Harvesting the Past
Memories from Rural Worcestershire
[slideshow] What was the project about?
The aims of this project are to preserve and share the memories and experiences of farmers and countryside people in rural Worcestershire by the following means :
- Creating (for the Worcestershire Record Office) a digital sound archive of oral history recordings of older people/farmers from the area around Martley, Tenbury and Bromyard.
- Sharing edited extracts from these interviews in a number of ways such as local radio, online, a travelling exhibition with audio, the County’s Museum on the Move, a compilation CD.
- Using the stories and memories from the interviews to create a community play which will be produced and put on by the Chantry High School in Martley, in conjunction with the community and primary school.
This project is about bringing the generations together. We hope to involve older people who have extraordinary tales to tell but are not often listened to. We want to share and celebrate their stories with the younger generations in a way that will inspire the youngsters. Finally we want to preserve information about farming practises and country life in rural Worcestershire in the 1930s, 40s and 50s before it is too late.
The project is being funded by Worcestershire County Council via the Worcestershire Record Office.
In 2009, people with great stories to tell about life around Martley in the 1930s, 40s and 50s were recorded for posterity for an oral history project which had two main aims:
- to create an archive of farming and countryside stories for the Worcestershire Record Office and
- to create a community play based on people’s memories and experiences.
This project was about bringing the generations together. It involved older people who have extraordinary tales to tell but are not often listened to, sharing and celebrating their stories with the younger generations in a way that inspired the youngsters. It also allowed information about farming practises and country life in rural Worcestershire in the 1930s, 40s and 50s to be preserved before it is too late.
The project is being funded by Worcestershire County Council via the Worcestershire Record Office.
The play, “Back Across the Fileds”, was written by a local scriptwriter and produced and staged at The Chantry High School. As hoped, it gave many local people as chance to get involved. The project held an open evening at The Chantry on Tuesday 19 May 2009. It was a chance to come along and find out more, without committing yourself to anything. Coordinating the project wass former BBC producer Julia Letts, who has spent the past 10 years recording oral history interviews in Worcestershire and Herefordshire. “I am very excited about Harvesting the Past,” admitted Julia. “I know there are some wonderful characters out there with amazing stories to tell. We all lead such busy lives these days that often we don’t find time to listen to the older generations. Here’s a chance to change that. Thanks to funding from Worcestershire County Council, we have the opportunity to record the experiences of people who’ve lived around here all their lives. The next stage will be sharing these stories with the whole community.”
Julia explaied that she was relying on the people of Martley and the surrounding villages to help find the interviewees and get involved in the community play.
“People often say “if only I’d interviewed so and so before it was too late”. Recording was a very informal process, and quite fun and uncovered not only stories and anecdotes, but also descriptions of everyday life, details of all the farm chores in the days before machinery, and memories of the various events in the farming calendar. Julia was also interested in any old photos or documents that reflected farming and country life which could be used in a small exhibition. Researcher Sue Broome helped to co-ordinate interviews anditems of interest.
What happened to all the recordings?
- Some of the material has been used in “sound posts” giving oral history clips with exhibitions.
- CDs were made
- There were broadcasts and talks the BBC Hereford and Worcester
- John Townsend wrote a play called “Back Across the Fields” based on the Martley material that was performed at The Chantry High School in April 2010.
May Day Fair 2010 – Second World War theme
Held in the grounds of The Chantry High School
Funded by Generations Together
Images = may-fair1.jpg may-fair2.jpg may-fair3.jpg may-fair4.jpg may-fair5.jpg may-fair8.jpg may-fair9.jpg may-fair10.jpg may-fair11.jpg and also several project launch images named ohplaunch….jpg
Martley and Villages Oral History Project : Harvesting the Past
April 2010 update
How quickly the last year has gone! Twelve months ago I was embarking on the first of a series of oral history interviews in and around Martley at the start of Worcestershire County Council’s Harvesting the Past project. My first recording was with a gentleman in his nineties called Dinty Moore, who has lived in the same farm in Shelsey Beauchamp all his life. It was a fascinating interview, shedding light on hop farming across many decades. Dinty has a fine memory and could recall important details – little things which are unlikely to be put in books but should be recorded for future reference. Afterwards, I realised that Harvesting the Past was not only going to be a fascinating journey for me, but also an important window on the past for future generations. Many of my interviewees were nonagenarians who could recall farming in the twenties and thirties. I began to realise just how vital it was to record their stories and memories before they were lost forever.
