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  • Writer's pictureBakewell AHS

Meet Roger: Memories of a Derbyshire farming childhood in the 1950s and '60s


Belinda and I were having a chat one day and reflecting on life in Edale many years ago, particularly the farming life. Belinda remarked that in a few years time there won’t be many of us left who remember these times, and then, in her own inimitable style said I ought to write a few articles for the record. Before I knew it I had agreed. So what is my qualification to take on such a task I hear you cry, and where do I fit in to Ollerbrook Farm?

I’m Roger Townsend, the last descendant, and fourth generation of the Thornley family who has had the privilege to work and be closely connected to somewhere that is very special to me and has played a huge part in my life.

My great grandfather farmed at Ollerbrook and in pride of place at home I have a photo of me as a baby in the yard at Ollerbrook sat on my mother’s knee, accompanied by her Dad, my grandfather, and his father, my great grandfather. My memories really start with my grandfather, Jim Thornley, followed by my uncle, also called Jim. “Young Jim” was the brother of my mother Margaret, and all three were born at Ollerbrook. (I find it rare and special that my grandfather and uncle who were born, lived and worked all their lives at the farm, are buried in the churchyard, together with their wives, actually in sight of the farm. When I visit the grave I find that very comforting).

My mother Margaret married Alf Townsend from Hope in 1946. I was born in Bamford in 1947, achieving the ripe age of 70 in 2017! We moved to Castleton when I was six months old. My Dad was a mechanic at “Earles “ Cement Works ( since Blue Circle, LaFarge, Breedon etc etc) but sadly died early at the age of 45. However, for all of us, particularly my Mum, Ollerbrook was the “centre of the universe” and always maintained a strong pull.

My earliest memories were as a very small boy from about the age three or four, and I intend to write about this period, from the very early 1950’s to the 1960’s. I spent practically every weekend, school holiday and every chance I could to be at Ollerbrook. Farming was all I wanted to do and for a young boy, it was a very exciting place to be.

My earliest memories of the farm were of a time with no electricity or mains water. Light was provided by calor gas, cooking by the oven in the fireplace, supplemented by calor gas rings. Water came from the trough at the back door fed by a spring which had never been known to dry up.

The farm itself was a mixed holding. Sheep were the main interest, kept mainly for wool which was worth a great deal more in those days. All were hill sheep, mainly Swaledale, Lonks, and the speciality Whiteface Woodlands.

Around a dozen cows were milked, by hand, mainly Shorthorns, which were a good dual purpose breed. Milked well but as Granddad used to say, something left on them when they ran dry! The odd bullock was fattened.

A sizable flock of hens were kept and every week Thornhills, the Egg Packers from Great Longstone used to come and collect trays of eggs. A pig or two were raised and fattened and killed at Christmas, as were a few geese.


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