Chapter XXXIV

Death of John Francis & the End of the Irish Land 1911-1933

 

34.1.1   Changing Circumstances

34.1.2    Death of John Francis Bomford 13th September 1911

34.1.3    Death of Elinor Jane Bomford 14th July 1924

34.2.1    Untenanted Lands Return 1906

34.2.2    Overall Total of Bomford Lands 1906

34.2.3    Surveys of 1933 and 1955

34.2.4    Complete Summary of all Bomford Lands     

34.3       Valuation of Oakley Park 1906

34.3.1    The Wind-down of Oakley Park

34.3.2    Oakley Park Summary

34.3.3    Auction of Oakley Park 1955

34.4        1906 Valuation of Drumlargan

34.4.1    1933 Valuation of Drumlargan

34.5        1906 Valuation of Knockstown

34.6        1906 Valuation of Baltrasna

34.7        Clonfad and Rattin

34.8        1906 Valuation of Cluide

34.9        Some Childhood Memories of Pre-War Oakley Park

34.9.1    The Place

34.9.2    Haymaking

34.9.3    The Harvest

34.9.4    The Animals

34.9.5    The Dairy

34.9.6    The House and Garden

Floor Plans of Oakley Park c1920

 

34.1.1  Changing Circumstances

When John Francis moved to Oakley Park from Drumlargan in April 1900 (32.9.4) he was 62 and his wife Elinor was 60. Three years later he retired from the Land Commission “under Civil Service Rules”, but let it be known by a circular letter that “he would undertake valuations and carry out cases in the Land Courts concerning rent, sales, mortgages, etc” It is not known whether he received much work as a result of this letter but he remained in contact with those who administered “Wyndham’s Act” of  1903 (29.9.2), and so was ideally placed for the sale of much of his own land which became necessary to clear his inherited debts. It is probable that he did receive work privately after his retirement because Wyndham’s Act was such a success that, between 1903 and 1909, some 316,000 purchases had been negotiated or were pending. Little more than a decade later, landlordism in rural Ireland had become a thing of the past.

Speaking generally the sale of land proved a final solution to the long-standing problem of landlord - tenant relationships; but in fact by the late 1890s the dominant problem of rural Ireland was no longer landlord oppression and excessive rents that threatened the farmer’s security, but the growing competition of the overseas producer who was able to grow and sell grain and dairy produce so cheaply. Only the export trade of cattle continued to prosper, but on an average sized farm it was difficult to make more than a bare subsistence out of raising cattle. Even though John Francis and his son George Lyndon were able to clear their debts, they had to sell more land to make ends meet. George Lyndon in particular was always pressed for money and as he said in a letter to Wilfred Bamford he could just about make ends meet during the 1930s but when wages rose during World War II he did not know how he was going to manage. It is in this context that we must view the sale of land which follows.

34.1.2 Death of John Francis Bomford 13th September 1911

John Francis Bomford, photo (on walls at Crodara in 2006)There appears to be no information about the cause of the death of John Francis, just the engraving on the wall plaque in Kells Church (33.1.2) and on his headstone in the churchyard which reads, “In loving memory of John Francis Bomford who died at Oakley Park, 13th September 1911, in his 74th year.”

Neither do we have his will. However his eldest son George Lyndon inherited the land and Oakley Park House. There could have been no problem over the will as probate was granted at Dublin on 11th November 1911 “to the Revd McNeill Shelford, Clerk, and H. T. Radcliff Esq. Effects £5,540.15.0”. From this we can deduce that the two executors were his son-in-law Leonard McNeill Shelford, 1871 - 1956 (33.7), then Vicar of St Michael’s, Chiswick, and H. T. Radcliff who was probably Thomas Radcliff of neighbouring Wilmount.

The effects of around £5,500 would indicate a slim bank balance and would go mostly to George Lyndon. The marriage settlement of John Francis (30.3.1) set up a trust for the other children to be paid when they married or came of age.

The apparent lack of information at this date is largely my fault. Having spent days in the Registry of Deeds recording information up to about 1900 which was freely open to inspection, I found that there was a different system for the later deeds; they were not freely open to inspection and had to be produced by Registry staff. This was both time consuming and costly. I therefore gave up that line of search and concentrated on the records in the Valuation office, which naturally only covers land.

34.1.3 Death of Elinor Jane Bomford 14th July 1924

Elinor Jane Bomford (nee Bolton) in 1911Elinor Jane Bomford (nee Bolton) in 1911.  A note next to the photo says 'Grandmother 78 years!': but that would make her born in 1833.  Another note there, in a different hand, says 'Elinor Jane Bolton 1842 - 1924 married John Francis 1866 Died at Oakley Park 1924'.  But we think she was born in 1840 (30.3.2)

Elinor lived on in Oakley Park and died there, aged 84, on 14th July 1924. She was buried in Kells Churchyard alongside her husband.

Wedding of Evelyn Bomford & Wilfred BamfordOne of the last photographs of her was taken on the steps of Oakley Park at the wedding of her grand-daughter Evelyn Bomford (35.6), three months before she died. She is standing between Evelyn and Wilfred and looks frail but by no means an invalid.  Click on the photo to see an enlargement.

There is a reference to her will in the National Archives. Her executor was Charles F Bomford.

34.2.1 Untenanted Lands Return 1906

The last survey recorded was the 1854 “Griffith’s Valuation” of Chapter 29. Below is the comparison between that survey and this 1906 survey. It will be noted that Drumlargan has been split between John Francis and his niece Arbella Anne Bomford, and that John Francis’ portion has been sold (32.1 and 32.2.1).

 Property 1854 1906 Rateable Annual Valuation
  Statute acres Land Buildings

Oakley Park

741

741

£637

£87

Drumlargan:

980

 

 

-

   Arbella Anne's portion

 

636

£667

£2

   John Francis' portion
   (sold 1903)

 

337

 

 

Knockstown

225

164

£135

£6

Baltrasna

479

478

£411

£15

Clonfad

433

433

-

-

Rattin (mostly bog)

923

c900

-

-

Cluide  

25

25

£30

£4

Totals 

3,806

3,377

 

 

 

In 1906 John Francis owned 2,577 acres, and his niece Arbella Anne owned 636 acres of Drumlargan. In addition there was the Knockstown acreage of 164, which cannot be apportioned with certainty to either party (32.2). 