Back Across the Fields
A year on, and I am watching the final rehearsals of a play called ‘Back Across the Fields’ written by John Townsend and based on the interviews I recorded last summer. The play is being brought to life by a large cast of Chantry High and Martley Primary pupils, along with a few members of the older generation. Last week, as I watched two cast members who are in their eighties perform their final scene, you could have heard a pin drop. Some of the students were moved to tears. I was pleased to see that the play was making an impact across the generations. I hope you will come and see for yourselves. Tickets are now on sale at the school office (9am to 3pm), Adults £5, Concessions £4. Dates: Wed 28th April to Sat 1st May. Performances: 7.30 on the Wed, Thur, Fri and 6.30 on the Sat. In the school Hall. UPDATE!! Tickets now also available at the Martley shop and Post Office.
The last performance falls on May Day which has given us an excuse to join forces with several other organisations and create a traditional ‘Martley May Fair’. This event (at the Chantry High) will start at midday and finish at 5pm, giving staff and pupils a short break before the last showing of ‘Back Across the Fields’. It promises to be a day to remember. Themed on the 1940s and 50s and with lots of people in costume, there really will be something for every generation, including sports, crafts, entertainment, dancing, singing, nature trails, stalls, stands, a farmer’s market, hot food and cream teas. The event will kick off promptly at 12pm with children from the primary school dancing round the May Pole.
For me, May Day will be the culmination of a unique project and a chance to share some of the audio that can now officially be called ‘The Harvesting the Past Archive’. If you are someone who isn’t able to come to the event or the show, there will be a CD (of music and extracts from the original interviews) and a DVD (of the play) available after May 1st. Please contact Julia Letts at Julia.firstname.lastname@example.org for further details.
August 09 Update on ‘Harvesting the Past’
by Julia Letts
As the autumn approaches, we are moving into the second stage of this exciting project in and around Martley and the Teme Valley. Many of you have already been involved and I would like to thank you for the support and wonderful contributions you have made. I would now like to get more people involved so please read on and keep your eyes peeled for further updates.
The aim of this project is to create an archive of farming and countryside stories for the Worcestershire Record Office, and to create a community play based on people’s memories and experiences. I have now completed 20 interviews, and have recorded about 50 hours of material. It has been a privilege to drive around such a beautiful area interviewing such welcoming and knowledgeable people, five of whom were well over 90.
Eric Delahay with an early tractor in 1949
The next stage of the project is to share some of their amazing stories with the rest of the community. All the recordings have now been transcribed, each running to between 30 and 60 pages of A4! These transcripts have now been delivered to the project’s playwright, local man John Townsend. By the time you read this, he will have turned the stories into a 90 minute play for the Chantry High School. When the term restarts in September, the Head of Drama there, Sue Rickman, will start to audition and cast parts in the play.
So if you have any interest or ambitions in community drama, now is the moment to come forward. The play will have parts for all age ages and we would like as many people from the community to be involved as possible, including the older generation. This is your play and it is about you. You will need to be available for rehearsals at the Chantry which will be on Wednesday afternoons/ early evening.
We are also desperate for some technical help, particularly with the lighting and sound side of the production. Are there any retired or available people out there who would relish the challenge of getting involved in the production?
My last appeal for volunteer transcribers was rewarded with three wonderful people (thank you so much!) so I’m hoping for a good response again. Please feel free to contact me on Julia.email@example.com or 01905 453023..
July 09 Update
Wanted: Volunteer Transcribers and a Web Designer
If you haven’t yet heard about ‘Harvesting the Past’, then read on. In May we launched this unique recording project at the Chantry High School. Our aim is to record the memories of lots of older people in the community, especially their experiences of growing up and farming in the 30s, 40s and 50s. These recordings will be saved for posterity at the Worcestershire Record Office. But they will also be used by a local playwright, John Townsend, to create a community play which will be staged at the Chantry next April.
We are now well into the recording phase of the project, and over the past few weeks, I have had the privilege of meeting some extraordinary people from Martley, Clifton and the Teme Valley, many of them in their 90s but with clear and vivid memories. Amongst many other things I have learnt how to make ‘proper’ hay ricks, how to find a curlew’s nest, how to hunt for eels, pick hops, balance at the top of a 30 foot ladder, harness a cart horse, salt a pig, and make butter in an old sweet jar.
One lady, born in 1919, told me how as a young girl she used to ride to Worcester to collect cows or horses from the train, and then herd or lead them back to the farm through the city streets and country lanes. Another, born the same year, remembers finishing her day’s work in the fields pulling beat and then cycling 10 miles – two to a bike – to dances in the nearest village hall.
Bert Bradley, currently Chairman of Clifton’s Parish Council, recalled his school days in Martley. The class room had high windows so you couldn’t see who was coming into the village, but you could tell who it was by the sound of their vehicle. The most welcoming sound was that of the Elderado man.
