My Life with The

WHITBREAD SHIRES

by John Sparks

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Whitbread Hop Farm

We arrived at the hop farm mid day on Monday 16th September leaving rainy London behind us to a sunny welcome to the hop farm and our nice new stable. The eight horses were put into their new boxes and soon settled in and we got straight into unloading the drays and harness ,putting the drays outside the stable as the cart shed was still having its finishing touches to it. The show harness was put into three harness rooms, our working harness was put on hooks outside the boxes where the horses we drove were stabled.
Mine being Jupiter and Saturn.

We then had to get ready for our welcome parade in the afternoon at three o'clock.,
each of the three drivers, John Sparks, John Doe and Steve Tubbs, grooming and
 plaiting their horses and getting the drays ready. The guests started to arrive and
children from the local schools plus three Mayors, from Tunbridge, Maidstone
and from Paddock Wood.

At three o'clock on the dot we were ready, with our show uniforms on, and the horses
looking spectacular. We made our way down to the car park at the front of the hop
 farm where the mayors were waiting, one for each dray. Once they were on we drove
through the gates of the farm to crowds of people and school children cheering and
waving flags, stopping outside the oast houses for photos.

The day had gone well and we were all exhausted and ready to go home leaving the stable keeper Dave Underwood to look after the stable through the night. I got into my van and started my fifty eight mile journey home which I would be doing for the next four years , a hundred and eighteen mile round trip around the M25.

Next morning Tuesday 17th September getting up at six and looking forward to a new way of life for me after working and living in the city all my life. After an hours drive I drove down Seven Mile Lane and could see the farm in the distance and thought I could get used to this.

When I arrived about seven thirty I saw Dave Underwood the stable keeper feeding and watering the horses that were in the stable I went up to our new lobby which over looked the paddock and saw some of the thirty six horses that were now on the farm grazing, Dave had finished his work and was ready for his breakfast, While I was cooking Dave made us a cup of tea., It was not long before John Lawless the stable manager ,Ray Charlesworth the deputy manager and the rest of the drivers started to arrive for the nine o'clock start,. We sat and talked about the previous day and what was in store for our first day. Two of us would be giving dray rides for the public and some would be cleaning our show harness that we had used the day before because there were shows coming up at the weekend to get ready for, Dave Hatton and I my new show partner had to wash Jupiter and Saturn out, wash the the Mary Ann show dray and get our show harness ready for the Thursday to take them back to Chiswell Street brewery for a function.

The first week went so quickly and I was soon settling into the farm way, the weather was nice and the hops were being picked in the fields.

The second week arrived and I was on dray ride duty, it was nice to see families with children on holiday climbing up the steps onto the rides dray enjoying themselves., My turn over, I had the afternoon to excercise another pair, Mars and Mercury. Dave Hatton and I drove into the town of Paddock Wood where were greeted with smiles.We parked in the local car park and people came up and said how pleased they were to see us, the last time they had seen a Whitbread dray was in the sixty's when they came down to pick up the hop pickers from London arriving at Paddock Wood station to take them back to the farm.

October had arrived and our thoughts were on the Lord Mayor's Show in November.The six horse team was tried with different horses until we had the perfect six for the job .

As the days and weeks went on the dark nights started to arrive ,the weather was turning from a lovely summer into a bleak winter,The farm closed it doors at the end of October to the public and would not open until the following March.
 
In the mean time shows, pub opening and even carnivals had to be got ready for, The six horses for the Lord Mayo'rs Show were taken out each day and were coming along great.

 

 View of farm with stables in back ground

View of excercise arena at the hop farm in front of stables

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Full view of excercise arena with stable to the left

5 Hop Farm

below
Clive Stevenson ,In front of the old stable at the hop farm with three of the Whitbread brand drays.
Fremlins , Whitbread Best Bitter and White Label

below
Kevin Robertson, John Sparks and Dave Underwood

Clive

  Clive Stevenson

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  Kevin Robertson

  John Sparks

  Dave Underwood