An extract from Children of the Veld, the history of the Thurgood family
who owned and farmed Diggins Farm, Charley Farm, Dukes Farm and Hill Farm from 1901 to 1952
The third son and sixth child of
James and Martha Thurgood
of Rookwood Hall, Abbess Roothing
Edward, known as Ted or "Ode Teddy", was born at Rookwood Hall on 28 November 1867 and he too was educated at Bishop's Stortford School. Afterwards he worked on the farms with his father in Abbess Roding.
Like most of his brothers and sisters he was headstrong and self-assured. Alone among the boys he was determined to farm in Essex and would have liked to take over his father's tenancies in the course of time. However, he "did not go much", on the third Lady Rookwood, whose husband owned Rookwood Hall, nor she on him for that matter.
Unlike the Baron's first two wives who were high born members of the aristocracy, the third lady Rookwood was the daughter of an Army Major. Lady Sophie was opinionated, bossy and determined on having her own way. Lord Rookwood, now in his seventies and by no means as active as he once was, gave her the chance to take an active role in the affairs of the estate. She undoubtedly had a strong sense of "position", and believed that tenants needed to be kept in their place. Farming was in deep depression and the Estate was being forced to take tough decisions that inevitably caused problems for their tenants.
Whatever the reasons, Ode Teddy was incensed by what he saw as her Ladyship's outrageous behaviour and he threatened to expose her by writing a book. He also threatened to stand for Parliament in the Epping constituency and campaign against votes for women. On his elevation to the Peerage, Lord Rookwood's old seat would have passed on to one of his nominees and this would have been fighting talk to her Ladyship.
That did it and Ode Teddy soon found that his chances of getting a tenancy on the estate were rather thin. Furthermore the Rector who owned Abbotts Hall Farm, under pressure from her Ladyship, would have been in no position to let him have a tenancy either. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the long forgotten dispute, the upshot was that Ode Teddy knew he had to find some other way to set up in farming on his own. Meanwhile he continued to help his father who was approaching his seventies.
Towards to end of the century he paid a visit to his elder brother, Walter, in South Africa, probably to discuss family affairs. While he was there Walter's third son, Walter Edward, was born and Ode Teddy stood as godfather at his christening.
Now in his early thirties, Ode Teddy was courting Clara Morgan about this time. She was the daughter of John Medows Morgan, a Stationer, who lived at 22 Luxor Street, London. Later her father moved to Gravely Hill in Birmingham where he died in 1898. In his will he was described as a Commercial Traveller. Apart from Clara, who was known as Clarrie, he had a son called Robert Barton and two daughters, Lucy Jane and Sarah Helen. Clarrie seems to have been the youngest member of the family.
On 3 August 1901 Edward Thurgood married Clara Morgan by special licence in St. Saviour's Church in the Parish of Lambeth in London. He was 32 and she was 42 years of age. Although his father had died in February the previous year, Ted was still living in Rookwood. However, he had to be out by Michaelmas Quarterday, 29 September 1901.
Clarrie had inherited substantial legacies from two of her uncles and this helped them to buy Diggins Farm in the parish of Willingale Doe in 1901. Diggins Farm, otherwise known as The Poplars, comprised 249 acres - 0 roods - 21 poles. The fields lay in four separate parishes: Willingale Doe, Beauchamp Roothing, Fyfield and Shellow Bowells. There were also two large barns, two stock yards, a horse yard, two cart sheds, two granaries, two poultry houses, a nag stable for 3 horses, a cart-horse stable, piggeries, poultry sheds and a large number of loose-boxes and out-houses.
Unusually, the parish of Willingale has two churches in one churchyard. The local legend, that two sisters quarrelled and each built her own church, is spoilt by the fact that the churches were built some 200 years apart. In fact until 1929 there were two separate parishes whose boundaries were much intertwined. The Norman Lord, Hervey de Ispania built Spains Hall and St Andrew's church for Willingale Spain giving his name to the parish. Two hundred years later the de Ou or D'eu family built a larger church dedicated to St Christopher for a second parish which became known as Willingale Doe. Both churches were located on the same consecrated land because it was the most convenient site for both parishes. The parishes are now united and the neighbouring parish of Shellow Bowells has been added to them.
The sale took place on Friday 26 July 1901 and they had access that Michaelmas Quarterday. In the next 13 years they bought three more farms that bordered their land, Hill Farm, Dukes Farm and finally, in 1914, Charley Farm.
