An Oral History interview with Bill Bentley


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An Oral History interview with Bill Bentley

Interviewed by Roger Kitchen on Wednesday 30th March 2005
Bill, if we can begin by you telling me, when were you born?
I were born 27th July 1932
And where were you born?
I was born at Calke Mill, that’s where we was farming like, you know we farmed – well we farmed it until reservoir took over.
I was going to say, tell me a bit about your family.
Well, me dad moved into Calke Mill in 1931. He took over from his brother and his dad had it before that – like that were me granddad and then, anyway he took over in ’31, I were born in 32 and then it all started then. I nearly killed me mother, poor girl, (laughs) and … anyway well
Let’s go back. You said you nearly killed your mother.
I did, I nearly killed me mother through birth, but anyway she got over it all right and everything and then the next recollection – well the next thing I could think of during my life were when I were about 4, ah well, about four, four and a half going fishing, because I’m a big fisherman, I’ve fished all me life and I can remember catching me first fish and running up home, cos there was a brook ran past the house, and I ran home and told me mother. I said, ‘Look, I’ve caught a fish’, so, quite exciting really.
Were you the only child?
No, I got a brother and two sisters and there’s one younger than me and two older like. Me brother, he was born in Melbourne and me sister were born in Melbourne, me elder sister. Me other sister were born at Calke Mill, same as I was.
So you were saying it disappeared under the reservoir. When, what year was that?
Oh dear… Switch it off a second.

No no no, keep going…

I don’t know what year it was when it went but I… me daughter, she’s 46, 47, if I can remember… but any road she’d be about 2 year old when…, 3 year old when it got flooded.

So it was 44 years ago, so we’re looking at very early 1960s

Oh ay, I should imagine. I could tell you if I got me book out….

This is good because – when you were growing up, as a kid around Calke Mill, where did you used to go and play, as a kid?
Well, we used to make us own fun up like, you know, we used to go fishing, same as I’ve just said: we used to block the – damn the brook up in summer time, the brook as run past the old mill – well it were the mill brook that one as fed the mill originally, but any road…I’ll get to that story in a minute – we used to dam it up and we used to go swimming in summertime. We used to get in the muddy… (laughs) well it were all boggy it were, we used to get it mucked up and then go and wash it off in the brook! All these sort of silly things. In winter time we always used to go skating – I’ve been skating since I were a little nip like, so we had plenty of fun really: and as I got older I started shooting – I used to go and shoot a dinner and …

How old were you when you started shooting?

Well, I should be about, oh crikey, I’d be very young when I started shooting for a start, but when I started shooting shotgun I should be probably nine I should think – no, earlier than that probably. And used to go and shoot a rabbit and…

And Dad was renting the farm?

Me dad was renting the farm from the Harpur-Crewe estate and… what else can I say?

And how many acres was it?

There was 127 acres and the thing was, when we left the farm, eventually, after getting out they gave him, well, reimbursed him like a bit – they only give him two years rent, you know, for getting out, but.. . what else can I say about?

As you’re growing up…

5 mins

Well, you’re on about – let’s go back to when I was playing a bit can I? Cos there used to be an old bridge, I’ll show you, an old archway and this bridge was built across the valley, at back of Calke Mill, and it was built across the valley to take the carriages from Calke Abbey to put them on the London Road and anyway, it were built and they said that the first one as went over it – so a gypsy reckoned – I’m telling you a story now, the first one as went over it’d come back dead. Which they reckon he did, or with his eyes closed or whatever, but they reckon they propped his eyes open with matches – but this is… you know (laughs)

But who was the first one to go across?

Well I don’t know really, it’s beyond me

And this is one of the old…?

Old stories, this is… Oh ah. So there were that and the old – course it was a mill – and the old miller apparently hung hisself in the mill, so me dad used to tell us a story about a bundle of sticks and one thing or another.

Tell me this story then

Well, he used to tell use about this miller as used to walk the old mill every so often and, you know…

You never saw it?

No. I think this was all fun really, nothing more. It were a story anyway

But you never saw anything?

No, no, no

Did you have, as a kid, or as a grown up, did you have any contact with the Harpur Crewes at all?
I did, I had a lot of – yes, ah, Henry – Mr Henry Harpur Crewe - I used to deliver magazines. He sued to come down to Calke Mill, well, regularly and me mother used to – he used to come on horseback. Me mother used to get him off his horse and (laughs) aggravate him to death, you know (laughs) but… I used to go up to the Abbey quite regular. I used to do a bit to his cars, repair his cars sometimes, and if he were broke down I used to go out to him and…

This is obviously when you’re a lot older. As a kid did you go up there at all?

Well, I used to go up to a chap in the Calke Park – the gamekeeper – Ag Pegg – I used to go up there and he used to have his cockerels in pens down this yard and he used to have fighting cockerels and he used to get me to go and aggravate ‘em with this ‘ere piece of leather on the end of a stick, you know, make ‘em mad! Oh ah, used to do all these things, but I mean that’s when I were young, I probably wouldn’t be ten or eleven perhaps, you know. But I always mucked about with keepers and all that. I loved keepering and shooting and that sort of sport, you know.

Where did they do this cock-fighting then?

Well, he used to send them all over the place, Ag Pegg did, oh ay he used to send ‘em – in fact I reckon he used to send ‘em to America, fighting, ay, they used to have cock-fighting I suppose local, I don’t know.

