Vic Brooks was born and brought up on a family farm near the village of Horsmonden in Kent, once a well-known centre of the medieval Wealdon ironworking region. Vic was the middle of six children. His family ran a fruit-growing farm, surrounded by others growing hops and various different crops, as well as farms keeping livestock. In the school holidays, particularly in September and at Christmas, he would get up at half-past five in the mornings and feed the “store cattle” at a nearby farm. These were animals which had been kept indoors to be “fattened up” for six months over the autumn and winter period. Vic also used to bring his family’s two work horses in at night during the summer, as well as their two cows. He remembers that for about a quarter of a mile he would lead the horses along and the two cows would follow on behind. He would feed the animals and wash down the cows so they would be ready for milking in the morning, a duty Vic remembers receiving threepence for. Another job Vic had as a boy was picking up tobacco for the owner of one of the nearby farms:
“Every day he had an ounce of Golden Virginia and a pack of cigarette papers and I used to have to go and get his tobacco and find him on the farm, and he used to give me threepence a day for that”.
Vic was very athletic as a boy, representing his school when he was eight years old in both the 100 metres and high jump, and in the last year of secondary school, he competed against pupils from Tonbridge School and Judd Grammar and won the pole-vault for his age group in the West Kent Schools county championships.
When he started at secondary school he would take the steam engine from the station at Marden to Paddock Wood. When the school rail service first started, he remembers not many children getting the train, but in later years as many as eighty to a hundred children used this service. These stream trains were later replaced with diesel engines and then by electric.
Vic took a five year apprenticeship as a carpenter with a company in Paddock Wood called Hall’s, and has stayed in the same profession for the whole of his working life up until the present day. As a young man he had always wanted to work on the farm with the horses, but didn’t realise at the time that by around 1950, the working horses would all be replaced by motorised tractors:
“With a horse, you could only plough about one acre a day. With a tractor, and especially nowadays, they do 6-8 furrows at a time, so they could do perhaps 20, 30 acres”.
Vic worked at Hall’s for exactly 30 years until he was made redundant in 1992. He joined the maintenance team at Holmewood House school in 1997. He actually first worked at the school while still with Hall’s, putting up some wooden buildings back in 1963, a year he remembers clearly for “the bad snow” that hit Britain. Now in his sixteenth year at the school, he works alongside six other maintenance men on a semi-retired basis for two days a week. He says of working in the team:
“They’re good guys to work with. It’s fun, and we all get on; we don’t argue. When you spend more time with your workers or work partners than you do with your own family, you’ve got to get on. We get on well, and they all take the mickey out of me.”
This year Vic did a fine job bringing his knowledge and experience of carpentry to replace several large sash windows in the old part of the school.
So, what is the key to enjoying a long working life? Vic’s answer:
“Doing something you enjoy. If I didn’t enjoy it then it wouldn’t be no good”.