Farming at this time was going through another depression and land prices were very low. They picked up all these farms very cheaply but the farm buildings were mostly run down for farmers had been facing difficulties for a long period. Altogether they bought some 800 acres of London Boulder Clay and all the buildings that went with them for something like £1 per acre. With the right husbandry skills this could be the most fertile land in England.
Diggins farmhouse was a large old timber framed building with lathe and plaster walls on three sides abutting onto a sand coloured brick wall at the rear and it was roofed in hand made tiles. On the first floor there were six bedrooms and one "Man's room". On the ground floor there were three large reception rooms, an enormous kitchen, a scullery and a dairy. Near the back door there was a large Brew House which in earlier days was used to keep the farmer and his workers supplied with the "basic essentials of life." Now the enormous coppers were used for boiling the weekly wash and the vast grate for cooking a vile smelling offal which Ode Teddy got from the Fyfield Knacker to feed his greyhounds.
Farming between the wars was in deep depression and most farmers were up to their eyebrows in debt to their Bankers. Yet Ode Teddy managed to succeed where most were failing. He undoubtedly knew the soil and how to get the best out of it and he had an uncanny knack of anticipating the market. He knew how to grow the best quality malting barley for which there was always a demand and a premium price. Mostly he dealt with firms in Bishop's Stortford and London where his father and grandfather had established good reputations.
He supplied hay, straw and oats to the Metropolitan Police. When their horses were past their prime for police work he picked them up on the cheap to work on his farms.
He also kept a large herd of bullocks primarily for the dung that kept his fields in good heart. He got a return from the beef they produced and great care was taken to protect their hides from warble fly damage so that they too fetched a good price. By feeding his own corn to his stock he maximised his returns.
Ode Teddy was shrewd, a good judge of the market and knew how to keep his costs down. Certainly he managed to stay in business and provide adequately for his wife and sisters while those about him were struggling and trying to get out of farming altogether.
His views were sought on the markets but his ofttimes curt replies did not win him many friends. Original, shrewd and successful he was also cantankerous and difficult. He won his neighbours' respect but he was hardly the most popular man on the market.
He was not a teetotaller but he never visited the local pubs even on market day. Nor did he keep drinks in the house except for one ancient half-filled bottle for medicinal purposes, the un-identifiable contents of which never declined. He met his shooting guests when they arrived and would join them for a cup of tea at the end of the day. He never stayed for the dinner or the wine and spirits that followed. He no longer carried a gun himself and his nephew Wally would go in his place. Wally was a "Good shot", as was Ode Teddy's sister, Kate. Any guest who was anything less than a good shot was never invited again.
Tall, lean and gaunt Ode Teddy had presence. More often than not he would walk by everybody without a glimmer of recognition but he never missed a thing. He never did much in the way of physical work but he was always about his farms and knew exactly what was going on, not just on his own land but everyone else's for miles around.
Suddenly he would appear from nowhere and a high pitched "Hoi, hoi, hoi", and a vigorous waving of his arms would convey his displeasure to erring kids, trespassers or workers who were sneaking a "Blow". Walking the fields, inspecting the crops, searching every nook and cranny, he was totally occupied with his land, its cropping and fertility.
From his grandfather and his father he inherited an instinct for farming on heavy clay that was more of an art than a science. He had developed his own eight course crop rotation system and kept store cattle to provide the manure to maintain high fertility. One eighth of his land stood fallow each year and was scarified to keep pests and weeds under control. Mole-draining, deep ploughing and cultivation by steam engines to bust up the clay pan that develops in this type of soil were systematically carried out.
Ode Teddy had a keen sense of competitiveness and there were not many around by whom he was prepared to be bested. One market day he saw one of his rivals bidding for a yearling hunter of some quality. Ode Teddy had not hunted for years but he was damned if he was going to let this rival boast a better horse than he had in his own stables. He kept the bidding going until it reached an exorbitant level and he won the day. Once he got home he completely lost all interest in the poor horse that was never broken in or ridden.
He did not like parsons very much and would not let them into his house. This had more to do with resentment at having to pay tithes on his land to support the priesthood than anything more personal. That said, he took an interest in church affairs and attended meetings of the local Parochial Church Council at which parson baiting apparently ranked with hare-coursing and hunting as country sports.
For most of his life Ode Teddy used horse-power and manual labour to run his farms. His head horseman, Tush, was a close confidante and the foreman of his farm staff. He also shared a mutual interest with his game-keeper. Close involvement with animals gave them something in common. Nevertheless, he was one of the first farmers in Essex to buy a tractor. More than a bit out of character, it was probably the price he had to pay to beat some other rival.
