Russell Farm

Written by Peter Brooker including some detail his father, Albert Brooker, had put together for an article in the Tollerton News in 1994.

My father, Albert Brooker came from a farming family.

His grandfather, James, originally had a farm at Newstead, opposite the Abbey on the site now occupied by the Hutt Restaurant. He then moved to Westhouse Farm at Bestwood where he brought up 3 sons – John, George and William and a daughter Florence. William married Mary Elizabeth Wakefield, who was known as Lizzie. Albert was born in 1905.  He was an only child. After James died William took over the running of the farm.

My grandfather, William Brooker was 35 when he moved in 1916 with his wife Elizabeth (Lizzie) and son Albert. They moved from the farm in Bestwood Village, part of the Duke of Portland’s Estate, by horse and cart to be the tenants of Russell’s Farm, Tollerton. My father, Albert, then aged 11, walked alongside driving the livestock. He remembered it was April/May and snowed all the way!  At this same time William’s brother, John, moved to Hall Farm and his other brother, George, moved to a farm at Barton, all as tenanted farms.” Previously the land had been farmed by the Plowright family.

Russell’s Farm was then one of 5 farms which were part of the Tollerton Hall Estate owned by the Burnside family who lived in the Hall.

William and Lizzie Brooker (taken at Albert’s wedding in 1934)

The farmhouse was in poor condition and a labourer’s cottage attached to the farmhouse was almost derelict. There was no mains water, sewerage, gas or electricity. Sir Albert Ball brought these services to the village around 1928 though it was later before they reached Russell’s Farm. There was a deep well for water with a pump operated by a temperamental windmill. William had the labourer’s cottage improved and had 2 labourers working for him, one of which occupied the cottage and the other lived with the family.

Access to the farm was off the Melton Road – a rough cart track running somewhere between what is now Stanstead and Bentinck Avenues. The nearest houses were the Toll Bar Houses (near to the A606 Nottscutt roundabout), a few houses in the old village and the other farms. The nearest shop then was the Post Office/General Store at Keyworth, groceries were ordered from Burtons on Smithy Row in Nottingham and the nearest doctor was at Ruddington.

Farming was mixed – part arable, part dairy and beef cattle, some sheep, pigs and poultry. Fantail pigeons entered the house through ill-fitting windows and swallows nested under the eaves.

The milk was then collected in churns by Philips on Wilford Road. In those days the family either hitched a lift on the milk wagon to go into town or walked to either Plumtree or Edwalton Station to catch the train.

Government inspection of all farms was rigorous, including the use of all dormant land – advising on what crops should be grown. They were also authorised to compulsorily purchase any surplus horses for use by the army and also any hay needed to feed the horses.

Albert helped with the milking of the cows (all completed by hand!) whilst still at school and his mother also worked on the farm – hoeing and helping with the animals. Every year a pig was killed for their own consumption and was cut up and salted, then stored in the cellar of the farmhouse, being the coolest area to do so.

Albert left Plumtree school at 14 years and worked alongside his father full time on the farm and with the milk business. The land was then ploughed with horses which Albert adored. At 15 he entered a ploughing competition at Stragglethorpe in the section for 15-18 year olds. He won and received a prize of £5. He won again the following year and then a third time at Loughborough where he won a silver cup. He entered the senior section once at Moorgreen Show but having come nowhere he did not enter again.

Sometimes they would purchase a pony at the Goose Fair Market which they broke in and resold. One of their ponies was sold to the Post Office which had a special trap that transported Royal Mail from the office in King Street to the Midlands Station. They also broke in Shire horses which were then purchased by users including Shipstones Brewery.

When Albert Ball became their new landlord in 1928, annual rent was £168 for 106 acres. Land was purchased for housing – along Melton Road and up the three avenues running off that road all of which had been part of Russell Farm. This reduced the farm to about 42 acres and, fearing for their future livelihood, Albert persuaded his father to purchase what remained of the farm from Sir Albert as farmland was being sold for future development at a galloping pace! William could only buy the land to the North of the farmhouse, the rest having been already bought by various builders although he farmed this land until building took place.

Brookers started their milk round with pony and cart and went as far as West Bridgford. The milk was transported in churns and ladled into customer’s jugs which they  brought out to be filled.