You never saw one?

I never saw one no. No, I never saw one, no.

And as you’re growing up it’s the war, you’re aged about 7 and the war breaks oout…

That’s right, ah…

Did that have any kind of impact on you at all?

Well, the thing is at that age you dunna realise what’s going off really do you really? But I can remember the bombs dropping in Melbourne here. They dropped one or two in Melbourne Pool. I can remember a landmine dropping, that was over the back on Sam Hollingsworth’s farm. That knocked a hole in the ground – ooh you coulda put a lorry in it nearly, you know. And, what else happened…?

Did you have much contact with like evacuees? Did any evacuees come…?

Well, ay, there were evacuees come to Calke Abbey and we used to have little wars with ‘em, you know, us local lads used to go off and fight ‘em and (laughs) do all - sort of drive them back to Calke Abbey. They used to attack us and all sorts of things like that. I used to ring bell and blow the organ at Calke Abbey – Calke Church… That was when I was young, probably ten year old up till when I was about 14, 15. Mrs Molesey used to give me a shilling every Sunday.

Who’s Mrs Molesey?

That was the landlady at that time. She were married to – that were one of the Miss Crewes, married a Molesey and she used to give me this shilling every … every Sunday. Used to buy me 10 Woodbines and a box of matches. That were quite good really.

Tell me about the organ thing then. When you say.. you used to blow…?

Blow it, ay, pump the organ… A bloke named Willie Harrison used to be playing it and I used to be singing in the choir like – sometimes there’d probably be only me in the choir singing! Nobody’d turn up, there only Colonel Molesey and his wife and the parson. And when I were about 9, 9 year old, I used to go off in the car and sometimes, if it were raining, I’d go through Calke – I used to go up to church in car then – up the road and…. Cos I’d been driving for some years and then I just nipped across the park and fetched the vicar and, if it were raining, I’d take him back again when he’d done and all that. Oh ah – and I used to call at this house in the village in Calke Village, pick the key up and unlock the church for a start and all these sorts of things.
10.14 mins

So there’d often be only a congregation of really like two?

Well, ah, sometimes,.. I mean we used to go to Sunday School – we had a Sunday School there for some years. I mean, all us lads used to go there, we used to go to this class and they’d give you counters, you know, and then when you’d finished you’d got your stamp and put in your book and…

But that was all at the church was it?

That was all at the church, ay.

So why were there so few adults that went to the church then?

Well there wasn’t many people lived round there really. There used to be an old lady named Mrs Wood and she used to have a trumpet in her ear, you know, one of these here – she were deaf – but she was in the congregation like. There used to be another one, Floss Hudson, and me cousin and me up in the choir, and that was about it, you know.

So who ran the Sunday School?

Well, there used to be Mrs Molesey and me cousin Olive, they used to run the Sunday School, ah. So, ah, it were quite good really. We used to enjoy that cos we used to get there before they did and we used to go and act about. I should be probably Colonel Molesey and somebody'd be in the pulpit and, no, never used to do nothing wrong really, it were all good fun. But no, it was quite exciting really…

So where did you go to school?

I went to school in Melbourne, well, originally I went to Melbourne and then I had, I had jaundice and I got behind at Melbourne School so they sent me to this private school at Shelton Lock which was no good to me at all, anyway. Then when war broke out I came to Stanton School so I’d be with relations if anything happened, cos some of me relations were at Stanton, and when I was 11 I went back to Melbourne, finished me schooling off there. That’s why I were never very educated like.

So you finished your schooling at 14

..We’re up to 1946 and the war is over. What was your first job?

Well, I worked at home and… I worked at home – we had a big do like for VJ Day, we had a big bonfire and course we’d been cleaning ground and there were trees all over the common ground and we took all the trees off and we made a hell of a fire and, ooh ah, we had a good time, roast taters and well, baked…

So who came along to the celebrations?

Well there were farmers all round about, Parkers, Derbyshires and there were Furnace’s up the top, there were Dowells, oh there were several – Dumbelows, some up Calke Village, they all came down… and we had games…

Were the Moseleys still there or had they gone by this time?

I think Moleseys had… Moleseys must have still have been there – I just can’t remember when Mrs Molesey died or – I can’t remember. I should have to ask me brother about that. But no…. I can’t remember – but we did have this, you know, this big do. I can’t remember whether any of them came to it or not, but we did have games and that, you know, and everything – throwing cricket ball and….

So when you left school you went and worked for your dad?

I did, yes

Did your dad have any other employees?

Me brother worked on the farm, and me sister helped out as well, me elder sister. But she went and got a job in Melbourne after a time. We did have a fellow work for us, in fact, I’ve not long married his wife, cos I lost my wife and anyway, he worked for us for I can’t remember how many years. But we did have Italian prisoners working for us…

Oh did you?

Yes, we had… for a start we used to have a squad of Italians come and they used to do the singling, root crops, you know


Yes, ah, that’s…

What’s that, taking out…

Yes that’s right, ah, leaving one every 6 or 8 inches, you know and then they used to come and do the cutting off and then we started and we had a couple living in with us and they was living with until, well, until they went back really. They did bring us different ones occasionally but, oh ah , they were quite good lads really. I didna get on with Germans so much as I did with Italians, but they were all right they was.

There were Germans as well were there?

