Memories of Cooters Hill Farm in the 1950s/60s
prompted by seeing and enjoying 'Mr H A Bell's Lantern slides'
I first went up to Cooters Hill Farm in the late 1950’s, when I was around 9 or 10. We lived on the corner of Park Hill and the Luton Road, and I must have cycled up the lane and gone into the farmyard one day, to see what was going on. The farm was run by Mr and Miss Murchie. There were other children around who also frequented the farm during holidays and weekends. I soon became attached to Horace, who looked after the two cart horses, Nanny and Cobby, and began to help him in the stable. I still have the ancient comb which we used on their manes and fetlocks, and a bridle with the blinkers removed. Horace lived along the Luton Road, riding up to the farm on his ancient bike in all weathers; he must have worked with horses all his life. I remember sitting with him on the wooden chest for keeping the oats and bran sharing our ‘beaver’ at 11 o’clock. The day the first Sputnik was launched I remember Horace saying “They’ll poke their noses up too far one day”, or words to that effect.
Some of my happiest memories are going out with Horace to fetch the horses in the morning, with halters and a bowl of oats, and bring them in to the stable. I was given a leg up to ride one of them, and so always hoped they would be in the far corner of the field!
I drove the dung cart, even delivering some horse manure to one of my mother’s friends in Moreton Avenue for her prize roses. At harvest time we loaded up the flat trailer with bales, stacking them in the dutch barn, and then I drove Nanny in the corn cart, waiting underneath the combine’s spout for the grain to shoot in, and then taking it back to the grain pit, backing up the horse and tipping the contents in to be blown up to the granary. This was reached by long wall ladders, and we used to play in the great heaps of corn before it was bagged up.
We also rode the horses when there was no work, and at one stage Joe, the old grey from Thrales End Farm, joined the team and we ventured as far as the woods on the Luton Hoo estate: I seem to remember one day being chased off by some irate gamekeepers, as we had been disturbing the young pheasants.
One of my favourite activities occurred from time to time when I was asked to take a horse to the blacksmith’s forge in Batford to be re-shod. I particularly enjoyed the long ride along Ambrose Lane, over the railway bridge and down Ox Lane, and on one occasion took my sketchbook. These adventures were the inspiration for my major project at Art College, an illustrated book for children called ‘Cobby and the Boy.’
My association with Cooters Hill Farm lasted until I was in my mid teens. They were happy days, and their recollection is given a poignancy by the knowledge that such times have gone for ever.
I have lived since 1968 on a hill farm in the Preseli Hills of Wales: sheep and cattle – but alas no cart horses.