The Stewart May Empire

By Arthur Woodgate

Old House Farm, owned by Ashton Selmes, was swallowed into the Stewart May empire. Ashton Selmes, who was quite a well known farmer and ploughing contractor, also at one time owned the land which is now the housing estate of Brickfield and Park View. It was here, when it was just a green field, he kept his big steam engines, which were a familiar Peasmarsh sight when they were not out on contract. In use they were placed each side of of a field and used to draw the plough from one side to the other. When not in use they were kept close to what we now know as the Bisky Bar.

Before the take over, Ashton Selmes shared a row of seven cottages in Malthouse Lane. He had five of them, and one day I was re-tiling the other two. Arthur Luck was looking amed he could do anything, so just imagine my entertainment when Ashton asked After me, he was a very awkward customer at that time (come to that! He was always awkward) and Ashton Selmes was a big head who clairthur who was doing this job, and the only answer he got was, “Me and my mate.” This was as far as it got. However Ashton decided to pull down his five Malthouse  Cottages,leaving the gable end of our two exposed to the weather, so we had to put up a sail cloth until Arthur had time to brick the exposed area up.

Two major decisions then took place, one which had already been put in hand, was to transfer Mrs. Pain, widow of a late Crutches Bailiff, into Malthouse Cottage, the other was our two cottages we would turn into one decent house, so we moved our sail cloth further in, so as to make Mrs. Pain, her son and a Grandson belonging to a daughter, a bit more comfortable, whilst we worked around them. It was Winter when we started the conversions, so it was a good job we had Bob Baily to put in one of our allocation of Rayburn cookers. This gave them a bit of heat. They also had a bit of electric power, and we kept things shut in the best we could, and as all five of us were working there, we made them reasonably comfortable. The Rayburn had replaced an old Kitchener but although I had explained and demonstrated the Rayburn to Mrs. Pain, on Christmas morning it came into my mind, that she was not getting on too well with it, so I went to see, sure enough, I was right. The old Kitchener was still standing out in the garden, she had put a pipe over the bonnet and lit the fire and had her Christmas dinner in the oven! It was lucky I went, I was able to get the Rayburn going properly and left her with her dinner cooking nicely in it. When the Pains moved, Mrs. Pain handed me a false leg, because, she said “as you belong to St. John you will know what to do with it”. I didn’t, of course, and dumped Tenit on the British Red Cross Society. They knew more about that sort of thing than St John. The leg had belonged to the first wife to the one time Bailiff of Crutches. When he remarried it had been put on one side until this move. Mrs. Pain also gave me a big mirror, I was at that time storekeeper of the Rye St. John and the mirror was just right, when cut in three, to make three shelves for my store cupboard. Fortunately we had, in St John someone of every trade and profession, so I was able to call on Sid Tiltman, glazier, to cut it for me.

I don’t know anything about making malt, so when we pulled a studded partition out of Malthouse, we were all puzzled when about a hundred weight of dried up broad beans came pouring out. They were as hard as pebbles and black as coal. Maybe there is someone out there who knows if these could have been used in making Malt. Malthouse Cottage did have various insurance company lead badges on them, but at the time Ashton Selmes started to pull his cottages down, the plaques disappeared this was no doubt an act of theft and a great pity, because they were part of history, but nothing was ever said or any action taken.

We made quite a reasonable house of our two cottages and fairly roomy, so after the Pains moved on to another job in another village, George Penfold’s family moved in. The Penfolds were a fairly large family, with their several daughters and one son. George was in charge of the sheep and stock, but Malthouse was bigger and better than Flackly Ash cottage. He now had to work from Flackley Ash. George did his own shearing, there is proof that there were extremes of weather then and it was not all saved up for 2007. One of those mid twentieth Century summers was so hot that George asked me to rig him up a shelter because he was getting too hot to work, although shearers liked it warm. We rigged him up a scaffold pole frame and put a sail cloth over it, so George could get the wool off his flock in reasonable comfort and in doing so producing yet another commodity from the empire.

The last (and to my mind, the worst) of the Stuart May Bailiffs I
had to work beside was a Mr. Humpherys. Mrs. Humpherys and he moved into a refurbished farm house which included one of our recent acquired new Rayburn cookers and heaters. Our staff had by this time been reduced to just Arthur Luck and myself but the property was in a reasonable condition. However, the Humpherys were rather funny people and Mrs. Humpherys claimed to be a spiritualist and was at times away from home practising this ‘art’. Lucky always reckoned the only spirit she knew any thing about came from a bottle, he may have been right. Our wages were made up at East Farley and brought down to Peasmarsh by Mrs. May on Fridays together with the bulk money for all the farm people and left in care of the Bailiff. It so happened that on the second week of the Humpherys arrival, for some reason of her own Mrs.May.

First published in the September 2007 issue of “Rye’s Own”.