14.58 min
Ah, Germans come after the Italians. The Italians went back you see and then Germans were still made prisoners, I suppose, I don’t know what happened. But no, they came and… but….

So, you’re working for your dad. What are you doing? You’re doing everything are you?

Yeh, ay farmwork

milking the cows?
Crikey, ay milking cows…

Yes, everything, tractor driving, the lot like, you know, that’s… we were two mile from a phone, two mile from a letter box at one time in me life, two mile from everything – well it wasn’t quite two mile from the pub! (laughs). But anyway it were quite… you know, it were quite a chore really, to get anywhere then. So you had to do all your own repairs and everything, so that’s what……

So when did you get married?

Well, I got married when I were 25

So that’s 1957?

Could have been , ay would be….

And you were still working for your dad?

I were still working for me dad when I got married but it was soon after that when – we’d been married about, ooh what? - twelve month I should think – and then course, we had to get out of farm you see, and then I went and worked for a chap at Shardlow, a chap named Chamberlain: I lived at Castle Donnington for a start, and then I moved down to Shardlow to this Chamberlain bloke, a big farmer he was; and me dad he moved to Chellaston and he went sexton at Chellaston church and well, that was about the story.

Had you dad kind of retired. Did he take retirement?

Well, ah, he didna do a lot, not after he’d finished at Calke Mill, although he did work at the church like, I suppose it was for the council whatever. But 1939, let’s o back a little bit now, in 1939 we got flooded out. We had a big flood and it washed a hole out in the yard, as you went down the yard, it washed a hole out as you come back, a big van in (?), you know, a big hole it washed out. Oh ay, it made a hell of a mess….

This was from the brook essentially….?
Well, yes, ay, but there were ponds above it you see, there was sort of 6 lakes above it in Calke Park and the last one, before you got into the lake as fed the mill, that burst its banks and it followed the wall round, the grids all got blocked up round the wall, followed the wall and it burst at top of our yard and that’s when it come down.

Did it actually flood the house itself?

Ay, by God, oh ah, it was about three foot - no it wouldna be three foot – two foot deep in the house, probably a bit more, I don’t know. I know when I opened pantry door the next day – course we evacuated it like, you know, and when I opened the pantry door next morning there were a loaf of bread – you know years ago they used to have these square loaves – well not square, but oblong, square, and it looked like a door that did, floating door, it looked awful! Oh ah, it were in a bit of a mess. And Mrs Molesey come down and she had a look at it and they helped us out the Calke Estate did really.

Did you have to be rehoused for a bit then?

No, no, no, no, we didn’t, no, no, cos it were a whatsit floor, a tiled floor in the kitchen, living room really, so we didn’t really have to…

How long was it flooded for then?

Well only for a – I mean, the water went down you see, cos the brook was lower than the house, so it went down. It were only sort of flooding for that night. Next morning there was still water round the house but…

So when they came… talking of water and making the reservoir, how many buildings were, if you like, submerged under that reservoir. There was obviously your farm house…
That’s right, farmhouse, farm buildings and all that, that were all – well they took it all down, you know, knocked it all flat…

Oh, they’d knocked it flat before they flooded it did they?

Yes, that’s right, they did and the cottage, there was a cottage down there. There was another house farther up the valley which I could never understand why they knocked down, cos it were well out of the water line. There was another house – it stands at the side of the water one house does, that’s way…. This was a lovely little cottage it was, where Dowells lived. Anyway, another one in the valley as you – well, in the same valley like as you went up towards Ticknall – Bates’ at New England’s Farm, and that was a – that got knocked down. There was a gardener’s house got knocked down. There was Derbyshire’s in the valley – they knocked theirs down as well, that was Furnace Farm. They used to make pot down there – pottery at one time, down in the valley. But I’ll show you that in a bit, you’ll…..

20.27 min

So did you, if you like, physically go and watch when they started to flood it?

No, no, no, no I didna go (laughs)

Why not?

Well, when you’ve been born somewhere, you know, and they start wrecking the place, it ain’t very nice, you know – I’m a bit of a chicken really (laughs). But no, I think it were that reason why I never went. I did go and see it at odd times but I didna like it much. So I didn’t see them actually flood it. I didn’t see them knock the hole through from one pond into the reservoir… no I didn’t see that. I’d properly have been better off if I hadda done really, cos when I die I’ve told them they’ve got to go and take me up there. I want me ashes scattering up…

Do you?

Ay, I want to go back home.

Any special – in a way it’s kind of fairly dramatic. They’re literally flooding your place, and in a sense flooding the memories, drowning the memories, you know – there must be particular places around there that had special memories for you when you were a kid – like when you went swimming and all this kind of thing, and there must have been other places too?
Well there was, I mean, I used to go down to Furnace Farm, you see, and we used to play tennis down there and that and Ivan’s son, we used to pal about together and we used to have parties like at Christmas and all this sort of thing, we used to get together. It were quite good really, but ah, there’s a lot of memories like that, but I don’t know, I seem to be – I always seem to be one on me own a little bit, cos I used to like me own company a lot.

Did you?

I did, ay. I can make fun out of anything

Was that fun in nature or not? I mean did you like go wandering around the countryside?

Oh I did, ah, I always loved countryside I did ah. Same as I say, I love shooting and fishing’s me life really and that but…I’ve never been a cruel man, you know, not a cruel bloke I wouldna – in fact I hate going and doing mass shooting and that sort of thing but….