34.2.2 Overall Total of Bomford Lands 1906

The only other Bomford in 1906 to hold land was Captain John North-Bomford, or, more accurately, his widow Mary Wilhelmina since John had died in 1905. In 1906 Ferrans consisted of 393 acres and Gallow 465. All this was discussed in Chapter 28, but we can now strike the overall total of Bomford land in 1906.

Total in 1906: 4,235 statute acres

34.2.3 Surveys of 1933 and 1955

By 1933 Drumlargan, Knockstown, Baltrasna, Clonfad, Rattin, Cluide and part of Oakley Park had been sold, and by 1955 Gallow was gone; so the total acreage were

Property 1933 acres  Occupier 1955 acres  Occupier

Oakley Park

174

G. L. Bomford

171

G. W. Bomford

Ferrans  

379

J. G. North-Bomford

379

J. G. North-Bomford

Gallow  

464

-do-

 Sold

 

Totals

1,017 acres

 

550 acres

 

 

34.2.4 Complete Summary of all Bomford Lands

Summary of all the Bomford lands starting with Clonmaghon (a shrewd guess) in 1670, and so making a spread of 285 years.  The 1702 total shown here is a bit high: it may not have been achieved until c1710.

Year    Statute acres
1670    295
1702    10,401
1722    14,809
1740    18,489
1762    18,097
1800    12,289
1820    11,304
1836    8,726
1854    5,058
1906    4,235
1933    1,017
1955    550

 

34.3 Valuation of Oakley Park  1906

Extracted from the “Untenanted Lands” of 1906, which follows the same format as the 1854 valuation by Griffith’s. Those map reference which are known are shown on the map in paragraph 29.2. Oakley Park was all owned by John Francis Bomford in 1906.

Map Ref Occupier Description   Statute Acres Valuation
  Land Buildings

1a.

George L. Bomford

Herd’s House, Office, Land

209

£200.  0.0

£ 5.0.0

2a.

William Flood

House, Office, Land

½

£0.  5.0

£2.0.0

2b.

James Connell

-do-

½

£0.  5.0

£2.0.0

2c.

John Smith

-do-

½

£0.  5.0

£2.0.0

2d.

Bridget Yore  

-do-

½

£0.  5.0

£2.0.0

2e.

Bernard Boylan  

-do-

½

£0.  5.0

£2.0.0

2f.

Rose Mullen

-do-

½

£0.  5.0

£2.0.0

2g.

Terence Carolan

-do-

½

£0.  5.0

£2.0.0

3.

George L. Bomford

Caretaker’s House, Offices, Land

207

£188.  0.0

£14.0.0

4.

Philip Reilly

House, Offices, Land

53

£39.  0.0

£4.0.0

5.

John F. Bomford

Red Bog Lough

6

 

-

6A-G.

John F. Bomford

House, Offices, Land, Plantation & 2 Gate Lodges

263

£209.  0.0

£50.0.0

Totals 

 

 

741

£637.15.0

£87.0.0

 

It can be seen that there are really three farms on Oakley Park, as there had been for the past 70 years. The borders are as shown on the map in paragraph 29.2 and labelled according to the map reference numbers.

Farm 1

(6AG)

John Francis had the ‘home’ farm of 263 acres based on Oakley Park House and yard. His land stretched from the Decoy to the field on the east of the Moynalty road.

Farm 2

(1a2)

John’s son George had 416 acres based on the farmyard on the back road. This was in two plots:

 

(la)

209 acres at the north end of the estate that Thomas Barnes leased in 1838, plus the extra fields to the north and west of the Decoy that Barnes leased before 1854; and

 

(3)

207 acres, which Samuel Reynell leased and which were in the southwest corner of the estate along the back road.

Farm 3

(4)

Reilly had the 53 acres on the far side of the back road which was called ‘ye Mountain’ on the 1730 map.

 

34.3.1 The Wind-down of Oakley Park

Now let us trace the future and the eventual sale of each of these plots and the cottages 

la.  The 209 acres occupied by George in 1906.

There is no change in the area or the valuation since 1854. The immediate Lessor was John Francis who leased it to his son George in 1902. In 1907 this plot was sold to the Land Commission but leased back from them; this was a satisfactory method of raising capital without loosing land. The re-lease was such that John Francis became the occupier of 89 acres and George of 117 acres; on the death of John Francis the whole was farmed by George until 1920 when he relinquished the lease of those 206 acres.

The balance of 3 acres were divided three ways: The “Herd’s House” with one acre of land was also sold in 1907 to the Land Commission and occupied by Mr Smith: Two further plots each with one acre were sold, had houses built on them, and in 1910 were occupied by Mr Brien and Mr Malin.

2a. - 2g.  The Cottages

Paragraph 29.2 covers the story of these seven cottages with their occupiers. Originally five of them made up the row of Soldier’s Houses on the back road, but as time passed new cottages were built, mostly during the 1890s, and their valuation was raised from 5/- to £2. All these cottages with their half-acre of land had been sold by George by 1941 to the occupiers.

3.  The 207 acres occupied by George

In 1901 John Francis leased this land to his son George who, like his father, based the farm on the farmyard on the back road. In 1907 an acre was sold to the Rural District Council and a cottage occupied by Thomas Tobin was built on it. The remainder of the farm including the farmyard was sold in 1923 to the Land Commission.

4.  Phillip Reilly’s 53 acres

In 1891 John Francis considered selling this land to Charles Reilly, the father of Phillip and the steward of Oakley Park, and Charles was prepared to buy as indicated in this letter:

14th October 1891 at Oakley Park,

Dear Sir,  

I received yours of 11th Inst in due course, with Fire Renewal receipts enclosed, for which I am very much obliged.

