Part 4 out of 6
all apple growers; it is pitiful to see, after a roaring gale, the
ground strewn with beautiful fruit, bruised and broken, useless to
keep, and only suitable for carting away to the all-devouring
cider-mill, though, even for that purpose, the sweet Blenheim does not
produce nearly so good a drink as sourer accredited cider varieties.
Many of the gardening papers will name apples if sent by readers for
identification; I was told of an enquirer who sent twelve apples from
the same tree, and received eleven different names and one "unknown"!
Apples off the same tree do differ wonderfully, but I can scarcely
credit this story.
It was the custom formerly at Aldington to sell the fruit on the trees
by auction for the buyer to pick and market, growers as a rule being
too busy with corn-harvest to attend to the gathering. A considerable
sum was thereby often sacrificed, as the buyer allows an ample margin
for risks, and is not willing to give more than about half of what he
expects to receive ultimately. I discontinued the auction sales early
in my farming, preferring to take the risks myself, and having plenty
of labour available. It is instructive too to know how individual
trees are bearing, and the sorts which produce the best returns.
Except for the choicest fruit, I consider London the worst market, and
I could do better, as a rule, by sending my consignments to
Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, and Glasgow; the latter especially
for large coarse stuff. London is more critical, pays well for the
very best, but requires apples to be carefully graded, and the grades
separately packed; London is, moreover, naturally well supplied by the
At the auctions the competition was generally keen, there being much
rivalry between the buyers; and it was good for the sellers when
political parties were opposed to each other, for in those days
Evesham was inclined to be rather violent in such matters. I remember
a lively contest between Conservatives and Radicals, when my largest
orchard--about six acres--was sold to the champion of the former for
L210, and the Radical exclaimed, as the lot was knocked down, for
everybody to hear: "He offered me L10 before the sale to stand out,
now that L10 is in Mr. S.'s pocket!"
A few strong gales in the winter are supposed to benefit apple-trees,
acting as a kind of root pruning; but sometimes, when they are getting
old, they come down bodily with a crash, partly uprooted, though even
then they may be resuscitated for a time. We had a powerful set of
pulley tackle by which, when made fast to a neighbouring tree, they
could be restored to the perpendicular, after enlarging the hole left
by the roots, making the ground firm again round the tree, and placing
a strong sloping prop to take the weight on the weak side; good yields
would then often continue for some years.
When the pickers had gathered the crop, by an ancient custom all the
village children were allowed to invade the orchards for the purpose
of getting for themselves any apples overlooked. This practice is
called "scragging," but it is a custom that would perhaps be better
honoured in the breach than in the observance, for hob nails do not
agree with the tender bark of young trees. Like gleaning, or
"leasing," as it is called, it is nevertheless a pleasant old custom,
and seems to give the children huge delight.
Mistletoe did not find my apple-trees congenial, there was only one
piece on all my fruit land, and it was regarded as something of a
curiosity. But in other parts of the neighbourhood it flourished
abundantly, though I noticed that it was most frequent where the land
was poorer and the trees not so luxuriant. It was also to be seen on
tall black poplars, and I have a piece--planted purposely--on a
hawthorn in my garden here. It grows in parts of the Forest,
especially on the white-beams in Sloden, in curiously small detached
pieces like lichen. The white-beam was a favourite tree of the Romans
for the wood-work of agricultural implements, being tough and strong.
Mistletoe is quite easy to propagate by rubbing the glutinous berries
and their seeds on the under side of a small branch at the angle where
it joins a limb. There it will often flourish unless snapped up by a
wandering missel-thrush. It is very slow in growth, but, when it
attains a fair size, is strikingly pretty in winter when the tree is
otherwise bare, for its peculiar shade of faded green, with its white
and glistening berries, makes an unusual effect--quite different from
that of any other green thing. It is rare on the oak, and, possibly
for that reason, the Druids regarded the oak upon which it grew as
The transition from apples to cider is a natural one, and cider is a
great institution in Worcestershire. On all the larger farms, and in
every village, an ancient cider-mill can be found. It consists of a
circular block of masonry, perhaps ten feet in diameter, the outer
circumference of which is a continuous stone trough, about 18 inches
across, and 15 inches deep, called "the chase," in which a huge
grindstone, weighing about 15 cwt., revolves slowly, actuated by a
horse walking round the chase in an unending circle. The apples are
introduced in small quantities into the chase, and crushed into pulp
by the grindstone. The pulp is then removed and placed between hair
cloths, piled upon each other, until a stack is erected beneath a
powerful press, worked by a lever, on the principle of a capstan. As
the pressure increases, the liquor runs into a vessel below, from
whence it is carried in buckets, and poured into barrels in the
cellar. Fermentation begins almost immediately, by which the sugar is
converted in carbonic acid gas and alcohol; the gas escapes and the
spirit remains in the liquor.
Such is the simplest method of cider-making, and it produces a drink
thoroughly appreciated by the men, for we made annually 1,500 to 2,000
gallons, and there was very little left when next year's cider-making
began. Where cider is made for sale, much greater care is necessary;
only the soundest fruit is used, and the vinous fermentation is
allowed to begin in open vessels before the pulp is pressed. When the
extracted liquor is placed in the barrels every effort is made to
prevent the acetic fermentation, which produces vinegar, and spoils
the cider for discriminating palates. The stone mill has been
superseded to some extent by the steam "scratter"; but the cider is
not considered so good, as the kernels are left uncrushed, an
important omission, as they add largely to the flavour of the finished
product. After a hot dry summer, cider is unusually strong, because
the sugar in the apples is much more fully developed. It is recognized
that these hot summers produce what are known as vintage years for
cider, just as, on the Continent, they produce vintage wines.
Jarge, of whom I have written, was the presiding genius in the
cider-mill, and his duties began as soon as hop-picking was over. All
traces of the downward inclination of the corners of his mouth, caused
by the delinquencies of recalcitrant hoppers, quite disappeared as
soon as his new duties commenced, and it was a pleasure to see his
jovial face beaming over a job which seemed to have no drawbacks. A
really Bacchanalian presence is the only one that should be tolerated
in a cider-maker; the lean and hungry character is quite out of place
amidst the fragrance of the crushed apples, and the generous liquor
running from the press.
The cider-maker is always allowed a liberal quantity of last year's
produce, on the principle of "thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he
treadeth out the corn"--a principle that should always be recognized
in the labourer's hire, and one which is too often forgotten by the
public in its estimate of the necessities of the farmer himself. It is
usual for the man in possession, so to speak, of the cider-mill, to
mix, for his own consumption, some of the new unfermented liquor with
the old cider, which, after twelve months, is apt to be excessively
sour; but the quantity of the former must not be in too large a
proportion, as it has a powerful medicinal effect.
"Wouldst thou thy vats with generous juice should froth?
Respect thy orchats: think not that the trees
Spontaneous will produce a wholesome draught,
Let art correct thy breed."
