Charlie Williams BEM (1923 - 2011)
Farmer and general dealerCharlie was well known for his love of Shire horses and stories about farming throughout the twentieth century.
At his funeral, Jo Newell gave the following tribute.
I first knew Charlie in about 1949. Our first meeting was not very auspicious. Joan Bradshaw and I were riding two very fit point-to-pointers up the Guarlford Common, when Charlie came up behind us driving a pony and trap quite quickly.
Now for some reason, some ridden horses dislike driven horses coming up behind them and our two did take exception to it. They whipped round and generally played up and so we had some rather strong words with Charlie, undoubtedly containing the odd '-****-- '.
But Charlie just laughed and said: "You'll be all right kid." But as we got to know Charlie, dealing with sheep and horses, he became a good friend.
One night we were struggling to lamb a ewe at about two in the morning. She had three lambs in a right tangle and we just couldn't get them, so I went to fetch Charlie. I threw some gravel up to the bedroom window and Charlie's head appeared. I told him the trouble and he said: "Hang on kid!" Seconds later he came out through the door doing his buttons up.
After a long struggle we got three live lambs out. Charlie was a born stockman and so gentle with the sheep. I believe farmers used to turn up on his doorstep with a ewe in the back of a Land-Rover to get Charlie to lamb the ewe.
The first inkling we had that Charlie and Doreen were courting was when we were driving over Sherrards Green Common and there were Charlie and Doreen having a cuddle under one of the trees. Of course we shouted and hollered and blew the horn, all laughing our heads off. Then came the wedding day. They left the church in a smart pony and trap - what else? On the back of the trap was: 'Done Roaming'.
On one occasion, rather later on, we were driving past Charlie's and he came out of the gate being chased by Doreen. We stopped and cheered her on and when they couldn't run any more we were all laughing too much to move. Then of course came their family, and I think you'll all agree they made a pretty good job of it. I clearly recall Jackie's wedding. Firstly the shafts broke on the dray and they had to get another set - and that one was 100 years old! Then the video wouldn't work. Her petticoat got caught up in the dray. In church a pedestal fell over and to cap it all, when she got to the reception, a gust of wind took her headdress off over the Club! In spite of all that it was a lovely day for everyone.
But of course Charlie's great pride and joy was his horses. The pleasure they gave him was beyond measure. They really were his life. Whenever we went to see Charlie or we went by, we had to go and see the horses and his thoroughbred stallion, 'Paddy', who was always brought out to be admired, and a super horse he was too. He also had one called 'Flower' who did logging, and there was 'Bluebell' who took him to church to be married and later took his son Dick to be christened. The Shires were 'Cotswold Grey King', called 'Tom'; 'Whitney Majestic', called 'Click', as well as 'Leystone Quicksilver'. And then there was 'Judy', who he said had a bit of Clydesdale in her.
I don't think anyone realises the hard work that goes on behind the scenes to result in the spectacle of Shires in their harness. One night I called to see Charlie, and he and Doreen had got all the tack all laid out across the floor, cleaning all the beautiful brasses and leatherwork.
Joan and I bought a filly foal from Charlie and so he brought her down loose behind the mare at about 6 o'clock one morning and she turned out to be a real pet. She was more like a dog than a horse. When we were cleaning out her stable she would walk out and wander around the yard and come up and give you a nudge for a tit-bit.
One day I was getting hay out of the barn and she came wandering down the drive and I said: "Where do you think you're going to?" but she just gave me a look and went on - and then simply jumped the gate out onto the road! I ran out in to the road after her, afraid she would take off, but she just stood there and then followed me back in as though nothing had happened. She bred two foals, one a colt, who was born in the early hours out in the field, when just then a fox ran across the field. So as he was by 'Lord Fox', we called him 'Charlie Fox'.
When the filly was about four months old, the mare had a bad attack of colic and you have to walk them round and round and stop them lying down. After about an hour we were getting worn out and so I fetched Charlie. We spent the whole night trying to stop her lying down and the vet was coming and going, but eventually he said he could do no more and he would have to put her down.
In those days the kennels took any dead stock off the farm and so they came the next morning. But Charlie had turned up already, and he said to us: "You two be off down the field with foal…." Then after an hour or so he came to call us back and the stable was quite fresh - he'd cleaned it all out and it was knee deep in new straw with hay and water in the corner.
One night, Charlie heard noises from the pool, where he found a chap trying to drown a dog. Next morning, Charlie told us all about it: "I got the dog out, and as the man went to climb out of the pool, I pushed the - ****- back into the water - about four or five times. Then I took him and the dog up to the Police Station."
During the War, when Charlie was working at Guarlford Court, an aircraft came down in The Old Seeds. Charlie ran over to see what was going on and found the pilot trapped in the aircraft. The navigator was down in the ditch because there was live ammo flying in all directions. Anyway, Charlie couldn't get the pilot out and he told us: "The whole lot had to come out, so I ripped out seat, pilot and all and got them down in the ditch." Charlie went on to tell us that: "The old woodman was standing behind the hedge shouting 'Keep 'em down Charlie!' - not realising that he could have got shot himself!"
Sixty years later, the pilot's son came over to see Charlie from Australia and presented Charlie with his father's wallet as a memento. Click this link for full story
One Sunday we went over to see Charlie and Doreen. "Come in and have a drink!" he said - and in our innocence we did. Anyway, we had a drink and then Charlie said to me: "I've got just a drop of brandy that'll suit you…….". Well, it laid me out and I slept on the lawn the whole afternoon, much to Joan's annoyance.
Next time I saw Charlie he wanted to know how I was, laughing his head off. He told me the 'brandy' had been carrot whisky and that it had even laid the dustman out! The next time I went to see him, and he said: "Have a drop of whisky kid". So I said: "Give me the bottle, Charlie," which he did and I poured my own. Then he said: "Look at that picture over there!" And of course I fell for it and found my glass full! I was sitting near the bookcase, so I hid my glass under it. When I left I saw Doreen and told her what I'd done. We had a good laugh, and she said: "I'll see to it kid - the silly old fool."
Years ago, Joan's mother was very ill in bed at Grange Farm. One day the day nurse was late and Mrs Bradshaw had to be turned over in her bed, but Joan and I just couldn't do it. Charlie was there, working on the farm, and I went back to join him in whatever we were doing at the time. I mentioned to Charlie about the nurse being late, and he said that he'd help turn Mrs B over. So back to the house we went and in went Charlie, who took his cap off and said: "Morning, Mrs B ma'am, I've come to turn you over." "Oh - I shall enjoy that!" she replied. So between us we managed to get her turned over, and Charlie said to me as we went back to the fields: "You don't have to worry about men & women at times like that, do you kid."
Pure gold was Charlie. Always one for 'pranks' was Charlie. Once, young Richard Newson and a friend were playing the men up at Guarlford Court, so Charlie tied their bikes up in the roof of the barn, well out of their reach! On another occasion, at one of the wartime dances, he and his pals released some mice to run about all over the floor - and of course pandemonium broke out!!! Two of his frequent expressions were: "I turned round kid and ……" And Charlie never "swapped" anything, he'd say: "I chopped this for that…." So I'm quite sure when he reaches the Pearly Gates he'll want to "chop" St. Peter for something - and then he'll turn round and he'll……. But that was Charlie - a good friend who liked a joke and a laugh, and who'd never say no.
One of nature's gentlemen.
You can read Charlie's and other stories about the village in our two books,
More reminiscences about working on the land can be found by following these links.