With regard to the rent fixed by Land Commissioners I must say it is very hard on me to have my rent raised after I spending so much money trying to improve it; a farm no man would take but myself, a farm not worth the taking. You know I laid out a great sum of money draining and manuring this farm; land is not much value at present, there is no price for cattle that has not good condition, I sent 10 Polly Bullocks to Navan Fair and could not sell them. I could not sell a beast of (from) any of the Grass Land I have taken up to the present. With regard to the selling of my Farm I am very much obliged to you for thinking of me. If this farm were to be sold when first I took it, I would not give what it cost me to manure and drain it and building.

However if you let me know what you intend selling it for I will see what I can do about it. I am sorry to say since Mrs Bomford (Arbella) stopped taking the rent from me, I am not allowed any interest out of the money, so it is very hard for me to get on without getting what is due to me. Hoping Mrs Bomford (Elinor) and all the family are quite well,

I remain Dear Sir your obedient Servant Charles Reilly.

There are a few side issues in Charles’s letter; firstly, just like Clonfad and the other places, rents had been set by the judiciary and it is interesting that Charles’s rent went up and not down as was the trend, this indicates that he previously paid an abnormally low rent; secondly, the failure to sell his animals is a reflexion of that date, which had made farming so difficult in Ireland, due to the importation to England of cheap foreign animals. Lastly, it is apparent that Charles used to take his rent to Arbella personally and she used to return some of it, but when the Oakley Park troubles arose and Arbella became old, the system changed and Charles no longer got back his “Luck Penny”. However in spite of all his complaints he was still prepared to buy his farm.

In 1897 Charles Reilly died and his son Phillip inherited the lease. Phillip also wanted to buy and confirmed this in a letter of 6th October 1899:

Dear Sir, I would feel obliged if you would rent me the portion opposite my house, as it is accommodation for turf, potatoes etc, as I intend buying my farm if I can.

James Carolan surveyed this ‘portion’ and sent a note to John Francis that it contained “one rood statute measure”. The lease and the valuation were duly amended.

Meanwhile John Francis had written to his solicitor, John Clark, concerning Reilly’s farm in 1898, so that Clark could prepare a “Final Notice”, but it would appear that nothing was finalised in his lifetime. It was not until 1923 that George Lyndon was deleted from the records in the Valuation Office; so one may assume a sale to the Reillys at that date.

These 53 acres, plus some more recently acquired land, are still farmed by the Reilly family who came to Oakley Park from Dublin in the very early 1700s and have been there ever since, close now to 300 years.

5.  Red Bog

Sometime between 1916 and 1922 the Valuation Office records that the Red Bog Lough was drained and the land reclaimed. George Bomford then sold it to the Land Commission in 1923.

6.  Oakley Park House and the surrounding 263 acres.

This was the same as in the 1854 survey and remained so until John Francis died and George inherited.

In 1915 two acres from Nelson’s Field, a large field surrounded by the Big Wood and the main road, were sold to the Kells Rural District Council and two cottages were built and occupied by Edward Griffen and James Smith.

In 1923 George sold some of the southern fields amounting to 81 acres, leaving him with a total of 174 acres. A further three acres to the north of the front lodge was sold to his son-in-law, Wilfred Bamford, who built his house named Crodara there.

In 1951 Colonel George Warren Bomford inherited 171 acres and in 1955 the place was sold, see below. In this area were the two lodges and one other occupied cottage; unfortunately no occupiers were shown, as these buildings were included in the valuation of the main house and farm buildings. In the 1920s a carpenter named McLoughlin who had a brood of daughters occupied the front lodge. From about 1935 the Rattigans had it. Johnnie Rattigan was the herd at Oakley Park and had been a loyal worker there for all his life. He and his two sisters remained until Johnnie died and his surviving sister, Julia, later moved to a new house which had been built on her field, part of Ballanescrahogue on the back road. The shell of the front lodge is still there together with its pillared portico.

The last occupant of the back lodge was Ownie Lynch who was the ploughman for many years. That lodge has been demolished, and incidentally the wrought iron gates were stolen in 1980s and are still missing.

The third cottage was sited near the well, west of the front lodge. This was not shown on the 1836 or 1883 maps, but was shown on the 1730 map and called “Thos Sheiles House”. The same site was used for the new house and may have been built around 1910 for Kinsella who was brought in that year by George Bomford as his steward. He had two sons and a daughter, Annie. The eldest son, John Kinsella, joined the British Army and served through World War I, and Joe worked the land, which the Kinsellas had purchased from George in 1923. Those Kinsellas are all dead now and their house is a ruin.

34.3.2 Oakley Park Summary

Before George Bomford died in 1886 he farmed that land around the house and yard, and his son John Francis Bomford farmed the two areas which were further away; the latter were the 209 acres which Thomas Barnes originally leased, and the 207 acres which Samuel Reynell leased, and John Francis based his farm on the yard on the back road (29.2.2).

When John Francis inherited after his mother’s death, he took over the house and the neighbouring land, and gave his son George Lyndon Bomford the two distant areas. In 1907 the northern 209 acres were sold to the Land Commission but leased back from them and re-allocated between father and son; with this change John Francis farmed about 352 acres and his son about 324 acres.

When George Lyndon inherited in 1911, his total farming land amounted to about 676 acres. In 1920 he returned to the Land Commission the lease of the northern 209 acres. Then in or by 1923 he sold 355 acres in three areas: the southern area of 207 acres together with an adjacent 89 acres; the six acres of the Red Bog Lough; and Reilly’s 53 acres. This left George with a holding of 174 acres much of which was marsh, called the Bottoms, and woodland around the house.

In 1941 all the cottages were sold and in 1948 another two acres. This left 171 acres, which George Lyndon's son Colonel George Warren Bomford inherited in 1951. In 1955 George Warren sold the house and the remaining land. Thus Oakley Park had been a Bomford property for 118 years.

House plans of Oakley Park are at the end of this chapter.

