Christmas

Christmas

Etched angel wings feather the panes
As pin prick stars and sickle moon
Fade at the advent of breaking dawn.
Roseate gold fingers of light touch
Silvered leaves brittle in the grass.
Church bells echo frozen from furrow
And field as sheep silently graze.
At the eyes edge distant blue
Remembered hills recall a lost land.

There children, coat bundled,
Gather holly in bone cold air.
There the old stories are reality.
Shepherds are father with the dog,
Wise men are grandpa in the yard.
There night is magic, starry bright
Snowy cold moonlight.
Fox call cracks the silence.

There crystal sharp light heralds
Day with rime rimmed twigs and trees.
Mystery walks and peace prevails.
There life is simple.

Remembrance clouds.
The hills disappear.
The bells have ceased.
The reeds whisper in the wind
A heron levers aloft
Into the setting sun.

Sheila Kaye-Smith’s depictions of the countryside.

At the centre of almost all of Sheila Kaye-Smith’s novels is an engagement with the rural and regional countryside of Sussex/Kent that is used for the setting of her work. The early novels – those written before the First World War – often focus on the landscape and the natural world to evoke the spirit of place at a particular moment in time for the reader. In “The Tramping Methodist” Kaye-Smith describes how on a particular evening there is no human disturbance of the peace as “Evening moths, fat and white, fluttered heavily in and out of the fennel and chervil, waving like fragile spooks in the light of the first stars”. The stillness was broken by “the sough of the wind through the grass and spurge”, while an “owl raised his note of sadness”, and “bats’ wings troubled the brooding air” (TM 278). She uses the same technique in “Starbrace” when her protagonist finds the environment less peaceful and, perhaps, rather more sinister and threatening. When hiding from the Revenue men he hears “the sob and sough of the wind” (S136) and “the splash of horse’s hoofs in the quag, and the wind moaning through the reeds” as “some creature plunged into a dyke, while at intervals a bird uttered a harsh, croaking note, like a cracked bell” (S 131). While in “Isle of Thorns” there is a more dramatic depiction of a moment in time as Kaye-Smith gives a mystical quality to the sun set. Her central characters watch as “The sun was dipping to the west” (IT 311) and “the thorn bushes glowed in a bath of crimson radiance, in which it was hard to say which was the most mysterious, they or their shadow.” (IT 311)
From the early 1920s Kaye-Smith moved away from what might be considered rather romantic views of the countryside. Instead she used her rural and regional settings to explore a number of social issues and to make socio-economic and socio-political observations. These included discussing and documenting the changing roles of women in rural society, the economic effects of the agricultural slump on the lives of the rural working classes and the gentry, the encroaching urbanisation of the countryside, and the loss of traditional country ways of life and skills. Not always critical of this brave new world, her contention throughout is that while change is inevitable, and sometimes for the best, each individual must work out their own destiny and freedom within society. By this time her religious beliefs and her love of the countryside inform her contention that human peace and contentment can only be attained by a spiritual and mystical contemplative communion with the natural world. What matters most to those characters, who are cast as admirable, is the contentment that comes from an acceptance of their lot in life, and her oft repeated central theme, of humanity’s place within the natural world. This is most aptly reflected in “Sussex Gorse” when Reuben Backfield’s resolves that when he dies he “‘shan’t be afraid to lie in it [the earth] at last'” (SG 462). He has devoted his life to the soil and his life long ambition has been to tame nature and make the land productive. His contentment is only to be found in his relationship with the land and the natural world. The same sentiment is also reflected in “Green Apple Harvest” when Bob Fuller’s asserts that in dying in May he was “going into the middle of all that’s alive” and he, therefore, “can’t never lose the month of May” (GAH 285). Bob Fuller finds his way to God and contentment through an idealised country scene. As the gleams of dawn “swept up the fields in a soaring light – the water courses gleamed, the windows of farmhouses burned, the wood seemed to change colour, and the subdued chatter of birds among the trees swelled into a song” (GAH 271).Through this experience Bob discovers that God is “love . . . and He’s beauty . . . He’s in the fields mäaking the flowers grow and the birds sing and the ponds have that lovely liddle white flower growing on ’em” (GAH 275).

