Vina Stoodley (nee Rendell)




JC  Vina has already given some of her memories in the Beaminster Society Booklet 

‘Around and About of Winter 2002’.  

She has agreed to talk to me today just so I can find out a little bit more.

So first of all Vina, when were  you born?

VS  I was born on the 8th July, 1921.

JC  And where did you live?  Have  you lived in Beaminster all your life and were you born here?

VS  No, I wasn’t born in Beaminster.  I was born in the Tunnel House on the north side of the tunnel and I stayed there for forty years.  And then I came down to Beaminster as it says in the book.

JC  And I know that you were the youngest of 14 children.  So life must have been quite crowded in your house.

VS  Well, you could say at times it was a little bit hectic but it was absolutely wonderful.  It was great.  Nobody knows how great it was.  

JC  Well, of course, big families like that are very uncommon these days.  I think it’s quite remarkable to meet somebody who was part of such a big family and I know you said you lost some of your ……………….

VS  Four passed away actually before I was born so I can’t remember anything about them naturally.

JC  And your mother was in charge of putting up the lights in the tunnel and lighting them and so on?  What did your father’s job involve?

VS  My father was an agriculture worker.  That means, like, a general farmworker, and he did anything and everything that had to be done on the farm.  And that is what they called a general farmworker.  

JC  And is that why, you think, you wanted to be out on the land?

VS  Well,  I’ll say, I left school at 13. For the first 3 working years of my life I did factory work at Crewkerne.  I hated it and left after 3 years and then, of course, the war broke out and I wanted to go in the Air Force. But, unfortunately, I didn’t pass.  So, I always said if I couldn’t do that then I would do different from the other girls in the family.   I wouldn’t go into service because I don’t think I could say ‘Yes Madam’, ‘No Madam’, so I went farming and I got that off of dad.  But dad died soon after I started farming so I had to sort of learn all the skills on my own. Which I did.  

JC  Taking you back a little bit, you went to the Infants School in Beaminster because you mention here one of your teachers, Connie Rogers.  How many children roughly were there in the Infants School at that time?

VS  I honestly can’t say roughly how many.  I would be telling a lie I think if I tried to number them but naturally it’s not so big as it is these days.

JC  And after the Infants School?  Which school did you go to?

VS  To Beaminster Girls School.

JC  And what was that like.  That must again be very different to the way schools are now.

VS  Well, the Infants School and the Girls School that was joined together those days.  The Infants School was at the top, sort of beside the road.  If you go down towards what was the School House that was the Girls School.

JC   Right.  And what sort of subjects did you study at school?

VS  I think mostly like they do now.  History, Geography, Sums (we used to call it sums then).   What else?  We used to have sports and things like that.

JC  And did you have to wear a uniform?

VS  No, not in those days.  No.

JC  And what did you enjoy most at school?

VS  I didn’t like school to be quite frank.

JC  So you weren’t a person who enjoyed all the lessons?  (Laughter)

VS  No I didn’t.

JC  So you were glad to leave at 13?

VS  Well, I wouldn’t have been able to leave at 13 had I not had another car accident which, again, is in that little book.

JC  So, starting on your first farm, I think you went to North Dibberford Farm…………………………….?

VS  North Buckham.

JC  Oh, North Buckham Farm.  And what was your job there.  What kind of things did you have to do when you started?

VS  Everything.  You could say everything.  I’ll give you sort of like a normal day.

JC  That would be fabulous, yes.

VS  I’d get up at 5.30 in the morning.  I’d a cup of tea, this is honest truth, cup of tea and two of those big square cream crackers and then I went to work.  I’d have to go at work at 6 o’clock.

JC  How did you get there?

VS  Walked across the fields from Tunnel House.  Had to cross one, two, three fields that was all.  It would take me about five or ten minutes to get there.  Then I’d have to open up the cow stalls.  I’d have to probably walk across another couple of fields, round up the cows, drive them in, put them all in place (they’d go in place once you’d got them into the yard), open up the doors and they’d walk to their own places and then you’d go and get your milking bucket and stool, put on your cap and apron and you’d go and milk the cows by hand.  And there was, let me see, one, two, three of us used to milk the cows.

JC  And how big was the herd?

VS  When I went to North Buckham we had about 40 cows.

JC  So how long would that take.  There were 3 of you to do the morning milking?

