The Maze has long been renowned as one of the most important market gardening areas in Northern Ireland, held in high regard both for the productive quality of its sandy soils and excellent drainage. In the area covered by this book, there are now only three `full-time' farming families � Bingham, Skelton and Sloan. There are several other families who are engaged in farming, but not as their main job � Gillespies and McGurnaghans. Other landowners from farming backgrounds have chosen to let their land in conacre � Elmore, Emerson, Hewitt, Palmer, Reid and Smith.

Immediately after the war however it was a different story � there was a considerable number of vegetable growers in the area who provided full and part-time jobs for the local population of Coronation Gardens and to a lesser extent Culcavey. Although most are now deceased, people in the area can readily recollect the following names � Josh Elliot, Billy Hood, Kennedy Hunter, Billy McCoy and Stuart McQuitty, in addition to Binghams, McGurnaghans, Skeltons and Sloans who still continue to farm.

Market gardening is a relatively labour intensive operation compared to other sectors of farming, especially in the 50s and 60s when mechanisation was not widespread or sophisticated. Planting, weeding and harvesting required a supply of labour, some skilled, some not so skilled. Until the advent of sophisticated potato harvesters in the 1970s, potato harvesting at Binghams and McGurnaghans required squads of boys and girls for a period of time in the autumn. Indeed, schools in rural areas regularly had a weeks holiday allocated in October for pupils to that they could help at home with potato picking. For those pupils who were not from farming stock, it provided the chance to earn a few pounds and a welcome break from lessons.

Tommy Alexander outside his shop in Bow Street, LisburnDuring the long school summer holidays, it was not unusual for a gang of boys and girls to be seen making their way down Sandy Lane to see if their services were going to be needed that day � either for weeding, putting up vegetable orders or helping to plant. Certainly most of the tractor work was done by the farmers themselves or their skilled regular workers, but there was always the chance you could have a job weeding, pulling scallions, cutting cauliflower or cabbage etc. Such employment gainfully occupied the local teenagers, and while the pay itself may not have been much by today's standards it was at times a valuable contribution to the family budget, whilst teaching them at a young age the value of money. In addition, it provided them with an avenue into an environment sadly lacking to the youth of today � they were working with nature, in all weathers and were none the worse for it. Indeed, physically, socially, emotionally and financially, they all benefited from working on the land. Here is the story of some of these people, people selected from different age groups and different family backgrounds, but with one common thread � they all worked on the land.

1. 1 first started working when I was thirteen years of age. This was an after school job and at weekends with Sammy Miller which gave me approximately �3.00 per week and food. When 1 was 16 I was considering becoming an apprentice joiner but the necessary job offer did not materialise. At that time Billy McCoy happened to mention that he could be doing with some help on the farm and that was how I came to work for Billy for over twenty years.

Billy McCoy was one of the old school � a perfectionist. You were expected to do what you were asked � no if buts or no can do. Weather was irrelevant � if orders had to be put up, there was no way we could let the weather interfere. Over the twenty years I was with Billy we grew a wide variety of vegetables and some flowers. The list included beetroot, broad beans, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, early turnip, leeks, parsley, celery, lettuce, scallions, parsnips, peas, potatoes and seed potatoes.

Although Billy only owned about eight acres of ground he took (rented) a substantial acreage of land all over the district. At different times he rented Hedley Beattie's land, Hewitt's land at Culcavey and Bunting's off the Moira Road, to name but a few. When / first went to work for Billy the only mechanised equipment he had was a 12 inch rotavator and a wheelbarrow � no tractors, ploughs, harrows, drill ploughs, seeders, trailers etc. They all came later This was no means unusual at that time as Ulster farms were only becoming mechanised.

Jimmy Bingham, who had an extensive contracting business throughout the area, and was well known to all in the farming community, did all the tractor work. Jimmy, like most of his generation, was brought up on horses but had purchased a tractor when he saw the manner in which farming was developing. Nevertheless he still had horses in his blood and it was not unusual to see Jimmy ploughing a field and then as he neared the ditch with the tractor one could him hear him shouting "Whoa, Whoa", as he made the turn. Old habits die-hard. Jimmy got through a power of work in the country and the fact that he was always in demand was a reflection of his ability to get the job clone and the quality of his work.

I remember the first tractor that was bought for the farm � a TVO Massey Ferguson from Howard Abrahams. I understand it was one of only five ever brought into Northern Ireland. Before the tractor was purchased, Billy and I had a long debate about whether we should buy TVO or diesel. Jimmy Bingham had a three-cylinder diesel but it was a beast to start, even though when it started it would run all day without trouble. In the end it was decided that diesels were a bit risky in that they had only recently come on the market� better to avoid them and stick to something tried and tested. You can never be too careful with cutting edge technology!

