Meldreth Orchards in the 1940s
From recorded memories of Joyce Howard, April 2009
Joyce Howard came from Manchester to work on the land with the Land Army in 1941. She was sent to work at Chiswick Farm, Meldreth fruit picking. There were cottages in Chiswick End allocated for living quarters for the Land Army girls. The cottages had no bathroom or kitchen. They were able to bathe and eat in Chiswick Farm House.
Joyce supervised 12 women in her team of fruit pickers. The fruit pickers were on piecework at that time. The work was seasonal and some of the women were from the village. The men did any heavy work. They continued working on the orchards pruning etc in the winter. The women did not have any orchard work after October. Some of the women pickers were Mrs Harper from Whitecroft Road, Mrs Jacklin from West Way, Mrs Plumb and Mrs Gladys Clarke.
The types of fruit were plums and apples in Chiswick End and cherries along Whitecroft Road where Elbourn’s Cam Valley Orchards’ shop is now. The cherries were on tall trees and the men had to help using long ladders because of the height of the trees. Often only 12lbs would be picked in a day due to the difficulty of the job. Some pickers went over to Mettle Hill and picked Morello cherries. They were small and bitter and sold well. As the bushes were small they were picked with scissors. Others picked gooseberries also on Mettle Hill.
Joyce was involved in weighing the fruit up, laying it down and responsible for the picker’s wages. The names of some of the men employed were full/part time workers, Ern Dash, Reg Chapman, Harry Jude, Dan Webb, Vic Hale, Peter and Walter Jacklin. Amos Blows looked after the animals on Chiswick Farm.
After the war Joyce returned home to Manchester. She missed Meldreth and the friends she made and returned, eventually marrying orchard land owner Andrew Howard. She lived the rest of her life, until 2010, in their home called Hewitts, Chiswick End.
Transcription of Joyce Howard’s Memories of Fruit Pickers and Workers at Chiswick Farm During the 1940/50’s
I can remember quite a few of the pickers. There was a Mrs Harper, I don’t know whether her son is still alive who lives in the cottage on Whitecroft Road. (Terry confirms that she means Gus Harper’s mother and says they are not there now). Mrs Jacklin who lived up West Way. I know her husband couldn’t read or write. I forget what his name was but of course Jacklin is a very common name in Meldreth. Mrs Plumb, Gladys Clarke and there was a German woman who married an Englishman, she was a very good picker I remember. I can’t remember how much they earned.
Mrs Plumb and Gladys Clarke were wonderful pickers, clean pickers. There were one or two of them that didn’t pick the fruit very well you know, I had to go through the fruit and sort them. They were picking plums and apples and we had cherries in an orchard which is now a field behind where David Howard lives down Whitecroft Road. They were very tall trees, the men needed long ladders and it was difficult to pick twelve pounds in a day because they had to be picked very carefully, if you didn’t you took the bud of next year’s crop off. They were also over another part of the orchard which we called “Mettle Hill”, Morello cherries which were bitter. They were small trees and you picked them with scissors. Now during the War they sold like hot cakes because people didn’t realise they were bitter and then after the War they didn’t sell. Originally I think they were used for glacé cherries.
Ern Dash was supposed to be the Foreman (Terry questions whether he made a good Foreman). Not really, not really at all, he used to spend half an hour rolling a cigarette, put his pruning shears down “I’ll just have a roll-up.” and that was half an hour gone – no he wasn’t. The men employed full time on the farm were Reg Chapman, Harry Jude, Den Webb and Vic Hale. Amos Blows looked after the animals, he was Mrs Fallon’s brother and lived in the cottage where I have lived for the last few years. (No. 6 Chiswick End).
Transcription by Gloria Willers