Farming 1900-1950

Marsden Cattle Fair

Marsden Fairs were held on 25th April, 10th July, and 26th September39. J.B. Robinson wrote in 1885 that:

"Work was commenced in a morning as usual at the mills, but scouts were on the look out to see the first cow coming to the fair, down by Slaithwaite Hall. The moment the anxiously-looked-for animal was seen, a signal was given, a joyous shout was raised . . . the mills stood idle for the remainder of the day; and work was frequently only indifferently resumed the following morning."

Cows, sheep and pigs, driven from as far as Outlane, were displayed loose in the streets of Marsden. Philip Holroyd of Peters Farm, as a boy, was given a shilling for helping the farmer at Well Lane take his cattle to their place outside the Liberal Club, and minding them there. There were no auctioneers, and bargains were driven "by a shake of the hands". The fair included other street stalls, and the day would end with much drunken revelry and some fighting.

In September 1863 the Huddersfield Examiner reported of Marsden Fair that "many of the sheep seemed possessed of a wayward and refractory temper". Does anything ever change?

Marsden Fairs ended in the 1950s, when regulations associated with tuberculin and brucellosis testing meant that cattle from different herds could no longer mix freely in the streets. Local poet Molly Baskerville recalls the fairs in her nostalgic poem:40

Yond Tahmes

Us two were born i’ Cuckoo-land
some tu- thri yer ago, owd lass,
remember th’Owd schooil up bi’t church
it near fell dahn on top ‘o’t class.
Can ta think on, when Eastergate – an Cat’oiles
never saw no cars!
where we could paddle, swim an all,
but watter’s gooan, thers nowt but scars
where pipes are planted inta’t graynd
instead o’ grass, gret concrete lumps
in straggling trails – wha, even’t sheep
mek nowt o’t place –
hop ovver’t bumps!
But let us think on’t brighter sahde
th’owd cattle fairs, we ‘eld us noses
as’t brush-an-shuvvill fowk went Daft!
scrattin’t pahles up – fo’ ther roses!

Read 'Fair memories at Marsden' from the Colne Valley Guardian (28.9.73).

Local Milk Rounds

Philip Holroyd, of Peter’s Farm, Binn, remembers back to the 1930s when Marsden was served by milk rounds from many different dairy-farmers41. "My great-uncle’s round extended down to the Old New Inn; people did not trespass on each other’s patch". The first job of the morning was to feed the horse which would pull the milk float, and then milking began. The milk was cooled in the well before they bought two in-churn coolers. It was served into customers’ jugs, from an oval cross-section 10-gallon can, using serving-out cans (half-pint, pint or larger). The serving-out cans had to be taken to the Mechanics to be stamped. Some time before World War II, the Holroyds began bottling milk – the bottles had cardboard caps.

The milk was raw; tuberculin testing, followed by brucellosis testing, became compulsory in the 1950s. Peters was the first Colne Valley farm to have its herd tested for brucellosis. This caused problems because it was then hard to find brucellosis-tested shorthorns, which they preferred. "We found Friesians too big – they would shake the hillsides".

Excess milk was sold to a dairy; churns were collected from the roadside and taken to Holmfirth. Peters Farm gave up dairying in 1984 when Dickinsons stopped collecting churns; it was not worth the investment of buying a small milk-tanker which could be pumped out into Dickinsons’ motor-tanker.

Norman Brammall of Manor House Farm gave up dairying earlier, after a visiting inspector found faults in the new dairy he built to meet Government regulations. He tore up his milk licence and turned to beef cattle instead. There are no longer any dairy farmers in Marsden42.

Neighbourly Help

When the nearest vet was at Huddersfield (and expensive), neighbouring farmers would help each other out with lambing, calving and sick animals.

Remedies for cows included bottles of stout, coffee, various liniments, and Epsom salts. The farmer at Acre Head once had a cow which could not bring up its cud. Philip Holroyd’s great-uncle mixed soil and treacle into a ball and pushed it down the cow’s throat. The cow vomited up whatever was causing the obstruction.


