These are my memories of my maternal grandfather, Hugh Carson, of Hall Farm, Clifton. When I was small I christened him 'Ayah', because he was always saying 'Ay, lad' to me. Ayah was born in 1885 and died in 1969.
Ayah's family 'worked in wood'. They were wood turners primarily but also joiners, carpenters and furniture makers. He was the youngest of, I think, 4 brothers. They had a small factory in Balby, on the West of Doncaster. It was near Scarborough barracks.
|All in a day's work!
The Carson factory produced turned furniture, lamp standards, ash tray stands and the like. It was powered by a gas engine - single cylinder I think. There was another factory next door which made boiled sweets - 'scoffs' - and Ayah would bring some home for me.. I remember the pear drops were a real treat. Ayah 'retired' from the factory in something like 1955, but only so that he could do more at Clifton.
|Doncaster Racecourse 1909
In the Great War Ayah was in 107th Squadron Royal Flying Corps, which later became the RAF. He got interested in early aviation when he and his brothers were involved in repairing the planes at the famous 'First Air Races in England', held at Doncaster racecourse in 1909. He had wonderful tales about experiences in France. This stimulated my interest in aviation and then in space.
Ayah joined the RFC in 1916. The story was that he volunteered just before Conscription as he
| Hugh in 1916
wanted to join the Royal Flying Corps.Though his stories were all set in France, it seems from his record that most
of his service was spent at the nationalised Royal Aircraft Factory in Farnborough. He sang the praises of the SE5A, which was built there and perhaps the best British fighter in the latter part of the great war.
|Put together like a kit!
Ayah was a 'fitter', carrying out aircraft repair, maintenance and modifications. This matched his skills – in the Great War all aircraft were wooden. He told the story of assembling a new type of aircraft, in France, out of a crate, with no instructions or manual. It must have been a 2 seater because when it was complete the squadron leader, Captain Mayo, said 'She looks good, Carson, but we must fly her: get in the observer's seat.' Once airborne, what you had to do was take your hands off the controls and glide. If the plane maintained straight and level flight, it's 'trim' was OK. If not, you could go into a dangerous dive or even stall. Fortunately, in this case, the trim was fine. Ayah remembered Captain Mayo as a grand old man. We subsequently discovered that he was 24. He was posted missing, presumed dead in the last days of the war. The Commanding Officer of 107 Squadron, Major H.Cordron Dean, made a summary of 'work carried out' by the Squadron and signed it on 11th November 1918:
"In all, 1209 hours and 1 minute have been flown by machines of this Squadron.
30 tons, 13 cwts., 50 lbs. of Bombs, (112 lb. and 25 lb.) have been ddropped on
37.469 Rounds have been fired on suitable Ground Targets.
892 Photographic Plates have been exposed.
In addition, 16 Enemy Machines have been shot down as follows:-
7 destroyed (crashed or in flames).
7 shot down out of control.
2 driven down damaged."
There is no record of the number of men from the squadron who were lost.
.Hugh was desperate to get home, but he was not demobilised until March 1919. Letters to his father and brother reveal that he was trying to make a case for early release on the grounds that he was needed in the business, but they did not co-operate!
We do have some early flight and RFC/RAF relics: a 1913 Sage & Co of Peterborough 4’ propeller blade and two propeller bosses. The ends of 2 smaller propellers have been made into photo frames. Unfortunately they look like loo seats.
Ayah and Punch, 1955
I only knew Ayah as an old man. He was small and lean, and the years had given him a stoop. He wore working clothes all the time except on Sunday evenings or market days, including boots and leggings, even in Summer. These were hobnail boots, and Ayah did his own cobbling. In cold weather he wore a great war corporal's jacket. He smoked a pipe, which hung from his mouth even when it wasn't lit.
Ayah worked 'every hour that God sent', and the variety of skills he had was remarkable. I didn't realise the span and the depth of his talents & his knowledge before I tried to follow some of what he did.
|Meah in the yard
Ayah married 'Meah' ('come to me, lad'), real name Florence Annie Green, in 1910. My mother, Joyce, was their only child, born in 1911. They lived in a terraced house near the factory until 1930, when Ayah rented and subsequently bought Hall Farm, in 1933, for £350. They moved so that Ayah could run what nowadays would be called a smallholding, of 3 acres. He didn't stop wood turning though - he still went to work in Balby and in addition had his own workshop at Hall Farm. For more details of these events see 'Hall Farm and Smallholding'.
|Hall Farm in the 60s, unchanged since 1930s
Hall Farm was small and stone built, 2 up and 2 down. When Ayah, Meah and daughter Joyce moved in there was no running water, no gas, no bathroom and certainly no electricity. Heat came from a range in the living room with a back boiler. There were other fireplaces, in the sitting room and bedrooms, but they weren’t lit unless someone was ill or, in the case of the front room, at Christmas. I can just remember light coming from paraffin lamps. Ayah had installed a diesel generator, which could light the living room and the workshop, but he thought it was too expensive to run.
