THE END OF AN ERA
Prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, the local countryside was the home of many colourful characters. A common sight was one of groups of workmen dressed in collarless shirts, thick trousers (usually ex-police or railway) yorked at the knees, and brightly coloured neckerchiefs and waistcoats. They would often be seen carrying the tools of their trade, billhooks, long handled slashers, sickles or scythes as they walked along local lanes to start hedging or cutting the grass verges. Today these men would probably be arrested for carrying offensive weapons.
Although it took a great deal of time and skill to lay a hedge, once laid it only needed cutting back about every three years, unlike today when hedges cut by flail cutters need trimming every year. Many of these men were also employed on clearing the drainage ditches, using the materials cleared from the bottoms and sides to build up the banks, to stop roads and fields from flooding.
Since the 40's hay making has undergone a great transformation. From loose hay, which was made into ricks and thatched into stacks, to small bales weighing about 40lbs that were stacked in barns, to larger bales of about 128lbs covered in plastic, and now to giant plastic covered round bales, which need a forklift truck to move them.
A far cry from the old methods of the 40's and earlier, when the hay was brought off the fields and stacked under the supervision of the thatcher, who was never satisfied with the state or squareness of the stack. Then out came the straw or reeds, which had been tied into bundles earlier in the season, for use in thatching and weatherproofing the top of the rick. Hazel sticks which had been cut and left to season had to be a certain size and shape, or it was off the rick with them, to the sound of muttered oaths. These would be used later in the laying of hedges. The "good" hazel sticks were used to tie-in the bundles of roofing material to the rick.
Nowadays haymaking is practically all done by machine and hayricks are no longer seen. All the skills used in making a rick are fast disappearing, and with it the training ground for thatching houses.
Blacksmith's shops were in abundance all over Barry and the Vale. During the war years as fuel was in short supply, horsepower was what it said, power from horses, which needed shoeing on a regular basis. Horse drawn rakes, mowers, ploughs and carts were brought out of retirement, refurbished and used until after the end of the war, when they were returned to the back of sheds, or barns, or sold for use as garden ornaments to decorate peoples houses.
Hours worked by farm labourers varied from district to district, but it was usually a 14 hour, seven day week around haymaking or harvest time, to a 48 hour week in the winter. It was a common occurrence to see the farm children bringing in cattle before sunrise in the winter for milking, and returning them back to their night grazing after school. These youngsters would carry a light, and as they approached the field gate, the cattle would see it and make their way to the gateway, ready to be taken for milking. All this is gone. From about twenty dairy farms around Barry there are now only one or two left.
Names of farms, and the families that farmed them that I can remember are -
On the Cardiff Road -
At Coldbrook -
In Coldbrook Road West -
On the Port Road -
and at Cwm Barry
There were also a great number of piggeries, poultry farms and smallholdings spread around the area from Ruckley's at Gilbert Gardens, Barratt's at Ty Verlon's, Maurice Monk's at Port Road, and Dennis's piggery in Pontypridd Road. In between there were also four or five smallholdings at Bitdown Woods.
The outskirts of Barry are still surrounded by farms and smallholdings, but from a mainly agricultural community; Barry has changed into a large dormitory area.
Even patterns of work in the area have changed. Residents who didn't travel to work in Cardiff worked for the main employers in the area - the council, the docks, the railways or on a farm. Sadly this has all changed, and now the largest employer of labour in the area is the council. Service industries and paper shufflers have replaced manufacturing industry and manual work.
© T. CLEMETT 2000