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Oral History Recording: William Lambert

Tuesday 7 January, 2020, by Karen Griffiths

This is the last of the oral history recordings that we have collected for the Dairy Days Project. William Lambert’s family have been involved in dairying in Wensleydale for hundreds of years so we were delighted that Colin Luckett managed to organise this recording with him on his farm.

William has some interesting ancestors as far as the Dairy Days project is concerned. On his mother’s side was his great grandfather J R Hopper who as well as farming dairy cows at Yorescott near Bainbridge, had his fingers in many other pies including being a founder member of three local auction marts, Hawes, Leyburn and Bedale and also collected wool for the Wool Marketing Board ensuring that local farms got good prices. More importantly, he was heavily involved in the setting up in 1905 of the Wensleydale Pure Milk Society (WPMS) whose aim was to raise the quality of locally produced milk in order to help it access urban markets.

Joseph Hopper with a dairy shorthorn cow , early twentieth century. Ann Holubecki collection

In the following audio clip, William talks about how the WPMS operated and the rules that were applied in order to regulate the quality of the milk they collected and distributed.

Wensleydale Pure Milk Society milk bottle. Courtesy of The Mulbery Bush, Hawes
Wensleydale Pure Milk Society milk bottle. Courtesy of The Mulbery Bush, Hawes

We love the instructions on this WPMS glass milk bottle telling purchasers to keep it in a bucket of cold water. The filtering and cooling of the milk on the farm that William describes will seem pretty primitive by today’s standards but the cold spring water of Wensleydale obviously did a good job cooling the milk on the farm because it gained a solid reputation for keeping fresh as it sped to city doorsteps on trains up and down the country.

“And it was very evident straightaway that by cooling the milk, and having it filtered, less bacteria was in the milk and it was too cold for the bacteria to multiply, so this milk stayed fresh for much longer, and in the book by Christine Hallas, I think it describes that the milk went down to London twice a day, so the morning’s milking was put onto train and it would get to London for tea time, and the evening’s milking would be put straight onto a train and it could be there for breakfast table. I think this didn’t carry on for long. Standards got better and the farmer’s milk would keep. In the early days he was going twice a day. So, the Wensleydale Pure Milk Society, and there’s records of the finances and they had a partnership with North-Eastern Railway. They had a big depot in Northallerton which there’s information I found out about that as well. And I assume that this carried on pretty much until the [Milk] Marketing Board started in 1930s where then there was a national milk buyer, bought all the milk and it was collected and distributed from big distribution points. I think in actual fact, they bought the facility at Northallerton from the Wensleydale Pure Milk Society.”
William Lambert (56) of Raygill House Farm, Hawes

As we already know, Joseph Hopper’s son Redvers ended up marrying Margaret Moncreiff who came to Wensleydale to make cheese in a small factory in Bainbridge just after the First World War. She was William’s grandmother.

“Redvers Hopper, who was my grandfather, was born on the turn of the century. He was in his teens sort of wartime, and he met a young lady who’d come, and she was called Margaret Moncrieff, and she came to work at the cheese-making mill in Bainbridge, Low Mill. And she came as a dairy girl. She’d been away t’college and got qualifications, dairy husbandry etcetera  and she later married m’grandfather and obviously [was] my granny. So she was kept on with her domestic sort of hat on for years and years and she wrote recipes including cheese recipes and preserves, she was really into preserves and pickles and jams and all that kind of thing, and there are books she’d written which are quite easily available. So that, and the next generation had taken up the mantle as it were in the dairying and kept it going

Margaret Moncrieff, Bainbridge 1924
Margaret Moncrieff, at Low Mill dairy, Bainbridge 1924. Ann Holubecki collection

On his father’s side of the family were the Lamberts who farmed in Walden for centuries. Because of the remoteness of the farms up that dale, many went on making cheese long after others were able to get their liquid milk away by rail.