In what was to be Kaye-Smith’s last novel – “The View From the Parsonage” – she uses the Isle of Ebony as her setting. Her central character, Parson Chamberlin, narrates the story of his parish from his early years as a new priest to the present time when the Second World War has just begun. In “The View From the Parsonage” Kaye-Smith continues to present the stable dependability of nature in a peacefulness undisturbed by human activity. Much as she had in her early novels she shows the spirit of place. The narrator observes that in June the fields of the landlocked Isle of Ebony were “rusted over as the sorrel reddened the darkening hay and the warm, motionless air thickened at dusk into crimson bars at the western edges of the sky” (VFP 74). While on a calm summer evening he is able to stand and drink in “the dew cooled-air . . . watching the strange alteration of light as the moon crept up . . . and shone into the dying fires” of the setting sun (VFP 75).
However, Kaye-Smith also continues with her contention that those who have a spiritual and mystical relationship with the natural world are the most contented. Parson Chamberlin recognises that Adam Cryall has an attachment to place. Cryall is defined by his umbilical connection to the land and in particular the landscape of Ebony. Cryall accepts “death as a part of Nature” (VFP 216). Like the changing of the seasons, it is “one of her [nature’s] processes for cleansing and remaking the world” (VFP 216). Like Sam Holman, “a good old man” whose “painless, peaceful end had been in true affinity with the fields where the wheat slumbered and with the trees that revealed their beauty in their leafless boughs” (VFP 56) Adam Cryall’s desire is to have his ashes spread “upon the dust of the stubbled wheat” (VFP 224).

For Kaye-Smith’s characters, in an ever changing world, stability comes from the dependable and predictable cycles of the seasons, the weather and the farming year. Their joy, solace, and optimism for the future, comes from their observation of nature combined with an implied recognition of their own place within the natural world. Stella Mount in “The End of the House of Alard” recognises hope for the future in the “starry beds of wood anemones” and “the first occasional violets” (EHA 332) of spring, while Fred Sinden in “Ploughman’s Progress” perceives that even in a much-changed world the things that meant most to him “were with him still – the earth and its changes, the fields and their fruit” (PP 343). Reuben Backfield, Bob Fuller, Adam Cryall and Fred Sinden were portrayed as men who worked the land, understood nature’s harshness as well as its beauty, had an affinity with the natural world, and who found their God in their communion with the soil.
In her final novel, however, published in 1956, Kaye-Smith conjures up an idyllic imagined countryside in which the seasons are characterised by a perpetual immutability. A summer day ends when the “motionless air thickened at dusk into crimson bars at the western edges of the sky” (VFP 74), the early autumn is a time when “the misty gold of the hedges had become clear splashes of yellow, red and brown” (VFP 99), and winter is “bringing cold winds from the marsh and fogs which lay around the isle like another sea” (VFP 102). The rural environment in this novel is no longer the harsh landscape of “Sussex Gorse”, nor is it the working countryside of “Ploughman’s Progress”. The narrator, Harry Chamberlin, is town-born like Kaye-Smith and the majority of her readership, and his perceptions of the countryside speak directly to the nostalgic dream of England as a green and pleasant land. Ebony and the surrounding area is “a world of green pastures and shallow waters and long dreaming days” (VFP 10). There is nothing the same as “sitting by the White Kemp Sewer through all the long, hot, drowsy afternoon, with the marsh sun-hazed behind me and the hawthorn brakes like ghosts beyond the buttercups” (VFP 267).

From Frank Turner’s Diary

When doing my first read of Frank Turner’s Diaries I came across these entries that referenced the Election of 1846 and they seemed quite pertinent; not least with the reference to Free Trade!

