Friday, 16 October 2015

What we did in October when we were still a farming community

Cows on the meadows by Chorlton Brook, 2003
An occasional series reflecting on what we did in the township when we were still a small rural community.

Now if I had been farming here in the 1850s I might well have turned to The Book of the Farm by Henry Stephens.*

It was written in 1844, and ran to countless editions. It was the manual for anyone wanting to be a farmer.

Everything is here from what crops to plant and when to how to make a well, as well as sound advice on hiring labourers, the construction of a water meadow, and the best location for the milk house and cheese room. I learned which materials were best for building a farm house and how much I could expect to pay for materials, as well as the most up to date scientific information on planting wurzels.

It was a practical book and so “the cost of digging a well in clay, eight feet in diameter and sixteen deep and building a ring three feet in diameter with dry rubble masonry is only L5 [£5] exclusive of carriage and the cost of pumps.”

He calculated that that two brood sows could produce 40 pigs between them and that retaining six for home use the remaining 34 could easily be sold at market.

So many of the smaller farmers and market gardeners in the township might well keep at least one sow and use it to supplement their income.

Nor should we forget that these animals were destined for the table and so the slaughter of pigs was best done around Martinmas in early November because “the flesh in the warm months is not sufficiently firm and is then liable to be fly born before it is cured” and doing so in early November had the added advantage that cured hams would be ready for Christmas.

But today and over the next few weeks I want to drop in to another farming book which is H Rider Haggard’s A Farmer’s Year, written in 1898 and published the following year.

Now he was farming in Norfolk a full half century later than Mr Stephens and of course Norfolk isn’t rural Chorlton or Eltham or anywhere in south east London..

Harrowing in Mustard on stubble
That said this is what he wrote for the beginning of October.

“Since harvest about 250 loads of manure have been carted from the yards direct to the various fields where they are to spread, and sundry dykes on the marshland have been drawn.  

Also a little thrashing has been done and we sold some barley at sixteen shillings and fifteen shillings according to its quality.

Today October 5th we are ploughing on the bean stubble but with the soil in its present condition it is dreadfully hard work for the horses.”

*Stephens Henry, The Book of the Farm, 1844

** Haggard, H Rider, A Farmer’s Year,  1899

Pictures; the Meadows, courtesy of David Bishop 2003, and Harrowing in Mustard on stubble from A Farmer’s Year, 1899

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