The Covid pandemic had many of us isolating for protracted periods. Some (like me!) probably spent too much time in front of the television, although others used their time more productively, catching up with various things that had been put off for too long. Such was the case with former Eastington resident Dan Morgan, now resident in the Norfolk town of Thetford.
Dan’s family moved to Eastington in 1951 to take over Middlehall Farm – this is located at the Frocester end of the village. Dan’s family finally moved on in 1972, although he retains strong links and fond memories of Eastington. His parents’ ashes are buried in the ‘new’ orchard at the farm. Dan kindly shared his childhood memories of growing up at Middlehall, in the process, giving an insight into how much things have changed in farming in the course of a generation.
But let’s hear Dan’s own words:
I think that I should point out that we were hardly a conventional farming family. Before the war my Dad was a bank Clerk in the City of London. Leaving the army, they moved to Devon to help on my Grandfather’s small farm. Only he wasn’t a farmer either – a businessman who had formed the first transport company in Nigeria, and with the profits had bought the farm. I was born in Devon. We moved to Eastington in 1951 (after my Grandfather had died), bringing his herd of Guernsey cows with us.
Dad was hardly typical in several ways: for a start he voted Labour, which made him something of a rarity among the local farming community. Plus he wouldn’t allow the Berkeley Hunt onto our land. They trespassed at least twice, on one occasion breaking into the farmyard, and frightening all the heifers. This resulted in Captain Berkeley coming out of his castle to make a grovelling apology! Halfway through the interview my Dad realised my younger brother was there lying on the sofa, with his shoes and socks off!
Having said all this, I loved growing up on the farm, being able to roam the fields, it’s where my love of history and archaeology developed. The trouble was the farm was too small to make much money, and none of us three sons were interested. Steve went to Cambridge, me to Art College, and Jonathan did all sorts of things.
An interest in history develops
A couple of years ago I donated a lot of archive material I had about Eastington to Stroud Museum. This included my complete set of 25 inch to the mile maps of the parish, which though printed in the 1920s, had actually been surveyed in the 1880s. On them I marked all the archaeological finds I had made by field walking.
In about 1971 Nick Spencer ploughed the field by the Frome called Ketchpool Tyning – Alfred Keys records the presence of a “Pesthouse” there in the 18th Century. I walked over this field, and found a large scatter of 18th Century material in one area, to the north of the pylon in the field, if I remember rightly. This material is now also in Stroud Museum, along with finds from medieval and post medieval cottages site around Middlehall Farm.
In about 1960 the Sperry Company [based in Bonds Mill, Stonehouse] erected a wooden pole in one corner of my Dad’s field, called Tyning. This had a box of electronics on the top of it. A jet plane used to fly around this for a while. I believe it was something to do with the “Bluestreak” missile system. So you can say that Eastington had a part to play in the Cold War!
The photos below date from the early to the mid-1950s.
Dan’s father bringing the Guernseys in for milking
Some of the Guernseys outside the cowshed. The present farmhouse was built on the cow yard
My brother Steve and myself sitting on a wagon outside the cowshed.The boy wearing the welly boots, and the girl are two of Les and Sally Jones’ children, who lived across the field in “Elm Hay”, the last house on the Frocester road.
That end of the cowshed was the dairy, where the milk went through a paper filter and over a cooler into the churns.
Middlehall Farm in the early 1970s. By this time Dad had sold the farm (but not the house or orchard) to Wilf Spencer, who farmed at Claypits. This shot shows the old farm buildings, including the barns, built in 1806 by Richard Workman, who also built the farm cottage.
Readers might remember an article in a previous ECN on Billy Goodrich, one of the more eccentric and interesting characters from the village’s past (see: Billy Goodrich – Eastington’s ‘wild man’ https://ecnarchive.eastington.website/history/billygoodrich153.html) .
The photo above was taken in 1906 outside Middlehall Farm. Apparently, the party was on its way to vote in an election. Billy is seated in the ‘carriage’. The man behind him is Joe Taylor, nicknamed by Billy as “Poor Pity”, as his drinking led to him losing Middlehall Farm and being reduced to the status of farm labourer.
Billy’s final resting place is in Frocester churchyard.
Who paid for the headstone remains a mystery.
Died Feb 15th 1930
Aged 80 Years
“A good and Faithful servant”
Like everything else in life, farming doesn’t stand still. Novel techniques are developed, different crops come and go, ownership changes hands, and increasingly sophisticated machinery takes on many of the tasks that only a generation ago, were carried out largely by hand. Over the years, Middlehall Farm has witnessed many of these changes and it continues to evolve – alongside the normal day-to-day operations, it is now also home to the splendid Eastington Farm Shop.
I wonder what else the future might bring?