The Stewart May Empire

Part Four

By Arthur Woodgate

Bert Tapp, his wife and daughters Molly and Alice lived in the cottage attached to our workshop in Flackely Ash. Bert was the Sharvels shepherd and stockman. His cottage had been so badly neglected that gaps had appeared in the fabric where it joined a grain store, and some rats had established themselves in the roof space above, and they could be seen through the gaps in Bert’s home which we dealt with. Now to get rid of the rats. We made some deep wooden bins and lined them with sheet metal. We put some grain on the bottom of one and locked up and went home for the night. In the morning there were some forty rats in the bin where they had dropped from the roof space, and of course they couldn’t climb up the metal, “so now what we do?” luckily Percy Bates happened to come along, and there wasn’t much about such things that Percy didn’t know. He took a look in the bin, and of course, listened to the squealing. He grabbed a suitable piece of wood from our stack of timber and said to us “Get a long stick each and keep those brutes away from my back” and he there upon jumped into the bin. The squealing increased as he lash out with his bat. He killed them all and we were left with a rather nasty mess to clear up, but when we had mended Berts house and decorated it, it was a far more pleasant pace to be in. Although in charge of the sheep in Peasmarsh, Bert had no dog. But he looked after his sheep and stock exceedingly well. One morning I saw Bert in an open shed with a ewe laying beside him on a big bed of straw. The pregnant sheep had broken a leg an Bert was very upset, and thinking of sending for a vet to put the animal down, and this would almost be like the end of the world to a shepherd as it would be like the loss of possible lamb as well. The loss of a lamb could be the loss of a bonus to a shepherd at that time but this was not the monte of Bert, because he had a lamb born with six legs, and was encouraged to keep it alive, for a peep, but he thought this to be unkind and sent for the vet in this case. The bone in the leg was broken all right but was still in line, so I thought I could help. At my request, Bert produced some stiff canvas and with some of this and lots of hop string, we were able to keep her leg in place, and she seemed quite comfortable, so I told Bert to put some straw bails around her and leave her where she was. If she went off her feed or got hot and bothered then send for the vet by all means, however she continued to eat and in due course produced a lovely lamb.

After Bert retired, he moved his family into a private house close to the “Horse and Cart” outside the ‘Empire’, but still close. Bill Stone Street who took over his stock and sheep had no dog either, he was not a well man, he did not move into the Shepperd’s house, nor did he do the job very long. Then a young man moved into do the job with his wife his and twin boys of about four years. He stayed about two years and although I can’t remember the family name, I got to know him very well. Although we never found out how, the twins got in our workshop one weekend, so when we went to work on the Monday morning all our small tools were missing. Fortunately the boys mother had heard them talking and told them they must tell us that they had taken our tools, they had played with them and left them distributed about the fields of Flackely Ash. They took us round to collect them up, but their mother felt they should be punished and asked me to conduct a mock trial, which I did with her acting as jury she found them guilty and fined them a few coppers from their pocket money each week.

They only stayed a couple of years and were followed by the Penfold Family, who didn’t live in Flackley Ash, because we had got Malt House available. Malt house was occupied by the Paine family previous to that, they were moved over from Crutches.

I can’t leave the sheep without saying something about dogs. Why the shepherds at Flackley Ash had no dogs I do not know, but I did experience a great dog story at Flackley Ash. A sheep dealer had agreed to meet Stuart in a field at Flackley Ash. As the two men stood talking by the side of a field of sheep, with the dealers dog sitting beside them, the dealer just looked down at it and said, “I suppose we had better have a look at them” the dog shot off and within minutes the sheep were all round the men.

Iden Lock was mostly sheep and the sheep minders there called themselves lookerers rather than shepherds. I have my idea as to why this is so but I have no idea of going into theory, but rather to leave it to the reader to work out ones self. Although I did have an Uncle who was a lookerer, and worked with two beautiful German Shepherd dogs.

Now we come to who must have been the most famous of The Stuart May Empire dogs, “Old Nell” belonged to Bill Bryant, The Crutches shepherd. Bill lived outside the Empire boundary, up in Winchelsea. When one wanted to visit Bill, you would have to attract Bill from outside his gate, so that he could call “Old Nell” in before she had the seat our of your trousers, she protected Bill better than any security guard, but once assured by Bill you were a friend, she was just a lovable old Welsh Border Collie. Bill, who was one of the most likeable Stuart May Family men, would sometimes, if the sheep were well and happy, join in the hoeing of the arable crops and Nell would sit and guard his jacket and lunch bag at the end of the row being worked on.

Nell was getting old so Bill ordered a puppy from South Wales, for Nell to train before she retired. The puppy was sent by train so the railway staff looked after it on its way and when Bill was notified it was at Rye Station, he had great difficulty in getting it away from the station staff (there were some in those days) because it was such a pretty little pup.