So sang Philips in his _Cyder_ in the distant days of 1706, but the
advice is as sound as ever, for good cider can only be produced from
the right kinds of apples. The names of new sorts are legion, but some
of the old varieties are still considered to be very valuable. Among
these, the Foxwhelp has been a favourite for 200 years, and others in
great esteem are Skyrme's Kernal, Forest Styre, Hagloe Crab, Dymock
Red, Bromley, Cowarne Red, and Styre Wilding. It requires about twenty
"pots" (a local measure each weighing 64 pounds) to make a hogshead of
cider; a hogshead is roughly 100 gallons, and in Worcestershire is
hardly recognizable under the name of "oxsheard"--I have never seen
the word in print, but the local pronunciation is faithfully
represented by my spelling. Another local appellation which puzzled me
for some years was "crab varges," which I eventually discovered to
mean "verjuice," a terribly sour liquid, made in the same way as cider
from crab apples. It was considered a wonderfully stimulating specific
for sprains and strains, holding the same pre-eminent position as an
embrocation, as did "goose-grace" (goose-grease) as an ointment or
emollient. This substance is the melted fat of a goose, and was said
to be so powerful that, if applied to the back of the hand, it could
shortly be recognized on the palm!
The value of alcohol as a food is generally denied in these days by
sedentary people, but very few who have seen its judicious use in
agricultural work will be inclined to agree; it is possible that
though it may be a carbo-hydrate very quickly consumed in the body, it
acts as an aid to digestion, and produces more nourishment from a
given quantity of food, than would be assimilated in its absence. The
giving out of the men's allowances is, however, a troublesome matter
and demands a firm and masterful bailiff or foreman, for "much" is
inclined to want "more," and the line should, of course, be drawn far
short of excess. It was related of an old lady farmer in the
neighbourhood, who always distributed her men's cider with her own
hands, that in her anxiety to be on the safe side after a season when
the cider was unusually strong, she mixed a proportion of water with
the beverage, before the arrival of the recipients. One of the men,
however, having discovered the dilution, arrived after the first day
with two jars. Asked the reason for the second jar, he answered that
he should prefer to have his cider and the water _separate_.
My bailiff always said that sixpennyworth of cider would do more work
than a shilling in cash. He was undoubtedly correct, and, moreover,
the quantity worth sixpence in the farm cider store would cost a
shilling or more at the public-house, to supply an equivalent in
alcohol, and valuable time would be lost in fetching it. It is the
alcohol that commends it to the agricultural labourer more than any
consideration of thirst, and no one can see its effect without the
conviction that the men find it not only stimulating, but supporting.
A friend of mine, however, found so much satisfaction in a deep
draught of cider when he felt really "dry," that he said he would give
"a crown" any day for a "good thirst!"
Excess in drink was rare at Aldington, and it was very exceptional for
a man to be seen in what were called his "crooked stockings."
Fortunately, we had no public-house in the village, and if the men had
a moderate allowance during a hard day's work, there was not much
temptation to tramp a mile and back at night to the nearest licensed
premises in order to sit and swill in the tap-room. I had one man who
lived near a place of the sort, and he occasionally took what my
bailiff called, "Saints' days," and did not appear for work. I notice
that this sort of day is now called by the more suitable name of
Well-fermented cider contains from 5 to 10 gallons of alcohol, and
perry about 7 gallons, to every 100 gallons of the liquor, which
compares with claret 13 to 17, sherry 15 to 20, and port 24 to 26 per
cent, of alcohol. I found the truth of the proverb _in vino veritas_;
after a quite small allowance of cider on the farm the open-hearted
man would become lively, the reserved man taciturn, the crabbed man
argumentative; but the work went with a will and a spirit that were
not so noticeable when no "tots" were going round.
An old gentleman in the neighbourhood used to tell with much enjoyment
the following story of his younger days. "I found myself," he said,
"gradually increasing my allowance of whisky and water, as I sat alone
of an evening, and I said to myself: 'Now look here, H.W., you began
with one glass, very soon you got on to two, and now you're taking
three. I'll tell you what it is, H.W., you shan't have another drop of
whisky for a month';" "and," he added, "H.W. did it, too!"
Shortly before I came to Aldington the men were suddenly seized with
what seemed an unaccountable epidemic; their symptoms were all
similar, and a doctor soon diagnosed the complaint as lead-poisoning.
Nobody could suggest its origin until the cider was suspected, and, on
enquiry, it was elicited that the previous year the stones of the
cider-mill chase, which had become loosened by long use, were repaired
with melted lead poured in between the joints. The malic acid of the
apples had dissolved the lead, and it remained in solution in the
cider. To the disgust of the men, the doctor advised removing the
bungs from the barrels and letting the cider run off into the drains,
but nobody had the heart to comply, for there was the whole year's
stock, and it meant a wait of twelve months before it could be
replaced. After some months the men got impatient, and told the master
they were prepared to take the risk. They began with great caution,
and finding no bad result, they gradually increased the dose, still
without harm, until the normal allowance was safely reached. It is
probable that the barrel which caused the symptoms was the first made
after the repairs, and contained an extra quantity of the lead, and
although the remainder was more or less contaminated, the poison was
in such small amount as to be harmless.
There were many old apple-trees about the hedges and in odd corners,
which went by the name of "the roundabouts," and the fruit was
annually collected and brought to the cider-mill. Some of these were
immense trees, and not very desirable round arable land, owing to
their shade, but they were lovely when in bloom, for standing
separately, they seemed to develop richer colours than when close
together in an orchard.
The story of Shakespeare's carouse, and his night passed under a
crab-tree near Bidford, about six miles from Aldington, is well known.
It is stated, but not without contradiction, that he excused himself
by explaining that he had been drinking with:
Piping Pebworth, dancing Marston,
Haunted Hillborough, hungry Grafton,
Dudging Exhall, papist Wixford,
Beggarly Broom, and drunken Bidford.
A carousal at all these places would have been a heavy day's work, and
I have often thought that if the lines can really be attributed to
him, he might have meant that he had met people from all the villages
at one of the Whitsuntide merry-makings annually held in the
neighbourhood, and passed a jovial time in their company.
Perry is made in much the same way as cider, and when due care has
been taken in its manufacture, it is a most delicious and wholesome
drink. When bottled and kept to mature it pours out with a beautiful
creaming head, and is far superior to ordinary champagne. Both cider
and perry should be drunk out of a china or earthenware mug, whence
they taste much richer than from glass; but my men always used in the
field a small horn cup or "tot," holding about quarter of a pint. I
have a very interesting old cider cup, of Fulham or Lambeth
earthenware I think, holding about a quart, with three handles, each
of which is a greyhound with body bent to form the loop for the hand.
It was intended for the use of three persons sitting together at a
small three-cornered oak table, specimens of which are still, though
rarely, met with at furniture sales in farm-houses or cottages; the
cup was placed in the middle, and each person could take a pull by
using his particular handle with the adjacent place for his lips,
without passing the cup round or using the same drinking space as
There are numerous kinds of perry pears, but certain sorts have a
great reputation, such as Moorcroft, Barland, Malvern Hills, Longdon,
Red Horse, Mother Huff Cap, and Chate Boy (cheat boy), a particularly
astringent pear; these are all small, and require quickly grinding
when gathered. In the New Forest there is a perry pear similar to the
Chate Boy, called Choke Dog, which in its natural state, is quite as
rough on the palate as the former, but it differs in colour and is not
the same sort. I had a splendid specimen of the Chate Boy pear-tree at
an outlying set of buildings, said to be the father of all the trees
of that kind in the neighbourhood, and it was a landmark for miles, as
it stood on high ground. It was fitted with a ladder reaching to the
middle of the tree, where seats were arranged on a platform for eight
or nine people; but it was unfortunately blown down on the night of
the great gale of October 14, 1877, when twelve other trees on the
farm were likewise overthrown.