34.3.3 Auction of Oakley Park 1955

George Warren Bomford, known locally as ‘The Colonel’, after over 30 years soldiering in India returned to Oakley Park in 1948. His father was then aged 81 and his mother 76, so effectively he found himself farming the place alone with little knowledge of the business. He therefore had to rely on his labour, and in this he was lucky since the three men had worked the land all their lives, knew what had to be done and, above all, were loyal. However when his parents died he realised that he was unable to run the place without a large injection of capital and, as early as October 1950, he told his sister Evelyn that he might have to sell. Naturally such a decision was a major one affecting the whole family and his sister Dorothy decided to help and try to keep the place going. The two of them carried on and even though Dorothy went in for hens in a big way, it was clearly a failure. In November 1954, after much heart searching, the house and land were placed on the market.

I have been unable to find a sale figure for the house and the 171 acres, but it is thought to be in the region of £14,000. If this is true then the sale price was about the same as the purchase price in 1837, though of course then there was about 740 acres. In addition there were three sales of effects, which took place in March 1955.

Livestock

£2,301.12.6

 

Outdoor Implements

£1,271.  3.6

 

Indoor Effects

£1,649.  1.0

Less £250 for expenses

Total

£ 4,971.17.0

 

 

So the overall total came to something less than £20,000. In fact George could not have sold at a worse time as the post-war slump was then at rock-bottom and prices did not start to recover for a couple of years.

An alternative total was found in a letter from G W B when he was living in Rome.  “In 1956 the house and lands were sold to two local farmers for £4,000. The auction of the contents of the house and farm equipment brought in another £12,000”. It looks as though George’s figures should be reversed – the land £12,000 and the auction £4,000 however the total comes out at £16,000; even less than the £20,000 amount above.

The house, yard and the two lawns, amounting to 68 acres, were bought by Laurence McGuinness. He did not want such a large house so he pulled down two-thirds of the house and filled in the basement. This left the front 1839 extension that he redesigned internally. He and his family still live there, although Laurence died in 1997.

34.4 1906 Valuation of Drumlargan

Drumlargan House and the adjoining 337 acres had been sold in 1903 by John Francis (32.2.1). That left Anne Bomford, John Francis’ niece, in 1906 with 562 acres with a rateable valuation on the land of £647.10.0 and on the buildings £215.0, plus 75 acres of bog with a value of £20, and also some cottages (32.1).

The 75 acres of bog and some of the land were sold to the Land Commission in 1912; this left her with 347 acres, a largish house and four cottages as shown in the 1933 valuation.

34.4.1 1933 Valuation of Drumlargan

The ‘Immediate Lessor’ is Anne Bomford

Occupier Description Acres Rateable Value
  Land Buildings

McCuddy

House, Office, Land

333

£377.10.0

£16.10.0

John Larkin

-do-

2

£1  .5.0

£0.10.0

Michael McGawley

House, Land

6

£2  .5.0

£0.10.0

James Malone

-do-

2

£0.10.0

£0.  5.0

Anne Bourke

-do-

4

£1  .0.0

£0.10.0

Totals 

 

  347

£381.10.0

£18. 5.0 

 

Although we do not have the intermediate occupiers since 1854, the details of the four cottages show a marked similarity with the 1854 survey. It is likely that John Larkin’s cottage was occupied in 1854 by John Halford, that of Michael McGawley was occupied by Michael Chandler, that of James Malone by Catherine Seery and that of Anne Bourke by Christopher Bourke.

By 1950 McCuddy’s house and 333 acres had been sold; since Anne died in 1942 it is thought that perhaps they were sold on her death. However it is clear that the four cottages together with their 14 acres were not sold at that date. One of the cottages was sold in 1959, another in 1966 and the other two remain on the Valuation Office books as belonging to Anne Bomford in 1984.

The 1933 valuation also shows that John Francis (an error for George Lyndon) was still the Immediate Lessor of one cottage, valuation £1.10.0, with an acre, valuation £2, occupied by James McNally. Nothing more is known about this cottage which still may be technically a Bomford property, but it is more likely to be yet another error on the part of the Valuation Office.

George Bomford the elder first leased Drumlargan in 1787. He later bought it. If we say that it was in Bomford hands until Anne died in 1942, then it was a Bomford property for 155 years, though the house and land which John Francis sold was a Bomford property for only 116 years.

34.5 1906 Valuation of Knockstown

Knockstown ownership was discussed in 32.2 and no definite conclusion could be made. It was sold to the Land Commission in 1916 and, having been first leased by George the elder in 1787, had been a Bomford property for 129 years.

34.6 1906 Valuation of Baltrasna

The various farms on Baltrasna, which were individually leased, have been discussed in paragraph 29.5. John Francis inherited the original 479 acres. During the early 1900s he lost 1½ acres by compulsory purchase order by the Guardians of the Dunshaughlin Union of Parishes, later known as the Dunshaughlin Rural District Council. In 1911 George Lyndon inherited 478 acres and in 1916 he completed the sale to the Land Commission. Some of the tenants may have bought their land outright but for most the sale only meant a change of landlord. No mention of price has been found.

Baltrasna was a Bomford property from 1837 to 1916, 79 years.

34.7 Clonfad and Rattin

The sale of this land has been covered in paragraph 29.9.2; but basically some sales had taken place in 1905 and the last sale occurred in 1913.

34.8 1906 Valuation of Cluide

One of the very few documents concerning the little townland of Cluide in Co Louth concerns its sale; it is the following final notice to tenants dated 14th July 1899.

“In the matter of the Estate of George Bomford continued in the name of John Francis and Arbella Bomford, widow, owner or owners, and Richard Caulfield, Petitioner.

The Land Judges have ordered a sale of part of the Town and Lands of Cloondecacagh, otherwise Cloondeecacagh, otherwise Clude (now Cluide), containing 25 acres and 6 perches, statute measure, situate in the Barony of Ardee, held in fee simple….”.

The date of the hearing was set for 26th October 1899 and the papers include a schedule of a map of the area, and another schedule of the list of tenants which is much the same as the 1854 survey (29.6) and identical to the 1906 survey. The schedule reads:

Tenant   Yearly Rent Acres Roods Perches

John Carraher, rep of Laurence Fedigan

£9.16.0

6

3

38

Michael Corbally

16.  0.0

11

2

36

Patrick Corbally

8.16.0

6

1

22

Total

£34.12.0

25

0

6

 

The deed does not record a reason for the sale but one may assume that it was a mortgage taken out by George Bomford before his death, and which is now due to the petitioner, Richard Caulfield  (possibly Richard Caulfeild if he was a family relation, but the printed document spells it Caulfield), who demanded repayment during the 1890s.