All the fields were cut for hay, but Marsden weather made haymaking an unreliable business. Jack Brammall of Manor House Farm remembers that sometimes it would continue until August. Although horse-drawn mowers first appeared in Marsden in the late 19th century, hay was often scythed, turned and raked by hand; people of all ages would turn out to help. Sometimes itinerant Irish labourers, who might be hired at the Summer Cattle Fair, would mow. Later, horse-drawn machinery was more commonly used to mow, rake, shake and turn hay. Marsden farms were late to acquire tractors, but, finally, tractor-drawn balers came in.

World War II

Farming was a reserved occupation; Marsden farms were too small for land-girls to be used. Jack Brammall remembers the High Gate barn being requisitioned to store Carnation Milk and corned beef, possibly for troops stationed in the Colne Valley. Farmers were instructed to plough some fields for turnips, kale, and other crops to feed their animals, since corn was in short supply. In 1941-3 the Government held a National Farm Survey, collecting information from each farm in the country through returns and an inspection. Any information from Marsden has not yet been inspected.

On dairy farms, extra coupons were provided for tea towels etc. Some, like Marion Bentley at Binn Lodge Farm, began to make their own butter to supplement rations43. Farmers were allowed to kill up to two pigs a year for their own consumption; at Binn Lodge Farm, one was sufficient for their needs. The butcher would visit, and the pig was humanely slaughtered on the farm. The portions of pork and bacon were put on stone slabs and salted down with rock salt (chopped from a block and crushed with a rolling pin), packed with salt in pans and left for 2-3 weeks. Children would make a football out of the pig’s bladder.

Moorland Grazing

In the thirties, Philip Holroyd recalls, all the Binn farmers used their Cow Gates on Binn Moor. "Everybody knew the grazing on the moor was no good until June, so the cows were put on then. Once they settled, they milked better on the moor than in the fields". While the hay was growing, the cows were on the moor day and night. The person who first went up to collect their cows for milking would bring down the cows belonging to other farmers. Or a dog might be sent out to round up the cows. Sometimes cows would stray a long way on the moor, and be reluctant to come when called, especially if they would have to face into the rain.

When the Army started the shooting range on Deer Hill, they paid out local farmers for their Cow Gates at £10 each. Grazing was still permitted, but if a cow was accidentally shot, no compensation would be paid.

Women and Farming

The Marsden Censuses between 1841 and 1901 feature many women heads of households whose occupation was "Farmer". Many were widows, farming with the help of children or sometimes with hired help. In the 1871 and 1881 Censuses the occupations "Farmer’s Wife" and "Farmer’s Daughter" were common, but this does not necessarily mean these women did farm work; "Waterman’s Wife" and "Foundry Labourer’s Wife", for example, also existed. From 1891 to 1901, farmers’ wives without outside work were given no occupation; either an apparently "idle" wife was considered more genteel, or the Census-takers’ guidelines changed.

In actual fact, most probably women on farms always participated in farm work to the degree that childbearing and household work permitted, and had little time for genteel idleness. Keeping poultry, raising young animals and dairy work might certainly be their province. The widowed farmer’s wife would probably be fully acquainted with all aspects of the farm and, with additional labour, be able to take on her husband’s role.

In the twentieth century, Yvonne Holroyd and Shirley Waterhouse describe participating in farm work alongside their male relatives. Shirley milked, made hay using horse-drawn machinery and later a tractor, and tried dry-stone walling. The Holroyds still eat eggs from Yvonne’s poultry.

Chickens and Rabbits

Chickens were widely kept on farms and allotments; the Brammalls kept 1200 at one time. Eggs were sold to the packing station in large boxes containing dozens of eggs. We know there was a Marsden Poultry Society around 1960, who gave prizes annually44.

Rabbits were caught using ferrets; nets would be put over rabbit-holes, and the ferret sent down to flush the rabbits out. Shirley Waterhouse says that invariably rabbits would escape from an undetected hole and people would dive after them.

  1. Marsden Memorials, The Huddersfield Examiner, Saturday October 17th, 1885.
  2. Molly Baskerville, 'Yar End O't Valley…' Poems and verses, published c. 1985.
  3. Philip and Yvonne Holroyd, Peters Farm, interviewed by Hazel Seidel in May 2006.
  4. Jack Brammall, Manor House Farm, interviewed by Hazel Seidel in March 2006.
  5. Shirley Waterhouse, Binn Lodge Farm, interviewed by Hazel Seidel in May 2006.
  6. Photograph, Kirklees Community History Service.