Extracts from an interview with Peter Rackham. 22nd December. 2004. The following information consists of memories from Peter Rackham of his farming life in the area.
Hanger Farm and Hazel Farm 1940 onwards
“Hangar Farm was being farmed by Godfrey Green who lived at adjoining Hazel Farm. He came from a farming family based at Piddletrentide, Dorset, when I first worked for him starting in 1940.
I worked full time at Hanger Farm from 1940 during the war years up to 1948. It was farmed by Godfrey Green who also farmed the adjoining Hazel Farm which was part of the Tatchbury Mount Estate and also the land adjoining Netley Marsh Church. Under a war time Hampshire War Agricultural Committee Order he also farmed land at Bartley belonging to a Mr Stride on which a large radio mast stood for some years. (On this land I saw the last corncrake bird when harvesting wheat.) I understood that Mr Green was at that time in partnership with Mrs Green’s brother, Alf. Oliver, who lived in Hanger Farm House and who had a milk round in Southampton retailing the milk from Hazel Farm dairy. I think this partnership was dissolved around this time leaving G. Green the entire farming business.
This was also a time of great change on the land. Hanger Farm, having been primarily a grass and livestock farm had now to be ploughed and cropped to provide a more immediate food supply. In the following years we grew wheat, barley, oats, potatoes, linseed, beans, peas, swede and sugar beet. The farming was still done in the old traditional way. We had two shire horses, Prince and Blossom at that time and even went down to Totton station with them to load sugar beet on the trucks, although we did have one Fordson tractor on spiked wheels with a few implements. I used to drive this all day and Godfrey Green would often take over keeping it working late into the night. The com crops were cut with a binder machine into sheaves that were then stood up in 6/8 together and left in the field to dry out, then pitch-forked on to traditional old boat wagons and made into ricks in the large rick-yard in front of Hanger Farm barn and then thatched until thrashed later in the winter when John Painter of Cadnam came in with his steam engine thrashing drum and elevator.
Looking back to those times I now appreciate the great skill and experience that was needed in manoeuvring and setting up this steam engine to belt drive the thrashing drum. One of my first jobs then was pulling away all the dust and waste chaff from between the machines working in a great cloud of choking dust. The sacks of grain were then stacked in the bam and the straw ricks thatched for the use as feed or animal bedding. These sacks weighed around two and a quarter hundredweight and I carried them on my back to the trailer and double stacked them in the barn. One year we used the top half of the barn to store potatoes, which we used to sort out in the winter for sale in Southampton. We also had a new corn-grinding mill driven by the tractor belt pulley on a concrete area the other end of the barn. I used to grind corn for cattle feed for the dairy herd at Hazel Farm, mainly oats. The stables at the end of the barn opening out onto the house side were used mainly for storage. There was a farm track to the Ringwood Road at the end of which was Magpie Cottages where Walter Painter and Charlie Purchase lived, both worked at the Farm. There was another cottage along this track not far from the barn on the left-hand side.
The engine house with the overhead pulleys was fairly derelict at that time and had not been in use for years. I remember using the cow pens along the top section for penning sheep for shearing, my job being to catch them and present them to the shearer and suffering the indignity of being knocked down by the ram much to the amusement of the men.
In preparation for the D-Day June 6th, 1944 large numbers of lorries, tanks, guns and ammunition occupied several fields for some weeks surrounding the barn along the farm track leading to Hazel Farm. The troops spent a lot of time plastering these vehicles with heavy grease to withstand the beach landing. When they left they abandoned in the hedges many tins of supplies along with tools, jacks, towlines and other hardware.
There was also a large potato clamp established by The Ministry of Agriculture adjoining this track, as an emergency food supply. Several of Godfrey Green’s family, friends and local people perhaps 12 or more helped in the harvesting mainly in the evenings when double summertime was in force and apart from the very hard work, a great social time was had by all. I certainly had my education broadened and enhanced by some of the humour and country philosophy that prevailed at the time, being 16+ at the time.
