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The fertile Malhamdale fields grew a problematic, chest high crop of
Malham smithy: At the outbreak of war, most farms in the Dales were still using horses although tractors were beginning to appear. Many of the horses were taken to the smithy at Malham for shoeing. There was also a blacksmith at Airton. Edgar Armstrong shoeing "Captain"
belonging to Mr Yeadon (stood in the doorway).
Changing the hour: In order to give maximum light for work, double summer time operated during the war years.
The Agriculture Executive Committee (War Ag) supplied the necessary equipment and additional labour including Land Girls.
The threshing machine at Otterburn required plenty of hands. On top is John Preston a land girl and another local farmer, on the ground L-R are Edgar Milner, Ronald Ashworth, Jack Robinson and his daughter and Veronica Fell.
War Ag workers and Land Girls on a Fordson Tractor. L-R Fred Reeves, Phyllis Larrard, Charlie Stapleton, Kathleen Greaves, ?, Bob Martin.
The War Ag supplied all the necessary machinery to put suitable areas of Malhamdale under cultivation.
The Sharp family ran an extensive poultry business based at Skellands.
provide both meat for the pot and a cash crop. Mr Cox from Burnley (L) came regularly to buy rabbits from William Blades of Capon Hall.
During the years of the war the face of the Dales changed enormously
due to the changes in agriculture. Today, as before the war, we are used
to seeing virtually all pasture, but because of the desperate food shortages
during the war years, local farms had to grow crops such as oats, turnips,
potatoes and kale. Whereas before the war only 30 acres of Cravens
500,000 acres was under cultivation, by 1944 the figure had increased
to 50,000 acres, 10% of the total acreage.
Local farmers had no choice about this change. The Government set up a
body called the War Agriculture Executive Committee, or War Ag, whose
purpose was to control all aspects of agriculture. The main office was
at the Stray Hotel in Harrogate, but Malham, Kirkby Malham, Airton, Settle,
Hellifield and Long Preston were administered from an office in Settle,
and there was also an office in Skipton. Each farm was visited by an inspector,
the acreage assessed, and a decision made on how many acres were to go
under the plough. Have a look at the details for the farms
in Kirkby Malham from the farm survey and see what they were told
to grow. Needless to say, many farmers were not happy to see their best
pastures ploughed up.
This growing of crops involved much labour in ploughing, sowing and harvesting,
all at a time when labour on farms was at a minimum. Also, dales farms
did not possess the equipment needed for this type of agriculture. Most
were still using horses rather than tractors. To solve this problem, War
Ag was equipped with all the necessary tractors and equipment to do this
work along with drivers. The depot for the machinery for Malhamdale was
two nissen huts up Settle Road in Scosthrop, on the site of the new buildings
at Moorend Farm. Edgar Milner was in charge of men and machinery and Ronnie
Ashworth was second in command. They used standard Fordson tractors and
were hired, along with land army girls, to undertake these tasks.
There were several problems with growing these crops in the Dale. Firstly,
the soil was very shallow so large tracts of land were unsuitable for
ploughing. Secondly, the land was very fertile and crops such as oats
grew too long in the stem, making them difficult to handle. Thirdly it
was a short growing season often with wind and rain flattening the crop
and making it difficult to ripen and harvest. Also the small fields and
narrow lanes and gates made access to the fields difficult. Several farmers
and land girls tell of gate posts having to be removed so that machinery
could inch its way into the field.
When it came to harvesting oats, the binder made the crop into bundles
or sheaves which were made into stooks, eight bundles to a stook, facing
into the wind to dry. This was where the extra long stalks were a problem
as it was difficult to make them stand. It was said that they should stand
in the field for three Sundays, but this rarely happened with the weather
in this area.
Threshing was a communal activity with the threshing machine going from
village to village. At Malham the machine came in front of the Listers
for a day, even once on a Sunday which upset Methodist farmers. At Otterburn
the thresher came to the field behind Bodkyn House. At least five or six
people were needed to operate the thresher. At least one person was needed
to get the sheaves from the cart onto the threshing platform where the
bands were cut prior to them being fed into the threshing box. Another
worker was needed to bag the corn and move it away from the machine and
yet another operated the baler, feeding in wires through three sided needles,
and making sure the bales were of a reasonable size. Probably the dustiest
job was raking away the chaff, but it was a hard, dusty job for all involved.
The whole party was then fed by the hosts family. Later, the corn
was taken to the mill to be processed, often to Preston Farmers on Marton
Road in Gargrave, before being used.
