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PeopleMaurice Barnes

Maurice Barnes

I was born in the village, on a farm at Miles Cross, just up the hill and down over. November 4th 1927. After the First World War ended, Father was living in a chicken shed on Eype Down. He had been able to save up enough money during the war when he had been a prisoner of the Germans by selling his tobacco and drink rations to the other prisoners. He didn’t smoke or drink himself. With the money he rented the field and bought the shed and a cow. He also worked at Crepe Farm where he met my mother. Her father was also working there and they met whilst she was taking him his lunch. They then had to save up for seven years before they could afford to get married. The bed I was born on is still in the Old Rectory here in the village. All four brass knobs are still on it.
I went to school here in Symondsbury, and I can remember Father saying to me as I went to school, passing where they were milking the cows beside the road: “Nine more years to go to school”. I passed for Grammar School when I was 11, and Father said, “You ain’t going there, you’ve got to work”.
As a boy on the farm we had horses, and I liked them. One was a beautiful animal, and so intelligent, and I was the only one who could catch her. But the tractor could do in an hour what the horse did in a day, and she had to be sold. I was in tears when that happened. I never really enjoyed the farming work. It was because the animals were all my pets. I cared for them so much, I’d get upset when one had to go. We used to put Cod Liver Oil on the cows’ feed, and they would queue up to get to it. Their coats were so beautiful and shiny.
I used to pick kale tops from the field after the cows had eaten all they wanted, and sell them to the greengrocer in Bridport, a shilling a pound. They were very popular in those days, and I’d carry a sackful into town on the handlebars of my bike. At that time we milked just the 12 cows, and we had a milk round and sold the eggs of our 200 chickens. We also grew and sold vegetables. My father was the potato king; he grew the best early potatoes anywhere round here, all naturally grown. We never used any artificial, there wasn’t any, and I think people had more sense. I always buy organic these days if I can. We sold potatoes for 17/6d a ton.
We gave up the milk round in about 1960, when we had to pasteurise it. I said to Father, “We’re not making much money out of it now, we’d best stop the milk round”. Farming was always a dangerous business, and I’ve had some lucky escapes. Our Ferguson tractor ran away with me downhill when it jumped out of gear, and I crashed into the bank. The tractor ran up the bank, but didn’t tip over backwards because of the plough on the back. There have been some scary incidents with bulls, and with our horse once or twice.
I was in the Home Guard in the last war. I got a call at 2am to say the Germans were landing at Lyme Regis. We went to the store where our kit was kept, and the sergeant said “I’m sorry Maurice, there isn’t a rifle for you, but the first man that’s shot, you can have his”. So we went down the lane to the farm where Bert Harris lived to collect him. No one would get out of the lorry to fetch Bert in case the Germans were in the bushes. So the sergeant sent me. I walked as quietly as I could down the lane, when I heard the click of a rifle being cocked. I called out “Is that you, Bert?” Thankfully Bert stood up, and his younger brother Ted, and he said, “I had my finger half-pulled on the trigger; only a bit more pressure and I’d have shot you. You spoke just in time—I thought you were Germans”. It was all a false alarm, anyway.
I went to a dance at Netherbury when I was 20. There were 3 girls there, and I asked this big chap who they were. He said he didn’t know, but I knew he did. I wanted to take one of them, called Hazel, home, but he had his eye on her. We managed to settle our differences without coming to blows, but I was ready for it, not being afraid of anyone. That was how Hazel and I got together. We married, and we had 5 children, but sadly she passed away 5 years ago.
I retired from farming when I was 63. We were just doing beef cattle then and my wife Hazel looked after them. By then we had been able to buy 5 houses, including the Old Rectory, which we bought in 1953. The Church of England had decided that the Rectory was too large for them and wanted to sell. By then we owned Miles Cross Farm and our fields were next to those that belonged to the Rectory. My Father was really only interested in the fields but the Church of England said they would only sell the fields with the building. I took two years to negotiate but in the end the Church said he could have the fields for £2000 and the Rectory for another £500. By then Father had been able to save up enough cash to buy it. It was very run down, but my mother and father were so pleased to be able to live there. Although, he wasn’t pleased that I’d bought it for a lot less than he told me to offer! After a while the whole family moved in; Father, mother, Hazel and me and our five children. He always said that all he wanted was a nice house and £2000 in the bank, and he was able to live out the rest of his days there. I was able to buy several houses in and around Bridport and I gave them all to my children or the government would have taken half when I die, and I think that’s wrong. My son Eugene took over one of the farms, and daughter Ruth took on the other.
I am also an inventor and spent three years designing the ‘Barnes Buckle’ after seeing footage of a fallen jockey being dragged. Every rider dreads falling off; and being dragged, even more so. The Barnes Buckle is a safety device which attaches to the stirrup and stirrup leather. It does not affect your riding in any way, but if the worst happens and you fall off and your foot is stuck in the stirrup, the parts will release under only 6kg of pressure but in normal riding circumstances it would take a pressure of 1400kg to part the pieces.
The Council rang me up one day and asked if I’d help them out with the car parking in Lyme Regis. That was 34 years ago. So I was car park man there for 5 years. I met all sorts of people. There was a new Mercedes I saw being parked by a couple, then a young man came and drove it away. Then two people asked me if I’d seen the car, turns out they were Special Branch, and I was able to say what colour it was, which pleased them no end. But I don’t know what that was all about.
I joined Lyme Regis Ramblers. A lady in the group asked me to pull down her wooden garage. I managed to straighten it up for her, and carried out a few other jobs, but I didn’t want paying, despite her protests. Why be greedy, I thought. We became good friends, and she would take me on holidays to the Scilly Isles. Carpentry was my hobby; I made Davenports, and tables, one of which sold many years ago for £500.
I was 14 when my grandmother told me I was descended from William Barnes the Dorset poet. In my later years I was able to fulfil a lifetime’s ambition and write some poetry. In 1993 I had them printed in a small book and published. It’s called A Poet Walks in West Dorset. Some of the poems are true, and some…well, I wish they were.

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