Rosemary and Rue.
Recollections of a Forest of Dean Childhood
Son of the Soil - Grandad John
"Can you tell me, if any there be
Who will give me employ?
To plough and sow,
To reap and mow
And be a farmer's boy,
and be a farmer's boy."
Grandad John was not a Forester. He was born on the other side of the Severn at Gotherington, near Bishops Cleeve and came of generations of farming folk. 'There is a tradition in the family that he was taken to Tewkesbury hiring mop at about ten years of age, with an older brother, to be hired for the ensuing year by some farmer needing an extra pair of hands - even ten-year old hands. His own father, also a farm worker, would have found great difficulty in feeding his ever growing family and no doubt the time had come to go out and "get their feet under somebody else's table." None of the children had ever been to school, their education was on the farm and in the countryside from their earliest years, but it did not extend to mundane accomplishments like reading, writing and arith-metic.
His first jobs were cleaning the rickyard, scaring crows from growing crops. shepherding sheep and other simple but necessary tasks around the farm. He slept on a truckle bed in the attic and would have been fed with simple but adequate meals; he was probably better off than he would have been at home. Gradually he would have learned to plough and to sow, to reap and to mow, until eventually he would become a true "farmer's boy".
By the age of fifteen he was working on a farm at Woodmancote and lodged in the village with his older sister Elizabeth and her husband Arthur Surman, together with his brothers Jesse, aged thirteen and Joseph aged ten. All three boys were described on the 1871 census as "agricultural labourers". It was probably here that he met Mary, the sister of Arthur Surman, also included on the census of that year as living with her parents at Woodmancote; Mary however, at fifteen years of age was still a "scholar". In 1878 they were married, and eventually moved to Tredington where my mother, their fifth child, was born in 1887 - the year of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee.
Sometime around 1892, Grandad John left his Cotswold home and moved to Whitehill Farm at Drybrook. What decided him to up sticks and move to the Forest of Dean, no-one now remembers. He was the only son of his large family to leave the Cotswolds; but why? It is an enigma which will now never be solved. My mother, who was about four at the time, remembered the move - two farm wagons with all their possessions and the five children sitting atop the few sticks of furniture, eleven-years old Richard in charge of the second wagon. The baby probably slept peace-fully on Grandma's lap as the horses toiled along the country roads and up the Forest hills to Drybrook. They arrived so late in the evening that there was no time for anything except to feed and water the horses, and then the family. They slept on mattresses on the bare floors until the wagons could be unloaded the next day. Sadly, the baby did not long survive the move and died soon after their arrival at Drybrook. Before long however, grandma gave birth to twins, her seventh and eighth offspring. During the ensuing ten years they added three more.
Whether Grandad John liked his new home is open to debate. He had "itchy feet" after this first move of his life - or perhaps he was seeking to improve his humble lot in life as he moved successively to the Veldt House, Longhope, to Blaisdon, to St Whites Farm to Flaxley Mill, to Cockshut Farm, and, finally came to rest back at St Whites Farm, there to put down roots for the remainder of his working life. He adopted the Forest as his home and, eventually came to sound like a Forester; although his granddaughters all remained "little maids" the grandsons became "my little butties".
My memories of Grandad John are all centred on St Whites Farm. It was only a quick hop along the road and through the fields to the farm and we spent long, happy days there, particularly during the summer holidays.