Glebe Farm, Trumpington, in the early 1950s: a Personal Memoir

A Personal Memoir
David P. Stubbings MA, Vet MB, MRCVS (Rtd)

David Stubbings has contributed his reminiscences of Glebe Farm in the 1950’s including working on the farm when he was a schoolboy. David lived at 12 Bishops Road with his parents and sister from 1938 to 1961. He went to the Church of England village school (now the Church Hall), and then the High School (now Hills Road 6th Form College) and is very grateful to Ted Holden for his wonderful teaching, which helped him go to Downing College.

For more information about agriculture in Trumpington, see the introduction to farms and farming .

Glebe Farm in the early to mid 1950s was still a typical Cambridgeshire mixed farm of pasture and arable land. It carried a milking herd, and grew wheat, barley, oats and sugar beet, with winter kale and mangolds for the cows, and was labour intensive. It had been occupied by Mr F. O. Tebbit since before the war, and he was an excellent farmer of the old school (but to us, somewhat elderly), with high standards and was a firm disciplinarian. He had, however, invested in new tractors.

Mr Tebbit lived at 116 Shelford Road, where he had a small pasteurising and bottling plant. He retailed milk in the district.

The farm buildings, accessed by an unmade “drift” from Shelford Road, near to where the local bus waited (and about where is now Exeter Close), consisted of a large timber-framed and clad barn forming the southwest side of a cattle court with a range of loose boxes and a long cowshed and dairy to the northwest and northeast respectively. The cows were milked in the cowshed via a long vacuum pipe and mobile milking units, with each cow having its own standing place. The herd was of a mixed variety of breeds to maintain quantity and a good creamline. A fence and 5-barred gate completed the court which was partly roofed, as the cows lived there in the winter. They were bedded with fresh straw daily, whilst housed. There was a pair of staff cottages to the east of the main buildings, and there were tractor and implement sheds together with more looseboxes, including ones for the 2 cart horses (Boxer and Gypsy) elsewhere on the premises. There was also a living-van of the type once hauled by traction engines which was used to house 3 Italian men, originally prisoners of war (POWs).

The staff consisted of Mr Bob Sadler, foreman, and the only long term farm employee, 2 cowmen, 2 or 3 itinerant general farm-workers, the 3 hardworking Italians, who had stayed on after the war, and 2 or 3 part-time schoolboys, of which I was one! We boys worked Saturday and sometimes Sunday mornings, and the school holidays, and were essential for some tasks! There was other staff associated with non-farming duties.

Three large pastures were accessible directly from the farm buildings and these were hedged. The one nearest Bishops Road grew wonderful mushrooms! The arable land was mainly in a large block to the southwest, extending along most of the southern side of the old A10 from the allotments, where there are now flats (Bishop’s Court) almost to Hauxton Mill. (The land is now divided by the M11). Most hedges had been removed including those along the main road, but that of the boundary hedge to the southeast which extended in a SSW direction towards Hauxton, remained (Parish boundary in part?). Nevertheless the fields were generally cropped as though the hedges were present.

The field on which Lantree Crescent now sits was also part of the farm for a time. Two fields on the west of the A10 near Hauxton Mill together with the water meadows on either side of the river were also under Mr Tebbit’s aegis.

The day for most workers started at 7am although the cowmen had been milking for some time before that. On the odd occasion Mr Tebbit would be standing at the end of the drift with his watch in hand! Usually, however, he was in bed from where he gave the foreman the day’s orders. Meanwhile we greased the tractors and did odd jobs until the orders came. At 10 am we stopped for “doggie” which we carried in our doggie bags and was generally sandwiches, and tea from a flask, although the men often drank theirs cold from a bottle. Wherever we were, we were taken back to the farm buildings at 1 o’clock and went home for dinner, returning at 2 pm. The day finished at 5 pm; if we worked after that we were paid overtime. During the harvest we regularly worked until almost dark or until the dew fell.

The seasons naturally dictated the work. During the year the fulltime staff carried out the routine ploughing, sowing, etc., and in the autumn the sugar beet and mangold harvests. We were employed when cheap extra hands were needed.

At Easter, the main job was to muck out the court and loose boxes completely by hand using long handled 4-tined muck forks. The accumulated manure could be four feet deep. It was hard, smelly and dirty work, but we soon got used to the stink. The loaded trailers were taken out to strategic points to be unloaded, piled up and left to rot before being spread on the land. Other tasks included the last of the threshing, and harrowing the arable fields and pastures or rolling the former. On one occasion I had to lead a horse to roll a field, walking all day long. The horse was changed at mid-day but not the boy! Another job was to re-pollard willows along the river banks to use the removed straight limbs for fence posts – yet more sustainable agriculture.

