Interview by Margaret Cooper in 2000 for the “Oxton Now & Then” publication.
David and Betty Lees, farmers, of Moorfield Farm, Oxton.
[David] “[The Lees family] came to Oxton to farm on Lady Day, 25th March, 1945. W e came from Bilsthorpe because a previous landlord there was taking the farm back [and we were] lucky enough to get this farm which at that time would be about four hundred and sixty acres. We kept various men [who] came with us from Bilsthorpe. I [David] was thirteen [and] going to school at Southwell. [The farm] was vastly different, there was a great deal more grassland and we kept live stock in terms of milk cows, we reared all the calves. We also kept about three hundred ewes, we would have the lambs, and they were all marketed at Mansfield market which was an excellent market. We brought about three horses from Bilsthorpe. We were using them on little tipping carts, but we only worked with them probably [for] the first year, year and a half. There were some jobs we were finding difficult with tractors such as splitting potato ridges, and we kept them on for that job. But about 1946 or ’47 we bought this small Ferguson tractor with hydraulics which was a complete innovation because we then had hydraulic tipping trailers and it was quite a boon. It changed the whole concept of the way we farmed to some degree, and I think about 1950 the horses were sold off”.
[Betty] ” I used to come up with father to Moorfield for various reasons when Uncle Bill [her father’s brother who was tenant farmer at Moorfield before the Lees family] was here. I didn’t like it much. [Uncle Bill] dealt in sheep. He’d take horses as a bad debt, he took a lot of horses and they used to chase about all over the Roman camp and they used to frighten the life out of me. He had some poultry across the road.. My cousin [Joan Sansom] used to keep her riding horses up here”.
[David] “I started going down to Lowdham Young Farmers Club and she [Betty] was the Secretary. We got married in 1955 when Betty was 22 and I was 23. We lived in the first of the two new cottages [here]”
[Betty] “For the first time in my life I’d left home for goodness sake, I mean it was a long way from Gunthorpe to Oxton. I’d also moved from a very big farm house into a little cottage and I hadn’t a clue how to keep house in a small cottage. It was isolated and I couldn’t drive at that time, I did learn to drive very shortly afterwards”.
[David] “The dairy herd had developed. They were good Friesians, about thirty five, sometimes forty. That was one man’s work and then he had his relief at the week ends. There was light traffic [on] the bypass, it was only open at one side and we could trail the cows down the road and let them graze either side the road. There wasn’t enough traffic at that time to bother us. A lot of the store cattle at that time were coming over from Ireland. My father went, once or twice [to] buy cattle. You’d put together a group of cattle and then they’d come over to Birkenhead, then they’d come by rail to Newark and be collected from there”
“We had some pigs as well. We only had about thirty to forty sows, we also fattened those up to bacon weight. The funny thing is we were getting exactly the same pounds per pig, that’s pounds sterling, as today”.
“There’d be five [herds of cows in the village]. Singleton’s up on the next farm they weren’t milking at that time, he had a lot of beef cattle spread out on these hills over here feeding ‘em on sileage, [he] was quite a pioneer in this district in that direction”.
“We would be bringing on average about three hundred sheep a week down into this district [from Scotland]. We hear on the news today cattle and sheep weren’t moved about but they were”.
[Betty] “My Aunt Nellie ran a lorry or two lorries. She collected milk and had a coal haulage business which is quite strange, but she was a very astute woman, she’d actually been trained at Sutton Bonington in butter making and cheese making but then she finished up with this little haulage job. It was a milk lorry in the morning and it turned into a coal lorry in the afternoon and the same man delivered.. They did a little loop round you see, going round various farms and I don’t know what a lorry would carry, but say fifty or sixty churns I would think”.
[David] “Some of the local farmers and various other people were co- opted into what became the War Agricultural Committee. They had instruction to instruct farmers to plough land up which had never been ploughed up before. There was some resentment about that but it had to be done. Mr Singleton on the next farm, he was very strong in the N.F.U. and taking part generally in good works. Farming had been supported until , the Government withdrew all support and a lot of people couldn’t afford to employ anybody much at all and a lot of the big hedges round about, they just become trees, they just grew. [When] we came along, we tried to lay them in about 1948, but you couldn’t lay them to make a good job, they were too thick and too strong”.
“We had German soldiers towards the end of the war, before that we had Italians, but from what my parents said, nobody could get Italians to work, decorative, just purely decorative. And if you had land army girls and Italians……it was a disaster! [If] the Germans do anything they do it well and they really would work and they enjoyed it too and you know we got to like Germans. Nicky Hackerman [a German prisoner of war] worked here and at Esam’s for a while too. He married a Blidworth girl and he worked hard as a milk man for a start and then he became a car dealer and I understand he did very well. If you were a German prisoner and you found yourself in a decent farm where people were not cruel, you had a job, you had food, you had probably even the use of a radio. They weren’t too badly off were they, better than them being on the front line”.
[Betty] “I knew [Poles] as visitors from the aerodromes, they came with the Air Force, they were basically at Newton aerodrome. They used to come and talk to father. Several of them said they couldn’t go back, this is when we realised the strength of communism and they didn’t go back, they daren’t go back”.
[David] “The keepers on the Estate would be paid agricultural wages and part of their income would be catching rabbits. Well there was a big sale for rabbits because there was food rationing on up ‘til about 1951.I can’t remember the exact date that myxomatosis came along and the rabbits disappeared within a month”.
[Betty] “About 1962 I was doing a little bit of local work for the Chad [Mansfield newspaper]. Father said, ‘we need someone to do the farming page’. I couldn’t type, anyway overnight I became the producer of this agricultural page. So I bought a typewriter, I taught myself to type literally overnight, because it had to be produced properly you see. That went on for a while and then my father died and sadly I couldn’t [continue]”
[David] ” Betty took over the secretarial work for the business [until] a couple years ago and I say she did it well “.
