In 1947, John Albert Holt recorded his recollections about his early life at Shore farm and the village of Egerton. His manuscript was published as a book in 1949 by Hopkins & Sons (Bolton).
'Shore' was a small farm in Turton, with just over 12 acres of land stretching over the heights. The farm building is long gone, but its site can be seen from Blackburn Road, on the right-hand side heading from Egerton towards Darwen. It was situated towards the brow of the hill, just after what is now a tree plantation. As of 2021, there is little left, but what remains can be seen from a public footpath across the fields.
|The remains of Shore farm in the foreground|
looking towards Winter Hill (2020)
During the great freeze of 1947, the writer, an old man nearer eighty years of age than seventy, being for the time deprived of his usual exercise in his garden, decided to occupy a portion of it in recording some events that he recalled with pleasure and interest.
I was born in the year 1870 at a Farm named “Shore Farm,” in the District of Turton in Lancashire. The farm was sheltered from the North and East by a branch of the Pennine Chain. I was told the valley in front of the farm, which extended for a few miles South and West and across to a further range of hills, was covered with a mantle of snow on the day I first saw light. If the sub-conscious records events, one of my first impressions must have been of the white snow. My ancestors had lived on this farm since the year 1737, at least for five generations, and probably for years before records were kept. An abstract of the Records of the Manor Court of Turton, 1737-1850, mentions one of my forbears as a Juror in the year 1753.
Our farm was very isolated. We had to travel at least four miles in any direction before reaching a place of importance. Of course there were scattered farms and cottages here and there. Behind our farm was an extensive moorland which, judging from old furrows and fences, had probably been cultivated prior to the Enclosure Acts of the 17th and 18th Century. On its summit a Druid Circle is located.
|1850 OS Map showing Shore Farm|
CHAPTER I - THE FARM
We must remember there was no street or highway lighting in the country, outside a village or hamlet, and it was difficult to get about on dark wintry evenings.
The inhabitants of this district were honest, hardworking folks. We had few books at our farm-The Bible (two large volumes, one of them illustrated), “The Pilgrim's Progress,” a few Scott's Novels, “Robinson Crusoe,” “ Treasure Island," etc. My father told us of Fox's Book of Martyrs and we had books from a Library.
There were certain days we looked upon as Festive Days, including Xmas of course ; Rent Days, when there was a good dinner for the farmer after he had paid his half-yearly dues ; Hunt Supper, given annually to all farmers on the estates over which the Holcombe Hunt had the privilege of chasing the hare ; the Chapel anniversaries ; also the “Beef Nights" which were held whenever a farmer, instead of selling a beast to a butcher, decided to have it killed on his own premises and sold out by him to the neighbours. When they attended on the day for payment, generally some evening, the farmers, with their wives and grown-up sons and daughters, made a festive night of the occasion. There was dancing and singing to the accompaniment of music played on an accordion; beer was served in the kitchen, and the farmers' wives had a "drop of short stuff,” so called, served in the parlour. There was sometimes a bit of rivalry amongst the farmers' sons as to who should accompany the daughters to their homes in the late darkness. In this way the life in the country had its compensations, in the absence of other means of entertainment. On these occasions, “The Farmers Boy” was often sung.
One would naturally imagine a boy, especially a young boy, would feel very lonely on one of these isolated farms without other boys with whom to play. Strange to say, such was not the case with me. As soon as I could walk and stand firmly on my legs, and could sit on a milking stool, I learned to milk a cow. My parents were very busy people and had not much time or inclination to coddle me. One particular Cow, named “Daisy," was an unusually quiet animal, and in addition stood in its own stall right at the top end of the shippon and was very easy to milk, which made it possible for me, as soon as I had sufficient grip in my fingers, to extract the milk in a small can, held between my knees. Of course I began by using one hand only, and then had a rest. I couldn't milk the cow “dry", as the farmers say and my father would finish off the latter half of the milking. This last milk taken from the cow was called “afterings” and was kept separate from the "foremilk” and on our farm used for churning into butter, being richer in cream and fats than the “foremilk”, which we sold at that period at 2½d per quart.
Another easy but somewhat monotonous job I did for my father was to take a bucket and collect any stones I could find in the meadow after he had spread manure on it, the reason being that when “mowing" time came no hard obstacle should damage his scythe blade. I walked with the bucket to and fro across the meadow in as straight a line as I could, unloading my collection at one end, until I had covered all the surface necessary.
Let it not be thought that all this work made me a dull boy, on the contrary, when I had finished I felt it pleasurable to look at the ground I had cleared of stones and knew father would give me a pat on the back.
I had plenty of leisure to play about with the dog, called "Spot”. As you know, farmers generally had a dog or two to help with the cattle and keep guard at nights. It so happened that we heard a farmer, living about a mile away, had several puppies he wanted to dispose of, so I was sent to get one of them. When I arrived I was told to choose any I fancied. There were three black ones and one brindled black and white, which I chose and carried home. I named it “Spot' and it grew up into a fairly large bob-tailed sheep dog. I was very proud I had chosen it and considered I had a big share in it, and Spot proved to be very intelligent and could almost understand what we said to each other. I know if Mother asked me to go an errand the dog knew as soon as myself, because it meant an outing for him.
