Grandad Ally (Legge): Part Four

Ray Starling

Ally Legge, grandson of Chafer Legge, son of ‘Boozer Legge’. You will notice that his features are typical of a true Fenman; short, wiry, an eagle-like nose and he had jet black hair. I recall as a youngster that he had many many visitors over the years who would come and talk to him about his life as a fisherman, shooting, netting game and fish and a host of other outdoor activities. I spent many an hour in the evenings with him when he would be knitting pheasant nets. He and his wife Mary are buried in Southery cemetery.
Photograph donated by Ray Starling, grandson of Ally Legge

Continued from part three.

Grandad also told me about the snare that was used for catching pheasant. Thin willow tree sticks were cut and pushed in the ground in the shape of a circle or square. Any foliage or small branch was left on the stick so as it made it look natural. Gaps were left in the construction large enough for a pheasant to pass through. At each gap a snare was positioned so as when the pheasant went through the gap its head would go into the snare. The snare was made of horse hair and the secret was that the hair was from the mare (female). Apparently the mare’s hair would not twist up like the stallion and enabled the snare to keep the correct shape. One of the lures used to attract the pheasants to the trap was to place aniseed with cereal grain in the middle of the willow branch construction. Aniseed has a strong smell which can be carried in the air for long distances.

An excellent shot

Grandad was an excellent shot with the twelve bore and was frequently invited to hare shoots and pigeon shoots. Grandad’s son retained his dad’s skill and was always renowned for his shooting skills. This was frequently born out when he took part in the local cley pigeon shooting competitions.

During my young days I was also smitten by the adventure of shooting game. However, I was hopeless with the 12 bore and never got the hang of being able to judge how far you aimed in front of the bird and the art of keeping the gun swinging in line with the bird. My admiration for the adventure of stalking game and building hides and waiting for the flight of pigeon or duck always caused me to craze grandad or my dad to take me with them on their shooting expeditions. I was taken by grandad one or two times on a windy night just before dusk into the fen where we would wait in the bottom of dyke waiting for duck to fly over on their way to either sugar beet stubble or a field of lodged wheat which they were able to easily feed on. My adrenalin flowed watching grandad when we saw duck suddenly flying toward us. He had his very own way of crouching into a position in order to be able to quickly stand up and shoot at the duck, and he did all this with his pipe still firmly in his mouth.


Sundays, and some evenings in the week, always saw people coming to visit grandad Ally. They would spend hours talking about shooting, fishing, guns, nets and the old days. I’m sure this is where I was lured by the excitement and adventure of the outdoor life. When I was thought to be old enough I was allowed to regularly clean grandad’s three shotguns, a Webley and Scott 12 bore side-by-side, his original old hammer 12 bore and a single barrel 10 bore for shooting duck or geese. The barrels would all be pulled through by a brush on the end of a rod and then finally a soft wading material was pulled through. An oiled cloth would finally be wiped over the outside of the whole gun, stock and barrel. I always showed great care where I pointed any of the guns as grandad had etched on my brain the discipline of keeping the gun broken when walking with it under the arm, and at any other time when not using it to shoot.

I recall being with him pigeon shooting in woods during winter when snow was on the ground, he would constantly take the cartridges out of the chamber and look through the barrels to see that no snow was trapped in the end of the barrels. He knew that if the gun was fired when snow was trapped in the end of the barrel then this could split the barrels open and endanger the shooter. I repeated this always during my shooting days because of grandad’s awareness of the dangers with shotguns.

I often found grandad Ally reading during the twilight years of his life, his two favourite books where, I Walked by Night – The Life and History of the King of the Norfolk Poachers and History of The Fens by J.Wentworth-Day. He also enjoyed some of W H Barrett’s books, Tales from the Fens and More tales From the Fens. Sometimes grandad would ask me to read to him, he became very tired at the end of his life mainly due to bronchitis.

His farmland over the decoy was Crown Land and was farmed under a formal rental arrangement. He grew crops of potato, sugar beet, carrot, onion and celery. Grandad’s farmhand down the Stamps was George ‘Cutty’ Porter and he lived in a row of cottages down Common Lane. His dockey, or elevenses as they were called, consisted of half a loaf of bread and a chunk of cheese all wrapped in a tea towel. Drink was a bottle of cold tea. If an onion field was near Cutty would take a couple and add these to his bread and cheese meal. His cutlery consisted of a very sharp pen knife, or a shut knife as they were called, which he used to cut portions from the bread, cheese and onion to eat. Grandad also grew crops of chicory which were grown for the chicory factory at Lakenheath for coffee making. Grandad had to stop growing this crop as he contracted a skin disease which turned out to be ‘impetigo’ said to be caused by contact with the chicory plant. The soil of his fields was a rich fertile peat in fact when I was with him down the ‘Stamps’ one day I recall seeing a trench which apparently was where peat turfs had been dug from. The locals called these peat blocks ‘hods’. I vaguely recall these peat turfs being put on my grandad’s old one axle trailer and pulled by his tractor back to Southery for burning on the fire.

Well known for his celery

He was well known for his celery, the variety he grew was called Cambridge White. It was a lovely crunchy celery, the stalk was string free and pure white. When the binding string was tied around the bundles of celery, 10 or 12 in a bunch, you would hear it crackle as the string was tightened. A lot of grandad’s celery found its way onto the Saturday Market at King’s Lynn bought by a local buyer. The customers were attracted not only to its quality but also by the jet black soil left on the celery stick which was eventually washed off by the customer before eating. The black soil on his celery gave it a major identification which customers became accustomed to.

Grandad used his small field down Common Lane for growing the small celery plants in what were known as ‘beds’, these plants after a further few weeks of growth were eventually transplanted into the fields for their final growing period. Grandad’s farmhand worker at this time was a cousin of his, Horace Legge, who lived in Chapel Row down near the Methodist Church. Horace was eventually grandad’s tractor driver, there were two farm tractors, a Ford Major and a little grey Ferguson. Grandad’s first tractor over the Decoy was a metal wheeled Ford which had spiked wheels at the rear. I remember trying to drive it once but I was to small and could not reach the clutch and brake when setting on the high metal seat.

Part five continues here.

See also