The other crops grown mainly for animal feed included swedes, potatoes,
rape, kale, carrots, clover and peas. The ploughing and some of the other
operations were done by War Ag tractors and drivers and land girls, but
local farmers and their helpers worked long, hard hours. Harvesting swedes
and potatoes was heavy, backbreaking work. The potatoes were then crushed
for feeding to cattle and horses. Kale was hard to harvest as it had to
be cut very close to the ground where the stalks were thick, and carted
for dairy cattle as needed. Rape was used for grazing sheep and was good
for fattening. Clover and peas could be grown two or three times a year
as they were quick growing crops, also used for cattle.
For one year only, the Fosters at Newfield Grange experimented with a
crop of sugar beet which apparently grew quite well but was very labour
intensive. It was harvested by hand between October and January, then
loaded onto horse-drawn carts and taken to Bell Busk, where it was loaded
onto a wagon to go by train for processing. Read
Rob Foster's wartime memories.
At Skellands poultry farm, the Sharps grew carrots which were steamed
in a large container and fed to the hens. Another unusual poultry food
was made from malt combs, a form of waste from the breweries. These were
rather like the outside of a coconut and needed to be steeped in water,
drained and then mixed with flour. Potatoes were chopped and mixed with
mash and whole maize had to be boiled to soften it sufficiently for hen
food. It was a case of using whatever was available. Read
Frank Sharp's memories of the war.
All these jobs were very labour intensive at a time when farms were struggling
with insufficient labour. Everyone had to lend a hand at haytime, even
visitors. One year 19 people staying at Newfield Hall Holiday Fellowship
Centre, rallied to the request for help to turn the hay. The problem of
labour was relieved somewhat when prisoners of war, Germans and Italians,
were drafted in to help. They came from the POW Camp at the top of the
Bailey in Skipton, but because travelling was so difficult, they usually
lived in on the farm and some developed lasting friendships with their
host families. The Wellock family have a poker-work tray given to them
by a German POW who worked on their farm. His parents wrote to Mr and
Mrs Wellock after he was repatriated to thank them for looking after their
son. Some even stayed and married local girls.
All farms and many villagers kept hens and at least one pig to ease the
meat situation, the pigs being slaughtered on the farm by the local pig
killer. A licence had to be obtained from the food office in Settle and
it was always a temptation to slaughter two on one licence, or even more
if the weather was bad and there was guaranteed to be no movement of traffic
up the dale! Joints of meat were shared around when there was a pig killing.
The one meat which was not rationed was rabbit, and as the dale had a
fair share of these pests, rabbit stew was frequently on the menu. Catches
were also sold to provide a little extra cash.
Hams were cured on most farms, and in some cases, sold to the hotels in
Skipton or further afield where they fetched a high price. It was certainly
a sellers market. The black market flourished in meat, hams, eggs
and even in coupons for provender. Sometimes these items were exchanged
for sugar, fats or other rationed items, or sometimes for cash.
Farmers were given a petrol allowance for essential use such as moving
stock, and there are stories of a pet lamb or calf regularly being put
in a trailer and used as the justifiable reason for using the vehicle
to go to a dance or shopping to Settle.
Car ownership was not very high in wartime and petrol was very strictly
rationed, and you needed coupons like these to purchase it. Fuel for private
use was almost impossible to obtain, forcing some people to mothball their
cars for periods of time. In order to help his congregation get
to church and the children to Sunday School, some weeks the Rev Chick
organised a taxi which picked up from Otterburn, Airton and Malham.
The money for this was raised by donations and social events. Petrol
was allowed for farmers for essential business, hence the stories of putting
a lamb or young calf in the trailer in order to make a journey legitimate.
There were no stock auctions as we know them today. All stock to be sold
was taken to Skipton Auction Mart but it was all bought by the Ministry
of Food. Beef cattle were weighed and graded and the price paid according
to the grade. Sheep and lambs were given an estimated carcass weight by
a grader such as Tom Foster. They were extremely accurate in their estimations,
and farmers were later paid on the carcass weight, the price being fixed
by the Ministry. Farmers were allowed to keep any sheep which had a broken
leg, and a surprising number seemed to meet this fate!
Some farms produced milk, with most still milking by hand, although Frank
Catons farm at Otterburn had an early milking machine. The cooled
milk was put into kits and collected from the milk stand outside the farm,
although for some time, Malham farmers had to take their kits to Kirkby
Malham for collection.
All in all, farming during those years was extremely hard work and bore
very little similarity to the farming practised in the dale today.