TALES OF OLD WINSTER - Page Two
How Life Has Changed on the Farm
The fact is that life has changed, down on the farm since those earlier days. These days there are machines for everything, but in those days it all had to be done by hand. Eric’s family owned a small farm and he remembers well the hard work as all family members toiled from dawn to dusk in all weathers to tend the farm.
He also remembers his father going to the Ironmongers in Bakewell to buy copper wire and eyes with which to make snares to catch rabbits. Six lengths of wire would be fixed to a piece of wood and hung from a gate. They were then turned to ‘spin’ one thicker wire which would be used for the snare. Eric agrees that it isn’t a very nice way to kill a rabbit, but then, “that was the way it was.” The traps would be set in the rabbit runs during late afternoon and collected the following morning.
Sometimes ferrets would be used to drive the rabbits out of their holes, but you would have to be sure and catch it first time, because a rabbit would only run once. Eric remembers the time that they were up on Stanton Moor and thought they had blocked up all the holes in a rabbit warren when they put down the ferret, only to see it emerge from another hole which they had missed and vanish down another. Neither the rabbit nor the ferret came out again, and it was clear that the ferret had got the rabbit and was quite happy to stay where he was.
Unfortunately, due to the dangers to livestock - chickens etc. - the ferret had to be recovered and Eric and his party had to wait outside the hole for two days until the ferret finally decided that it was time to go home!
Poaching seems to have been part and parcel of life in those days, but it was more a question of what you poached which determined whether you were punished if caught. Of
course, the trick was not to get caught and it was a poor poacher who didn’t check to see that the Gamekeeper was in the pub or his house before setting out on his mission.
Of course, there were millions of rabbits about, and landowners didn’t really miss a few lads poaching them, but it was the pheasants which were a more sensitive subject. Easy enough to knock off their perch with a catapult they were a prize to be valued and usually only people expected to be out late at night - such as railway workers - could get away with it.
Some of the most successful poachers were of course the tinkers and gypsies, and Eric recalls a walk with his father and brother when they came across a local gypsy who invited them to sit with him a while, so they did. A delicious smell was coming from the pot on the fire and they were offered something to eat. Not a little apprehensively they accepted - telling themselves that they had probably eaten worse in the Boy Scouts - and food was placed in front of them on beautiful crockery. It smelled good and tasted excellent, and so when they were done the gypsy asked them if they knew what they’d had.
Admitting that they didn’t they were told it was hedgehog and they learned that if you cover a hedgehog with clay and put it in the middle of the fire, when the clay cracks it pulls off all the spines and leaves the lovely pink skin underneath. Eric had a try afterwards, and so goes down as one of the few professional hedgehog cookers I have known.
Changes in the Pub
Pubs today are nothing like they used to be, says Eric. As recently as the end of World War II they all offered some form of entertainment, and as Eric says, “There was always something going off.”
The Bowling Green in Winster had bowls, as the pubs name might suggest, but of the skittles variety with 5 balls. Typical bets of 6d were placed on whether all the skittles would be knocked down. Another contest involved lifting a 17 gallon churn containing water. Fred Bonsall, a local who was “as thin as a rake” was the expert in this event and could lift a surprisingly large amount of water for his physique.
Eric also remembers how men would sit in the pub for long hours drinking, especially during Wakes Week and at 6d to 8d a pint they could afford it. One chap used to have his wife bring his dinner into the pub every day, and he would carry the plates back home at night - if he could walk, that is!.
One unanswered question for Eric is whether the ale was stronger in those days, because men would always come out of the pub singing, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. Even the non-singers would sing. “There’s not one chap as didn’t fall through my garden fence on the way home” says Eric, and he still keeps a hole there in memory of those times.
A particular memory is of a local man, Harry Lowndes who went to the Miner’s Standard for a “session”, and when he became paralytic and fell over they carried him to one of the outbuildings to sleep it off. When he woke in the morning he discovered that, in order to get to the food scraps in his pockets the rats had eaten through his clothes and they were hanging in tatters.