Summer was harvest time. On this farm all the corn crops were cut by binder, pulled by tractor. The resultant sheaves were stooked in 8s or10s and left to dry. When ready the sheaves were loaded onto 4-wheeled farm trailers. These vehicles were rubber tyred and had tall wooden openwork supports called ladders at either end. A horse was harnessed into a shafted 2-wheeled trolley device (I forget its name) which then was attached to the trailer, and led between rows of stooks. Loading the trailers, from both sides, was hard but skilfull work (to avoid shedding the load on the way back to the farm). When the trailer was full, the horse was detached from it and a tractor attached which took it back to the farm for unloading. Meanwhile the horse was attached to the empty trailer brought by the tractor. My job initially was to lead the horse along between rows of stooks, stopping at every 2 pairs to load the cart, I later graduated to packing the trailer, and eventually when I was taller to pitch-forking sheaves on to the trailer; when it was nearly full this was 12 feet or more above the ground.

In the stack-yard, the sheaves were built into a corn-stack, of roughly rectangular shape, with curved corners, and the whole slightly bowed outwards to help shed rain. The top was finished off in a rhomboid shape. A tarpaulin was put over an incomplete stack each night, and all of the stacks were sheeted when finished, until time could be found to thatch them. The head cowman was the thatcher, would you believe!

When harvesting was not possible, we were set to other jobs such as hoeing the root crops (for weeding not singling). On the neighbouring farm, which we called Church Farm as it was next to the church, properly called Anstey Hall Farm, I believe, Messrs Parsons were using the tractor-towed newfangled combines by this time, although they, too, still used horses for some tasks.

Often we had returned to school for the Michaelmas term before the harvest was quite completed.

In the Christmas holidays, threshing the corn was often the order of the day. The huge threshing machine was parked as close to the stack as possible. It was powered by a long continuous belt from a fly wheel on a tractor. The sheaves were thrown to the man/boy feeding the machine who cut the sheaf’s string as it was fed in. Grain came out one end into 18 stone sacks (very heavy to manhandle) whilst the straw dropped out the other end directly into the baler, which spewed out large wire-bound bales that had to be stacked. Chaff came out a side exit. It was very dusty and noisy work. Sometimes when the price of grain was right, threshing took place at weekends, when we extra hands were available. A minimum of 8 persons were needed. The bottoms of the stacks were swarming with mice and rats, and on one occasion, much to our delight, a young rat ran up inside a trouser leg of the foreman. Thereafter we tied string round our trousers at ankle level, when ground level was nearly reached!

On Saturday mornings the boys were sent to the Hauxton farm to grind up grain and mix the concentrate food for the cows and bring back a week’s supply for Glebe Farm. We went home at 1 o’clock usually.

I was dismissed finally for refusing to work a Saturday afternoon as I had rugby practice at school, I found out later that he had a younger and hence cheaper boy ready to employ!

I have missed out a lot of detail, would you believe, on which I could expound, if asked.

Trumpington then was still a proper village – just – rural and agricultural, even though it had already been incorporated into Cambridge Borough (the City came later). Tebbit’s cows had “brewer’s grains” as part of their diet in winter. This was collected weekly by tractor and trailer from the brewery in Cambridge. Imagine a tractor regularly trundling along this route now, much less a smelly brewery in Cambridge!


Drift: local vernacular for a farm track-way.
Singling: hoeing along a row of young roots to space them out evenly to give each
root just enough room to grow well, a skilled job done as piecework.
Stook = shock, an assemblage of sheaves stood on end to dry and ripen.
18 stone: about 115 kilos at a guess.
Brewer’s grains: the spent remains of malted barley.
Church Farm: that was the name we knew it by at the time, also possibly Anstey Hall Farm. The Anstey Hall land, now occupied by a supermarket, I understand, was then the Plant Breeding Institute where new wheat and barley varieties were developed, as well as potatoes such as Maris Piper and Maris Bard.
Doggie: vernacular for a meal break in Cambridgeshire, particularly the Fens, sometimes “docky”
Creamline: the much-prized layer of cream at the top of a bottle of milk, now unknown in these days of homogenisation.
Sheeting: putting a large tarpaulin sheet over stacks or implements, etc, to keep them dry.