Election February 1846
Frank Turner (aged 8 years) records his impressions of the Election held in Chichester in February 1846. In among the diary entries that record the lessons he takes under the supervision of his mother, notes the weather for each day as well as making some reference to what is happening on his father’s farm, Frank makes some references to the Election.
On the 9th February 1846 he says that there was a hard frost in the morning and that after breakfast he went with one of the girls that worked in the house to “gather sweet greens” and then they went to the “Shop field to see some soldiers pass from Chichester to Bognor to be out of the way of the City Election which takes place tomorrow.”
The following day – the 10th February – it was again a frosty morning and after he had been for a walk and done some writing he “was then dressed to go with Father and Mother to Chichester. I went with Father to the Town Hall to see the manner of conducting an Election but the business was nearly completed. Lord H Gordon Lennox was elected MP for Chichester. I am not aware that I saw him. I saw Mr Falvey of the National Anti Corn Law League who was only nominated for the purpose of giving him an opportunity of speaking upon the subject of Free Trade. Five for Mr Falvey to One for Lord H G Lennox, a decisive victory for the League!

Another Sussex farm inventory dated 1911

In this inventory dated 1911 and for the transfer of Morley Farm Northiam to a new tenant; Frederick Comport, the section on Hops is rather less detailed and clearly this farm had a smaller acreage of Hops and was a smaller overall holding. However, much of detail of the hop gardens and the equipment used in the Oast is very much the same.

The various pieces of equipment etc associated either with growing or drying the Hops are listed all together under the title of Sundries. There are also some additional items that were not listed in the Inventory of 1814. Here, for example we have listed “Hop Dryers Beds” to be used by those who dried the hops and who would stay in the Oast throughout the hop picking season. The mention of “Oast Grates” and a “Coal Hearth” indicate that the Oast fire’s were still coal fired at this time. The other additional item is the listing of a “Hop presser” which would have been used to press the dried hops into the “pockets”. In 1814 is likely that the pressing of dried hops would have been a purely manual task.

In the Hop gardens a similar method of notation is used with the number of “hills”, type of “pole work” and number of poles per hill listed. Perhaps the most significant difference in the two inventories is the indication of a lack of change that has taken place in approx one hundred years in the growing and harvesting of Hops. The only indication of mechanisation is to be found in the mention of the Hop presser. As with the 1814 inventory the writer was meticulous in his recording of Hop garden names.

“Remains of pump and lead pipe. Labor to brick tank by Yard. 2 Circular Oast hairs. 23×13 Oast Hairs. 2 picks, 2 sifters, 2 scuppets (scubbets). Rake and 3 brooms. 12 Oast grates. Hop stage poles. 2 hop driers beds. Hop presser. Coal hearth. Hop pole dipping tank and brickwork. Gridnstone and winch. Labour to bullock crib in the yard. 140 16foot lee poles by Pear Tree”.

“Hops
Sherbourne Bridge Garden
8752 Hills. 2 pole work. Fuggles. Lee poles 1377.
Old Fishponds.
3026 Hills. 3 pole work. Fuggles. Lee poles 1075
Young Fishponds.
3096 hills. 3 pole work. Fuggles.
Striking up every alley.
Binding bines in all Gardens”.

Hop growing in Sussex in 1814

As my regular readers will have noticed I am somewhat fascinated by rural life and at the moment I am lucky to have access to some original documents that help to provide a picture of farming life in the early nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. My special interest in these documents is the information they provide about hop growing. Both documents are farm inventories that itemise, in detail, the buildings, crops, land etc that are to be part of a farm sale.

My concern in this article is the elements of the inventories that specifically mention the hop gardens and the items that are associated with hop growing and drying etc.

The nineteenth century inventory relates to the land owned by Mr John Stonham and was compiled in 1814. Stonham owned land in Udimore, Beckley, Winchelsea and East Guldeford in East Sussex.
He kept sheep, particularly on Winchelsea marshes and at East Guldeford (a small village on Romney Marsh), and he grew hops on his land at Udimore as well as annually growing a variety of cereal crops. Although he used horses for some of his cultivation he also used oxen and the inventory lists several yoke of oxen.