There is no record of the ‘hearing’ of October 1899 but the land continued in Bomford hands so the place was not sold then and, one assumes, the mortgage money was found elsewhere. George Lyndon finally sold Cluide in 1921 to the Land Commission.

The date when Cluide became a Bomford property is not clear, but see paragraph 18.8.2 where it is suggested that it may have come into Bomford hands either in 1745 or 1809. It was therefore a Bomford property for either 176 or 112 years, depending on the acquisition date.

34.9 Some Childhood Memories of Pre-War Oakley Park

Since this chapter deals with the sale of the land and of Oakley Park it might be appropriate if I added some memories of an age which has past and will never return; an age when farming was dominated by horse-power and manual labour. Since farming was so slow to change it is likely that my memories of the 1930s would be very similar to those of the early 1900s and even earlier, and that my memories would be much the same as those of my great-grandfather John Francis, and even to a certain extent of his great-grandfather, George the elder of Drumlargan; only the specifics would be changed.

34.9.1 The Place

John Francis Bomford (?) on a HorseThe approach to the house up the front avenue was impressive. The entrance consisted of curved cut-stone walls which swept from the road towards large heavy wrought iron gates. Just inside the gates was the front lodge with a handsome porch supported by fluted stone columns in keeping with the main house. It was occupied by Johnnie Rattigan, the cowman until 1955, and his two sisters. It was their duty to keep the gates shut and to open them for the family or visitors. The half-mile front avenue started in the wood at the front gates, twisted through the lower lawn, over a bridge into upper lawn, skirted more woods and finally swept up an incline to the house. The bridge was the original road bridge and may have been built as early as 1350; it had a parapet of enormous moss covered stones and a very high single arch. The front avenue really ended at the large gravel sweep in front of the door; at least every week the sweep was hoed and neatly raked. My grandfather used to “have a pipe” sitting in the porch and cast his used matches onto the well kept gravel; this annoyed my grandmother who made us children pick them up as a punishment for our minor misdemeanours, often a major task as it seemed that a pipe could not be lit with less than half-a-dozen matches and there were a number of pipes in the day.

The avenue continued to the yard and to the back avenue along the east side of the house. The yard and the back of the house were sheltered by another wood so that coming up the avenue one only saw the front and side of the house on a slight rise and backed by trees. This wood ran between the flower knot and the big garden on the far side of the house, and so down to the river in what was called “the shrubbery”. As money became short the shrubbery was the first to suffer, the paths became overgrown and the shrubs and trees fought for light with many casualties; but it must have been a magnificent pleasure garden in its heyday. The back avenue was not used very often but it finally emerged through more woods in the lawn onto the main road. A similar set of wrought iron gates were there together with the back lodge where Ownie Lynch and his sister lived. Ownie looked after the carthorses and was the ploughman.

There were four largish woods in the two lawns and many isolated specimen trees, some of great size and girth. The present owner has felled all but a few of these great trees but now finds that he has to winter his stock in the yards, something that only in the very worst weather was necessary previously, since the cattle, sheep and horses found ample shelter in the woods. The woods also provided firing for the house including the kitchen range. The cutting and splitting of timber occupied many hours with a two-man cross-cut saw and an axe; we children spent many happy hours with our hand-saws working alongside ‘the men’; no doubt we were a horrible nuisance to them but it made us feel grown-up and was a great boost to our childish morale.

The other three fields only had trees in the hedges. The low lying Bottoms were across the river and about half was covered with rushes where snipe fed, but in the summer amongst those rushes grew a lush grass which fattened many a beast; hay was often cut from the higher ground in the Bottoms. The 37 acre field to the north of the house, which for some reason was always called the “Sixteen-Acres”, was the main field set aside for the harvest. Usually about half of it was ploughed and the other half left for hay. The only other field was behind the Big Garden and between the Sixteen-Acres and the Bottoms; it was continuously under grass until after the war when Uncle George ploughed it and got a huge crop of oats.

The animals were fed hay in the winter supplemented with oats and chopped mangles. These were the major crops, plus potatoes for the house, pigs and hens; regardless of what else was being cooked, the kitchen range always had a couple of large iron pots simmering with potatoes, one for the pigs and the other for the hens, which was made more mealy by the addition of crushed oats. I used to enjoy operating the mangle slicer; it was like a huge kitchen mincer with a large handle which I whizzed round and delivered a stream of chunks like over-blown potato chips; but I did not enjoy the back breaking job of pulling them out of the ground and throwing them into the pony cart.

