DATA BASE REF: E/M 1028
WILF HUTCHINSON – MILTON GAME-KEEPER
Wilf Hutchinson and his wife Molly live at Ramshill Cottages, Marholm. Wilf has been a keeper at Milton since 1964.
Wilfred Hutchinson m Amy Towers Ernest Mosley m Martha Buckle
Wilfred Hutchinson m Molly Mosley
b. 10 Jul 1930 b. 24 Jun 1930
Thrybergh, Yorks Dalton, Yorks (next village to Thrybergh)
Christopher Richard Wilfred Gary Ernest Nichola Jane
Michael David Stephen James Elinor Phillipa
James Richard John Ross Kate Jane
Wilf and Molly married at St Peter’s Church Thrybergh in 1952, having known each other since childhood
In 1948 Wilf was in the Coldstream Guards. He left the army in 1953, and joined Leicester City Police the same year. He trained for the police at Milmarsh Stafford, then went to a police house in Abbey Wood Road. By 1960 he was doing a bit of shooting, and was always interested in gun-dogs. He took a job as a beat keeper on the Irnham Estate near Grantham with Sir Walter Benton-Jones. After a year he went to the Earl of Carnavon’s estate at Highclere as a keeper for two years (where they had a lovely house), and then to Milton as a keeper in January 1964. (Jane was born in April that year)
Wilf and Molly lived in the Keeper’s House in Upton for six years. The house had just been done up (Now lived in by Keith and Sylvia Dickinson another Milton Keeper). Then in 1970, Major Peacock who ran the shooting asked them to move to the cottage at Ramshill, where they have lived ever since.
At the back end of the year, after shooting was over, they would catch up the laying stock (hen pheasants) in February and put them in laying pens at the bottom of the field behind Ramshill. They had a ratio of tens hens to one cock, one cock could cover ten hens without problems. The hens would start laying about the third week in April. They would then collect up the eggs and set them in incubators in sheds at the back of Ramshill Cottage. They would put the first setting down on the last Monday in April – first Monday in May time. June hatched pheasants made the best ones. As they hatched up they would put them in a brooder under a calor gas heater, wean them and let them out into shelter pens, but still covered on top for protection from the weather. As time went by, they gradually let the chicks out into open bigger pens, but locked them up at night.. At the back end of July they would release them into the release pens, when they were 6 – 8 weeks old (with an electric fence to keep out foxes and dogs). Within a week they were settling, flying into low bushes such as hazel and thorn and roosting there.. If they flew out of the pens they would try to get them back, feeding them on pellets. By September bales of straw were spread out all over the woods on the feed rides, and feed pellets were scattered on the straw. Once the straw was spread out Wilf would call the pheasants up “come on, come on, come on” and he would have 200 or 300 pheasants walking behind him as he scattered the feed.. They got to know you as you did that every day, twice a day, even Christmas day. They were fed throughout the shooting season. Foxes, dogs, cats, owls and sparrow-hawks all went for the pheasants. That is why keepers do not get on with foxes. Wilf was up and out by 7am; he would come back for lunch, then out till dusk.. When the pheasants got to maturity, then poachers used to do as much damage as foxes. If he came across poachers they would normally just clear off. Poachers were often armed with 410s with silencers, you could still hear them, like popguns going off. When Wilf started pheasants were £5 a brace to buy ( half a working man’s weekly age), now they are 40pence a brace. You cannot get rid of them now. Game dealers won’t pay anything for them now. Partly the problem is the EU ban on export, and its regulations on how meet for export is to be killed.
Lord Fitzwilliam would decide with John Baldwin the Head-keeper, how many drives they would have on a Shoot Day, and which drives Lord F would prefer, depending on the guests. The more important the guests, the more important the drives. They would know which drives some weeks in hand. The Shoot Days were published at least a month in advance. Before a Shoot Day, they would carry on feeding, collect up and feed the pheasants, driving them back home. The day before they would go round, look at the drives, put out the gun-stands (1-8) organize the beaters and pickers-up. The meet would be in the Stable-yard at 9.15am. The beaters would go out at nine am., with the aim of having the first shot at 10am.. The beaters cart would go out to the drive, once in position a horn or a whistle would start the drive. Lord Fitzwilliam would put the guests in position. They would drive towards the guns, if the birds spread out to the side, then they would close them in again.. The aim was to ensure that the guests had a good days sport. Beaters used to get 7shillings and sixpence a day; now they get £15 or £20. The keepers tip today is based on £10 per hundred birds per gun (the number of birds being that killed as at lunchtime).
Keepers do their work for love of the job, not for the money but “you do need a drop of gravy”.As things worked out Wilf enjoyed his life, it was a wonderful life. They could have been better off, but never so much fun. And his boys always had Poppa around, while Molly was at work, he could take them out and about. Wilf trained gun dogs and was clearly very good at it. Wilf trained labs and spaniels. Major Peacock had several dogs off Wilf and made a fortune out of them. There has not been a great deal of change in the life of a keeper over Wilf’s time. At the end of a shoot they went back to the Ferry house, to Major Peacock’s gun-room in the garage, where there was always a stack of Norfolk Nips (old ale, very strong) to be drunk. He did not mind how much they drank, but Major Peacock always wanted the empties back. He was after all a brewer!
These notes were made by William Burke , while talking to Wilf and Molly on 23 February 2003 .