Two men remember their youth in Burton, part of Anglia Television Bygones series.
This television film recalls the early 1900s when hundreds of Suffolk farm workers spent part of the year at the maltings at Burton-on-Trent. The film opens with shots of a steam train on the restored North Norfolk Railway line and shots of the Suffolk countryside. There are three combine harvesters in a row across a field harvesting wheat. There is some archive film of scything corn and carting sheaves with horse-drawn waggons. This is shown over a local voice remembering conditions in farming at the turn of the twentieth century. They had no binder until 1930 and in winter he would work in a threshing gang for half a crown a day. There is some more recent black and white film of a horse and tumbrill followed by archive film of herring drifters putting to sea at Lowestoft. This is shown over the sound track of a folk song.
There are stills of men standing around to represent unemployment and stills showing the advertisements for workers for the Burton breweries.Two elderly men who went to Burton talk of the life there, the wages and conditions. James Knights of Little Glemham recalls that he exchanged a winter wage of 12s for one of 38s a week. He also recalls the incomprehension of many local people who failed to understand why he wanted to go. James first went to Burton in 1899. He talks with Stanley Whiting in the courtyard of the Crown Hotel in Framlingham. Stanley first went to Burton in 1921. We see them on a train, supposedly on the way to Burton. The two men reminisce about their past life. The season began on the second Monday in September. They would return at the beginning of may - in time for the hay harvest. This is intercut with modern black and white film of the Sheringham/ Weybourne Railway.
At Burton Railway Station and there are some shots of the brewery and some archive film of a busy street. The two men sit in a pub and remember their life at Burton. They remember the rough behaviour because of the drink. Station Street was known as Blood and Guts Alley. They remember the very large Irish women, almost as tough as the men. James Whiting remembers getting his nose broken and various other fights.There are stills showing the brewery and its workers at he turn of the twentieth century. Modern reconstructed black and white film shows how the men worked in the Maltings and how barley was turned into malt. Some of this was shot at Mistley. Shots of the old men reminiscing are intercut with this. They recall working in 218oF of heat and the accidents that occurred in the maltings.
Once a season a photographer was hired to record the men. James treasures his photograph because most of the men with whom he worked fell during World War I. By the end of the season, the workers had money to spend. Top of their list was a new suit. James describes his over a still that shows him wearing it. A reconstructed modern sequence shows step dancing as well as men playing the spoons and accordion. The men visit the derelict potteries at Swadlincote where they once bought their Burton tea pots. These were designed with a motto of their choice and were 'trophies' of the winter's work; proof of their labours. In the Coopers Tavern in Burton, Stanley Whiting offers the landlord's prayer. A train is seen leaving Burton Station. There are modern black and white fairground shots as the men recall returning home in time for Framlingham Fair. There is a sequence of modern black and white film of the hay harvest and there are interior cottage scenes. A folk song accompanies Stanley Whiting walking across a deserted drying floor in a maltings.
The migration to Burton-on-Trent may have began as early as 1860 and continued until 1931. By that time unemployment in Burton was so high outside labour was unnecessary and unwelcome.The migration was at its peak during the twenty years spanning the turn of the century. During the season 1890 - 1891, Bass, Radcliff and Gretton employed 125 workers from East Anglia. This had risen to 256 by 1896 - 1897. There were more men employed from Suffolk than from other regions. During 1904 - 1905, 169 men from Suffolk (out of a total workforce of 315) were employed by Bass, Ratcliffe and Gretton alone. In 1926 - 1927 41 men from Suffolk were employed by Bass out of a total of 200. There were also men employed from Norfolk, especially South Norfolk, although a few came from the Swaffham area. During 1890 - 1891 there were 28 Norfolk men employed by Bass. There were more Suffolk men for three reasons. Firstly, connections already existed between Burton-on-Trent and Suffolk. The Burton brewers purchased barley from markets in Bury St. Edmunds, Woodbridge and Ipswich. The farming business was in a state of depression from about 1879 onwards. This affected the whole region but was probably worst of all in North Suffolk. Finally, the two seasons complemented each other. Men could complete the wheat harvest, leave for a malting season in Burton and arrive back in time for the Heysel.The agents worked through the large hotels and Inns. The Crown at Framlingham, featured in the film, was one of the major centres for workers to sign up for the Malting season. The Station Hotel at Ipswich was another. The men were employed for a fixed term contract, the 10th September until the 31st of May. Many of the migrant workers settled in Burton.Albert Ablett of Sibton Green remembers the state of farming at the turn of the twentieth century. There were twenty young chaps without work in one small village like ours. ... It was not only in one village; it was everywhere nearly. There weren't nobody a-doing nawthen, hardly. ... The farms were neglected. ... The fences all grown up like woods. They used to grow each side of the road until they met, you know. (Where Beards Wag All. The Relevance of Oral Tradition. By George Ewart Evans. Published by Faber and Faber Ltd, 1970.)
James Knights; Stanley Whiting
The North Norfolk Railway Co. Ltd; Coopers Tavern, Burton-on-Trent; The Crown Hotel, Framlingham; British Rail
The Crown Hotel, Framlingham; Burton Station; The Coopers Tavern, Burton-On-Trent