“Characters” were thick on the ground in those days. One Christmas Eve Eric went to see his parents in Youlgreave taking his mate, Alf with him in the car. Someone had promised Alf a cockerel for Christmas and so Eric dropped him off at The George in Youlgreave. Sometime during the evening he was given his cockerel - still alive - in a bag, but what happened next is all a little vague.
All that Eric found out later is that Alf, rather the worse for drink and hardly able to stand, was put on a bus home, still carrying his live cockerel in the bag. Eric found him a while later on at Horley Bridge, lying at the bus stop fast asleep. Rousing Alf from his slumber Eric discovered that he had fallen on the bag containing his cockerel, and his Christmas dinner was as flat as a pancake.
Other local characters were two retired miners, Bob and Sam. Bob was a giant of a man, Sam quite small and they could always be seen together drinking. If you bought Bob a pint of ale his party trick was to bite a chunk out of the pot (ale was served in pot jars in those days). One day our two lads had gone to the Red Lion at Wensley, which in those days was kept by a Mrs Cordwell. Upon entering the pub they were told sternly that they were not welcome there “because they could not control themselves”, so they made their way back to Winster.
Telling their tale the following week, Sam said, “I tell you this, we did na go there once before after that!” This was an example of “upside down speak” for which some folks were famous. Such as the time when a car ran over a hen and someone announced, “Ee, there’s been an accident up at ‘t Miners Standard. Bandicoot’s run right over a car.”
As has been stated previously, Winster had one of the best chip shops in the area. Six pence would buy you fish ‘n chips, and all kinds of other things were available, such as sausages, peas and boiled eggs. It was common for lads to leave the pub and go to the chip shop for an egg eating contest. One farmer swallowed 16 eggs one night, his companion 12, but we are not told whether this was before or after their fish and chips. Such contests provided an interesting alternative to some of the other things practiced by locals. For instance, two lads could regularly be seen fighting each other and banging their heads against the kerb. When they had no breath left to carry on they would put their arms around each other and head for the chip shop.
Eating competitions were very popular and pubs would often throw out challenges to see who could eat the most potatoes or tripe or roast duck. When Eric was only 18 or 19 years old he remembers borrowing a car and going to the Bull in ‘t Thorn to watch a famous local, called Dan, in a duck eating competition. There were eight ducks on the table and at the command “GO” Dan had cleared two before his opponent could draw breath. Minutes later the opponent had also eaten two ducks, but Dan had now eaten four, and so our brave contender gave up. Dan looked at the table and said, “Has ‘t finished?” Seeing a nod of confirmation he proceeded to finish off the other two. Well, the ducks
were not especially large, perhaps like a small pheasant, but to eat six at one go was quite a feat!
There are similar tales of one stone of tripe being consumed in another contest and a pack of potatoes at another. It’s not clear how many potatoes there are in a pack, but a stone of tripe is easy to visualise. I can’t think what it must be like to eat.....just imagine.
“There are other stories which I’d better not tell you”, says Eric mysteriously, and we are left to wonder what they could have been.
One story we are told, again involves our hero, Dan. He bragged one day that he could worry a rat to death with his teeth like a dog. Lots of bets were taken and a rat was muzzled like a ferret and staked to the centre of a table on a string. Dan’s hands were tied behind his back and, with the rat scurrying around the table he pounced, grasped it in his teeth and shook it like a terrier, biting hard as he did so. Well, the rat died and with fur in his mouth and blood running down his moustache Dan drained a proferred pint of ale in one gulp, blood, fur and all.
The Sheffield evening paper got wind of the event and made a big story about the cruelty aspect. They tried to say that this sort of thing happened in Winster all the time, but Eric says that this was certainly a “one off” and in his opinion no more cruel than having dogs at it.
He sounds to have been an interesting character, our Dan and as Eric says, “there was nothing he wouldn’t have a go at.”
Sounds like it an’ all!3