Life at the Ovaltine Farms

by Doreen Cooper

In the early 1950s, after Hillside Farm had been built on, I began working at the Ovaltine Dairy Farm. It was all very different from working on other Dairy Farms because despite the calf-pen cleaning, feed mixing, plus the interminable washing and sterilising of milking machines and buckets being similar, it was then after all those jobs were completed that the ‘housework’ began! Imagine the window-ledge and window cleaning involved, if your family ate hay and were bedded on straw! Added to which there were tiled walls and floors to continuously keep clean – a never-ending job!

In summer we had three coach parties daily visiting the farm, which had been built to set the standard of dairy produce required by the then famous bedtime drink. Cleanliness was essential. The coach parties first toured the factory – where they saw Ovaltine, rusks, biscuits and malt extract being prepared and packed. Then they would drive on to the farm to watch the milking and the calves being fed. The dairy work and feeding young calves was the work of Head Dairymaid, Vera Beecher, at milking times, while I weighed and recorded the milk from each cow and carried the full buckets to be strained and cooled.

After each party had gone there would be a flurry of rushed floor mopping and tidying up before the next coach of visitors arrived. Meanwhile, the visitors, often from Women’s Institutes and Townswomen’s Guilds etc, returned to the factory for tea and a pack of samples to take home. I felt it was a better advertisement than TV, and we often had film companies disrupting us for hours on end – and all for a 2-minute cinema advertisement!

After many years of cycling daily to and from Hunton Bridge, I married one of the ‘arable’ boys and we made our home and garden at Sheppey’s Farm. We started out with a caravan and then later, with our two young children, we bought a Mobile Home and enjoyed every moment in our orchard garden.

In 1966 we reluctantly moved from our ‘home on wheels’, with all its cosy advantages, at the Bedmond end of the Ovaltine Farm to the number 4 bungalow of the Ovaltine Poultry Farm. Despite having a 3-bedroom bungalow, much of the contents of our caravan home had to stay in boxes for many months, as there was far less cupboard space. Along with the garden tools and a shed we took our ‘mini’ 5-barred gate, which we had proudly hung 6 years earlier. Being the main entry to our bungalow for the next 20 years, this gate eventually ended on Kitters Green as part of the ‘mock’ cattle pound.

During the years at the bungalow our son and daughter were able to enjoy the open space around the corn and grazing fields of the ex-poultry farm. After the ravages of fowl-pest the few poultry left were kept in deep litter sheds to keep any ‘germy’ wild birds away from them. I can still remember the dreadful smell of burning carcasses, which went on for days – one of the sadder sides of farming.

At the end of our garden there was Round Wood – believed to be of Belgic origin –where the moat-like banks suggest this. There was also Long Wood with its badger setts and bluebells. All of this meant there was plenty of space for me and the children to roam. There were often picnic ‘teas’ with daddy at Harvest time. We did this so that the children could see him, as he would often work until 10.00pm when they were busy. I would build bale ‘houses’ in the back field for the children to play in and during the school holidays several children came to play, dressing up as cowboys or Indians from a large ‘dressing up drawer’. Everyone enjoyed those days and it was great fun for me too!

I also realised that when teachers took the children on Nature Walks in our farm lane there wasn’t much to show them. I asked the farm manager if I could make a path through Round Wood and show them the area. It was agreed and these walks proved very popular as they saw squirrel dreys, crows nests, trees pecked by woodpeckers and wild flowers. All this helped with their nature lessons.

So with cycling to school with the children, on to the shops or laundrette and then off to work on a rabbit farm (owned by Dennis Lotis’s wife*), my days were very full. When I couldn’t ride my cycle because of deep snow I even took a sledge up to the village and back.

Our life then was one of wildlife and badger watching, wooding for our lovely log fires after the gales, blackberrying, mushrooming and harvesting hazelnuts – just perfect!

Then to spoil this wonderful rural landscape came the long dreaded M25 motorway – and our garden was torn apart. Plants were given away, rockery flints, pudding stone and paving slabs carted away from the bulldozers. A pond was purchased to re-house our fish and newts, ready to go, we knew not where? White crosses painted on much loved beech trees and finally we found ourselves helping the badger officer to ‘move’ the badgers from the centuries old setts in Long Wood – to find new ‘homes’ away from the ‘route’. Before we knew it we too found ourselves moved on – and no more feeding our special badger visitor each night...

So our lifestyle for 30 years as ‘Ovaltiney’s’ was over – leaving us with only memories of a time past... and the landscape of yesteryear. n

*Dennis Lotis - a dance band singer of radio and TV fame.


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