Watts, Mary (b.1928)
Mary Watts describes life on her father’s farm before, during, and just after World War II.  He was a tenant of the Strangways family, one of the two families who then owned estates at Shapwick.  Like many other children during the 1930s and 1940s she did many jobs on the farm including looking after two hundred hens.  Her memories are of a very happy childhood.  In this clip Mary describes the animals her family kept on the farm.
A shirehorse at the Bath & West show. Working horses were an integral part of the farm economy until after the Second World War. A shirehorse at the Bath & West show. Working horses were an integral part of the farm economy until after the Second World War.
Sound File
Listen to Mary Watts - 1.83MB Duration 3:58 min.

AH: Do you remember how large a herd it would be?


MW: Well, by these days it was very small. I mean, the, the farm I think was only about 120, 130 acres, which is nothing by today’s standards.  I think probably we had about thirty cows...


AH: Oh, that’s quite a lot for the time.


MW: Mm, mm, and of course some lovely Shire horses because the family bred horses.  They were beautiful.


AH: What kind of crops then was he growing?


MW: Oh, corn and, hay, and sheep we kept.  Father didn’t like pigs so we never kept any pigs.  Sheep, and it was a dairy farm in effect.  And quite a lot of hens which when I got to about eleven I was responsible for all these wretched hens.  But then farm children, looking back you worked quite hard, but then this was life.  As you got a little bit older you were given lots of jobs to do.


AH: And how did you have to look after these hens?  Were they free-range always?


MW: No, unfortunately, some were out in the fields, just on the outskirts of the village, and some were battery hens which of course, knowing what we know now, he wouldn’t have, he wouldn’t have kept them but, it was quite the thing, of course, being wartime then, you know, food was, every bit of food that could be come by was very welcome.


AH: How many hens did you keep?


MW: Oh, they were in one of the converted, one of the, granaries.  I expect there were about two hundred of them, a lot of eggs.


AH: How old did you buy them?  Did you buy them as chicks or, do you remember?


MW: No, I think he bought them, we kept, he reared a few chickens but I think that he probably bought them in.  And, and I kept about forty rabbits and we, I had an uncle, my father’s brother, who was a butcher in Chilton Polden, and he bought my rabbits for, for meat.


AH: What kind of rabbits were they? What breed?


MW: Oh, all sorts of rabbits and I kept them purely to for, you know, for meat during the war.  And I remember they ate a lot and I was everlastingly going around the fields for [saps], pulling up dandelions and things to feed them on.


AH: I was going to ask you, what did you feed them on?


MW: And of course turnips and swedes, that sort of thing.


AH: How long did you keep them then?


MW: Oh well, until they were big enough, you know, meaty enough to make a nice meal.


We turned one of our front rooms into the village post office so, and then there were two brothers who’d been billeted in Little Church Farm, the carpenter’s business.  Well one day their mother and an aunt just arrived from, from London, they were sisters obviously, and their mother and their father had discovered their house had had a direct hit, and I think that just sort of finished them.  They’d put up with so much, so they just arrived.  So we turned, we made some of our rooms into a flat for them and they stayed there for the rest of the war.

Copyright Information
Copyright. This recording was made by Ann Heeley in August 1999. Photograph ©SRLM. For access to full interview please contact the Somerset Heritage Centre.