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Raw Hands, National Service & Proper Fitness – a Life on the Land, Part 1

Dennis Hotchin, now 83-years old and living in Louth, spent most of his working life at South Ormsby Estate and experienced a great deal of change first-hand.

At the age of 16, Dennis worked for a baker at the Tetford mill. He took over the job when his elder brother was called up for National Service. Dennis didn’t much care for bakery work, so after a year in the job he was ready for a change. He saw that Adrian Massingberd-Mundy had advertised in the local paper for a general labourer at South Ormsby Estate and applied.

Dennis went to see the Squire in October 1954, and in short order was offered the job to start the following Monday. The Squire had just left the Royal Navy having served as a submariner. Dennis was 17-years old at the time and the Squire 27; he would often remind Dennis that he was 10 years his senior.

Dennis vividly remembers his first job; taking mangels to the sheep by hand on a frosty October morning. At that time, the estate grazed sheep outdoors all-year round, apart from when the ewes came in for lambing. Mangels were grown on the estate as winter fodder, making the flock self-sufficient. Dennis’s hands were raw after this experience.

Dennis saw Squire Adrian nearly every day. Bells of Horncastle ran the estate office, but the Squire was very hands-on and Dennis remembers him as a lovely person who was really good to work for;  an old-fashioned gentleman farmer who called you by your first name. The Squire tended not to go away on holiday, apart from occasional fishing trips to Scotland.

Adrian Massingberd-Mundy & RAF Regiment crest

When Dennis started his working life on the land in the 1950s, there was little mechanisation. He and the rest of the estate team of ten labourers – aided by two horses – would typically work from 7am to 5pm doing whatever manual work needed to be done. This ranged from feeding the sheep to digging ditches and maintaining hedgerows. Harvesting was a particular arduous part of the job. Crops were subject to stowking, a process whereby up to eight sheaves were gathered up off the ground for drying. Pitchforks were used to stack carts, which then had to be unloaded at the yard. Three weeks every winter were spent thrashing corn out of its stacks.

The area now known as Sheepdip Paddock was known in Dennis’s day as Sheepwash. As the name suggests, sheep were washed in a hollow there, with the local fire brigade helpfully turning out to pump water in and then drain it. It may well have been good practice for them.

Dennis recalls being exceedingly fit in his labouring days, and thoroughly clearing his dinner plate at the day’s end. While the pay was poor – practically nothing – he benefitted from rent-free and rate-free accommodation on the estate. Then again, the housing was tied, meaning that the tenant wasn’t free to work elsewhere, an entirely normal situation back then.

After 18 months on the estate, Dennis was called up for his stint of National Service. He served for two years with the RAF Regiment in Germany. He wasn’t keen on the prospect at the time, but he looks back on it as a positive experience. Before his call-up, he hadn’t left Lincolnshire, and the experience taught him a lot and brought him out of his shell.

Dennis met his wife, Phyllis, a few weeks before his National Service was due to start. By good fortune, a rail strike delayed his enlistment and gave the couple time to get better acquainted. During his two-year absence, they wrote to one another often. When he returned in 1957, they got engaged, then married in 1959. 65 years after Dennis met Phyllis, he remains grateful to those striking rail workers.




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