The mens’ harvest supper at Walnut Tree Farm

Every year before the Second World War ,Walnut Tree and Highdown farms , farmed by Laurence Thomas Franklin , had a party which was usually held on the first Friday evening after Christmas. Every man on the farm was invited, and the boys, who had worked during the harvest season, were also asked to come. No one missed it unless they were ill  ,that was seldom. It was the highlight of the farm year, it was certainly a highlight for us as a family. We didn’t join them for the meal because the grown-ups were busy dishing up and serving the meal with the help of other ladies from the village, we children, particularly in the early days were too young ,when older were detailed to help serve.

The meal took place in the kitchen, and during the day two trestle tables were brought in from the barn. These were covered with old sheets, as was the kitchen table. It was at the kitchen table that the boys sat. There must’ve been six or seven  of them.

The meal consisted of stuffed turkey ,sausages ,roast loin of pork, bread sauce, baked potatoes, Brussels sprouts and sometimes parsnips. There was always plenty of gravy. The bread roll was put beside each setting and there was always extra for those who needed them. For the pudding course mother had always made an outsize Christmas pudding, when she had made ours, before the festive season. The pudding was served with jugs of brandy sauce to which the men helped themselves.

After the pudding, mince pies were put onto the tables to round off the meal, and beer was served in plenty during the whole evening. I believe it was drawn from a barrel which was kept in the pantry. Jugs of it stored on the table which were refilled throughout the entire evening.

The cooking was done on a Florence, and oil fuelled cooker with four burners. The right-hand end burner was longer than the other three and this was for the oven to be placed over. Because of the amount of roasting taking place another oven from a smaller cooker was used over the other end burner. Vegetables were cooked in a large black iron saucepans over the two middle burners.

After the kitchen range was taken out mother had an electric cooker which stood in the scullery beside the Florence. This was mottled grey and was very heavy. It stood on legs about three or four inches high.

It was a belling and had four solid burners as well as an oven. The pudding was given its statutory four hours on the cooker and I imagine the bread sauce and brandy sauce were cooked there. Plates would have been heated in the oven. I imagine the boys would’ve been given soft drinks because they were under the school leaving age of 14. They were sent home before the men who stayed until 11 o’clock.

After the meal the tables were cleared of everything except the glasses and a singsong took place. Father had asked Harry Race to join the others for the meal and to play the piano. He must’ve found it quite a change from the usual duty of playing the organ at Church on Sundays. The piano had earlier been carried from our sitting room via the path at the back of the house through the back door and then into the kitchen, where it was placed in a corner. The passage through the house had awkward corners so it could not be brought that way. All the old favourites were sung, some of the men had their own personal solos.

Horace Roberts’ special song was   “two little girls in blue”, David Titmuss sang    “hearts of Oak”and Jimmy Males, whose nickname was bummer did a bawdy rendition of “old King Cole” : between each verse he banged on the table with his stick. He probably couldn’t hear himself because he was stone deaf. Alan Wilshere, his nephew told me recently that my brother and I would not go to bed until Jimmy Bummer had done his bit. The other soloist was Bob Males who sang “it was a beautiful picture in a beautiful golden frame”.The room by this time was filled with pipe and cigarette smoke; it was like being in a fog.

Before I was old enough to stay up until the end, I was sent to bed but got no sleep because my bedroom was over the kitchen and I could hear the rumble of voices and the tinkle of the piano until all was finished at about 11 o’clock.
Father used to ask Alan and some of the other younger men to see the old men home. On one occasion a ditch got in the way and an unsteady walker  landed ignominiously at the bottom. No bones were broken and he was fished out to arrive home in rather a mess I imagine.

It always amazes me that everyone turned up for work the next morning (Saturday as well worked half day in those days). I expect some of them had a rather hazy morning.

Joy Franklin



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