So what is – I mean, I’ve never done it, you know – what is the pleasure of shooting – and then you say you’re not a cruel man, I don’t understand…
Well this is the thing you see. I mean, I’m a country bloke, you see, and it’s – I didn’t like shooting – I like shooting for something to eat, you know, not… but, I mean, I have shot and I’ve shot all me life, all me life I have. I’ve got guns and that now upstairs and I’d still go if I could, but I can’t walk because of me knees. But what pleasure is there in shooting? I don’t know. What’s your?-
I must say I enjoy fishing….
Do you enjoy this?

Obviously yes.

Well – and you must enjoy a drink probably?

No, but you were saying to me beforehand, you said, ‘I’m not a cruel man’

I’m not a cruel man, never been cruel

And yet –

I’ve always been a big softie always

Whereabouts do you go fishing round here?

Well, I usually go up in Calke Park, because there’s a fishing club up there, you see, in Calke Park. But we go in different places and – we go to the seaside and all that.

Are there particular fish that are – are there particular spots in the National Forest area which are sort of good for fishing?
Oh ah, there’s trout up at Formark, that’s game, you know, sporting fishing but you don’t put ‘em back. But then, up on this reservoir here, Melbourne Reservoir, they’re all coarse fish which you catch and put back….

What’s the best fish you’ve ever caught?

Well, I’ve never really been into big fish or anything like that. Best fish I’ve ever caught really, I don’t know. I suppose… no I don’t know… best fish ever I caught I suppose was years ago, under the old arches where the brook ran through, there was a chap there said there was a big trout under there. And one day when me and me day were going up the fields and I’d got me rod and I set it underneath this, well, in this hole under the bridge, with a worm on.

25.05 min

Went up the fields in the morning – set me rod as I said. Come back at dinner time and nothing had happened. Went back after dinner, working in fields, nothing had happened. Come back at night and me dad carried on walking down to the house and I walked down to me rod, picked me rod up you see, and soon as I picked me rod up I caught this fish. And it was a trout and it must have been about 3 and a half, four pound – it were big fish - and I were trying to land it and me mother was shouting, ‘William, William where are you? Come here you idle bugger’ she was shouting. And I were shouting, ‘Tell me dad to bring the net down I’ve got this fish’. Well, he brought the net down and then we got it out and we put it in the trough, cos our drinking water was spring water, cos there were no electric or anything like that, it were all paraffin and candles and any road, I got this here – we put this fish in the trough and that and it were in there for about, ooh, three or four month and it went smaller. So why it went smaller I don’t know, but when I put it in it couldn’t turn round in this trough, but when, after that time, it could, you know, sort of… and then I put it back in the brook. I didn’t eat it, although when me mother come out of hospital with – from appendicitis, me dad says, ‘Your mother could eat a trout. Do you know where you could get one?’ I says, ‘Ay’, I says, ‘I know where there’s a couple.’ I lived it, you see, and I went and got these two trout for her. It was as easy as that. I tickled them actually, but…

You tickled them?

Ay, I tickled them into a bag.

How did you learn how to do that?

Well, I never learned, it was just one of them things as happened. I don’t know. I just got the corner – I went in the mixing place as we called it, I cut a corner out of a bag, I went to this little pond and there were another bloke there after ‘em when I got there, Eric Dunnicliffe his name was, and Gerry Shaw, and they was one side of pond and I was the other, on this stone and this trout come at side of stone. I just wet me bag, put it in the water and I just put me hand round the back of this trout and tickled it in to the bag. And I’d no sooner done that than another one come and I did the same with that and I picked them out and I came home. And I never said nothing to them and they never knew where the trout went. They will now perhaps if they guess! (Laughs) No they wont because he’s dead! (?) (Laughs) But it, no, it’s just them things, just like as though they were made for me mother, you know. Ay, it’s a…..

And you did a lot of that trout tickling did you?

No I didn’t, no, no, no, just that once as far as I can remember, but I mean, you can do it easy… easy, but I mean you’ve got to know where they area and all that before you can do that sort of thing.

Around here, what’s the best day’s fishing you’ve ever had?… I don’t mean necessarily in terms of numbers, just the whole pleasure of….
Well, it’s all good to me. It don’t matter if I’m fishing sitting in a bucket, it’d all be nice to me. A bucket with nothing in it and I could fish.

But a day like today, I mean… oh there it is, all your bits…

I love it

But like, on a day like today, it’s grey, it’s wet….
Oh, I see what you mean.

You wouldn’t enjoy a day like that would you?

Well, ay, I mean, yes, yes ah. It don’t make much difference. I dunna like going and setting up. If I’m going fishing I don’t like to go and take me tackle and set it up when it’s raining. Now if it rains when I’m there, I dunna mind, although, I’m telling you something now, last Saturday I went fishing and the sun was shining, it were burning top of me head it was, it were that hot, on Saturday morning, and there was a cloud come over Nottingham and I says to Richard, that lad as you’ve just seen, I said to him, I said, ‘It’s going to rain Richard’. And any road, after a minute it started spotting with rain and I got wet through, absolute – I hadna got me brolly with me. I was absolutely sodden, dripping, so – but I still enjoyed I! (Laughs)