Cider and perry drinkers were said to be more or less immune from many
human ailments, including rheumatic affections, though one would
expect the acetic acid they contain, unless very carefully made, would
have an opposite effect. Certainly my men suffered neither from gout
nor rheumatism, and there was a tradition that in 1832, when the
cholera was rife in the country, the plague was stayed as soon as the
cider districts were approached.
These noble old pear-trees are a great feature of the Vale of Evesham,
especially in the more calcareous parts where the lias limestone is
not far from the surface; they are exquisite in spring in clouds of
pure white blossoms long before the apples are in bloom; in the autumn
the foliage presents every tint of crimson, green and gold all softly
subdued, and in winter, when the framework of the tree can be seen, it
is noticeable how far the massive limbs extend, carrying their girth
almost to the summit, in a way that not even the oak can excel. The
timber is short in the grain, and wears smooth in the long wood
ploughs, and is very suitable for carving quite small and elaborate
patterns for such articles as picture frames; but it is somewhat
liable to the attack of the woodworm.
"A right down hearty one he be as'll make some of our maids look
And the worst time of year for such work too, when the May-Dukes
and the Hearts a-colouring!"
--Crusty John in _Alice Lorraine_.
The Vale of Evesham has the credit of being the birthplace of two most
valuable plums--the Damascene, and the Pershore, or Egg plum. These
both grow on their own stocks, so require no grafting, and can readily
be propagated by severing the suckers which spring up around them from
the roots of the tree. The Damascene, as its name implies, is a
species of Damson, but coarser than the real Damson or the Prune
Damson. They are not so popular on the London market as in the markets
of the north, especially in Manchester, where they command prices
little inferior to the better sorts, as they yield a brilliant red dye
suitable for dying printed cotton goods. When really ripe they are
excellent for cooking, and are not to be despised, even raw, on a
thirsty autumn day. In years of scarcity these have fetched 30s. and
over per "pot" of 72 pounds.
The Pershore is a very different plum, green when unripe, and
attaining a golden colour later; they are immense bearers and very
hardy, frequently saving the situation for the plum-growers when all
other kinds are destroyed by spring frosts. They are specially
valuable for bottling, and it is rumoured that in the hands of skilful
manufacturers they become "apricots" under certain conditions. As
"cookers," too, they are perhaps the most useful of plums, for they
can be used in a very green and hard state. It is a wonderful sight to
see them being despatched by tram at the Evesham stations, loaded
sometimes loose like coals in the trucks for the big preserving firms
in the north. The trees grow very irregularly and are difficult to
keep in shape by pruning, as they send forth suckers from all parts
when an attempt is made to keep them symmetrical. The only purpose for
which the fruit is of little use is for eating raw, they are not
unpleasant when just ripe, but that stage is soon passed and they
become woody and unpalatable.
I planted a thousand of these trees in a new orchard, and took great
pains with the pruning myself, for it was curious that in that land of
fruit at the time no professional pruner could be found. I sought the
advice of a market-gardener and plum-grower, who, in the early stage
of their growth, gave me an object-lesson, cutting back the young
shoots rather hard to induce them to throw out more at the point of
incision, so as to produce eventually a fuller head; while he
reiterated the instruction, "It is no use being afraid of 'em."
This young orchard adjoined the Great Western Railway, and one day
when pruning there I saw a remarkable sight, and I have never found
any one with a similar experience. The telegraph wires were magnified
into stout ropes by a coating of white rime, and I could see a
distinct series of waves approximating to the dots and dashes of the
Morse code running along them. The movement would run for a time up
towards London, cease for a moment, and then run downwards towards
Evesham, and so on almost continuously. I thought it might be caused
by the passage of electricity, but I cannot get a satisfactory
explanation. No trains were passing, there was no wind, the rime was
not thawing or falling off, and apparently there was nothing to
agitate either poles or wires.
This orchard was not a lucky one; it was too low, having only one flat
meadow between it and the brook, and therefore very liable to spring
frosts. I have seen the trees well past the blossoming stage, with
young plums as large as peas, which after two nights' sharp frost
turned black and fell off to such an extent that there was scarcely a
plum left; but I had a few very good crops which gave employment to a
number of additional hands besides my regular people.
A season came when the plum-trees in my new orchard were badly
attacked by the caterpillars of the winter-moth, but the cuckoos soon
found them out, and I could see half a dozen at once enjoying a
bountiful feast. When better plums are abundant the Pershore falls to
very low prices; I have sold quantities at 1s. or 1s. 3d. per pot of
72 pounds, at which of course there was a loss; but it is needless to
say that at such times the consumer never gets the benefit, 2d. a
pound being about the lowest figure at which they are ever seen on
offer in the shops.
The Victoria is a very superior plum to the Pershore, and a local plum
called Jimmy Moore is also a favourite. I believe this plum is very
similar to, if not identical with, one sold as Emperor; both it and
the Victoria nearly always made good prices and bore well. The
Victoria, especially, was so prolific that in some seasons, if not
carefully propped, every branch would be broken off by, the weight of
fruit, and the tree left a wreck. Not discouraged, however, it would
shoot out again and in a few years bear as well as ever.
My best plum was the greengage, rather a shy bearer but always in
demand. Living in a land of Goshen, like the Vale of Evesham, one gets
quite hypercritical (or "picksome," as the local expression is), and
scarcely cares to taste a fruit from a tree in passing; but I used to
visit my greengages at times when the pickers had done with them, for
they have to be gathered somewhat unripe to ensure travelling
undamaged. I often found, on the south side of the tree, a few that
had been overlooked which were fully ripe, beautifully mottled, full
of sunshine, and perfect in melting texture and ambrosial flavour.
For restocking old worn-out apple orchards, in Worcestershire at any
rate, there is nothing to equal plum-trees; they flourished amazingly
at Aldington, and soon made up for the lost apples; they appeared to
follow the principle that dictates the rotation of ordinary crops,
just as the leguminous plants alternate satisfactorily with the
graminaceous, or, as I have read that in Norway, where a fir forest
has been cut, birch will spring up automatically and take its place.
My predecessor always sold his plums on the trees for the buyer to
harvest, and I heard that when the former turned a flock of Dorset
ewes into one of these orchards, the buyer complained--the lower
branches being heavily laden, and within a few feet of the
ground--that he had watched, "Them old yows holding down bunches of
plums with their harns for t'others to eat." This I imagine was in the
nature of hyperbole, and not intended to be taken literally.
I had about forty cherry trees in one of my orchards, and among them a
very early kind of black cherry, as well as Black Bigarreaus, White
Heart and Elton Heart. The early ones made particularly good prices,
but when the French cherries began to be imported, being on the market
a week or two before ours they "took the keen edge off the demand,"
though wretched-looking things in comparison. The cherries from my
forty trees made L80 one year when the crop was good, but they are
expensive to pick as there is much shifting of heavy ladders, and the
work was done by men. In Kent, I believe, women are employed at
cherry-picking, ascending forty-round ladders in a gale of wind
without a sign of nervousness, but with a man in attendance to pack
the fruit and shift the ladders when required. I found Liverpool the
best market for cherries, where they were bought by the large
steamship companies for the Transatlantic liners, and where they were
in demand for the seaside and holiday places in North Wales and
Lancashire. Like the pear-trees, the cherry-trees are very beautiful
in spring, and again in autumn, and as mine could be seen from the
house and garden, they added a great charm to the place.
