Friday, 30 June 2017

A photograph, a lost stream and a bit of a detective story

It’s often the way it works.

You start off with a picture and in beginning to uncover its secrets discover a whole lot more.

So there I was with this 1950 photograph from the Lloyd collection.  The caption just said “The ‘Marsh Meadow’ [Marshe Brow] from the ‘The Tip’. 1950."

It is in itself a pretty historic picture marking as it does one of the last times this stretch of land will have been worked on a regular basis.  As such it will be part of a continuity that stretches way back into our rural the past.

So as you do I set out to locate the exact spot which was easy enough to do.  It is at the point on the modern meadows where Ivy Green Road suddenly twists north to join Cartwright Road and Hawthorn Lane.

Now I never quite understood the logic of this as the rest of Ivy Green carries on only to peter out as a dead end.  But look at the old Tithe map and the OS map and the original lane turns north and then east which today is Hawthorn Lane.

And our picture was taken I think just inside the entrance to the Meadows by the gate from Ivy Green.  This was Lloyd land and back in the 1840s was farmed by John Cookson of Dark Lane whose 59 acres were mostly on land along Buckingham Road where it joins Manchester Road.  It was a mix of mainly arable with some pasture and meadow land.  But like many of our farmers he also had land away from the farm on the meadows and this was Marsh Brow which was five acres of meadow.

But in trawling across the field names I also came across Row Leech and what I have looked at on all the maps but not seen.  For here is confirmation that the Rough Leech Gutter which ran from just north of Sandy Lane across the township and under Edge Lane by the parish church finished in a big pond on Turn Moss.

“Meadow land was not only a common enough feature here in the township but important to the way we farmed.    Meadowland is grassland that is kept damp by the use of ditches called carriers worked by sluice gates fed from the Mersey.

The skill is to keep the land fed with water up to an inch in depth through from October to January, for about fifteen to twenty days at a time before allowing the water to run off into the drainage ditches.  The land must then be left to dry out for 5-6 days so that the air can get to the grass.  The early watering took advantage of the autumnal floods which brought with them a mix of nutrients and silt which enriched the land.

All this requires constant vigilance and Higginbotham the farmer on the Green would expect to visit his fields once every three or four days to see that the water was evenly distributed, and that there was no accumulation of weeds. This was not a task that could be entrusted to an unskilled manager, as the weather and time of year dictated the level of water that needed to flow from the irrigation ditches.  And as the weather got colder it would be important to watch for a hard frost which if it were severe enough could turn the meadow into ‘one sheet of ice which will draw the grass into heaps which is very injurious to meadows.’

Not that this stopped Alfred Higginbotham annually flooding one of his fields in the early 20th century to provide a skating ring for the village.

The rewards for all this care and hard work were many.  During the winter the water protected the grass roots from frost allowing the grass to grow several weeks earlier while in hot summers it kept the grass lush and provided grazing for the cattle as well as hay.*

And just as I was finishing the story I came across an interesting post on Making a Meadow on Ivy Green from the site Friends of Chorlton Meadows,

Pictures; from the Lloyd collection and detail of Marsh Brow and Row Leech from the OS map of Lancashire 1841, courtsey of Digital Archives,

*The Story of Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Andrew Simpson, 2012

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