One summer we missed him for several days and finally found him very ill and unable to walk, lying among some bracken under a hedge. I took him some milk and, gradually becoming stronger, he managed to return home, slowly and with many halts. We had the idea he had eaten poison.
Later father caught him carrying an egg in his mouth which he had taken from a hen's nest, so father gave him a good thrashing which he did not forget to his dying day. Should we afterwards show him only a small piece of egg-shell he would retire under a seat in shame.
One day Spot had been barking for quite a long time at something in an old stone wall, being a fence between two fields. I went to see the cause for it and he immediately licked with his tongue a certain stone in the wall, and in this way was asking me to remove it, which I did and found behind the stone a half-grown brown rabbit, exactly the size and colour of two tame rabbits I had in a loft along with four white rabbits and the mother. I seized the wild rabbit to prevent Spot killing it and placed it amongst the tame ones. Imagine my surprise next day to find that the mother had killed all three brown ones.
Another of my duties was to keep the garden in front of the farm house tidy and free from weeds, but the greatest trouble was in keeping the poultry from trespassing in it. Quite on my own responsibility I made a small garden on the summit of the moorland and built a low stone fence round it, quite away from the place where the poultry had their grounds. I planted different seeds and plants, and because it was all my very own I enjoyed it all the more.
At the foot of our front meadow and bordering on the highway, formed in 1796, were two empty cottages which were in such disrepair that they had not been tenanted during my lifetime. They stood in the centre of a neglected garden now overgrown with rank grass and all kinds of weeds. One day I was looking round the garden and wondering how it had appeared when properly cultivated, and looking beneath a large clump of withered grass I was filled with ecstasy to see a pansy plant in full bloom. I am sure I had never seen this flower before, and its discovery in these surroundings, impressed me so forcibly that ever since I have grown this plant whenever possible.
I must tell you more about these two empty cottages. They were sometimes used by tramps or hoboes, who, passing from one town to the next-which would be at least eight miles-would often stay to rest in them, and should they want to dry their clothes in rainy weather would try to get fuel and make a fire in the old firegrate. Sometimes they would have a washing day and dry their garments either in the sun or in front of the cottage grate.
I had a thrilling experience and I was very helpful to my folks in the following event. It seems my father, who often attended when there was an auction of cattle, made it a practice of always having with him sufficient money to pay for an animal should he buy one. He always carried this in golden sovereigns in a small wallet, which he kept day by day in an inside pocket of his vest. One day he found the money and wallet had frayed a hole in his pocket and was missing. There was then quite a commotion, and a search began in every likely place for its recovery. I myself decided to follow wheel tracks made by a barrow father had recently been using to wheel manure on the meadow. It was now midwinter, and the ground having a good layer of hard frozen snow the wheel tracks showed very distinctly. I began to follow each one, which went hither and thither. At last I was pleasantly surprised to find at the end of a wheel track the snow bespangled with shining golden sovereigns, for the sun did shine at that moment. They would surely have been completely lost had a thaw set in. Oh! Joy ! on carrying home the lost treasure.
During this severe weather, which had lasted several weeks - the fields being still covered with frozen, glistening snow - as I stood one day in the farm-yard I heard a loud squealing noise, almost human-not unlike a small baby's cry - and upon looking in the direction from whence it came, I saw a sight I shall never forget. I called my mother out of the kitchen to witness the tragedy which was being enacted and was plainly visible from where I stood. A full grown rabbit was being chased by a weasel, round and round like a circus they wheeled. The rabbit evidently knew that if it ran straight ahead the weasel, which could outrun it, would soon overtake it. It's only chance of not being caught was to suddenly turn off at an angle and change its course, thus gaining a yard or so as the weasel, not being aware of the change in direction, would over-run the sudden turn for a short distance. Ultimately they circled anti-clockwise with the circle becoming smaller and smaller and the distance between the rabbit and weasel less and less, and in less time than I have taken in writing this, the weasel sprang on the still squealing rabbit, which soon lay a lifeless corpse on the dazzling snow. The only consolation was that in mid-winter there would not be a number of young bunnies awaiting the return of their mother. Had Spot, who was some distance from home with father, been available, he would have brought the chase to a different ending.
Another interesting piece of work I had to do was to accompany father on an evening into the pig sty, when with a tape measure he took the girth of one of the pigs and noted the measurement whilst I held a lighted candle. A few weeks afterwards he repeated the operation and again registered the girth measurement, just behind the fore-front shoulders, and noted the increase if any. In course of time the increase ceased altogether, and now was the time, so my father said, to change the diet and finish off the fattening of the pigs before selling them to the butcher-or having them killed at our farm and selling them piecemeal to our customers. When the killing was done at home, the squealing of the pigs could be heard at the next farm. We know we could hear the squealing whenever the nearest farm, at least two fields away, had a pig killing day.
