February 18, 2023|

A Farming Life – Memories of farming at Great Fontley Farm

Great Fontley Farm, Titchfield Lane, Wickham  – a Grade II listed building dating back to the 16th century

Jenny Mallett has lived at Great Fontley Farm, on Titchfield Lane, most of her life – these are some of her memories of her family’s time farming and living there.

“My parents (Commander Harold  & Betty Dickson)were living in Catisfield and the navy was offering early retirement with golden handshake,because there was never going to be another war in 1933! They were out for a walk, saw the “For Sale” notice here … and they paid just over £2000 for two hundred acres and a sixteenth century farmhouse.

So guess what happened in November 1934: Jenny was born. I am still living in the house in which I was born which I suppose is fairly unusual. When they bought it there was no running water, no electricity and so they employed a water diviner who found water just outside the house, so they sunk a well.

One of my earliest memories – I must have been seven or eight: we got on the train at Knowle Halt (which was there for the hospital) and we had to get off at Wickham and buy a ticket. On one occasion my mother got off at Wickham to buy the ticket and the train went without her, so she stood and waved and the driver reversed back and came and apologised!

My father was going to be a fruit farmer and he planted four acres of Cox and Worcester apples which had just started producing when war broke out… I remember sorting and grading apples in the building down there which we call the apple house. That was his intention, but as soon as the war broke out, I remember there being a herd of twelve or fifteen dairy cows on the farm – certainly during the war – and we were forced to grow potatoes. The old boy who had a horse and cart with which he took the apples to Portsmouth market said, ‘They won’t grow guvnor!’

But it was absolutely essential that you grew potatoes…so we grew barley as food for the cattle and potatoes and we went on growing apples and I think we must have grown wheat as well for bread. And we certainly produced milk. I remember putting it in a churn on a stand outside the gate and someone coming and fetching it in a lorry every morning.

I didn’t get involved in the farm until I was ten or eleven. I can remember stooks, old fashioned harvesting of wheat in the field behind the house..learning to drive the family Fordson, which was a tractor with one pedal and if you pushed it hard, it stopped. My father had machine milking very early – I was taught how to milk a cow but we never had to do it because we got the machine.

We eventually got electricity in Coronation year, 1953. Until then we had a generator which sometimes worked, and calor gas, oil lamps and an engine. Only the chap who milked the cows knew how to start the engine which pumped water into the tank, so you had to be careful not to flush the loo in the middle of the night because you might not have any water tomorrow morning.

Later I went to Wye College which is part of London University and it was absolutely brilliant, probably the best years of my life. I got a 2:1 Honours degree in agriculture and a husband with a degree in agriculture too!

Great Fontley 17th century Granary on right (on mushrooms to keep rats out!)

In 1961 Jenny, her husband and children  moved into Great Fontley with her parents and took over the farm – in the same year they bought the adjoining Lee Ground Farm which they also farmed until 1986, when it became a golf course.

We earned a living from the farm for twenty-five years. My father milked twenty cows to earn a living. We milked a hundred cows to earn a living and my son who set up his own farm in Wiltshire is now milking two hundred and thirty cows to earn a living, and that is now a small herd…We only grew forty or fifty acres of cereal, I suppose, whereas my son does two or three thousand acres of combining every Summer. It’s all dramatically different. My sons remember taking loads of grain to Edneys (Chesapeake Mill) in Wickham.

The Barn at Great Fontley

My father had 4 or 5 permanent workers and during the winter they trimmed the hedges and dug out ditches and we had a full time dairyman.

Everything was delivered like it is again now,Tull the butchers (now Meon Valley butchers) came twice a week with a shoulder of lamb on Fridays and something slightly different on Tuesdays. Cases bakery came every day….a chap came out from Lancaster and Crooks in Titchfield on a bicycle and took an order from my mother.

Jenny concluded by saying that her father used to say that anyone driving down Titchfield Lane was coming to Great Fontley Farm – a bit of a change from today!


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