|Trumpington Local History Group
The Proud Son of a Trumpington
|Copyright © Trumpington Local History Group, 2014. Updated 9 July 2014.
|Throughout history, the people who worked the land, as opposed to owning it, have always had
one thing in common: poverty. Agricultural wages have always been among the lowest; and
were certainly still so in the 1950s. For farm workers and their families, austerity wasn't just a
period after the Second World War; it was a permanent way of life - especially in the winter,
when no overtime was available.
For a winter Sunday-tea, my mother would often finely chop a home-grown onion or two and
share it out onto tea plates. It would be sprinkled with sugar and malt-vinegar and eaten with
bread and margarine. I always thoroughly enjoyed it, even though eating it with tears in my
eyes, but from the onion, rather than any sense of deprivation. I assumed everyone ate such
things for Sunday tea.
One Sunday tea-time someone knocked on our front door. Whilst my father went to answer it,
my mother hastily gathered up all our half-eaten plates of onion and hid them round the corner
on the stairs. And even though I was only around ten or eleven years old, I immediately picked
up on her sense of shame.
|Ron Goodliffe on the tractor, with Brian Goodliffe sitting
beside his father, 1956, probably from the gateway into
Trumpington Park, looking across Grantchester Road to the
churchyard. Photo: Goodliffe family.
|In 1955, much to my parents' delight, I
passed my 11-plus exam and was offered a
place at what was then Cambridge Central
School for Boys, on Parkside, adjacent to
Parkers Piece. But they weren't quite so
delighted when they received the list of all
the uniform, sports gear and other
equipment with which I had to be kitted
out. I got to wear my smart new uniform
rather a lot during the summer holidays of
1955, as my proud mother paraded me like
some kind of prize-bull in front of friends
and family and indeed anyone else she
could find to impress.
|Given the price differential, I became among the very last of my peer group still in short
trousers. Strange as it may sound, in the end it was our GP who eventually "prescribed" long
trousers for me. His surgery was just across the road from the top of Maris Lane. For several
winters I'd suffered from painful and itching chilblains on my toes. I had tried the "old wives"
remedies of rubbing with raw onion (raw onion seems to have been very prevalent in my
childhood!), and had even - with grimacing face and teeth firmly clenched - tried the
"chamber-pot treatment". That's how desperate I was. But to no avail. In the end I took myself
to the doctor. Upon seeing my exposed stick-thin frozen legs, in delicate shades of purple and
orange, he quickly diagnosed that the problem was a serious deficiency in long trousers and
wrote a note, confirming same, to give to my mother. I could have kissed him! The long
trousers not only raised my poor self-esteem a couple of notches: they did indeed cure my
But let's go back to the beginning of my years in Trumpington. In November 1946, my late
father, Ron Goodliffe, got a job as a tractor driver on the Pemberton estate and we moved into
a tied-cottage in Swan's Yard, a small row of terraced cottages that used to be off the east side
of the High Street, vaguely opposite what I believe was called The Red House, where the nurse
lived. I was two-and-a-half.
In 1948, we moved to 18 Grantchester Road, or Dated Cottage, as it was then known, as it had
the year 1654 emblazoned on the front in big metal numbers. On the photo taken a few years
later, I'm standing back left, with my brother in front of me, and with two of the Parr brothers
beside us. They lived in the other half of the cottage: number 16. It's their front door you can
see. Our front door was actually on the left hand side of the property.
Then, in 1954, we moved next-door-but-one into 22 Grantchester Road, otherwise known as
Park Cottage, opposite the church. Bearing in mind the thatched roof, I remember that Guy
Fawkes Night was always a very stressful time for my dad. Any rockets or other fireworks that
shot things out would be aimed at 45 degrees, over our eight-foot garden wall into Trumpington
Park, where they could do far less damage. My brother Mick and I would see the whoosh as
they set off, but from our lower eye levels we missed most of the coloured starbursts that the
adults were ooing and aahing over. But at least we kept a roof over our heads.
|Brian Goodliffe, aged 11, summer 1955, after
passing the 11-plus. Photo: Goodliffe family.
|Dated Cottages and Park
Cottage, 18 and 22
Grantchester Road, 13
July 1957. Photo:
|I was very much a Free-Range child. With my father working for the Pemberton's, I bestowed
upon myself the free run of their vast estate. If I happened to know where my Dad was
working, I might set off on my bike to find him and hopefully get a ride on a tractor, and, as I
got older and could reach the pedals, occasionally get to drive it.