29.34 mins
On that thing about weather, obviously if there’s a black cloud, but over the years you’ve worked on the land over the years, are there kind of signs that you get where weather’s changing, I mean, part from going and tapping the barometer, you know, but are there kind of, - are there signs?
Me used to be, oh he used to be mustard he had. I remember me dad in summertime, you know, really in summertime – blue sky – and we were there, you know, harvesting, in the harvest time, well it was getting towards back end…well anyway, harvesting and he’d say, ‘Right, come on, stop that, stop cutting, let’s get this corn set up’ – cos you set it up in stooks then, in the field you see, ‘Get it set up’ he says, ‘it’ll be raining by dinnertime’ he says, or teatime, or whatever, and I’m not kidding you it wasn’t very he were wrong. But he used to have pains in his knees, but I have pains in my knees but I don’t know whether it gets worse when it’s going to rain or what! (Laughs) I never got that far as I could check it!
You know there are things like cows laying down in a field, all that kind of thing, were there other signs from nature, as it were, of birds or animals perhaps behaving in a strange way?
Not really, only seagulls coming over and it used to make ‘em say that it were rough at sea, but otherwise the weather man’s never right is he really? Not even us, we’re not right. I can usually tell when it’s going to rain, but, I mean there’s a lot now, it gets that bad you can’t tell can you?

And it’s all changing anyway

It is, that’s right, ah.

I’m interested, I want to come back to your working life later, but I’m interested in this dry stone walling. Where did you learn about that then?

Well, you’re going back to when I was a kid again now. And when I was a kid I used to be out, you know, and I’d be with anybody, anybody. There used to be a fellow – I’m going off the dry stone walling – there used to be a fellow come round as used to catch moles. His name was Dan Varty it was and he used to come on a motor bike and sidecar he had, well motor bike and sidecar, and he used to have his traps and I used to go with him miles, setting traps, and I used to love that, you know, love setting traps. I’d only be 6, 7 year old, something like this. And then, at that same time, I started seeing the old lads from Calke, repairing the walls and I used to go with them then and we used to be there and I used to be helping them, you know, picking bits of stone up for them and all that, when I were that young. And I used to watch them and then, you know, they used to, well, they’ve been gone years now, Charlie, well Charlie Smart and old Ben Hyde. That’s the Ben Hyde as was in (?), it was his dad, so, but…Ay, they used to be there doing the wall and I can remember them, you know, and they used to say, ‘Now Ben, you aren’t keeping that middle up. Keep that middle up else you’ll have her down’, you know, and there used to be there, telling you all these stories and that about building walls and that. That’s where I first started and I’ve done bits ever since – just bits. I went to work at Shardlow, as I say, farm labouring and I did a bit of walling there, while I were there and that, but, it’s interesting job, it’s real nice. They reckon it’s hard work, but it isna hard at all really, it’s like taking cherries off a baby – it is! (laughs)…. There’s an art in it I suppose. You’ve got to get it, you know, you’ve sort of make it as it binds full width across your wall, otherwise it will just split and tumble down, you can’t just build two sides up, you’ve got to keep middle right….

So you start in the middle really…..have insulation in the middle?

Ay you’ve got to – same as brick – it’s just the same as brick laying really. But I do it drystone I do, I never use no cement or anything like that.

And where do you get – you know, the stone? How much preparation do you have to do?

Well, all I do is repair walls, you see, so the stones are already there. But the only thing is that years ago when they built them, they built them with mortar, the old mortar. Well the mortar, after years, it gets wet and then frost gets in and it fuses it so wall tumbles to pieces, because they used to ‘bonus bond’ you see, as they call it.

Bonus bond?

Ay, instead of putting the stones flat, they put them on the edge so it covered a lot more wall, you know, but the mortar used to hold it in you see, hold it in place. Well now I lay them flat you see, and so they bind right the way across the wall and that. But you run out of stone a little bit. I never quite have enough but we have got a bit of a place where we can get a bit of stone from so….

So your job was not to actually - your aim is not to actually cut the stone, you’re just shaping, going with the bits you’ve got are you?
That’s right, ah. Trouble is with this stone as I’m working with, it’s limestone, and limestone takes a bit more playing with, cos if you hit it with a hammer, it sometimes shatters. It’s like a pane of glass, you know, it just breaks into….

Is that normal? I thought they didn’t make it out of limestone?

35.02 min
Well, I mean, that’s where they got the stone from years ago you see, out of lime yards I suppose at Ticknall. That’s where the stone came from.
Yeh. Oh maybe it’s just that I’ve seen drystone walls in other parts of the country….

Ah, well you would, but I mean, they make it out of slate and all sorts…

Whatever’s around.
Yeh, but I mean sandstone’s the best stuff really, because you can cut that to what shape you want, but no….

So what are your tools for drystone walling?

Well, just hammer and chisel, that’s all. And wireless (laughs) stop you from going nuts! (Laughs) Oh dear! Made me laugh!

Very good, oh yes! So, you were talking about working. So your life was spent, was it, doing labouring and farmwork and so on?
That’s right, ah, all my life I’ve –well until I took a shop in Melbourne and then I went self-employed you see.

Oh really, what was that then?

Well, I started up, shall I tell you? Have you got time for this story? You can sort it out though?