Into the living room (maybe 4m square) went, at least, 4 adults, 2 dogs, around 6 cats, a piano, a sink and primitive electric cooker, dining table and chairs, 2 Windsor chairs, a Welsh dresser, a painted dresser, a side of bacon hanging up, my dartboard and me. Sometimes there would be a poorly piglet keeping warm in a box by the fire.
Electricity came to the village around 1950 and gas around 1990**.
|Cowshed, stable and pigs
|Joyce in her garden
|Meah and local children
Hall farm has a yard, partially on stone flags, partially grit. When I was growing up the farm buildings were, anticlockwise from the front door, the workshop (stone built), meal place (stone), 2 pig sties (1 stone one wood), a heap of pig muck, the cowshed (brick), stable stone), a bit of a lawn, the motorbike shed (wood), 2 more pigsties (brick), an outside loo (stone) and the boiler house.(stone).
The workshop was powered by a 2 cylinder Lister Diesel Engine from the 1920s. The engine was in an adjacent room called the 'meal
place' and a drive belt transmitted power to a horizontal drive shaft which ran the length of the workshop, underneath the lathes.
The Lister's home was known as the meal place because it was also used for mixing up meal for the pigs. There was an upper room full of bags of corn and a corn grinder underneath, also powered by the Lister. After grinding the corn was mixed, by hand, with other ingredients such as maize for the meal... a backbreaking job
Starting the Lister was a 2 man job - one to spin the flywheel using a starting handle and the other to operate a lever which triggered the ignition, when sufficient momentum had been generated. As a child I was on the lever while Ayah did the spinning, later on it was the other way round. When I wasn't there Ayah would get a neighbour to spin the engine.
At one point, much later on, some friends and I tried to get the workshop functioning again. The Lister started first time, we'd bought a replacement drive belt and had a piece turning in the lathe when we realised it was turning the wrong way! To fix this you twist a belt, but the expensive drive belt we'd bought was too rigid to twist and we were beaten. If you ever have this kind of job to do, first check directions of rotation..
|Workshop from Door
|The Main Lathe
|The Drive Shaft
Ayah spent a great deal of time ‘turning’. He would frequently get covered in shavings, which covered the workshop floor like a fall of snow. He continued into his 80s, when his eyesight was so bad his face almost touched the spinning lathe.
In addition to the lathe, which had 2 stocks, there were two grindstones, a circular saw, a flat bed plane, a vice and a drill which was on the same axle as the circular saw. None of this kit had any kind of safety projection - you could easily get your hand in the way of the saw or rip the skin off your arm in the plane. There was hardly any space to move around. Ayah continued to work in here until he was past 80. If he'd been turning he'd get covered in shavings.
One Christmas Ayah made a wooden toy tractor for me. I must have been about 6. We still have it and
|The Wooden Tractor
pictures of me sitting on it .. apparently I demanded to eat my Xmas dinner that way. He also made me a sledge .. for a few snowy days a year we had our own piste on the Beacon.
The smallholding threw up many woodworking jobs - fencing for the hens and pigs (heavy duty), maintenance to the hen houses, making feeders, cold frames and so on.
In addition to his turning, Ayah would cut up railway sleepers for fence posts, gates and the like. There must have been a way of buying up sleepers which were no longer needed by British Rail(ways). They were full of preservative and heavy. At one point there were about 50 and I was charged to get them moved from one side of the yard to the other. My mates Charlie and Dave helped me.
Ayah grew vegetables on around an acre of land: a considerable task considering he had no mechanical help and the land is heavy, with a
|Ayah and Mum at work!
band of clay. I remember cauliflower, cabbage, runner beans and lots of potatoes, which were stored in a clamp. The veg must have been sold from the farmhouse - there was far too much for us to eat - but I have no memory of this..
There was a gypsy caravan, off its wheels, close to the stream that ran North-South down the
|Ayah's Gypsy Caravan
field. It was occupied when Ayah arrived in Clifton but when I knew it it had become a garden shed, and Ayah attempted to grow mushrooms in one end.
In the war Ayah grew his own tobacco - there were still strands of it still hanging up to dry when I was a child. I don't think it was a great success. Similarly, Meah made soap, some of which lingered in the bathroom for years. I imagine it was made from pigs somehow..