34.9.2 Haymaking

Three men and a ‘boy’ ran the place, though anyone staying in the house was invited to give a hand and this was expected during the harvest. Hay was the first to be cut by one man on the mower pulled by two huge shire horses. He started on the outside of the field and went round and round until he got to the middle. The cut hay was left on the ground to dry and a couple of days later it was raked by the horse rake which had a lever to lift the tines and so leave the gathered hay in long rows. Next came another horse with the tumbler, which slid along the ground and gathered the rows of hay into one place; the man walking behind would heave the tumbler up by the handles and it would somersault over. The idea was that sufficient hay be gathered into one place so that other men could make it into a haycock. Each haycock, and there would be over a hundred of them, had to be made with a base of around ten feet so that it could be drawn in later and, of course, it had to be made so that its fifteen foot high head did not slide off. The latter was a job for the experts so that the amateurs like me made the base and then one of the experts came along, tidied my work and topped it. The acknowledged expert amongst the experts was my grandfather whose heads never slid off. Later the haycock was tied down with ropes made of twisted hay from the butt. All this was done with one eye on the weather since hay had to be cocked dry, if it was wet it would become mouldy and inedible, and in extreme cases it would heat and possibly catch fire. If we were caught by the rain the hay had to be spread out again and when dry made into lap-cocks of about five large fork-fulls, and finally carried by hand to make the large cock. So to avoid all this extra work we continued until dark. It was a tiring day when one got hot, sweaty and itchy with hay falling inside one’s shirt; the tedium and thirst was relieved by the women of the house bringing out buckets of tea and butter-milk, sour milk left over after churning and tasting rather like yoghurt, together with hunks of home-made bread spread liberally with bright yellow salty home-made butter. We never had “baker’s” bread that had to be bought; our bread came from our own wheat. Weeks later during a slack time the haycocks were drawn in, the lofts above the stables filled and a hayrick built in the hay barn in the haggard. A hay slide drawn by one horse brought in the cocks one by one. The hay slide had a low wooden platform which could be tilted onto the ground and the horse backed into the haycock; ropes fitted to a bar and ratchet wheel were joined around the butt of the cock and with levers the cock was drawn onto the slide which would tip back and lock itself when the cock was drawn up sufficiently. Riding on the hay slide was great fun for us children. When empty it was a test of balance to stand upright on the slide as it bounced along, and going back we lay on top of the cock clinging precariously to the hay ropes as it swayed from side to side, and sometimes the men ‘accidentally’ guided the horse under a tree so that the branches would sweep us off, this added to the excitement. The hayrick was also a great place to play, particularly on a wet day when we would make houses by burrowing into the loose hay at the top just below the roof of the barn. As the rick was used large steps of it were removed, the back of each step being cut vertically with a hay knife; we used to entice the men to make these steps as high as possible so that we could jump down onto the soft hay below.

34.9.3 The Harvest

All hands to the harvest were also the case with the more valuable oats and wheat. The corn was cut with a two-horse reaper-and-binder, which gathered the cut stems on a shelf, tied them with string into a sheaf and dumped it onto the ground. The harvesters spread themselves around the field, gathered the sheaves, one under each arm, and stood them up leaning against each other with the ears in the air. This was repeated until there were six sheaves upright on the ground and firmly leaning against each other. You had made a stook. lf rain was forecast the stooks were headed with a couple more sheaves tied together with their stems upside down on top of the stook. This made a watertight hat on top of the stook and was much too difficult for the children. We did not like stooking as the spiky stem ends tore the inside of our arms and, although no blood flowed, they were very sore at the end of the day. However all got a bonus at the end of the cutting when there was only a little rectangle left to be cut. Here all the wretched rabbits, isolated from their burrows in the hedges, congregated and broke out into the open to be chased and often caught by dogs, men and children. A mad helter-skelter of arms and legs ending on the unfortunate rabbit.

Rabbits were then so numerous that they were a costly nuisance, but they were a source of income to us children as the butcher paid around 6d for each one, big pocket money then. Many a warm summer evening was spent sitting comfortably in a tree beside the warren at the river with a book and a .22 rifle, waiting for them to come out. Later on Uncle John kept ferrets and days were spent netting the burrows and then waiting until a rabbit was chased out by the ferret, and tangled in the net. One had to move fast to pounce on it before it managed to untangle itself. In his whimsical fashion John named the ferrets after the family, the original pair being George and Maude until it was discovered that George was not doing his stuff because he was female; eventually a real George was obtained and it was not long before the names of the Bomfords of Oakley Park had been used and we had to start on those of Priory Cottage; indeed it was ‘Bobbie’ who turned out to be the best ferret.

The real harvest fun-day for the children was when the steam driven thrashing machine came. It did not arrive until all the sheaves had been brought in to the haggard. A rick of sheaves was sited carefully, well away from the hay barn but in the open so that the thrashing machine could be parked on either side with the wood burning steam engine down wind. The fear was that sparks from the steam engine chimney might set fire to the straw or the hay. Since the thrashing machine toured the country it might be as late as December before it arrived; so the rick had to be carefully made with the ears of grain inside and the whole capped with a thatch of rushes to keep out the rain. There were two stacks, one of wheat and the other of oats. On the day the machine was due we children would wait on the road so that we could ride on the clanking noisy monster belching smoke and towing the thrashing machine and tenders of water and fuel. It was a tricky business getting this train through the yards and into the haggard. Extra men were employed that day because two were needed to throw sheaves to the top of the thrashing machine, another two to receive them, cut the string and to feed them evenly into the bowels of the machine, another man on the ground at one end organising the flow of grain into sacks, at least another three at the other end making a stack of the straw, and finally another clearing the chaff; nine men plus the engine driver. Once steam was raised in the boiler the whole operation continued all day with a break for a midday meal; a good one as it celebrated the end of the harvest and the men ate in the kitchen and then the family ate. Eventually the sacks of grain were carried into the drying loft above the coach-houses and spread thinly over the floor. About twice a year a cart load or two of grain in sacks was taken to the water mill beyond Moynalty to be crushed. We were self sufficient in meal and flour, and any surplus was sold.

Many other crops had to be harvested. Potatoes were dug and stored in a room in the basement; they were dug and scattered by a machine which broke into the drills and threw them out sideways, row by row; then they had to be collected by hand and sacked, a slow back-breaking job. The fruit had to be picked; apples and pears brought in and stored on racks in another basement room; the soft fruit was stored in bottles which were stewed and the screw tops tightly fitted whilst still hot, this had the effect of sealing the tops and in a year we used to consume dozens of bottles of raspberries, plums, currants and so on. Other roots such as carrots, beet, turnips, parsnips etc also had to be dug and stored in dry sand. The list is endless, but the more we could gather and store the better we ate; there were no shops in Kells selling vegetables or fruit out of season but we all ate well throughout the year.

Having finished the harvest it was time to start all over again. Ploughing took a long time, two horses only managed a drill at a time so perhaps an acre could be ploughed in a day, and there were at least 20 acres to be ploughed. Then in the spring the ploughed land had to be broken up by the harrow and in due course sowed and rolled. In the Big Garden beds for onions and peas and so on prepared, and the seed boxes sown and placed in the cold frame for planting out later. My grandfather spent many hours pruning the fruit trees trained against the garden wall which he had planted when he first came to Oakley Park, but it was my grandmother’s job to sow and plant out the vegetables for the house; although everyone gave what assistance they could in whatever job was going on.

