The Stewart May Empire

Part Five

By Arthur Woodgate

Bill Smith was the first Bailiff of Sharvels in my time there. He was a local man but the managing of Sharval’s Farm was rather bigger than Crutches as it included Flackley Ash, Shepherds, Butchards and The Hutches. All this included more property and responsibility, so specialist people began to be brought in from outside. Mr Farr, a college trained agriculturalist, came I can’t remember anything very spectacular in his time, but he didn’t stop long.

Mr Ash moved into the farm house which included The Sharvals office and he seemed more active. He looked down the wages list and saw twelve of the same family on it. As he needed someone to confide in, he sought me out and told me all about it as he reduced that families members to two, claiming that two of one family is enough on one staff. There were, at that time, some horse drawn caravan dwellers in the Ram Field. They do all sorts of jobs on the farm and then move on. One day Mrs. Ash noticed one of the caravans was on fire, and as all the owners were working in the fields she pulled the next van out of the line to prevent them all burning, she was a big and powerful woman its true, but pregnant, and it was a brave thing to do. These were honest travellers. But unfortunately there were some living in the workers huts, who were not so honest. There were stacks of fire wood around for the use of the families in the worker huts and this wood was disappearing by means other than being burnt by them. It so happened that I was re-pointing the farmhouse, so when up around the chimney head I had a good view of the inside of their lorries as they went out of the main gate into the main road, so Bailiff Ash would shout out and ask me what I could see in the lorries When I told him it was fire wood logs, the lorry and family it belonged were not allowed to return. They were stealing and selling fire logs but no legal action was taken.

Whilst I was still working on the Farmhouse, Stuart drove in and as he got out of the car he said to me “Is that old Friday out there?” When I said it was, he said “I sacked him and all his traveller family last week” and with that he hurried off to have a word with the gentleman I was out of ear shot, but would liked to have heard the conversation, he never saw him or his tribe, on the empire estate again.

A similar Ferguson to the ones used on the 'empire' farms after 1946. In 1946 a Ferguson tractor cost just £350
A similar Ferguson to the ones used on the ’empire’ farms after 1946.
In 1946 a Ferguson tractor cost just £350

There was a mystery leak in the big house roof and I was told that several people had tried to find it and failed, the wet patch showed in the middle of the ground floor ceiling. As I was pointing all the house, I found a hole about an inch square in a chimney head, so I plugged it. Water had been running in the hole, down the back of a first floor fire place, under the hearth, and along a joist to show itself in the ground floor ceiling. The next time the boss visited, he had some friends with him and I had to go over the house with them and him, as we stood in the damp patch room, he told the story of the damp patch, and said it had still not been cured. I could feel myself getting angry, so I said “What is the weather doing?” and he replied that it was raining, so I asked him to show me the damp, which he couldn’t of course. We heard no more of the damp patch although the house did have more adventures. It was declared fit for occupation, as we had worked on it for a long time, it was ready for a change over from the moving on Ash Family, to, (in my opinion) the best Bailiff ever to manage Sharvals, Jim Beeny and his wife and daughter Joan. The refurbishment had included the fixing of one of our new Rayburns and some heating, for the installation of which, as we had no plumber, we brought in Bob Baily who we used for our plumbing jobs. Jim was a real countryman who had learned all about farming by his own personal experience, and could do any of the jobs he expected any of his staff to do. I seem to have come very friendly with the Beeny Family. Daughter Joan took over one of the new fleet of Ferguson Tractors. As tractors were by now the main form of agriculture transport. Crutches had only one tractor which was owned by the Bailiff’s son Tony Gibson who carried on after his father retired. If any heavy work was required at Icklesham, then the big heavy tractor was taken over from Sharvels. This was a very powerful vehicle with tracks in place of wheels like an Army tank, and could be felt to shake the earth as it passed, and was driven, at first by Percy Bates brother Len but when Len decided to move on, it was taken over by Walter Foster who shook the earth with it for some years to come. When I first saw it in action it was pulling some seven plough shears to a depth of eighteen inches. The day to day work was in the hands of four or five Fergusons and a couple of dozen sized truck layers, because of all the vibrations, the twenty or so culverts about the place were being shaken to bits. The boss and I toured the estate to examine them and decided they must all be rebuilt. This was going to involve a few thousand bricks, so these were brought to our yard at Flackey Ash from where they would be distributed. As we walked around on our inspection, Stuart said the footpaths with their small gates and stiles must be kept in good order. Just like his own big gates. But don’t shout about them being there. There was no doubt the villagers knew more than he, but they were not about to abuse their public footpaths. The Calverts varied in size and some had to have new pipes under their roadways, and therefore took a long time to rebuild, but thanks to big Ted Watson, we had the digging power for digging once we had dammed up the water, and the builder’s labour knowledge of Arthur Luck, so it was not a bad job and I enjoyed all the solid brickwork to rebuild the calvert heads. To distribute the bricks, we had to borrow a tractor and trailer from the Bailiff. I forget which but it wasn’t Jim Beeney. I was told I could have the tractor and trailer but there was no driver to spare, so I had to drive it myself. The journey involved the side of a sloping pear orchard. As we went slowly down, the brakes failed to act and even with them full on the vehicle just slipped on the damp earth, and there was nothing I could do. As it was moving very slowly anyway I had time to stand on the seat and get Ted to stand on a wide bow in a pear tree, I jumped as I reached Ted. Then all we could do was look and hope, as the whole thing slid slowly towards the ditch with its 300 bricks. Fortunately the front wheels hit against a raised ridge running along the side of the waterway, and turned the thing round to level ground so that it stopped; without damage. It was fortunate again that Nick Manmar was working close by and after we had unloaded, he came over and put the tractor and trailer in such a position that I could drive it back by a flatter way. Up to now only Ted, Nick and I knew about this, so no inquiries or trouble ever was heard and we continued to build our calvert heads.

