Ralph Leaper

Ralph moved from Guildford to Newton Blossomville with his family when he was two years old in 1941.  When his father was released from the Army after WWII, he became a professional gardener. Both of Ralph’s grandfathers were agricultural workers. Ralph recounts that the women had to earn money where they could, keeping chickens, pigs and goats as well as using their knitting and lace-making skills. Ralph enjoyed the gardening, woodwork and sporting aspects of his schooling. Ralph worked for a local farmer after school and during the holidays, as he got older he learnt to drive the tractor. Ralph recalls life in Newton Blossomville during WWII and the villagers all helping each other during the severe winter of 1947. Ralph recalls his childhood adventures, the railway line between Bedford and Northampton, attending Sea Scout meetings held at The Mill, and piano lessons at Mrs. Day’s at Station End.

After leaving school Ralph got a job at Lodge Farm, Turvey at the time when the mechanisation of farming was taking off.  Ralph became a Youth Club leader and dancing lessons and dances were a regular feature.  Ralph and Hazel married in the mid-1960s and lived at Brookside, Turvey. In 1969 Ralph was requested to move to Lodge Farm as farm manager. Ralph worked there until his retirement in the late 1990s.  Ralph traces the changes in farming over his career. Ralph recalls the pubs, Len Savage carpenter, the brick works, a saw pit and a stone quarry, The Mill, Turvey Station, the shops, the blacksmith’s. Ralph recounts an accident on the railway line and the tradition of a church service for Plough Monday held outdoors at Newton Blossomville, and the more recent Harvest Barn Dances at Hall Farm, Turvey.

Memories of the cinema at Brayfield House during WW11

 

“We, in the war, in the 40’s, that was in the war, we had lots of soldiers around us. Brayfield House was occupied with the Ammunition Service of the Armed Forces and Turvey Station was the NAAFI, the food side of it, up at Turvey Station.  And we used to have all sorts of things going on, dances and things. And up at Cold Brayfield they actually built a cinema and we actually used to go to the cinema once a week or once a month – great fun. I first saw ‘Great Expectations’, that was the first film I saw at Cold Brayfield, which frightened the life out of us (laughs) because we had to walk back across the river in the dark (laughs).”

Memories of activities in the Young Farmers and Bailey’s buses in Turvey

 

“Every time there was a wedding we always had our pitchfork archway you know, so yes, but we had the rallies and we did all sorts of competitions. I always did the ploughing and in actual fact I’m judging a ploughing match next Saturday, a week on Saturday (laughs), so at Bedford Young Farmers, yes, we did all sorts of things. We never used to go away with them, but I expect the farthest I went away with them was the Smithfield Agricultural Show in London. But of course that was another thing that happened, connected with Turvey when we were young, was that Bailey’s buses, we always used to go on their trips and Mr. Hall, Cyril Hall, was one of the bus drivers which used to take us and we used to love going to Wembley every year to the Horse of the Year Show and various things, you know shows in London.  He always used to take us and managed to park somewhere, he was very good. That was great fun. We did that with the youth club as well, we had coach trips.”

Memories of the railway crash just past Hall Farm, Turvey.

 

“Yeah, just past Hall Farm a freight train got put on the wrong rails, on the dead line at Turvey Station and he didn’t wait for the baton because they had to have a baton between Olney and Turvey because it was single line, and he didn’t wait for the baton and he got to the crossing for Hall Farm and he saw this row of carriages standing on the spare line, him and the fireman jumped out and the train hit the carriages and went down the embankment. It got a load of concrete sleepers, he was carrying a load of concrete sleepers and that went down the embankment.  That was quite exciting, and they brought the cranes from up north somewhere to lift it all up.  I’ve got photographs of it now, black and white photographs, yeah, that was exciting.”

Memories of difficult harvesting and ploughing weather conditions

 

“But we had a lot of different weather then to what we have now, wetter weather when you didn’t want it. For instance we had some harvests where we had … for two harvests, where we had to have a tractor pushing the combine  because the combine was sinking a foot in the ground, in the wet ground because we’re on clay obviously and after that winter, two winters after those harvests, we couldn’t plough because it was so wet.  And we used to have to wait for the frost to come in at night and we used to start ploughing, probably at 12.00 at night and go through to the morning and of course you were sitting on a tractor without a cab in minus 10 and by morning you couldn’t even plough because the ground was too hard, so things were very hard then you know. Very difficult and you didn’t get much off the crops but I used to sit on a crawler tractor with tracks and no cab and used to have to stop every half hour and because I was near a road at that time, we used to run up and down the road because you’d got hobnail boot on and your feet were even colder so you’d run up and down the road to get warm and in those days we had army greatcoats that came down to our ankles and we wore them. They were hard times but I wouldn’t say we didn’t enjoy it, it was alright. It was alright.”

A transcript of the full interview with Ralph Leaper may be found in the Voices Collection of the Archive.

 

 

 

 

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