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Fornham St Martin: Once we farmed 750 acres with 19 people, now it’s 3,000 with eight, says 75-year-old who has worked on same farm for almost 60 years

20:00 19 March 2014

George Manning and his wife Murial.

George Manning and his wife Murial.

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George Manning still lives in the village where he was born and bred.

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And this year not only is he celebrating a milestone 75th birthday, he is also set to mark 60 years at Hall Farm, Fornham St Martin.

It is an achievement in anyone’s book - but that’s not all.

George and wife Muriel, who will be 70 this year, will also mark their golden wedding – another of life’s milestones.

It all started in Old Hall Lane, Fornham St Martin.

George said: “My mother was from Chevington and my father was from Saxham. I was born in Old Hall Lane, my father was a tractor driver at Hall Farm.

“I went to school in the village before going to the Silver Jubilee School in Bury.”

It was while he was still at school that George first started work.

He said: “I had an allotment and I would sell flowers and veg to the village shop. I also did odd gardening jobs for people.”

George left school at 15 and started working for the Long family at Hall Farm.

He said: “I started by helping out in the garden for Colonel and Mrs Long and doing all sorts of odd jobs. I enjoyed it, they had a large garden and a big vegetable garden. Gardening is still my main hobby.”

George quickly moved from gardening to a variety of jobs on the farm.

He said: “I did all sorts of different jobs, I helped with the cattle and the ploughing horses which they had in those days. I would lead the horses for the ploughman.”

George adapted quickly to the rhythm of the farming year. It is a rhythm that exists to this day.

He said: “In the spring we do jobs like chopping out the sugar beet, in the summer it is harvest and cutting and stalking the wheat.

“In the autumn we lift the sugar beet and in the winter we’re doing maintenance and odd jobs that need doing.”

When he was around 22 George became the farm’s lorry driver.

He said: “I started with a Bedford lorry taking sugar beet to the factory and hauling wheat and potatoes. I enjoyed it. I went all over the place and I did that for the next 45 years or so.”

When he was 20 George first met his future wife.

Muriel takes up the story.

She said: “We met at a dance in the Athenaeum in Bury. It was the Jonny Haines Dance Band, they didn’t have nightclubs in those days.

“I was 15. I am from Cockfield and my family kept the King’s Head pub. I thought George was alright but I didn’t expect to see him again but he turned up again at the Valentine’s dance at Cockfield village hall and it progressed from there.”

The couple moved to a house on Hall Farm when they got married and they have lived there, bring up two children, ever since.

George said: “I love being outside and there is always something to do. My main job now is driving the JCB. I got to retirement age but I was asked to stay on to help with loading potatoes.

“July to September is the busiest time of year. I might go down to three days a week in the next year but I like being busy.”

Muriel, who worked behind the bar at the village pub for 20 years, said part of the secret of staying together for 50 years is that he doesn’t get under her feet.

She said: “You can’t argue with George, he just walks away and does something else. So that way I am always right.”

George, who now works for Colonel Long’s grandson Andrew, reflected on some of the differences in farming when he came to Hall Farm in 1954.

He said: “I have seen a lot of changes over those 60 years. 
The animals have gone – we don’t have cattle or ploughing horses any more.

“When I started it was hard physical work. But over the years we have made use of much more machinery and many jobs have become easier. You have to be much more mechanically minded and skilled nowadays to work the machines.

“When I started we farmed 750 acres with 19 people, now they farm 3,000 acres with eight employees.”

The couple, who share a love of gardening, are now grandparents themselves.

A modest couple, George and Muriel are a bit bemused by the attention their golden wedding and other celebrations have attracted.

Muriel said: “We’re just a normal couple. I think we’ll celebrate with some sort of family gathering.”

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