I built a new tractor shed in Sharvel’s yard and let some of the tractor drivers put their machines in it until we put the floor in. On the day of concreting the floor, I let it be known to all drivers and put up a notice to tell the drivers to keep out till further notice and put a barrier across the entrance. This is difficult for readers to believe but it is perfectly true. The next morning there was a tractor standing inside with all four wheels set in the concrete. The driver was one of the family that we sorted out but because there were so many of them, it could be Mr Ash had made a mistake and blamed the wrong one. Anyway we got the tractor out and spent a good bit of the day redoing the floor, but the top man didn’t hear about the incident, anymore than our run away tractor. One of the most interesting jobs I ever had was brought about because of the change over from horse to tractor. It was three brick stalters in line to hold a tractor fuel tank.

Back now to Jim Beeny he was as fair to everybody as it was capable for anybody to be, but he would not be messed about. One morning I wanted to talk to him about something so hung around where I had seen him on his rounds. When I found him he said, “You didn’t think I went the same way round every day did you?”

It was usual to give some of the stronger women a job cutting the limbs off the fruit trees which had been due to be grubbed and replaced. There came a time when these women complained to him that they were not being paid enough, but headquarters wouldn’t let him pay more. So did he do leave it at that? Oh no, he got a saw and axe and went out and worked with the women for a while. He agreed they had a case, so he put his saw and axe in the corner of his office.

When the governor next came, Jim raised the tree cutting with him, face to face, and still got a refusal of course. Jim said “Have you had a go at it?” and the answer was no, so Jim said, “There are my tools so take them and have a go.” He didn’t of course but Jim got his permission to increase the rate.

One of the male staff came to Jim one day and told him that another member of staff had been slacking and done very little work that day. Jim looked at him a bit sarcastically, as Jim could and said, “So what was you doing whilst watching him? Not much I bet, so you had better come to the office and collect your wages and documents, because you are sacked, its my job to control the staff. So let it be known that if anybody comes to me with tales of their mates, then they are sacked”.

Although he was no great scholar, he did know about managing, farming operations, and he was, without doubt the most efficient; except for Bill Bryant, the Sussex part of the Stuart May Empire ever had. I did some of his form filling for him, and when I queried his age, he looked at me in a funny way and repeated, “48I’ve been 48 for years”

Unfortunately Jim got that dreaded disease of Cancer and was taken to the then Royal East Sussex Hospital where he eventually died. I did all I could for Mrs Beeny, who remained in the Sharvels farm house for a while. Using the Beeny Family car I took Mrs Beeny to do all that was necessary at the time, sometimes in the firms time and sometimes in my own. I’m sure Stuart would have agreed with what I did but he didn’t know all, but eventually moved in the Humphrey family who I will deal with later.

Arthur Woodgate

Rye’s Own” August 2007

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