Cath Caudwell welcomed everybody to the Pettistree Heritage Annual Event and introduced the entertainers for the evening Neil Catchpole, Andrew Stannard and the surprise guest John Barker. Neil had kindly taken on the role of one of the ‘Bumpstead Boys’ in the absence of Neil Lanham, who was indisposed because of a throat problem.
The links between the three entertainers soon became apparent; they all had a tale to tell, a song to sing and many memories to relate of life on the land. Neil’s ancestors had included farmers and gamekeepers, whilst Andrew said his had been rabbit catchers and poachers. John described himself as the ‘traveller’ who had managed to slip in without being seen and had settled.
Neil had brought along a selection of artefacts he had collected over the years from Essex and Suffolk, most of which would have been made locally. One of the items was a gin trap, the use of which is now banned. This proved to be a good illustration of the changing attitudes towards wildlife. Whilst his great grandfather and grandfather in their role as gamekeepers would have used traps to catch owls, he as a Conservation Officer was able to report the work being carried out to set up nest boxes and to preserve nesting sites, was helping maintain the owl population.
The tongue in cheek tale of how Suffolk step dancing started was greeted with laughter as Neil recounted the prank played on poor old Walter during a rabbit cull. After the bread and cheese break he was in the habit of having a doze and with his hobnail boots stretched out in front of the fire, his fellow rabbit catchers would wait until the hobnails were hot, wake him and watch him dance around as his feet touched the ground. John told the saucy tale of the girl with a loose chain on her bike and reward she offered for the repair. You had to be there to appreciate the punch line but the applause showed it was a good one.
Andrew’s rendering of the Farmer’s Boy was fast, furious and fun and the classical introduction taking us northwards to Yorkshire will be recalled whenever we hear Dvorak’s New World Symphony. The chance is we shall be transported back to the good old days of rickets, diphtheria and ringworm.
The slower pace of life was illustrated by John’s first job at a Snape farm when he was told to deliver a horse to Framlingham. The farmer’s advice was to follow the signposts, which was fine for John who could read, but unfortunately the horse could not. Arriving at the Five Crossways the horse decided the road to Wickham Market and Rackhams Mill was preferable to the route to Framlingham.
During the interval we enjoyed home-made refreshments made by the committee and friends. The break gave everybody an opportunity to browse through the artefacts, talk to the Bumpstead Boys and socialize.
John, Neil and Andrew were all wearing horsemen suits and these would have been worn on high days and holidays. Neil gave us an alternative version of the phrase ‘Gone for a Burton’. Laid off in winter the young men on the farms would head for Burton on Trent to work at the breweries. They would send some of their wages back home and if they had sufficient left, would visit the tailor near the brewery to order a horseman’s suit. By all accounts the tailor would send the measurements to Gurteens in Suffolk and they would make the suits, return them to the tailor who would add 10%. The purchaser would go away thinking his Suffolk horseman’s suit had been made in Burton on Trent.
Andrew’s description of the sow being taken by wheelbarrow to be serviced by the boar was priceless and it wasn’t too difficult to picture the sow with a smile on her face. He also introduced us to such characters as Wags Aldred, the stallion leader, Cocky King from Bromeswell and Uncle Reuben who cured the cadger. Uncle Russell was constantly having the last of his tobacco being taken by a fellow rabbit catcher but the matter was resolved by Reuben who mixed black powder in with the last of the tobacco. The cadger stuffed the mix into his claypipe, lit it and was instantly cured of his habit.
The evening was brought to an end with more songs from Andrew including several made popular by the Singing Postman and the audience joined in with World War 1 favourite It’s a Long Way to Tipperary. Neil sang the Ullswater Pack and Andrew doctored an old favourite and had Pam telling John it was his turn to ‘Push the Perambulator’.
Cath gave a vote of thanks and Neil said he had enjoyed the evening so much he had to express his thanks to everybody for the enthusiastic reception given to the Bumpstead Boys and special guest. The opportunity to get out cameras to snap three men, each wearing a traditional Suffolk horseman’s suit could not be missed.