The TVO tractors were started on petrol and then switched to TVO when they had warmed up � hence there were 2 tanks on the tractor, a small one for petrol and one approximately four times the size for TVO. At that time, Johnny Palmer, a cousin of Billy McCoy, stocked petrol and TVO at his small filling station and wooden shop at Spruce field. He knew Billy was getting the tractor and was eager to see it � I was tickled to be driving this brand new tractor and was equally keen to show it off. As a result, I went round to Johnny's to get the tractor tanked up with fuel. I remember it clearly, as if it were yesterday. Johnny came out to see the tractor and said "Start her up till I hear her going". The engine was ticking over so sweetly that I had to tell Johnny that she was already going. He just couldn't believe a tractor could run so quietly, and held his ear over to the tractor before admitting that she was indeed going.


For several years we grew seed potatoes for export to Cyprus � British Queens. This was a very difficult operation in that the Ministry men constantly checked them as they were growing and were very particular in the selection of the crop that would meet export requirements. Luckily Robbie Welch, who worked for Stewarts the potato exporters at that time, lived locally and he came and helped us to pick those seed that would meet export criteria. The Ministry man then checked the selected seed before it left the farm for export by boat to Cyprus. Even then the checking was not finished � at Belfast port another Ministry man would spot sample different bags of seed potatoes, which could lead to the rejection of the entire load. To the best of my memory ours were never rejected.

Most of the produce that we grew either went to merchants, nurserymen or shopkeepers directly. Order for merchants were put up on Mondays and Tuesdays. for the two big days in May's Market, Belfast � Tuesday and Friday. We had two merchants for whom we put up vegetables on a regular basis � Sammy Millar and Jimmy Hamilton, also known as the one armed bandit. While it is true that Jimmy only had one arm, some said that there was more than a grain of truth in the nickname by which he was known.

In the early days of my period of work with Billy the vegetables were loaded onto a wheelbarrow, specially adapted to carry large loads, and then transported to the Blaris Road with one person pushing the wheelbarrow and another pulling it with a rope attached to the front wheel. The merchants then loaded their lorries, ready to go off to market early on Tuesday and Friday mornings.

The main shopkeeper who bought off us was Tommy Alexander, a character in his own right. His shop was part of what is now known as `Greens' in Lisburn. Tommy also grew tomatoes extensively after the war, in greenhouses situated just off Harry's Road near to Hewitt's big red brick house. Rationing was still in existence at that time and Tommy made a substantial income from selling his tomatoes in the market. Unfortunately Tommy Alexander has been dead for some years now, but his nephew Quintus is still alive and indeed grew lettuce in the greenhouses in the seventies.

Tom McQuade, a  nurseryman of noteTommy McQuaid was the main nurseryman who purchased from us. Each year Billy would sow half an acre of pansies that would be sold to Tommy who paid for them as he drew off them. Tommy had a nursery near Hillsborough � just under the AI Dual Carriageway Bridge on the Culcavey Road as you head for Hillsborough, on the right hand side.

Tommy's nursery had many greenhouses, some of which had a central heating system operating on coke. The story is told of how one day when Tommy went down to the coal quay in his lorry to collect a load of coke one of the `smart alec' Belfast men called him over and showed him a large lump of coal which had come on a shipment. The lump was as large as a man and weighed approximately 4 or 5 cwt. (200 � 250 kg. to the younger generation). The 'smart alec' then told Tommy that he would give him the coal if he could lift it onto the lorry. Tommy said, "Thanks very much", proceeded round to the front of the lorry, opened the cab door, took out the hammer that he always carried and broke up the large lump of coal in full view of the Belfast 'smart alec' and shovelled it onto the lorry. Needless to say, the `smart alec' had a higher opinion of Tommy McQuaid the next time he met him. I also understand that it was Tommy McQuaid who taught Johnny Palmer how to drive (when he purchased his new Ford Prefect) � no provisional driving licence required then, and indeed no driving test either!

Billy McCoy with Harold BirdEven after he retired Tommy McQuaid was still a regular visitor to Billy McCoy's and every year when the cauliflower seedlings were pricked out Tommy was one of the people who could be entrusted to perform this very important operation in Billy McCoy's eyes.