Albert learnt to dance at Tollerton Rectory Hall and met his wife (Margaret Palmer – a teacher) at Burnside Hall, Plumtree prior to their marriage in 1934. Her father was a gamekeeper. Once they were wed, Margaret and Albert moved to a house in Nicker Hill, Keyworth and he bought a West Bridgford milk round from a Mr Edlington of Langar and incorporated this with the round he and his father were already running. The milk round developed and Albert changed the pony and cart for a motorised tricycle and eventually for a Ford van.

Albert & Margaret on their wedding day in 1934

He had a house built in the orchard next to the farmhouse and in 1952 moved in with his wife Margaret and sons David and Peter.

He went on to join the Tollerton Parish Council and was selected to organise the village’s Coronation celebrations. He recruited the WI to do the catering and the scouts to organise the sports. He had a horse and dray suitably decorated and on the big day the children congregated at the Church and were picked up by the horse and dray. The procession proceeded down Tollerton Lane, on to Melton Road and then up Lenton Avenue into the then unmade track now known as Burnside Grove, back down Bentinck Ave to Melton Rd then down Tollerton Lane and along to Hall Farm where the celebrations were held.

 Some months after the Coronation the chairman of the Parish Council (Mr Colman-Smith) announced his retirement and, since Albert had made such a good job of organising the Coronation celebrations, he was appointed as Chairman of the Parish Council. He insisted that the Parish Council should call regular monthly meetings and that members should attend regularly. Meetings were held at the Rectory Rooms. In later years the Parish Council meetings were held at the Crane Room in the  Methodist Hall and then, once opened, at the school.

When William became ill in the mid 1950’s and was unable to continue running the farm, Albert took over.

Albert’s time as Chairman of the Parish Council saw the introduction of the ‘Green Belt’ and also the introduction of street lighting and the planning and building of the school (official opening on 4 October 1963.)

Further land was purchased between the Tollerton Boundary and the Lings Bar Road bringing the total land owned by the farm to approximately 90 acres. Albert retired when he was 67 and his sons, David and Peter, took over the farm and the milk round.

Peter says, “My own memories of the farm start from about 1947/8. There was still no gas, electricity, no running water or main drains.

Water came from two wells. One was fed by rainwater from roofs at the back of the house, the other was across the garden (where we now have a greenhouse). This was a very deep well with a large pump which fed the cow trough.

The house had a scullery or back kitchen. On the outside wall there was a hand pump to pump the water from the well into a sink. There was a copper boiler, a big cast iron basin bricked into the corner with a fire underneath. This was the only way to heat water. On the inside wall there was a tin bath. This was kept under some sort of working surface and hidden by a curtain. There was a narrow pantry approximately 5 metres long leading off this kitchen. It had a series of brick arches each side and was quarry tiled on top to provide cold storage.

Lighting throughout the house was provided by oil lamps and candles. At the time I was living at Keyworth but when I stayed overnight with Grandma and Grandpa I went to bed with a ‘Wee Willie Winkie’ candle.

The next room was a large living kitchen. The back door led into this kitchen. Along one wall was the old black cooking range which had a fire in the middle and ovens either side. There was a huge wooden table in the centre of the room over which was suspended an oil lamp on a pulley with a rope on it which was fastened to a wall. The oil lamp would be lowered onto the table for filling and wick trimming.

They had a radio which was powered by accumulator batteries (basically like a car battery). Periodically the batteries were taken down to Muir’s Garage (Melton Road Garage) to be charged up.

At Christmas, none of us were allowed to say a word during the King’s Speech, otherwise we would incur Grandpa Brooker’s wrath!

There were 5 doors in this kitchen. The back door, the door which led into the back kitchen, one leading down to the cellar, one into the hall and one into yet another pantry. At times it was a bit draughty!!

I remember watching my father salting pork in the cellar by rubbing it in from blocks of salt. He would then hang it in the pantry.

Grandma Brooker told me that at one time they had a lamb which became a bit of a family pet and was allowed to go into the kitchen and liked to go under the table. However, this had to be stopped as it grew so big that one day it moved the table around the room on its back!

There was always the lovely smell of baking whenever I went to Grandma’s.

This kitchen led into a large hall with a beautiful marble fireplace (every room in the house had a fireplace).

There was a cupboard under the stairs where shotguns were kept and they had display cabinets, one with a stuffed squirrel, the other a stuffed pheasant. The front door was in the centre of two windows and overlooked the garden and orchard. Sometimes in the summer Grandpa would carry the big kitchen table through the front door and have tea in the garden/orchard.


