East Anglia: Sid’s life with horses
- Credit: IAN BURT
Sid Everett had a work ethic that would put most of us to shame.
He started full-time farming at the age of 14, would work seven days a week – dawn to dusk – with only four days holiday a year.
He was also as strong as an ox and could carry more than his own weight in corn on his back, non-stop from field to barn for 14 hours a day.
But his real love was horses and, through his natural way with animals as well as having a few quirky tricks up his sleeve, he became one of East Anglia’s most respected horsemen.
Now, at the age of 91, Mr Everett is the subject of a DVD produced by a Suffolk historian to provide a lasting record of the life of the hard-working team-man – the distinctly Norfolk name for a horseman.
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Born in Barnham Broom in 1922 and brought up in Mattishall, he left school at the age of 14 and followed his father to work for Alan Alston at East Tuddenham.
“My father was a horseman as well, but when I left school I wasn’t very big,” he said. “The guv’nor took one look at me and said I could start work rolling. I think they tried to pull one over on me because they showed me the horse I was to use and it must have been the biggest horse on the farm. I didn’t know how I was going to get him yoked up. But then I had an idea and I put the collar and bridle in the manger. Then I climbed up into the manger so I could reach the horse’s head and put the collar on, so I could go off and do my rolling.”
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His ability to find a solution to almost any problem saw Mr Everett promoted through the farm ranks and by the age of 15 he was working three horses at a time, side by side in the harness. By the time he was 16 he was looking after six horses and by the age of 18 he was head teamman.
“I was always given the youngsters to bring on. Whatever work there was to do I could do it. I used to be at the stables by 5am to feed and water the horses, even on a weekend. The other lads on the farm used to get Saturday afternoons off and Sundays, but I still had to look after the horses.”
The job was also not without its dangers and, however confident a teamman was with the horses, they could still be unpredictable.
Mr Everett remembered one incident in which he nearly lost his life.
“I took three horses out one day and the oldest was only three years old,” he said.
“We were out harrowing a field when this blackbird suddenly flew out of the bushes. It frightened the horses so they swung round and I fell straight to the ground. The harrow hit me on the legs and then the tines caught on my waistcoat and they dragged me all the way up the field. I thought my time was up.
“Luckily the top gate was open and two of the horses tried to get through while the other tried to get round the side. The harrow caught on the gate and stopped them. There was blood everywhere. My guv’nor told me to go to the doctor – I had to ride there on my bicycle though. I’ve got scars all over me.”
Mr Everett married his wife Iris in 1945 and set up home in a cottage on the farm. He remembers one very bad winter when the road from East Tuddenham to Mattishall was completely snowed-up. But he and his fellow farm workers, and the men from a neighbouring farm, dug a trench all the way from one village to the next. It was just wide enough for Mr Everett to ride a horse through to the grocer’s to bring back supplies.
Mr Everett also took work on other farms and became a dab hand at getting newborn calves to suckle. He also worked at a farm at Gressenhall, sometimes allowing his young children, Margaret and Michael, to ride the horses as they went up and down the field.
In the early 1960s he took on a milk round, but his working life was suddenly cut short at the age of just 41. “I got arthritis of the spine, which the doctor said was due to the work I did as a young man. At harvest time I would have to carry the corn from the threshing machine to the barn. I would work non-stop from 7am to 9pm carrying 18-stone of wheat on my back. When I told the doctor this he understood how my back had got so bad.”
Widowed five years ago, Mr Everett is now kept company by a cockatiel called Olly, but still loves to get out and about, regularly following the local hunt and visiting his daughter in Mattishall.
His memory is as sharp as ever, recalling in detail and with a great deal of humour the events of his fascinating working life.
However, he is astounded at how modern farming practices have changed the shape of agriculture forever.
A field that took him a whole winter to plough with the horses he now sees finished in a day.
“I still think it is a shame everything is so mechanised,” he said. “My grandfather used to say “man will do man out of work” and he was right. Now you can be out there ploughing all day and not see another soul or talk to anyone – at least I had my horses to talk to.”
My Life With Percherons, by Sid Everett, is available for £10, plus £1.50 postage, from Neil Lanham of Oral Traditions in Botesdale, Suffolk. Telephone 01379 890568 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.