A Hatfield Childhood

Betty Colwill and Irene Smith of Hatfield Local History Group remember growing up in Hatfield between the wars..

Betty was born in 1927 at Remple Lane Farm in Hatfield. She takes up the story.

My Father was a farmer who grew his own vegetables and took them to Thorne market on his horse and drey. He also sold pigs. To help out with finances, my mother plucked chickens, made butter and sold eggs. She would stand at market all day and then buy groceries with the money she had made.

The farm was down a long lane and we only had one neighbour – a family called Appleyard, who lived in an ex-railway carriage. Neither family had electricity, we used a paraffin lamp for lighting and our water came from a pump.

We had no electricity in the house until 1935 and no street lighting until just before World War 2. Ironic, you might say, because during the war we had to blackout all the windows with blinds and every night the Air Raid Warden would come to check there were no lights showing. Cars, buses and cyclists were ordered to dim their lights at night.

Nearly all the cottages in Hatfield had only one room down stairs. Some were poor and bare with only a table and a few chairs or stools for furniture and a potato sack on the floor for a hearth rug. Others, by contrast, were bright and cosy with dressers of crockery, cushioned chairs, pictures on the walls and brightly coloured hand-made rag rugs on the floor, (more about them later). Some of the cottages had two bedrooms, others only one, in which case it had to be divided by a screen. Outside every well kept cottage stood a tarred or green water butt to catch and store rain water from the roof. This saved many journeys to the pump or well with buckets as it could be used for washing or cleaning clothes.

I went to school when I was five. School was a wooden hut with three classrooms and a pot belly sove in the middle to keep us warm. There was also a brick building with classrooms that had coal fires. When we went to the ‘privvy’ as the toilet was called, there were twelve toilets in a row, all with wooden doors and wooden seats. I used to go home at dinnertime, but other children, who lived too far away, took sandwiches and ate them in the classroom. During wartime, school children were given orange juice and cod liver oil, the latter of which I disliked. We also had air raid shelter practice. Old time dances in the school hall were very popular with airmen and soldiers from the nearby bases and the village boys. Mr W. Clarke, a pig farmer, brought his gramophone in the pig trailer every saturday night.

On May 9th, 1940, Alderman W H Hyman officially opened Hatfield modern school on Crookes Broome Lane. It was about two miles from my home and sometimes I walked or caught a bus. The school had coal fired central heating and new kitchens. The school cooks were three local ladies: Mrs Griffiths, Mrs Hunsley the caretakers wife and another called Pat.

My first job, on leaving school, was skivvying for Miss Black at Laburnham House, near the Green Tree public house. After two years I went to work on the land for my uncle, Mr Sykes. It was hard work following the horse and plough picking potatoes row after row and pulling up sugar beet and then chopping tops off with a large knife. Later I left to work at Briar Hills farm for Mr Lindley where the work was even harder. Weeding carrots and stooking corn after the sheaves came out of the binder were just some of the jobs to be done. I spent five full days threshing on the top of a threshing machine, cutting bands and feeding the corn into the machine and carrying chaff to the fold yard. It was here that I met my husband to be.

To a child it always seemed that things like ploughing, sowing and reaping had been going on forever, but the old men in the village could remember when the rise was covered in juniper bushes standing in the midst of a furzy heath. Common land had only come under the plough after the passing of the enclosure act.

When we were young, one of our favourite pastimes was making rag rugs. Outside in the washhouse was a clean sack hanging on a nail, this was the ‘rag bag’. Into it went every piece of rag we had, old worn out jackets, torn sheets and trousers which had been darned until they could be darned no more. The rags were used for cleaning brass or copper and the thicker material for making ‘peg rugs’. It was a great occupation in the winter evenings and all the family joined in. One person would cut the rags into the right sized pieces while the others pegged away – pushing the pieces through sacking. We had no patterns but looking back we managed to produce some pretty designs by carefully choosing which piece of rag to use. We were never allowed to cut the string on a parcel, you had to struggle with the knots until they finally gave way and then it was put into another bag, the ‘string bag’, which hung behind a cupboard door in the kitchen.

Irene Smith remembers her days on the Lings in the early thirties as happy ones.

The only thing that spoiled those long summer days was the annual pig killing. Everyone hated it including my mother. She would herd us inside and lock the door, she must have thought the pig would charge into the house and attack us. The squeeling was horrific, it seemed to go on for hours. The butcher came to kill the pig and cut it up into joints. I remember seeing it tied to a post, eventually everything went silent and the work began. The copper was boiling, the pig was scalded to remove the hair and the great job of ‘putting it away’, as it was called, commenced. A fry, which consisted of liver, kidney, bits of heart and pieces of pork was given to the neighbours. They would, likewise, return the favour when their poor old porker was sacrificed. I must say that I have never tasted anything so delicious since those days. Pork no longer tastes the same now that pigs are fed on bland food. The old fashioned way was to put a bit of variety in their food, so they got all the potatoes, vegetables and other household scraps.

Nothing tastes the same as it used to, it’s a fact of life I’m afraid.