11 February 2000

50 YEARS OF CHANGE & HES ENJOYED THEM ALL

FEBRUARY 14 will be a red letter day for Peter Rhymes for this Valentines Day marks his 65th birthday and retirement from 50 years of working on the same farm.

It will be an emotional day for Peter and for dairy and arable farmers Michael and Suzanne Bendall and their son Simon at Manor Farm, Corston, near Bath, North East Somerset. Peter started work at the farm straight from school and just a month or two short of his 15th birthday and set the pattern of working six days a week rain or shine for the next 50 years that it will take retirement to break.

"Really I have been working here 55 years," says Peter. "I was always at the farm from childhood and when I left school I did more of the jobs I was already doing for pocket money, for a wage."

Farming was what he had always wanted to do although he didnt come from a farming family. Peter, who is single, lives today in the house he was born in at Farmborough a couple of miles from Manor Farm. Michael Bendall also lived in the village and the two were school friends. When Michael and his family moved to Manor Farm, where his grandfather was then the tenant, Peter became a regular visitor

"When I was at school the farms were still short of labour and much of the machinery was adapted from horse-drawn implements and still needed someone to sit on them," recalls Peter.

He regrets that mechanisation inevitably meant fewer workers on the farm. "When I first started everything was more communal – you would all be joking together when you went hoeing or raking all day. You can get a bit isolated now but we have got the CB radios which are a good thing."

He has seen changes ranging from heavy horses to computers but feels progress hasnt necessarily made work easier. In his opinion farm work is harder and more complex today even if "we make a field of silage nowadays in the time we used to think about it".

"Silaging used to take about a month and now if we dont do it in three days we are not happy," he says.

The Bendalls farm 283ha (700 acres). They own 48ha (120 acres) and the rest belongs to the Duchy of Cornwall. Cereals and setaside account for 240ha (600 acres) and the rest is down to grass. The family went back into milk in 1990 when their son Simon came into the business and they have 140 cows. The animals however are not a main responsibility for Peter. He has always preferred machinery to livestock.

Direct drilling was pioneered on the farm "We used a 3D drill which ICI made themselves. We used to do trials for the company here," says Peter.

He takes a pride in all his work and gets great satisfaction from a tightly strung fence, a well drilled field, a tidy job. "I like to look back over my shoulder and see that it is a good job done properly."

"He has always taken such care," says Mrs Bendall. "And he has also been like an uncle to our children, a great treasure." Peter is obviously more than a worker to the family – they share friendship and companionship and above all respect. "We run the farm as a family unit, we all help each other out with the jobs and I like to envisage it as a joint effort," says Michael, who has always kept Peter interested and informed about the day to day running of the farm.

In his time Peter has seen annual holiday entitlement increase from one week a year to four but he rarely takes all his holiday. "I get bored," he says. However he is looking forward to having the spare time he hopes retirement will bring. "Living on my own and working six days a week, I get a bit behind with things at home and I would like to catch up on that and spend a bit more time on my garden. I have also just got a little puppy so I expect it will take up some time."

Not that he will have too much time to fill. "I expect I shall still come up here and do a few hours," says Peter cheerfully. "Farming has been my life and I have enjoyed it."

Agriculture has undergone tremendous

changes in the past 50 years yet there

are still employees about who have

taken them all in their stride and remain

valued members of the farm workforce.

Tessa Gates met Peter Rhymes who

has spent all his working life

employed on the same

family-run farm

Peter Rhymes (main picture) has been a valued worker and friend to (left-right) Simon,

Suzanne and Michael Bendall who run Manor Farm where he has worked for 50 years.