The other side of the coin – professional men

Frankie had unending problems in the first 2 years, dealing with the difficulties which arose when a woman tried to run a man’s business and manage men and their emotions and anxieties when they felt threatened. The opposite turned out to be true of professional men. These were confident, mostly, in their positions in life and found a young, pretty and unaccompanied woman a delightful challenge and object of their support. In the long run the support of professionals may have been more critical than that of the working men, and in any case she eventually found a team of able and self-confident workers that she could work with and manage.  This was not easy, but she eventually achieved it.

The only departure from this easy relation with professional men was when local farmers and officials appeared to become envious of her success and spread rumours of failure. These were upsetting but easily quashed in the light of the obvious good condition of the farm.

Mr Stewart from the Northamptonshire Institute of Agriculture
15/2/40   The point in going to the Institute turns out to be almost nothing we can learn directly but the relationship we form with Mr Stewart, the Director, with Mr Lindsay, his assistant, and with Miss Strang, in charge of both dairying and hens. These three also lead the Agricultural Advisory Service for Northampton.

3/7/40    I went to see Mr Stewart to see if there was any possibility of getting a man to do the threshing if I told Jones to stop working for me. He said none at all and that I must hold off all rows for 10 days or so till the threshing is done. After that I must have a complete inventory of stock and threaten prosecution if any are missing

Mr Stewart, Moulton. help from professional men
Mr Stewart, Northamptonshire Institute of Agriculture

20/8/40   My own darling – I have in my own mind decided to get rid of Jones. I will explain it all to you when I see you. Mr Stewart has produced a man called Carling who might do. He and his wife came to see me last Sunday. The wife is perfect but I was not absolutely sure about the man.

2/3/42   Mr Stewart was over to-day and I put to him all the pros and cons of the Carling case. He was quite decided I ought to keep C but insist on really learning and on getting my own way when I want to. He said directly you came back we could manage the farm ourselves, because you would be the man in the house and if you killed a cow with the wrong dose you would be the boss entitled to. I think this is very sound and I am going to do it.

31/3/42   Mr Stewart has fixed for me to go for a short time as a pupil to a man called Wilkins who is wonderful on implements. I shall only go for about a week now but if I get on well with him I shall go back in June or July when he is ploughing for summer fallow.
Sir George Stapledon (1882-1960 Pioneer ecologist, geneticist and agricultural improver, regarded as one of the greatest agricultural scientists of the twentieth century.)

Sir George gave Frankie alot of good advice about farming, whether to go it alone without a bailiff, whether to prosecute the bailiff who stole sheep, and much more. She also had a social relationship with him and his wife, which, given her isolation, was helpful and comforting.
4/2/41   I finished “The Land”, Stapes’s book, and in it has a scheme for a national park which has certain elements in common with the Earls Court scheme, only set on a big country estate and springing from a desire to give the people the country rather than games and swimming pools. It is rather a good scheme so perhaps we shall end up running a national park — you and me I mean.

ecologist, geneticist Sir George Stapledon. Help from professional men
Sir George Stapledon

5/6/41   Last night I went to the Stapledons dressed in my boiler-suit. They were just moving in and were very tired and insisted that we all went to the Falcon in Stratford for dinner. So we did — me in my boiler-suit. It created a real sensation. As I walked in the whole room stopped talking and stared. It is a 3rd rate smart hotel and is filled with all the young men and women who, in spite of everything, still throng Stratford. I couldn’t decide whether if you had been with me you would have been pleased or cross.

3/8/41   I went over to the Stapledons where Buck (Lord de la Warr, a Labour politician and government minister) is staying.

Clyde Higgs (Clyde Higgs was the largest dairy farmer in the area. When I went to school in Stratford on Avon, aged 6-9, we used to sing ‘Clyde Higgs, Milk for the pigs’ and collapse into helpless giggles)

Clyde Higgs milk producer 1940s
Clyde Higgs farmed a 2000 acre dairy farm

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”.

