Living off the land

Not so very long ago, farming was a very important industry in the village. It provided a major source of employment on both a full and part-time basis. It seems very strange that now there is only one single working family in Grindleford which relies solely on farming for a living.

The largest farm in Grindleford was Nether Padley, farmed by the Crossland’s. The family went back several generations in the area. As well as Nether Padley, they also farmed at Haywood Farm, which had been the older family home. Other working farms were at Folds Farm, Padley Manor Farm, Stoke Farm, Goatscliffe Farm, Bank Top Farm plus those just on the fringes of the village at Knouchley. Ladywash, Leam, Leam Hall, Torr Farm, Leadmill, Barn I’ th’Wood, Mag Clough and Riley. Allied to the farms was Morton’s Dairy on the Hathersage Road, just below Allenscott.

Some of the farms were quite small, but they would all employ at least one permanent farmhand, be he cowman, tractor driver or, more usually, Jack-of-all-trades. They all had their own individual characters, a wealth of tales of humour and tragedy.

One local farmer was dipping sheep near to a public footpath which was a favourite of the many Sheffield rambling clubs who regularly walked the area. A series of pens had been built next to the dip to hold the sheep who were waiting to be dipped. One poor animal had got its head stuck in the gate and during it’s panic-stricken struggle to get free had broken its neck. The farmer had told one of his men to tie a rope round the neck of the sheep and hang it up a nearby tree to keep it out of the way.

This was done, when along the footpath came a group of hikers. Seeing the activity around the dip they stopped to view the proceedings. The water in the dip was a greenish colour due to the disinfectant used. Its pungent aroma came from a mixture of wool, twigs, sheep dung and mud. One young lad was very taken by all the activities of the sheep darting about and strong men grappling with the noisy animals as they pushed them under the turgid waters of the dip.
“What are yer doin’ Mister?” the youngster asked old Joe, who was well known for his slow, dry wit.
“We’re a’-dippin’ em in mint sauce ter save thee mother from ‘avin ter mek it on a Sunday,” was Joe’s reply.

Then one of the hikers saw the carcass of the sheep hanging up in the tree. He called out to Joe, who was just grasping hold of a reluctant yow (ewe),
“What’s that one doing up that tree?”
Old Joe flung his opponent into the dip and turned to the group of hikers,
“Oh, her’s a-learnin’ how to fly is that ‘un”.

Joe was regarded as a master vermin catcher. Moles, stouts, squirrels, jays and especially rats all fell victim to his guns and snares. So one day when the farmer’s wife saw a large rat cross the farmyard and enter the barn where the corn bins were kept, Joe was sent for.

He didn’t rush the job, approaching it in a cold, calculated way. He closely observed the farmyard and corn bins and found that it was just one rat that was raiding them. What was more, it had a regular routine for venturing out for its meal from the bins. At the appointed time one day, Joe was ready with his ‘rattin’ gun. This was a battered old piece, akin to ancient blunderbuss. The rat crossed the yard and entered the barn. Joe left his hiding place in the milk-parlour and stalked after it. He too entered the barn and seconds later there was a tremendous explosion. Joe had let fly at the rat as it was inside one of the bins and the report from the old gun sounded like a howitzer. He appeared from out of the barn in a cloud of smoke, coughing and spluttering.
“Have you shot the rat, Joe?” asked the farmer’s wife.
“Well no, but I bet I’ve frightened the bugger!” was his reply.

Joel Ollenshaw managed to get a living from Stoke Farm, thanks mainly to the milk subsidy he received. He had just one farmhand, Willis plus the help from his wife. Joel kept things pretty well organized on the farm, until the time that is of a full moon. He would then turn a bit odd and you had to keep an eye on him.

When he was under the influence of the moon he got obsessed with the idea that the war was still on and that the Germans were landing. He also used to claim that his wife, Sarah, was poisoning him. This was partially true, since the doctor had given her some strong pills to administer to Joel to calm him down. He would refuse to take them and she had to try and slip them into his food without his noticing, but this did not always work.

Joel’s neighbours up Stoke would sometimes be woken in the middle of the night when the moon was full by the sounds of a large empty oil drum being beaten with a hammer. This would be accompanied with loud shouting, “Wek Up! Wek Up! Bloody Jerries is ‘ere. Get thee guns out! Let’s get at the sods! Wek Up! Wek Up!”

One day things got a bit awkward with Joel, when he came tearing down the village on his grey Fergie tractor and pulled up outside our shop. He must have just finished a spell of muck-spreading, for both himself and the tractor were plastered in it. As he came into the shop the smell preceded him by about six paces! What frightened my wife was that he had his twelve-bore shotgun under his arm. He also had that wild-eyed look which signified that it was the time of the full moon.

The two or three customers that were in the shop beat a hasty retreat, as did our two female shop assistants. I was out delivering orders, so it was left to Elsie to deal with the potentially explosive situation. She said, “Now then Joel, what can I get for you today?” in as calm and placatory voice as she could.
“Get fer me? Get fer me? It’s my ruddy Missus tha’ can get fer me. Where is she?”

He slowly lifted the shotgun up to counter level. He leaned forward in a conspiratorial manner.
“’Er’s been tryin’ ter poison me she ‘as. Is it summat as she’s gotten from ‘ere? Wot’s she been getting’, rat poison?”

With great tact, patience and no small amount of courage, Elsie gradually talked him round the subject of the poison and managed to calm him down. She got him to return to the farm, without his gun, while one of our girls managed to get a message to me to return at once to the shop. I went straight up to Stoke to see if Joel had returned home and that all was well. I then found out from his wife that she had succeeded in slipping him two of the pills and he had flown into the fury before they could take effect. By the time he got home though, he was as calm as a mouse and she had put him to bed to get over the ordeal.