The Magazine of Lenton Local History Society

Derby Road - Lenton

The Farmer's Tale | Out With The Boys

From 'The Lenton Listener' Issue 34

May - June 1985

The Farmer's Tale

Lenton Firs Farm - painting by A.E. Schofield provided by Bill Barsby.

Local artist, A.E. Schofield, spent a number of Sundays in 1947 not far from his home in Dunkirk painting the scene which forms the illustration shown left. Many readers may be a little puzzled as to where in Lenton he set up his easel. By all accounts his was an accurate representation of what he could see, except in two respects: he substituted the stooks of corn for the field of mangle worzels which were actually growing there and he omitted the buildings which should have been visible in the background behind the farm.

With this second change, he deprived us of a definite clue - for although the farm disappeared thirty years ago, the missing buildings are still with us. Were we to draw them in, you would see the creeper-covered walls of Hugh Stewart Hall on the University campus. The farm's exact location becomes clear from a quick perusal of the map below. We should explain that Hugh Stewart is there referred to by its previous title of Lenton Hall and the farm is called Lenton Firs Farm. It is the farm itself which is the subject of this article together with the Barsbys, Bill and Gladys who, with their sons Brian and David, ran the farm for the last fifteen years of its existence.

Before the Barsbys' arrival, the farm had been run by a Mr. Blatherwick for Sir Thomas Shipstone, who lived in the large house, near Derby Road, which was also known as Lenton Firs. In Thomas Shipstone's time the farm had become something of an ornamental accessory to his property. Apart from pigs, the major livestock kept at the farm were Highland cattle. Young bullocks were brought in each spring to graze the fields around the farm and then sold off for slaughter as winter approached (*).

In 1940 Sir Thomas decided to change the basis on which the farm was to be run and sought a suitable tenant farmer. An advert, placed by his agents Turner, Fletcher and Essex, in the local papers, was seen by Bill Barsby then working in the Vale of Belvoir as a farm foreman. He applied for the tenancy and was subsequently interviewed by the agents. Most of the questions caused Bill little trouble, but when Mr. Fletcher asked if he drank, Bill was in a bit of a quandary. A teetotaller, he wondered whether it might be better to tell a little white lie, given the source of the Shipstone wealth. But the truth prevailed and Mr. Fletcher expressed his satisfaction, stating that the Shipstones wouldn't want their peace and quiet disturbed by the tenant's carousing, after a Saturday night's drinking.

Three 'Blue Boys' posing for their photograph in the company of 'Lottie',
one of the Barsbys' pigs. Photograph provided by Bill Barsby.

Bill was offered the tenancy and in April 1940 moved his family to Lenton. The previous occupants, the Blatherwicks, moved out to a small house on the farm estate. As the Barsbys moved in, Mrs. Blatherwick's parting words were to avoid sleeping in one of the bedrooms as it was haunted. They weren't too worried by the thought of ghosts and ignored the advice. In the years to come the Barsbys didn't exactly rue this decision, but certainly came to appreciate what it was that had so disturbed the Blatherwicks. During the night what sounded like footsteps walking across the ceiling could often be heard. The family named their 'ghost' George but, despite a measure of disbelief in spectral beings, they could never find a satisfactory explanation for these noises. The loft space was thoroughly examined for signs of rats or owls or even footprints, but nothing was ever found.

As the mathematical mnemonic of schooldays has it 'Some old houses creak and howl through old age' and certainly Lenton Firs Farm was old, quite how old is impossible to say, but the design of the barn, its doors and the thrall boards all suggested to the Barsbys that it was very ancient. Visitors to the farm might well have felt that they were stepping into the past, if only because the farm was still without electricity. The Barsbys were able to remedy this in the late 1940s. At the time of their eventual connection, the Electricity Board expressed disbelief that there was still a property within the City boundary without mains electricity.

With the Barsbys arrival the major change at Lenton Firs was a move to dairy farming. Bill started with six cows from Melton market and then gradually built up both the numbers and the quality of the herd. By a judicious breeding policy and the occasional purchase, he developed a pedigree herd of Friesians known as 'Lenfirs'. Meanwhile Bill still retained Lenton Firs' involvement with pigs. Some of the past residents of Hugh Stewart will no doubt remember them as the field in which the pigs were kept backed on to the Hall. The pigs were fed on the processed waste bought from the Corporation as well as the waste food from the Hugh Stewart kitchens, but no doubt also received 'handouts' from the students. Some graduates might also recall having been occasionally woken by the early morning call of nearby cockerels, for the Barsbys kept a batch of hens in deep litter, as well as free ranging ducks and geese. For a short time Bill supplied the Shipstone household with milk and eggs. But in October 1940, following a stroke, Sir Thomas died at the age of 89. The house was then bought for use as a military hospital and the Barsbys became the tenants of Nottingham's University College, when it acquired the farm estate.