VS  Well, it took me a heck of a time when I started first but they always said a good hand milker could milk 9 cows to the hour and, believe me, you had to be good.  I could do that by the time I finished.

JC  So what happened after milking.

VS  After milking you’d put the cows back out in the field providing you’d made sure every cow was all right.  If  you saw something you thought was wrong you’d keep that cow back.  But if they were all right you’d let them back out in the field.  You’d shut the gate behind you, you’d come back and say ‘Now I’m going home to breakfast’.  You’d go home to breakfast which, sometimes you could have an hour, sometimes it was half an hour.  You’d go back again and you’d get your wheelbarrow and clean out all the cows stalls, wash them all down and everything like that and then it was all according what time of the year it was, you’d go out in the fields to work.  Whatever had to be done like like hedge trimming, hacking docks and thistles, or perhaps you had to cut kale or pull swedes or something like that for the packing person thing (?unclear).  You always filled your…… part of the day…………. by doing things actually out (? unclear).  And then, when 4 o’clock come, you was back to the cows again.  And, if you was lucky, you would get home about 6 o’clock at night.

JC  And I bet you knew you’d done a day’s work?  (Laughter)

VS  Yes.  Well, you see if you come round to summer time, that was a different story because you had to go hay making.  Well (? unclear) those days we’ll say, through the war days, they didn’t just put the clocks on one hour, they were put on two hours.

JC  So you had more working daylight?


VS  Yes.  And you had to work that hour’s daylight as well but you’d still start at 6 in the morning and if you were hay making, time you’ve got home it could be somewhere half-ten, eleven o’clock at night.

JC  So the war changed things in farming did it?

VS  Defininitely.

JC  How would you say things changed apart from just getting extra time on the clocks?

VS  It was harder.  Harder than whatever it is today.  You didn’t have bales of hay those days, you had to make a hay rick.

JC  So you were stooking the hay were you?  I don’t know what you call it in Dorset.

VS  Hay rick we called it.  You put up a hay rick.  But……….. how can I explain it to you………….. sometimes you have horses to do this because you had to cut the hay – cut the grass you know with a mowing machine.  You’d have two horses for that, one each side; the mowing machine was behind.  They cut the grass then leave it until the top of the grass was dry and then you’d get another implement out, what was called a turner, and it would turn the top to the bottom and then that would dry.  Well, when that was done you’d get another one out and put it into rows, what we used to call ‘rewing’.

JC  Rewing?

VS  Rewing because you had rows.  It was rewing and you’d do that and then if the farmer was a bit well off, we’ll say, and had an old motor car he’d put what they called a sweep in front of the car and they would sweep that up through the rows and get it all up in the sweep, bring it in where you was making the rick and tip it out.  But they didn’t tip it out of a motor car what he done was back, back.  But if you held the horse with the sweep you had to tip it out and so then the one that had to get the hay up to the rick, we’ll say, had what we called an elevator.  Just like stairs but it had chains that get everything up.  You understand me?

JC  It was like a belt was it that ……..  or like an escalator?

VS  Something like that.  Yes.  The only person that I can think got one, or could have one at this day and age, is John Lake.  I think that’s the last person I ever saw –  one at his farm – and you had to pitch it up by pitchfork into that and take it up the rick and, probably, two would make the rick.  But I usually had to do the pitching into the elevator.  (Laughter)

JC  So, on the farm there were three of you who did the herdswomen’s job presumably, the milking and that sort……… was that………………

VS  You wasn’t a herdswoman then.  If you were a herdsman or a herdswoman you done the cows (? unclear) yourself.  That was responsible.  Your responsibility.  But before machines come in one couldn’t do that on their own with a herd of cows.  To get it out in time for milk lorries to take it to the factory.  You couldn’t do it in that time.  But as soon as machines come out you learnt to do the machine milking and take the whole responsibility of the herd of cows and you had to pass tests.  You had to take exams.  Someone would come down from the Ministry and be there and you had to pass that test before you could become a herdswoman or herdsman.

JC When did you start using milking machinery and giving up milking by hand?

VS  I’d two herds of cows I ran.  At each farm I went I had to turn the cows around from hand miliking to machine milking.

JC  How did the cows take to this?

VS  You was lucky if you got away without being kicked a dozen times.

JC  Presumably this was an enormous difference for them?  If they’d been used to hand miliking.