There was a string of bombs dropped across Hanger Farm and one in particular blew the tops off a field of sugar beet normally pulled by hand that left nothing above ground to pull. The last of these bombs was in a field quite close to the back of Netley Parish Church.
I still have a long metal tool with a hooked end about 10ft long that used to be hanging in the barn for pulling material from the centre of ricks to test for excess heating. During the war years a Land Girl, Joan Wright worked mainly at Hazel Farm with the dairy herd. There were also two conscientious objectors sent to the farm to work. Another group of workers came from Winchester Prison to dig trenches for field water troughs.
The video The Crown of the Year produced by Paramint Cinema features a set of four films covering the seasons of the year made on British farms during 1941 and 1942. Many of the farming tasks seen on the film were happening at Hanger and Hazel Farm during this time (www.panamint.co.uk), watch a clip of the film here.”
Little Testwood and Hillstreet Peter Rackham
“My first contact with Hillstreet was in the 1940’s when I worked with Mr G Green farming Hazel and Hanger Farms (now developed into West Totton). For several years we brought our machines up to the Laurels Farm to carry out the hay making for Mrs Blake. She was the owner who also rented some 30 acres of the valley land from Mr Harbin of Colbury House and the 4 acre hill attached to the Thatched Cottage. This cottage was then owned by the Hendy motor garage owner in Southampton. I used Green lane that extends from opposite Paulets Lane and the Salisbury Road round to the entrance of Laurels Farm Hillstreet to bring the machinery in. It was a good level track but now sadly is an unmaintained boggy track almost impassable in places.
Mrs Blake had a small dairy herd and a retail milk round locally. She died around 1945-46 and her daughter Margaret let the holding to a Mr Frey (Polish?) who emigrated to Canada when I took over the farm from him in March 1948. In 1959 I established Sharveshill Farm on land at the Salisbury Road end of Hillstreet. Some of the land had been used for gravel extraction by Feltham Sand and Gravel Company.
Concerning Colbury House and cottages. When I took over the Laurels Farm Mr Harbin transferred to me the tenancy of his land adjoining Colbury House. This land was in a derelict farming state and under direction and grants from the Hampshire War Agricultural Committee I carried out a major land drainage operation that enabled me to plough and grow arable crops for the dairy herd.
My wife Margaret and I were invited to Colbury House to meet the Harbins. We also knew Captain Pearce his secretary, advisor and general factotum who lived in the end cottage of the estate (now Colbury House Cottage). Mr Rathbone, the head gardener lived in the middle cottage, (now Studio Cottage). We recall being shown by him around the orchid houses which were in full use. The under gardener, Mr Pitman lived in the first cottage, (now Colbury Cottage). When Mr Harbin died, Mrs Harbin was anxious to return to London and Colbury House and the land that I rented were purchased by Mr Trigg from Fordingbridge who brought with him a herd of pedigree Guernsey cows. My land farming tenancy in those days was very secure under agricultural law but I was put under much pressure and stress by Mr Trigg who wished to regain the Colbury House land. Fortunately it was at this time when I was able to purchase the 50 acres of adjoining land at the end of Hillstreet from Feltham Sand and Gravel Company were I established a new farm which we named Sharveshill Farm based on the location from the old maps. This also enabled me to give up the tenancy of the Laurels Farm which had some 4-5 acres of land. This was then rented by Mr Brian Webb and used as an agricultural machinery depot.
We moved to Sharveshill Farm Cottage in 1960. This was originally for farm workers to Little Testwood House with a dairy and outbuildings attached, built around 1895. It had been occupied by the Collis family and later the May family before being purchased by Peter and Margaret Rackham. Adjoining the cottage was an old stable block and cart houses which were demolished before we moved in. Mr Bickers and family lived in an adjoining barn on the Testwood House site that has recently been demolished. They later moved to Testwood after Williams and Humberts purchased Little Testwood House.
Myrtle Cottage, next to The Laurels was also owned by Mrs Blake and lived in by Mr and Mrs Blatchford and children Ruth, May and Robert. Ivy Dene, on the south side of The Laurels was lived in by a Mrs Walton, a widow, who had living with her, during the war years, the Heather family with two children. Mr Billings lived in the bungalow on the opposite comer of Green Lane, The Hollies, which was owned by the Hunt family of Laurel Bank, Salisbury Road.
