Kingsley was, and I expect probably still is, surrounded by orchards. To the north and west of The Straits were large areas of land covered by various fruit trees of many species. There were also many more orchards on Rookery Farm opposite Shortheath pond and extending up Green Street on the left towards Worldham. Predominantly apples, there were also plums, pears, peaches, cherries and green gages represented within the orchards. As with all things, in the days of my childhood, orchards and fruit growing provided large numbers of jobs for local men and even more employment for travelers when fruit picking was required. Most tasks then were carried out by hand, fruit being picked from the ground and on ladders into baskets, transferred into boxes and onto trailers for removal to the cold storage sheds. During the year tasks such as pruning and spraying occupied many man hours as did the mowing of the rides between the rows of trees. As mentioned in an earlier article the practice of frost burning in the spring also provided for a large increase in manpower for a few weeks during the period when the flower buds were at risk from the cold. This danger occurred when the fruit was "setting" and, depending upon season, varied just a few weeks each year. The big worry was a late and unexpected frost which could play havoc with the with the eventual harvest. Of course, these were the days before satellites were used in weather forecasting and things were much more hit and miss. Much more local knowledge and folk lore was employed then in order to try and ensure the trees were protected from the frost.
Much like hop picking the fruit harvest provided the opportunity for local women to earn a few extra shillings and the whole operation became something of social event. Women, who would normally be at home, which was the norm then, would move into the orchards many taking children with them. Packed lunches and flasks of tea all contributed to what was something like the a scene of a village outing or picnic and generally good humour prevailed. The fruit pickers were paid by the bushel for their efforts each bag or basket of fruit being carefully checked by the foreman and noted down against the name of the individual picker. Payment was made in cash, no plastic or bank payments then. As far as I recall, the foreman would distribute the earnings in brown envelopes around lunch time on a Friday. Whilst all were on the same rate for the job, inevitably, there were those whom picked at a faster rate than others and therefore earned a bit more. I don’t think the differences were very great as picking performances seemed to level out as the pickers became more used to the work as the harvest proceeded.
Leading up to the harvest, as the fruit began to ripen, another village pastime occurred. That of scrumping. Put simply, scrumping was stealing apples. Not exclusively apples, all fruit was happily scrumped. This was, as far as I am aware, a covert occupation pursued by youngsters. That is to say, I was never aware of any adults being involved in such matters although, who knows, they would hardly have advertised the fact! In any event, I am guessing, the name scrumping was derived from scrumpy the rough cider produced by apple growers. For the most part scrumping was carried out by a group of boys, (girls didn’t do such things), and I suppose the support of the group helped some of the less enthusiastic scrumpers to overcome their reservations. However, a suitable target tree was selected as being the bearer of fine fruit and scrumping began. Evenings were a good time for such activities as, for the most part, the farm workers had gone for the day thus reducing the risk of being caught. The next problem to overcome was entry to the orchard, many had thick hedges and or stout fences. Often a suitable gap in the base of a hedge could be located and enlarged sufficiently to allow a small frame to squeeze through. It was normal for one member of the group to go in and do the scumping whilst the others kept watch. For the most part anyone approaching would have been on a tractor or other motor vehicle as the size of the orchards were large enough, in general, to make walking around them unattractive and a bit of a chore for the fruit growers. Hearing an approaching vehicle was, therefore, a sign to get out as quickly as possible and assume an innocent attitude. On the odd occasions when circumstances such as these occurred the vehicle driver, upon seeing a group of boys beside the orchard,would usually approach them and say something like, "I hope you little sods aren’t scrumping." Mention of the village policeman might also be added and the general message was one of threat and menace, no doubt,designed to cause sufficient fear by way of deterrence. Although there was a much greater respect for authority then than there is today these warnings might have caused a change of location but did little to damped the desire to scrump! It should not be assumed that scrumping involved the mass theft of huge amounts of fruit, that was not the case. For the most part each boy scrumped one or two apples, one eaten and one for later. I don’t think these predations would have made a great impact upon the profit of the fruit growers. There were, after all, far more apples on the ground known as windfalls, and no use for storage, than scrumping ever accounted for. There was no question of taking home the proceeds of a scrumping expedition as the consequences of a parent finding out were much more feared than the threats of the growers.
If caught and as far as I recall, that did not happen often, the usual result was a good old fashioned, (how can I put this ?), dressing down, if you know what I mean. Designed, no doubt,to put the fear of God into the scrumpers this was the usual method of disposal. I guess for the most part, adults catching youngsters in the act of scrumping could relate to the practice and would have understood that scrumping was a well established part of rural childhood in those days.