We’ve got plenty of time…

You can sort it out eventually? If I tell you a story? Right, well, I went to work at Chamberlain’s at Shardlow you see and then I left Chamberlain’s, cos I couldna get on with them because they were farming out of the book and it wasn’t no good to me. I couldna go and calve a cow and get a winch and rip it out, you know, rip the calf out of its mother. I like to let nature take its course and be right with the job. Well, I couldna get on with him very well, but any road I did and I left there and went timber felling. I bought a caravan and I moved over to Netherseal and I went timber fellling, for a chap named Jack Wardle. And I stayed with him for about 18 month or perhaps 2 year and that, and he ran out of work a bit so I got a job then with me father in law, which I didna want at the time, but it just kept me away from there and that were working on council that was, doing a bit of tractor work on council. And then I moved me caravan from Netherseal, I moved it to Melbourne Common up here and there were a chap, Jack Smith, haulage people, they were carting sugar beet from the other side of Nottingham and they were storing it in a factory down Melbourne here, and he come across and asked me if I’d give him a hand you see at weekends, which I did, good job. Made me a lot of money really. And then he came one morning and he says, ‘You wouldna come and work for me regular would you Bill?’ and I says, Why’? he says, ‘Well’, he says, One of the blokes is leaving’, he says, ‘ and I want someone I can rely on’. I say, ‘Well, I think so’. So he offered me a price and I took the job, and I were there for, well, for about 12, 12 and a half year I reckon and, ooh ah, it were a good job lorry driving, carting coal and bricks and that sort of thing. And then I had a bit of an upper and a downer with the gaffer’s son and I had to leave before I gave him a good hiding, so Ihad to leave and I went and got a job – well I didna get a job – they asked me if I’d go and work for them at Nixon Knowles in Melbourne


Nixon and Knowles, they were timber people. I were lorry driving again, so I did another couple of three years lorry driving for them and then I took this – well I went and started on me own. I started landscape gardening a bit and that and this shop idea come up and a pub. So it were left either with a pub or the shop. I went to see them about the pub but anyway nothing happened about it. They’d set it to somebody else and so I took the shop in Melbourne Market place and I called in Melbourne Tackle and Gun, well Melbourne Sports for a start and then Melbourne Tackle and Gun, cos I used to sell fishing tackle and shooting stuff.

What year are we talking about now?

Oh dear, you’re asking me some question… Missus has been dead twenty years and it was, and I had it eight years prior to that when I first started….

We’re talking in the 70s?

Yeh. I’m not much of one for dates. I don’t like dates much. It runs your life away too fast ….and then I started up with a shop and my lad , when missus dies, my lad didna want nothing to do with shop, but I’d been working for a builder in Melbourne a b it and so I says, ‘Well, let’s start up building’, so we started up building and that’s what we did. We started off and in fact we went and did a job back for farmers I went to work for, big pointing up job, but, any road, my lad he went and had a session at tech and he passed out in first year he did… they couldna fault him… so he’s carried on building now and I’ve carried on building on me own stone walling. So we split up when I were 65.

So you’ve had a very kind of varied life…?

I’ve had one of the most fantastic lives anybody could ever have and it doesn’t matter who you talk to, they’ll all tell you the same. I’ve enjoyed me life and me mother always used to say, she says, ‘Our Bill, he spends money like water and he’ll never have nowt but he’ll always be happy’ and I’ve been one of the happiest blokes you’ll ever meet in your life.


It’s true ah.

What’s the secret of that success then?

Well, I don’t know really. I’ve never been a boozer. I’ve lived life to the full. I’ve had me girls and I’ve had me fun with them and oh ah… I’ve, as I say, fishing and shooting and swimming and skating and…

And this place, so you’ve lived here; the last 70 odd years you’ve lived in this place. You’ve seen enormous changes haven’t you, in this area?
I have seen a lot of changes. I mean, it’s changed a lot, the reservoir changed a lot, changed everything really. I mean it – same as - well, taking the road out of the middle of – from Calke to Melbourne, well that road went under the reservoir you see: and the lane as went from Ticknall to well, over the Calke Road, which we called Sir Henry’s Lane, Broadstone Lane up to Sir Henry’s Lane and Sir Henry’s Lane were called that, they reckon, because they reckon Sir Henry Harpur Crewe used to have a girlfriend or two up there, a gypsy girlfriend or two, or whatever, and that’s why it were called that. There were another little building up there, a barn, and they reckon there used to be a farm up there, which was called Horton’s Hill Farm – but I mean I never saw that. I can remember the old Red Barn, that was a … and that… and… I mean they put a new road in from the Staunton Road through over the end of the reservoir for taking the Calke traffic, you know, so, but it’s all altered that has. I mean, that’s the biggest change that you could think of really.

And I mean, you’ve also had an airport arrive haven’t you?

Ay, this one up here. Ay the airport arrived, yes. They used to race up here years ago on the race track, you see, that…

At Donnington?

Yeh. That packed up and re-opened again. Course, it used to be an airport before this like. I mean, they used to fly Wellington bombers and that from…

You mean during the war?

Ay. I think it must have been… it must have been during the war. I can’t remember – course they used to run them from Burnaston you see, where Toyota is. That used to be airport there.

Oh really?

Ah, Burnaston airport. Well this one up here, I mean, they used to train cadets I think. Cos one of them came down, not far – well it were on Gidlow’s farm it was, as is now. It came down, well, had to do a bit of a flap down. It took a hedge or two out! But nobody got hurt..

