Deborah Watson introduces the life and times of Amy Cross, a plymothian, pioneer and a woman before her time.
May I introduce you to Miss Amy B Cross. ‘Who?’ I hear you say. Read on.
I discovered Amy whilst trawling through the newspapers online looking for articles relating to Elburton’s history. I kept seeing her name pop up, then in ‘Ann’s Deputy’s Corner’ in the Western Morning News and Daily Gazette on 25th August 1939, I came across an interview with her. She was quite a character, and by using some other sources, I’m gradually piecing together her life.
Miss Amy Blewett Cross was born on the 17 September 1882. At the time of her baptism (15 June 1897) in St Paul’s Church, East Stonehouse, she was living with her parents at 56 Durnford Street – her father Daniel was an Army and Navy Contractor, and formerly a master tailor in the Royal Marines.
Like many young women, Amy was expected to marry and have a family – but she didn’t want that. She wanted a career. She eventually persuaded her parents to let her follow her own path, and began studying as a gardener at Studley Agricultural College in Warwickshire. Whilst there, she met a fellow student called Dorothy Smith who was taking a course in poultry farming “We became friendly, and thought it would be a bright idea if we could combine our knowledge and start a market garden and poultry farm together”. Amy and Dorothy chose Cleveland at Bere Alston for their new venture, and by 1911 were up and running. They employed Minnie and Henry Leech as domestic servant and garden boy respectively. They were 14 and 15 years old.
Amy recalled how the villagers were “very doubtful and suspicious of us”. Some thought them “daring hussies” and others doubted their sanity. Some asked them if they really did dig. She commented on how odd characters and vagrants would appear in the lanes
“As it was not always convenient to take our profits to the bank we had to keep them in the house. So I made it a custom to sleep with a loaded revolver under my pillow”.
With the coming of war in 1914 their workload increased and Amy and Dorothy were unable to cope with it. But not for long. They were asked to help organise the first Women’s Land Army which, according to Amy, was even harder work “but all the same we loved it.” There were challenges however. Many of the young women were afraid of being called ‘brazen’ because of the manual nature of the work, and many of the farmers were unwilling to take them. She regularly begged the local “yeomen” to take the girls to release the men for war work “ ‘No’ they said, if we have to release all our men we’ll close down rather than employ those girls”. She recalled that when the men were demobbed in 1920 “they shook their heads regretfully and a wee bit sheepishly. For good reason too,” she chuckled, “they didn’t want to lose the girls then.”
Amy left the Women’s Land Army in 1920 as a welfare officer, but carried on with welfare work in Bristol for a time. However the call of the land was too much and in 1921 she bought a small farm at Elburton in Plymstock, nr Plymouth. Her intention was to run the farm as a market garden, but one of her brothers sent her six chickens as a result of having too many hatch out, so her plans ultimately changed. She kept the chickens and by the time of the interview, she had 800. She also had “an enchanting little dusky grey kitten full of joie de vivre” who she presumably named after her dear friend Dorothy.
Amy lived at 8 Arcadia and ran her poultry farm in the field known as Clampits (sometimes spelt Clampitts). After checking the tithe map and apportionment, this appears to be on the other side of the road and is now two separate paddocks. The buildings on the lower paddock appear to be the same ones as those used by Amy, as suggested by looking at the Ordnance Survey maps. Not only did she run a fair-sized poultry farm, she also kept goats (to supply milk and cream) and bees. She was certainly a busy woman. In her interview when asked about holidays . “Holidays, holidays, what are they?” she asked laughingly. “I haven’t had one for 27 years”. She regularly worked 18 hours a day and 7 days a week “Animals do not lose their appetites because it’s Sunday, and so they have to be fed.” She also commented that most of her employees had been female. Having said that, at the time of the interview, she was employing two German refugees, George and Elizabeth Rosenberg (changed to Rost, he was formerly a grain merchant) and on inspection of the 1939 Register, she is employing three males under the age of sixteen. Judging by a letter she wrote to the same newspaper in 1942 ‘Forgive the Germans’ she was a deeply religious woman too.
