Helen Patricia Lofthouse - My Yorkshire Childhood
PUBLISHED: 00:32 28 April 2013
Helen Patricia Lofthouse recalls her childhood on a farm in West Yorkshire
I was born in June 1925, in a Georgian farmhouse at Farnley just north of Otley. I was to have gone away to school in 1939 but the war changed that. My father was a farmer and some of his farm workers were called up, our shepherd was in barracks and we had 250 lambing ewes!
We had two Clydesdale horses, beautiful docile animals. I used to bring them in before I went to school. I would stand on a bank to harness them and then tether them through rings in the wall by their halter. This was done with a wooden block called a ‘clog’ at the end of the halter rope. They were then ready for work with the men we had left once they had finished milking and had breakfast. So mainly during the war years our farms were run by old men and the wives of the shepherd who had stayed behind in their cottages.
My mother didn’t work on the land. She had enough to do in the house feeding everyone and doing all the washing. There was no electric washing machine for her – she had a wash house with a dolly tub and a mangle and with my father and my three younger brothers she had an awful lot of shirts to launder.
At 16 I left school to work for my father. I suppose I was a land girl but I didn’t think of it like that because I was at my own home. I harrowed and scuffled with the horses, working hour after hour on my own. I was very amused about the fact that my father insisted I wore gloves so that I did not get ‘workman’s hands’.
Last November a lady from Australia wrote and asked if I could remember the German prisoners of war coming to a camp in Otley. They came to the station, (which was later closed by Lord Beeching in the 1960s), then marched over the bridge to their camp on Weston Lane (now the site of a council estate). The local veterinary surgeon, who was to become my husband, was asked to shine his car lights at the entrance to the camp. There was no lighting in the black out and as he was allowed petrol coupons to get about the farms doing his job he was considered able to spare a little fuel to get the prisoners to their quarters.
We were allocated two of the prisoners to work on the farm and I went to pick them up in the van. When I got home father said, (quite rightly I suppose), ‘that would NOT DO!’ So the poor man added transporting the prisoners back and forth to his incredibly long list of daily tasks. Still a businessman along with the farming we had the first farmers’ hire purchase business. Farmers bought cattle from us and paid monthly.
Eventually we got our first tractor – a Fordson - but I was not a very good tractor driver although I did drive it while stooks of corn were loaded on to a trailer behind me.
Looking back I think we all worked very hard, long hours but wartime brings people together with a determination to succeed. It certainly didn’t do me any harm and now in my eighties I still keep my house and love pottering outside in my garden.