01 Mangel Worzels

When I was still a lad, Finedon farmers were still following a fifteenth century practice of growing the huge white and yellow beetroots for cattle food. I remember seeing several fields of them down Harrowden Lane. As a seven-year old, I had a very intimate acquaintance with them. We lived in Plackett’s Yard which abutted the Wallis farm, and I used to go over and “help” the men. One task that gave them great amusment, was asking me to get out three mangels for cow feed. Since each mangel was two and a half to three feet long, and weighed about forty pounds, it was quite a task for a little boy. I put my arms around it and wriggled it across the floor to the turnip chopper. The men took a spade and cut the mangel into several pieces which they tossed into the hopper. The chopper had a cylinder with four knives set into it, a handle to turn, and two big flywheels. Once it got going you could toss chunks into the hopper, and a steady stream of tastey chunks would come out the bottom. Once in awhile the chunks would jam in the hopper. Patience was required because you had to wait for the wheels to stop before you rearanged the chunks. People got impatient, reached into the hopper and lost an arm. Mr.Stairs, was one such victim. In the middle ages people carved lanterns and faces on werzels, as they now do on pumpkins. Another sport was to use them as ammunition for the giant catapelts used to assult castle walls. It is interesting to see that this sport has been revived in Canada using pumpkins, of which we have a surplus.

Len Butler.