“On the other side of my family, the Lamberts, who lived at Walden, we can trace their ancestry back for over 300 years on one farm. And they used t’have milk, of course. It was all shorthorn cows in those days and, but there wasn’t a buyer as such in those early days so they made all the milk into cheese and it was sold at Leyburn auction mart or on the market in the town. They say it was sold on trestle tables as cheese from Walden. I think a lot of the farmers had t’do the same thing, so farmers would share tables, and it would be just a way of making the money and it was the sort of staple income throughout the year.”

Having talked about his ancestors, William moved on to describe his early experiences helping out his father milking cows on the farm. The seven gallon milk buckets were too heavy for him to lift until he reached his twelfth birthday as he describes in the following audio clip.

He mentions the little Lister D engine that was used to power the milking units when he was young and we managed to film one in action last year at Ashover Show.

Lister D Engine. Ashover Show 2019

We also liked his description of the way that milk churns were labelled so the dairies would know who to blame if milk wasn’t absolutely fresh and clean.

“And I can remember we always used t’have like a big luggage label had t’go with every can of milk. And you’d put it over the rim before you put the lid on so’s it was trapped and that when they lifted the lid off it was there with our name and our address and what we’d come from. And if ever they found a can that wasn’t right, or something wrong with it, or where, if they filtered the cans and found anything in there shouldn’t be at all, then it was returned, and when you went to collect your empty cans you’d find one that was full, and that was never a good thing, that was always a bad day, because a) we had to get rid of it and b) we weren’t going t’get paid for it. On the whole, this system worked for everybody and, right up until, as I say, the 70s when bulk tanks came.”

The family moved from Walden to Raygill in the 1960s and the line of cows bred by William’s father continued on under William’s care right up until tragically they were culled as part of the the Foot & Mouth outbreak in 2001.

“Our herd was, m’father came t’Raygill in 1961 before I was born, and he bought a lot of his Walden cows, which were the shorthorns. But then they started t’cross them with the Friesians, this new breed, that was much more productive breed, so I would breed for years and years were a cross between Friesian and the shorthorn, and as I grew up we always had some cows that were blue-roaned, so they had that cast back to the old shorthorn, and all red cows came, and it was just a cast-back in breeding. Eventually over the generations of the cows it did become nearly all black and white. We did have one particular family that always, the males were blue, and that just never did stop. We had that same breed of cows really right up until the Foot & Mouth outbreak of 2001, but then of course, the breed that was, a lifetime of breeding was completely lost and all the ancient breeds and cows’ names, because our cows all had names. That all went by the by then.”

William played an important part in the formation of the Wensleydale Producers Group which supplied the Creamery with local milk for many years. He was one of the negotiators who ensured that farmers got a fair price for their milk as he describes in the following audio clip:

Colin recorded a whole range of information about William’s and his father’s farming life such as learning to drive a little grey Fergie tractor aged eight years old! When his father moved from Walden to Raygill he swore he’d never have another horse.

“I’ll tell you about m’father first, up in Walden, because they had t’take the milk from the very top of Walden, up the far end, if anybody knows Walden, it’s a long way up there. On the north side and they used t’have t’take it t’the train station, at Aysgarth Station, so obviously, down Aysgarth Falls, and back up again and all of that. Quite a way, and it was dad used t’have t’do that with a little black pony and a cart, when he started off. And it was only really in the very early 50s, that the first tractors really, mass-produced grey Fergies tractors came t’the area and it was, to m’father it was the whole world t’have a tractor a) he didn’t have t’go and catch the pony up the pasture, cos the pony didn’t like being caught at that time in the morning. It would come to m’mother quite easily, it didn’t like father and he said, one thing I’ll never do is have a horse when we came t’Raygill. Never a horse on the farm again, glad t’see the back of the things.”

Mr Joe Heseltine of Thoralby rides on his horse and cart through the dale of Bishopdale. He sits on a milk budget used to transport milk. Photo by Bertrand Unné with permission of North Yorkshire County Council Archives

Having persuaded his father to let him drive his precious new tractor his first job was driving milk churns down to the churn stand each morning.