I must put in a word here for the bullfinch, which is unreasonably
persecuted for its supposed destruction of the cherry crop when in
bloom; it undoubtedly picks many blossoms to pieces, but probably no
ultimate loss of weight follows; very few comparatively of the blooms
ever become fruits in any case, and even if some are thus nipped in
the bud, it is probable that the remainder mature into larger and
finer cherries in consequence. The advantage of thinning is recognized
in the case of all our fruits, and is indeed, the reason for pruning.
The vine-grower knows well the truth of the saying that, "You should
get your enemy to thin your grapes," and I would sacrifice many
cherries for a few of these beautiful birds in my garden, for man does
not live by bread alone.
One of the old couplets, of which our forefathers were so fond, runs:
"A cherry year is a merry year,
And a plum year is a dumb year."
I have seen the explanation suggested that cherries being particularly
wholesome contributed to the happiness of mankind, but that the less
salubrious plum tended to depression of health and spirits. There is,
however, a small black cherry still grown in this and other parts of
Hampshire and Surrey called the "Merry," from the French _merise_, and
it was natural that when cherries were abundant the merry would also
be plentiful. The word "dumb" is an archaic synonym for "damson," and
the same rule would apply between it and the plum, as with the cherry
and the merry. My own small place here, in the New Forest, has been
known for centuries as "the Merry Gardens," and no doubt they were
once grown here, as at other places in the south of England, called
Merry Hills, Merry Fields, and Merry Orchards. Even now as I write, on
May Day, the buds on the wild cherries in my hedges are showing the
white bloom just ready to appear, and in a few days, these trees will
be spangled with their little bright stars. I imagine that they are no
very distant relation of the old merry-trees that once flourished
"O flourish, hidden deep in fern,
Old oak, I love thee well;
A thousand thanks for what I learn
And what remains to tell."
--_The Talking Oak_.
Keats tells us that
That whisper round a temple become soon
Dear as the temple's self,"
and had he included the trees around a dwelling-house, the epigram
would have been equally applicable. Sometimes, of course, it becomes
absolutely necessary to cut down an ancient tree that from its
proximity to one's home has become a part of the home itself, but it
is a matter for the gravest consideration, for one cannot foresee the
result, and to a person who has lived long with a noble tree as a near
neighbour, the place never again seems the same.
The Elm is said to be the Worcestershire weed, as the oak is in
Herefordshire; the former attains a great size, but it is not very
deeply rooted, and a heavy gale will sometimes cause many unwelcome
gaps in a stately avenue. Big branches, too, have a way of falling
without the least notice, and on the whole it is safer not to have
elms near houses or cottages. One of the finest avenues of elms I
know, is to be seen at the Palace of the Bishop of Winchester at
Farnham in Surrey, but the land is quite exceptionally good, and in
the palmy days of hop-growing, the adjoining fields commanded a rent
of L20 an acre for what is known as the "Heart land of Farnham," where
hops of the most superlative quality were grown. When the dappled deer
are grouped under this noble avenue, in the light and shade beneath
the elms, they form an old English picture of country life not to be
The elm is a sure sign of rich land, it is never seen on thin poor
soils. An intending purchaser, or tenant, of a farm should always
regard its presence as a certain indication of a likely venture. It is
a terrible robber, and therefore a nuisance round arable land, causing
a spreading shade, under which the corn will be found thin,
"scrawley," and "broken-kneed," with poor, shrivelled ears; and the
alternating green crops will also suffer in their way. In an orchard
it is still worse; I had several at one time surrounded by Blenheim
apples, which were always small, scanty, and colourless. Eventually, I
cut the elms down, the biggest, carrying perhaps 100 cubic feet of
timber at 9d. a foot at the time, was only worth 75s., though it must
have destroyed scores of pounds worth of fruit during its many years
of growth. The elm seems particularly liable to be struck by
lightning, possibly owing to its height, and several suffered in this
way during my time at Aldington.
From the scarcity of oak in the Vale of Evesham elm was often used for
making the coffers or chests we generally see made from the former
wood. I have one of these, nicely carved with the scrolls and bold
devices of the Jacobean period, and it is so dark in colour as to pass
at first sight for old oak. The timber is not much used in building,
except for rough farm sheds; as boards it is liable to twist and
become what is called "cross-winding." The land in the New Forest is
mostly too poor for the elm, and this should warn the theorists, who
during the war have advocated reclaiming the open heaths and moors for
agricultural purposes, against such an ignorant proposition. I suppose
it would cost at least L100 an acre to clear, drain, fence, level,
make roads, and erect the necessary farm buildings, houses and
cottages, with the result that it would command less than L1 per acre
as annual rent; and I should be sorry to be compelled to farm it at
Oaks are somewhat scarce in Worcestershire, and are rarely found in
the Vale of Evesham. I had one remarkably fine specimen in a meadow on
Claybrook, the farm I owned, adjoining the Aldington land. It covered
an area measuring 22 yards by 22 yards = 484 square yards, the tenth
part of an acre. The trunk measured 12 feet in circumference, about 7
feet from the ground. The rule for estimating the age of growing
oak-trees is to calculate 15 years to each inch of radius = 540 years
to a yard, therefore a tree 6 feet in diameter, and about 20 feet
round, including bark and knots, would be just that age. According to
this rule my tree would be not less than 330 years old, which of
course is young for an oak.
The life of this oak was saved in a peculiar way by "a pint of drink,"
and the story was told me by the agent of an old lady, the previous
owner. It had been decided to fell the tree, and two professional
sawyers, who were also "tree-fallers" (fellers), arrived one morning
for the purpose with their axes and cross-cut saw. They surveyed the
prospect and agreeing that it presented a tough job, an adjournment
was arranged to the neighbouring "Royal Oak" for a pint of drink
before commencing operations. Coming back, half an hour later, they
had just stripped and rolled up their shirt sleeves, when the agent
appeared on the road not far off. "Hullo," he shouted, "have you made
a start?" "Just about to begin," replied the head man. "Well then,
don't," said the agent, "the old lady died last night, and I must wait
till the new owners have considered the matter." So the tree was
saved, and curiously enough by its namesake the "Royal Oak." The new
owner spared it, and later when it became my property I did likewise,
for I should have considered it sacrilege to destroy the finest oak in
the neighbourhood. Some years after I had sold the farm I heard that
the tree was blown down in a gale, its enormous head and widespread
branches must have offered immense resistance to the wind, and the
fall of it must have been great.
The most celebrated, if not the biggest oak in the New Forest is the
Knightwood oak, not far from Lyndhurst; it is 17 feet in
circumference, which would make it not less than 450 years old by the
above rule. It is strange to think that it may have been an acorn in
the year 1469, in the reign of Henry VI., and that 200 years later it
could easily have peeped over the heads of its neighbours in 1669, to
see Charles II., who probably went riding along the main Christchurch
road from Lyndhurst with a team of courtiers and court beauties, in
all the pomp of royalty. We know that in that year with reference to
the waste of timber in the Forest during his father's reign he was
especially interested in the planting of young oaks, and enclosed a
nursery of 300 acres for their growth. It is also recorded that he did
not forget the maids of honour of his court, upon whom he bestowed the
young woods of Brockenhurst.
"Oak before ash--only a splash,
Ash before oak--a regular soak,"
is a very ancient proverb referring to the relative times of the
leaves of these trees appearing in the spring, and is supposed to be
prophetic of the weather during the ensuing summer. I have, however,
noticed for many years that the oak is invariably first, so that like
some other prognostications, it seems to be unreliable.