During the year we tended to work from daylight to dark which meant long hours in spring, summer and autumn, short working days in the winter The bulk of the vegetables matured from late May onwards and to enable the assembly of orders from customers Billy had to take on 'seasonal' workers. These were mainly the youth of Coronation Gardens who were looking pocket money to .fund their weekend leisure activities and to contribute to the weekly household budget. Indeed it was not unknown for parents to arrive in Billy's yard with one or more of their offspring saying to Billy, "Can you give these boys something to do?" Coburn, Crossey, Kennedy, Mallon, McQuillan, Patton, Stewart and Welch are a few of the surnames who received a rudimentary education on work with vegetables during my period at Billy McCoy's. It was undoubtedly hard work but there were also some lighter moments that I can recall.

Even though horticulture is labour intensive and essentially dirty work due to contact with the land, Billy was not averse to employing females on the farn. One particular notable incident involved instruction a certain lady in the intricacies of weeding beetroot. It was carefully explained to her that all the plants with the red stalks were to be left in the drill and all other vegetation uprooted. Later that day it was discovered that the weeding instructions had been misinterpreted to the extent that al/ the beetroot plants had been carefully extracted from the drills leaving the weeds to grow on healthily. It would be inappropriate for me to divulge the name of this lady as she still lives in the locality and may not appreciate this incident being put in the public domain.

Jimmy Bingham hard at workDuring my early years with Billy McCoy it was usual for me to be "farmed out" to Jimmy Bingham for one or two weeks each year to work on the thresher. This was very demanding work and one really needed to be it to keep up with the pace. Indeed time passed so quickly on the thresher that no sooner was the tea break over than it was dinner time and then it was afternoon tea break and then time to go home � very tired and very sweaty but well fed. I still have fond memories of Mrs. Bingham (long since dead) and Jimmy who is one of the real characters of this area.

During the wintertime at Billy's I got to go home early and my family would see much more of me than at any other time of the year. However in November we would start to prepare the bases for the holly wreaths � a popular sales item at Christmas, most of which went to either Tommy Alexander or Tommy McQuaid, who delivered to a large number of shops. In late November and early December we would go out into the Dromara hills and cut down holly, which we tied up into large bundles. Another lifetime friend of Billy McCoy's, Charlie Sterling, would then drive up to Dromara in his car and bring the holly home for us.

Anyone who knew Billy McCoy realised he loved fishing, and it was he who kindled my interest in fishing when I saw him drop a fly loaded line into the water on the Lagan next to a willow tree and pull out a large trout. This impressed me by now simple it seemed and I was hooked! I still remember that not long after I was married and returned home from our honeymoon I took 30 shillings (�1.50 to you) and went out and bought my first fishing rod.

Billy and Headley Beattie (now Niall Elmore's house on the Halftown Road) regularly fished the Lagan but on a very competitive basis. Billy was the fly fisherman and Headley favoured the worm the race was then to see who could land the most fish before they went home for the night. In those days the Lagan was a much cleaner river and had plentiful supplies of trout (2-3 lb.) and even pike.

Billy McCoy was one of life's quiet men, yet someone who had a profound effect on all those who knew him on a personal basis or worked for him. Although .from farming stock he had worked in the building trade for a large part of his early life. It is a little known fact that he was the foreman on the site when Coronation Gardens was built. So he not only employed many of the inhabitants of Coronation Gardens but he was also responsible .for the construction of the homes in which they lived. Quite a remarkable feat.

2. In the late fifties and early sixties most families were always short of money with the result that children were often sent out to get work of any kind.

I got a job at the age of 13 with a local farmer called Kennedy Hunter who farmed about 50 acres off the Halftown Road in the Maze area. It wasn't large in comparison to modern farms, but when most of the work was done by hand it was large enough. Kennedy grew vegetables for the local markets. He also grew a field of potatoes and a field of corn "to rest the land", as he often said. The potatoes were dug in September/October and stored in a frost-free shed and picked in the depths of winter when it was too cold to work outside. The binder harvested the corn and the straw went to a local farmer who exchanged it for manure, which was then carted away.

In winter when it was too cold and frosty to do any crop work in the fields, I cut hedges and faced ditches � facing ditches means taking a hand hook and a forked stick and cutting all the grass and brambles from the ditches. This was done all round the perimeter of the farm � a .fair distance on a holding of 50 acres. Then a long tail shovel was used to clean all the drains and waterways round the farm, making for better drainage of the land � imperative in Northern Ireland's damp climate.

Kennedy Hunter's main source of income was vegetables and the seeds were sown in later winter and early spring. Initially they were sown under glass in seed beds and when large enough were transplanted, by hand, into drills - acre after backbreaking acre of them. But before this could be done the ground was ploughed and manured by hand because, like the rest of the people, Kennedy Hunter could not afford machinery to do the work. The cabbages and cauliflowers were hand-weeded and lovingly tended until ripe, then only the best were cut and bagged, for the market.

