before you get to Appledore and every year he grew his daffodils marked out on the lawn with the name ‘Clifton’. A partner of Mr. Clifton, I can’t remember his name, used to get on the bus some evenings before we went home and sell us green tomatoes. When they ripened they were the best tomatoes I have ever tasted.
There was an old Shire Horse, used to pull the plough and dig up the potatoes. We would follow him with wire baskets, picking up the potatoes as we went along. I remember the horse was called ‘Captain’, I was terrified of him.
There was a variety of jobs to do at Cliftons, as well as potato picking there was potato and bulb planting and then daffodil and tulip picking. I remember they were picked and bunched in twelves. Daffodils had to look like Swan’s necks, if not they were not ready for picking. These were the main jobs. Maize picking, turnip spudding and one done in freezing conditions, picking sprouts.
Most jobs were ‘piece work’ in those days. Payment was made for the number of sacks filled or the number of bunches picked. I remember one summer, I had my own ‘wage packet’ for sorting bulbs for drying out. I was quite rich for a couple of weeks. I think I must have been eleven at the time.
Most of these things that I remember took place between 1956 and 1959.
Over the years my mum had lots of different jobs for other farmers, apple picking, plum picking, thistle spudding, hop picking and hop training. Because the work was seasonal, by moving around they could guarantee work for most of the year. Cliftons is the place that I have the most memories of. Sadly, mum fell over at work a few years later and badly injured her leg. She was never able to work out on the land again but used to tell everyone that they were “The happiest years of my life”.
Sally Duffy (nee Leadbetter) New Addington
Still a Ryer at heart
“Rye’s Own” November 2009
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