He had a great sense of tradition and detested "New fangled hurdy-gurdies and contraptions", as he called the Wireless (radio) and motor cars. For years he travelled the lanes of Essex on an old bicycle. When a pedal fell off he "One-footed it around" for many more years ignoring all offers of repair. In his farm office stood an even older bike with solid tyres and...one missing pedal.
He would have no truck with Summer Time, or during the war with Double Summer Time. He didn't mind his men starting and finishing earlier - that made maximum use of the daylight hours. For him starting, finishing and meal times were according to his watch whatever any one else's might say.
He also had a wry sense of humour as at least one salesman found out. Seeing a less than smartly dressed old guy coming out of the farmyard he asked him if Mr. Thurgood was about. "Somewhere" said Ode Teddy curtly as he quickly walked off. The salesman then spent the remainder of the day trying to catch up with Ode Teddy who always kept one move ahead of him.
He kept himself to himself and his brusqueness covered an exceptional degree of shyness. He was slightly deaf, listened intensely to all around him but had little by way of conversation to share with anyone. He had to know a person very well indeed to feel at ease with them and talked much more freely to children than grown-ups. When he did open up he talked about earlier days of farming, threshing by flail, ancient skills and times long past. It was fascinating for as long as it lasted but all too quickly he retired into his shell again.
Fearless, determined, difficult, cantankerous and cranky; he was all of these things. Nor was he an easy man to know, understand or like. Despite everything most people had a sneaking regard for him. Unorthodox he was, original too and everyone laughed at his foibles but mostly Ode Teddy was proved right when it came to farming matters.
He read the Times and seemed to have a good grasp of national and international affairs. He was one of the most highly educated men in the area and the fact that he was also the largest farmer for many miles around gave him a lot of clout in the farming community.
Throughout her life Clarrie suffered with her health. Arthritis plagued her from an early age and from about 1910 she began visiting clinics and health spas to find relief and possible cures. After a time she took to her bed and stayed there for the last twenty years of her life. Later she became very deaf and very demanding, thumping her bedroom floor with a stick to attract attention to which she expected an immediate response but mostly had forgotten what she wanted by the time anyone arrived.
Progressively she lost touch with reality and turned for company to her cats. Some thirty of them lived mainly in her bedroom and slept on the bed. She knew them all by name, talked to them and scolded them as if they were her dearest friends. They were not as house trained as they ought to have been but that seemed not to worry her a jot.
Clarrie was undoubtedly the source of wealth behind Ode Teddy. She had brought with her some elegant furniture and her wardrobe was full of expensive, if no longer worn, gowns. She was obviously used to a high standard of living and in her day would have managed the affairs of the house with great skill, arranged grand parties and been a social light in the community. Maids, cooks, housekeepers and gardeners were an essential part of her life and she could not cope without them. She would have kept Ode Teddy up to scratch socially. Alas her protracted illness made them both progressively more remote as the years went by.
There were rumours that he played away from home and had an illegitimate daughter but there was never any proof of it. Despite all the difficulties caused by Clarrie's long illness, he was devoted to her and when she died on the 3 December 1936 he was devastated and never fully recovered from the loss.
However, there were no children to take on responsibility for the farm as Ode Teddy got older and Clarrie needed more attention. They had to find someone to carry the load. In 1934, when he was 67 years of age, he invited his godson, Wally Thurgood, and his wife to come over from South Africa and help him with his farm and take care of Clarrie.
Wally was the youngest son of Ode Teddy's eldest brother, Walter Thurgood, who had emigrated to South Africa in 1882. While on active service in the First World War, Wally had visited his Uncle Ted and Aunt Clarrie and had taken to them and they to him. Nevertheless, neither he nor his wife Dolly wanted to leave their families or South Africa and it took a lot of persuading by Ode Teddy and his sisters to bring off the deal.
In the spring of 1935 Wally and Dolly arrived in England with their two sons, Ted aged 6½ and Wallie who was 4 years old. They settled into Diggins Farm with Ode Teddy and Aunt Clarrie and this was to be their home for the next 16 years until 1951.
Ode Teddy pursued his accustomed style of life much as before with Wally helping on the farm and Dolly running the house and looking after Clarrie.
Each morning before breakfast he would walk his greyhounds. They were good pedigree dogs and all carried the prefix Fyfield to their names viz., Fyfield Winny.
