Wednesday 22 September 2021

Sheep farming on Belmont's upper pastures

This article by Molly Partington was printed in the The Journal on August 26th 1955 as part of the series called "Around the Countryside".

Lower Pastures Farm, Belmont
Lower Pastures Farm, Belmont

I GOT off the bus at the Belmont terminus. The buses “rest” here for a few minutes before making the return journey to Bolton and, on a summer's day, it is pleasant to sit on the upper deck overlooking the Yacht Club house. The yachts sail gracefully over the shimmering (almost always choppy) water with the slopes of moorland fields rising in the background.

AS I walked along the cause way marked "Private Road", which is closed once a year to maintain the right of ownership, I welcomed the cooling breeze blowing across the lake. Turning left to follow the farther shore, the road climbs into rounded hills. The colour was delightful--fresh green splashed with gold and white in the foreground and the blue moors fading into the distance. I could hear the sound of the clear stream running down to the lake beside the lane. There were gates to be opened and shut.

All the while, the air had been filled by the noise of sheep but not a single one was in sight. Mounting a rise, I came to the barn of Upper Pastures and found the answer. Through - another closed gate the bleating almost deafened me for it was shearing day and Mr. Fisher has a flock of 500 sheep.

It was a heartening sight to see so fine a flock. Early spring was hard here. Because sheep were buried in snow drifts, it was feared that many would be lost with their lambs-and this farm "hit the headlines” as the arduous work of rescue went on.

Looking in at the open door of the barn. I saw two sheep lying quietly while the shears, driven by a petrol engine up in the loft, neatly cut away the complete fleece without leaving a scratch on the delicate looking skin. Only the sheeps' wild eyes betrayed how nervous the animals were. Mr. Fisher called to me to have a go!" But I have seen sheep shearing many times and have some idea of the skill and strength required for handling the job-so I declined the offer.

Farmer marks his flock

After shearing the naked animals were hustled across the open yard and behind the old farmhouse into a pen where Mrs. Fisher was waiting with a few helpers to mark the flock including this year's lambs. The Upper Pastures' mark is a scarlet stripe on the back and a snipped right ear. The chief amongst these workers was son John, who, at eight year old competently handles sheep bigger than himself and is going to be a farmer when he grows up.

The final reunion of sheep and lambs happened in a larger enclosure at the side of the house. Identification of mothers and children appeared to be done by tone of voice and I am sure that the bleating could have been heard at Tockholes.

Mr. and Mrs. Fisher have been sheep farming at Upper Pastures for 10 years and have two daughters aged 14 and 12 respectively. Prior to this, Mr. Fisher who is a local man farmed near the Belmont-rd. Mrs. Fisher came from Abbey Village.

Taking my leave of the Fishers I walked downhill and through another gate into the yard of Lower Pastures Farm. Here is a satisfying landscape, for the grey buildings have a background of lake and moorland that would be hard to excel pictorially. The house and outbuildings are solid and compact. The large, stone-built barn adjoins the house and the shippons are reached through it. This arrangement saves time and energy besides giving shelter in winter and bad weather. The right angle formed by house and buildings faces the sun and is sheltered from the prevailing winds. Here, some of Mr. and Mrs. Cheetham's 350 poultry were sunning themselves hopefully awaiting feeding time.

The farm seemed deserted. Receiving no reply to my knocks at the porch door, I walked across the field fronting the house to continue my sketch. Seated on a handy stone, I could now hear the creaking of machinery and knew that someone was at work in a hayfield behind the farmhouse. It was peaceful and hot and very pleasant to allow myself to be distracted by watching the yachts bending and swaying before the breeze.

A varied life

Mr. Cheetham has had a varied life. Born in Little Hulton, he has always done farm work and has been farm-manager at several places. Mrs. Cheetham is the daughter of a Yorkshire hill farmer. After their marriage they lived in Warwickshire, where Mr. Cheetham managed a farm.

Before coming to Bolton, they farmed on a small place near Burnley doing all their own work as they still do at Lower Pastures. Here, there are no sheep and the farm recently "turned T.T." Mr. Cheetham carried out all the necessary alterations to the shippons himself making and enlarging windows and doing all the concreting.