Freda and Malcolm Heywood | Incredible Edible Todmorden | History

Freda and Malcolm Heywood

The Heywoods talk about growing up and growing food in Cornholme during the war years.
Top classes were able to produce enough food for the entire school’s dinners

Cornholme school 1940

The Cornholme school allotment growers show off their cabbages in 1940

Growing at Pitts
Keeping Hens can hurt!
digging for victory
farms and abbatoirs
allotments and gardens
gathering watercress

Heywood Food History
Jean Scott (76)
Rita Heywood (74yrs)
Malcolm Heywood (74yrs)

M: I lived at Pudsey off the Burnley valley, off to the right as you are going off towards Portsmouth in a little hamlet called Pitts and next door my grandmother and bachelor uncle who kept hens and sometimes ducks and he must have had six wooden huts each with hens in or foods for hens. In part of one of the fields, just behind the house were the remnants of a garden, that my grandfather, who died before I was born, used to cultivate and he was known particularly for growing tomatoes. All that was left of that garden until the war came was rhubarb, which grew wild. If we were short of something for Saturday tea or something we could go and pick a few sticks of rhubarb and steam it up and have some rhubarb and custard. Below where I lived there was a little hamlet called Pitts Terrace, which was simply called Pitts and there was one house there that had some land behind it that grew some wonderful Victoria plums. There was another that we called the orchard and it had a circular pond in which carps swam about, which I endeavoured to catch and never managed and that was surrounded by fruit trees: apple and pear and across the road, belonging to the same person, was another piece of land, and which also had apples trees in. Round the back were several allotments where people grew vegetables. There was a spare piece of land, which we simply called the plots. We never asked why it was called the plots but along one side of it by the road which lead up to Coldcroft Farm (??) were several allotments and peas, carrots, potatoes, lettuce, and beetroot. Obviously it was a necessary supplement to the meagre wages that they earned in the mills and the factories. How long those allotments had been going on, I don’t know. I remember them from the wartime onwards. When the war came, if you had had hens, then you could get an allowance of meal, so when bachelor uncle had gone we carried on with the hens. I am not sure we kept as many as he had but there was an allowance of meal, which we boiled up with potato peelings and it made the most revolting smell. Behind the house was what we called “the stone coat” and it was a stone build and in this was a set boiler so there must have been a gas supply and this is where this terrible mess of meal and potato peeling was boiled up and as I got older…I would be eleven when the war finished and my mother and father were working…so it was my job, particularly in the winter when it got dark soon to get a bucket full of this mess and go and feed the hens with it whereupon I was attacked by a black Leghorn cock. I was bending down to pick up the eggs from the egg boxes. It was lucky I was wearing a leather helmet; not a woolly balaclava but a leather helmet and this thing landed on my head and started to try and dig its talons in. It would had pecked me if I hadn’t had shook it off and hit it with a bucket….so I reported this. I said:
“I am not going to feed those hens any more because this cock attacked me”
“Don’t be so daft” my mother said and so she went to investigate and it set after her. It had got very territorial had this bird so she went down and got the coal shovel and waited until it came near her and cracked it one. Then it extended its territory. It would march up and down the lane outside and attack people who were going up. It had to be sent somewhere where it didn’t matter. Also during the war my dad who was no gardener believe you me, resurrected Granddad’s garden and he grew carrots and potatoes and radish and lettuce and one of the empty hen cotes was turned into growing tomatoes in buckets. At Cornholme School there were allotments. They may still be there on the far side of the railway line behind where Portsmouth station used to be. So the headmaster, Johnny Graham, took the older boys and grew vegetables and when the vegetables had been grown and been picked, we were assembled in the hall and we sat there and at the front of the hall were all these cabbages and potatoes and whatever they had grown and for a few coppers you could take a bagful home. Then he decided the younger boys should do a bit of gardening so he took our class…we were eleven years old…to dig this allotment behind the railway line. I didn’t last long. I got sent back to school for leaning on my shovel. I wasn’t doing what I should have done. I didn’t like gardening then and I don’t like gardening now – not really. I mean today it can be a hobby but during the wartime with unemployment it became more of a necessity. During the war…you know where the wind farm is…the last farm you come to on the right, that is called Clough Farm and just beyond there, I remember seeing fields of kale being grown and a little bit beyond there were the slaughterhouses. In the school holidays we used to go and have a look and see what was going on. We used to call it the knacker’s shop because it was the slaughterhouse. It was a revolting place really. Revolting places are very attractive to children aren’t they? It was a terrible place. Even to us it wasn’t hygienic. It stank. I should think there would be…it may have gone for animal feed…or they may have boiled up the animal bones…they may have gone for glue. They used to do that didn’t they?
J: You used to unofficial smaller allotments in lots of places
M: They would be all over the place wouldn’t they…the small allotments?
J: I think if there was a piece of land near where you lived you would cultivate it.
R: I lived at Cornholme and about three street above the church and at the top of our street there was the red brick Sunday School belonging to the church and then there was a tennis court and behind the tennis court and to the right of the tennis court there were allotments and there were also hen cotes and then man at the top of the street owned them. We got most of our vegetables and salads from him and eggs from the hens. My uncle, he also kept hens. When they were at home my father and him…they lived at Robertshaw Terrace and they kept hens behind Robertshaw Terrace and they still had a hen cote up there and so during the war we often got the old hen to boil and eggs from him. Up behind there they used to keep hens and when they were boys, which would be the early 1900s, most families kept a pig most of the year or they shared with another family and kept the pig and it was fed off scraps left from the table and then they always slaughtered it at Christmas so that they had meat for the winter. They used to play football and they used to get the pig’s bladder and blow it up and kick it around as a football.
M: Another uncle had a grocers shop and he had a garden…there is the archway under the railway…and the road doesn’t really lead anywhere….and almost immediately through the arch there were some steps left and up there were gardens and allotments and my uncle had one there.
R: There were allotments higher up as well opposite Brook Field…
M: The more you start to think about it, they were all over the place. Some grew flowers particularly chrysanthemums…but also vegetables for the table too.
R: You used to get watercress out of the streams
M: Yes
R: We used to grow mustard
J: We used to grow it on flannelette…a piece of blanketing on a saucer.
R: Yes!
J: I remember that
M: But this was proper watercress, which has a tang to it
J: In the little stream by Hale Chapel. I presume it used to feed the mill at one time
M: Round the back of Hale chapel. We used to get in on the road by the windmills as you are coming from Burnley towards Top Row, there is a car park on your left. You can then take a path through and you come to a place called Sheweng and you could get watercress by the handful in the stream and that is quite high up isn’t it?