VS  Well yes but it’s to my idea of explaining it to you, would be you’d have to have – what shall I say – the same knowledge of turning a naughty child into a good child.  You had to use your patience and you had to talk to cows just the same as you would try and talk to a naughty child.  That’s the only way I can explain it.  You had to show your kindness.  If you treated them all right, they’ll treat you and my dear old dad, before he died, he always said to me ‘What you cannot do without a stick you will not do by using a stick’.  That’s where I got that from and I never did.  I don’t like to see animals hurt.  I can’t stick it.     


JC  So, on the farms that you worked on, how many other people worked on these farms?  I mean were there a lot of farm workers, or a few…………………  Did that change over the years?

VS  At North Buckham Farm, when I went there first, there were only two of us except like the boss.  Mr. Swaffield was North Buckham Farmer.  There was Mrs. Swaffield, my brother-in-law which was Geoffrey Higgins and myself.  Mrs. Swaffield she could milk and all that and, if we was running late she would help, but she used to do all the chickens and turkeys and things like that, you know.  Feed all that while we was doing the milking.  

JC  And were there local markets that cattle and so on were either sent to or brought back from?  Where were the markets?

VS  Markets was Bridport, Yeovil and Dorchester.

JC  Right.  And were those weekly or monthly livestock markets?

VS  Weekly.

JC  Really.

VS  Different days they had. 

JC  And did you get a chance to take anything to market very often or were you mostly stayed on the farm?

VS  I had to stay behind.  That was doing your job.  (Laughter)  No.  I mean yes I did stay behind but the cattle lorry would come and you had to be there to load them  and then Mr……. Mrs. Swaffield used to go to market and see them sold because it was the duty of the lorry driver to make sure that your cattle got to the market properly and they would be put in like a ring, you know, and they’d get labels stuck on them.

JC  So Beaminster, during the war years, must have been a different place with the blackout and with rationing.  Did it seem very different – were the lights still used in the tunnel during the war.

VS  Oh, goodness me, no!  

JC  Right, so that was all out?

VS  You should walk through that tunnel and it was blackout.  It was very, very creepy I can tell  you.

JC  And so, during the war years as well, the rationing affected your family and you as farm labourers and workers as well.

VS You see, that’s another thing that a lot of people never knew I don’t expect.  If you was farm working you would get extra things …………… not things, you’d get all the same things that were rationed – but you’d get a little more because you were farm working.  You had a heavy job to do.  I think it was, you’d get about a quarter pound of cheese extra and maybe about two ounces of butter extra.  Something like that.

JC  So did you take a carried lunch to work every day or sandwiches?  Ofr did you eat at lunchtime during the day ………………….

VS  No, you’d walk home at 1 o’clock for your dinner (we used to call it dinner) and ………………………

JC  And was that your main meal of the day?

VS  That was the main meal of the day and you’d have an hour for that and back at 2 o’clock.

JC  And did you have a meal when you came in in the evening?  Did you have supper or a tea?

VS  Yes.  You’d have supper.  Because you couldn’t call it tea because it was gone teatime.  (Laughter)

JC  It must have been very difficult though for your family to ………………. with all the ration books to deal with and all the cooking and trying to get food……….

VS  I cannot……………  All right, I’m 83 now and I look back on this more and more even as I get older and come to realise more.  I cannot think sometimes however did my mother manage to feed all we lot.  But she was perfect.  We never once went hungry.  Never.

JC  That’s an amazing achievement given all the difficulties.

VS  I cannot praise my mother enough.  No, I can’t.

JC  And what about the things like clothes rationing.  Was that a difficulty or was it make do and mend anyway?  (Lots of laughter)

VS  It  was bound to be really because seeing that I had older sisters, you pass it on down.  I was putting it on last so it was practically worn out before I got it.  (Lots of laughter)  But that’s how you managed.  Mother would go to sales, jumble sales, something like that.  I mean even a jumble sale, if you was lucky enough to have one, was different you know, because the clothes were half worn out before you even got it at a jumble sale.  But we used to do it.  it had to be done.

JC  And what did you do for fun?  What was your entertainment at that time?


VS  Well, if you worked hard enough you didn’t want to go out at night.  All you wanted to do is sit down.

JC  Was the Beaminster Fair before the war still going on?

VS  Before the war?

JC  Yes.  Presumably it all stopped during the war time.

VS  That used to be right in the Square.  

JC  And presumably people used to quite look forward to something like that?

