Tim Austin memories
Hilary Roadley chatted with Tim in Feb 2023
The Austin family originally lived in Shepreth Bottom where there was a row of cottages by chalk pits not far from Shepreth cross roads. His grandfather John Austin (photo 21: with wife Anna Maria) used to work for the East Anglian Cement Company, in Angle Lane, Shepreth.
About 1914 John took the land on Rowley’s Hill in Harston and some on Manor Farm. Photo 28 below shows them at Manor Farm, possibly in 1940s.
John unfortunately had a stroke in the 1940s and you can see his wheelchair in the photo 27. John’s wife died in 1955 when Tim was 6. He remembers it well as he was sent to the Queen’s Head to be looked after by the Ashby family while the funeral went on.
Manor Farm tenancy
Originally Manor Farm was owned by the Rowleys of Harston Manor and built around 1850; there is an engraving on a chalk block in one of walls of farm buildings. When the railway came it cut the land in two. Thriplow Farms have east of railway and the council bought land to the west, then sold it later. When the County Council bought the land around 1913/4 they split it up into small holdings. Tim has a certificate from the Cambridgeshire Agricultural Committee small holdings competition for his father Ted and Uncle Percy, tenants of a smallholding on Harston Manor Estate. It stated that they had ‘cultivated and managed their smallholding in a satisfactory manner for the year 1938 and had been awarded 2nd prize in Class 1’.
There were quite a few tenants at Manor Farm when Tim’s grandfather John first took over land there, but gradually they died off and Tim’s father, Ted, and uncle, Percy, took over the whole farm. In the end they had about 110 acres of Manor Farm land. Also, at one stage, they had a few acres at Charity Farm, Haslingfield, which was owned by the County Council (Smallholder’s Committee). Near Charity Farm was a big area for digging of coprolites- for fertiliser.
John Austin also took tenancy of 30 acres of Rowley’s Hill in 1914 from Sir Charles Waldstein (changed to Walston during WW2 as the name sounded German) of Newton Hall, then from son Harry Walston, later becoming Lord Walston, now Thriplow Farms (and run by David Walston). The tenancy agreement, originally for 30 years, at yearly rent of £28. 18shillings, gives information about the farming conditions/methods used then.
The landlord still reserved the right to game, hunt, fish and sport on the premises at all seasonable times of the year. The Tenant couldn’t cut any timber or take away any mineral, gravel or clay. The tenant had to keep the land free from weeds, well manured and not take more than two white straw crops in succession. The hedges had to be kept cut and properly trimmed, watercourses cleared and open, and fences and gates kept maintained/in repair. The Tenant needed consent to take in any agistment stock (agist: take in and feed for payment), but putting sheep to turnips was ok (so Rowley’s Hill probably had sheep on, in the past). He also needed consent to lay down sainfoin, rye-grass and other seeds, except Lucerne, for a longer period than two years. The Austins did grow sainfoin for herbage- for hay for animals, especially for sheep. It was a legume crop so put goodness/nitrogen back in the soil.
In the last year of tenancy the tenant had to cultivate and leave the land in the Four Course Shift (4 course rotation). Fallow land still had to be ploughed and manured ready for a root crop. He had to allow the landlord to sow seed and the tenant had to harrow or roll the seed in a husband-like manner, being paid a reasonable wage to do so.
Photo 7, taken about 1972, shows the original house at Manor Farm. It is long gone. The A10 is to the left. The Austin family left in 1975 and it was demolished around 1978 and replaced with a new one to the right of the entrance road.
The house was actually split in two when the Austin’s took over the tenancy, and had possibly been extended when the council bought it. His Uncle Percy lived on one side and Tim’s family the other.
There was one pump at the back of the house and two pumps in the barns to provide water for the cattle. It was hard work pumping water. They didn’t get piped water until around the 1950s while Tim was young. Fred Willers put in the pipes from the main road between Harston to Foxton to the farm. Electricity was also put in, in 1950s. Previously the cooking had to be done on a range. As the Manor Farm pantry faces north, it was very cold so they didn’t need fridge and just had a meat safe.
Photo 8 giving an aerial view of Manor farm was probably taken around 1972. All the old barns of Manor Farm were mostly built of clunch. It was probably quarried from Rowley’s Hill nearer to Foxton where there is a deep depression in a field farmed by Thriplow Farms.
Early C20th farming
Photo 1 shows the Austin family stacking beans, probably in the 1920s, and possibly with Ted Austin on the cart. The beans were grown for animal food.
Percy Austin, Tim’s uncle is shown in early photo 3 ploughing the land. They did have one horse left when Tim was a child, but it was more a pet, only used for an occasional task.