The attitudes of oak trees are a very interesting study. There is the
oak which, bending forwards and stretching out a kindly hand, appears
to offer a hearty welcome; the oak that starts backward in
astonishment at any familiarity advanced by a passing stranger. The
oak that assumes an attitude of pride and self-importance; the oak
that approaches a superior neighbour with an air of humility and
abasement, listening subserviently to his commands. The shrinking oak
in dread of an enemy, and the oak prepared to offer a stout
resistance. The hopeful oak in the prime of life, and the oak that
totters in desolate and crabbed old age. The oak that enjoys in middle
age the good things of life, with well-fed and rounded symmetry; and
the oak that suggests decrepitude, with rough exterior, and a
life-experience of hardship; the sturdy oak, the ambitious oak, the
self-contained oak, and so on, through every phase of character. No
other tree is so human or so expressive, and no other tree bespeaks
such fortitude and endurance. To say that a well-grown oak typifies
the reserve and strength of the true-born Briton, is perhaps to sum up
its individuality in a word.
There is one old fellow who throws back his head and roars with
laughter when I go by; what can be the joke? I must stop some day and
look to see if the sides of his rather tight jacket of Lincoln green
moss are really splitting, and perhaps, if I can catch the pitch of
his voice, I shall hear him whisper:
"A fool, a fool! I met a fool i' the forest."
I like to think that these old personalities are transmigrations, and
that each is now at leisure to correct some special mistake in a
previous existence. Perhaps, out there in the moonlight, they tell
their stories to each other, and to the owls I hear at midnight
performing an appropriately weird overture.
These talking oaks can only be found where they have grown from acorns
naturally, and where they have survived the struggle of life against
their enemies, including the interference of man, the attacks of
grazing animals, the blasts of winter and the heavy burden of its
snows. The natural woods, as distinct from the plantations of the New
Forest, offer many examples of these varying trees and the lessons
they convey. Such a piece of old natural forest almost surrounds my
present home, and every time I pass through it I bless the memory of
William the Conqueror. Randolph Caldecott, that prince of illustrators
of rural life, evidently noticed the characteristic attitudes of
trees; look at the sympathetic dejection displayed by the two old
pollard willows in his sketch of the maiden all forlorn, in _The House
that Jack Built_. The maiden has her handkerchief to her eyes, and in
a few masterly strokes one of the trees is depicted with a falling
tear, and the other bent double is hobbling along with a crutch
supporting its withered and tottering frame.
Far otherwise is it with the plantations where the oaks are
artificially cultivated for timber. These are planted close together
on purpose to draw each other upwards in the struggle for air and
sunlight, which prevents their branching so near the ground as the
natural trees, the object being to produce an extended length of
straight trunk that will eventually afford a long and regular cut of
timber, free from the knots caused by the branches. All round the
plantations Scots-firs are planted as "nurses," to keep off the rough
winds and prevent breakage; these also help to lengthen the trunks by
inducing upward development. As the trees get nearer together they are
repeatedly thinned out, and, eventually, only those left which are
intended to come to maturity. Under this artificial, though necessary
system, the trees lose all individuality, and they never regain it
because they are all more or less controlled when growing, and so
become uninteresting copies of each other.
The motto of the natural oak is _festina lente_, mindful of the
proverb, "early maturity means early decay." It is well known that
oak, slowly and naturally grown on poor soil, is far more durable than
that which is run up artificially or produced on rich land. The
branches of oaks rarely cross or damage each other by friction, like
those of the beech, they are obstinate and will sooner break in a
gale, than give way. Where an oak and a beech grow side by side, close
together, the oak suffers more than the beech, from the dense shade of
the latter; and if they are so near as to touch and rub together in
the wind, the oak will throw out a plaster or protection of bark, to
act as a styptic to the wound in the first place, and eventually as a
solid barrier against further aggression.
Paintings of landscape in which trees occur are rarely satisfactory;
if you look at children playing beneath timber trees, or passers-by,
the first thing that strikes you is the majesty and the height of the
tree, as compared with the human figure. In paintings this is not as a
rule expressed; the trees are too insignificant, and the figures too
important, so that the range and wealth of tree-life is lost.
Gainsborough's _Market Cart_ is a notable exception, but the cart is a
clumsy affair, and the shafts are much too low both on it and the
horse. Constable's _Valley Farm_, _The Haywain_, _The Cornfield_, and
_Dedham Mill_ are all striking examples of his sense of tree
proportion, lending no little to the nobility of his pictures, and
speaking eloquently of the reverence man should feel in the presence
of Nature, untainted by his own fancied importance.
What is known as "heart of oak" in Worcestershire is called
"spine-oak" in the New Forest, and the latter is perhaps the better
name of the two as expressive of greater durability. The outer part of
the trunk is called "the sap," and whilst the heart or spine is almost
indestructible, the sap-wood quickly decays, and is rejected in using
the timber for any important purpose. Pieces of the sap adhering to
the heart-wood of which the old oak coffers were made, may often be
found riddled with worm holes and almost gone to dust, while the
remainder of the chest is as sound as the day it was made two or three
hundred years ago.
It is interesting, too, to notice marks of charring on the edge of the
lids of these coffers; it is said that they were caused by placing the
rushlight in that position, the flame just overhanging the edge, to
give time to jump into bed by its light leaving it to be automatically
extinguished on reaching the wood; and that the charring occurred when
sometimes the flame continued to burn a little longer than expected.
Oak is usually felled in the spring when the sap is rising, to allow
of the easier removal of the bark for tanning. It is a pretty sight to
see, amidst the greenery of the standing trees, the stripped and
gleaming trunks and larger limbs stretched upon the ground, with the
neatly piled stacks of bark arranged for the air to draw through and
dry them before removal. This is called "rining" in the New Forest,
and good wages are earned at it by the men employed.
It is perhaps the only timber, with the exception of sweet chestnut,
that is worthy to be used for the roofs of ecclesiastical buildings.
At Badsey, when we removed the roof of the church prior to
restoration, we found the oak timbers on the north side as sound as
when placed there many years further back than living memory could
recall, and of which no record or tradition existed. These timbers
were all used again in the new roof, but those from the south side had
to be discarded, having been much more exposed to driving rain and
daily changes of temperature.
I had a number of oak field-gates made, but as the timber was barely
seasoned, we were afraid shrinkage might take place in the mortises
and tenons, and it was an agreeable surprise to find in a year or two
that nothing of the kind had happened. The mortise hole had apparently
got smaller, and still fitted the shrunken tenon to perfection. Oak
gates will last, if kept occasionally painted, sixty or seventy years
in farm use, and there were gates on my land fully that age and still
The acorns from oaks in pastures are a trouble, as cattle are very
fond of them and sometimes gorge themselves to such an extent as to
prove fatal, if allowed unrestricted access to them when really
hungry; but in the New Forest they are welcomed by the commoners
(occupiers of private lands), some of whom possess the right of
"pannage" (turning out pigs on the Crown property).
In old days the oak timbers of which our battleships were constructed
were supplied from the New Forest; and the saw-pit in which the
timbers of the _Victory_ were sawn by hand is still to be seen in
Burley New Plantation. But Government methods appear to have been
generally conducted in later times somewhat on the independent lines
which distinguished them in the Great War. Some years ago it was said
that a department requiring oak timber advertised for tenders in a
newspaper, in which also appeared an advertisement of another
department offering oak for sale. A dealer who obtained an option to
purchase from the latter, submitted a tender to the former, succeeded
in obtaining the business, and cleared a large profit.
