Saturday, 10 September 2011

Half Eaten Hedges

 My Grandad was not my  " real "  Grandad ........ not my  " birth " relation , as they say nowadays . My Nana was married twice and her second husband was much resented by my Mother . But that is not for now , that is for another day . To me he was my Grandad , the only one I had ever known and I loved and respected him and mourned him when he passed away .

 He was one of four children born to a relatively wealthy farming family in North Yorkshire . Apparently , when he was 8 yrs old , he had fallen from a cart and broken his arm in a few places . It was set hastily and inexpertly by the local doctor and infection set in and he almost lost the arm . He was sent every fortnight , at great expense , on his own , across the country to Liverpool for treatment and although this saved the limb it was left twisted and his right hand was turned inwards in a sort of immobile  " claw " shape . The fingers were set in one position and could not be moved .  Of course nowadays he would be registered as disabled and eligible for all sorts of help and benefits , but way back in the early 1900s there was no NHS , no Benefit schemes ; you  just had to get on with it !

 Every brother was given farming land by the parents and my Grandads farm was located where Wilton I.C.I  now stands . It extended   from Lazenby to what was known as the  " Trunk Road " between Grangetown and Redcar . It was a dairy farm and the milk was put into huge churns and taken down the lane by horse and cart . There it was left , to be picked up by a truck from Northern Dairies . Then it was returned ,  bottled and in heavy metal crates ,  to be delivered to households round the town by my Grandad and the same horse and cart .

 I.C.I  Wilton , which had started off in a small  field , was expanding rapidly and office buildings and processing plants seemed to pop up overnight and creep ever nearer to the edge of the farm . Grandad had sold I.C.I quite a few fields by then but eventually they made him an offer he couldnt refuse , the farm was sold , and my Grandparents bought a large Victorian semi in Grangetown . Now at the time this was a prosperous town , full of life , with plenty of work for the menfolk at the thriving Dorman Long Steel Works .This was now the mid 1950s and I often used to visit my Grandparents for the weekend . At night I would look out of the window and see the big red glow of the furnaces way in the distance and see shards of light and sparks fly up into the night sky when the workers were tapping the furnaces and the molten liquid was meeting the cold  " pig " moulds .

 Although the farm was sold , my Grandad was still the Milkman , the only differences being that the horse and cart were kept at a nearby farm on the edge of town and the milk was no longer produced by  " our " cows !  It was now delivered very early in the morning to the rear of the house and kept in a purpose-built dairy in the back yard .  I can remember laying in bed , blankets up to my ears and hearing the clatter and rattle of the crates and the chatter of the men as they unloaded the days supplies . Meanwhile , Grandad would have left the house even earlier to go up to the field and  " catch " the horse and harness it to the cart . Then I would hear the  " clip clop " of hooves on the cobbled back alley  and once again the clatter of crates being loaded , this time by my Grandad with his  crooked arm .  I have no idea how he managed , I guess he had got used to the situation  and ,  to my shame ,  as a youngster it never crossed my mind .  It was something I was used to and I never thought of the impact it must have had on his life , he always coped and I never heard him complain .

 He was not a sentimental man , I suppose farmers cant always allow themselves that luxury . so , although he cared for and ....I believe loved .......his horse , he had no time for fancy names and every horse he ever owned was called  " Peter " !  Well,  the Peter I knew was a marvel . He knew every inch of the huge milkround and could have walked  the route on his own . He knew when to stop and when to start off again and would wait at each place for the designated time . However, this meant that if a customer chatted for too long or needed an extra pint fetching Grandad had to hurry or Peter would just trot off again and be halfway down the street at the next stop  !

 During the school holidays my sister Gill and I would often  go  " on the round " too and we would jump on and off the cart at the stops  and run up and down paths with pints of  " gold top " and bottles of orange juice and Peter would trot off to the next stop with us gaily skipping after calling  " Whoa , whoa " , which of course he ignored .  A couple of customers always made Grandad a cup of tea and if we were with him we went into the cosy homes and were made a fuss of and plied with cocoa and biscuits .  Peter was used to these longer stops and stayed in one place merrily munching the garden hedge till we came out . These generous households could easily be recognised by their half eaten hedges , which were much shorter and sparser than their neighbours  neat , uneaten ones !

 People loved Peter , they came out with apples and sugar cubes and little children giggled as his soft nose nuzzled their palms to carefully take the crusts of bread they offered .  People loved my Grandad too . They gave him cakes and puddings in muslin cloths and sent magazines to my Nana . She , in turn , used Grandad as a courier to deliver Strawberry jam to the lady at number 6 or take a lovingly knitted matinee coat to Mrs. Browns new baby . Births , marriages and deaths were discussed at length and news was carried , along with the odd letter and parcel , from one street to another .

 Milk needed to be delivered in all weather . Pouring rain , scorching sun , sleet and snow and howling gales , there would be my Grandad and his trusty Peter . Grandad , at the crack of dawn , huffing and puffing, lifting heavy crates with his  " gammy " arm , trudging up and down garden paths , his weather beaten , furrowed brow  like leather and the creases and wrinkles of his berry brown face deep set in a smile .  When the snow and ice was too dangerous for Peter Grandad did the round in short spells using a two wheeled handcart that carried 6 crates at a time . This meant that he had to return home many times to reload but he always managed , never missed a day !  Gill and I would sometimes help him , dressed in stout boots and layers of clothes , like two rosy cheeked eskimos . When the round was finished he would let us sit on the empty crates and he would push us back home in the handcart. I realise now that what had been great fun for us must have been hard work for him .  But it made us squeal with laughter and that pleased him .

 When Gill and I got older we used to help him at weekends by doing what was called the  " bottom round " using the two wheeled handcart .  He would load it with 6 crates and the two of us set off to deliver the daily pintas to 4 or 5 streets of houses that all had excessively long garden paths  !! We had great fun doing this even though it was very physical work  . Kids nowadays wouldnt do it I suppose ...... and Health and Safety would have something to say about it anyway , especially as I always let Gill sit on the empty crates while I pushed her home  ............. it was tradition !!

 My dear Grandad worked on , way past retirement age as he didnt want to  " let anyone down "  but eventually he had to give way to the modern world  .  It was no longer viable to deliver milk with a horse and cart . Northern Dairies had moved into the modern age and now had a fleet of fancy milk floats and a team of white coated , fresh faced young  milkmen .  Grandad was a relic of the past and everything was  " rush rush "  and there was no time to linger over a cuppa or let young kiddies feed crusts to the milkmans horse .

My Grandparents sold up and  retired to the country and there are many more stories to tell .  But I think part of him always remained on that milkround  . Peter retired  as well , to spend the rest of his life in lush fields , but , for a while , part of him remained on the round too , in the half eaten hedges dotted here and there .


  1. Your blog posts are fantastic. I get transported to many different places, "meet" many different people and listen to your memories, just for a moment.

    I love this blog, its how a blog should be! Thank you so much for sharing your Granddad's story with us!

  2. You must keep all these fab blogs and then you can put them all together into a bio! As usual, superb, I was there with you xxx