East Brent History Portal

Earlier Days in East Brent

01 Nov 2012 Article No: 43

Weekly News, March 20th 1992

Feature by Ivor Punnett


Retired farmer Mr George Hill will be 91 in July and is one of the best known personalities in East Brent. He left school at the age of 12 but faced no handicap in life because he became a very astute businessman.

"Like all country lads I would do anything to earn a bit of pocket money and when I was ten I Went off milking for local farmers. I used to milk in the fields before I went to school and when I got back at night, and was paid sixpence a week. Mind, you could do a lot with a penny then."

He was born in this house and Dad was a manager of the Cheddar Valley Dairy. Then he went out on his own making cheese, mainly double Gloucester. He was a very honest man who always stood by his word and when the great Depression came he always honoured the milk Contracts he had made with local farmers. The result was that he was buying milk at five pence a gallon and selling cheese at a penny a pound, and that was the road to ruin."

"Things became so bad that the family faced bankruptcy but were saved by a hard winter which created a demand for milk which they sent to London. Because of having a short term contract, they were offered a penny extra on each gallon. Later, when a long term contract was offered, there was a problem over the payment of the sum owing. So I went down to London to see Sir William Price, head of United Dairies, who was a real tartar. I told him he owed my father £97 and at first he refused to listen."

"| told him a deal was a deal and asked him point blank if he was a man of his word. At that he banged his fist on the desk, scattering papers everywhere, and shouted 'get out and don‘t dare set foot in here again.' I went to the door and then his secretary, a Miss Bingham, Caught my wrist and said 'If you go now you'|| never get anything.' She then turned on Sir William and told him he was wrong and did owe us the money."

"in the end, after much haggling, he paid up and I got my Contract and from that moment on I was able to pay off all our debts and start farming by buying two or three Cows and calves here and there. I worked like a dog for years and ended up owning two farms. In those days men were paid 15 shillings a Week but l always paid an extra shilling for the best."

Mr Hill admits he always loved making a deal and smiles over one gamble. For three years running we had very wet summers and there wasn't one sheep left alive in the valley between the Mendips and the Quantocks. I thought things just had to get better and when I went to a market near Minehead I bought two loads of sheep, all delivered for under a pound each.

"The next summer was long and hot and farmers were glad to let me graze these sheep to eat up their grass. In the end I had 1,000 sheep and didn’t lose one. We had a small car then and l put six lambs in the back and went off to Weston Market. They were snapped up and after that we keep the buyers away."

He remembers as a boy how the roads were laid with limestone, which caused great clouds of White dust in the summer and were two inches deep in mud during the Wet weather.

"On Saturdays, the farm workers had to turn out and help scrape the mud off the roads so people could get to Church in style. In those days the Church was nearly always full."

Mr Hill remembers one local tradition which always caused a lot of excitement. Hay rolling down the Knoll. "It was held on the first Sunday of the month and the winner was the one who rolled the furthest. It was hard going, they would roll through cow pats and gorse bushes, and the reward for the winner was a cheese."

Another very Well known village personality is 87-year-old Cicely Poole, a lively and cheerful person who still enjoys a game of Skittles. I was born in Oxford but came to live here 60 years ago as a young married Woman. My husband sold sewing machines and it was a hard business. If he sold one machine a week we were comfortably off, if he didn't things were hard. One Christmas he sold three to a lady who wanted them as presents for her daughters and we had a good Celebration."

"In the end he got a job delivering papers for a local newsagent and though it didn't pay a lot it was better than the dole. We rented a small cottage for six shillings a week and when we moved to a larger house the electricity came to the village and they offered us three lights and a power point free if we would have it connected."

During the Second World War, Mr Poole worked at an aircraft factory making Beaufighters and she remembers the frustration of trying to make hearty meals out of 11d worth of corned meat, then a week’s ration.

Mrs Poole is secretary of the East Brent Happy Circle and helps at the local day centre. She also gives a hand at the village harvest home, along with her daughter, Mrs Rita Thomas. Says Mrs Poole:  you want to keep well you have to keep busy and active. That is my belief and I think if you sit down and stop you soon go downhill."

 Moore, who is in his 79th year, was born in the village and remembers being paid three-and-sixpence a week at his first job. During the Second World War he joined the RASC and was one of those fortunate enough to make an escape from the beaches of Dunkirk.

Mrs Jo Moore remembers wartime years as very hard for the wives of serving soldiers. I had only 29 shillings a week, out of which I had to pay seven-and six rent. When my husband joined up I had one child and was expecting another and didn't see him for five years. Those who talk about hard times today don't know the half of it."

To make ends meet, she took a job at a local farm sorting potato sacks. I was paid two pounds a week for that dirty job and got an extra two pounds a month for cleaning the local school. Those were days when they had a stove and on a winter morning it was often very difficult to get it started."

“We had gas in those days and my mother was given a free stove and three gas lights when the supply came to the village. There was a meter supply and during the war a penny would give you enough gas for one evening's light. And as a bonus we got a small rebate from the meter, perhaps a couple of shillings, but every penny was useful."

Though those were hard days for the women, Mrs Moore believes times were better then. "People were kinder then and helped each other much more."

One person who has always taken a Keen interest in the history of the village is Miss Grace Hudson, who came to the village as a girl in 1922, when her father took over the post office and stores.

"He was a director of a London drapery business and when he came here he sold everything, from boots and shoes to gowns and bedding and ironmongery. At first we had acetylene lighting in the shop and made our own gas supply. When the electricity came here, they offered to put it in for a pound a light."

Miss Hudson worked as a telephonist at Burnham for nine years, returning home to take over the business in 1942. She remembers the war years as "very stressful" with all the Coupons and problems of rationing. A family friend was Mrs Chrissie Strong, who died three years ago at the age of 84. "We asked her to write out her memories and she did so and it is a valuable piece of local history."

"Another friend was Miss Norah Emery, who died recently at the age of 81, and who often used to tell me of the village bonnet maker, who used to make special Creations for the gentry and farmer's Wives to wear to church."

Miss Hudson's father was parish clerk for some years and her sister, Mrs Rosa Chivers, continued with the job until she died. Miss Hudson herself was a parish councillor for some 36 years.

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