|This article was written in 1963|
A high-piled hay-wain stood in one corner of the yard, geese and mandarin ducks strutted in the weak October sun, there was a sound of sawing. “He’s in the wood shed,” said Miss Westbrook, who, together with her sister, owns Sylrock Farm, Lower Froyle. The sound of sawing stopped and from the shed came William John Day, perhaps the oldest active farm worker in Hampshire certainly the Union know of none with longer service.
Jack, as he is known to the people of Froyle, put on his jacket, took his stick in his hand and walked over to his favourite seat in the garden. He limps a little now, but at 84, and after a serious accident, he is remarkably agile. He is a Berkshireman by birth, born at Earley in 1879, the son of a carter. Sitting on his seat, he began to talk about the old days.
He began work at the age of nine, driving and ploughing with his father. The carters were often a little touchy on Monday mornings, remembered Jack, having run out of tobacco over the weekend. On one occasion a carter pulled Jack’s ears so hard that they bled, “only because he had no baccy.” Market days were a special treat for Jack. At holiday time he would go out to mix a little business with pleasure with his father and the rest of the village, and quarter days he particularly favoured. The farmers and labourers would gather in the square and all eyes would turn to the hats. The men seeking employment would carry the symbol of their trade in their hats the shepherds would carry wool, the carters whipcord, the labourers corn and the cowmen cow-hair. Sometimes he would walk to Basingstoke Fair. He would wear his usual clothes, an apron (he never wore a smock) and his cap back-to-front. “Fairs were really fairs then,” he recalls, “not like they are now.” In an age of heavy drinking, when deals were often concluded over a bottle of whisky, these occasions were a good excuse for a drink. “In those days a pint cost a penny and an ounce of tobacco threepence. You could have a real good evening for a shilling,” said Jack. He and his friends always used the tap room, sitting on the wooden seats around the fire in winter and outside on the grass in summer. There they would sit and sing traditional country songs and tell their tales well into the night. Often after a drink the young men would fight; “it was our exercise,” laughed Jack, who still drinks a bottle of stout each morning.
“In those days we did everything ourselves - we had to,” he said. Thus every Friday Jack would churn the butter in an old end-over-end churn. He was in the copse at the appropriate season, cutting wattles for hurdles, or pea sticks and bean poles. In summer he would often work long into the night, using a hurricane lamp when the sun set. Although a cowman, he was, and still is, able to tackle any job on the farm (although he will have no truck with machinery). He can thatch a rick in the old manner, using straw and hazel wands, and lay a hedge in a way that makes a wire fence look puny.
Jack was a cowman until 1947 then “Rosy,” one of his cows, trod on his leg and injured him so badly that he had to give up heavy work. However, Jack admits that it was his fault, “I had her on too short a rope,” he said.
Jack spent half a century with the Westbrook family, of Froyle, first with Mr. G. Westbrook, then with his daughters. He moved with them from Sylvester's Farm to Rock House Farm, and is now at Sylrock Farm. In all this time he has lived in the farm house. He still gets up at six every morning and sees to the jobs around the yard, but seldom ventures outside the farm gates now. In the evening he sits in his own corner of the kitchen, by the old range. He has his own table for his things under the stairs which lead to his own room and he sits there, pipe in hand, a merry twinkle in his blue eyes, as he recalls old times. The radio is nearby and he listens to “The Archers” each evening before going to bed at about 7.30. “I like their dealings,” he says. “I like Ned Larkin and old Walter Gabriel best.”
Jack himself could well be a character out of the story, and even Froyle has an Ambridge-like atmosphere. He is everyone’s image of the old countryman, peaceful and timeless as the land itself, almost a part of the soil
“A long life,” said Jack Day, “comes with a happy and contented mind”; and after 80 years of doing things worth doing in the Hampshire countryside, that is what he has.