Hops are dried in an oast and grown, at least in Kent and Sussex, in hop gardens. In this inventory of 1814 the items listed in and around the oast can give us a clear picture of how the hops were dried and the equipment that was needed for the process.
The Oast House contents are listed in two different places in the inventory but there is no clear indication of why this should be so. Perhaps they are lists of items found on the two floors of the building. There is a clear indication that the fires used for drying the hops were mainly fuelled by coal however there is also some indication that charcoal might have also been used because of the inclusion of “a quantity of charcoal” in the lists. Among the items listed are 2 hop coal shovels, 1 large coal basket and 1 coal sieve, and 6 tons of welsh coal. Also related directly to the fires used for drying is the inclusion of 24 kiln grates. For weighing and moving the hops – probably after drying and pressing into ‘pockets’ (large sacks) the inventory lists 1 winch and a scale beam and a pair of scales. Those items that relate to the cultivation or picking of the hops include 2 hop pitchers – these were heavy iron stakes that were ‘pitched’ into the soil in the hop garden to make a hole for the placement of the poles for the hops to grow up. There are also 2 hop measuring baskets – used at hop picking time to measure the hops picked by each picker. These baskets were also known as bushel baskets because when full they contained one bushel of hops. Pickers were paid so much a bushel with the sum being set at the beginning of hop picking. The Oast also contained 1 pair of hop pole Tugs. These were used at hop picking time to pull the poles from the soil in the hop garden so that the hops could be picked. Also for use in the hop garden 6 hop dogs are listed. These were long handled cutting tools used during hop picking.
The hops would have been picked by hand into bins that had a wooden framework. 14 new deal (pine) hop bins and 14 old deal hop bins are listed. Within the drying kiln the drying floor would have been made of slatted wood and across this the dryers would have placed large net cloths made of horse hair. These are listed as oast hairs and the inventory states that there were 84 yards of old oast hairs and 93 yards of new oast hairs. When the hops were dried these ‘hairs’ could be lift out of the kiln and the hops would cool on the cooling floor of the oast. Hops were bagged when they were picked and the inventory lists 100 items of hop bagging. Once dried and cooled hops would be pressed into large bags called pockets. These would then be marked with the growers mark and the inventory itemises 1 pitch pot and mark. To kill insect infestations in the drying hops but more especially to give the dried hops a good colour brimstone (sulphur) would be used and the inventory lists a cask of brimstone. The cooling room of an oast (on the first floor) was also used for storage outside the drying season and in this case 35 quarters of oats and 6 bushels of barley were stored there. Other miscellaneous items in the oast included 3 wool cloths, 2 scuppets ( wooden and hessian covered large shovels used for moving the dried hops), 1 hop sieve, 1 shovel.
The inventory is detailed in its listing of the hop gardens. Each garden is named by its field name and the number of ‘hills’ (these are the plants that were planted on slightly raised ground and spaced an even distance apart) and pole numbers are given per ‘hill’. The five Hop gardens listed here represent a large holding of Hop cultivation.

“Lodge Hop garden 52.5 hundred of hills, 3 pole ground, 15,750 hop poles, and 24.5 hundred of hills, 4 pole ground 9,800 hops. Tows?? Hop garden 24 hundred of hills, 3 pole ground, 7,200 hops. The Wayfield Hop garden 42.5 hundred of hills, 3 pole ground, 12.75 of hops. Oakfield Hop garden 26 hundred hills, 3 pole ground, 7,800 of hop poles. Vinegar field Hop garden 36 hundred of hills, 4 pole ground, 14,400 hop poles. Littleway Field Hop garden 18 hundred of hills, 3 and 4 pole ground, 6000 of hop poles. In the hop pole stack 2000 of new 15 feet hop poles”.

Buried under a car park.

