Home History Farmhands at Shenvalley Farm, Patrick

Farmhands at Shenvalley Farm, Patrick

by Bernadette Weyde

Farming has been in the blood of my ancestors for generations of Kellys and I descended from a long line of tenant farmers here on the Island.

The good farmer engaged his men at Hollantide and looked for a strong man to do all the heavy work on the farm – a good all-rounder and probably the son of a farm worker.  Reggie was the first man my father employed and he stayed with my father until he got married and went to work at Knockaloe experimental farm.

George came next.  He was the son of Mr Molyneaux who had come from St Helens as a soldier when the Knockaloe camp was there during the First World War.  He did not want to go back so he got a cottage in Patrick for his wife and son and lived there until he died.  He often came up to help on the farm during the harvest and Mill Days.  It was said that he and his wife did not get on and that when he went to bed, she got up, but George was well looked after by his mother.  I always remember his carefully ironed shirts with short sleeves in the summer, his brown corduroy trousers and blue denim jacket.  He was a pleasant sort.  A slow man with an even temper, clean shaven with light brown hair which we often used to curl with the curling tongs and we singed his hair but he said nothing.  He was easy going really and good with horses and ploughing and my father would shout from the back door, “Get the hosses out jarj and we’ll do a birra ploughin’.

George’s pace was slow like the horses he managed.  His favourite horse was Mona – a placid shire horse with white hair on her feet.  She was so nice she used to let us ride on her back.  My father once bought a pedigree horse called Netta but she was always to be a nuisance and had a bad temper and once kicked one of the men with her back leg.  I think my father paid over £100 for her.

George left the farm to live in Dalby with his family.  He never forgot us and often came to see my mother afterwards and have a drink of beer and a chat.  During the war when clothes were rationed, his wife used to give us some of her clothes coupons so that we could buy some new clothes ourselves.

Robert Fayle was the next on the scene.  He came from the South and was the son of a farmhand.  He was of medium height with dark hair and a cheeky smile on his face and he was engaged and came to be boarded at the farm in the back bedroom with another chap.  He used to sharpen the scythe on the grindstone in the hacket, then an expert at this, he held the handle firmly and swung it up and down without much effort, the grass falling in deep swathes.  Noting there were some nice pansies in the garden, he would be taking one for his buttonhole when he went to see his girlfriend Maud in Peel that night.

Charlie was a casual labourer on the farm for some years.  He was the adopted son of Mr & Mrs Quinney (Billy Cunyer my father called the man).  He was seen on the stack with Reggie – a small, dark chap who wanted to improve his English and ‘get on’ as we called it then.  He read books at home and came out with some odd expressions and phrases, which were hilarious really and we used to get him to talk to make us laugh.  He tried to express himself in ‘good English’ with ‘How are you today?’ and ‘I am pleased to make conversation with you,’ and then when he slipped into Manx dialect it was really good, ‘Me fether’s been up at Corled’s (Corlett’s) farm doin’ a birra thatchin’, an’ the oul gel wars’ tellin’ him orf fer workin’ fer that oul skin flint fer nex’ te northin’.’  And then thinking better of it, he resorted to better English with ‘I am ingratiated to you for listening to me and I have just finished reading Omar Khayyam’s poems – lovely poetry have you read it yourself?

The men hardly ever used bad language except Bobby who swore at times when he couldn’t find the sheepdog and shouted, ‘Where’s that lil divil gorn,’ and ‘Jesus Christ!’ if anything fell on him.  He used to slop his tea in the saucer when he drank a cup of tea because it was too hot and he was in a hurry.

Billy came to work for us and was boarded at the farm.  He was a big, hefty man, strong and good at hedging and ditching – cutting down the briars and loping away the lower ones to make a good hedge so that the animals could not stray.  He was single when he came to work and was keen on money and buying top hats at jumble sales for a shilling.  My father used to send him to the mart at St Johns to sell calves for sixpence and because he could neither read or write he signed his name with an “X”. 

Bobby was the milkman and a relative of ours who came to the farm with his wife and family when he gave up farming himself.  He took the milk to Patrick and Peel in the milk float pulled by Trixie the pony who was loved for her glossy coat and roving way of thrusting her head over the wall to see if there was the usual greetings and a lump of sugar for her.

The pony knew the route well for many years.  In fact she knew it so well that if the milkman was taking too long at somebody’s house, she would make her way to the next house and look back at Bobby reproachfully as if to say ‘hurry up’.  She never made mistakes like not knowing the right house, and if she had been blindfolded, she would have taken the milk float to the right house.  Even at Christmas when Bobby got drunk with the many sherries he was given, she pulled him and the float back to the farm safe and sound.

source: Country Girl – Life on an old Manx Farm with Manx Dialect (1998) by Nancy Mills

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