Local History Society

 Memories - 'Agricola'

'Country Cameo' articles from 1965 to 1975,  written under the name 'Rustic'

Anthony Walton writing about his favourite pub -
the 'Bull'
- in 1975


A local journalist, Anthony Walton,  lived in Walden Avenue. He was better known as 'Agricola', writing a series of articles on agricultural matters in the 'Reading Mercury'. 

He came to live in Arborfield with his wife Kathy in 1957, having previously lived close by in Farley Hill. His newspaper articles concerning agriculture in Berkshire give a true insight into that world during the 1950’s and 60’s. We can read about the end of meat rationing in June 1954, the results of myxomatosis, The Wokingham Show, fears over Britain’s application to join the Common Market expressed in 1962, the successes of local farmers such as Mr. Record of Targetts Farm in 1961, and much, much more. Thank goodness that Mr. Walton kept his press cuttings and his articles about individual Berkshire farmers.  The newspaper marked his retirement as follows:

Mr. Anthony Walton who joined the Reading Newspaper Company in 1951, decided to take life a little easier last week. He became Agricola with his weekly column “Around the Farm” in the “Mercury” in October, 1953, and has since been responsible for writing about local and national farming affairs. In semi-retirement he will continue to keep an eye on the agricultural scene for the “Mercury”.

Born in County Durham, three days before the Boer War finished, his roots paternal and maternal, are in Northumbria. After local schools he went to St. Michael’s College, Leeds. Soon after the First World War he joined Holt’s Bank in Whitehall Place, London, but a few months there, dreaming over ledgers, were enough for him to decide to enter the more lively, though more hazardous, profession of his father - journalism. So he began to learn the craft on the “Fulham Gazette” in 1921, and after 18 months there went to the “Wimbledon Boro’ News,” where he stayed for 10 years. He then went into Fleet Street - where his father was on the “Daily Telegraph”, a brother on the “Daily Mail”, and a sister on “The Tablet.” He worked as a reporter and news-room assistant on the Press Association, and then, for four years, on “The Times.”

On the outbreak of the Second World War, he, with other Fleet Street men, joined the BBCs hush-hush monitoring service as a sub-editor, and after a few months at Broadcasting House was evacuated to Evesham in Worcestershire, and then (in 1943) to Caversham Park, where he remained until 1950 when the war-time job came to an end.

He became interested in agriculture and country life generally when he was billeted during the latter part of the war at Mr. and Mrs. Jack Maidment’s Hampstead Farm, Binfield Heath. He is a member of the Guild of Agricultural Journalists.

- Reading Mercury - June 8th 1972


Some Extracts from Newspaper Articles:

31st October 1953: Academic Furrows

Arborfield Farm, the N.I.R.D. place near Reading, was considerably enlivened on Wednesday by the inter-University ploughing match, organised by the Reading University Agricultural Club. It was held last year at Wye, the London University College in Kent, and this time the four universities - Oxford, Cambridge, London, and Reading - had another challenger in Nottingham.

It was fairly heavy going after the rain, and ridges in the wheat stubble meant occasional cross-ploughing, but every competitor (four from each university) managed to plough his half-acre in the appointed two-and-a-half hours. On the whole, they opened well and - a more tricky business - finished neatly. Points were lost by not getting down to the required six inches. Two-furrow ploughs were used.

It was almost dark when the last tractor came away into the headland, and the judges found that Reading (D. P. Fulks, B. J. Bailey, W. Roberts, and I. J. Robertson) had accumulated most points - 309 - to win the Harry Ferguson challenge cup.

26th June 1954: Good-bye To Rationing

On Friday butchers will be free to slaughter, and on Monday, July 5th, they will be free to sell meat to anyone. Rationing will be over. The Ministry will not hold any collecting centres next week, on the days immediately before de-control, nor will farmers be allowed to sell stock to other people.

31st July 1954: Rabbit Disease

Some new facts about myxomatosis - now confirmed on a farm near Farley Hill, Berkshire - are given in the Veterinary Rrecord this week. The writer - Mr. R. M. Lockley, of the Nature Conservancy - records the successful transmission of the disease by means of the European rabbit flea, spilopsyllus cuniculi.

14th August 1954: Crops, Not Bullets

Driving along the Arborfield-Eversley road this week, I noticed, opposite West Court, a piece of land which was concerned in the squabble a few years ago. Farmer Chandler had just taken the binder round the 13 acres and stooked some first-class dredge corn, following a fine crop of fodder beans last year. No artificials have been used.

This I remember was the bit of land which Wokingham R. D. C. described as the “least objectionable” proposed for a firing range, yet think of the hundreds of gallons of milk one would have lost had all this fodder been denied the Chandler Guernseys!