The general-purpose tractors on the Pemberton farms at that time were mainly a mixture of
Fordson Majors, the ubiquitous Fergusons (usually referred to as Fergies) and an Allis-Chalmers
Model B. That's my Dad driving the latter and my head you can just see peering out behind
him. The other two chaps were two of the three Irish labourers who were hired to build the
concrete access road, for what I believe was the County Agricultural Show that year, held on the
land roughly opposite Gazeley Road. After the show they stayed on to help with the harvest.
|Fordson Major and
Ferguson tractors and
Ron Goodliffe driving an
Allis-Chalmers Model B.
Photo: Brian Goodliffe
and Goodliffe family.
|Digressing slightly: I came home from school one day, and in the distance I could see a barrage
balloon high in the sky. Following the line of sight I walked across Trumpington Park and a
couple of fields until I reached where it was being winched down by a large army-type truck. It
was on the very same fields as the Show had been. Immediately under the balloon was a sort of
open-fronted cabin. Once the cabin was at ground level, a dozen or so soldiers climbed aboard,
and up it went again. With the balloon several hundred feet up, the winch stopped and all went
quiet again. Then suddenly the soldiers up in the cabin started leaping out and gently
parachuting down to earth. An exciting spectacle indeed for a young lad like me.
Once the cereals had been combined and the bales of straw carted away, the next job was to
dispose of the remaining stubble. In those days it was burnt off; and great columns of smoke
could be seen all over the countryside, as hundreds of acres of stubble were torched. Can you
imagine the fun I had? Helping my dad deliberately set fire to a field, and making sure that the
fire was spreading - by scattering burning straw from the end of a pitch-fork. It would have
been worthy of a Jim'll Fix-It request!
Once the stubble was burnt off my dad would be driving his favourite steed, an Allis-Chalmers
model M, known as a crawler or caterpillar because of its tracks. Pulling in turns a plough, discs
and then rollers, the soil would be worked into a fine tilth, ready for sowing next year's crop.
Farming equipment has always been potentially hazardous and there were occasions when my
father must have put great store in my sense of self-preservation. One that now makes me
cringe with utter disbelief is the procedure of seed drilling. The best illustration I can find for
my purpose happens to show a horse-drawn model, but they had not actually changed much by
the 1950s. In fact most would have been converted from horse- to tractor-drawn in farm
workshops up and down the country.
On the back of this implement was a narrow foot-board upon which I used to ride; while my
dad drove the tractor, very much concentrating on keeping a straight line ahead. At this point it
doesn't sound too dangerous. After all, I wasnt that far off the ground, and we were probably
doing no more than a decent jogging pace. But take away the horses; and replace them with a
tractor, so noisy that two people sitting on it side-by-side couldn't hold a normal conversation.
And in order to carry out in one operation, what the horses would have had to do in two, there
were, being towed only a few feet behind it, a set of harrows. In fact there'd be three pairs like
the ones in the picture, side by side, the full width of the drill. And each individual section of
harrow had 15 spikes that were drawn through the soil to ensure the seeds were properly
covered. If I'd slipped off that foot-board I'd have been dragged under those harrows in a trice
and by the time they'd spat me out I'd have resembled an Aberdeen Angus meatball. Maybe
that's the origin of the term "a harrowing experience"!
|Allis-Chalmers model M
crawler and seed drilling
with a harrow. Photos:
|Occasionally I'd do the rounds with the Gamekeeper, Mr Stimpson, and started taking dead
trapped moles home to skin with the idea of making a moleskin-waistcoat like the one I'd read
about in the series of "Romany" books that I'd pick up after school from Cambridge Central
Public Library, which in those days was situated in Corn Exchange Street. Having removed the
skins, I pinned them out onto a board to dry, as the first stage of the curing process, but then
my mother said there was no way she was going to handle them to do the necessary
needlework, so that project was doomed at a very early stage.
I've already mentioned the very low wages. There was at the time a fledgling Union of
Agricultural Workers and, very uncharacteristically, my father was some sort of local Secretary
for same, but when you're living in a house that goes with your job you're not exactly inclined
to be too militant.