VS  You’d save up all the year just to go to the Fair.  

JC  What sort of things did they have at this Fair?

VS  Well, just the same as an ordinary fair that you’d go to.  The acts, like the horses then were the roundabouts, you know, horses would go up and down.  Coconut shies, hoopla, throw the ball, bowl for a goldfish and all these things; roll a penny up and you might get twopence back if you landed in a square.

JC  Because, of course, all these fairs, these days are disappearing now.

VS  Swingboats.  (? unclear)  (Lots of laughter) Oh, it was great, yes.

JC  But during the weektimes you just wanted to come home and have a jolly good rest?

VS  Makes me feel tired now to think.

JC  And when did you get married?

VS  1945.

JC  Was that before, or after, VE Day?  I suppose there were all the shortages still so it was really a wartime wedding?

VS  It was.  I bought the wedding dress and my husband actually was in the Commandos so he got married in his uniform.  We got married in St. Mary’s Church, Beaminster.  We paid for a Special Licence to be married so as we could be married when he had leave.  So you had to get a Special Licence for that.

JC  Was he a Beaminster person?

VS  No.  He was Somerset.

JC  From across the border!

VS  Yes, but he was still the boy that I went with when I was 14.

JC  Oh, how smashing. How super.  So presumably you borrowed your wedding dress, what did you do about having a tea or a reception or a honeymoon?  Could  you do that?

VS  Well, most of my sisters then, was married and my eldest sister, believe it or not, she was my Matron of Honour.  and that’s the only one I had.  I didn’t have no bridesmaids.  She was my Matron of Honour and she was a cook.  She went as a cook right through her service time and both girls got together and they made up different things and there was a lovely old lady that lived at Southgate in Beaminster and she would sort of go out, if she knew people, and help out.  And she would do things and her name was Mrs. Colman and there’s a Colman still living in Beaminster and I think that would  be her grandson.  I’m not sure but that’s what she did.  And we didn’t come into the town to the reception, we held it in my sister’s house because her house was biggest.  (Laughter)


JC  Were you able to have any sort of a honeymoon?

VS  No.  Because we got married on Saturday, we had Sunday at home with Mam and, on the Monday, my husband had to go back.  So that was that.

JC  And do you remember VE Day and VJ Day?  Were there any celebrations in the town.

VS  Ah yes, but I can’t enlighten now what it was but there was things going on to celebrate it but I can’t visualise it.

JC  There were a lot of American troops in the town during the lead up to D Day and, I think, I believe, other troops sort of stationed here.

VS  Oh there was lots through the war.

JC  Did you come across any of them or were they, did they keep themselves to themselves or were they very outgoing and friendly.

VS  Several of the Americans married Beaminster girls.

JC  That must have made Beaminster very different then, having all these strangers here.

VS   Don’t ask no more…………………. (Laughter)

JC   No, not at all.  (Laughter)  Sounds to me like either hell on earth for some people, heaven on earth for others.

VS   True, true.  But we were still living way out.

JC  And did it seem as though you were well out of town.  You said you lived out of town as if it was really sort of a very separate life.  Beyond the tunnel.

VS  Yes, it was because it’s different than town life.  Say you ran out of some shopping, like bread or something like that.  You just can’t walk down the road and get a load of bread for your kids.  Mother would have to walk from Tunnel House to Beaminster to get a loaf of bread.  You can’t do that.  You’ve got to budget for what you and your kids want to live off from one pay day to the next pay day.  It’s no fun believe me.

JC  Well you’ve lived all your life in Beaminster which is an amazing achievement these days where people disappear to the four winds and move around.  What do you think the best thing about being in this area for you is.  What have you enjoyed most about spending your years here?

VS  I would say the best thing…………………………  now, that is a question I’m asked.  I think I must say was my life that I had before I come to Beaminster, right into the town………………

JC  When you were still living out at Tunnel House?

VS  Yes.

JC  And your life presumably on the farms.  Would you have changed any of that to do something else?

VS  No, not looking back.  I would have been a vet if I could have been.

JC  You had a real affinity with animals?

VS  Yes.  I would have been a vet if I could.  Well looking back on it I never thought of it about that time.  But now, if I could go back (? unclear) to be a vet.

JC  Well thank  you ever so much for spending some time telling us of your life in Beaminster and your work.  It’s been really super.  Thank you very, very much.

VS  Well, you’re more than welcome.