At the Salisbury Road end of Hillstreet stands a cottage and adjoining sheds called Little Testwood Garage House. There was a petrol pump there and it was used by Tombes and Drake as a charabanc garage. During the war years the cottage was occupied by a family, name unknown. Three of the women used to work harvesting and hoeing with me at Hazel and Hanger Farm. The property was later owned by the Combes family.
Ollera (now Pippens) was occupied by The Everett sisters for many years and I rented the land, which they owned on each side of the apple tree lined drive. During the war years a Dr Bennett also lived with them. Around 1950 Miss Everett moved from Ollera to a local bungalow in Clamore taking the house name to her new property. In order to retain and farm the rented land, I purchased Ollera from Miss Everett and sold off the house and lodge to Mr Lowth, a Southampton solicitor.
The Avery family lived in The Evergreens, two brothers and two sisters. One brother worked in the Southampton docks and Bill, the older brother, I think, farmed the small areas adjoining the house. Their father had been a pub keeper in Southampton before moving to Hillstreet. For some years I helped Bill with his farming including the annual hay-making event of the Long Field opposite Colbury House. We still retain a cine film/video taken by my wife Margaret of this operation. We remember the straw hatted sisters offering drinks and the taste of the big hairy delicious gooseberries from their extensive kitchen garden. For many years Bill and possibly one of his sisters used to make a weekly visit to Totton in the pony and trap. They had a white pony. I always thought it was sad that such an old country house with its kitchen garden should have been demolished to make way for a town house with a foreign name, “the times they were a changing”.
The Thatched Cottage and summer house in the garden were occupied by a Mr Jones who I think owned Frazer Drapery Store in St. Mary’s Southampton. The property was then bought and occupied by Mrs Poole and her sister. After many years Mrs Poole refurbished the wooden chalet type summer house and permanently lived there, Little Thatches. When she died I purchased the adjoining hill land from the executors.
The field adjoining the Salisbury Road on the western side of Hillstreet on the OS map 1868 survey is shown as Middle Plantation, a substantial woodland, but by the 1895 survey this wood had been cleared and was a rough rushy area when I first arrived at The Laurels. Later it was drained and farmed by Mr Marchant from the existing bungalow off Green Lane. The top area was used by Mr Fielder for strawberry growing until recent years.”
Extracts from an interview with Peter Rackham.
“I initially worked at Hazel and Hangar Farm. We used to come up here with what machinery was available in those days, to do work for a Mrs Blake that lived in The Laurels Farm on Hillstreet. There’s the two hills, that we call, Hendy’s Hill and The Laurels Farm Hill that come down and join where The Wildlife Trust laid a hedge recently, Margaret’s Hill we used to call it. The Bridgett’s have been keeping pigs there (Margaret’s Hill). Mrs Blake also had the valley that belonged to Colbury House, about 40-50 acres and we used to come up and cut the hay in wartime. That was my first association, by being at Hangar Farm.
Then, between my brother and I we bought about 50 acres, which was land that belonged to Testwood House that was being sold off. It had already been sold to The Feltham Sand and Gravel Company, whom I bought it from. They had a gravel pit down here, just beyond this building. They deep-mined gravel with a drag-line and put in a long, concrete ramp. A railway ran down here to load the gravel up in trucks and run it back up to the big concrete base that they’d established there with an entrance from Hillstreet to put up a washing plant, to wash the gravel. They mined gravel for just one year. All sorts of reasons were given for them moving out but they said that the gravel had too much clay in it. It wouldn’t wash. That’s how I came to hear that it was available for sale and between my brother and I, we bought it. It was then being farmed by a Mr Stan Graddidge of Ower.
The old water meadows down in the valley here were all set out in the very old way of water carriers and annual flooding. In order to get the earlier grass, the hatches were used, which were up at, what we call, the river field, right up at the other end, where the motorway is now. They used to close the hatches to drive the water this way down big deep carriers. It came right down through the middle of this land here and the lake and then they had the offshoots to control the water to flood the land, rather like they do abroad. It hadn’t been used for many years and the ditches were pretty derelict.