Around 1960 Ayah bought what would nowadays be called a Two Wheeled Tractor: a large and heavy rotovator. It was a British Anzani Iron Horse: apparently these are collectable now. The 'Anzani' must be an Italian connection - 2 wheeled tractors are popular there. I remember the Iron Horse as being difficult ro start and heavy to control. The land is on a slope and there was always the worry that the Iron Horse would fall over. Later on it was replaced by an ordinary rotovator.
|PDG and Trudy in the orchard
There was a large orchard with over 20 trees. I think Ayah planted most of them: The majority were apples, but there were a few pears, plums, damsons and a cherry tree that the birds always got to first. As Ayah grew old he couldn't keep up with the maintenance of the orchard & by the time I took it over many of the trees were diseased and overgrown. A few survive, including a large bramley and a prolific pear tree - hard fruit though. The damson still produces a good crop and there are some self-seeded plums.
Before my time there was a flower garden and a greenhouse, which Meah looked after, I think. A survivor from that was a formidable clump of gooseberries which were difficult to reach and painful to pick.
A never-ending problem was nettles, which grew all over any land which wasn't being cultivated. Ayah spent hours cutting nettles with a scythe. Using a scythe is all about rhythm – if you get it right you can carry on for a long time without discomfort, if not it’s really hard work.
Ayah and Meah would also planted trees to commenorate events, e.g. the coronation of George VI. The last one marked the death of Winston Churchill.
|Philip and Punch
Around 1950 we had problems with chicken thieves ('2 legged foxes'), so we got an Alsatian
|Rip in the Yard
puppy, Punch, who rapidly grew into the largest dog in the village. At night he would curl up under the kitchen table, almost filling the space but just leaving enough room for me. When Punch died we replaced him with a Labrador, Rip, who was devoted to me. I would invent games to play with him: for instance I wanted to improve my heading, so I'd bounce a tennis ball against a wall and head the rebound to Rip, who caught it. Repeat 50 times..
There were semi-feral cats at Hall Farm, to keep the mice down. They were allowed in the house but shut out at night. They would all curl up in the same chair - maybe 5 of them.
We had 100 day-old chicks every year, usually Rhode Island Reds. They arrived in May. Typically 1 or 2 of them turned out to be cocks, and became our Christmas dinner: Chicken was a luxury in those days. The mysterious art of Japanese chicken sexing! There were 4 hen houses, so 4 years of fowls. The hen houses had to be 'mucked out' every week .. not my favourite job. Of course we had rats, which particularly liked the steaming piles of chicken manure. Punch, our huge Alsatian, spent hours digging for rats. Eggs were collected twice a day and a truck from Yorkshire Egg Producers turned up for them once a week. Eventually they set the minimum egg number so high (144 dozen) we couldn't meet it.
In about 5 sheds around the yard at Hall Farm Ayah kept up to 40 pigs. There were 2 or 3 sows, who were in litter most of the time. The pigs went to market in Doncaster when they were about half grown. Sometimes Ayah would take them. They were baconers I think. 'Large
white' was the usual breed but I also remember saddlebacks. The sows were enormous, so fat that
they had difficulty standing up. We would lose piglets because their mother rolled on them. The main feed for the pigs was meal made by grinding corn and mixing it with grain .. a backbreaking job. There was a corn grinder powered by the Lister diesel and the room above it was full of sacks of corn.
|A happy yard!
Every year a pig was slaughtered for our own use, and my aunt Het, who was married to a butcher (uncle Fred) and lived in Worksop, came to help butcher said pig, a process which seemed to take a fortnight and involved pork pies, brawn and so on. I got the bladder to play with.
Ayah drove a motor cycle combination, a 1936 Royal Enfield, 990 cc, with its gear stick on the fuel tank and a sidecar with a Dreadnought Bow.
Once a robin nested in the sidecar. He used it to get to the factory and later on to fetch me from the end of the lane where the school bus dropped me.
On Sunday evenings sufficient of this stuff was somehow moved to one side so that Ayah could play billiards with Mr Proctor, a teacher in Conisbrough who walked the 2 miles uphill for the event. There was a 4' by 2' billiard table which went on the kitchen table. You could easily poke my mother or Meah in the eye as you lined up a shot. Embers from Ayah's pipe would drop onto the green baize. Ayah wore hobnail boots and rough working clothes all the time except on Sunday evening when he changed, for the billiards, into black, polished boots and waistcoat.
Ayah and Meah seemed never to throw anything away. So much could be stored in the outbuildings as well as the house! When his health began to deteriorate, Ayah locked the workshop, leaving an unfinished piece in the lathe and several inches of shavings on the floor. After his death in 1969, Meah crossed the road to live with Mum in The Croft. When the house was cleared for modernisation, so many interesting papers and objects were found, including the records of Ayah's service in the First World War. They were kept during the time that Trudy and I lived there and many travelled with us when we left Hall Farm in 2018.