Frederick Kitchen 1891 – 1969
Farm Labourer and writer
“I was born at Edwinstowe in Sherwood Forest”. This is the opening line in “Brother to the Ox” – an autobiography written by Frederick Kitchen, an English farm labourer and writer. Fred was born in Edwinstowe in 1891, to a Methodist family, but shortly afterwards the family left the village for Yorkshire where his father worked as a cowman on the Earl of Scarborough’s estate, Sandbeck.
Fred grew up on the estate, and enjoyed the freedom of exploring the woods and being close to the wildlife. But living in a tied cottage the family had to leave when his father died from diabetes, and after his 13th birthday he started work as a farmer’s boy. His mother was given a cottage in one of the villages on the estate and to make ends meet she would make teas for visitors and took on sewing from local manor houses.
Fred’s autobiography paints a vivid description of work on the land during the first half of the twentieth century in Northern England For a while he worked on the railroad and at collieries but decided that was not the life for him and after 13 years working in industry, he became a farm labourer again.
Fred was inspired by the works of writers such as Dickens and George Eliot, and in 1933 he studied with the local branch of the Workers Educational Association in Worksop, where he was encouraged to write his own works, which included more than a dozen books, also a collection of poems and prose “Songs of Sherwood” (1948) with descriptions such as this from “The Sherwood Oak”
Hail, Birkland oaks of Edwinstowe,
Where now the touring trippers go –
Whose youthful branches have withstood
The strains and stress since Robin Hood
Ranged the close confines of thy wood.
Now, while the woodman’s axe strikes keen,
Tell of the things that thou hast seen,
From Birkland to Bilhaugh.
Fred became a journalist and radio broadcaster.
In 1981, “Brother to the Ox” was adapted by Independent Television, and in 2013 and 2015 the BBC dramatized his life story on radio in two week-long serials as “Journal of a Joskin.”
Rev. Basil Evans and Fred Kitchen at the opening of the Institute Library
Acknowledgement to Wikipedia