At Michaelmas 1946 Anthony Creasy, his wife and three daughters Yvonne (15), Ann (12) and Carol (5) left The Firs at Cratfield in Suffolk, an area where members of the Creasy family had farmed for generations and came to live at St. Peter’s Hall, St. Peter South Elmham (previously farmed by Mr. Catling) where they stayed until 1967.
Although an historic and impressive house, the Hall offered little in the way of comfort and convenience. There was no electricity (lighting was by Tilley lamps and candles which made ghostly shadows in the oak-panelled bedrooms); no hot water (on wash-days and bath-days water was pumped from the well into a large copper in the scullery and a fire lit to heat the water which was then pumped by hand to the bathroom upstairs); no modern cooker (baking was done in a Dutch oven in the kitchen wall); no washing machine; no central heating; and no flush toilets (there was a two-seater earth closet in the garden, a chemical toilet indoors and chamber pots under the beds!).
Two more children were born, Tony in 1947 and Sarah in 1949. By this time a generator had been installed to provide electricity (which broke down whenever too many appliances were used at once!);,a solid-fuel Aga in the large farm kitchen provided not only cooking facilities but warmth for the family as well as for orphaned or weak piglets, kittens and chicks. When flush toilets and hot water were installed, domestic life became just a little easier.
What the house lacked in comfort, however, it made up for in atmosphere. As children our imaginations were fired by tales told of a secret passageway leading from the front porch, under the moat, to St. Peter’s Church. The tunnel had reputedly been used by the Catholic Tasburgh family so they could continue to worship during the reign of King Henry VIII. Many hours were spent digging holes to try and find the tunnel and exploring the house for secret panels which might slide back to reveal the entrance. Was it our imagination or were there really ghostly presences in the bedroom and landing over the Great Hall and in the little chapel over the front porch? No ghosts were seen but we all experienced the feeling that something was there!
The moat provided year-round entertainment for the children, canoeing and paddling in summer, skating in winter. Tony, who had two old Austin cars, even practised his skidding techniques on the moat during the big freeze-up of 1962/63 (see the photograph in the corridor of the toilet block). During the other bad winter of 1947 the Hall was cut off for seven days. Yvonne and Ann remember walking to Bungay for shopping with drifts hedge high. Carol remembers the men making a snow plough to which Jack, the Suffolk Punch, was hitched to cut a way out of the front drive-way. Sarah remembers fire-engines trying to save an ancient oak tree (which used to stand near the moat) from burning down when she emptied hot ash from the tree house stove down its hollow centre. We all remember the excitement of the local Waveney Valley Harriers’ point-to-point races being held on the farm (the course and jumps were built by Mr. Read of Bungay and his son John) with Mother providing a buffet lunch for organisers and friends and race-horses being stabled in the farm buildings.
To begin with, the 227 acre farm was mixed, mainly arable, but with a small herd of Friesian cows (hand-milked), as well as beef cattle, three heavy horses, pigs, ducks, geese and chickens. There were several acres of pasture including the land either side of the main driveway. These, together with a small meadow in front of the church, were ancient pastures with an abundance of wild herbs and flowers, bee orchids, lady’s smock, ox-eye daisies, vetch, self-heal, birdsfoot-trefoil, harebells, clovers, buttercups, daisies, maidens’ hair grass, to name a few.
Anthony enjoyed gathering the large field mushrooms which he used to bake in a little milk, the rest of the family preferred them fried in butter! The ditches were lined with primroses, cowslips and wild violets in Spring, wild strawberries in Summer and mulberries in Autumn. House cows were kept on the Church Meadow as they then gave extra rich milk. The thick yellow cream was skimmed off to make butter, churned by hand and patted into blocks with wooden butter pats, for the house. Honey-bees were kept in the orchards where many varieties of apples were grown. There was a large vegetable garden to the side of the house. Anthony kept a golden Labrador as a gun dog and bagged pheasants, partridges and wild duck. Sometimes there were shooting parties of other farmers and friends. Game was hung in the old dairy (at the moat end of the house) and Eileen had the job of plucking and preparing the birds for the table. One year a dog killed or maimed nearly all the geese being reared for Christmas and left their bodies strewn over the meadow in front of the house, 44 geese were lost in all and the police were called in to find the culprit.
In 1946 there were three farm-hands, Mr. Alfonso Howlett and his son Basil, and Mr. Sid Reynolds who looked after the horses – two Suffolk Punches Jack and Sprite, one other mare called Smart and later, Carol’s pony, Patsy. Jack and Smart did most of the work as Sprite was a bit flighty and had once bolted with a tumbril in tow! The horses responded to the instructions cubby (left), wheesh (right), hu-back (backwards) and goo-orn (forwards). They were shod at the blacksmith’s forge in the neighbouring village of St. Margaret South Elmham. When tractors took over the work of the horses, Mr. Reynolds left and Alfonso and Basil managed the work with extra help hired in at harvest-time. Alfonso loved the animals and always pointed out newborn calves, piglets, kittens, chicks, ducklings etc and made sure the half-wild farm cats had their share at milking time. He lovingly nursed back to health our little Cairn Terrier, Tatie Bogle, who was nearly killed when the Waveney Valley Harriers’ hounds mistook him for a hare. Anthony also loved the animals and used to scratch the pigs’ backs with his walking stick and tickle the cats under their chins! The farm buildings (now the brewery) housed horses, pigs and cattle.
The corn was cut by horse-drawn reaper. Then the sheaves were stooked in the fields before being loaded on to wagons and carted to the stack-yard or bleach as it was known, presumably where the linen used to be put to bleach in the sun, opposite the barn. Another character, Tinny Day, came with his huge steam-engines to thresh the grain and stack the straw. Tinny Day also used steam engines to mole-drain the fields and to dredge the moat when eels were found in the mud. Later, in the late 1950’s, early 1960’s the farm became almost entirely arable. Pasture-land was ploughed up and Mr Basey-Fisher was contracted in with his combine-harvester to harvest the crops. Crops grown were wheat, barley, oats, sugar-beet, peas, linseed and kale. After the family left in 1967, the landscape was changed even further with hedges and trees cut down and ditches filled in to make way for the huge machines which took over the work of several men.
Notes by Carol and Sarah Creasy, 28 November 1996