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Children on the dairy farm

Wednesday 29 August, 2018, by Karen Griffiths

Among all the photographs that we have been collecting for the project, there are many showing children both at work and at play on the dairy farm in the past.

As we saw in our last blog Dairy Maids in the census record, girls in their early teens were working as dairymaids on farms in Wensleydale during the late nineteenth century either as paid servants or helping their older female relatives. Boys would have been similarly employed as farm labourers or helping their fathers.

Image shows an old photo of a boy wearing a back can and milk pail, joined by his dog.
Boy with back can and milk pail. Unknown date. Collection of Dales Countryside Museum.

Most of the earliest photographs we have, show boys helping adults in the fields hand-milking cows or carrying milk back to the farmhouse.

Image shows an old photo of farmers milking cows in fields near West Witton.
Milking cows in the fields near West Witton. Early 20th century. Courtesy of Liz Kirby
Image shows an old photo of a young Matt Hesletine leading donkey with backcans.
Matt Hesletine leading donkey with backcans, Hogra Farm, Redmire. 1930s. Collection of Ann Holubecki

The younger children would have been going to school by the time these photos were taken and they would have had to fit their farm chores in around it. There were early starts and gloomy evenings spent foddering and watering cattle in the winter and feeding calves and pigs and helping father with the milking outside in the summer. Farmer’s daughters helped in the dairy and fed hens, collected eggs and also helped feed the calves and pigs. They may also have gone out round field barns in the winter letting cows out to water and giving them hay.

By the time we get to the 1960s, things have changed. Some photographs are clearly posed as if the children are ‘helping’ with farm chores. Sometimes they are visiting a grandparent’s farm as with Janina Holubecki’s charming photo of her ‘lifting’ milk cans.

Image shows an old photo of a little girl holding two buckets in a field
A young Sally Stone (nee Dobbing) carrying milk pails at Nell Bank Farm, Walden, 1958. Courtesy of Sally Stone
Image shows an old photo of a little girl holding onto two milk churns on a cart
Posing with milk churns, Yorescott Farm, Askrigg, 1960s. Courtesy of Janina Holubecki

There’s no doubt that children were also (and still are) playing their part in helping out round the farm. Herding cows down to be milked being a common task for the younger members of the family.

Image shows a photo of moving around cows to herd them down hill towards the barn to be milked
The Allen family children herding their cows down to be milked. Scaur Head Farm, Sleddale, 1980s. Courtesy of Debbie Allen

Northern Dairy Shorthorns and the first Friesians were docile because they were well-handled and many photographs show children cuddling or playing with them.

Image shows an old photo of a girl sitting on a calf that is laying down
Playing with calf called Roundy. Nell Bank Farm, Walden, 1958. Courtesy of Sally Stone
Image shows a photo of a little girl in a pink cardigan walking towards three calves in a field
With calves at Yorescott. Askrigg 1970s. Courtesy of Janina Holubecki

Sometimes children were plonked on top of cows as in these two photographs, taken 30 years apart. They were sent by Janina Holubecki who wrote that the earlier one shows her Aunt Josephine Hopper,

“…she looks about 4-5 and she was born in 1934 so that makes it around 1938-9.”

Image shows an old photo of a girl riding a fully grown cow in a field
Josephine Hopper riding a northern dairy shorthorn cow.  Yorescott farm, Askrigg c1938-9. Collection of Ann Holubecki

“The colour one is dated August 1973. L to R my sister Marysia Holubecki (on Cilla the Ayrshire cow [sic]) and 2 of our cousins Jane Lambert and Elizabeth Lambert. It was taken at Raygill Farm near Hawes. The cow belonged to my uncle, Bill Lambert – Elizabeth and Jane’s dad.

This is what Liz remembers of the incident:
“I believe it was taken seconds before a low flying jet caused Cilla to bolt – with Marysia shouting ‘shall I hang on or jump off?’ I don’t think she had a choice, but she bounced well!”

Image shows an old photo of three sisters posing with a brown and white cow, two by the head of the cow, one on its back
Hopper family children with Cilla the cow. Raygill Farm, Hawes 1973. Collection of Ann Holubecki

Cilla was a much loved pet as well as being a good milker. She was apparently not an Ayrshire as Janina first thought, but a dairy shorthorn and Friesian cross.

We expect to hear lots of childhood memories of work and play on the farms of Wensleydale as our team of oral history recorders starts the process of visiting and interviewing people around the dale. Get in contact if you have stories of dairying in Wensleydale that you’d like to share.

Picture of Karen Griffiths

Karen Griffiths

Interpretation Officer for the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority


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