Sunday, 27 November 2011

Tom Abbotts, Best loved Village character born 1887

Tommy Abbotts

All the years I knew him, he always had some wit,
Smoked a pipe and chewed tabaca, and showed us how to spit,
He had a bike sit-up-and beg, handle bars reached his chest,
On Friday went to town on it, his hat he wore his best.

These are characters of the village nearly all of whom worked about the farms, few if any traveled out to other parts for work. This is what I remember of Tommy Abbotts in the 1940's when I was a lad growing up.

An old man, when I was a kid growing up, I can picture him now.

Tom Abbotts

Tom was born in 1887 and his sister Nellie in1893. A as far as I know, they had lived in Seighford a long time, possibly all there lives. They lived in the back half of the large house, on the left on the way up to the airfield. The house had two fields that adjoined his garden and buildings except for the little cottage that stands back off the road not a couple of yards from Tom's house.

He was an old man, when I was a boy in the late nineteen forties, and worked round the different farms in the village; He kept two house cows to provide milk butter and cheese, and reared half a dozen calves. These he then grazed on one of his fields, The other field he kept shut up in the spring for hay. These fields ran up to Bunns Bank and along to the next bend on the road onto the airfield the down almost to The Beeches Farm rickyard. In total he must have had about ten acres, together with the small range of buildings that are along side of the road, the ones with the G P O letter box.

‘Owd Tummy' as he was often called locally, was about five foot nine. He would stand with his right thumb in his waistcoat pocket, his left hand giving his pipe undivided attention. His feet would be at ten to two, and his weight evenly on both feet with his knees just forward of being locked (as you would stand in an earthquake). He had a slight hump on his shoulders, and would carry his head be in the forward position as though ready for milking? This was his regular stance when looking at the cattle or when in deep thought, and when talking to neighbours.

His face was always the same, a nose slightly narrow and pointed, and no extravagant expressions, almost what we call pan faced, But he only smiled with his eyes, I expect the pipe balked a big grin (?). His dark wide open eyes always seemed to sparkle, maybe because they often seemed to be wet, a good laugh and out with his hanky out of his pocket to dab them. Round his neck he nearly always had sweat band, to call it a ‘'neckerchief would be too posh and a cravat posher still. I've no doubt it was a habit from in the days when he used to break into a sweat. But these days he was a man who could pace himself and work at his own speed.

Quite a slim man in his time, but in the years, I knew him his trouser waist band had been modified by his sister Nellie, to cope with his expanding midriff, So discrete was this adjustment, that you could only see it when he bent over forward with the wind behind him, to blow his jacket up. She had cut the middle seam down the back of his trousers from the waist band about four inches, then the bracers buttons were put on the point of the opening, the fork of the bracers holding everything together comfortably.
 His trousers were of a coarse tweed, and charcoal in colour with matching waste coat and jacket, clean but well worn, and modified as the years went on. The jacket had leather patches on the elbows, and a strip sown on round the cuffs.
The waistcoat was not outwardly modified but had stretched to the figure it contained, if anything had been done, it was ten or so buttons may have been brought up to edge of the material. A watch and chain stretched across the waistcoat into one pocket, the matches in the other, and tobacco pouch in his inside jacket pocket.

 On the few occasions that his pipe was not in use it was stuffed in the top pocket of his jacket. More often than not it was in his teeth with his left arm hanging off it, with his first finger hanging over the bowl always ready to pack the tobacco if it went out.

He always had the same tobacco. It was twist (to me it looked like a stick of liquorish) which he cut a chunk off and rubbed in the palm of his hand before replenishing the pipe. The times when he was working with both hands, he would cut a chunk of baccy with his pocket knife, pop it in his mouth and chew it. Every now and then he would have to eject some tobacco juice, with a long ‘per-sqwit' which if it had been aimed to go somewhere. it always got there in a long unbroken stream..

He always wore boots, not a heavy type, but lighter sorts that would be polished from time to time. They had about ten lace holes and went well up above his ankles, almost to the calf of his leg. On working in the fields when there was mud about, he would wear some older boots and leather leggings.

To get about to fetch supplies and go to other farms, his only form of transport was his old bike, an old sit-up and beg type with rod brakes, twenty eight inch wheels. The handle bars were almost up to his chest when standing by it, and the seat as low as possible. It had a full chain case, and a carrier with a spring clip that would hold his mac in case of rain, and around the hub of each wheel, inside of the spokes, was a loose small leather strap ( like a small dog collar) to keep the hub bright and clean.

Each Friday he would go down to Stafford for his shopping, which was carried home in a carpet bag slung on his handle bars so deep was this bag that it hung right down to the middle of his front wheel. It certainly looked like a piece of carpet folded into two and stitched each side and with two cord handles which hung on the handle bars. It was flat and hung flat. Even when full it still hung flat. The only reason for going was to pick up a joint of beef from the butchers, and have a look in at the Sun Smithfield cattle market.