Photo 9 shows an early tractor and binder in 1934. In those days the wheat was taller- it is shorter now through careful ‘cross breeding’ – likely British wheat with Mexican dwarfs – so it doesn’t fall over. Behind the tractor would have been the cutting blades which would throw the corn into sheaves which it would then tie with string, then drop the sheaves out. Then men and women came along and propped up 6-8 sheaves- depending on the thickness of the corn- into a stook. This was left to dry for about a fortnight.
Once they had finished cutting the corn the farm worker would be ready to shoot any rabbits that came out of the remaining patch of uncut corn (photo 30). Rabbits were everywhere and the strip lynchets in field behind those sitting on the binder were full of rabbit warrens. With the permission of the Walstons, the Austins took out the strip lynchets in the mid-70s, although myxomatosis later removed a lot of the rabbits.
Once the corn in the stooks was dry it was carted back, photo 6, originally by horse & cart, to make into stacks or ricks.
Once the sheaves of corn were taken back to the farm yard they were made into ricks. These you can see in photo 5 were thatched using the same principles as thatching cottages. They would rake the wheat straw into bundles and lay on the roof.
Later, during winter time, they would take the sheaves of unthreshed grain and thresh them. The barley went for malting. Most grain was sold to Shelford Corn & Coal Company in Hinton Way, Shelford. Some would have gone to the Smith’s Harston Mill.
Depending on the quality of the wheat it would be milled into flour or used to produce pig food.
Mechanisation had taken a big leap during WW2, as long as you could get petrol, as there was a big push to grow more food as supplies got cut off.
Photo 10 was taken about 1960 and showed Ted driving a combine on Rowley’s Hill. These now cut the wheat, threshed it, putting it in a tank and threw the straw out the back.
During the 1950s when Tim was young he can remember the farm grew cereals- wheat, barley, oats, sugar beet and potatoes – doing almost a four course rotation. They planted Rye Grass and clover as a ley/break crop on which the cattle fed, then that left manure to enrich the soil. They never grew Lucerne, a legume, but Thriplow farms did as they had an oil-fired grass drying plant until 1980s – a perforated conveyor blew hot air through the chopped grass in the field to dry it. It was Harry Walstons’s project- they produced powdered grass meal for inclusion in feed which came out as pellets. It had the characteristic smell of dried grass. Chivers farm at Haslingfield also had a grass drying plant.
Before mechanisation developed in 1950s ladies from Harston village turned up to do the picking of potatoes for 1-2 weeks but by 1960s they had potato harvester machines.
They also grew sugar beet in the early days and had Irish gangs arrive to pick them. A certificate, for J Austin & Sons of Manor Farm, Harston awarded them third prize in Class 2 (plots of not less than 5 but under 10 acres) of the local competitions for the best cultivated crop of sugar beet for the Ely Sugar Beet factory. The area of their plot was 5 acres. Certificate was from the Sugar Commission (Regional Prize Competitions 1939). Sugar beet was taken to Harston Station initially, but by the 1960s large lorries transported it to Ely Beet Factory- long since gone. Morris Turner (of Hauxton/Harston) had a large fleet of lorries that took the sugar beet. It went there by barge from other places in the Fens.
Photo 11, early 1970s, shows the Austins also kept beef cattle and pigs on the strip by Hoffer’s Brook now owned by Mr Bannister as a nature reserve. These would be taken to Cheffin’s at Cherry Hinton where the old cattle market was. They were sold by Bob Arnold, the chief auctioneer, who lived at the Manor in Harston in 1950s. There they sold fat cattle, store cattle- sold on to someone else to fatten up.
When they dug holes for the fence posts in the picture they found a skeleton which was later dated about 3-4,000 years old and can now be seen in the Downing Street Museum in Cambridge. Mary Crass was connected to the Museum. She lived in Weaver’s Cottage, by the Green in Harston. She also bred black labs.
Farming 1970s onwards
In 1975 Tim’s father Ted and Uncle Percy wished to retire and Tim was expected/hoped to take over the tenancy of Manor Farm but they gave it to someone else from Suffolk, much to local farmers’ outrage. It was in the newspapers. One of the reasons they gave was that Tim already did Agricultural contractor’s work.
Photo 12 was taken in July 1975 with the red combine Falker MF400 on Rowley’s Hill.
Photo 13 in August 1975 shows Ted cutting the last corn at Manor Farm with the MF400 before they sold a lot of their equipment.
Photo 14 in August 75 shows the straw being baled using Own Ford 5000 and the N.H. 68 Baler at Manor Farm.
Tim started Agricultural Contract work in 1969. This involved any manner of work from muckspreading to combining- he had three combines at one stage. Tim moved his Agricultural Contractor’s business to Haslingfield in 1983, where he is now, on Cantelupe Road.
