To Plough To Sow

1984, Suffolk (County)

Documentary exploring farming techniques in Suffolk in the 1930s through archive film and oral history.

This film is introduced by stills showing farming during the 1930s. Over these, a local voice sings a local folk song. Charlie Websdale, formerly a farm worker in the area, talks about his love of the land that he sees as the 'foundation for God Almighty.' Archive footage shows farm workers building and thatching corn stacks in September. (Leiston, Suffolk. Farming In Summer. 1935.) There are shots of Flloyd Peecock, who farmed at Wood Farm, Sibton, ploughing using a Fordson tractor. The sugar beet is lifted and topped by hand. It is taken straight to the railway sidings by horse and waggon. Temporary sheep pens are built using hurdles in the beet field to allow the sheep to feed on the beet tops. (Leiston, Suffolk. Farming In Autumn. 1935.) The beet harvest is described by another of the farm workers as a very hard job ... wet ... dirty. The next sequence shows threshing using a steam powered threshing machine. (Suffolk. This Was England. 1936.) The workers discuss the threshing, describing it as a dirty job. There are interior views of the corn market in Norwich, showing a general view of the merchants' stalls and then a sale being agreed at one stall. Here, corn was sold by sample. (Suffolk. Wheatlands Of East Anglia. 1936; Leiston, Suffolk. The Farm Factory. 1936.) Lacey Smith, Head Stockman of Upper Abbey Farm, Leiston, demonstrates care of cattle. He chops the mangolds and mixes them with sugar beet pulp to make the feed for the cattle. The film continues showing the hedges being trimmed. (Leiston, Suffolk. Farming In Winter. 1935.) Other jobs required during the quieter winter months included draining. Brush drainage, used in the area since Roman times, is illustrated in film taken on Wood Farm at Sibton. Farm workers mark out the course of the drain and dig the drain by hand. They lay clay pipes where the drain runs into the ditch and then lay the brushwood in the trench. They re-fill the drain, the brushwood holding up the earth and preventing the drain from becoming clogged. (Suffolk. This Was England. 1936.) The land was then ploughed using a horse drawn plough. (Suffolk. Wheatlands Of East Anglia. 1936.) There are shots of snow on the ground and a horse drawn plough ploughing in the distance. (Leiston, Suffolk. Farming In Winter. 1935.) Charlie Websdale talks about ploughing. He remembers the hardest job as actually walking straight.The next sequence in the film looks at the importance of farming, and particularly horses, to the rural economy. There are shots of a horse and cart on a country lane, before shots of the harness maker completing a saddle and a blacksmith at work in a neighbouring village. There are interior shots of the blacksmiths showing the furnace and the smith beating out a horseshoe. There are shots of the market place at Lavenham and of the main street at Kersey. (Kersey, Suffolk. Lowland Village. 1942.) Herbert Smith talks about their days as farm workers. They lived in tied cottages on the farm, to be near the work. A labourer earned 28/ per week; a stockman 36/ per week. For the harvest they would get a five pounds bonus. This was for working from 7.00am until dusk. Usually they worked a 48 hour week. The 1000 acre farm on which they worked (500 acres of arable) employed 24 people. Jack Ford describes how the farm was organised and speaks of their relationship with the farmer. The next sequence looks at the spring work on the farm. Store cattle are turned out to graze. Their bedding is cleaned out and used for manuring the fields. Straw from the threshing is used to make fences and sheep pens for the lambing season. Cutting back to the field the film shows the spring sowing. The harrow is horse drawn. The seed drill, a three horse Smythe steering drill, is loaded. It is worked by a team of three men and both pulled by a team of three horses. The operation of the drill is explained in detail. (Leiston, Suffolk. Farming In Spring. 1935; Suffolk. Wheatlands Of East Anglia. 1936.) To recall farming before machinery, the film shows double handed broadcast sowing, demonstrated by Mr. William Aldred. (Suffolk. This Was England. 1936.) The field is rolled and harrowed using a light harrow. Sugar beet is singled, or chopped, out using a hand hoe. (Leiston, Suffolk. Farming In Summer. 1935.) Workers leave their tasks at the end of the day and return home, either on foot or by bicycle. The farm workers remember this and talk of cycling several miles to visit the picture house. Children walk along the lanes to the school at Theberton and eat their packed lunch in the school yard. There are also shots of Eastbridge and of the pub, The Eels Foot. (Leiston, Suffolk. The Farm Factory. 1936.) One of the main summer jobs is sheep dipping and shearing. The film shows the Palmer bothers of Kensale, hand shearers at work. (Leiston, Suffolk. Farming In Summer. 1935.) Leonard Button recalls fetching ale for the shearers. Cattle were sold at the livestock markets. The film shows the cattle market outside the Shire Hall in Norwich. (Leiston, Suffolk. The Farm Factory. 1936; Suffolk. Wheatlands Of East Anglia. 1936.) Also shown is the local livestock market in Saxmundham. (Suffolk. Wheatlands Of East Anglia. 1936.) This is recalled by the farm workers, who remember it as a good day out.The hay harvest, or haysel, is shown next. A tractor, driven by Flloyd Peecock on Wood Farm, Sibton, is used for the grass cutting. Other machinery is horse drawn. A swath turner cuts the grass and it is gathered by the men before the haystack is built. (Leiston, Suffolk. Farming In Summer. 1935.) The farm workers remember that their holidays were Christmas Day and Boxing Day, Good Friday an Easter Monday and a day to attend the local agricultural show. This was also a good day out. There are scenes of the Norfolk Show, 1928, showing cattle in the ring, show jumping and a parade of horses. (Norwich, Norfolk. Royal Norfolk Show At Crown Point. 1928.) The film ends by showing the culmination of the farming year, the wheat harvest. The edge of the field is scythed by hand to make room for the reaper. This film shows a horse-drawn reaper and binder. The workers are shown building shocks to allow the straw to dry. The completed hay stacks are shown. The film ends with stills of the harvest and a folk song.


Agricultural workers; Farming; Harvesting; Blacksmith; Sheep shearing

Other Places

Eastbridge; Kersey; Lavenham; Leiston; Norwich; Saxmundham; Sibton; Theberton

Background Information

`To Be A Farmer's Boy' and `We're All Jolly Fellows That Follow The Plough' sung by Jack Page. (From a private recording of George Ewart Evans); Hammer Dulcimer played by Reg Reader. Photographs from the Suffolk Photographic Society.

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