John Bray of Hascombe
A portrait of a Victorian farm worker
I was recently lent a copy of The Godalming and Farncombe Review for 17th January 1936 and felt the interview with Mr Bray appearing in it would be of interest to Newsletter readers. It is, indeed, a glimpse of a world long gone. Mr Bray played a bit-part in the history of Godalming which connects him to the water company which is the subject of John Young’s article in this issue of the Newsletter. Mr Bray was the first man to work on the Frith Hill Reservoir, wielding a pick and shovel and actually laying the concrete reservoir bed. He also helped to lay the water pipes in Godalming and Farncombe.
Mr Bray’s father was a shepherd, paid twelve shillings a week for looking after a thousand sheep. Mr Bray himself started work for the Earl of Portsmouth as a cowman at Whitchurch Park before moving to Godalming. When he married he was earning sixteen shillings a week, which was above the average labouring wage “and we lived well on it too”.
When the interviewer for The Godalming and Farncombe Review visited him he was an 81 year old widower living in sturdy independence by himself at ‘Double House, Locks Hill’ [sic.] near Dunsfold which had been his home for 48 years and in which his family of six children had been raised. Here he had worked till his retirement as a farm labourer and cowman.
The bright eyes, which sparkled above a bushy white beard in the photograph accompanying the report, indicated a mind that was still active and alert, as did the comments that he made to his interviewer. “I feel fit as a fiddle” - a remark borne out by the fact that he not only maintained an immaculate home but also managed both his own garden and that of his neighbour. He smoked a pipe and drank his own home-made wine.
“Beer isn’t like it used to be and I never drink it now. I am always happy and comfortable and I never worry. I don’t go far, but I walk into Godalming now and again.”
His tastes were conservative. “Give me a good carriage and pair. Motor cars will never be so dignified. All this rush and bustle is no good to anyone. My mother would never go by train and I don’t blame her”. When asked what he would do with his life if he could lead it again he could think of nothing better than going back to the life he clearly loved - to the cattle and land.