The kitchen table with William Brooker in charge of the teapot!

A door led off the hall into a ‘drawing room’. This grandly named room was quite small and rarely used, as far as I can remember.

Upstairs there were 5 bedrooms, all with fireplaces. One of these bedrooms was later converted into a bathroom, after main drains were connected when Burnside Grove was developed in the 1950s. Electricity was put in at a similar time, shortly after Grandpa died in 1955. He never liked progress!

‘The cottage’ is thought to have been the original house, a small dwelling built possibly in the 1700s. The main part of the farmhouse was gradually added later, possibly mid 1800s. (I can’t remember anyone living there, I just remember it being used for storage, however my father remembered that Grandpa Brooker had improvements made so that one of his labourers could live in it. The other labourer lived with the family.) 

On the ground floor there was a room which was over the cellar and a second room was a kitchen and pantry. There were 3 bedrooms upstairs. One was known as the ‘Feather Room’ as they used to pluck chickens in there and then bag and sell the feathers.

Outside on the wall facing what is now known as Burnside Grove, there were two Earth Closets (toilets) back to back which comprised of a long wooden seat with 2 holes cut in it and a bucket underneath each hole. (The outline of these EC’s is now disguised by 2 pyracanthas.)

A pear tree had been planted against the back wall of the farmhouse, we think by tradition. The first occupier would plant a fruit tree on the birth of their first child as a legacy for his descendants because wood was a valuable commodity. Unfortunately, by the late 1980s this tree had to be taken down as it was rotting.

Burnside Grove only existed as a few houses (on the even number side) at Lenton Ave end. The Cullen family lived at the house on the island, the Orchard family lived next door to them, a vacant plot, then the Ingle family. There were no more houses between the Ingles and the farm. It was just a very rough brick and cinders road.

 Bentinck Ave houses both sides mainly finished at Priory Ave. Just below the corner of Priory Ave lived Mr & Mrs Shaw and their sons David & John, then Len & Iris Stirland and their sons John, Len & Bill. Across from them lived Mr & Mrs Brown, Susan, David & the twins and in the house next door were Charlie and Dora Freeman and their daughter Mary. (A little later when I was in Scouts Charlie was one of the Scout Leaders known as Bos’n.) There were 2 pairs of semis between Priory Ave and the present Burnside Grove. One was occupied by the Woods, whose son David I used to play with, the other by Mr & Mrs Allred. Mr & Mrs Gayton & their daughter Susan lived in one of the others and I’m afraid I can’t remember who occupied the last house. The access to our farm was now a continuation from Bentinck Ave. From Bentinck Ave through to the houses on Tollerton Lane it was all fields. That end of Burnside Grove didn’t exist.

All these roads mentioned were unmade roads.

As you travel up Lenton Ave, Bentinck Ave and Stanstead Ave from Melton Road you can see that the houses gradually get newer the further up you go.

If I needed to cycle from the Farm down to the Church or the scout hut, I had to go down Bentinck Ave to the Post Office, along Melton Rd as far as the garage and then down Tollerton Lane.

Stanstead Ave consisted of about 6 houses each side from Melton Road upwards. The rest was fields ear-marked for building but still farmed by my family. One field belonged to the Home Brewery Co and is now the site of the Air Hostess and the 6 or 7 bungalows leading down from it towards the main road. My family also farmed the field that is now Stella Ave, Stella Grove, the bottom end of Sedgley Ave bordering the houses on Melton Road and a field behind the Garage belonging to Frank Muir, which is now Muir Ave.

So after reading all of this you can appreciate that Russell Farm house, being there first, although sideways on to Burnside Grove, is the RIGHT WAY………all the others are wrong!!!”

In 1965 my Grandma died and the house became empty. It is a house which has always meant so much to me from early childhood. My father asked Pam and I if we would like to live there and, although it needed an awful lot of work to bring it to modern day standards, it was and still is a labour of love. We have kept many souvenirs of Grandma and Grandpa Brooker including a Christmas Cactus that Pam has lovingly looked after. It stood in the front window at the bottom of the stairs by the front door in 1965 and has flowered every year since.

Pam’s Dad was a bricklayer. He and I did the building improvements while Pam and my father were a good decorating team. Three years later we married and moved into our forever home. While we were on honeymoon Pam’s Dad built us the front porch with twisted pillars. Something he’d been planning in secret. We treasure those pillars.