Billy Anderson from Saintfield was the haulier who bought from farmers to sell on in the Belfast fruit markets � something he did all through the summer months. Once a field was cleared it was ploughed and replanted. "Idle ground does not make money" was one of Kennedy Hunter's maxims.

Late summer, early autumn brought the corn and barley harvest and Wallace Rooney from the Waterloo Road would arrive with a threshing mill, bailer and a squad of local men who usually ,followed from farm to .farm.

Thornton's farm on the Blaris Road usually provided two or three weeks of threshing work. Thornton's workers then followed across to Jimmy Bingham's farm down the canal banks where the MI is now. Jimmy Bingham liked to get a .fill day's work out of everybody and any one slacking got an ear bashing! But to be fair both the aforementioned farmers fed the workers very well. It was a long day's work but you never left their tables hungry.

Mid summer was the time when the potatoes needed spraying against the "blight" � a long feared disease given the history of the country. This was done with a knapsack sprayer carried on your back, each drill painstakingly sprayed with Bluestone. All this was done in the early 60s when I was 13 years old. It meant a 4 o'clock start before I went to school. Once school ended for the day I was off down the lane to work until maybe 7 or 8 o'clock, and on Saturday from 8 o'clock until dark. Summer was a busy time and, naturally, I worked all the school holidays. Putting a couple of pounds on the table on a Saturday night helped out and it felt good to be just like a grown up.

Times change, and not always for the better. Farms have all machinery known to man and you would need a degree to work it, but still farmers never seem to have enough daylight or days in the week to get their work done.

3. During school holidays, when I was aged and 10 and 11, children in the local area were given the opportunity to earn extra pocket money by working .for Billy McCoy doing various jobs on the land. Work normally began between 8.30 and 9.00 am, when you went to Billy's house to get your job for the day. From here, you were taken by tractor to Kennedy Hunter's to work in the fields. My main job was to weed carrots in preparation for pulling. Thomas Palmer now owns Kennedy Hunter's land.

There was always a mix of boys and girls to do the jobs. Most days two or three people were required. We worked about 3 days per week, from 8.30 a.m. � 6.00 p.m., depending on what work was available and what work had been done. Throughout the clay fresh water was got from the well that was located behind Kennedy's house.

Not only did I work on Kennedy Hunter's land for Billy McCoy, but I also went there to buy fresh vegetables for my Mum. A small shed, located where Thomas's house is situated now, was used for selling vegetables. I particularly remember Halloween time when you went down to the shed to get turnips to make lanterns.

4. Many, many years ago my mate and I worked on Jimmy Bingham's farm along the banks of the Lagan Canal. We gathered potatoes, snedded turnips and were just generally involved in farm work. We used to work in a squad, gathering potatoes, mostly on Saturdays. On the night before harvesting my mate and I would go down to Bingham's and check the field that we were going to be gathering potatoes in the next day. Some of the fields went at an angle, so we would usually pick the longest peg to start in the morning. We would be working very hard all morning, but in the afternoon, as you will understand, we had it very easy as the shape of the field made our peg very short. We also took large potatoes, "chippers" as they were called, into `Ginessies' chip shop in Lisburn and they treated us to a fish supper after the potatoes were carried in. Mrs. Bingham was in charge of paying the workers every Saturday evening, and she would pay my mate and myself a ten shilling note each (50p in today's money) and then slip us an extra half crown (12.5p). We were always told not to let Jimmy know about the half a crown, so we never did. If he reads this book he'll know about it now, but my mate and I can't remember how many extra half crowns we got. Even though Mrs. Bingham died some time ago we still remember the extra she paid us and the way we were, fed when we were working at Bingham's all those years ago.

5. I remember going to work on Jimmy Bingham's farm on Saturdays and week nights after school. Mrs. Bingham would have lifted us at school every day and we gathered potatoes and sorted them into 56/b bags. In the summertime we cut hay and barley straw. One time I remember in a small field in front of the farm there was a large mound of earth and we kept asking Jimmy what it was. All he said was that it was a `Bing'. When March came we found out that it was a large pile of spuds covered with straw and soil, and a track dug round it to drain water away. The potatoes were stored like this years ago, and were much firmer than if stored in a shed. Jimmy also kept a few cattle and grew turnips to feed them. The worst work was gathering the turnips when there was snow on the ground. I remember going to gather potatoes and the plough on the harvester couldn't break up the ground as it was rock hard with. frost.

Jimmy always wore a shirt and tie, even in the summer; and we used to ask him why he always wore the tie. He always answered "because it shows I'm the gaffer". It was hard work on Bingham's farm, but I wish I could turn back the clock as I'm sure I would enjoy it now.