As I was now becoming a bigger boy I was allowed to feed a newly-born calf, which is not very easy to carry out properly. A newly-born calf naturally expects to find sustenance by lifting its head to find the mother cow's teats and has to be taught how to bend its head in drinking out of a vessel, instead of lifting it upwards. This tuition is accomplished by inserting one's fingers into the calf's mouth ; when doing this one can feel it sucking and you press its head downwards right into the milk and the young calf quickly learns to drink without any help or guidance.
During harvest time I had, at intervals, to visit each workman with a large bottle containing harvest beer and pour out whatever was necessary into a mug and hand it to them. Between the rounds, and during the intervals, I placed the large bottle in a running stream and covered it with grass to keep it cool.
We had many different breeds of fowls. Occasionally father put a sitting of shop eggs, probably imported, to be hatched, and the result was we had a mixture of hybrids amongst our hens-featherlegged, grigs (short legs), all sorts of colours and sizes. On my own initiative I bought about a dozen eggs from another farm of the Brown Leghorn breed, and when hatched out my father was very pleased with them as they proved more profitable than other mixed breeds. Then we had a surprise when a hen which had made a nest for itself in a clough near the farm quite unknown to anyone, laid a clutch of eggs and hatched them out and brought the chickens home, or perhaps not all as she had to bring them across a running brook.
During spring and summer I knew the whereabouts of many birds' nests. There was only one variety I grew to dislike-the kestrel. You know it is rather a large bird and can hover quite still (so it seems) for long spells at a time and only once (but that was sufficient) it was seen to suddenly, dive straight down to the ground and rise with a young chick in its talons. At night time snipe made a weird sound when flying about. In the fields we had nests of peewits and larks, and I enjoyed visiting the nests of throstles, blackbirds, robins, wagtails, blue-tits, wrens and many others. I once found a young cuckoo in a hedge-sparrow's nest ; also I saw kingfishers. Swallows and martins built their nests inside an old building attached to the farm. On the moorland, grouse made their nests amongst the heather and the very young grouse were like young chickens, and if you accidentally disturbed them they very quickly scattered amongst the heather and were out of sight in a moment.
A further duty I had was to crush sandy stones with a hammer for mother to use the same on the flagged floors of the farm. Every downstairs room was flagged, even the stairs leading upstairs were stone steps. It was a very ancient building and the ceilings were very low. To give you an idea, a grandfather's clock we had was too tall to stand upright, so we cut a portion of the bedroom floor out altogether and allowed the clock to put its top portion through the aperture and by bending down when upstairs we could tell the time from there. Many farm houses possessed a Grand Father's Clock, and the traditional song was often sung on festive occasions.
The chimney was very wide, and we could see the stars at night by looking up it.
We had no water or gas laid on, we used candles and paraffin oil lamps, and we had a well of beautiful spring water at the end of the yard, opposite to the shippon and barns. In winter I had to take each cow separately to the well and allow it to have 33 swallows of water only. We had one cow which always drank twenty-eight, never more nor less. Behind the kitchen was a very very large room where my ancestors used to handweave cotton cloth. When my father was a boy he helped with the weaving.
The approach to our farm from the highway which extended through the valley in front of the farm from a town four miles south to a town four miles west-was a narrow, stony road, hilly in places and with several sharp turnings, in fact, it was unsuitable for a horse and cart to travel up it and was the reason for our having a good donkey instead of a horse. On one side of this stony road was a hawthorn hedge, varied with a few shrubs here and there, and on the sunny side there was a lovely brook, running the whole length of the road, which came down from the moorland hills behind the farm. On its banks grew many different shrubs and small trees. The hilly moorland was part of our pasture for the cattle and our portion extended about a mile to the opposite side of the hill and in width was about 400 yards. It was now my duty, as I was becoming a stronger and bigger boy, to fetch home the cattle from this moorland hill, which was part of the Pennine Chain. When going out to find the cattle which had plenty of space for grazing and often wandered far from their home, I usually walked up the middle of the plot so that I could see to my right and left and find the cattle I was searching for. My first view of an animal always gave me a feeling of satisfaction, for I then knew I had come to the end of my journey out and soon I should have every animal on its homeward trek.
I must tell you of a day when a fog covered the top of the hill and I failed to locate the herd of cattle on my outward journey. Thinking they might have strayed on the adjoining field I attempted to return by an unusual route, when the fog became denser and I could not see beyond a yard or so ; in fact I was lost, without any object to shew the position or direction, and I completely lost my bearings. I started to run but had no idea where I should eventually arrive. I did not soon forget the experience and many times since I have been lost in my dreams. However I came to a gully about a mile from the farm and soon the mists cleared away and everything came right in the end.
|Moorland on Turton Heights above Shore Farm|
| Looking Backwards by J. A. Holt (1949)|
The blue cloth binding for the book was
processed at Egerton Dye Works.