It all started really when the Aunt stated quite baldly that she had found Uncle Turner under a car park. She had been doing some research into the family and although many of the family were mildly interested they didn’t have the same driven enthusiasm that she had. Most of her suggestions were treated with mild amusement unless they were obviously true and this particular pronouncement was greeted with polite acknowledgement to her face and hilarity behind her back. None of them had ever heard of an “Uncle Turner” – it certainly wasn’t any of the family names they knew of and besides the car park in question was in Chichester. The family – as they all knew – had lived in Northiam for many years and those who had married into the family had come from nearby places, certainly not Chichester. There the mystery stayed for many years until a pair of diaries, dating to the 1840s and 1850s, were discovered among the Aunt’s effects. Beautifully hand written and clearly by F. Turner and telling of his or her daily life. The child in question had begun the diaries in 1845 and was aged 8 years old at that time. The diaries end in 1857 when F. Turner was 20 years old. They provide a unique and fascinating insight into the daily life of a Sussex yeoman farmer and his family in the mid 19th Century. On an initial reading of the diaries it was not obvious if this was the writing of a girl or a boy.
The connection between these diaries, the family and the Aunt’s statement about Uncle Turner only slowly and painstakingly came to light, and began to make some sense, when research into the family’s link with the Unitarian Church was undertaken. While looking through the documents available from the Sussex Record Office at The Keep, Brighton, online I noticed a list of the Trustees for The Northiam Unitarian Church. Among the Comports, and the names of others buried in the Chapel graveyard, was the name of a Mr Frank Turner of North Bersted, West Sussex, Farmer. The trustee list is dated 1897. The initial question was why was a man, who was living in West Sussex, a Trustee of a small Unitarian Chapel on the eastern boundary of East Sussex? There was no obvious answer. Further research located Frank Turner and his marriage, rather late in life perhaps – he was 44 years old – to Mary Comport of Northiam. The couple had married in the summer of 1881 in Brighton. How had the couple met? The clue is possibly to be found in the Census of 1871 when Mary is recorded as a visitor to the family of Henry Turner and his wife and children at a farm ( recorded as Cockhouse Farm) in the village of Lindfield, West Sussex. Mary is described as a Housekeeper but as a Visitor to the Turners. Is this where the couple originally met? It is likely that the Henry Turner in question was a relative of Frank Turner although Frank is recorded in the Census as being at Bersted in 1871.
Back to Uncle Turner under the car park. Frank was a Unitarian and the diaries indicate that he and his family worshipped at a Chapel in Chichester. Careful research revealed that Frank had died in 1913 and had been buried in the graveyard of Chichester Unitarian chapel. The said Chapel, built in 1721, is now Henry Adams Fine Art Auctioneers and known as Baffin’s Hall. It is located at the southern end of Baffin’s Lane and surrounded by a car park that covers the original burial ground. Uncle Turner is indeed buried under a car park!

Fairfield July 1940

The inspiration for this poem came from a number of things. Firstly I realised that early September 2019 marked the 80th anniversary of the start of the Second World War, secondly  the sound of a lone plane in the sky over Romney Marsh reminded me of the Battle of Britain and the fact that much of the action of that battle took place above the Marsh. Thirdly I remembered that my father was 17 years old at the time of the Battle of Britain and was working at Fairfield. Inspiration also came from a short section from Sheila Kaye-Smith’s novel Tambourine, Trumpet and Drum – the third section of the novel – where she records the encounter between German and British aircraft in the skies above her home in rural East Sussex. This poem tries to capture the fracture and disturbance that was brought to everyday rural life and to the natural world by the battle that raged overhead.

Fairfield July 1940

He stood rolled sleeved, khaki drills,
Dusty boots, blue eyed, shock of hair.
Crook in hand he strode the field,
Lookering.

Sewer reeds rustlingly whispered,
Sheep safely grazed.
Lone seagull gliding on the breeze,
Heron statuesquely still.
St Thomas’s lone and hunkered,
Amidst a timeless quiet calm.

Droning bees in a box
Shattered the silence,
Drawing his eyes to seaward.
Swarming raven specks
Stippled the crystal skyline.
Closer, cruciform, dark as night,
A phalanx of fear
Thundering, roaring above.

Dropping to the ground,
Crawling to the ditch edge,
He watched.

Out of the wide blue yonder
They came.
Swooping, diving, rolling,
Supreme elegance, spitting fire.
Dwarf against giant.
Dogfighting dances of death.

He watched awestruck.
Fearful but fascinated,
Engulfed by barraging blasts,
Screaming and shrieking.
He watched until it was over.