East Farm moves with the times.

John Combes, son of Daniel Combes of Quarry Farm Chicksgrove, initially assisted his father at Quarry Farm, but shortly after his marriage he moved to nearby Manor Farm. Then in 1913, at the age of forty, he brought his wife and young family to East Farm in Fovant, where he remained for the rest of his life. His second son, Laurence, commonly known as Bob, inherited East Farm in 1940, and continued to farm there until the early 1960s.

During this latter period Bob Combes somehow found time to write the book ‘The Life and Times of a Wiltshire Farmer’ which tells of his father’s time as the farmer of East Farm. This book contains a wealth of information about the changes not only in farming practices, but also gives a snapshot of how those changes affected Fovant and its people over a period of a quarter of a century.

The book, still in manuscript form, has kindly been loaned to us by Bob’s daughter Tracy, who has generously given us permission not only to quote from it, but also to use copies of the Combes family photographs, some of which are shown below. The ‘Life and Times of a Wiltshire Farmer’ is an invaluable source book for our village history, and we thank the Combes family for their kindness in sharing their family history with us. To enlarge the photographs, just click on them.

John Combes weathered many ups and downs during his farming life. Undoubtedly a major ‘down’ was the disruption of the military camps which were built on his land, but potentially, the demise of the use of the working farm horse as mechanisation took over could well have been another ‘down’

During the 1920s East Farm employed twenty men and had a dozen working horses, mostly Shires. Haymaking, one of the major tasks of the farming year occupied both men and horses to their fullest extent. Once the hay was ready for ricking it was either gathered by horse sweeps, a frame with ten long metal-tipped arms pulled between two horses and then ‘swept’ towards the rickmakers, or gathered up in horse drawn hay carts.

Horse sweeps being readied
Horse sweep in action
Ted Simper on the hay cart, 1927
Rick making

The hay having been delivered to the rick, ‘three or four men struggled to disentangle forkfuls of hay from the formidable mounds brought in by the sweeps, and then pitched them into the mouth of the elevator. From here, the hay was carried to the top of the rick, to be tidily stacked by the rickmaker, assisted by another three or four men. The rick being completed … it was now time for the tucking and topping … tuckings, the odd pieces of loose hay pulled out from the sides of the rick, were then pitched to the top’ . The rick was then thatched.

Such work was not only labour intensive but reliance on the horse was virtually total. However, John Combes has long since realised that the days of the cart horse were coming to an end and in the words of Bob, ‘father’s active mind was forever exploring methods of using mechanical power to speed up agricultural processes’ . Accordingly in the years between the wars mechanisation was gradually introduced

In 1917 John Combes introduced a milking machine. Invented by Arthur Hosier, a New Zealander, ‘the machine consisted of a wheeled shed containing six individual stalls, with a set of units for each pair of stalls. The 3½ H.P. paraffin engine was housed in a shepherd’s hut in which spares and tools were also stored. The whole outfit was moved from place to place as often as was necessary’ .

Milking machine in use
Loading the milk churns

In the late 1920s/early 30s many of the local farmers bought second-hand high-powered saloon cars for as little as £15 apiece. With a little adjustment to the chassis these vehicles could be used as motive power for a variety of farm activities. Bob records how ‘Father at once bought three of four of these cars’. With their saloon bodies replaced by a level platform behind the driver’s seat, they became in effect the workhorses of the farm.

Truck towing a rake
Tractor towing an elevator
Tractor and car in the hay field
An early combine harvester

By 1939 John Combes had bought a Fordson tractor, which drew a 3-furrow plough – indeed by this time tractors had taken over much of the arable work.

The years between the wars saw many changes on the farm as increased mechanisation eased the workload. After Bob Combes inherited East Farm at his father’s death in 1940 he increased the use of machinery as circumstances and availability after the war permitted. Bob Combes continued to farm there until the early 1960s when he sold the farm to John Williams. In turn Edward, John Williams’s son, inherited the farm from his father.

Today, in 2004, much of East Farm is let. Edward Williams works the remainder of his land with the sole assistance of his son Peter, and the only horses on the farm are those ridden for pleasure.