34.9.4 The Animals

It is difficult to remember precise numbers of the animals on the place in the 1930s, but the list of stock in the clearance sale of Oakley Park of February 1955 will give some idea of numbers.

In the 1930s the cattle numbers would have been much the same, around 50 of various ages, though the dairy herd was a little larger and a bull was kept in its own paddock. We were not allowed in the bull’s paddock and the only time I ventured in the bull saw me off exceedingly quickly. Milking by hand took the three men about an hour, first thing in the morning and again last thing at night. No matter how raw or nasty the day, the byre was beautifully warm from the heat of the animals; milking was a relaxing job with the rhythmic pull on the teats and the swish of warm frothy milk into a bucket held between the knees; it was the time of discussion and planning, of scandal and ribaldry; it was possibly the only time when all the men were together before they set off on their different tasks of slashing hedges, ploughing, digging or whatever. A bucket of milk was brought into the house morning and evening, and the rest separated; the cream was used to make butter and the skimmed milk was fed to the calves and little pigs.

The sale of 1955 included a tractor but before the war there was only horses, three altogether, a pair of huge ponderous Shire horses with hairy fetlocks and enormous hoofs, and a lighter ‘pony’. The horses were trained as a team and used for heavy work, like ploughing and pulling the reaper and binder. The pony was used for lighter work with a cart, but was also trained for the trap, an open inside car in which four could travel facing each other; this was used when we went visiting or to Kells for the messages. We had a car, initially an old model ‘T’ Ford and later a Vauxhall, but seldom used it for the shorter trips that could be done by trap.

“Mousie” was really Aunt Joan’s hunter but she went at a spanking pace in the trap and was very popular. So many of these animals developed a personality; there was even a blue coloured cow which allowed me on its back and I regularly rode it when collecting the cows for milking or letting them out, but if any other child tried to do so he found himself on the ground in a twinkling. My little pony was called ‘Hector’; he was a good jumper and followed me everywhere; whenever he found the front door open Hector would come into the house, nose the other hall doors open and stand in front of the kitchen cupboard which held the sugar; he would not budge until someone gave him a lump and then he would amble out. Brian’s pony, Kim, was much more useful; not only did he gallop well but was also trained for a small sized trap and a cart. Other ponies and hunters came and went. My mother’s ‘Tony’ was regularly hunted and won many cups at the Navan Showground; my grandfather’s favourite hunter, ‘Aynak’, died in the late 1920s and so ended regular hunting, but I suppose someone went hunting a couple of times a month in the 1930s. It must have been in the 1920s that my grandfather had one finger bitten off by a horse; he managed to recover the finger and had it bottled, the bottle remained for many years on the mantelpiece until Maude got fed up with the sight of the grisly relic and threw it away.

The numbers of sheep and pigs were about the same; we did our own shearing and the wool was sold. We did not have a boar and so when a pig was considered interesting it was led down the avenue to the Kinsella’s boar and stayed the night. There seemed to be masses of piglets but farrowing was troublesome as the mother was inclined to roll over on a few of her babies with fatal results. This was one of Johnnie Rattigan’s jobs and if the birth were at night he would build a good fire in the harness room and sit there waiting. The birth of a lamb or a calf might go wrong to but Johnnie never complained and we lost very few animals.

There were less hens before the war, but there were also numerous ducks, geese and turkeys. These fowl were looked after by the women of the house, never the men. The birds were free-range which meant that we had to look for their nesting sites, but once a bird found a good place to nest it usually kept to it. Collecting the eggs was a job for the children and in the summer we usually gathered a couple of dozen each day. The turkeys were thought to be ‘difficult’ and we only had them off and on.

All these birds went to their own houses before dark but someone had to go out to shut them in or a fox might get them; there were foxes in the Red Bog, and a badger set in the shrubbery. Eggs were incubated in the basement and, once hatched, the chicks were put in a foster-mother, which was outside on the tennis court, or, in the flower-knot. A foster-mother was a long heavy box with a sliding roof, which disclosed two rooms, an inner one heated with a kerosene lamp and an outer one for feeding.

We killed our own animals when the larder was empty, although our butcher in Kells usually took the bullocks and heifers. I think there was some sort of a barter system, the butcher did not buy the animals but let us have meat whenever needed. In fact we never paid cash in any Kells shop, the item was entered in our book and payment was made monthly. Meat was eaten twice a day at least and our Sunday lunch was always a large sirloin of beef with all the trimmings. Indeed we ate well and all from the place except for tea and sugar; the menu was far from boring when there was available beef, lamb, pork or a bird, plus vegetables and potatoes; the vegetables included many seldom seen now-a-days, such as seakale, artichokes, asparagus and water-cress; there was fruit of all kinds from figs to damsons, either fresh or stored; we never bought bread, jam, porridge, milk, cheese or cream; and of course there was eggs and bacon, plus anything found with the gun like hare, pigeon or pheasant. Nothing was wasted; either the dogs or the pig’s pot took the leftovers. In this fashion we were self-sufficient and the bank balance was kept hopefully out of the red by the sale of surplus animals and produce, plus grandfather’s work with the Land Commission.

Mention of the purchase of tea and sugar and the slender bank balance reminds me of a row one lunchtime, when my grandmother discovered that by mistake grandfather had doubled the usual annual order of a chest of tea and two hundredweight of sugar. He sat grinning whilst her tirade about money wasting flowed over him; finally she saw the futility of her argument and ended with “Silly old man”, sat back and grinned too. However he had the last laugh since the year was 1939 and wartime rationing made those two items uncomfortably scarce, particularly tea when the weekly ration amounted to about 4 or 5 cups. Later on during the war I happened to visit Miss Nevin’s in her cottage and she regretted that she had no tea, so we sat down to “this new stuff called cawfie”. It was the shortage of tea during the War that introduced coffee to the country people, but they brewed it like tea and the pot would sit on the range for days stewing, becoming more and more bitter and more and more disgusting; it would never have caught on if their children had not travelled after the war and discovered how to make it properly.

