Martin’s memories from The Cheshire School of Agriculture in 1952

Cheshire School of Agriculture alumnus Martin Bourne shares his fantastic memories from his time studying with us in 1952/53.

I saw an advertisement in either the Farmer and Stockbreeder or the Farmers Weekly (we used to read both from cover to cover) for government funded scholarships, tenable at any farm institute in the country.

There were sixty available, only to the sons or daughters of farm workers or bona fide workers in agriculture. I applied for one and fortunately was successful.

Immediately I decided that Reaseheath was the place for me.

The scholarship provided all fees, books and even the £1 caution money that was mandatory. There was also an allowance of £10 per term for expenses. I used that for pocket money and proudly collected a pound each week from the office. None of the other students had the same privilege.

From that day, I believe that it was during the month of June, Reaseheath was uppermost in my mind. I studied pamphlets and even rode round on my motor bike to have a good look at what was going to be my “home” for the following year.

Eventually, Tuesday 23rd September arrived. The literature emphasised that motorbikes were not permitted at the college, so my friend Bob loaded my cases into his van and delivered me into “the unknown”. The hall of residence or Men’s Hostel back in 1952 was the Hall itself, formerly the home of the Cotton-Jodrell family for many years. I was placed in room one, first floor, situated directly above the Principal’s office. There were four of us in that room, all with surnames beginning with B. The four bees.

Unless someone can correct me, the total number of students at Reaseheath was forty-nine. Thirty male students on the general agriculture course, plus one studying dairying, and one poultry management. Somewhere, I still have a list of every student for that intake.

The girls lived in the women’s hostel [now Windsor Hall]. All were doing a general course in dairying and poultry farming. Rather cruelly we used to say that for the females, Reaseheath was a stop-gap between leaving school and getting married. Looking back there were a few romantic liaisons between the sexes, but life was very different in those days.

I soon learned that, unlike myself, some other students had turned up at Reaseheath on the opening day on motor bikes. During the previous year, a student has been involved in a fatal accident on his motor bike. The committee, (correctly entitled The Agricultural Education Sub Committee), declared a complete ban on motorbikes from that time onwards. Consequently, the lads who had turned up on bikes were directed to a neighbouring farmer Mr Tom Irvine, who had been extremely tolerant and allowed students from earlier years to keep motorbikes in one of his outbuildings. That farm is Reaseheath Old Hall, which is now part of the college campus.

By Saturday of the first week, I had been home and fetched my own motor bike to join the others. With living fairly close I was able to have a double social life. Some weekends I spent with my newfound student friends, and others with my pals from earlier days.

Our course, though essentially practical, was divided pretty evenly between lectures and outside practical work.

General farm work meant rising in time to start milking at 6am, a bitter shock to some. Morning and evening duties were on a rota basis.

Lectures were mostly in the mornings. After lunch there could be an occasional lecture, an outside visit or more likely a talk by a guest speaker. Most afternoons it was manual farm work.

There were two herds of cows. At Hall Farm there was a herd of Ayrshires (the principal Mr Lamberton came from Ayrshire), cared for by head cowman Tom Bailey, whilst at the experimental farm there was a herd of dairy shorthorns which were gradually being replaced with British Friesians towards the end of our course.

The experimental farm was quite conspicuous as one approached from Nantwich. As soon as you passed the Red Lion pub, (now demolished), looking straight ahead, there was a tall white tower silo at the corner of the shippon. The silo disappeared many years ago.

Incidentally, cows there were milked in a milking parlour, one of the first in the area.

At Hall Farm they were still milked in the traditional way, in the shippons with milk being carried in buckets across the yard to the dairy. I reckon that there were about fifty milkers at the time. The shippons had their own adjoining dairy built in 1956.

Also, at Hall Farm were two piggeries that housed a herd of pedigree large whites. Fatteners in the old buildings opposite the farm bailiff’s house and breeders in the ‘new piggery’ behind the Dutch barn close to the shippons.

The arable side of the enterprise was a big disappointment to me. Shall we say, out-dated. Corn harvest was still done with a binder and much manual labour. The potato digger was horse drawn and believe it or not, muck spreading was still done with forks, spreading it from heaps previously placed up and down the field.

