Human fertiliser raised a right old stink

A DRINK and a meal at the Butt and Oyster public house by the River Orwell at Pin Mill, is a very pleasant experience, with thousands of locals and tourists visiting the beauty spot every year.

David Kindred

A DRINK and a meal at the Butt and Oyster public house by the River Orwell at Pin Mill, is a very pleasant experience, with thousands of locals and tourists visiting the beauty spot every year. Imagine how different it would have been when 82-year-old John Andrews was a boy and barges unloaded untreated sewage from London to be used to fertilise the fields!

John, who now lives in King's Lynn, said: “My early recollections of life in the 1930s, in the Shotley Peninsula, revolve around my schooldays. Shotley School then was known as an area school and took pupils from primary schools in other villages when they were 11. Some travelled to school on the service bus while those who didn't live within walking distance or the bus route were issued on loan with county council bicycles.

“These were distinctive machines painted black and white and it was the responsibility of the user to keep them clean and in good repair. The boys and girls from Erwarton were users of these bicycles and they kept them very well.

“The headmaster, Mr Snell, lived at the end of the street in a large house with a beautiful garden, which he tended lovingly. Gardening was a regular subject taught to the boys at the school with Mr Snell as the tutor and from those small beginnings, I became a keen gardener and still to this day practice what Mr Snell taught, so sound was his teaching.

“Shotley Peninsula in those days was a predominantly agricultural area with fewer houses than today and no large housing developments. Shotley itself was also dependant upon HMS Ganges, the Navy Boys' training establishment, as a source of employment. I lived in a terrace of farm cottages until 1938 when we moved to a new bungalow in what was the first stage development at Shotley Gate.

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“It was about this time that electricity first came to the peninsula. As boys our play revolved around the nearest farm and we roamed freely among the farm implements and the large shire horses which were the tractors of their day. These animals were very well cared for and I never saw one ill treated. On occasions a beautifully groomed and bridled stallion would arrive on foot. There was no animal transport in those days, all to ensure that the supply of work horses was perpetuated. Similarly, a common sight on the road was the boar walker, every farm having a large complement of pigs, which on hot days was very obvious.

“Harvest was a time of particular enjoyment. We children, armed with knob-ended sticks, followed the reaper and binder as the wheat, barley or oat field was progressively cut, hoping to catch the odd rabbit as it made a dash for it. As the standing crop grew steadily less, we knew that the rabbits would be massing at its centre. We would form a circle around and as the rabbits rushed out would knock out as many as we could. How cruel and barbaric it all seems now.

“The main road to Ipswich was then relatively narrow, but traffic was light, although the Eastern Counties provided a better bus service then than now. The adult return fare was just one shilling and sixpence. The road became busier in the late 1930s when the fuel requirements of HMS Ganges had to be satisfied and a collier docked at Ipswich, discharged into a fleet of lorries, which then transported the coal to Shotley.

“Prior to this Thames barges, loaded with coal, beached on the 'hard' at Shotley Gate and, at low tide, the coal was transferred to horse drawn tumbrils and hauled up Bristol Hill to the Ganges coal pounds. The hards were a common feature all round the peninsula, that at Pin Mill being still recognisable today, while traces of others remain. Another commodity arriving at these hards was organic manure, mainly untreated, from the London sewage farms, also transported in Thames barges and again horse and cart hauled to the fields, it had to be smelt to be believed!

“Over the years, and going back to the First World War, the pattern of public transport changed. In 1919/20 the recognised way of getting to Ipswich from Shotley was by the Great Eastern Railways ferry or HMS Ganges pinnace to Harwich, then by train. Travel direct to Ipswich by road could only be achieved by horse and wagon until a pair of entrepreneurs inaugurated a bus service. One of these, Bill Edmunds, later became an Eastern Counties driver when taken over by the latter company.

“With little traffic there were few accidents and crime was at a minimum. Even so almost every village had its policeman who lived in a police house and patrolled on a bicycle; the ratio of police to total population then being about 1 to 200, a far cry from today's figure and a good reason why crime has so greatly increased. The local bobby was a firm, but friendly soul and we children thoroughly respected him, looking upon him as something of a father figure and never as “the enemy”.

I will continue John's fascinating story of life on the Shotley peninsular next week. Do John's memories remind you of your life in the past? Write to Dave Kindred, Kindred Sprits, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, or e-mail info@kindred-spirit.co.uk