16th October 1954: If Only....

The devastating results of myxomatosis are now apparent in many places; they are indeed so impressive that some farmers, in that last quiet hour before going to bed, are trying to visualise what this harvest would have been like had the weather been kinder and had myxomatosis descended on us earlier.

Not many weeks ago a certain field at Bridge Farm, between Shinfield and Arborfield, where about 80 Friesians contentedly graze, was alive with rabbits; now, there is hardly one to be seen. The manager, Mr. J. E. Seggons, tells me that his men have picked up as many as 100 bodies a day.

16th October 1954: Rabbit Food

Ask Mr. Seggons if he is glad to see the back of them! “I would like to see them die in another way,” he says, “but I cannot forget, for instance, that they have eaten about two acres of a 25-acre piece of dredge. They seem able to consume as much as one cares to sow.”

Perhaps the most telling argument in favour of the beneficial effects of the disease on our food production is his statement that he intends to put down more winter corn now that the pests have gone. He estimates that he will have 10% more cereals to harvest next year.

12th February 1955: Crops

The new guaranteed prices for 1955 wheat will be 30s. a cwt. (3d. extra), for rye 23s. 3d. (3d.), barley 24s. 8d. (2d.), oats 23s. 3d. (3d.). Potatoes will be worth another 3s. 4d. a ton (215s. 10d.), sugar beet another 2s. (127s. 7d.).

All this, of course, is because the farm workers’ minimum wage recently went up from £6 to £6 7s. Their Union asked for £7, and they are still out for that.

4th June 1955: A Man’s Wage

The Agricultural Wages Board’s unanimous decision that the present minimum wage rate of 127s. per week of 47 hours shall apply to all male workers aged 20 and over is reasonable, indeed overdue. Many of our 20-years-old lads on farms have for long done the work of older men, with vigour and enthusiasm.

22nd March 1958: Wednesday Show

Wokingham are changing their show day this year. The traditional fourth Saturday in September is becoming increasingly difficult now, so this time the show is being brought forward to Wednesday, September 10th. The show may be without some of the usual Saturday attendance, but hopes to gain on the swings what it might lose on the roundabouts.

The Hon. Peter Samuel, who succeeds Sir Geoffrey Lowles as president, is a banker in the family firm of M. Samuel and Co. and a director of the Shell Transport and Trading Co. A son of the late second Viscount Bearsted, he lives at Farley Hall, Farley Hill.

April 26th 1958: The Golden West

Mr. and Mrs. W. Goddard, of Arborfield, and Mr. and Mrs. T. D. Page, of Winkfield Row, will be in a party of farmers and growers setting sail in the Queen Elizabeth on May 8th for a nine-day tour of New York State and Canada. The State of New York has been especially chosen because, in serving the city of New York, it has producer and marketing problems comparable with those of farmers and growers here.

October 15th 1960: Helping Hand

The Swallowfield Farming Club not only provides educative opportunities and social outlets for its members, but rises to the occasion with a ready helping hand when a fellow is in need. At the annual meeting at Arborfield on Tuesday we heard that the club had not only given a sum to the R. A. B. I. but had also sent, with practical spontaneity, a substantial cheque to a farmhouse where tragedy had been piled on misfortune.

On Tuesday evening Ewart Dance reported a good year (with the second barbecue last July a “roaring success”), and treasurer John Keen showed that the finances are very much on the right side. The Hon. Peter Samuel, of Farley Hill, was elected president. J. H. Vickery was persuaded to go back into the chair, and John Seggons was not allowed to get out of the secretaryship.

November 12th 1960: Unlifted Potatoes

A paper-backed book entirely concerned with the four-letter word, 'spud', reached my desk on Thursday. It is the annual report of the Potato Marketing Board for the past year, and it describes the recent autumn as the most disastrous for half-a-century. The peculiar difficulties of producing and marketing potatoes have rarely been so emphasised as in the last few weeks.

We are not, of course, a great potato-producing area here, but nevertheless, a considerable acreage is grown in the south-east part of Berkshire. All the growers have a similar tale of frustration. Bill Goddard, of White’s Farm, Arborfield, told me yesterday that of his 28 acres of Majestics he has been able to lift little more than two-thirds. Much of those still in the ground will probably have to be written off. Until a few days ago he had been unable to lift any for three weeks.

August 19th 1961: Farmers’ Fears

Britain’s application to join the Common Market, now formally acknowledged and presently to be considered, is a momentous development in the history of our agriculture; momentous because, should the eventual negotiations in Brussels result in acceptance, it is certain that a drastic change will come over our food-producing industry.

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