Organic farming ideas; Farm wages

Lady Eve Balfour
Lady Eve Balfour

26/10/43      I’ve written to Faber’s and told them to send “The Living Soil” and “Alternative to Death” direct to you. I’ve already got them but I can’t spare them. You must read them. The Living Soil is excellent and rather frightening. It is written by Lady (Lady Eve Balfour (1899-1990) was an English farmer, educator, organic farming pioneer, and a founding figure in the organic movement.), who is a friend of Dod and Pete and Dick. It’s about health and very pro composting. The compost people have always said that, on a long term view, artificials did harm to the soil, but I always thought they said it in an arrogant and cranky way without evidence. Now this book produces evidence of a pretty frightening kind. I use artificials with great liberality and I feel a bit shaken. I have therefore for the first time in my life written a fan letter. I said could I come down and see her and discuss certain points with her? She lives in Norfolk or Suffolk so it would involve staying the night. This is very courageous of me as I hate meeting strangers and travelling and I don’t in the least want to be convinced about compost and fertilizers because it will only involve being on the wrong side again (people like us always are) and much more trouble and less profit. But I feel you would want me to do this. So please read the book with great care even if you are busy and far away because all sorts of things could arise from it. It’s all about health in its widest implications — wider even than the PHC stuff (Peckham Health Centre), any way more basic, and one would need to be a farmer to do anything about it at all. So if it’s right and I make a small beginning you would have to take it on.


Jack had been heavily involved in the Peckham Health Centre, an experiment in community Health in the 30s. He donated half his inheritance to the founding of it, gave up his city job and worked there as an unskilled helper until the war started. I think the contact with Eve Balfour and the Soil Association came from there. This was the beginning of serious organic farming in Britain. Mary Langman, from the Peckham Health Centre, found Whole Food with a shop in Baker Street after the War.

Peckham Health Centre
Peckham Health Centre 1935, described by Walter Gropius as ‘an oasis of glass in a desert of brick’

My parents’ whole focus was on food production, to produce enough to keep England independent in the war. After the war Jack decided to experiment, and devoted one field on the new farm in Gloucestershire to organic practices. The crops were so spindly and thin in comparison with the fields that had artificial fertilisers that he used to conduct parties and friends around the farm and then visit “Eve’s field” and have a good laugh. In the long run opinion has gone the other way, and probably practice has improved so that organic farming can produce better results that in the 1940s.

31/10/43   Things are going much better. We have, temporarily at least, cleared up the mastitis and are sending away a reasonable quantity of milk. I think, barring accidents, we shall make a good profit this year.

The more I think about Humphrey getting home the more I think you’ll have to put your foot down and insist on coming, otherwise you’ll be the last person left and then you’ll never get home. I’m disgusted with the speed of our advance. Everyone said, when the Russians reached the Dnieper, they’d need six months to reorganize. They took exactly four days. Whereas we always have excuses for taking six months when we’re expected to take four days. Johnnie (Miller) thinks, if we don’t get on a bit, the Russians will pull up snorting on the cliffs of Dover and leave Churchill and Roosevelt to think that one out.

 3/11/43    I’ve just had a letter from you asking about the men’s wages and milk production. As you ought to know about these I’m answering at once before I forget. Please also get the names and occupations so that I don’t always have to remind you. The minimum wage is £3 for men and 45/- for women.

Highman used to get £4 plus cottage plus overtime but he never put in any overtime for things like messing about after stock etc so I changed it. The milking people get overtime for anything unconnected with milking but not for Saturday and Sunday milking so they don’t really get as much as they appear to in relation to the rest.

Highman (foreman) £4.10.0 + cottage but no overtime ever.

Price (cowman) £4.10.0. + cottage.

Walden (tractor driver) £3.10.0 + cottage.

Wheeldon, Cyril (tractor driver etc, under 21 and therefore only entitled to 45/-) £3.0.0.

Oakley (deaf and dumb and fearful nuisance) £3.0.0.

Peggy Brooke (land girl) £2.5.0. + cottage.

Joan Hosie (cowshed) £2.10.0.

Yvonne (cowshed) £2.10.0.

Win Lewis (secretary etc) £2.10.0.

Anne Oliver (ex-university student only here because I’m too weak to sack quite good worker) £2.5.0.

Interesting that the landgirls get less than even Oakley. They get less than the minimum wage. This maybe because they work shorter hours, or because landgirls were semi-voluntary. I do not know, but it could be the usual sexism about women’s remuneration.

See for information about the Women’s land Army. This says, among other interesting facts, that “Women were initially asked to volunteer for the WLA. However, in December 1941 the government passed the National Service Act, which allowed the conscription of women into the armed forces or for vital war work….. Initially, Land Girls earned £1.85 for a minimum of 50 hours work a week. In 1944, wages were increased by £1 to £2.85. However, as the wages were paid by the farmer, rather than directly by the state, it was difficult to ensure that everyone was paid properly.”  I think the landgirls at Gypsy hall all got free accommodation, often with our family, so that explains partly why they were paid so little.

( I read out to Pat the wages list as given to you and he says I must be dotty and I’ve got to sack at least two girls and the two half-time women. I’m not dead sure he’s right. I’ve got work for them up to Christmas and again in May onwards. Is it really right to sack people who are good and have taken a lot of getting together when it means employing gang labour in the summer months if you do. Any way I don’t really know who to sack. I’ll finish this tomorrow. Goodnight my love.)

You will see from all this three things. One, there is nothing to be ashamed of in wages paid and general standards of employment. And in reference to this I should say that everyone at present on the farm considers themselves to have a good job and is really happy. Two, I can no longer complain of a shortage of labour. In fact I have too much and will sooner or later have to get rid of some of the women. Nevertheless only the first four named are at all skilled so there is still a slight (only slight) lack of skilled labour. Three, I have a nice little cheque to cash once a week. On the other hand I no longer have to get land girls in gangs for threshing, mangold pulling etc so it evens up a bit.

Two points – one, there is about to be an increase of minimum wages from £3 to £3.5.0 and from 45/- to 48/- so everyone including those getting higher wages will go up in this proportion. Two, the standards of pay are pretty high in relation to most farmers but not particularly high in relation to the money makers. I know people who pay their cowmen as much as £6 and most foremen get at least £4.10.0 if not more. Turney was paying all his tractor drivers £5 a year ago but that is pretty fantastic.

I want to see you soon and I really can’t wait much longer. All my love my darling. Frankie.

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A Woman's War