The oak has figured repeatedly in English history and occupies a
unique place in our national tradition, commencing with its Druidical
worship as a sacred tree. It was from an oak that the arrow of Walter
Tyrrel which struck down William Rufus is said to have glanced, and
Magna Charta was signed beneath an oak by the unwilling hand of King
John. It is associated in all ages with preachings, political
meetings, and with parish and county boundaries. These boundary oaks
were called Gospel-trees, it is said, because the gospel for the day
was read beneath them by the parochial priest during the annual
perambulation of the parish boundaries by the leading inhabitants in
Rogation week. Herrick alludes to the practice in the lines addressed
to Anthea in _Hesperides_:
"Dearest, bury me
Under that Holy-oke or Gospel-tree,
Where (though thou see'st not) thou may'st think upon
Me, when thou yeerly go'st Procession."
But perhaps the oak that appeals most to the lively imagination
venerating old tales of merry England, and with whose story generous
hearts are most in sympathy, is that
"Wherein the younger Charles abode
Till all the paths were dim,
And far below the Roundhead rode,
And hummed a surly hymn."
The beech is not a common tree in the Vale of Evesham, preferring the
dryer soils of the Cotswold Hills. It is said to have been introduced
by the Romans, and is familiar as the tree mentioned by Virgil in the
opening line of his first Pastoral:
"_Tityre tu patulae recubans sub tegmine fagi_;"
the metre, and the words of which, apart from their signification,
suggest so accurately the pattering of the leaves of the tree in a
gentle breeze. This device like alliteration is a method of
intensifying the expression of a passage, and is frequently adopted by
In another famous onomatopoeic line--
"_Quadrupedante putrem sonitu quatit ungula campum_"
--Virgil imitates the sound of a galloping horse, and the shaking of
the ground beneath its hoofs.
Tennyson renders very naturally the action of the northern farmer's
nag and the sound of its movement, by--
"Proputty, proputty sticks an' proputty, proputty graws."
And an excellent example of the effect of well-chosen words, to
express the sound produced by the subject referred to, occurs in the
"The many-knotted waterflags,
That whistled stiff and dry about the marge."
Blackmore's passage in _Lorna Doone_, describing the superlative ease
and speed of Tom Faggus's mare, when John Ridd as a boy was allowed to
ride her--after a rough experience at the beginning of the
venture--is, though printed as prose, perhaps better poetry than most
similar efforts. To emphasize its full force it may be allowable to
divide the phrases as follows:
"I never had dreamed of such delicate motion,
Fluent, and graceful, and ambient,
Soft as the breeze flitting over the flowers,
But swift as the summer lightning.
I sat up again, but my strength was all spent,
And no time left to recover it,
And though she rose at our gate like a bird,
I tumbled off into the mixen."
The last line is a delightful bathos, adding immensely to the
completeness of the catastrophe.
In spring the beech is the most beautiful of forest trees, putting
forth individual horizontal sprays of tender green from the lower
branches about the end of April as heralds of the later full glory of
the tree. These increase day by day upwards in verdant clouds, until
the whole unites into a complete bower of dense greenery. The beech is
known as the "groaning tree," because the branches often cross each
other, and where the tree is exposed to the wind sometimes groan as
they rub together. The rubbing often causes a wound where one of the
branches will eventually break off, or occasionally automatic grafting
takes place, and they unite. In the Verderer's Hall at Lyndhurst
specimens are to be seen which have crossed and joined a second time,
so that a complete hollow oval, or irregular circle of the wood could
be cut out of the branch.
Estates where extensive beech woods existed have been bought by
speculative timber dealers, who shortly installed a gang of wood
cutters and a steam saw, on which the timber was sawn into suitable
pieces, to be afterwards turned on a lathe into chair legs and other
domestic furniture, and very often finally dyed to represent mahogany.
There are beeches in the New Forest which vie with the oak for premier
place, measuring over 20 feet in circumference, and the mast together
with the acorns affords abundant harvest, or "ovest," as it is called,
for the commoners' pigs.
There was a curious saying in use by persons on the road to Pershore,
when asked their destination. In a good plum year the reply was,
"Pershore, where d'ye think?" And in a year of scarcity, "Pershore,
God help us!" The same expressions were formerly current regarding
Burley in the New Forest referring to the abundance or scarcity of
beech-mast and acorns, called collectively "akermast."
When the nation had presented the Duke of Wellington, after the Battle
of Waterloo, with Strathfieldsaye, an estate between Basingstoke and
Reading, the Duke wishing to commemorate the event planted a number of
beech trees as a lasting memorial, which were known as "the Waterloo
beeches." Some years later, the eminent arboricultural author, John
Loudon, writing on the subject of the relative ages and sizes of
trees, wrote to the Duke for permission to view his Waterloo beeches.
The Duke had never heard of Loudon, and his writing being somewhat
illegible he deciphered the signature "J. Loudon" as "J. London" (the
Bishop of London), and the word "beeches" as "breeches." "For what on
earth can the Bishop want to see the breeches I wore at Waterloo?"
said the Duke; but taking a charitable view of the matter he decided
that the poor old Bishop must be getting irresponsible and replied
that he was giving his valet instructions to show the Bishop the
garments in question, whenever it suited him to inspect them. The
Bishop was equally amazed, but took exactly the same view about the
Duke as the latter had decided upon concerning the Bishop. No doubt
the mystery was eventually cleared up, and Bishop and Duke must have
both enjoyed the joke.
The shade of the beech is so dense that grass will not grow beneath
it; it gradually kills even holly, which is comparatively flourishing
under the oak. The beech woods in the Forest are thus quite free from
undergrowth, and the noble trees with their smooth ash-coloured stems
can be seen in perfection, giving a cathedral aisle effect, which is
erroneously said to have suggested the massive columns and groined
roofs of Gothic architecture.
"Where thro' the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault,
The pealing anthem swells the note of praise."
There is, too, an unearthly effect at times to be seen beneath them,
so exaggerated as to remind one of the stage setting of a pastoral
play, with all the enhancing artificial contrivance of light and
shade. It is to be seen only on a brilliantly sunny day, where the
contour of the space around the stem and below the branches takes the
form of an arched cavern, flooded by a single shaft of sunlight,
piercing the foliage at one particular spot, lighting up the floor
carpeted with last year's red-brown leaves, and emphasizing the gloom
of the walls and roof. Imagination instantly supplies the players, for
a more perfect setting for Rosalind and Celia, Orlando and the
melancholy Jaques, it would be impossible to conceive. It is said that
the ancient Greeks could see with their ears and hear with their eyes,
a privilege doubtless granted to the nature lover in all ages. In the
Forest some of the most ancient and remarkable trees have borne for
generations descriptive names such as the King and Queen oaks at
Boldrewood, and the Eagle oak in Knightwood. The communion between
human and tree life is well illustrated by a passage from Thoreau's
_Walden_: "I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest
snow to keep an appointment with a beech tree, or a yellow birch, or
an old acquaintance among the pines."
