Eric's harvest of farm memories

Today Donnington's enormous military depot sprawls across a vast swathe of land and has been there so long that only a handful of people can remember what things were like before its arrival.

And one of those few is Eric T Jones, who is now 94, and not only has childhood memories of the area in its pre-depot days, but has also researched the history, particularly of Donnington Farm, the farmhouse which later became the White House Hotel.

Mr Jones, who lives in Shrewsbury, said: "As a result of my father's death in a road accident in 1934 I went to live with my grandparents in Ruyton-XI-Towns. In 1936 we moved to Donnington and became involved with Donnington Farm.

"There I stayed until I was seventeen and a half and joined the Royal Navy in September 1944. I fancy that I am the oldest living old boy of Adams' Grammar School, Newport."

In 1841 and 1851, he has found, Donnington Farm was recorded as owned by William Boycott, suggesting that the present White House Hotel was built before 1841, or that there was at least a fairly large structure on the site.

By 1881 the farm was in the hands of the James family, and in 1906 one of the children, Gertrude, married Richard Pedley Ward, joining two eminent local farming families. And in 1927 another of the children, Edward, along with other farmers, formed a company to build and operate a sugar beet factory at Allscott. Edward was appointed managing director of The Shropshire Beet Sugar Co. Ltd.

Then came the late 1930s decision to build the ordnance depot at Donnington.

"Donnington Farm owned by Edward James lost a little over half of his land from Station Road to Farm Lane, and northwards to The Humbers."

Edward died in 1939, just before the advent of the huge depot. One of his legacies was Lilleshall Memorial Hall, built in memory of his parents.

Mr Jones said: "In 1940 Donnington Farm House was taken over by the military and became an officers' mess. It remained so for the duration of the war. After the war it was purchased by Ansells Brewery and turned into a pub/hotel. The business has much expanded over the past 65 years and the house has been extended to provide hotel accommodation."

Before 1940, Mr Jones says, there was no mechanisation on Donnington Farm, with everything done manually with the aid of teams of shire horses.

"I remember that at peak times there would be a dozen or so. The shires were a major asset on the farm, consequently they received the best treatment. They had warm and dry stabling in the winter with lots to eat so as to maintain energy, and in the summer they would graze in grassland.

"Donnington Farm had its own blacksmiths shop and we would spend much time watching the farrier work not only on the farm horses but on others brought in by other farmers or private owners. He was also adept at making tools and repairing farm implements.

"My grandfather was until his death a waggoner and it was his responsibility to make sure that the horses were well cared for. He would finish work about 5.30 or 6pm, go home for what we called tea and then about 9pm he would walk over to the stables and bed them down for the night.

"They all had names such as Prince, Major, Captain, Duke and similar. They knew their names and would respond as he spoke to them and called them by name.

"He would be up again about 6am and would be over at the stables before 7 to prepare them for a day's hard work."

Mr Jones added: "As young boys we had much freedom on the farm but we knew the limitations and the dangers. We abided by a sort of code of practice and did no harm.

"We were allowed to help with feeding of cattle and horses and with the harvest. We knew every corner of every field and our knowledge of the wildlife was unsurpassed.

"In the 1940s when invasion was feared the area around the depot was littered with defences, concrete pill boxes at strategic points, and sandbagged emplacements on bridges in particular.

"Some of the larger fields where it was thought a glider could land had large poles (like telegraph poles) erected at intervals across the field to exclude this possibility. This made things difficult at harvesting time – but 'there was a war on'."

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