However, I don't want you to think that the Pemberton's were some kind of feudal ogres. They
were merely paying the going rate. But they did help in other ways. They had hot water
systems installed into both our Grantchester Road cottages. We take running hot water in our
kitchens and bathrooms for granted these days, but back then many people still just had the one
cold tap over the sink and as for a bathroom, well, most people were grateful for an indoor
I can actually remember them installing the Rayburn Back-Boiler in Park Cottage and when all
the fire-clay had dried one of the estate workers (Les Dear? Charlie Hunt? I'm afraid most of
the names have long since got muddled or faded from my memory) showed me how to start a
proper fire with scrunched up newspaper and sticks under the coal. And Joe Kefford, the farm
carpenter, made us a new wooden draining board. I remember being absolutely spellbound as
he neatly gouged out the drainage grooves with some sort of complicated hand-plane. The
Pemberton's also paid for decorating materials, so my parents could redecorate inside the
cottages. Always done after I'd gone to bed. They weren't silly!
And we used to get free fire-wood. In the winter months, each Saturday afternoon, two farm
workers would take a tractor and two-wheeled trailer through a gate at the back of
Trumpington Park onto the track that led to the poultry farm. On the right hand side of this
track was an area where all the fallen trees and large branches from the estate were dumped.
Using a tractor-powered saw-bench they'd fill the trailer with logs before driving to their
respective homes and off-loading half a trailer's worth at each.
Also, whilst living at number 18, so sometime between 1948 and 1954, I have very vague
memories of each farm-worker receiving half a pig. In common with most people then, we
didn't have a fridge, never mind a freezer, so I believe it was cut into manageable pieces and
hung over the fire to dry cure. Apparently my paternal grandmother came over from Balsham
on the bus in order to make my Dad some brawn from the half a pig's head. My mother, being
extremely squeamish, would have rather just wrapped it in newspaper and put it in the bin.
Like most ploughmen, my father was perfectly happy with his own company, but it wasn't the
most glamorous of jobs. We used to have proper winters back then, and tractors were still
totally cab-less and open to the elements. He would plough on, literally, through everything the
skies had to throw at him. Often soaked through and chilled to the bone, he would guide his
beloved Allis-Chalmers, keeping the furrows as straight as a die - the hallmark of an expert
One-hundred-and-thirty people turned up at the church for my father's funeral service, in the
small village of Willian, near Letchworth, where he'd lived for the last forty-five of his
eighty-six years. Of these 130 people, just 15 could be classed as family. The rest were friends
and acquaintances who just wanted to pay their last respects to a much liked and respected
man. One couple, whom he used to do gardening work for in the village after his retirement,
had since moved to Devon. Starting in the early hours, they drove up just for the service; then
turned around and drove back to Devon again afterwards. All the pews were full; all the extra
chairs put out were full; and there were people standing. My one regret, which I'll have for the
rest of my life, is that by the time we got back from the crematorium virtually all these people
(the vast majority of them total strangers to me) had softly melted away as quietly as they had
arrived. I should so liked to have shaken them each by the hand and asked them how they
knew my Dad.
To get back now to the Trumpington connection, I would like to finish by offering an extract
from a poem entitled Unspoken Love that I composed for my father's funeral. But first, bear in
mind that our family name is Goodliffe; and that probably less than half-a-dozen people in the
church would know 'who' "Alice Chalmers" was. You should've seen the ears prick up as the
first three lines were read out! My dad would have enjoyed that joke.
But there was another love in your life,
By the name of Allis-Chalmers.
And you spent many hours alone in her company
As she ploughed each field with furrows.
As a child I'd sometimes join you on her ample bench type seat.
The constant roar of the engine and the screaming of the gulls
Made conversation difficult
And I often fell asleep.
So you'd put your strong arm round me,
To stop me falling and getting crushed,
And we'd plough. . . 'till after sunset
Then bike home. . . through the dusk.
This is how we bonded,
. . . a father . . . and his son.
. . . In silence . . . on a tractor,
The three of us as one.
Many hours I spent in your company
Through all seasons on the farm.
The other workers called me Young Ron,
To which I proudly warmed.
You were such a gentle man,
Moderate of voice and slow of hand.
You gained respect through love, not fear,
And sowed seeds of common decency in the minds of both your sons.