Over the years, Jacqueline Sarsby has tape recorded
Marjorie Riddaways vivid memories of nine decades as a
farmers daughter, farmers wife and widow. Marjorie has
described her childhood and the loss of her son during the
Second World War in the Channel 4 series Green and
Pleasant Land. Now she gives recollections of her childhood
in north Devon for Farmlife
Marjorie Riddaway was born in 1907 on a small farm in the village of Atherington, seven miles from Barnstaple. Her mother and father were Elizabeth and John Harris, and she was the ninth of their 10 children.
"Everyone in the village had a plot to grow fruit. They all went to Barnstaple market on Fridays and what they didnt sell they would go around and hawk. My mother used to go around with a horse and cart hawking every sort of fruit and she used to go to market on Fridays with her butter and eggs.
My grandparents had mazzards – you call them black cherries, but we used to call them mazzards – those lovely big, black cherries. They had seven acres of those, my grandfather did. And we used to grow raspberries, strawberries, blackcurrants, gooseberries and all the garden vegetables – cabbage, carrots and parsnips. Everything went to market each Friday.
I suppose half of us wouldnt have lived if it wasnt for the stall in Barnstaple market because we were 10 of us – three boys and seven girls.
"I often say I wish I could have what Ive trampled on the ground, especially the mazzards because I used to get so angry! Youve seen these clappers that they go around the fairground with? We used to have to go out with those and frighten away the birds. Oh, and your arm would ache – little kids, about five or six-years-old, clapping – and they would hear if you stopped. No good pretending that youd done it if you hadnt done it because they could hear indoors whether you were clapping to keep the birds off the fruit."
* Taken to market
The fruit was collected and taken to market in big baskets called "mauns", round and with a handle on either side, or oblong with a lid. People bought raspberries and other fruit in pint or quart punnets. The elvers, or young eels, which came up the River Taw in their millions, were also sold in pints and quarts.
The children had to help their parents washing vegetables and picking fruit.
"As children, we used to go out there for hours and hours. The only thing that I didnt mind so much picking was the blackcurrants because you could sit on a stone and pick the blackcurrants, but you couldnt sit on a stone and pick the raspberries.
"Father grew kale in the fields and wed pick that by the hamperful to take to market on a Friday. Mother had a stall in Barnstaple market for as many years as I can remember, and she would take the eggs and a bit of butter and a round bowl of cream, 12-15 inches across. She always put a saucer in the bottom of the cream to let the milk drain through, and people would come with their little glasses and cups, no-handle cups and whatnot. Some would have 2oz, some a quarter, some half a pound, and then someone would always buy the milk that was in the bottom of the bowl – I think that was worth thruppence, the milk that was under the saucer.
"Mum used to pick apples and pick fruit, and do a lot of the gardening. She did it all. Youd come home and the washing would be out. There was no washing machine, but the blue slabs would be blue and the washing would be on the line."
The children went to school at the age of three, even though there was a three-mile walk from their first farm to the school. But Marjories memories of school are full of frustration because the teacher disliked her:
"I was never a favourite with the teacher. I used to get a hiding nearly every day of my life. I was defiant as could be because I couldnt please her, no matter what I did. It was no good me trying, because I wouldnt please her. I was a very bad writer and she used to thrash me for bad writing and spelling mistakes. She couldnt thrash me for anything else, because I could do the sums, and I was brimming with ideas.
"I used to sit beside a girl called Nell. Now Nells book would be, oh, beautiful, tidy, there wouldnt be a blot anywhere, and every letter would be absolutely perfect. But Nell would write about that much (a tiny bit) because she wasnt full of ideas like me. I couldnt get the pen to write fast enough!
I wanted to tell them all what I knew, and what I wanted them to know. And I would write three or four, or four or five pages, and then Id stand out at the front, and shed give me a hiding for bad writing and spelling mistakes – and blotchy paper! She did used to thrash me, unmerciful.
"Then she was taken ill once and we had another teacher came, and do you know, the children that our teacher never touched in her life, she thrashed them, left and right, these other children, but she never touched me. And I thought, "Well, why dont she give me a hiding. Surely Ive done something?" But she never touched me once and she was there six weeks."
• Jacqueline Sarsby is an oral historian and a consultant to Testimony Filmss Green and Pleasant Land currently on Channel 4, Sundays, at 8pm.