From the back door of the house you turned right , then left round the pear tree and another ten yards, you would be in the loo. A wooden seat with a bucket type, that had to be regularly attended to. (Emptied). A deep hole would be dug in the garden, (it resembled a bear trap only with no twig on top, would hate to have fell in there in the dark) and this would last about three months, filled over and then a new one dug.

Next to the loo was the pig sty, which most village houses had as standard, A single piglet was purchased when it was old enough to be weaned. Weaning took place when the sow was getting fed up with them, and the piglets would start chewing instead of sucking, and were eating in the trough with their mother.
They would be fed on all sorts of house hold scraps like potato peelings, outer cabbage leaves and stalks, and only topped up with pig meal purchase from the corn merchant. On reaching maturity, the butcher would call and kill the pig and the flitches of bacon and hams cured by salting , These would be hung in a cool room in the house with a muslin bag over to keep the flies off.

Most of what they ate was home grown in the neat but large garden. , Everything would be preserved for winter. Potatoes and carrots dug and hogged, beetroot boiled and pickled, runner beans picked, sliced and salted, and packed in stone jars, plums and pears picked and preserved in kilner jars. Eggs were preserved in glycerine to seal the shells, would keep up to four months; eggs were also hard boiled and pickled. The only thing they bought seemed to be salt, coal, beef and bread. They kept about twenty hens in a large run behind the pig sty , and it would be disaster if the hens got loose in the garden, these were kept for eggs and for eating.

All the cattle were reared from calves by Nellie, named and thoroughly spoiled; they could almost milk them in the middle of the field ((hand milked into a bucket). When it came to sell them, it was more traumatic than they let on, it was as if one of the family leaving home for good.

On a large proportion of the garden Tommy grew mangols (mangol wursels) .These were pulled and topped and taken into one of his sheds to protect them from the frost, to feed to the older cattle through the winter.
 Hay was the other main feed; this was cut in early July by one of the neighbours who he had worked for during the spring, quite often my father. The hay would be turned and tedded with great care for four days, and if the weather held good, father would bale it. This would be after 1958 when balers first came out before this date it would be carried and stacked loose.

Us lads, and the cow man and the Wagoner (now called the tractor driver) would all go round, cart it and stack it in his yard , Tom would do the supervising in the pose I described above Nellie brought the large enamel gallon jug of tea, with a handfull of cups and mugs. Everyone with cup in hand held steady for Nellie to pour out the welcome tea Philip the cowman had a sip, and as Nellie and Tom turned away round the stack Philip dashed his tea under the hedge. On her return Nellie topped his mug up again, Philip thanking her and complimenting her on the tea, but the same thing happened, it was dashed under the hedge again discretely.

My brothers and I saw all what went on, and when Nellie had collected up the cup and had gone back to the house, we enquired why no tea? Being an experienced cowman, he had observed that the only cow Tom had in milk at that time, had only calved the day before. That meant that the rich creamy tea had been made with beastings, this he could not stomach. Nellie being very thrifty, in her mind had made a good milky brew.

Beastings are produced by the cow for the first four days of lactating and they contain antibodies to protect the calf. They are extra rich to nourish a new born calf from birth. If beastings from the second milking are put in a large flat basin and put in the oven to slowly cook on low heat for an hour and a half, with a bit of nutmeg on top it comes out set like custard . Very nice hot or cold for pudding, and very popular with us kids (but not in tea)

Tom and Nellie were very private people, very few went into the house. It was like stepping back in time, even in the 1950`s. Then all of a sudden they bought a television and a long tall aerial was mounted on the tallest chimney.
As they got older they gave up the land and sold the cattle .The garden was getting too much for him, cultivating it less each year. Then in 1963 at the age of 70, Nellie died, Tom had relied on Nellie for the cooking and washing, and coped on his own remarkably well until he was finding it difficult to get about especially in the winter months.

The neighbours were alert to his situation, and someone called on him every day to do his bit of washing, get the coal in and chop the sticks for fire lighting etc. He had no immediate family as neither of them had ever been married. The only relatives lived a long way off. Then in 1977 Tom died at the age of 90.

He remained cheerful, and great fun to all who knew him. He had been like this all his life. He was a man who never raised his voice or lost his temper, a very shy man with strangers. A man of few words, and good listener. Although his face did not show it, he was a very jovial man who enjoyed a good joke, but seldom did he ever tell one.

His grave was dug and the coffin made by the village wheelwright and his brother, Jim and Bill Clark, as was Nellie's. Bill was grave digger and Jim made the coffins. Tom and Nellie's grave is near the top step of the back lane path of St 'Chad's church, among other old characters and residents of Seighford.