At Aldington a most valuable tree was the willow, or "withy," as it is
called in Worcestershire, though in Hampshire the latter name is given
to the Goat willow, or sallow ("sally," in Worcestershire), bearing
the pretty blossoms known as palms, which in former times were worn by
men and boys in country places on Palm Sunday. My brooks were bordered
on both sides by pollard withies, the whole being divided into seven
parts or annual cuts, so that, as they are lopped every seven years a
cut came in for lopping each year. They were then well furnished with
long and heavy poles, which were severed close to the head of the
pollard with a sharp axe. When on the ground, the brushwood was cut
off and tied into "kids" (faggots) for fire-lighting, the poles being
made into hurdles or sold to the crate-makers in the potteries for
crates in which to pack earthenware goods of all descriptions. The men
employed at the lopping had to stand on the heads of the pollards, and
it was sometimes quite an acrobatic feat to maintain their balance on
a small swaying tree, or on one which overhung the water.
There was a local saying that "the withy tree would buy the horse,
while the oak would only buy the halter," and I believe it to be
perfectly true; for the uses of the withy are innumerable, and
throughout its seven years' growth from one lopping to another there
is always something useful to be had from it, with its final harvest
of full-grown poles. One year after lopping the superfluous shoots are
cut out and used or sold for "bonds" for tying up "kids" or the mouths
of corn sacks. As the shoots grow stronger more can be taken--with
ultimate benefit to the development of the full-grown poles--for use
as rick pegs and "buckles" in thatching. The buckles are the wooden
pins made of a small strip of withy, twisted at the centre so that it
can be doubled in half like a hairpin, and used to fix the rods which
secure the thatch by pressing the buckles firmly into it. In Hampshire
these are called "spars," and they are sold in bundles containing a
I heard an amusing story about these spars. A certain thatcher, we may
call him Joe, was engaged upon the roof of a cottage, when the parson
of the parish chanced to pass that way. Joe had of late neglected his
attendance at church, and the vicar saw his way to a word of advice.
After "passing the time of day" he took Joe to task for his neglected
attendance and waxing warm expressed his fears that Joe had forgotten
all his Sunday-school lessons; he was doubtful even, he said, if Joe
could tell him the number of the Commandments. Joe confessed his
ignorance. "Dear me," said the vicar, "to think that in this
nineteenth century any man could be found so ignorant as not to know
the number of the Commandments!" Joe bided his time until the vicar's
attention had been called to the spars, when Joe asked him how many a
bundle contained. It was a problem that the vicar could not solve.
"Dear me," said Joe, "to think that in this 'ere nineteenth century
any man could be found so ignorant as not to know the number of spars
in a bundle!" Joe always added when telling the story, "But there," I
says, "every beggar," I says, "to his trade," I says.
Sometimes a picturesque gipsy would come to the Manor House with
clothes-pegs for sale, and she generally negotiated a deal, for
everybody has a sneaking regard for the gipsies and their romantic
life _sub Jove_. Walking round the farm shortly afterwards I would
come upon the remains of their fire and deserted camp by the roadside
close to the brook, the ground strewn with the peel and refuse from
the materials with which they had supplied themselves gratis, and I
recognized that we had been buying goods made from my own withies.
Even so we did not complain, for no real harm was done to the trees.
The heads of these old pollards are favourite places for birds'-nests,
and all kinds of plants and bushes take root in their decaying fibre,
the seeds having been carried by the birds; so that ivy, brambles,
wild gooseberries, currants, raspberries, nut bushes and elders, can
be seen growing there. Whenever the foxhounds ran a fox to Aldington
he was always lost near the brookside, and it was said that the
cunning beast eluded the hounds by mounting a pollard and jumping from
one to another, until the scent was dissipated. It was also a
tradition that when hunting began on the Cotswolds the experienced
foxes left for the Vale, leaving the less crafty to fight it out with
the hounds; for the Evesham district was seldom visited by the hunt,
owing to possible damage to the highly cultivated winter crops of the
Jarge had a very narrow escape when grubbing out an old willow
overhanging a pool. He had been at work some hours, and had a deep
trench dug out all round the tree, to attack the roots with a
stock-axe. He had cut them all through except the tough tap-root, when
I reached him, and he was standing in the trench at work upon it. He
was certain that it would be some time before the tree fell, the
tap-root being very large; but, as I stood watching on the ground
above, I thought I saw a suspicious tremor pass over the tree, and an
instant later I was certain it was coming down. I shouted to him to
get out of the trench. It took a second or two to get clear, as the
trench was deep, and he was not a tall man, so he was scarcely out
when the tree fell with a crash on the exact spot where he had been at
work. Had I not been present it must have fallen upon him, for not
expecting the end was so near he had not been watching the signs.
Though not a tall tree, it was a very stout and heavy trunk, and the
tap-root on inspection proved to be partly rotten.
"Forth into the fields I went,
And Nature's living motion lent
The pulse of hope to discontent.
"I wonder'd at the bounteous hours,
The slow result of winter showers:
You scarce could see the grass for flowers.
"I wonder'd, while I paced along:
The woods were fill'd so full with song,
There seemed no room for sense of wrong."
Such is Tennyson's description of a spring day in the fields and
woods, and nothing more beautiful could be written. And so it was with
joy that my men and carter boys with waggons and teams started early
on the spring mornings to bring home the newly purchased hop-poles
from the distant woods. These poles are sold by auction in stacks
where they are cut, and the buyer has to cart them home. Usually,
after a successful hop year they were in great demand; prices would
rise in proportion, and the early seller did well, but when the later
sales came sometimes, the demand being satisfied, there would be a
heavy fall in values, and as a cunning buyer expressed it, "The poles
lasted longer than the money."
The dainty catkins of the hazel are the first sign of awakening life
in the woods; they are well out by the end of January or early in
February, and as they ripen, clouds of pollen are disseminated by the
wind. Tennyson speaks of "Native hazels tassel-hung." The female
bloom, which is the immediate precursor of the nut itself, is a pretty
little pink star, which can be found on the same branch as the catkin
but is much less conspicuous; and both are a very welcome sight, as
almost the earliest hint of spring. The hazel bloom is shortly
followed by the green leaves of the woodbine, which climbs so
exultingly to the tops of the highest trees and breathes its fragrance
on a summer evening. In the New Forest the green hellebore is early
and noticeable from its peculiar green blossoms, but I have not seen
it in Worcestershire.
My men and teams were generally off to the hills, Blockley, Broadway,
Winchcombe, Farmcote, and suchlike out-of-the-way places, when the wet
"rides" in the woods were drying up. The boys especially revelled in
the flowers--primroses and wild hyacinths--and came home with huge
bunches; they enjoyed the novelty of the woods and the wild
hill-country, which is such a contrast to the flat and highly
When unloaded at home the poles have to be trimmed, cut to the proper
length, 12 to 14 feet, "sharped," "shaved" at the butt 2 or 3 feet
upwards, and finally boiled so far for twenty-four hours, standing
upright in creosote, which doubles the lasting period of their
existence. They were chiefly ash, larch, maple, wych elm, and sallow,
and the rough butts, when sawn off before the sharping, supplied the
firing for the boiling. Green ash is splendid for burning: "The ash
when green is fuel for a Queen." Later, when I adopted a Kentish
system of hop-growing on coco-nut yarn supported by steel wire on
heavy larch poles, our visits to the woods were less frequent, and
much wear and tear of horses and waggons was saved. Some of our
journeys, in the earlier days, took us to the estate of the Duc
d'Aumale, on the Worcester side of Evesham, where some excellent ash
poles were grown. In one lot of some thousands I bought, every pole
had a crook in it ("like a dog's hind leg," my men said), about 2 or 3
feet from the ground, which was caused by the Duc having given orders
some years previously, on the occasion of a visit from the Prince of
Wales (the late King Edward), to have a large area of young coppice
cut off at that height, to make a specially convenient piece of
walking and pheasant shooting for the Prince.