A closer view of the farm buildings also painted by A.E. Schofield, but completed
in 1946. Picture provided by Bill Barsby.

The colour of the uniforms worn by patients at Lenton Firs Hospital gave them the name of the 'Blue-boys'. It was a pleasant walk for some of them as they recuperated to stroll down to the farm and pass the time of day with the Barsbys. This might also provide a useful alibi should they then carry on to 'The Travellers Rest' on Commercial Street, which was deemed out of bounds by the matron of the hospital. The Barsbys also had active servicemen based nearby. A small army camp was situated near Derby Road and a contingent of soldiers was detailed to man a Bofors gun sited there to help protect the Raleigh factory, which had been turned over to munitions manufacture, as well as the Gun Factory in the Meadows. Neither Bill nor Gladys can recall the gun being fired in anger, but can't say the same for the big naval gun, positioned to the west of the farm, which frequently shook the buildings and showered them with shrapnel debris. From their position high on the hill, the Barsby family could look out at night and assess the effect of the blackout on this side of Nottingham; the only lights usually visible were those at Beeston railway sidings. As these were only turned off if enemy planes were suspected of being in the vicinity, the Barsbys had their own private early warning system. A further hint of what might be in store came if the canisters placed every few yards on Clifton Boulevard were lit. The black clouds, which billowed out from these, were to provide a smoke screen over the west of the City and confuse enemy aircraft.

After the war, the Barsbys were able to have the assistance of young farm apprentices as well as the help of a Mr. Boucher who had retired but came and worked with the pigs. For most of the war years, however, Bill and Gladys had to manage by themselves; labour was in short supply. Their two boys, although young, helped in every way they could. Rest days were unheard of and it was a solid sixteen hours of work most days. In the latter stages of the war Maurice Preston, a young man studying for the Church and a conscientious objector, was assigned to live with the Barsbys. He helped them carry out the twice daily milking, feed the various livestock, with mucking out etc., and assisting with the general maintenance of the farm. About four out of the farm's forty acres were used to grow kale and mangle worzels for winter feed and these had to be ploughed, harrowed, sown and eventually harvested. The Barsbys hadn't got a tractor. Instead they kept two 'half legged' horses which helped with these tasks. The horses were also vital to haymaking. During the war, Bill used to mow all the grasslands of the campus in order to build up his haystacks.

Bill Barsby with 'Aslockton' Jeremy, one of his prize winning bulls.

The Barsbys survived the war unscathed, but an unfortunate fatality occurred with the onset of peace. A series of protective trenches had been dug near the Derby Road encampment for the soldiers to enter in the event of enemy bombing. These defences were now being taken down. Prince, one of the Barsbys' two horses, wandered across, slipped into one of the trenches and was tragically skewered on one of the metal fence posts. By the time Bill Barsby could get there, there was nothing for it but to put the horse out of its misery. A moment Bill remembers with sadness to this day.

In 1946 the Barsbys achieved the distinction of being the first farm in the County whose herd had been tested and declared free of tuberculosis. The other firsts that Bill achieved were away from the farm at local agricultural shows. He was an enthusiastic competitor and took great pains to prepare his heifer, bull or pig for the great day. Most of the work would take place the previous evening. The chosen animal would receive the works, a thorough washing complete with shampoo, a trim and a careful brushing and maybe a pedicure. Then on the day of the show, before it was time for milking, the exhibit would be given its final once over. At the appointed hour, it was into the hired truck and off to the show. Usually it was a local event such as Moorgreen, Southwell or even Wollaton Park, but occasionally it might be as far afield as York. In fact in 1947 Aslockton Jeremy, one of Bill's young bulls, won first prize in his class at York and was also declared reserve male champion of the whole show.

Bill had been keen to try and diversify a little and so bought a few sheep, but they didn't prove a success. The fencing around the farm wasn't good enough to keep the sheep in or the dogs out. So Lenton Firs saw sheep for only a very short time. The local dogs could be quite a problem if they strayed on to the farm. On one occasion a dog got in among the chickens, proceeded to lay about them and in next to no time had killed some eighty-six birds. In this instance the dog's owner was located and compensation obtained. Dogs apart, the Barsbys got relatively few 'trespassers' wandering across their property, which must have been quite gratifying, given their close proximity to a large urban population.

After the war the University weren't so keen to let their grass grow tall enough for hay making and so, apart from seeking pastures anew up on Chalfont Drive in Aspley, Bill would mow more regularly and collect up the grass cuttings for his newly erected silage clamp. It appears the cows used to relish this 'stewed' grass and were delighted to see this change in practice. In 1951 they experienced another change when Bill introduced milking machines. Until then all the cows had been milked by hand and a long and laborious business it was. The machinery relieved Bill of much of the backbreaking drudgery and also permitted him to further expand the herd, so that by the mid-fifties he had about fifty head of cattle.

