Wellcross lad Reg comes full circle

Terry Slade and Reg Wells at Hills Farm
Terry Slade and Reg Wells at Hills Farm

Reg Wells, now 88, helped his father with the running of Wellcross Farm when he was a boy during the Second World War. The farm house is now a care home and Reg is living there once again. He and his cousin Terry Slade shared some of their memories of the war years.

When Reg Wells was 10 years old, his father moved his family to Wellcross Farm, Slinfold.

Wellcross Grange

Wellcross Grange

The year was 1940 and they had been living in Stanwell, MIddlesex, where Mr Wells senior kept a small holding, dealing in coal while keeping pigs and other animals. He also worked full-time at the local sewerage works.

The family may have been comfortable but the area was something of a target for German bombs. So when Mr MIller, of Wellcross, came forward with an opportunity to tend his pigs in the relative safety of the Sussex countryside, the family took the plunge.

Arriving at the impressive Wellcross Grange, the family was given several rooms in the big house while they waited for their farm cottage to be prepared.

Young Reg, who had passed his exams before the move, was enrolled at Collyer’s Grammar School, cycling to school and back every day with the Millers’ son, Jack.

Reg Wells at Wellcross Grange

Reg Wells at Wellcross Grange

While the boys became firm friends, trudging all the way back to the farm one day after their bikes were stolen in Horsham, Reg’s dad had made rather good progress with the farm.

Another move was soon on the cards when Mrs Collins, of nearby Cootes Farm, advertised for help and Mr Wells senior applied.

By now, young Reg was of work age and took to farming full-time. He moved into a small cottage on the edge of the pond in Merryfield Drive, keeping a canoe so that he could regularly check the moorhen nests for eggs.

There were plenty of people around, with several Land Girls assigned to work the farm, while Reg led the ploughing with his horse and tractor.

Hills Farm barn

Hills Farm barn

As well as working the land, the girls – along with Reg’s mum – took care of Reg’s infant cousin Terry Slade, who had been evacuated to the farm and would be taken out to the field and barns in his pushchair.

Reg remembered those days as “all the family working as part of the team”.

There was soon more work to be done after Reg’s father met Mr Feldmar, who owned Blake’s Farm, at Southwater. The men formed a partnership to farm cereal crops alongside the established dairy farm.

For Reg and the workers, that meant regular trips up Picts Hill (Worthing Road) by tractor and trailer, with a welcome homeward bound pitstop at the Fox and Hounds pub during the summer months.

In 1952, Mr Collins sold Cootes Farm to Davies Estates, and housing development soon began.

The next move for the Wells family saw them offered the council-owned Hills Farm, next to the cemetery, where Reg, with his tractor and horse, helped to grow vegetable crops.

The farms supplied schools and businesses, such as CIBA Laboratories, with fresh veg as well as delivering to Horsham greengrocers and villages such as Rusper and Rudgwick.

Terry said: “The ground was made more fertile by using the waste treated at Horsham sewerage works at Blackbridge Lane, and Reg with Lennard Ling, of Southwater, spread on Hills Farm over many years by hand.”

Terry soon returned to live with Reg in the farm cottages, with sister Nancy, who was married to Horsham FC centre forward Den Daubney, living next door.

While already working a full day, Reg also used his tractor and tools to keep the sports ground in order, looking out for the cricket square where the team – which Terry named as the Leather Hunters – played during the summer.

He was a member of the rifle club and even took up dance classes – accompanied by Terry – with Mrs Waters at the Black Horse Hotel, in West Street (demolished c1970) and then at the boys’ club, in Hurst Road.

Reg and Terry married within one month of each other. Reg wed Eve in 1960 at the church hall, in Clarence Road, while Terry married in September. Each served as best man to the other.

The wives would have seen a different side of farm life during the winter months, with most work carried out in the main barn, which was later donated to Horsham Museum.

Reg, though, could still be found outside, no matter the weather, as he toiled away on his open-top tractor, with his dog Shotty, sitting by his side.

Terry said: “It was a great life – so peaceful – and Reg’s mum was fantastic. What she was able to do to keep it all going!”

Terry also remembered the family visits, where everyone was expected to chip in and work before enjoying a break when Reg took charge of air rifle walks and table tennis in the granary.

Hills Farm was sold for development by Horsham Council - and Terry guessed the new gardens would have been perfect for growing vegetables, thanks to Reg’s efforts.

Reg’s next move was to Farthings Farm where, as well as the usual farm work, he opened a farm shop, nipping up to Borough Market, in London, for any produce he couldn’t provide.

He started his well-earned retirement at his parents’ former home, Stanwell Cottage, on Farthings Hill, before moving into Wellcross Grange care home.

Reg has come full circle on a journey which started in 1940. A worker, a family man and an unassuming soul, he now enjoys a quiet cup of tea in the house he once lived in as a boy, looking out across land he once worked.

The County Times would like to thank him for sharing his story.