Ode Teddy was a keen and leading member of the Epping and Ongar Farmer's Coursing Club. He coursed his dogs whenever he could and they won him many prizes. The only problem was getting them to "The Meets". This prompted him to make Wally a present of a second-hand 20 horse-power saloon car that cost him all of £10 on Chelmsford market. It cost Wally four times as much to tax and insure the car, to say nothing of buying the petrol. As an extra favour he would give Wally the day off to drive him and his dogs to the meet. These were the only occasions on which he would ever deign to travel in one of these new-fangled contraptions; even then he would only sit in the back with his dogs.
He even presented Wally with a dog of his own, Fyfield Wendy, which won a number of silver trophies before the Second World War
In his younger days Ode Teddy had been a keen huntsman. He had served as a member of the Ongar Rural District Council and was a Foundation Member of Willingale School. He also had taken an active role in the Parochial Church Council, primarily keeping the rector in his place and fighting off his spendthrift ways.
He was a life-long member of the National Farmers Union, in which he was well known for the clarity and vigour with which he expressed his views. In agriculture he knew what he was talking about and was highly respected by his peers.
When World War II broke out he was 72 years of age and the death of his poor wife had taken its toll on his health and his mind. He had now withdrawn even deeper into his shell and no longer paid much attention to what was going on in the world.
The War Ag.
After years of being ignored and neglected, Britain now needed its farmers to intensify production and grow as much of the nation's food as possible. County War Agricultural Committees, ever after known as War Ags., were set up to ensure that every last ounce of food was produced to overcome any shortages that might be caused by a German U-boat blockade.
Ode Teddy was less impressed with this new found popularity than most of his neighbours. He and his forefathers had husbanded the London Boulder Clays for generations and the last thing he needed was interference from new-fangled bureaucrats to teach him how to suck eggs.
One official actually had the nerve to call on him and insist that all his fields must be cropped intensively every year using "Artificials" to maintain soil fertility. No one could recall Ode Teddy ever using bad language and it is not known if he gave way to temptation on this occasion. Suffice it to say that one red-faced War Ag. Officer retired hurt.
Ode Teddy made it clear that he had developed an eight-course rotation system as the best means of farming the heavy clays of Essex, improving their fertility and getting the best out of them. An essential part of the programme was to lay aside one eighth of the land in fallow or bastard fallow each year while pan-busting and mole-draining were carried out. Neither Hitler, nor the War Ag. were going to destroy the hard won fertility of his fields with their over-cropping and inorganic poisons. On principle he would not go along with their proposals that would ruin the land and progressively reduce its output.
Ode Teddy was obviously in the vanguard of what is now known as the Green Movement which sadly did not carry as much sway with the powers that be in those days as it does now. In their Writtle Headquarters, the War Ag. decided to dispossess him for the duration.
Despite his cantankerous nature, his complete rejection of their directives and his combative manner, the Authorities did not want him out completely. They chose instead to divide his farms into three sections; the two smaller and more remote ones were rented out to neighbouring farmers for the duration of the war to make their units more viable.
The largest section comprising Diggins Farm and 500 acres was to be managed by his nephew, Wally, with Ode Teddy continuing as owner, guide and mentor. Under this arrangement the War Ag's directives would be served on Wally, who had to find his own way of convincing his Uncle. In all the circumstances it seemed a fair compromise that met the nation's needs, gave Wally a trial run to broaden his experience and Ode Teddy a continuing interest in his beloved land. At any rate that's what they thought.
Ode Teddy would have none of it. Once he was persuaded by his solicitor that the decision could not be upset, he retired hurt and bitter to Charley Farm. Here he would be looked after for the remainder of his life by "Old Em", the daughter of Thomas Johnson from whom he had bought the farm in 1914. Here he would plot the downfall of the War Ag. and all that went with it. Meanwhile Wally was left to pick up the pieces as best he could and run Diggins Farm on his own for the duration of the War.
Copious reports complied by Ode Teddy of weed infested fields, falling yields and bad husbandry all over Essex would thump upon the desk of the Chairman of the War Ag. with commendable regularity. Anything less than a full and detailed response by return of post would prompt outraged protests.
All to no avail for the Authorities at all levels were determined to sacrifice individual rights and even good husbandry for the sake of Great Britain and her Empire.
Not until 1951 did Ode Teddy get his land back. By then he was 83 years of age and it had become a poisoned chalice for him and he sold out as quickly as he could. At Michaelmas 1951 his farms passed into other hands.