With all this food and grain around rats and mice were a problem, but the ‘yard’ cats kept down their numbers; these were quite wild but came to the byre daily when milk was put down for them. One morning I counted 23 of these cats waiting for their milk. Ratting was a sport which the dogs loved and they would go wild if you called ‘rats’; it was particularly successful when the rat’s nests were disclosed when the piles of manure were being removed to be spread on the fields. Rick and Michael were two famous ratters of the 1930s. These vermin were kept at bay in the main house by the house cats and dogs; my black Persian, Ben, slept on top of one of the grain bins outside the kitchen with one eye open, and the dogs were shut in the basement at night.

34.9.5 The Dairy

To the left of the arched yard double gate was the way to the back door in the basement. Here was the well, dairy and engine house. The cut stone 80-feet-deep well never ran dry. It was grandfather’s job to pump water to the house roof tank every morning. The engine was coupled to the pump by a belt driven shaft, which was mounted near the ceiling and went through the wall into the dairy. Other belts came down from the shaft to drive the pump or the churn in the dairy. This was the closest we got to automation and it was fun to watch the pistons clanking in and out and the wide belt flapping round, such were our childhood innocent pleasures. The engine would not start on load so the belt had to be ‘knocked on’ and ‘knocked off’, a hazardous job which I suppose was the reason why it was always done by my grandfather; it was certainly not because he was mechanically minded, he was horse orientated and when driving the car it was not unusual for him to pull on the steering wheel and shout ‘Whoa’, an error which my grandmother would correct by shouting “The brake, George, the brake”.

My grandmother was the ruler of the dairy. When she first arrived at Oakley Park she was so horrified at the malnutrition of the country children that she built it with her own money, and, ever after, the country children came to the dairy can in hand twice a day to collect milk. After each milking the surplus milk was separated; the cream being kept in white pails and the skimmed milk being given to the suck calves and piglets.

Once a week we churned and made between 20 and 100 pounds of butter depending on the season. Oakley Park became renowned for its good butter and later on it was sent by train to Findlaters in Dublin. The art was to stop the churn at just the right moment when the butter had ‘come’, to roll squeeze it to get out the butter-milk, which was used to make bread, then to wash it and sprinkle in enough salt. The result was a deep yellow, firm butter, which tasted quite unlike the modern creamery stuff. On churning day the dairy was a busy place with buckets of water being sloshed around and ‘butter hands’ slapping and beating the butter into shape; then it had to be weighed and made into pound slabs wrapped in butter-paper; finally everything had to be scrubbed and scalded with kettles of boiling water brought from the kitchen. In the summer when there was too much cream, cheese was made and hung to drip dry in muslin bags from the dairy rafters.

34.9.6 The House and Garden

Grandmother was also the ruler in the Big Garden where she arranged the planting and harvesting of the fruit and vegetables; but her pride and joy was the flower-knot where she spent many happy hours up-ended in the flower beds. She had green fingers and the riot of colour in the beds was a joy to all. To give some idea of size, the central raised part of the flower knot consisted of 12 triangular beds radiating from a central urn, at their base another 12 round beds each with a cast iron urn; 24 in all and each surrounded with a little clipped box hedge and gravel; around the grass perimeter were another 10 beds and a large rockery. It is difficult to imagine how she was able to cope with all this since the only help she had was an occasional man to mow the grass and to hoe and rake the graver paths; but manage she did and the results were admired by all.

The help in the house consisted of three maids, a parlour maid, a housemaid and a kitchen maid who did some cooking. Their jobs also seemed to be never ending; for instance every week the bare boards of the passages were either scrubbed by hand with soap and water or polished, and then every year spring cleaning went on for a couple of months; the library took the longest to spring clean since all the 4,000 books were taken out-side and dusted. Some of these girls left to get married but most stayed for years and were part of the family, as were the men in the yard. None were thought of as servants but as friends, and I don’t think I ever heard an order given, it was always a suggestion. A suggestion like, “Mary, would you ever go to the Big Garden and get some peas for lunch”, might be said equally to one of the house guests or to one of the maids. Another instance of the friendship which built up was that, if I was hurt as a child, it was quite likely that I would run for attention to one of the men in the yard, for with them or the maids I knew that I would be coddled very satisfactorily. Yet another instance occurred quite recently when Aunt Joan was reminiscing with Johnnie Rattigan and he retorted “And why shouldn’t I remember that, sure didn’t I rear you,” an assured declaration that the whole tricky business of bringing up Joan had fallen only on his shoulders. They all had considerable pride in the place and loyalty to the family, and on no occasion did anyone leave because they did not like their work. The hours were long, 8.30 to 6 with an hour off for lunch, and they were paid a pittance, but all worked happily and there were many jokes and much banter. The men’s pay during the 1930s was about £2 a week, paid every Friday during milking; there were virtually no days off and the only concession to Sunday was that only the animals were ‘done’. By custom the men were given a proportion of the crops, a couple of drills of potatoes, and grain or flour; milk was free, as was firewood, and if they were housed on the estate there was no rent or rates. The maids in the house were paid much less, but they lived in and were fed free.

One could ramble on, but even though we all had our jobs there was ample leisure for parties and outings. Even during the harvest there was time for all to have a picnic on Emlagh Bog in the trap, to take the car to the sea for a day, to go shopping to Dublin by train or to bicycle to neighbours for tennis. Our spare time was filled very differently to that of today; only on the wettest days did we want to be inside; we were out-door types who made our own amusements and so did not have time to be bored. A happy time with a nice balance between work and play.

 The Flower-Knott, Oakley Park, painting by Dorothy Cripps.  Click to see enlargement

(Painting) The ‘Flower-knott’ at Oakley Park by Dorothy Cripps.  See also the painting by Winoa Constable at 33.5.3.

 

 

Floor Plans of Oakley Park c1920

Ground Floor

Click on the image to see enlargement.  There is plenty of detail in these plans, but it may not be easy to find it.  If you left click to see the enlargement, then in Internet Explorer left click again on the enlargement or maybe just wait, you should that when you click on it will open the plans at full scale with all the detail.

First Floor

Next Chapter: Chapter 35

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