“…for a long time, it was my job t’take the milk down t’the milk stand on the roadside, and bring the empties up and empty cans you have t’go really slowly, otherwise if you hit a puddle, they bounce and they fall over and then I was in trouble ‘cos they hadn’t t’fall over. They had t’be stood upright when I got t’the farm. So you were taught, really, the hard way, you were taught t’be able t’back and drive a tractor carefully and mind the puddles and all that from a very early age. But of course, since, nowadays, y’now, the tractors are far too big for a little lad of eight years old t’reach the pedal or drive or anything but the little grey Fergies, you could easily at that sizes and age, you could easily drive them.”

Driving the muck spreader was another important job. He talks about how before they got the tractor driven spreader the muck had to be spread by hand – ‘horse-work’ as he describes it, in other words really hard work! Their first muck spreader was unreliable, if it broke down then they faced to job of emptying all the muck out by hand in order to repair it, no wonder then that his father one day had enough.

“But I remember, sort of, starting driving tractors when our muck spreader was really quite old. There no worse heart-sinking feeling than half-way through spreading a load of muck and the belly [?] chain snaps and you all know at that point that the only way you can fix it is to empty it all out again with a fork and start again, clean it, get it mended, then fill it back up again. So I can clearly remember that happened t’m’father one day, I’m guessing it would be late 60s, and he was so frustrated, he pulled the thing out that attached t’the muck spreader onto the tractor, he pulled the pin out and then drove off with the tractor, went straight down t’Alderson’s Garage at Woodhall and bought a rotor spreader ‘cos that’s the next step forward.

As with every other farmer we’ve interviewed, milking set-ups have changed considerably over time and William’s farm was no exception. He went from milking in an old shippon with his father, expanding the shippon to house up to 38 cows and then once he took over the herd himself, building a big shed where the cows were loose-housed and milked in batches.

“… it wasn’t a proper milking parlour, like an abreast but not even one because they had t’come out backwards. It was just basically the old milking byre with batch milking. And I had ten milking points which was five clusters… so I could just change it from cow t’cow, and each time one had been milked, it’d back out and another one come in its place. I could milk 40 or 50 cows really quite easily and quite quickly there and it was pipeline milking so there was no carrying the clusters and it was pipelined, it went through filters and coolers and then straight into a bulk tank and stored and the bulk tank then cooled it further and it was cooled down to about four degrees and then it was collected every day. So that was fine for quite a while and it was really only in 2006 where I invested in a very, very modern system which had then fourteen milking points and could milk fourteen cows at once. And that was the bee’s knees so life became a lot easier then.”

William gave up milking at Raygill in 2012 but maintains his interest in the business.

“…we finally gave up because I had no sons to follow on, the daughters wouldn’t like t’be milking cows and we decided that it’d be very hard work for very little return, and I would dedicate m’time t’doing other things. So, really, since then, I’ve been out of milk production, but y’never lose the interest. I’m always following the markets see what’s going on and who’s doing what, it’s an interest, it’s there for life. You’re not just going t’forget that you were a dairy farmer. And hopefully in the future it’ll continue t’be important.”

Picture of Karen Griffiths

Karen Griffiths

Interpretation Officer for the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority


2 Replies to “Oral History Recording: William Lambert”

  1. Edmund Gabriel Henry says:

    A great story. In our house in Mayo, in the fifties, I would hear the older men talk about the hay harvest in the Hawes. They sat around the turf fire in our house on many occasions. I’d love to hear if you have any thing on the Irish ‘Spalpeens’ as they were known as!!

    • That’s fascinating – I’ve passed it on to our museum people who are currently involved in a dialect project – they’ll love that Irish name for the hay cutters. Marie Hartley talks about the irish men who were employed on the farms in several of her books about the Yorkshire Dales

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