Life in the Village in the 1920s and 30s
1 Post Box Cottage
Most of the village residents were connected with farming in one way or another. A working day on the farm started early as it still does today. When young George Hambidge went to work for Jack Brown at Church Farm in the 1930s, he had only to run along the road from Post Box Cottages for the seven a.m. start. He and his friend Denis Lafford had tried to get jobs as messenger boys at the Post Office but only Denis Lafford was accepted and the doctor advised George he would be better working outside in the fresh air, as he had a bad chest. His first job was looking after the eggs which were incubating, and when the chickens had hatched, to move them into the big shed. After working with the chickens he was moved to Sescut, riding his bike down to help the head cowman, Mr Footitt, look after the calves. After their early start all the farm hands stopped for what they called their lunch at nine a.m., a half hour break when they ate sandwiches. They then worked till noon, dinner time, and resumed work in the afternoon until evening.
Sescut is beside the River Cherwell and is the site of a medieval corn mill. At one time there was a ferry to get across the river which could be pulled across by chain, but before the Second World War there was a punt because the water was fairly shallow. Once when George Hambidge and his fellow workmates were crossing the river, they rocked the boat and all fell in. One of the farm hands, Mr Higgs, stood in the river with water up to his chin but managed to keep his hat dry. During the war, Italian POWs dredged the river to a depth of ten feet, like all the rivers in Oxford, to prevent flooding, and it was no longer as easy to punt across.
Nationally, there had been a serious slump in the price of agricultural products following the Wall Street crash in 1929 and so concerned was the government that Marketing Boards for agricultural products were set up, the most successful being the Milk Marketing Board. This was established in the early thirties, its aim being initially to restrict imports, though its responsibilities expanded and it became involved with production, pricing and marketing. It is no surprise therefore that, since dairy farming was a predictable branch of agriculture, besides the milking herd at Sescut, there were two others in the village. A cowman for Mr Watts, by the name of Lockston, lived at Forest Farm. The cows were milked morning and evening at Hill Farm, but pastured at Forest Farm. This meant they had to walk the length of the village twice a day which resulted in a very muddy road splattered with cow muck and lacking any vegetation on the banks because they had been grazed bare by the cattle.
England became a pastoral economy in the inter-war years, turning from wheat production to dairy farming and sheep, potatoes and sugar beet being also important crops. In his 1936 survey of land use in England, Douglas Stamp showed that Elsfield was in an area which included arable land, fallow and rotation grass for livestock. There does not appear to have been any sugar beet grown in Elsfield but one of the crops grown for animal feed in winter was mangolds or mangel-wurzels. These are a kind of beet with a large yellowish root which are easily pulled out of the ground. Once pulled, they were earthed up to keep them edible during the winter for winter feed. Before being fed to the cattle they were put into a machine which sliced them up into pieces the size of a fish finger. Horses were important on the farm not only for ploughing but for carrying such things as animal feed around the fields. Wilf Lafford was head carter for Mr Watts at Hill Farm. Up at four in the morning to feed, water and groom the horses, the head carter ranked high in the agricultural hierarchy. If there were a problem with the horses, Mr Paintin was the person to ask. He worked for Mr Watts at Hill Farm who thought he was as good as a vet. What Paintin didn’t know about animals, said Mr Watts, wasn’t worth knowing. The vet was occasionally called in, however, and would cycle up to Elsfield from Marston. Mr Paintin spent much of his spare time doing freelance work castrating horses. Because of the number of horses employed on the farms, there was a blacksmith. His forge was at Forest Farm, in the building which now houses the music room for the Montessori school. There was little mechanisation, even as late as the 1930s, though the reaper-binder, which had been introduced earlier in the century, was in common use and horses were used for ploughing throughout the war years.