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PeoplePeter Hardwill

Peter Hardwill

My grandparents and father moved here to Hurst Farm in the early ‘30s following farming for 10 years at a small farm at Trull near Taunton. In his early twenties my father enjoyed life near Taunton; Grandfather said “he would leave a field of hay to go and watch Somerset play cricket”. Hurst must have been about 100 acres which they rented from the Doble family. Father joined the local skittles team and went to village hall dances where he met my mother Sybil Bugler, from Bettiscombe. They married in ’42 and I arrived in ’43. I have two younger sisters; Alice was born 14 months after me, and Evelyn arrived in 1948. My first memory as a child on the farm was the ’47/’48 winter. Everything was completely manual of course, loose hay made into ricks and fed to the cows which were tied up in a cowstall. The hard weather made extra work keeping the cattle fed and watered, and I can remember helping my grandfather on the farm from a very young age. My father said I was allowed to drive the tractor when I was big enough to push down the combined clutch and brake pedal on the Standard Fordson and clip it in place, which I managed at aged 8. In those days, as well as the grassland, a dairy farm would grow many different crops just to feed the cows; mangolds, kale, and some corn for both the grain and the straw. These days it’s silage full stop.
I went to school at Marshwood, taken every day by the school taxi which carried about 10 kids and was driven by Bob Rabbetts. One day we collided with an Austin 7 which went in the ditch, so we all got out and lifted it back on the road, and another time we called at the Gillingham’s farm when they were pressing cider. Arthur offered some to Bob our driver, so we kids all piled out and had a taste too. As youngsters we got to know the area well, and the folk who lived there, because we never really went anywhere else except to see relatives, attend market or once a year see the touring side play Somerset. My father would take me to NFU meetings at Thorncombe, where I was known as the youngest member there, and to skittles matches at Blackdown village hall where you’d get a cup of tea and a biscuit at half time. We would walk to the phone box up the road to book AI visits for the cows, and if we wanted to catch up with family or friends at the same time we would phone them as well.
After passing my 11 plus, from Marshwood School I should have gone to Lyme Regis but my mother was adamant that I went to Beaminster Grammar, because it was apparently the only school in Dorset which taught Agriculture to O level. I spent too much time working on the farm instead of homework to achieve very good results at school, but I passed in Mathematics and Agriculture, both subjects taught to me by the same teachers that taught my mother.
As I went through school, instead of studying Physics and Chemistry I studied Agriculture, so I had some spare lessons. Our headmaster, Major Porter, showed great interest in me and suggested I joined students in the engineering classes provided in Beaminster for secondary modern and evening students. This led me to start collecting my own tools, much helped by businesses in the town; Mr Colbourne from Colsons gave me so much time, and Reg Newton the storeman at Buglers supplied me with parts and advice as to how to fit them. Ken Hurford’s father taught me all I knew about electricity, which arrived at our farmhouse in about ’56. I ran a cable across to the cowstall where I fitted 3 lightbulbs. When I switched them on for the first time, Grandfather thought they were better than Blackpool illuminations. So after school, things began to fall into place for me, into engineering, away from just farming, although that’s where I still worked and lived.
I left school and things were on the change in agriculture, but not before the winter of ’62/’63. In that summer we changed to baled hay, which didn’t suit our old fashioned wagon. So that winter, I made a low loading bale trailer from timber sawn from a locally felled pine tree, ready for next summer, which made life very much easier. We were modernising the farm in several ways, all of which enabled me to put my skills to use.
I was invited by two well established members, John Jeffery and Robin Wyatt, to join Crewkerne Young Farmers club. They were both interested in engineering, and when a course in engineering came up at Yeovil College we all joined. I then went back to Beaminster to learn welding under Bugler’s foreman, John Poole. The farm had so many land drains that needed fixing, and unlike today, only large industrial diggers were available. My welding skills then came in very useful because I was able to build our own digger, which although basic, was a great deal better than a pick and shovel. Then people began to realise I could weld, and work began to come in from everywhere.
Taking advantage of the Farm Improvement Grant scheme of the day, we installed land drainage in one of our fields, using the digger I’d built, on the back of a David Brown 990. However, if you got stuck in one of the many wet patches, you were in trouble, so I bought a winch to fit on the back of a Fordson Major, and Father would sit on it, with his pipe in his mouth, and pull the lever which pulled us out, no trouble at all. The Ministry in those days had all these helpful staff, who would visit your farm, measure everything up and supply you with a drawing to work to. Nothing was too much trouble. The surveyor who did our drainage scheme saw the barns I’d built on the farm, and offered to help do the plans for me if ever I got asked to build steel framed barns. His name was John Wallis, and despite going on to run 2 pubs, and retiring to Wales, he did drawings for me until he died, probably for 40 years.
By 1966 my business had grown so I needed to separate it from the farm. So I formed my company PH Hardwill, and due to the massive demand for new buildings on farms all through the 1970’s the business grew. I took on Phil Studley, from Racedown, who was good at building and concrete, but soon adapted to steelwork. His sons followed, and Brin, who has just retired, worked for me for 51 years; Bill is still working for us at 47 years. And I have enjoyed having worked with excellent staff, several of whom have been with us for over 30 years. These days we try and keep the work within an area south of Bristol, west of Bournemouth, and east of Exeter, but I did put up a big chicken house at Petersfield once.
Just before my 70th birthday I suffered a stroke, but I’ve been lucky to make a full recovery, largely due to my wife Janet’s quick reaction in calling the ambulance. After that I handed the business over to my 2 sons, Philip and Michael. I’ve been lucky to have been able to build up the company over the years, and my basic education and business skills have been much improved by local schemes such as West Dorset Training, founded by Cmdr. Streatfield. So many local business people gave me such good advice, and gave me brilliant contracts to prove I took their advice.
Both my sons, from my first marriage, were keen to carry on the business they’d grown up with. Philip went to Salford University where, amazingly, they tailor-made his course to suit the work he was going to do. Michael is a natural learner and has developed all his many skills through experience. And since I was 7 years old, when my father first took me along, I’ve been watching Somerset play cricket. It was there I met my wife Janet, and we married in 1996. Janet worked at the Somerset College of Art and Technology, and continued there until she took early retirement. She has been so supportive in my many voluntary activities, such as Young Farmers, which I still am involved with; Crewkerne Rotary Club, as the only District Governor the club has provided in 2006/7; the Parish Council, and Dorset Training, all of which have brought us many friends.

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