For a flavour of farm life in the last century, reading Dot’s memoirs is a must!
Mrs Dorothy “Dot” Robinson
Contributed by Cynthia Lucas
Dot was born in 1925 and at the age of five went to live at Brownhills, Betton. School was first of all Mount Lane, Market Drayton and later in Little Drayton. The journey to school was quite an adventure. Dot first had to cross the Market Drayton to Stoke on Trent railway line and clearly remembers almost coming to grief on the level crossing which crossed Brownhills Lane. The next part was crossing fields on footpaths now defunct and then crossing the canal before arriving in Market Drayton. There was no school transport in those days, which is why Dot is such a good walker and has valuable local knowledge which serves well in the Market Drayton Branch of the Ramblers Association of which Dot was a founder member.
At the age of 14 Dot left school and went to live and work at Brownhills Farm where she was paid five shillings a week (25p) plus her keep. She milked cows morning and night by hand and was always given the heifers as her hands were the smallest of those milking.
They had good food during the war years, killing one of the pigs on the farm and making sausages and pies, the rest being cured and dried for later use. Dot enjoyed the work especially helping to pump water up into the bedrooms and was treated like one of the family. Catching rabbits with a ferret was another of Dot’s skills; they were sold on Drayton market along with pigeons at one shilling each (5p) and eggs at 10.5d a dozen (about 4p). “The eggs were dipped in tea to make them brown as they sold better” said Dot. When Dot reached the age of 21 her elder sister got married so she left the farm to look after her mother who had gone blind.
Dot then went to Oakley Farm doing the dairy work which was very enjoyable. In 1947 there were seven families on the farm and Dot also had a cottage there. Dot remembers the bread being delivered four days a week and the butcher calling as well. Oakley Hall was a school in those days and the farming families were invited to concerts at the school. There was the freedom to walk wherever they wished in the grounds, in the woods and around the lake where there was a cave containing canoe which had been dug out of the river and which is now in Birmingham Museum.
On Sundays many people came to walk the estate; the local farmer Mr George allowed people to walk in his fields as long as they closed the gates. Mr Dennis, who owned Oakley Hall, went to live at Park House on the Estate, after his wife died. Mrs CC Dennis, his late wife, gave the Oakley Cup to the Oakley Women’s Institute in August 1928 and then it languished in the bank during the war. In 1952 Mr Dennis gave the Oakley Cup to Mucklestone WI to be competed for each year as there was no longer an Oakley WI. Dot has been the recipient of the cup 20 times. She joined Mucklestone WI and Church after her daughter started school and she is still a WI member 52 years later.
In 1949 Dot married Henry Robinson whose father had been the butler at Peatswood Hall (another interesting story). They lived at Oakley on the farm in a tied cottage where Dot worked as a dairy maid. In 1962 Henry and Dot moved to the Lodge House, opposite Daisy Lake, for 13 years. Henry died in 1975 so Dot moved to Mucklestone for 18 years before finally settling in Norton-in-Hales.
Dot has many wonderful memories of her time at Brownhills and Betton as well as precious farming memories. Every 24th October there was the “Dirty Fair” at Market Drayton when the gypsies from near and far gathered to sell their ponies. The ponies were put into fields around Betton Wood. They were almost wild but the children would climb on them and ride them. There were lots of caravans parked along the road especially near Mucklestone Rectory. They would collect tin cans from Daisy Lake, and make pegs. During the “Dirty Fair” there was a lot of drinking and fighting in the town so the children were not allowed there. At Christmas time there was carol singing along Brownhills Lane and the carollers were given an apple, an orange and threepenny bit (3d).
Betton Moss was a real moss in those days always very wet with duck and wildlife. It was also a source of food for Dot’s family. There was no ploughed and pasture land but lots of wild flowers and watercress. Dot’s mother made dandelion wine using primroses and cowslips as well. Water hens and ducks eggs were a delicacy and these were collected by putting a spoon on the end of a stick. Catapults were also useful when gathering food. Blackberries were an important ingredient in ones diet and the children were sent off to collect them but one day Dot and her siblings encountered a rather belligerent cow and they had to climb a tree until and the cows were called in for milking.
The canal also played an important part in Dot’s early life. It was here that she learnt to swim and also saw the cows from one of the nearby farms walk across the frozen canal and out the other side in 1947. Dot’s brother Geoff used to sheer sheep and Dot had to turn the handle of the machine which made her arms ache. They were paid 1shilling 6 pence for each sheep which was 9d. for each of them.
Another back-breaking time was the harvest with the binder making the sheaves of corn which then had to be stooked “there were lots of scratched arms”, said Dot. The stooks were finally gathered in and then stacked in the barn. After a hot day a swim in the pool was appreciated along with soap and towel as in those days there were no bathrooms.
The next back-breaking time was the threshing. This is when the lumbering threshing machines arrived from Holland’s by the present fire station, pulled by steam driven traction engines. Dot’s job was to throw the sheaves from the stack on to the threshing box where a man cut the string and threw them into the machine. Dot had a really good dog called Nip who managed to catch 10 rats in one day. In 1958 Mr George bought a wonderful machine called a combine harvester for £1,200. This cut out much of the hard work but Dot had to put the sacks on to the machine to collect the grain.
As a child and young lady Dot attended Betton Church in Moss Lane every Sunday. She would cross Betton Moss from Brownhills Lane and she would walk down Moss Lane. She was Head Girl and gave out attendance stamps to the others. Mr Brazier took Sunday School and social events were in a wooden hut, long since gone. This hut also served as a changing room for Betton football club. Harvest saw the church full of fruit and flowers and Dot’s job was to thread rose hips for a garland on the altar. Mrs Moore, who lived at Betton Farm House, made a large sheath of bread and each family had a small piece. At Christmas time Mr Heathcote, who lived at Betton House, gave them all a present. The Crompton family lived at Betton Hall which had beautiful walled gardens. Two of the sons of the family were killed in the war and a daughter Rosemary became a nun. The black and white house, Betton Old Hall, was a tied cottage for the Hall.
One of Dot’s two daughters was the last to be christened at Betton Church (now converted to a dwelling). Dot says “The vicar forgot to bring the water for the baptism and as there was no mains water in the church he had to collect the water from the stream by the side of Moss Lane and Romaine had a real country baptism”.
Here are a few more of Dot’s memories of rural life. “A very smart lady solicitor who visited friends in Brownhills Lane thought she would take a short cut back to Market Drayton one evening and she walked up the plank on to a large muck heap at Brownhills Farm and fell in. The occupants of the farm were alerted by cries of Help! Murder!”. “Another Brownhills experience happened during the war; as a train was travelling from Market Drayton to Stoke the sound of a German aeroplane was heard. It was following the recently stoked up steam train and it dropped its bomb at Ridgewardine but no one was hurt”. A rare sight was to see a bull with a bike on its horns. “A cowman from Oakley was taking a short cut home when the bull attacked so he threw his bike at it and fled” There were times of celebration for example for the Coronation in 1953, when Mr and Mrs Challinor in Moss Lane painted all their cottage red, white and blue.
Hunting was an important activity in the area during the winter months. When Mr Heathcote of Betton House was out he would toss 3d. to those opening the gates. When Oakley Hall was empty for a while the Hunt Ball was held in the house. All the furniture, settees and chairs had to be brought in along with wood for the fires. One bedroom was converted into a fish-bar, “a lot of work but a great event” said Dot.
Dot continues her activities in the village helping friends and neighbours and being a source of knowledge to the young and to those who were not born and bred here. Her public spiritedness still continues through her daughters Romaine and Karen, who is now one of our Norton-in-Hales Parish Councillors.