You can still see some of them there now. Under the wartime directives, I ploughed this land up. It hid never been ploughed before. I carried out a tremendous amount of drainage work under a grant from the Hampshire or Agricultural Committee and then I ploughed it and cashed in all the fertility of the years and grew some wonderful crops. Even down the valley, which I don’t think had ever been cropped, even the plot that’s known as The Bog or Mungos Field. When I came here, the Long Valley Field that ran back up towards the road that you’ve put in was solid rush, very deep.
You could sink in out of sight there. It was used as a sort of duck shoot. Over several years, we actually drained it all and put tile drains in there which was an enormous task because it was done by hand. Then when the reservoir diggers were in they were digging up my drains that I’d put in. Then we ploughed it all up and grew arable crops on it and I ran a dairy herd over it until things changed and the water board… Because the big concrete base was here and there was an ideal road in from Hillstreet, we decided to build a farm, establish a new farm that had never been here before. I was renting the farm up at The Laurels and it was very inadequate for all this extra land I’d taken on. This massive base that you didn’t come across very often in those days was a great asset and I actually established a new farm there with this lovely concrete road in from Hillstreet and all the facilities. I set up a dairy unit, which developed over 20 or 30 years. The concrete road is still there. You’d probably find it has grown over with ivy. And of course we had the privilege or whatever it was, the necessity, to name the newly established farm so we based the name on the fact that the early, old maps showed Sharveshill Copse and Kilnyard Copse. We decided on Sharveshill Farm.
The original land was part of the estate of Little Testwood House. When Colonel Palk died, it was inherited by a relative and sold off to The Feltham Sand and Gravel Company.”
What arable crops were you growing in the war?
“It was all to do with feeding the dairy herd and things were changing then all the time with new grass seed mixtures corning in and clover but we gradually went over to marrow-stem kale for winter feed. We were still then growing crops of the old Mangolds and storing them in clamps and Swedes and crops like that. Gradually it turned over to intensive grass. In those days they were advocating as much fertiliser as you could possibly utilise to push production for the serious reason of feeding people. I became extremely intensive with the fertiliser and worked the land very hard. In some cases it deteriorated and actually eroded, especially fields like Everetts Field, which is the one alongside Hillstreet, which was very sandy. We actually had these big disc-harrows and worked it so much that when we had heavy rain, the soil eroded.
Then I saw the error of my ways and we gradually put it down to more permanent grass. One case of erosion that I can tell you about was between Margaret’s Hill and Hendy’s Hill, the two hills I was talking about earlier. There used to be a normal 2-3 foot deep ditch there which used to take the drainage from Laurels Farm and a couple of houses. Under the drainage scheme you had to take the depth of the ditches down with batters to a much deeper depth than had ever been taken in order to get the grant. I’d already done it once but they wanted it taken lower so we broke through that top layer and it became running sand. That single ditch cut the hill right down and took all the sand down the valley. You go up there now and you could run a bus down it.
We called one of the hills Hendy’s Hill because Mr Hendy who was in the motor trade either owned or lived in The Thatched Cottage during the war and so it became known as Hendy’s Hill. Mr Jones, I think, who owned Frazer Drapery Store, lived in the cottage before Mrs Poole and her sister bought the property. One night, all my cows got in the beautiful garden of The Little Thatches where Mrs Poole and her sister were living. They’d knocked a sundial over and wreaked havoc and I was young and very worried but the ladies thought it was very exciting. I thought I was in for a big insurance claim.”
Are there any bits of the old railway left?
“Well I’ve got one or two of the runners that they used to use but not really.
There was a big double concrete wall, which I used as a feeding trough with electric fences round and a hay rack that I put up across the top.”
There were bees kept in the Sharveshill Plantation and Peter’s brother dug out a pond for them, next to the yew tree. Dragonflies were always seen there and indeed still are. A pond was also dug out in alder gully, close to where the current pond is situated. The alders colonised the gully naturally. Peter coppiced them about 30 years ago, to let in more light for the crops. The alders on the River Blachvater were coppiced during the war.
