Clyde Higgs offers his advice

clyde Higgs milk bottle. He gives good advice to Frances Donaldson
An old milk bottle

Clyde Higgs was an eminent local farmer from Leamington Spa. He supplied milk to all the area around Stratford upon Avon. He was an energetic man with an original mind. His milk bottles were famous, and carried slogans such as ‘Higgs milk, Higgs heggs / Keep the workers on their legs’;  ‘No milk for seven days makes one weak’; ‘Your cat miaows at milk from our cows’; ‘The milk’s thine, / The bottle’s mine’ .

foil milk bottle top. Advice from Clyde Higgs
A foil bottle top from Clyde Higgs milk

I went to a weekly boarding school in Stratford when I was about 6 and we used to sing, ‘Clyde Higgs, Milk for the pigs’. I did not realise that we were taking him off, and just thought we were being deliciously naughty.

In other ways he was more reticent and I have not been able to find a photograph of him anywhere, although there are pictures of his old bottles which are now collector’s items. He gae form advice to Frankie: dispense with a foreman and take up the reins herself.


14/2/42   To-day the most extraordinary thing happened. I went over to see Clyde Higgs to ask his advice about the cows etc. I spent the whole afternoon with him and we talked about a lot of things and it was all rather beating round a lot of bushes. When I had been there about three hours, he suddenly said “Of course you’ll never do any good until you get rid of that bailiff of yours”. I sat up as tho’ shot and said “What do you mean?” He said “Well, what are you doing messing about? You’re not making money and you’re not doing anything except sit in that house in the village leaving about £12,000 worth of capital in the hands of a man you pay £4.10/- a week to. I thought perhaps you were writing but you don’t appear to be. You’re not the girl I thought you were”.

He meant I should run the farm without a bailiff. I made all the obvious objections and he just pooh-poohed the lot. He said I’d never get anywhere this way, that I couldn’t make much of a mess the other way, and that in any case if I found after six months that I was making a mess of it, good bailiffs were two a penny anyway (I believe this is true) and I could easily get another one. He repeated “if you haven’t got the guts to do it you aren’t the girl I thought you were and you’ll never get anywhere”.

This only happened an hour ago so obviously I oughtn’t to make any comment on it. But I’m going to. I’m going to do it. I know I oughtn’t to until I have consulted you and waited for an answer but I also know that you don’t mind risks really and that if you were here and understood all the complex difficulties you’d agree and let me do it.

The very thought of it makes me feel good in a way I haven’t felt good for over a year. I know I can’t get anywhere this way and I know I’m not doing a job that’s worth doing. I’m dying of inanition (re-read some of yesterday’s letter). I can’t do any of the things I want to, I’m thwarted at every turn, I’ve got nothing like a full-time occupation, I crawl round the farm unable to say boo to a goose, when I get good advice I can’t take it because I can’t make Carling, I can’t get my pastures grazed the way I want them grazed, I can’t take on the C.O. because Carling thinks he ought to be in the army and so on and so on. … It’s reduced me to the point where I can’t bring myself to get up in the morning. If we were making a pot of money it would be worth it, but we’re definitely not. If I make a bad enough balls we can sell out. We are bound to take out as much as we put in. Anyway I know in my bones that I must do it.

O boy, am I excited! I’ve been wanting someone to say this to me for weeks and weeks — months and years — and nobody would. I hadn’t the guts to do it off my own bat but now I damn well will. If you knew the humiliation of my position — writing articles, meeting farmers, always being cracked up as a success story when really I’m nothing but a miserable, thwarted and neurotic creature entirely in the hands of a bailiff.

You’ve got to forgive me and back me 100%, and you’ve got to grin and take it when I’ve lost all your money. I absolutely know it is right. I know I don’t know anything but I know damn well I can learn anything I want to if I want to. In about two years from now I shall write a book called “The adventure really begins” and that will earn us all the money I’ve lost in the meantime. Hurray, Hurray, life’s going to be fun again!

As to how soon and what arrangements I shall make — I don’t know. I shall have to think about it. I shall try to go to Moulton for about six weeks to learn to drive a tractor and something about ploughing and also to do some milking so that I could take over the cows if everyone left with Carling. But whether before or after telling him I don’t know.

½ an hour later:

I’m so excited I have to write some more. I see all my insoluble problems melting away. I know there will be others and in some ways worse ones to take their place but there will be a bit of life about it. I shall be able to employ who I like — something quite new. I shall live in the farmhouse, but I shall keep this house on in case I want to import outsiders. When someone says to me “Will you or can you do this?” I shall be able to say Yes or No, not “I’ll think about it”, which, being interpreted means I’ll sound Carling. When someone who knows what he is talking about says “You ought to do this” I shall be able to do it instead of having to go home biting my nails with frustration and temper.

16/2/42   I’m so madly excited these days that I sweat slightly most of the time and can’t keep my mind on a book or a conversation or anything. Mr Stewart was not nearly so disapproving as I expected him to be. He thought that, having Highman, it would be perfectly possible for me to manage the outside work, but I must have a cowman who was just as good. I used a very telling argument with him. I said that when we had a good cowman yield was good, and when we had a bad one it was bad, and that Carling’s presence didn’t alter this fact. Mr S agreed that providing there was some intelligence at the top, the ploughman and the cowman were the key men and not the bailiff at all. I maintain that, if I’m to keep a grip on it, I must live at the farm where anyone can see me at any time of day or night. But I must have a man living at the farm because of the cows. The difficulty is to find somewhere for a married cowman, as the present one, who is single is sure to leave with Carling as he is his friend.

Northamptonshire Institute of Agriculture, Moulton

Mr Stewart says there is one week in five when most of the land girls have gone and I could go to the Institute for a week. I was rather pleased really because it shortens the time before I can tell Carling, and get on with it. I simply can’t wait. You don’t know what all this means to me. It gives me back my self-respect. I’m so tired of writing articles etc about what I have achieved when I know I haven’t achieved anything except a home farm without a home. Also it opens up such a vista for the future. Everybody regards me as news and a possibility but I can’t ever get further than “I bought a farm” because quite frankly I haven’t got any further. In about two years from now I shall be able to write dozens of books and articles and broadcast practically every day.

I’ve had so much to say I haven’t mentioned the news which is so ferociously bad that I don’t, sometimes, think it’s important what I do. We could easily lose the war this year. I suppose you’ve gone back to Tobruk just when Rommel is on the move again. Oh dear.

I’m still so excited about all my new plans I can’t sleep at night.

17/2/42   I’m delighted that you’re joining Reggie Fellowes.  (In Iraq) It takes a great load off my mind, and you like him and it is new so I’m sure you’ll be happy for a bit.

20/2/42   I have been threshing all day. It is killing. Even the men admit to extreme tiredness at the end of the day.

I don’t want to start saying horrible things about Carling immediately I have decided to get rid of him. He seems so nice in many ways, but he often does odd things. To-day we were threshing wheat which is always the worst and it was our heaviest crop and it was really beyond anything. Carling came on to the rick in Joe’s place. Joe is usually with us and he is always very sweet and does the worst job and skips about doing extra bits to relieve us. Carling took the easiest job and during periods when he was ahead of his job he just leant on his fork and watched us. In the end I said to Molly “Stop trying – just lean on your fork and then he’ll have to work or the drum will stop”. It is rather odd isn’t it? Molly thinks he’s just a shit but I really don’t know what it’s all about. Directly he goes Joe will start to tell me what the men really think about him. Everyone appears to like him except Molly and me. I am bewildered by him and unable to like him.

I am so awfully tired, but bless you for February 20th (wedding anniversary).

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A Woman's War