Remembering those heady high days in the fields of my farm
To the casual observer a field is a field. To the farmer each has a name and a purpose. Here, David Hill recalls his own family farm of the 50s.
The first account of the fields of my farmhouse tree, Eastacott, is to be found in the parish tithe book of 1843 stored with the deeds, wills and legal documents in an old Huntley and Palmer's biscuit tin. At that date James Webber was the owner, and the land area, including house, buildings and courts, totalled 59 acres 3 rods and 12 poles. The 25 were, over the next century, reduced to 19 when fields were merged. The tithe payment in money came to £6-10s-10d (£6.54p) approximately £290 in today's money.
By the time I was born, and because of my father's ill-health, eight fields of approximately 36 acres, were being farmed by a neighbouring farmer at Barton. Next to my farmhouse tree Higher, Lower and Bull's Mead. On the tithe map known as Higher Meadow, Meadow and Little Meadow. Hay meadows dunged in November and mown in June when the stalk was sweet and the flowers had yet to seed; and the field where the bull was kept in previous days.
Below them three adjoining fields -West Close, Little Close and East Furze Close. Poor ground with the gorse cut either for kindling, or to heat the cloam oven next to kitchen inglenook fireplace. Below the Close fields – Bottom Mead, named because it was at the bottom of the farm. By 1947 it had been merged with West Furze Close and was known as Lane Field as it was approached by Shapcott Lane where the horse drawn long cart rumbled over rut and stone. A large part of the dividing hedge was still standing in the middle of Lane Field, a rabbit warren for ferret, net and trap.
Tuesday 9th & Wednesday 10th. Carol (with over 16yrs experience) has 10% off - facials. Pedicures. Manicures. Body wraps. Spray tans. Waxing. Tinting. Perming
Terms: For 2 days only. With therapist Carol. Please quote "2 day special offer".
Contact: 01271 440617
Valid until: Thursday, December 12 2013
Alongside Lanefield, two small plantations and waste land. Here in abundance, ragged robin, ragwort, yellow flag and spear thistle-86 points in my I-Spy Wild Flowers.
The other fields farmed by my father were Lower and Higher Orchards (Orchard in 1843) and Long Hall. The mow plot in Long Hall had held the corn ricks with the sheaves carted in from cross the road from Lower and Higher Downs and Four Acres on the side of Holymoor Hill.
Of the orchards, from the old English ort-geard, meaning fruit-garden, only Lower had cider apples in my childhood, with Higher next to it being pasture and with a spring which was lead piped over 200 yards delivering our supply of water. The small orchard below Lower Down had a few trees remaining and the orchard adjoining front court had eaters, cookers, damsons, plums-purple and yellow and greengages.
My aged maiden aunt's words echoing in my head as I tramped the fields, "It'll all be yours one day, when you're much older that is." My fields banked by Devon beech hedges crowning hayfield, cornfield, orchard and plantation. Here I searched out flowers and nests. One year, in a hedge trough in Bull's Mead a solitary cowslip, a bunch of six jangling keys. Three months later close by, the unlocked treasure-chest-nest of a chiff-chaff; six mouths in an open gape of summer-gold. On a bank in Higher Orchard wild strawberry gems guarded by a basking common lizard. In Lanefield hedge, more precious jewels – raspberries red, and raspberries yellow; succulent and summer-sweet. Priceless, the wild gooseberry-corn yellow, growing in the hedge around Little Close; hanging droplets of nectar and summer-ripe.
In late summer the hedges ablaze with blackberries, the sharp prickleburning my fingers and arms as I grabbed at the glowing embers.
These were the fields of my childhood, where I rambled unchained and unfettered through the dew drenched summer grass, each day filled with a flutter of butterflies, their wings a fragile breath of gossamer-wings replaced at twilight by the frenzied flutter of black-brown velvet-winged flitter-mice as they left the attic; a mass exodus in a moth-hunt over court and hay mead.
Wandering through fields of priceless treasures, where daisies were my silver and buttercups my gold.Where later, apple boughs cascaded their sweet juicy bounty into my outstretched hands in that unlocked, carefree world of frogspawn in a jam-jar, dandelion clocks, cartwheeling and somersaulting through hay-days, the high-days of my childhood.
The Farmhouse Tree – A book of childhood memories, by David Hill, will be published in October.