Wretton Sign Gary Trouton

A Courageous Man

October 2003

A harrowing story of yester year from the late Doris Coates


Alton Jones writes of his father, who lived in Wretton from about 1880 to 1919

I don't think local people knew that he had been a schoolteacher, (at Brentwood Grammar School) and that it was his accident that brought him to the third Gatehouse at Wretton.

One train, at a level crossing, smashed his right cheek and eye tore out his right arm muscles, broke three right ribs and the middle and small fingers on his right hand.

The train, it is believed, carried him on its buffers for about three hundred yards, and threw him lengthwise along an adjoining track where another train cut off his left leg and left arm, leaving stumps about a foot long.

I never knew him otherwise, as I was born while he was in hospital, and we all took his injuries as normal. (The surgeon was later to be known to fame as Sir Frederick Treeves, who so intrigued with the success he had achieved in his first major operation, kept in touch with the family and asked to be kept informed of Mr. Jones' progress in the ensuing years).

My father lived until the influenza epidemic after the Great War. He contracted the disease and died at the age of 65. That a man so brutally incapacitated at the age of 28 years should survive is sufficiently incredible, but think what happened in the ensuing years.

He kept very interesting records in beautiful calligraphy which have only recently come to light. He kept chickens, ducks, geese, rabbits, goats, - small animals which he could manage single-handed. He made his own chicken houses, pigsties, coops and troughs. His major outside buildings were all of discarded railway sleepers, which he rooted out of the ground. Nothing came amiss.

He could not handle an ordinary wheelbarrow, so he got a plough-carrier (used for taking ploughs along the road from one field to another). Of course, it was very narrow, so he got the local blacksmith to fit a three-foot axle to the plough-carrier wheels and on that he built a box body. It had a central rigid leg and a central rigid handle. This was fitted with a cross-bar, and he could, and did, shift two hundred-weights in this contraption. We four eldest boys used it when we roamed through Long Drive and Farrell Drove and along Wretton Fens, collecting horse droppings in it to feed his crops.

Eking out a Living (a hundred years ago)

You have seen the Gatehouse at Wretton - not exactly a mansion, but it housed seven children and their parents, and the income was fourteen shillings a week. But that splendid father and mother did a real job of work. I have explained my father's terrible injuries which left him dreadfully handicapped (he had just one leg, one arm and one eye) and his efforts to keep chickens, ducks and other small stock.

He also dug up (single handed) both sides of the line from the Gatehouse, eventually turning over nearly an acre of ground, and this fed his family. He had an old Singer Treadle Sewing Machine, which he worked with us right foot, setting and manipulating the material with the stump of his left arm. He got a bolt of serge from John Noble's of Manchester, and made the girls' skirts and the boys' suits. Somewhere he had learned 'snobbing' (shoemaking), I believe from his old grand-father in Cheshire and he sent to Northampton for uppers and made the children boots (no shoes in those days).

In the harvest fields all round, we children went gleaning. He bought a grinding mill with a half-gallon hopper and we brought back our gathering of wheatears. He would sit down with a flail and thresh out the wheat and then winnow it in the wind. We then ground the corn and my mother made wholemeal bread.

He kept goats for the milk and we were all brought up on goats' milk. When there was a surplus, he contrived an eccentric rocker; he got one of those seven pound sweet bottles from the local shop (known as Old Butcher White's in Wretton) and turned it into a churn and made butter and cream cheese. I've seen him trundling that darned bottle up and down in its eccentric cradle hour after hour.

When in later years people have referred to my extreme patience, I remember his example.

Doris E Coates

Previously published in "Glimpses of Norfolk Life" & The Village Pump

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