Joe Gibson decided to retire as bailiff of Crutches and go with his wife and son Tony, to live in Icklesham Village, although Tony continued to work within the Empire. The Emperor, although it was usual to appoint a manager from the ranks, quite wisely, invited Bill Bryant to take over the rule of Crutches, and because he was being promoted from them, the boss called all the staff together, and asked for their loyalty and obedience to Bill. Luckily I happened to be nearby at the time, so went along to listen. He told them that Bill was now in charge, so if they didn’t like it, then get out now. Nobody spoke or moved and then, as if to prove he was human, he started to go away, but turned, laughed and said “This farm will flourish now, it is in the hands of Bryant and May.”

Bill continued to look after his sheep as well as run the farm. In spite of not living in the Bailiff house, things went along quite well, it was not quite as well at the Sharvels end, and this I hope to explain later. Just inside the drive to Flackley Ash Farm, there is a farm cottage, which in spite of its romantic look, was often without inhabitants. It was not in bad structural order and had two nice rooms upstairs and two down. It had a big cellar, leading to what looked like a tunnel. There was talk of exploring the tunnel but nothing ever came of it. Inspite of loose bricks in the field along its line. The cottage had an entrance leading onto Mackerel Hill. I would liked to have rented it myself, or even bought it, but although he seemed to want to sell it, he wouldn’t entertain the idea of me having it. He did however, eventually sell it to a local builder. On one occasion, when he was in the area, he asked me to go to that cottage and wait for him to come and meet me there, so off I went and waited. No one came, so when I was told he had left the estate, I went home too. It was about three weeks later, that I heard he was about again, so I went to the cottage and waited again. He then turned up and started to talk as if he had only left half an hour before instead of three weeks ago!

We were told that if Mrs Chippingdale, in the big Flackley Ash house wanted some little job done, we were to help her out, so when Charlie Ashdown came over and said they had a swarm of bees in the hanging tiles and there was a beekeeper coming to ring them down. He never arrived, so it was me who had to don mask and gloves and take off enough tiles to get to them. I didn’t get stung, and after the swarm had been rung down. I put the tiles back and that was all we were asked to do to that house.

As there were several shoots a year out of Sharvals Yard, so there had to be a gamekeeper. Ted Hassam and his wife lived in Shepherds Farm cottage. Here was a decoy pond, but not much was ever seen of the duck shooting, although news used to go round when one was on. Ted used to make some of the decoy ducks, and he was good at catching small mammals and dressing their skins, so there were always some rabbit and mole skins drying on the doors of his shed, there they were drying prior to being treated to make small fir articles. What is wrong with wearing such fir made from unwanted animals, so long as such animals are not tortured in the process? For that matter, what is worse, wearing fur or leather? As well as skins one could be surrounded with chicken wandering around the Hassam garden. Some of them were very big, as they were being treated to be big for selling (capons). Mrs Hassam was not unindustrious either, she made home made wine, her speciality being marrow wine. One day when I was repairing the roof of Shepherds cottage, Mrs Hassam shouted out to ask if we would like to try a glass of her marrow wine. We said we would, so Ted Watson, my mate at the time, brought mine up. It was very nice, but when I had to come down for lunch, I couldn’t move my legs, so my mate Ted had to come up and guide my feet down the ladder. Ted seemed alright because he was coming up and down all the time where as I was sitting and using only my arms. However after a few sandwiches I was alright again, but when the good lady offered another glass in the afternoon I refused, but my mate managed one. There is no doubt the Hassams were wonderful and clever country people. On the day of the shoot word was put round where the danger spots would be and everyone was advised to keep beyond a border.Our workshop was out of range so that is where we stayed. For about three years in a row, two old cock pheasants came with us and stayed with us, and used to hang about in our yard until the all clear was put around, so their intelligents gave them a few more years life. We knew they were the same birds because between us we could remember their plumage.

At the shoot, the beaters were given a nice lunch on tressel tables in the hop store room in the oast. Thinking of food, for several years when I was first there, all male staff were given a whole Gouda cheese for Christmas and I was told that before my time, the women employees were also given a joint of beef.

The first bailiff of my time was a tough man. I was very frightened of him as were many other employees. I’ve seen some tremble when they knew a visit was about to take place. If a man lived in a tied cottage he was thinking that he could loose his home as well as his job, it is understandable that one had to do nothing wrong. Although I was not in a tied house, I remember when I made a major mistake I expected the sack. But no! After sitting on my tool chest and calling me all sorts of names, and asking me if I could put it right to which I answered “Yes”, he said carry on then, although I told him it would cost him a lot of money. I don’t remember him sacking a manager only once and I’ll record that later on.

“Rye’s Own” July 2007

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