“He came from Worcester with the icecream box on his bike, and he would try to get to Martley at lunch time or when you were coming out of school. I think he had a uniform and a peak cap. To keep the ice cream cool… he had a block of solid ice with something in there. You could put a little bit of this stuff on your hand but if you left it, it would burn, not like a burn mark but like a nicotine mark – the stuff that they used to keep the thing cold.” Bert also remembers the circus coming to Martley and rushing to the field by the Crown to get first glimpse of the animals. The elephants, he recalls, gorged themselves on apples from the surrounding orchards.
These few examples are just the tip of the iceberg. I have recorded about 20 hours of material so far, and am still looking for more. If you know of anyone who really ought to be recorded, or you yourself have memories stretching back to the 30s, 40s or 50s, then please get in touch. We would particularly like to hear from anyone who was a midwife or district nurse in the area, anyone who sang or played in a band touring the village halls, anyone who was a prisoner of war and stayed on, or anyone who worked for an agricultural committee during the war.
Help in Other Areas
We also need help in other areas. Firstly, transcribing some of the interviews. This requires good typing and listening skills but is very rewarding. Secondly, is there someone out there who could give some time and expertise to help design a web page for the project?
We have been very lucky to receive funding from Worcestershire County Council to carry out ‘Harvesting the Past’. I hope we can provide a real insight into rural life in this area half a century ago, and inspire today’s youngsters to understand, value and relish these stories from the past.
Julia Letts, Oral History Producer
Please get in touch by emailing Julia.firstname.lastname@example.org or calling the project researcher, Sue Broome, on 01299 251512.
June 09 Update on Harvesting the Past
by Julia Letts, Project Coordinator.
If you have been following the progress of this project, I’m pleased to report that June has been a very busy month. I have had the privilege of interviewing more than a dozen fascinating people, four of whom were in their nineties and whose memories stretched back as far as the 1920s and in one case, the First World War. It has given me a real insight into the communities and farms around Martley and the Teme Valley, how the Estates operated before they were broken up, the plight of tenant farmers in the late twenties and early thirties, and how everything changed with the coming of the Second World War.
“I think farming has become quite a lonely occupation” says David Powell, who still lives in a bungalow on the farm in Rochford where he grew up. “When I was going to school, there were sixteen men working at the Bank Farm – I often wonder what the heck my father put them to do! They all had different roles… one gentlemen, more or less all he did for 11 months of the year was hedge trimming by hand. He had a straight arm – he’d got a shell in his arm – but boy, his hedge bill would cut. The Bank Farm was noted for its good hedges because he kept them small and nice. He was an exceptional man”.
As more and more of the labour force went off to war, and the demands for food production got greater, farmers relied on help from the Women’s Land Army and the German and Italian Prisoners of War, based at camps and hostels in Clifton and Tenbury.
David Powell befriended a young German man called Reinhold Mullecker who cycled out to the Powell’s farm every day from Tenbury. David has vivid memories of Reinhold fearlessly scaling the perry trees and digging holes by hand for the hop poles. David still treasures the violin and toys that Reinhold carved him in the 1940s, and all these years later, the two of them are still in touch.
The war also brought Gladys Hoskins to this area. She became a land girl in 1942. Based in Tenbury, she walked and later cycled to farms all over the area, doing everything from mucking out pig sheds, to cabbage planting and fruit picking.
“I remember one day we were doing beans. Golly, that was a filthy job. We were stooking these beans and we were filthy black. Suddenly a man’s face peered over the hedge and he said ‘Would any of you girls like a cup of tea?’ – there was a little cottage we didn’t know down in the hollow. Oh yes we would! He said ‘You’ll have to come over one at a time’ and he put a ladder against the hedge! Their names were Mr and Mrs Smith and we made friends with them.”
This is something that has come across in all of the interviews I’ve done to date: the friendships formed, the camaraderie and sense of community. I met one lady from the Black Country, Sheila Smith, on the farm in Shelsey Beauchamp where she and her family had come every year at hop picking time. “It was absolutely beautiful here. I was a babby in arms when I first came, and as time ran on, I took notice of things and remember more. I was 21 when I finished. We never wanted to go back home, never at all.” Sheila still visits every year and once took a coach party of former pickers back to Church House Farm.
Whilst I am still collecting all this information, and continuing to interview people all over the area, ‘Harvesting the Past’ is about to embark on its next stage. In early July I’ll be going into the Chantry High School to teach a group of students how to use recording equipment and make their own interviews. The following week it’ll be their turn to do the interviewing. We will be inviting a number of local people along who are willing to be quizzed by the pupils.
All this fascinating material will be available to the public by the end of the project. In August, John Townsend, our playwright, will start to create a community play based entirely on the oral histories I’ve collected. In September we’ll start recruiting actors and actresses and rehearsals will begin. If you’d like to get involved in any aspect of the project please email Julia.email@example.com or ring Sue Broome on 01299 251512. We will be delighted to hear from you.