Mr Shayler talks with Carmela about how the countryside was and how it has changed.
“You moved when you were 6?
When you get to Millbrook Station, there (is) a gate across the road (level crossing). We lived down in the field, with the cattle. There was three houses down there. We were the first one… .All gone down now. The loco used to run by there to Millbrook Kiln.
Was it noisy by the station?
When we were first there… . the trains used to rock the house. We used to go out and wave to the engine drivers. On Sundays, there used to be two trains that used to bring (racing) pigeons from London. They used to release them… there used to be two hundred pigeons flying around… most every Sundays… there wasn’t a lot of trains … there wasn’t a lot of wires. We used to have racing pigeons… when these pylons (for overhead power lines) were built we picked (up) no end of racing pigeons and swans and that, what hit the wires, till they got used to them. Amazing that was… killed no end of birds!
So you used to keep pigeons as a boy?
There used to be one called “Waffle” (because of its call). It used to walk round the table, having a bit of bread… Sammy used to come over and watch him…
His father (surname Burton), rented London Brick Farm… they used to go over in a pony and trap (horse and passenger cart) and used to have to take the food the other side to the Midland Railway… there was a house what was called Magpoles… .
Did you race pigeons?
We didn’t race them… .. we bred them and we’d sell them.
What else did you do, apart from going to school?
Just go round these fields! Moorhens… we used to take some of the eggs for breakfast… a bit bigger than pigeon eggs. We used to keep poultry… there used to be a pond in every field for cattle to drink out of. There was no water laid on nowhere! The cattle, when I was a boy, used to drink out of the brooks… wild birds, all you could imagine, was here… ’cause when I was on the farm we used to have to dig the muck out of the buildings and during the winter when it was icy, we used to take it into the field and then we used to spread it, all the birds followed us to get the worms out of the manure.
Didn’t you used to shoot the birds?
The gamekeeper used to (arrange formal “shoots”). London Brick used to shoot nearly every other week. When I worked at the brickyards, I used to go beating. At the end of the season, perhaps a lot of people won’t believe me, you wouldn’t know they’d shot all the birds … there were so many wild birds, breeding. I mean, partridge, she might have fourteen or fifteen young ones, you see… foxes, hawk. Until the war broke out… they farmed it and ladies come to pick the potatoes up… after the war they allowed them to take the hedgerows out and make big fields… then the combines come (combined harvester machines) and they made bigger fields… .. and then modern day times, they sprayed for this, they sprayed for that, and the birds disappeared. They all used to have a certain place. You always find the different birds building in the same hedge for years and years… and in trees. There used to be all big elm trees … ..and the little brown owls, we used to try to climb up and catch ‘em, they used to sit up there… and the barn owls and that.
When I laid in bed, at Millbrook, with me brother, there was a big draught came over me head. I tried to pull the clothes over. It was big white owl… it comes clean inside the bedroom and out the window. There used to be hundreds of bird, thousands, all the finches and everything you can imagine. This is what I’ve seen disappear in my time.
They allowed them, when they combined, to burn all the straw. What birds were in there – insects, bird life, got burned. When they pulled hedgerows up, burned all the field round the tree, the tree kept getting scorched and they had to take it down ‘case it had died. They killed it. They (the farmers) don’t like me speaking up, some of them… today, the last year or two, what’s happened? They give ‘em permission to “set the field aside” so they grow no crop off it, and pay them. And what did they do. You can see for yourself, over here all the fields are sprayed. That’s when all the linnets come in to ‘seed’… if they do take them to young ones, they’re gone. And the farmer what got on to me, (I was talking to him about it not so long ago) said, “You know what had all the eggs, boy, don’t you?”.
I said, “No, you tell me.”
He said, “These gulls.”
I said, “I prove to you, when it’s feeding time, you don’t see these gulls here, they go away.”