On the 2 June 1952 Ode Teddy died at the age of 84. He was buried in Shellow Bowells in the same grave as his wife, Clarrie, and close to those of his two elder sisters, Annie and Grace.
All the signs are that in his youth he was a bright young blade who enjoyed an extensive social life with Clarrie, his sisters and their friends. Clarrie's protracted illness put an end to all this and they became progressively more isolated, difficult and anti-social. Without doubt he was a good farmer, despite the action of the War Ag. He loved his land and understood better than most what good husbandry was about. He died a sad and lonely figure but until the end he remained the same Ode Teddy.
Ode Teddy's youngest sister, Kate Thurgood
The youngest daughter and eighth child
of James and Martha Thurgood
Mary Kate Thurgood, known as Kate, was born on 20 March 1873. She was the youngest member of the family.
There is no record of where she went to school but she was well educated and talented. She was tall, bare-boned and very fit throughout her life. Like her brothers and sisters she was strong-willed, determined and knew what she wanted.
It would appear that like her two eldest sisters she may have had difficulty in finding a husband and she, too, was sent to South Africa to do just that. In 1907 she married Leonard Hampton, who was a Copper Prospector, in Bulawayo, Matabeleland.
Leonard was born on 2 May 1868 in Farnham, Hertfordshire. His father, John Hampton, was a Land Steward and his mother's maiden name was Eliza Ann Dunkerley.
For a time they lived in South Africa where they owned three independent gold mines. Then they sold up, invested the proceeds in Malayan Rubber Shares and returned to England to live at Sundridge in Surrey on the interest earned by their capital. As time went on their shares lost value and their income declined. When Leonard died on 16 January 1935 his estate was valued at only £249:8:7d. Kate had received legacies from her two eldest sisters but by now most of this also had been spent. Ode Teddy came to her rescue and gave her the use of one half of Dukes Farm rent free for life. Here she lived quietly for the next 24 years.
The other half of Dukes was let for a considerable time to a Mr. Newman who hailed from the Ilford area of London. Short, stocky and with a neatly trimmed white beard, he looked every inch an old sea-dog and that is precisely what he was. He used to drive Kate and himself around the village in a donkey and trap. He kept the garden tidy and mowed the lawn for her.
For a hobby he bred coarse fish in the pond at the back of the farm house that attracted the attention of the village lads when he wasn't looking. His health began to break up in the late thirties and he returned to London where he died shortly afterwards. After that the other half of Dukes Farm remained empty for most of the time. Kate used the downstairs lounge and kept the whole building aired.
South Africa Revisited
In 1938 she went on a six month tour of South Africa to visit her brother, Walter Thurgood, and the families of his eight children. She became particularly concerned about her nephew Arthur Harrington Thurgood and his family. Arthur had been severely wounded in the chest during the First World War and was told by the army doctors that he was unlikely to live more than two years. Despite these dire prognostications Arthur survived, married and fathered four strapping sons. Nevertheless, he suffered great pain from the wounds all his life and the family faced difficulties. Kate drew Ode Teddy's attention to the needs of Arthur's children and he made provision for their education.
Kate was very self-sufficient, enjoyed her own company and rarely went out very far. She was an excellent shot and kept a 12-bore shotgun in her bedroom, from the window of which she would shoot a passing pigeon or pheasant. Either one she claimed would keep her in meat for a month or more.
She was closer to the Bacon family than any of the other Thurgoods and to Olive Johnson in particular. She had a reputation for meddling in family affairs and trying to influence Ode Teddy in matters of his estate. Certainly she went around the village picking up any gossip that was doing the rounds and reported to him. For his part he probably welcomed the gossip but there is little evidence that she was ever able to influence his mind.
She was also a "personal contact" in Willingale Doe during the Thirties for the local Conservative Member of Parliament, Col. Macnamara, who was killed in Egypt at the very end of the Second World War. Her services to the Member was to ensure that his supporters in the village were actually registered on the Electoral Roll, otherwise they would be unable to cast their votes.
She died on 14th. January 1959 at the age of 85 in Epping Hospital after a fall on the stairs of her home, allegedly "pushed by her housekeeper" according to the locals.
As stipulated in her will, she was cremated. Her estate, valued at £9038, bequeathed legacies to all her nephews and nieces with the residue going to Olive Johnson.
With the death of Aunt Kate, as she was called, the Thurgood family's link with Willingale Doe ended.