The view from Lenton Firs Farm. If the photographer were to take up the same position today, his
snapshot would show in the middle distance the Science buildings and beyond them part of the
QMC complex. The poplars mark the position of Clifton Boulevard.
Photograph provided by Bill Barsby.

When the Lenton Firs estate had come on to the 'market in the early forties, the University must have jumped at it, for it obviously made sense to purchase land adjacent to the existing campus and so guarantee room for any future expansion. The Barsbys were aware that this was the University's intention, but the war and the problems of the immediate post-war period delayed any expected expansion. Instead the main expansion only began in the fifties and by the mid-fifties the Barsbys knew that their days at Lenton Firs were numbered. The University told them of its plans and began to try and find alternative farm premises for the Barsbys. This took a little time but by 1955 the Barsbys had settled on Hotchley Farm in East Leake. Bill and Gladys spent several months preparing for the move; the new farm needed quite a lot of attention before it was ready. Most readers have probably experienced the problems involved in moving house, but it would appear these are naught compared with those of moving farms. On the day of the move, at some unearthly hour, Bill milked the cows. As soon as the milking was out of the way, the equipment in the milking parlour was dismantled, transported to East Leake and then reassembled in time for the evening's milking when the cows arrived at the new farm. It took some 59 trailer loads to transport the Barsbys and 'all their worldly goods' the twelve miles to Hotchley Farm.

Bill and Gladys carried on farming at East Leake until 1977 when they handed over to their son David and retired from the day-to-day running of the farm.

(*) A photograph of these cattle and the farm is included in The Velvet Years, the autobiography of Thomas Shipstone's daughter, Mrs A.E. Snell, privately published in 1969.

From 'The Lenton Listener' Issue 34

May - June 1985

Out With The Boys

It was John Whitworth who initially told us about Bill and Gladys Barsby of Lenton Firs Farm. He had known their son, David, from schooldays. We thought it might be of interest to set John's recollections of the farm alongside our article on the Barsbys.

A whole gang of boys became firm friends when we all attended Dunkirk School. Included in our number were Peter Pritchett, Keith Sadler, Roland Linthwaite, David Howes, Richard Brown, Michael Blagg, Robert Wormsley, 'Nipper' Booth, John Shepherd, David Barsby and myself. We were always popping round to see each other, but best of all was to wander up to Lenton Firs farm and call on David. Provided we didn't prove a nuisance, Mr. and Mrs. Barsby were happy to let us play around the farm - and what a playground it made! With all the outbuildings and sheds it was perfect for hide and seek. It became more of an assault course when we chose 'dobbie'. In fact I broke my arm jumping off a shed in an attempt to evade my pursuer. You could swing to your heart's content from the rope tied to the old beech tree and, apart from this and other trees, there was always 'Red Rock' (*) to scale, with the added interest of an owl roost there. We never found any eggs but there were always owl pellets to examine. Adjoining the farm buildings was a duck pond. Made of concrete and supplied with water from the mains, in the height of summer this might well be filled. Then we would happily wade around in it splashing all and sundry. Most of the time it lay empty, but this didn't matter as its concave surface provided just the right challenge for our tracker bikes. We also took to the waters of the gold fishpond up by the rock garden of Lenton Firs House. On one particular occasion we were all stretched out around the pond when a huge stag rushed past us. Once we regained our wits, everyone grabbed sticks intent on hunting down the animal or at least directing it back to Wollaton Park. Our efforts were unsuccessful and sadly the rogue deer was eventually shot by park rangers.

Bill Barsby brings home the hay with the help of Punch and Pattie.

There was usually something of interest happening on the farm, should we chance to get bored. We could always help bring in the cows and watch Mr. Barsby milk them. We weren't allowed to help in the milking parlour, but Mr. Boucher, the pig man, was quite willing to let us assist him prepare the pigs' swill. Then there were always eggs to seek out, hidden among the long grass and nettles. Come haymaking we were often to be round out in the fields helping to get in the hay and taking the opportunity when it arose to have a ride on one of the horses. When silage making got underway we might be round around the clamp eager to help. After a layer of grass cuttings had been put in, we got to pour on the molasses solution, which aided the fermentation process. However careful you were, and we weren't, you always went home covered in this sticky treacle. If there wasn't anything to help with, we could always light a fire in one of our self-made dens and brew up, go scrumping on the University campus, or wander in the copses taking pot shots at the wood pigeons with our catapults.

Inevitably I look back with rose tinted glasses, forgetting all the bad or not so good times, but on the whole I think we were far more fortunate than present day children. Even if we hadn't had the farm as our playground, Dunkirk had much more to offer in the way of diversion and adventure than it has these days (and with the appearance of the Science Park another local play area has gone for ever). No doubt we will always have the University Park, but its neatly manicured lawns and flowerbeds aren't really the place for childhood adventure. I don't think so anyway.

(*) This is the rock face now situated at the rear of the Physics and Mathematics building on the University campus.

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