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Mr Sidney Payne (May-June 1997)
Article two in the 'Horses in Agriculture' Loop

As you will read in the Parish Council report Mr Sidney Payne was presented with a "Good Husbandry" award on the 7th April, 1997. Whilst in conversation with him after the meeting he expressed the wish to have his life-story recorded in the village magazine. When an editor is presented with such a request you do not turn it down and, so, this article was born. It is intended that this column continue on a semi-regular basis.

As seemed appropriate I first asked Sid about the award.

I had plots 18 and 19 on the Hythe Road for 26 years, that's about acre. I gave up 19 two years ago and kept the 'scutty' side, the bit that's difficult for a tractor because it tapers from 12 yards down to 1. I dug them both by hand and I've grown all sorts of vegetables. Always been happy to give bits away. On hot days I've eaten beans, broccoli and rhubarb raw for moisture. I've done my best and I've enjoyed myself.

Have you any advice for gardeners?

We know you want a bit of rubbish, you can't do away with 'wildlife' rubbish, but if you're going to garden you can't garden for rubbish. You got to keep clean.

Sid, you said that you wanted your life story recorded, what's your earliest memory?

I remember when I was eight I used to go to Sonny Banhams of Feltwell with Alec Banham after school. That's the old school, what's now the WI hall. We used to have tea and then strike off to fetch the cows from Haythill fen off the Southery Road and bring them home to Feltwell. Banham's farm was in Paynes Lane, just to the side of the old caravan park, where we used to milk them at 6pm. At the heart of summer Jack Brown and me we took the pony and milk float, loaded with empty churns, out to the cows for milking. They stayed out when it was hot enough. We milked them in the fields and it took us about three hours all together. When we got back to the farm the milk was put in the cooler where it was stirred all night so that it could be sold the following morning. I remember a man put a churn on his bike and went round the village. He had two measures with him, a pint and a one pint. His can held two gallons. A lot of the milk was put down to butter. I did this until I was 12 years old when the airfield came. We lived in Lime Kiln Lane and the house was compulsorily purchased. We moved to Black Dyke cottages where Dad became a tenant to A. W. Spencer. All our livestock went, sold or slaughtered, apart from one goat. I remember she had this habit of putting one foot on your leg before she would let you milk her.

Father was a small holder and allotment farmer and I used to help out. I remember having to feed the pigs in winter. I had to take a hurricane lamp into the back garden because a pig will always walk to a light, but if you put it down they knocked it over and you where left in the dark. We also kept goats. We used to drink the milk and if any was spare Mother used to turn it into butter. It was white butter. Father's first job I remember was as Head Horseman for Mr Porter. He looked after the 'travelling horse' - the stallion - and was often way for weeks at a time with the horse in the 'season'. He then did contract thrashing for Cocks where he was the drum-feeder and then he moved to A W Spencers. We had to walk to school from Blackdyke which meant leaving at 7.40 and then back again at night, but they were happy old days. I remember Mr Fashnidge was Head and there was Mr Davidson, Mrs Spinks and Miss Addison was the Deputy. The big school is now the factory in The Beck.

I used to help out weekends and holidays with the livestock, cows bullocks, sheep; feeding and milking by hand occasionally. At 14 I left school as you did then and went to work regularly at Spencers including 2-3 years with the plough horses. At harvest time I had to get the horses ready to pull the Binder. There were three horses which pulled the Binder, this cut and bound the sheaves. Whilst the Binder went around the field I had to mow the corners and also sharpen the knives by hand. These were blades about 4-5 foot long. There were 3 or 4 sets of knives so there was a lot of sharpening to do. I remember the routine. At 11am I took the second set of horses to the Binder and returned with the first set. Fed and watered them and gave them a brush down with a cloth. Then they rested for the rest of the day. The third set I took up at 4pm and brought the second set back. And I had to fit in ploughing the corners and sharpening the knives. When I was 17 come 18 I remember leading the 'trace horse' pulling the sheaves back to the yard for stacking and then having to take the empty cart back with the 'trace horse' having left the other one to rest. One year I was 'backer' to Jack Crook, the stacker. One man used to put the sheaves on the elevator which was horse powered and there was three men putting the sheaves down. The stack would be 13-14 yds long.    Continue the horse in agriculture' loop.

Moving to tractors must have been quite a change?

It was. You see, a horse you could talk to, a tractor you can't, and they knew, they was company. The combine had no cab, it was cold and wet. You didn't have waterproofs, you just packed yourself with sacking and got on with the job. It took best part of a month to get the combine ready. There was over 300 acres of corn to cut. When we was harvesting sugar beet I remember loading up the wagons at the railway siding at Whitedyke. Full wagons were changed for empty ones at night and the railway ran through Poppylot Fen, across the Southery Road, Methwold Fen and on to Wissington. (Has anyone got photos of this railway? Ed.) When the line was closed and pulled up Spencers had to buy a lorry and I had to cart the beet, which I did but didn't really enjoy. In between carting beet I had to drive mustard to Colemans of Norwich. The seed was in 16 stone bags and restrictions on driving were less then so I left at 5am returned and ate my lunch whilst the lorry was filled again and then did a second run. I stayed at Spencers until I was 49 (1972).

Father had died in '43 of a heart attack at the age of 57. I was 20. My sisters had got married and I vowed to stay with Mum until I lost her. Anyhow at 49 I was sacked from Spencers over a disagreement about tractors. I was given a minutes notice. I had a bit of redundancy money due me but it took the Agricultural workers union 2 years to get it. I got about 300 for 35 years work. The Union and, I remember, Mr Bill Ayers of the Parish Council, in particular helped me and Mum to get number 25 (Mulberry Close). Unfortunately Mum died within 6 months of moving in. I was without work for 2-3 weeks when my brother-in-law, a foreman at Wesenham Farms, got me a tractor driving job and then, in the second year, I moved to combines. David Edwards was manager at that time. I spent 14 years down on the fen. I remember demonstrating for Webbs of Ipswich a new seed drill and having to go on a days course to learn to drive a new Claas combine. A chap came every year to test you, to see if you made the grade for combining.

Then they had to cut down on staff. They wanted 10 to go redundant but could only find 7. They brought me and two others in to make up the ten. I was barely 59 at the time but fortunately for reasons I still don't know they decided to keep all those under 62. This unsettled me and got me to thinking 'What would I do when the 'book' came in?' I found a job with Parrotts of Weeting and worked a weeks notice. After a months trail the job was mine. Things had come full circle. I was working on the old trashing machines and with livestock again. For many years I demonstrated at the Steam Engine Rally and at the age of 64, 4-5 months before retirement, I had a heart attack at work. After recovering I was asked to go back to 'potter-about' with the machines and the cattle. I had an invalidity pension of 34 a week.

Many thanks Sid, but just to finish, what are your finest memories?

My finest memory? Leading the horse for hoeing the beet with my father. Also, combining the harvest. It's interesting setting the machine up. You can't just go, it has to be set. You have to use your knowledge.

I would like to thank everybody who has helped me out at various times for one thing or another.

Once again, thank-you.

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