Photo 15 shows Tim muck spreading in July 1974 on land east of A10 between Harston & Foxton owned then by Derek Stevens, Bury Farm, Foxton but now owned by Hays.
Photos 16 & 17 show another contract job- demolishing the old wooden cowsheds at Beech Farm in April 1980. When Keith Crow was tenant there he did quite a bit of work for him. Keith’s father Frank had kept milking cows but Keith never had them.
In addition to contract work Tim continued to farm the land on Rowley’s Hill, also taking over more land in the Eversdens. Photo 18 shows ploughing the poor land on Rowley’s Hill in September 1984. The land was suitable to grow wheat, barley and beans.
Nowadays Tim has 58 acres on Rowley’s Hill. He sells the barley to a merchant and he likely transports it to Ipswich where it goes on a boat to somewhere like Spain to feed the cattle who mostly live indoors .
Photo 20 in June 1996 shows Tim with mum, Mabel, on Rowleys Hill where barley was being grown. Mabel could be a fierce person, was opinionated and a staunch member of the WI, Mother’s Union and Harston parish church.
Photo 19 shows JCB Fastrack with 5 furrow Ransome Plough on Rowley’s Hill in September 1998.
Photo 22 shows Colin Manning rolling the ground with D2 on Rowley’s Hill 30th September 2014.
This was to consolidate the soil after drilling (seed in ground) so the seed germinated better with good seed to soil contact. Colin has worked for Tim for many years.
Photo 23 was taken in 2018 to show how the dry spring conditions had made the wheat bales orange due to the amount of potassium in it.
Part time farmers
There used to be quite a few part time farmers in Harston that had other jobs too. Denis Chapman had a few fields at Manor Farm on High St around the 1970s and George Lacey may have been a joint tenant with him. George Lacey lived in Manor Close. Both worked on the railway and farmed in their spare time, so they were nicknamed the ‘railway farmers’.
Tony Gatward was part time but almost full time at one point when he kept pigs in Button End. Tony Gatward’s mother was a grand old lady who lived on the High St with her grandson Russell Hollaway. They had lots of orchards behind their house and Tim and his worker took them out and got it back to pasture by ploughing it up and grass seeding it. Russell eventually sold up and moved to the Fens. George Topham (who used to be a car man in his early days) also kept pigs behind his High St house (Lincoln house) where Andy Bowden now lives. The pig sties were still there a few years ago.
Bert Parrot was another part time farmer, but he farmed as a hobby. He lived by himself in Melbourn House, Royston Rd. He was an Irishman, had no family and lived there for some years. He was director of Simplex- Agricultural Manufacturers at Sawston, Babraham Rd – they produced milling machines and grain stores. He managed a small farm at Caldecote, but also had one in Wales and another near Reading. He and Peter Jackson’s dad, Percy, used to chat and meet in the Queen’s Head regularly. Kay Salter, also Irish, landlady, used to cook Bert’s dinner often. She liked to cook. Eventually as Bert got older he moved to a bungalow in Button End, opposite Tony Gatward’s, possibly Serotina where the vets- Paul & Tina Davies lived.
Percy Jackson, quite a character, had worked for Tim’s father on Manor Farm for many years. He had previously worked for the Ashby’s when they had run the Queen’s Head. Then there were four sisters, with Gladys and Nellie running the pub and Beatrice a schoolteacher. The other sister lived in Surrey. Tim has fond memories of Gladys, who ran the pub side, and Nellie who cooked – they were marvellous characters.
Morris Turner was another who farmed part time and who helped Tim a lot when he was setting up his agricultural contractor’s business. Morris originally traded under the name of G Turner & Sons- G was his father, Gerald. His father was a farmer in Newmarket Rd, Cambridge near Marshalls. Morris did a small amount of farming but ran a haulage business and quite a big engineering business- laying cabling for the General Post Office (later BT).
Morris’s hobby of grinding corn was operated from Hauxton Mill in 1950s into 1960s. His other hobby was the preservation of Steam Engines – when preservation was in its early stages. His first wife died while he was at Hauxton Mill. He had one son by her- Graham Turner, who didn’t do much in the business but mainly worked for Shelford Oil.
After Morris packed up the Mill he moved to Hill Farm on London Rd, Harston, on the way to Newton. He kept pigs there in the 1960s. Morris married again, had two more children, but the marriage failed and he sold up in 1972, including all his Collection of historical agricultural equipment he had moved to Hill Farm from Hauxton.
Tim also remembers there were allotment by the village hall rented to Hay’s workers- maybe about 6 allotments.
