Leslie Norman from Gupworthy Farm
Taken (with permission) from the Oral History Recordings made by Birdie Johnson
The Norman family moved into Gupworthy with two men and a casual man. There was grandfather and his brother, Leslie’s father and uncle, about 18 and 20 years old, his father was married when he was about 24/25. He married when he was in the army, 1917 Leslie thinks because Barbara’s father didn’t get out for two or three years after that. When they came to Gupworthy first there were three brothers, but one got killed up in the mines. He was in the shaft and they were digging out stones for putting up coigns round the gateway. On the entrance when they brought the iron ore out beside Gupworthy Chapel when it was there – it’s not there now because it’s covered over with concrete, but it was there. Where the engine was, which pulled up the ore, there was a shaft going back in under a mound – he can’t understand why this mound was there. He went in under digging out these stones, all cut stones, square stones, lovely, and it fell in on top of him and crushed him, he was killed there. He was about 25 or 26 then, somewhere like that. Very sad. He was ever such a nice fellow. They said he was the nicest looking of the Norman family! He was a lovely fellow otherwise. He’d help anybody. Nice fellow. His father and uncle were very good at that sort of thing, they’d help.
Granny looked after the house, his mother and his father’s sister until she got married. She married another Norman, no relation, at Wheddon Cross. He was a baker at Bridgetown years ago. And there were bakers at Wheddon Cross. He can’t believe it, there were two tailors at Wheddon Cross, a baker, a watchmaker and a blacksmith, all in that village. He can just remember his grandparents dying, down in the farmhouse, though he didn’t go to the funeral. They were taken back to Cutcombe and buried in Cutcombe Parish, although they were in Kings Brompton Parish. But they lived at Higher House, Cutcombe Parish, for so many years and the old people, great-grandfather and mother, were buried back there. They took the old uncle back there eventually. All Leslie’s people are buried back there, bar the uncle, and he would have been buried back there but they couldn’t get him back there because of the snow, they couldn’t get there. That’s another story to come.
He didn’t go to his grandparents’ funeral but can remember a lot of people coming to the farmhouse. They’d got a lot of friends. They were a nice old couple. He remembers them as granny and granddad, it’s lovely to remember people like that. They called him ‘that there boy’. To his uncle and father he was always ‘that there boy’. ‘That there boy’ did a lot for them eventually. But it didn’t make any difference what you were called, it was what you were, and how you were getting on with them. He wouldn’t do a thing to hurt them. He never had any money, but if he wanted a new pair of boots, a new pair of socks, pair of trousers or a shirt, his mother would take him into Minehead and buy it, just like that.
He’ll never forget his first pair of britches, when he was 14 and left school. The tailor at Wheddon Cross, Mr Melhuish, made him a pair of britches and sold him a pair of boots and leggings. These britches had swansdown lining inside. When you brought them out they would stand up on their own. When he got in he thought he’d never be able to bend again. He couldn’t wear them out.
When you leave school the first thing you do is help do the milking, help feed the calves. Leslie started farming really when he went out with his father and was about 12 years old, feeding lambs. They had a triplet. The old ewe didn’t have enough milk for three. ‘Boy’ his father said (when he was married his father still called him ‘boy’) ‘you can have that lamb if you want, it’s going to die anyhow’. There wasn’t a lamb on the farm that was looked after like that little lamb. That lamb lived all right, you can bet your boots on it. Leslie never had a wage until about 12 months before he got married, at 25, when they paid him a wage of £2 a week. When he was 17 or 18 he could tackle anything because his father said ‘Boy, if you are going to become a farmer, you have got to be able to go out when there’s any man on this farm and show them how to do any job that’s on this farm. You’ve got to be able to do it as well as they can if not better, that’s how you’ve got to go’. Leslie left school at 14.
Working horses and learning to plough
In the evenings in the winter time, when he was 10-14, he’d love the carter, who drove the three horse team. They had eight working horses with a head carter and a man who drove the caddlers, anybody could drive them. He could do any odd jobs on the farm, you could put him out doing a hedge, sawing sticks, that sort of work. He was called a caddler. The head carter would be doing all the ploughing and important work on the farm with a three horse team. No-one was allowed to touch any of those three horses. There were nine horses in the stable but you wouldn’t dream of touching these three horses, they were his. He looked after them. He’d come in the morning round about half past six to seven. He was called Arthur Hole. He would come in and feed the horses, give them water, corn and hay and walk back across two fields to get to his cottage (they’ve got two cottages up the valley). He’d got a family of three or four children. Then he’d come down and be ready to go out the stable seven to quarter past with a team. That was regular. But in the evenings he’d come in at five o’clock with the horses, feed them and then go home.
Then about half past six to seven he’d come down, clean them all down – this would take him quite a while. Leslie would love going down. He’d turn up a bucket inside the stable, under the wall, and put a bag on top. ‘Sit down there, boy’. And he’d put down some harness in front of him and Leslie would clean the harness and he’d be there doing his horses and talking, telling Leslie where he’d been to all his life, other places before he came to Gupworthy. He came from halfway between Roadwater and Monksilver (the next one came from Willet). They used to get on all right, because Leslie used to go down and help him. You didn’t get paid for it, you did it for the love of it.
So father came to him one morning when he was 15 and told him that Arthur was going to show him how to plough. So he learnt to plough with horses and he thinks that when he could plough with those three horses that was the most wonderful thing. But those horses knew a lot more than he did. That was a two furrow plough. But then they had to have a single furrow plough, a turnover plough with a single furrow, there was one plough on top of the other. You’d go up and turn the plough over and come back the same furrow again, so you’d start at one end of the field and gradually work it out over. But with a two furrow plough you’d take in a pitch, a 50 yard pitch there, that side of the field, a 50 yard pitch that side of the field turn that in together there and that in together [into the middle] and then out to If you were ploughing ley, grassland, you’d do it with a turnover plough otherwise you’d have an all-furrow, a trench up and down the middle of the field. What you started with was a bye-furrow, when you turned it in together. So he learnt. He was taught this in 1934/35. Once he could plough he didn’t have to do it any more. If you learnt it like that you could do it. Arthur didn’t want him to do it, it was his job. They were proud of their workmanship…………….