21/5/42   Some weeks ago when I was talking to Pattison he said how I ought to farm was to have foreman instead of a bailiff but pay some good farmer to come over regularly and advise me. I didn’t take much notice as I thought I wasn’t short of advice and the full details of the suggestion didn’t strike me at the time. But I got your letters about really preferring the original Clyde Higgs idea to anything else. Then yesterday I was talking to Clyde Higgs on the telephone. I asked him when he was coming over. He said it wasn’t any use saying that because I hadn’t got a telephone and so a busy man couldn’t be bothered getting hold of me. And I said “Well, I asked you to do something about getting me a telephone but you don’t do it.” And he said “No, I’m not going to — the telephone is there — all you’ve got to do is to move in beside it.”

Pattison (Pat). Pat became her permanent adviser and friend.

Pat with a sheep dog
Pat with a sheep dog

18/5/42    I have made rather friends with Pattison, the agric. organiser and I think he is rather a good man — much better than I originally assumed. He is the son of a farmer and appears to have a genuine knowledge of stock and also of the routine running of a farm, which springs more from a farmer’s mind than Mr Stewart’s, which is slightly collegy. For instance, he gave me the hell of a ticking off for wanting to pick some pigs with him and without Carling. He said no decent farmer would ever pick out his stock without the man who looked after them. I’m sure he’d help all he knew how, if I was on my own, even tho’ disapprovingly. There is only one crab to this, and that is, unless I’m dotty, he fancies me. But he is very shy and easily choked off and so far I’ve had no difficulty in managing him without the bucket of boiling oil I had to use with Mr Stewart.

21/8/42   Terrific excitements. Pattison (whom I now call Pat when I can remember) arrived yesterday to go thro’ the cows and decide which we would cull. He was so horrible about nearly all of them that I was reduced to despair. Then we suddenly decided to have a farm sale to get rid of all of them except about 10 or so and buy new and better ones with the money. We will have a wonderful sale and we shan’t stand to lose anything because Pattison will post six men round the ring to buy in anything which doesn’t fetch enough. Isn’t it exciting? I’ve been longing to get rid of all those beastly cows for ages.

25/8/42 Pattison is a great standby. I’m really fond of him and I know that, if the worst came to the worst he’ll come and drive the tractor and milk the cows himself.

11/10/42   Yesterday was the sale. I don’t know where to begin. It has been such hard work and everyone on the farm has been at it until after dark all this week. Firstly it was a success in every possible way.

Pattison was argumentative and irritating, cancelling every order I gave and taking all the men on his job and leaving me with about one girl for all I had to do but I must say he brought it off. We had a great bit of luck in that a super cowman whom I have engaged to come here in the spring when the cottages are built was on his holiday and he came and got the cows ready. He is a showman and knows all about it and he made them  look wonderful. Pattison had spent about two days doing the same thing himself for the sheep and they looked wonderful. Then his organisation of the men and the sale ring was perfect and everything went without a hitch.

People kept saying to me they couldn’t believe I had done all that in two years, and I had to refrain from saying two weeks, you mean. It was great fun in retrospect and I am awfully proud and pleased, but it was dreadfully hard and it nearly killed us all and it only came off by the skin of its teeth.
Mr Dowler and the Red Polls
7/11/42   A most charming thing happened to me two days ago. The Red Poll herd that had particularly impressed Pat belonged to a man called Dowler. Pat took me over two days ago just to look at the herd.   When Pat introduced me his whole face (which is thin and gentle with spectacles and he is very deaf) lit up and he said “Are you Mrs Donaldson? I’ve been wanting to meet you for a long time.” I exhibited proper and quite sincere confusion as I hadn’t expected it, and then he added “How is your husband?”, which I thought was very sweet. Then he said wouldn’t we go in and have a cup of tea, which we did.

Red poll cattle
Red Polls

We talked about the Red Polls and he said “I would do anything to help you if you do decide to have some. You may pick whichever you prefer of my heifers, and I’ll let you have a bull calf of different blood to cross with her.” Then he added, rather apologetically “I’ve never sold to anyone else”. I nearly burst with pleasure. Pat’s face was a study. He just took time off to advise me to accept the offer as quick as I could, and then said to Dowler “This is the most awful racket. You wouldn’t even let me have that crossbred and now you’re offering Mrs Donaldson your best heifer.” Dowler looked at him for a minute and then said “But you haven’t done anything. What have you ever done like Mrs Donaldson?” Don’t you think it was absolutely lovely?

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A Woman's War