An account given by Viv Stratton, who’s family farmed at Penbeagle from the 1950s to the 1980s, to Melanie Frankell at Café Art, Tuesday 5th December 2017.
Penbeagle Farm Buildings
At the start of the war, Ned Wearne had Penbeagle Farm and lived in the old farm buildings. After him Johnny Major rented the farm, but sadly he left all the buildings to go to wrack and ruin. Johnny Major kept two horses in the daffodil field. The horses that were on the Penbeagle Farm were two Shire horses, one was called Ginger and the other one was called Hector.
Viv’s father took on the farm after Johnny Major, on the condition that the buildings were restored to a good state. They had a mammoth job to rebuild all the farm buildings. When they took over the farm there was a beautiful, but worm riddled, jingle (a Carriage) with the original oil lamps on either side of the jingle, which would have been pulled by a pony of some kind. The farm was rented from the Council.
There were four drinking troughs for the horses and cattle, fed by a spring which also fed the reservoir across the road (which is now a local fisherman’s store).
This reservoir also fed a large part of the town. We had the water tested when we had a Dairy Herd and the water was more pure than the tap water we were drinking. Frank Perkin ‘Woolcock and Treloar took the old water tank and converted it into a builder’s store.
There is just one old, granite Penbeagle farm building left. It was a barn, with long, Dutch barns alongside it. The council demolished the remainder of the buildings in the early fifties.
Extent of the farm
Viv’s family farmed the whole of the western side of Penbeagle Farm, right down to where the Fire Station is now, including the daffodil field and the fields where Joannies Avenue is and right up to the top of Penbeagle Hill.
Their eastern boundary was the old lane which now runs between the Orchard and Industrial Estate. Viv drove a Fergy tractor up that old lane once. The lane was sunk deep below the fields on either side.
There were broccoli fields to the East (down the hill towards St Ives) farmed by Willy Craze. They are now covered by the housing estate.
They grazed cattle on fields where the Industrial Estate is now. Skylarks and other species of birds such as the rare Grasshopper Warbler used to breed on those fields as well.
The children of the estate played cricket and football on a field that is now under the industrial estate. The council took the turf off to use re-turfing elsewhere and it never grew back properly so it made a good play ground.
Building of the Penbeagle Estates
The council started building houses on the Penbeagle Estate in the late 40s but were still building Carnstabba Road and Corva Close in 1954. What is now the Industrial estate was laid out with drainage for houses initially.
Viv’s family farming at Penbeagle
They farmed 45 acres and made a good living.
The soil is good quality, all the manure from the farm went on the fields, only hay needed the addition of fertiliser – white pellets called Niter.
It was a Dairy Farm. They had a dairy herd of 25 cows as well as over 100 pigs and 400 chicken.
At Christmas they were given 3 days off school to help on the farm. They would kill 50 geese, 50 chicken and 50 turkeys, plus 6 pigs.
The council had built two new houses with scantle slate roofs for farm workers at Penbeagle and they moved to one of those when they took on Penbeagle Farm.
Farming work was done by Viv, his father, and (to a lesser extent) his younger brother. His mother and sister did not do farm work.
The family went to Hellesveor Chapel.
The horses had gone by then, they used tractors for farm work, not horses.
The cattle were Guernseys. They were paid extra for the Gold Top milk they produced because it had more than 4.6% butterfat.
The milk was sold to the Milk Marketing Board. Their churn stand was by the Fire Station where the Post Box is now. Penbeagle Lane was just a rough land then, and steep.
Every morning, from the age of 8 onwards, Viv had to be up at 5am sharp for the morning milking. They milked in the farm which had a dairy. The milk was chilled and put into churns from the Milk Marketing Board.
The churns were taken down the lane in the tractor for collection at 7am. The Penbeagle collection was the first on the round, thus very early. The milk was taken to the Primrose Dairy at St Erth (later Unigate).
There was an evening milking too, but only the one daily, morning collection – the churns from the evening before were taken down with those from the morning milking.
Every Sunday Viv’s mother made a great pan of cream which lasted them the week.
The Orchard field was the main field for cattle coming in and out. They grazed on the hills as the other fields were used for corn or hay.
The pigs were sold to Redruth as bacon pigs. They were Wessex Saddlebacks (who had large litters and were good mothers) crossed with Landraces (which had long backs, ideal for bacon). They had a huge Landrace boar called Simon.
They built three pigs houses out of concrete blocks. These were in the corner of the filed with bees in it now, probably now hidden in the blackthorn. Pigs were also kept in the yard and in the Mowhay.
They kept hundreds of chickens on the field on the steep side of the hill, up the top of the lane.
The chickens were Rhode Island Reds crossed with Indian Game roosters. They were good layers and good table birds. Later they had Light Sussex crossed with Rhode Island Reds.
Potatoes were grown on many local farms and farm children were given a week or two off school to plant potatoes.
They grew potatoes in fields where the skatepark is now, plus the field above.
Early potatoes were all in before Valentine’s Day. They turned a part of the hill by hand to plant the very early potatoes which were raised by early May because the ground faced south. They sent early potatoes away – they were collected from the farm by Willy Carbines Haulage and driven straight up to Covent Garden. The drivers then drove back overnight, a very long days work.
The second early potatoes were Arran banners (big, round white potatoes) and Arran pilots (big, long white potatoes) and were sent to chippies in St Ives as they made excellent chips.
After the potatoes were harvested corn was grown in these fields and the stubble was left standing over the winter.
Broccoli (known as cauliflower now) was grown in the small fields at the top of the lane (fields 578, 579 & 580), also some turnips (known as swede now) and sold locally.
Mangolds were grown for cattle feed in the winter.
Runner Beans were cultivated in the field that has the bees in it now (field 52). They were picked, packed into hampers and carried down the Stennack to the co-op, every day in the summer.
They kept 8 hives of bees in the meadow, the bottom field below the orchard (field 538, now the play area). They supplied the navy with honey, it went to the MOD at Plymouth.
There was a mine shaft in that field, a horse is said to have fallen down it, it was filled in when the play area was set up there.
See further history of the land now run as ‘St Ives Community Orchard & Nature Reserve’.