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Chadacre – An Experience of Agricultural Training in Suffolk

I recently had to write an essay about the apprenticeship, career and associations of an ancestor. Not an “ancestor” as such but I decided to go with my father, a farmer all his life, and I set him some homework while I went to Scotland for a week! People always think they don’t have much to offer and can’t really help, but when I got talking about it to Dad and read what he had written, we realised he had never actually told me or talked about his time at Chadacre Agricultural Institute.


My father, Robert Hitchcock, left school in July 1960 a few weeks after his 16th birthday, he had had no career advice, and as his father, my Grandpa had three breakdowns between 1957-60, his older brother, Richard, had to leave Chadacre Agricultural Institute after only one year to help look after the farm. Grandpa was therefore keen to get more help with the farm and so he wanted my father to go to Chadacre to learn something about farming. Grandpa had also been to Chadacre in about 1937 before getting a job with Fison’s Fertilisers, and then the war broke out and his life took a different path for a few years.


The founder of Chadacre was the 1st Earl of Iveagh in 1921. The course at Chadacre was for two years, October to April for the first year, then work on a suitable farm unto October to April for the next year. It was free of charge, but you had to pass an interview to get in and it was designed to be a very practical course.


There was no such thing as apprenticeships in farming in the 1960’s. To get a broad knowledge in agriculture in Suffolk you had a choice of Writtle College which was much more theoretical, of Chadacre which was very practical.


The Ministry’s Chief County Agricultural Advisor, John Trist who was a supporter of Chadacre, he praised Chadacre as being unique in agricultural educational establishments, autonomous with its own governing body, this was how he summed up Chadacre:


“Students are taken at the age of sixteen and, apart from their farm training, considerable emphasis is placed on the formation of character. Chadacre is designed to provide free agricultural training for sons of working farmers and farm workers, from Suffolk and adjoining counties. Many of the students have had little secondary education, and few are in possession of any certificates of education. In recent years, the Institute has adopted the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme to foster initiative and to stress further the importance laid on physical fitness through active sport, which has always been an integral part of the Chadacre training. The course trains boys for employment as stockmen, tractor drivers, poultry workers or general farm assistants. They are also fitted for appointments in commercial work and many Chadacre students graduate to positions of farm foremen and managers, and in this field the Institute has built up a sound reputation in training for these key farm posts.”


At Chadacre the mornings were very practical, and the afternoons were in the classroom. Each student had at least one week each term on poultry, cows or tractors – when you had to be up early onto the farm i.e., 6.30am or thereabouts before the regular farm workers started. You always did this with one other student.


Dad remembered one time when he first started, he and another student were loading sugar beet onto a horse and cart, and he couldn’t handle the horse! But a week or so later the horse had gone (probably to knackers yard).


The whole point of Chadacre was to give a practical experience and knowledge of a wide range of agriculture.


The students lived in dormitories, with about six in each dormitory. Beds were a thin mattress on a few boards on trestles and food was very basic. It was all about toughening you up. Sometimes the second-year students would upend the beds of first year students. Rugby was important and was two afternoons a week.


At Chadacre students also had to practice public speaking with “hat nights” 2 or 3 times a term when random subjects were pulled out of a hat.


Amazingly my father still had his exam papers from April 1962. Here are some examples of the questions:


What are the points to be considered when making up a ration for milking cows in winter?

Give one example of a winter ration suitable for an 11 cwt cow giving four gallons a day, maintenance only to be provided from bulky foods. Explain how the ration would need to be modified when good grass became available in the spring.


You are breeding and feeding for bacon and find your food conversion figures are poor. How would you set about improving them?


Give details of the field operations, fertiliser and seed rates and choice of variety required to produce a first class crop of winter wheat after grass on heavy land. State the approximate cost of growing and expected profit per acre.


Students left with a Certificate of Attendance which was highly regarded in agriculture and after were able to get good farm managers jobs, sometimes running large estates or getting jobs with farm chemical companies of machinery dealers. I found this quote in a book about Chadacre; “Chadacre during Paton Phillips time was best known for its successful methods of instilling discipline and purpose, expected of all students. Not surprisingly it acquired a high reputation, and a Chadacre Certificate was a passport to great farming opportunities”.


I asked my father what Grandpa trained him in and how, and he told me that Grandpa didn’t train him in anything on the farm! He was interested in any sport he did but mainly he just wanted a family team to run a farm, and three out of the four sons did run it. Granny did all the bookkeeping for the farm and my father took over that aspect in the 1970’s and was self-taught, it turned out he had a great business brain and was naturally very astute.


All my family watched the recent series on Amazon “Clarkson’s Farm” and loved it. With lots of humour it showed a lot of the realities of farming. The obsession with weather, and although my father is now retired, he still has lots of barometers, measures rainfall and keeps records. Of course farmers do work in all outdoor weather conditions which also explains the obsession with weather. Like the characters Des and Kaleb on Clarkson’s Farm, my father and his brothers employed some characters who stuck around for years. Norman the eternal pessimist, Neville who took great delight in shining combine lights in my parents’ bedroom window when he was combining late at night, John who worked on the pigs, John and his wife Lesley were both rather large and used to come round on a poor suffering motor bike with Lesley riding pillion, but mostly my father worked and managed the farm with two of his brothers; Matt the youngest brother who worked on the arable side very closely with my father, and Uncle Richard the oldest ran the pig side of the business. My father’s working relationship with his youngest brother Matt was extraordinarily close.


Another aspect of farming captured in Clarkson’s Farm, was that farmers and farms work in isolation a lot, they are quite insular, and they don’t really mix with other local farmers, they view what neighbouring farms are doing with interest from afar, but don’t necessarily associate with each other.


The Suffolk Show and the Hadleigh Show were often the social highlight of the farming calendar in the area each year, and I remember being dragged round from tent to tent whilst my parents were offered tea and talked to machinery reps and reps would often call round to the house too, some were virtually personal friends and would be offered tea and crumble and make themselves comfortable!


It’s not compulsory, but most farmers choose to join the NFU (National Farmers Union), the advantages are financial, legal and all-round help with anything connected with farming.


Sadly, farming does suffer with high rates of depression, partly because it can be so very tough and but also there is a lot of working in isolation. I think this was mitigated for my father by his extraordinarily close relationship with his younger brother.


This specific assignment was a pleasure to do because it gave me a chance to talk to my father who is now retired and find out a few things about his early life which I hadn’t known before.


Bibliography

A Hundred Years of Suffolk Farming Chadacre Agricultural Institute and Trust 1921-2021 Phillip Draycott Lavenham Press Ltd


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