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Wickhambrook Windmills

Extract from "A History of the Griffiths Woollard and Warner Bromley Families" by Frank Griffiths Woollard

Corn in the United Kingdom was formerly sold by the quarter. In 1919 the Government ordered that it should be sold by the hundredweight; but still in Suffolk it is sold by the quarter. Few people know what a quarter signifies; in point of fact it is a quarter of a measure in the pyramids. Egypt was the corn-exporting country of ancient times and the Pharaohs standardized the measure. It was a measure of volume originally, but volume and weight of corn are for practical purposes the same.

One half of this quarter is called in East Anglia a combe, elsewhere a sack. A combe of wheat weighs 152lbs, a heavy weight to lift; carrying it on one's back is almost an intolerable burden. Farmworkers under twenty-one years of age must not be asked to lift a sack of corn, and an inexperienced worker might easily rupture himself if he lifts it awkwardly. The right way of handling corn is to deal with it in bulk and not in sacks. We owned the windmill and miller's farm at Cowlinge, having purchased it when my father's cousin, Harry Woollard of Clare, died. The miller there was a small man, but he used to run up a thirty-rung ladder with a "combe" of corn on his back. As a trial he put one on my back, but I could not stagger more than a few paces - the weight turned one's knees to jelly.

It is a small world, for my wife's father, James Coombe, was a master miller at Kenton, Devon; but his mill was not a windmill as in Suffolk, but a watermill, and he and his wife's family, the Lears, have memorial stones in Kenton Church, eight miles south of Exeter.

Very little gleaning was done in Suffolk before the 1939/45 war. It was practised during the war because it provided food for the poultry kept by the cottagers. No woman could glean in a field that was not in the parish in which she lived. No gleaning could be done until the farmers had carted in the shocks of corn and got in the rakings. When the ears of corn had been picked up, they were taken to the cottage and threshed with a flail. A good gleaner could glean two sacks of corn in the season. Thus a wife could earn the equivalent of a fort- night's wages of her husband, for the old standard of wages was that the man's weekly pay should be equal to the value of a sack of corn. The corn was then taken to the windmill; there were five windmills around Wickhambrook. If the cottager wanted to keep the offal for the purpose of feeding his pig, he paid a shilling a sack for the grinding; if he allowed the offal to remain with the miller the grinding was done free. So the cottager's wife had the best of the flour for making bread and a store of food was provided part, at least, of the winter.

The last load of corn having been stacked, the farmer cleared his barn and his wife provided a meal for the workers and their families. This was called a "Horkey". Traditionally, the food was beef and Christmas pudding, with as much beer as they wanted. No one knows the derivation of the word "Horkey" - it is a traditional celebration dating back long before the Christian era. When the meal was finished, the master would make a speech in which he thanked the men for what they had done during the past year and indulged in a little leg pulling. When he sat down, the oldest farmworker made a speech in reply, thanking the master and pulling his leg. Then songs were sung, the beer flowed, the fiddles and banjos played, until the party came to an end. Turkey is now usually served in place of beef.

Last Modified Thursday 05 May 2011