Another thing she was very proud of, was that she was never ill “I’m waiting for a cold to see what it feels like”. Amy attributed her health to her outdoor way of live. She was a vegetarian, a teetotaller and never smoked. The majority of her diet consisted of eggs, cream, cheese, goats’ milk and plenty of “green stuffs”, but she was not rigid “Eat what you like without being a nuisance to others with your diet” was her slogan. The interviewer noted that Amy was the happiest person she had ever met.
Amy didn’t marry until early in 1949, her new beau being somewhat younger than her by 39 years. Arthur John Worth Paddon was born in 1921, so was only 28 years old compared to Amy’s 66. His second wife was also considerably older than him!
Amy and Arthur moved to Moretonhampstead living at 25 Court Street where they ran a kennel. The property was later renamed Kennel Cottage which it still retains today. Amy died in 1957 aged 75.
So there you have it. A potted history of the life of Amy B Cross. There is a lot more I could have written and there is a lot more still to find about this fascinating and independent woman. I’m looking forward to Covid being ‘kicked into touch’ to discover more.
Three miles from the popular holiday centre of Plymouth lives a cheery woman who has forgotten the meaning of holidaysDo not imagine that Miss Amy Cross is discontented because she is one of the happiest people I know. For nineteen years she has been running a poultry farm and market garden at Elburton, and she can say proudly that it is all her own achievement, and what help she has had has been mainly feminine.
As she resumed her chair the distant clock struck eleven. “You must have a glass of milk,” said Miss Cross. As I sipped the milk she watched me smilingly. “It’s different, I said, “creamier,” and was told it was goats’ milk. Yes, this energetic farmer keeps goats and bees in addition to her other activities.
WORKS 18 HOURS DAILY
“What a lot to do,” I remarked. “How many hours do you work?”.
“I rarely bother to notice,” she confessed. “The clock and I are the worst of enemies, but on an average I should say a good eighteen out of the twenty-four, and that out of a seven days working week. “What about the winter, when you are working long past midnight isn’t it rather discouraging then?”
“No,” said Miss Cross, the dauntless and ever since my first Land Army girl left me to be married, with the exception of one man, and occasionally two, my employees have all been feminine. For many years now I have had only one man on the farm who has done all the essential manual labour, and now he has become invaluable to me, but for the most part we manage by ourselves.”
She was warm in her praise of the refugees “I have had two on the farm, and they have been most helpful and eager to work,” she told me, “and although I feel that one should employ English people first, I only wish I needed a larger staff so that I could give these poor young folk some sort of a chance.”
“You say you have never had a holiday,” I queried, “but have you ever been ill?” She touched wood,
The work has its disappointment and its losses too. The morning I saw Miss Cross five fine young birds had been crushed to death in their pen. How, she knew not. Occasionally foxes make raids on the fowls and do untold damage.
A few months ago only two cockerels hatched out of 32s worth of eggs. One of them wandered into the goose pen by mistake and was pecked to death by an infuriated gander. The other was too inquisitive and poked his head into a trap-nesting box, and was accidentally hung.
KID SAVED ITS MOTHER
One day when Miss Cross was sitting in her sun room a kid goat came outside the window crying pitifully. Immediately she sensed that something was wrong and, following the kid, she found that a terrier dog had flown at its mother who was tethered, and was hanging onto her jaw. If the kid had not had the sense to fetch Miss Cross, the mother in all probability, would have been killed.
“Every day there is something new to interest me,” Miss Cross said happily. “You see even today I did not expect to be interviewed by The Western morning News, and now, unless you want to interview my chickens, I really must leave you, or I shall be up until four tomorrow morning instead of half past one.”
And finding her chickens very uncommunicative, I decided not to hinder her any longer.