Peter also felled about 12 oaks with a handsaw, which were cut into stakes. Sharveshill plantation was full of birch and sycamore, which Peter cut into stakes.
The stakes were immersed in a tank of boiling creosote and then left to cool. Some of those stakes are still in use now.
There were many elms in the area before Dutch elm disease took hold. There were many large elms near Ulu and also a large beech tree. The beech was felled when it became diseased. The stump is still there now. About 50 elms were also felled. They grew back but become diseased within a couple of years. After five years or so, some did actually develop and survive.
“I think it was established that Southampton docks was one of the sources of Dutch elm disease, by timber. Burt Boltons was the big timber business down there. We always thought that our elm trees were one of the first to get it. We always associated those diseased elm trees with the docks and the imported timber.”
An interesting story about a monkey puzzle tree.
“The gardener, maybe Mr Billings, told me of this. Now you see on all the television gardening programmes, how important for status these pines became. Everyone had to have one. There are two in the copse at the moment and one is leaning over. It was blown over. It was quite a substantial tree at that time. There used to be a walk down there, through an ornamental copse. The owners were so upset about the tree being blown over that they instructed the gardener to straighten it up. By then it was a major tree and she said, “I want that straightened up George.”
“The Little Thatches was the summer house that was in the garden of The Thatched Cottage on Hillstreet. Mrs Poole owned it. When she died, I bought the hill (Hendy’s Hill) from the executors.”
The cottage name Ulu means upriver in dayak.
Any changes he’s seen in the wildlife over the years?
“I never saw any otters. I used to dig out all the ditches. When we were doing this drainage down here, we used to dig the eels up. They came right up along the ditch line along Long Field. I dug out our boundary ditch right down to the river in order to establish this drainage, by hand. Further up, you would dig eels out regularly.
I used to see what in my ignorance in those days I thought, were water rats. I thought we should do away with those. They were water voles. I knew there was something odd about their tails. Lovely water voles! I used to see them swimming.
We had a beautiful hedgeline with lots of stoats and weasels. I remember when Margaret and I were discussing that in broad daylight and there was a small owl on the post there. We have video footage of how the farm was. When I took the land on, the hedges in the valley hadn’t been cut or tended for many years. They were as wide as this room, some of them. They were hawthorn.
Originally they’d been estate managed. These hedges had been planted but had gone wild. Before we could do the drainage we reclaimed the hedges. We went right back to the hedges. There were plenty of hawthorns in there. Tony, my brother-in-law and I used to lay them, undercut them and pull them down and put the earth on top of them. Some were successful and some weren’t but even some of the bigger trees produced a good hawthorn hedge, because we had the soil to chuck up on them. The hawthorn that is in the current education area was just by the original site of Sharveshill Farm and makes a beautiful sight in the spring.
Then the Romsey butcher, Mr Webb took over the adjoining Little Testwood Farm in the valley. He bulldozed in all the water carriers. He was the first one to level out the valley land.
We used to have a barn owl that, every night at a certain time, it used to come right around our boundary, past our house. You could tell the time by it. There still is a bam owl that will cross Paulet’s Lane at a certain time in the evening. We had an owl box in the big oak that was struck by Hghtening. There were owls in the box at one time.” Barbara Otto, Peter’s daughter estimates that badgers disappeared about 30 years ago. She thinks that they were possibly poisoned by farm spray being carried on vegetation, taken into their sett. Barbara has also noticed that the iron that colours the water in the ditches is only a fairly recent phenomenon.
File of information provided by Mike Thomas
File of information provided by John Coney of Totton and Eling Historical Society
Interviews and Reports from Peter Rackham
Testwood Lakes, A special place for wildlife, Southern Water, Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust.
Testwood Lakes, Environmental Statement, July 1991
Testwood Lakes Management Plan, Southern water, July 1997
The Southern water Testwood Lakes Scheme, updates, June 1996, April 1997, June 1998, June 1999, Summer 2000, Summer 2001,