The other change that’s happened in the last 10 years is this thing called the National Forest. What do you think of that?
Well I don’t know really what to make of it really. It looks awful doesn’t it really when it’s growing, I mean, it’s a terrific thing really to get things back but, I mean, as this land as they’re taking, it’s been productive at one time. I mean, this country really, it’s getting to that pitch now where it’s not productive, isn’t it?
45.03 min

Well they’re being paid to be non productive aren’t they?

That’s right, being paid for it. So where they’re getting the money from to pay ‘em out for this – and then apparently after 10 years they can claim it back, so I don’t know, I don’t know what to think about it really. I mean, for wildlife and that it’s a terrific thing isn’t it?

It will be won’t it when….
Yeh, yeh.
But this area round here has always been – I mean – I’ve been, you know, in doing these interviews I’ve been to places like Swadlincote and so on, where there’s obviously been there blighted by mining and everything else and there’s obviously a huge change in the landscape, but you’ve always – I mean obviously there’s a loss of things, like where your farm was, the reservoir, but essentially this area has always been a fairly green area hasn’t it, in the sense of, you know, with the farms and the market gardens….

Oh ay it has, there were about 30 market gardens in Melbourne at one time and there’s only about two left, all gone. So, I don’t know why, I suppose it’s because they’re buying stuff from abroad all the while now, it’s cheaper. Ay, it’s a bit of a shame really isn’t it, all this things as have happened? I mean, there used to be the California allotments as they called them on Calke Road, that’s all gone with the reservoir, that’s where the old lads used to go with their barrows and have the allotment and dig it and that, and then there was the old sand quarries used to be working. I can remember them getting sand out of there and then they opened this one up – the last sand quarry was opened up, that was just in , well in Melbourne really. No it was….so there’s, ooh crikey we could go on and on and on really if kept ramming things in me mind! (Laughs)

I was going to say, the other thing is, when you were growing up and you had the farm, you talked about the VJ Day celebration I think, were there special… now that was a one-off obviously, historic kind of thing, but were there other times of the year, were there special events at any time of the year? I mean, harvest for example, was anything done specially at harvest time?
Well, not really, only at church, Harvest Festival at church, but no, no.

Bonfire Night?

Well, I mean we used to have a bonfire occasionally, ah,

But only your own?

Ah but we had nothing special…. Oh ah. Bonfire Night, good Lord, you’re learning me some stuff now, aren’t you. I tell you, you’re learning me now, not me learning you.

But I just wondered whether there were any other special kind of times when the community came together.
Coronation at Calke Abbey, I suppose, that were one.

Really? When, 53?

Ah, well I reckon it must have been Coronation it couldn’t have been any other… They had a big do up there: they had games out in field and all that sort of thing.

I mean, the Harpur Crewes had a reputation for being very kind of eccentric people. Did you see any of that at all as you were growing up?

Not really, no they were all nice blokes up there really. I got on with them all. I used to go up there when Home Guards were there. I used to go up there cos soldiers were there at one time you see and that, and the Home Guards used to meet up there once a week and I used to go up with them and… oh ay it used to be quite a… quite a time. But if you go back to when we was playing about with these evacuees you know, we used to have air rifles we did and shoot at them you know. Well, it wasn’t a powerful, it couldn’t really hurt nothing. But there were a bloke up at Calke Dairies, chap named Tom Williams, he used to make these little wooden guns you know, and they used to be shouting ‘bang’ at us and all this sort of thing, and one day they used – well they used to put these here tanks and one thing and another, carts and all that in the fields, you know, stop aeroplanes landing, during war. And there was one of these here tanks what they used to take the effluents from farms in, you know, tanks, - I couldn’t have been very big cos I got in it. I got in this tank and they come with little wooden guns didn’t they, and thrashed this tank while…. It was worse than being shot at by an air rifle! ( Laughs) So there were all them sort of things, oh ay, used to happen, oh dear. I canna think……

You mention the one about your dad saying about this bloke possibly hanging himself and everything else, but were there any other kind of ghost story type things, an y other special… or legends or anything that, as a kid you grew up with?
50.04 min
Not really. No. No, not really I canna really think of any.
The other thing I was going to say is, local dialect…..
Well, my dialect’s, mine’s worst. Mine’s the worst one because, well I don’t know because. Me brother, he isn’t as broad spoken as me and Mrs Molesey, when she used to come down, used to love to have a talk to me cos I were broad spoken you know. And I used to swear, ooh dear, ah.

You didn’t swear in front of ladies?

I did - swear in front of anybody, I never bothered about nothing, nobody! I never altered! Oh dear. I’ve been to doctor’s this morning and the bloke in there says, ‘My God, you’ll never bloody alter, you won’t Bill’ he says. I says ‘I know that. I ain’t a gonna to either’ So, yes, so that’s why I’m happy. I’ve always done the same.

But to be honest, I’ve interviewed other people over the last few weeks and your accent is not as broad as some of the people I’ve spoken to.
No? No

You’ve obviously poshed up a bit!

Well, probably so, cos you’re here

Well, maybe

Ah could be, could quite well be

But were there… were there special words for things, you know, that you – I mean you talk about ‘stooks’ in fields, well that’s fairly common but…?
Well, I’ll just tell you. Years ago they used to go to Bass’s and fetch grains, grains , and when they… well they used to call it grains – and when they used to go down to, you know, they used to fetch ‘greens’ from Bass’s , they used to call it ‘greens’


It was actually barley grain was it?