[Betty] “We had three sons. [They] all work on the farm. Two are partners, Tim, was rather badly injured in a road accident, he isn’t a partner but he now does the office work; he has taken over my job in the office. They live within ten yards of our house, now you work that out. Yes I kicked them all out at one time, made them all go and buy houses, now we’ve all finished up in the same place.
[David] “[We originally rented the farm from the Estate, then we bought it in 1982 or 3]. It made some difference, you know, we would spend money on farm buildings which we wouldn’t have done. We owned at that time other land in Lincolnshire which we sold off really to buy this. The only advantages were you felt if we were spending capital on it to improve various things, we could see a future in doing that”
[David] “Because of government policy, [and] E.E.C. paying good prices for cereals it was a much easier life growing those than what it was looking after livestock, and I think that warranted a big change. Also we’d started to become quite big potato growers; we were supplying a lot of potatoes to Walkers at the crisping industry. We were finding that [in] spring and autumn it took so much labour to do those jobs well, and we were neglecting the livestock. Well that wouldn’t do, so we don’t have so much livestock these days. You could not move cows over this road, and the grass is one side and the building’s the other. The traffic on the road was part of the decision to do less in live stock because back in my youth we would walk a flock of sheep from Upton through Southwell to Calverton, I’ve done that quite a few times”.
[Betty] “Your father was a legend for moving sheep, you know very well he was. He could move a thousand down this road without batting an eye lid! Things have changed, it’s due to traffic”.
[Betty] “I did lots of public and political service, and I still do belong to the National Agricultural Board and [give help] as school manager on schools locally, children with disability and one up at Ramsdale, because we had one child who had had a disability at birth. [For this] I was appointed MBE”.
[Betty] “We’d had those very dry summers of ’76 and were growing potatoes, well we weren’t growing potatoes because they weren’t growing, we were getting about three tons. The upshot was that we were allowed to put down a [bore] hole to investigate the flow [of water] with a very good result “.
[David] “I think its millions of gallons a day. Those droughts were disastrous to us. The wet land had become dry land and so on, and the rest of it was drought prone, largely because both the collieries had lowered the water table plus the town pumps and we argued that they’d taken the water off the land so we’re entitled to have some back. We filled the Dover Beck and we filled every other beck, it was wonderful, it was like Christmas for the day. When I first came to Oxton, we weren’t supposed to but we used to go down there [to Beanford] swimming. All the kids in Oxton played in that water there. That stream dried up three weeks after that pumping station started.[in] about 1950. There used to be a stream on very, very old maps and it was the major source of Dover Beck”.
[Betty] “My father used to wash sheep in that sheep wash [by the Nottingham Road]”.
[Betty] “I remember the furniture sale [at Oxton Hall].It would be 1956 They had a sale of contents and looking back, there were some beautiful things but we had that small cottage [so] there wasn’t much I could get in. I always remember the phrase ‘scintillating chandelier’ and I think only fetched about fifty pounds, now it would fetch thousands of pounds. I did buy a couple of rather nice water colours. I think Violet, one of the sisters had painted them. I think I gave five shillings each. It was a lovely sale before [the Hall] was demolished”..
[David] “I can remember Lord Charles a little bit, he’d be in his late seventies, well in his seventies to eighties the time I recall him. As a man everybody spoke well of him. He was a tall man, he’d been a soldier in his early days in the Boer War and I remember him with his African type hat on riding this white pony [which] used to carry him about. I can remember his stirrups being at level with the bottom of its belly. He rode in the way that somebody who sort of lived in the saddle. The horse was very much his work thing, you know he got pleasure out of it as well as no doubt, but it was there to carry him about.. He was an excellent shot”.
[David] “If you were Chapel and Liberal that was about at radical as you could get”
[Betty].:”My granddad was a Chapel and Liberal. I think there [were] several generations of people who were becoming independent and I think they were moving up through that Methodist religion, they weren’t going to be taken along the line of ‘thou shalt’, it was ‘we shall do’, ‘we have another idea.’ I think you’ll find that most of what I call the indigenous population were Chapel and there’s a certain, I shouldn’t use the word ‘revolt’, but they were people with their own opinions were they not”
[David] “Jonathan, that’s our middle son, set up keeping outdoor pigs. The advantage is [that it is] quite an healthy way of going on. Pigs don’t mind, they certainly like the winters, pigs do well in winter as a rule. What they don’t like is the sunshine in the summer and they suffer a bit and they don’t breed so well, they lay about rather than mating. Consequently you get four months on from June and July you find out you haven’t got quite so many piglets coming forth. We were told that if we did this outdoor, rearing outdoor production there would definitely be a premium on the finished product, well that wasn’t to be quite like that, no”.
[David] “When I first started work we didn’t have any weed killers on the sugar beet and we’d start hand hoeing it about the last week in April, and it would be hand hoeing until July. Men over from western Ireland used to come and do it, but also we’d get locals, you’d get miners who were on the morning shift would come in the afternoon ‘cos they liked being outdoors. We paid them on piece work according to what they’d done on site”.
[David] “[When I was] eighteen or nineteen or twenty, twenty one, I was going over to Blidworth each day or one of the mining villages collecting about thirty people with a tractor and trailer or a little lorry that we had to come and pick the potatoes. I was finding it difficult to handle them”.
[Betty] “They tormented the life out of you. The trouble is that, with respect, they were pretty experienced ladies, you know. I was actually driving the trailer and your father appeared and they just said ‘we’ll chase him round and we’ll take his trousers off’, I mean your father, I’d never seen him disappear so fast in his life”.
Harry Strutt, Dick Wells and Herbert Rollston at Moorfield Stackyard, 1900