The horses were ably assisted by two grey Ferguson tractors and a pre-war standard Fordson which was known as the ‘students’ tractor’.

Whether any students ever drove it is debatable. A large part of our practical machinery course (1 hour per week) consisted of decarbonising the Fordson. Imagine, with four cylinders and thirty students, it gave us each about one square inch of carbon to scrape from the piston heads. As far as I can remember, the only other practical machinery instruction was painting old equipment. We used to quip that Mr Blake, our lecturer, has shares in a red lead manufacturers business.

Certain lecturers were known to drone on in a very boring way and unless it was a subject that one was really interested in, it was not unusual for a student to take an alarm clock into the lecture room and even more common for a student to doze off during a tedious talk, especially after lunch. Mr Louch (poultry) and Mr Lamberton, the Principal (animal husbandry), always needed reminding that the hour was over.

Back to the practical, cutting kale covered in frost then loading it onto the horse cart at six in the morning wasn’t my choice of fun. Equally frustrating was hedge cutting. Accepting that it was the time before mechanical hedge-cutters, the task at Reaseheath was tedious because Jimmy Jackson, the farm bailiff insisted that all roadside hedges were cut with dubbing shears. Brushing hooks and slashers were for the field side only. “We’re right in the public eye” he asserted.

Imagine cutting the hedge from the end of the back drive up the Worleston Road to the college boundary at mile end. I must add that Jimmy Jackson used to travel all round checking the various farm activities on his bicycle.

During the early part of 1953, the County Council purchased Old Hall Farm from the owners of Poole Hall. Almost immediately a large acreage was added to Reaseheath. We were told that the tenant farmer, Mr Irvine (the man who stored our motor bikes), was happy to farm on a much smaller scale. His comment to some of the students was “They told you that, did they?”

He was decidedly unhappy, and a mere four years later, he gave up the tenancy, which doubtless suited the college very nicely.

The time passed quickly and before long it was time to depart. Term ended two days before my eighteenth birthday. I had reached my target, a certificate with credit. I still have the certificate sixty-eight years later. That was not the end of my connection with Reaseheath. Far from it. I regularly attended all the student reunions with the 1955 one being the most memorable. That was when I met my future wife, Audrey. She was on the staff as a laboratory technician. I could write at least a further two pages about that night!

From then on things happened quickly. Audrey and I got engaged four months later. Then I went to work on the farm at Reaseheath while Audrey left to work in the laboratories at Newhall Dairies. I worked at Hall Farm for three years and there is one thing that can still be seen to this day. When the college acquired the extra land, there was some waste ground on the boundary between our ground and Poole Hall that was very steep and fit for nothing. It was too awkward for ploughing and generally unproductive. I was put with a grey Fergie and half a set of discs to work the ground to a fine tilth. It must have taken weeks rather than days. Then the ground was planted with mainly fir trees, interspersed with a few oaks, partly as a screen for the occupants of the hall, also as a contra-agreement as the college management has been felling many trees on the entire estate, which had to be replaced by law. Seen from the road, those two-foot-high trees are now very mature.

Soon after that, I finished working at Reaseheath with the comment that tractor driving just meant a wet back side and an empty pocket. I rarely got a tractor with a cab and Reaseheath management in their wisdom only considered ex-students to be worth the agricultural minimum wage. That was the end of my career in agriculture but not quite the end of my contact with Reaseheath.

My son Malcolm went there as a mature student 1995-97 to do his HND and then again in 2012-14, when he did his BSc in Food Technology.

Meanwhile, I had a long and interesting career in the industry. After I retired aged 65, I went part time coach driving and my duties regularly included taking students home from the college, and also parties of schoolchildren from Crewe schools to and from Reaseheath for their work experience. I finally gave up working altogether at the young age of 77!

Other interesting facts: My father-in-law worked in the horticultural department in the mid-1950s and my late brother-in-law was a student in 1944-45.

I still have seven Reaseheath Association year books from between 1957 and 1970.

Finally, last week as I sat by the lake for a rest, I told my great grandson: “See that lake, I have swum in it. Fished in in, skated on it, played ice hockey on it, and believe it or not, played football on it. During the winter, the ice was that thick.” Beat that!

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