I have written two blogs about the village wheelwright some months ago, click -- ,

Owed Tom Abbotts

Owed Tom Abbotts lived in a cottage, with his sister Nell,
They kept three cows and calves, and a few old hens as well,
Cattle grazed across four acres, the rest was mown for hay,
In his garden he grew his mangols, fed in short winters day.

He helped his neighbours, when they're short handed,
With drilling hoeing weeding, with others he was banded,
At harvest time he stacked bays, till in the roof was bound,
Longest ladder then was cast, him get back to ground.

All the years I knew him, he always had some wit
Smoked a pipe and chewed tabaca, and showed us how to spit,
He had a bike sit-up-and beg, handle bars reached his chest,
On Friday went to town on it, his hat he wore his best.

His shopping bag hung on his bike, a long carpet bag it was,
All stitched up on either side, flat by front wheel because,
When it was loaded it was safe, hung by strong loops of cord,
Should it be carried in his hand, it almost dragged with the hoard.

As a young man stood up straight, he'd be all of five foot eight,
Old and stooped and round of back, shorter still as life dictate,
Feet a splayed for easy stance, and knees a slight of bend,
One thumb hooked in waist coat pocket, tuther to pipe distend.

He always had a cheery smile, his eyes were almost closed,
When he had a dam good laugh, tears ran down his pointed nose,
His face was brown and ruddy, from working in all weathers,
On his nose and chin could see, red veins mapped his features.

On his feet were black boots, well up above his ankle laced,
His trousers had a gusset, hold his expanding tummy braced,
It was a different colour , and could see when he bent over,
And buttons of his bracers , straining hard to cotton anchor.

Waistcoat matched his trousers, a suit some point decide,
Ten buttons some were missing, four pockets two each side,
One it held his pocket watch, secured to button hole with chain,
Another held his match box, England's Glory was it by name.

His jacket didn't quite match, been stitched around the collar,
Pockets drooped like open mouth, weighed down as if to cower,
In one was his bacca pouch, top pocket reserved for pipe,
Pipe was mostly in his mouth, not always did he light.

He carried a little pocket knife, his baccy Twist to cut,
When he rubbed it in his palm, into his pipe he put,
With cupped hand around his pipe, he lit it with a match,
Puff and suck till it was lit, mid curls of smoke detach.

Eventually it went out again , and back into top pocket,
Out with the Twist and cut a knob, chew into old tooth socket,
This is where he learned all us kids, to squit with baccy juice,
It went with long streak so far, to reach his poor old goose.

Tommy had a bowler hat , kept on peg inside of his back door,
As kids he let us try it on, and asked him what it was for,
It was used to go to town in, now for only funerals touted,
He kept it brushed and steamed, though it became out dated.

Now it was only flat caps, that he was nare without,
Into town he used his best, to walk around see whose about,
One was used to milk his cows, grease and cow muck plastered
And one used round house and village, not so much it mattered.

Tommy's ears were large and thin, for a man so short,
Ragged round the top edge, frost bite they must have caught,
They tucked back nice and even, his cap they're there to hold,
His head he kept it nice and warm, ears out in the cold.

His garden always nicely dug, and cow muck spread a plenty,
Grew his household veg and spuds, and runner beans a bounty,
The biggest plot was that of mangols, for his pampered cows,
The three of them all bedded up, roots chopped for them to brows.

We called round my dad and me, and Nelly made us a cup of tea,
One of Tom's cows had calved, the others had dried off you see,
Milk she poured all rich and yellow, beastings from his old cow,
She had to stir most vigorously, tea too rich to drink right now.

In winter time when he was younger, Tom he carted coal,
Picked it up from Bridgeford Station, Seighford was his goal,
Brought it over Bridgeford bank , with donkey and a cart,
This it filled the time o'er winter, before drilling corn did start.

So it was that he got too old, to work about the farms,
Even gave up his cows and garden, that he loved and charmed,
Then he lost his sister Nell, and lived a few more years alone,
He himself succumbed to life, both still in Seighford neath headstone.


I Remember Singling Sugar Beet

I remember singling sugar beet, on Barn Field it was long,
Ten of us following close, and talking in a throng,
Owd Tommy he was slow, and he got left behind,
Ground was dry and dusty, not enough to blind.

Now George he's in his thirties, his bladder wouldn't hold,
Got to have a pee now, halfway down the row behold,
He pee'd on top of Tommy's row, and then he carried on,
Till Tommy came across a damp spot, in his row deadon.

Further down we all watched, as he stuck his finger in,
To see what had wet the earth, held muddy finger by his chin,
We all rolled with laughter, till we told him what was on his paws,
Poor owd Tummy takes a joke, short straw he always draws.


Young men, hear an old man to whom old men harkened when he was young.
Ceasar Augustus (63 BC -14 AD)

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