The Austins knew the Lawrance family well. Ted used to take the horse to the forge for shoeing or get Harry or Victor to repair farm instruments. Tim used to go to the forge after school and pump the bellows, a popular pastime for many schoolboys. Harry lived at 7 Royston road and Tim would cycle to school, but leave his bike there. Victor lived on the High Street. He had one son, Albert, a school teacher who taught at Soham School then at Cambridge Grammar when Tim went there. In his holidays Albert would help out at Manor Farm. Victor’s daughter Mary, also a teacher, married Rev Askham, quite a bit older than her, and when he retired they went to live in Roman Hill, Barton.
Harry Lawrance, also a church warden, would go into the Three Horseshoes most evenings and would like a drink with Rev Mansfield Williams. The latter was greatly liked being a jovial character full of goodwill. He ran the youth club Tim went to. Although he was only here about 6 years, Tim was surprised to see he was buried in the parish churchyard. After Harston, Rev Mansfield Williams had gone to Gainsborough and many in the village had gone to see him ordained there, including Tim’s mother Mabel who was a staunch church goer.
Tim also knew the Rev De Candole quite well- he had come from, and returned to, New Zealand. Tim knew quite well his oldest daughter Liz and son Rodney- they used to hang out at Button End- probably getting up to all sorts of mischief.
Tim used to go as a child (1970-72?) into the surgery next to the Coach & Horses pub in the High St. He would go into the waiting room to the left as you went in the front door and Dr Webb’s room was to the right. He had a monkey skull on his desk and also had a Jack Russell. He moved houses quite a bit, possibly living in Wimbish Manor, Shepreth and then in Barrington. He was married to Dr Young’s daughter but was a bit of a womaniser so the marriage was not so good. Dr Townley had his room upstairs and once Dr Webb retired or died he moved the surgery to his house at the end of London Rd. Dr Young’s house on High St was demolished just before The Limes was built in early 1970s.
Mrs Brewer was quite a character who was into everything. She had two sons- one called Barry who ran the Sawston Carpet Centre. She was the lollipop lady on the crossing to school but had also at one time served petrol at the garage in the High St.
Mr Swann was also a character and Tim has kept in contact with his grandson Davis Clarke who lives on the Isle of Wight.
The Baker family lived down Button End, but sadly a few of the children have died – Peter, Philip (Sten).
Home at Granary Cottages
Tim lived in one of Granary cottages on Royston Rd with wife Jan after their marriage in 1971, and had 4 children. Tim had met Jan (maiden name Peacock) in 1968 when she lived in Harlton with her aunt. Although Jan had been born in London, her dad was a Newton person and they moved back there. Then they won the football pools and moved to Haslingfiled in Chapel Hill. Her dad, who was a part time pig farmer next took the family to Canada to start afresh but returned after a short while to a pig farm in Oxfordshire. However, Jan went back to her old job in the telephone manager’s office in Cambridge, so lodged with her aunt in Harlton.
Tim had the picture of Granary cottages painted (by a Harlton artist) to show it before the extension in 1986 (shown in photo below). Originally the three cottages had been owned by the Threfalls who lived in the Granary after it was sold by the Smith’s who owned the Mill. Mrs Threfall found them all too much to cope with, so Tim bought the cottages off her. Tim and family lived in one, let the other end one and when his parents retired they lived in the middle one. The cottages were workers’ cottages originally, housing mill workers. It is thought they may have originally been one storey with a thatched roof and were later extended upwards. Brickwork at the back seems to indicate changes, possibly around the 1900s. The foundations aren’t big, with a hollow floor- just a layer of chalk.
Tim remembers that he went to school in the Village Hall around 1955 while they were waiting for the infant block to be built. The day they moved to the Village Hall, they all had to walk down the High Street with their chairs. Miss Jackson taught them. Tim thinks Richard Broadbank is possibly to his right in the picture of them on the climbing frame outside the village hall, with Jean Wisbey in front of him (on website: www.harstonhistory.org.uk/content/people/school-photos/school-classin-village-hall-1954-5 ). Richard died in a head on collision on the A11 nearly 30 years ago. Other teachers were Mrs Kirkham, then Mrs Barnes from Haslingfield, while Mr Shoote was the headteacher. His wife taught a little bit. Tim remembers Jean Wisbey in his class, she along with him, went to the Grammar Schools.
Photo 31 of dad, Ted Austin on bike in 1920-30s. Tim doesn’t know where it was taken.
Photo 32 of Ted all dressed up similar time.
Photo 33 Ted all dressed up, left, with friend, possibly Ted Lant, who went to Australia but would come back occasionally. Tim can’t remember the metal fencing around the trees on The Green but can remember a hedge.