Ah. ‘Grains’ it should have been. So they used to fetch ‘greens’ from Bass’s, and they used to fetch ‘grainstuff’ from the market gardeners, instead of ‘greenstuff’, ‘greenstuff’, they used to call it ‘grainstuff’, ah, so ‘I’ve come for me grainstuff’! And if you went to Bass’s you’d go for your greens. (Laughs)

I was at the Museum today, talking to someone and I was just wondering about that because they were saying about the, you know, the stuff that was left over from things was actually used by farmers…
That’s right
… and you used to use it on your farm?
Ah yes, sour grains – ‘greens’, oh ah. Used to that and hops used to use as muck


Ooh ah

And used to go and collect it from…?

From Bass’s . Well, used to send a lorry, like, Childs’ (?) or somebody like that used to come and fetch it and… When I was lorry driving I was carting wet hops, that’s spent hops, I was carting them to Wales, as far as you could get on that north peninsula, a little place called Bodelwyddan. And I used to take these hops from Bass’s right there, and they used to put them in the trench – they used to dig a trench and put these in a trench and they used to set the fir trees or seeds or whatever they used to grow, or whatever, in these trenches amongst these hops.

I mean, did the fashion for using those locally go when people were using more kind of, you know, conventional fertilisers and buying in the fertilisers ready made, rather than actually using the hops? I mean, as you were growing up as a kid was your dad using the stuff from the breweries?
Oh ah, yes, ah, grains, ah. But hops, they used to use hops in cattle food. Used to take hops to a place called Ramenco (?) in Burton and they used to put molasses with it and all that, and that used to go out as stock feed. Oh ah, there wasn’t much wasted from Bass’s.
No, that’s what I was seeing today. I was quite amazed – and then there’s the Marmite and whatever…

Oh ah. There was some bloody work in Bas’s I’ll tell you, cos I used to do sometimes three loads of grains out of there, two and a half ton on a load and you used to chuck that through a little doorway at a farm. You’d go to a farm and chuck it through this little square doorway, with a fork or a shovel.

You did?

Yes. I used to do three of them a day. And then I’d go back to Bass’s and then go to the General Hospital and load a lot of ashes up out of the ash pit, waste ashes from the fires. Oh, ah, so I don’t know how I got away with that. I bloody worked hard I did over the years.

And that was for 12 years you did that?

Ah, that’s right, ah.


I were fit. I still am fit the top end of me body, it’s me blooming knees…. I don’t know. How many minutes you got left?

I’ll just see. We’ve got about three or four minutes to go.
Is that all?

I know. An hour…

I want to talk to you more. I want you to ask more questions! Can you come again! (Laughter) Go on, come again! I want you to come again! No I know I like you and I can start and really bloody reminisce and tell you….

What are you going to tall me on the next time that you haven’t told me now?

Oh dear, I’ve got to think about this! …. I dare not tell you a lot of stories because if I tell you a lot of stories you’d probably be cut off the air. They wouldn’t allow it! (Laughter)

I want to come back, because the other thing was, you mentioned him in passing and he sounded quite a character, was this man who was the gamekeeper
Ah, Ag Pegg

Ag Pegg?

Ah, Augustus Pegg.. and he was… mind you I hadn’t ought to tell you about these things cos it’s nowt to do with me, but he was supposed to be some relation to Sir Vauncey Harpur Crewe, so whether he was or not I mean, I don’t know, you dunna ought to put that down.

No, we can write that in afterwards: we won’t use it.
No, dunna use that because I might be wrong, I don’t want to get in trouble.

But how old was he when you were a kid then?

Crikey, he looked an old bloke when I were a kid. He was… how old was he?…well, I don’t know, when I were a kid, probably about 50 perhaps, 45, but, I mean, he’s been dead, ooh, some years now. But I used to go up and see him, even, you know, his latter years.

Did he stay on there till he died did he, or not?

He did, ah, he stayed there till he died, ah. He were a funny old bloke really. He gave me some pigeons and he gave me some banties, not long before he died and just before he died I lost the cockerel to the banties and then one of the pullets died. The pigeons got out and then I heard that old Ag had died. And I reckon he’d come and fetched them….. Ay you can go and put kettle on Rich, good lad… and, ah, I reckon he’d fetched ‘em you know. I ain’t a big believer I’m not, I havna got a big…. I’ve got no faith in church much, although I’m not atheist.

But you were organ pumping..
I know, that’s right but I’m not an atheist but I mean I havna got a big belief but several things have happened to me as has made me wonder because when my missus died I went to sell her ring and - cos I thought I’d have a necklace instead of the ring like, you know, engagement ring, cos it were valued a bit high, but any road they didn’t offer me enough money for it and when, on the following week, I went to see my mate and I got out me van and I walked round the front of the van, I picked a ring wallet up , it’s upstairs, a little ring wallet, and it was from Joseph Goldings of Derby and that’s where the ring come from. It’s true this is what I’m telling you. And several things like this has happened to me. So, I just don’t know, whether I’m going to be the next one, I don’t know whether I’m going to be the next king. Could be. You never know.

No, you never know

We’ll find out in another 40 years, when I die – cos I’m going to live for ever I am! (Laughs)


….It’s dead right I tell you.

Thank you very much indeed, that’s brilliant.

I wish I could tell you more, but I don’t know where to go really, not now with this sort of … The thing is, when I’ve got me book sorted out and that and I pass you the book and you can have a good browse in that you might be able to write yourself another story.


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