Some notes about Breckstreet Farm

1839 to 1989 by Gerald Hall

History of the Farm

Breckstreet Farm was built and owned by the Constable Maxwell family, landowners at Everingham Park. The building of the house in a late Georgian style, began in 1839, with the farm buildings completed shortly after. This established a farm with about 500 acres, the fields of which had been enclosed during the enclosures of land at Seaton Ross from approx. 1820. This farm, like many others, was rented to several successive tenant farmers well into the 20th century. Established outlying farms provided a valuable source of income for the landowning family. In 1861 an addition to the farmhouse was built over the back of the building. This included a very big kitchen, from which there was a back stairs, leading to a large bedroom and box room with apple store. This bedroom was intended to accommodate the farm labourer/s who lived in at the farm. There was no access from this bedroom to the front part of the house. A bedroom in the front part of the house and towards the side was intended for the servant girls who lived in. This room had a sliding sash window, with vertical bars over it. All this must have been designed to keep the male and female servants apart! In the large back kitchen was a row of bells designed to call servants to the front rooms of the house. Each bell was attached to a pull wire linked to individual rooms. Because the bells were of different sizes and tones, the servants could tell to which room they were called. However, the days of servants had long since disappeared when my parents became tenants. At 500 acres the farm was quite substantial and the large house and buildings reflected that. However, the farm lost much of its land due to the compulsory purchase and building of Melbourne Aerodrome in 1942. The farmhouse and buildings were constructed from the local red brick of Seaton Ross brickyard. The job of designing and building the property was given to Marshalls of Hull and completed by 1840.

Tenants at the farm

My parents, Walter and Gwendoline Hall took over the tenancy when they were married in 1944. By now the farm had passed into the ownership of Herbert Moore. Mr Moore I believe had bought the farm during the 1920s, possibly when the Constable Maxwells were selling other cottages and property in Seaton Ross. For instance, my mother’s parents, James and Mary Watson, bought Towgarth, their house at South End , Seaton Ross from the estate in 1922. All this was probably the result of death duties.

My father’s grandmother, Jane Scruton became the tenant farmer of Breckstreet in the late 1800s, together with her family. Her husband John Scruton had died and they had lived at Howden. She eventually left by around 1911 to take the tenancy of Greenland Farm, Rawcliffe Bridge. Interestingly there was always a noticeable plastered hole in the high kitchen ceiling at Breckstreet. This had been created when a shotgun had accidentally gone off in the kitchen during the Scrutons stay at the farm!

Amenities
Walter Hall at Breckstreet farm

When my parents, Walter and Gwendoline, arrived at Breckstreet during the war, the farm had very few amenities. There was no running water, only a well which had piped water through lead pipes to a pump in the scullery. This water supply was very reliable and was regularly tested for drinking. Eventually my parents had a Rayburn stove fitted in the kitchen, with a side boiler which was filled by buckets from the scullery pump. So when they arrived in 1944 there was no running water, telephone or electricity. A black coal-fired range was used for cooking and there was one outside earth closet, for the toilet. Modern amenities were brought to the farm in the late 1950s, but only because my parents managed to pay for electricity, water and telephone to be installed themselves. The farm was situated quite a way from the main road and there were no grants available to provide these amenities.

Wartime

During the war my parents got to know some of the airmen who were positioned very close to the farm which bordered Melbourne Aerodrome. Sometimes they sold eggs to the airmen who were often at the dispersal grounds, just over the fence. The Halifax aircraft were dispersed around the aerodrome and some were seen very close to the farm and occasionally some were missing the morning after a sortie. Sometimes in winter the aerodrome was blanketed in fog. This made it difficult for returning Halifax bombers to land, so Melbourne was one of the few aerodromes to have FIDO. This involved a system of pipes with vents placed either side of the main runway. These were filled with petrol and ignited. The bright flaming glow dispersed the fog and enabled aircraft to land safely. Another incident which my parents heard about towards the end of the war, was the explosion of a V2 rocket. The rocket was destined towards Manchester but fell short of its target and crashed into a farmhouse at Barmby Moor. Although the farmhouse was completely destroyed, the occupants were out at the time and no one was killed. Accidents occurred to bombers trying to land which had been damaged on sorties over Germany and lives were sometimes lost. On one occasion a returning Halifax bomber crashed into a wood or trees not far from Fosses Farm. My father and others rushed to the scene, but were unable to save any of the crew from the burning wreckage.

PoW camp on the site now occupied by Sumo.

Two prison camps were situated nearby to accommodate prisoners held during the war. One at Melbourne for the German prisoners and the other at Storwood for the Italians. Both prison camps provided labour to the surrounding farms and some worked at Breckstreet Farm. My father had to supervise their work, however most were happy to be safe and away from the conflict. Many became friends, especially those from a rural or farming background. When the war ended some German prisoners decided to remain in Britain, where returning would have been to a Communist East Germany.

Post-War

After the war, my sister Eileen and myself were born and farming continued. Some of the land adjoining the farm and belonging to the aerodrome returned to agriculture. My father was able to rent some of this grass land for hay. In our youth both my sister and I worked on the farm. During our teenage years we always had holiday jobs in the area to provide much needed pocket money.

In the early 1980s an explosives factory was given permission to operate on the old aerodrome a short distance from the farmhouse. Fortunately this eventually closed.

Mixed Farming

My Dad enjoyed mixed farming. Some arable land produced cereal crops as well as potatoes, even peas and beans. Livestock included some pigs, cattle and a flock of breeding sheep, together with poultry and geese. The poultry and geese were the main responsibility of my mother. Of course, farming in those days for my parents and others in the area was very labour intensive for very little financial reward, a far cry from the cushioned lives we live today.

Retirement

Breckstreet Farm was unique in that the house and buildings had survived virtually unchanged since Victorian times. The house was double fronted and together with the outbuildings it was roofed with Welsh slate. The large outbuildings comprised of two-fold yards, one surrounded by loose boxes. There was a cow- house and cart shed with brick pillars supporting a granary above. The granary had wooden louvered windows fitted so that these could be opened to aid the drying of corn. A large brick built barn, with a slated pitch pine roof also survived. When retired my father enjoyed replacing gutters and repairing the buildings which he felt needed to be preserved. He could also spend more time with his vegetable garden. In retirement my father let some of the grass land to other farmers for sheep keeping.

In 1989 after 45 years at the farm, the house was sold and my parents left to continue their retirement at a bungalow in Holme on Spalding Moor.

Gerald Hall 2021

sharing Seaton Ross's history