On this occasion many people went to Evesham Station to see the
arrival of the Prince and retinue, and their departure for Wood Norton
in the Duc's carriages. Our old vicar was returning full of loyalty,
and passing an ancient Badsey radical inquired if he had been to see
the Prince. "Noa, sir," was the reply, "I been a-working hard to get
some money to keep 'e with." In some of the Wood Norton woods there
are large numbers of fir trees, planted, it was said, as roosting
places for the pheasants, so that they might not be visible to the
night poacher; but it was found that the birds preferred the leafless
trees, where they offer an easy pot shot in the moonlight or in the
grey of the dawn.
The Scots-fir is an interloper in the New Forest, and always looks out
of place; it was introduced as an experiment I believe, less than 150
years ago, and has been found useful as I have explained for
sheltering young plantations of oaks. It grows rapidly, and has been
planted by itself on land too poor for more valuable timber, chiefly
for pit-props. During the war immense numbers of Canadians and
Portuguese have been employed in felling these trees and cutting them
up into stakes for wire entanglements, trench timbers, and sleepers
for light railways. Huge temporary villages have grown up for the
accommodation of the men employed, equipped with steam sawing-tackle,
canteens, offices and quarters, and with light railways running far
away into the plantations where the trees are cut. It was a wonderful
sight to see these busy centres alive with men and machinery, in
places where before there was nothing but the silence of the woods.
And it is curious that, as in the old days the New Forest provided the
oak timber for the battleships that fought upon the sea in Nelson's
time, so now, in the fighting on land, we have been able to export
from the same place hundreds of thousands of tons of fir for the use
of our troops in France and Belgium.
Old railway sleepers are exceedingly useful for many purposes on
farms, and as they are soaked in creosote, they last many years, for
light bridges and rough shelters, after they are worn out for railway
purposes. The railway company adjoining my land discarded a quantity
of these partly defective sleepers, and left them, for a time, lying
beside the hedge which separated the line from my fields. I applied to
the Company for some, and suggested that they need only be put over
the hedge, and I would cart them away. But that is not the routine of
the working of such matters; though it appeals to the simple rustic
mind, it would be considered "irregular." They had to be loaded on
trucks sent specially on the railway, taken to Worcester sixteen miles
by train, unloaded, sorted, loaded again, sent back to my station,
unloaded, loaded again on to my waggons, and carted a mile and a half
on the waggons which had been sent empty the same distance to the
Overgrown old hedges are exceedingly pretty in autumn when hung with
clusters of "haws," the brilliant berries of the hawthorn, and the
"hips" of the wild rose. There is, too, the peculiar pink-hued berry
of the spindle wood, and, in chalky and limestone districts, the "old
man's beard" of the wild clematis, bright fresh hazel nuts, and golden
wreaths of wild hops. It is said that
"Hops, reformation, bays and beer
Came into England all in a year."
But it is certain that the wild hops at any rate must have been
indigenous, for one finds them in neighbourhoods far from districts
where hops are cultivated, and the couplet probably refers to the
Flemish variety, which would be the sort imported in the days of Henry
VIII., though at the present time our best varieties are far superior.
The holly is only seen as garden hedges in the more sandy parishes of
Worcestershire, but here in the Forest it is a splendid feature,
growing to a great size and height. In winter its bright shining
leaves reflecting the sunlight enliven the woods, so that we never get
the bare and cheerless look of places where the elm and the whitethorn
hedge dominate the landscape. In spring its small white blossoms are
thickly distributed, and at Christmas its scarlet berries are ever
welcome. Its prickles protect it from browsing cattle and Forest
ponies, but it is interesting to notice that many of the leaves on the
topmost branches being out of reach of the animals are devoid of this
CORN--WHEAT--RIDGE AND FURROW--BARLEY--FARMERS NEWSTYLE AND OLDSTYLE.
"He led me thro' the short sweet-smelling lanes
Of his wheat-suburb, babbling as he went."
I do not propose to enter upon the ordinary details of arable farming,
as not of very general interest, except for those actually engaged
thereon. I am aiming especially at the more unusual crops, and what I
may call the curiosities of agriculture. It is most interesting to
turn to Virgil's _Georgics_ and see how they apply after the lapse of
nearly twenty centuries to the farm-work of the present day. Horace,
too, was a farmer, though perhaps more of an amateur; he exclaims at
the busy scene presented when men and horses are engaged in active
"_Heu heu! quantus equis quantus adest viris Sudor!_"
which, by the way, was rendered with Victorian propriety by a
well-known Oxford professor, "What a quantity of perspiration!" etc.
Probably Horace had been watching the sowing of barley or oats on a
fine March morning, "the peck of March dust," which we know is "worth
a King's ransom," flying behind the harrows. George Cruikshank gives a
very spirited and comic realization of Horace's lines, in Hoskin's
_Talpa_, where ploughing, sowing, harrowing, reaping, harvesting,
thrashing, grinding and carting away the finished product, are all
actively proceeding in the same field.
The origin of the word "field," still locally pronounced "feld," as in
"Badsey Feld," near Evesham, takes us back to primeval times when the
country was mostly forest, of which certain parts had been "felled,"
and were thus distinguished as opposed to the untouched portions. We
may be sure that the best pieces of land were the first to be brought
under cultivation, and it is thus that the best land in most old
parishes, at the present day, is to be found close to the village, and
is generally a portion of the manor property. Later, where glebe was
allotted for the parson's benefit, the poorer parts were apparently
considered good enough for the purpose, so that we generally expect to
find the glebe on somewhat inferior land.
Wheat-growing at Aldington and on most heavy soils was practically
killed by the vast importations from the United States, rendered
possible by the extraction of the natural fertility of her virgin
soils, and by the development of steam traction and transport,
resulting in the food crisis at home during the war. The loss of
arable land converted to inferior grass amounted, in the forty years
from 1874 to 1914, to no less than four million acres. I made such
changes in my own cropping that, where I formerly grew 100 acres of
wheat annually, I reduced the area to ten or twenty acres, mainly for
the sake of the straw for litter and thatching purposes.
Wheat can be planted in what would be considered a very unsuitable
tilth for barley. We had often to follow the drills--where they had
cut into the clayey soil, leaving the seed uncovered, and where the
ground was so sticky and "unkind" that harrowing had very little
effect--with forks, turning the clods over the exposed seed, and
treading them down. Wheat seems to like as firm a seed-bed as
possible, for the best crop was always on the headland, where the
turning of the horses and implements had reduced the soil to the
condition of mortar. The seed would lie in the cold ground for many
weeks before the blade made its appearance, but the men always said,
"'Twill be heavy in the head when it lies long abed." It is cheering
in late autumn and early winter when no other young growth is to be
seen on the farm, suddenly to find the field covered with the fresh
shoots of the wheat in regular lines, and to notice how, after its
first appearance, it makes little further upright growth for a time,
but spreads laterally over the ground as the roots extend downwards.
Nothing in the way of weather will kill wheat, except continuous heavy
rain in winter, where the land is undrained, and stagnant water
collects. I have seen it in May lying flat on the ground after a
severe spring frost, but in a day or two it would pick up again as if
nothing had happened. And I have seen beans, 2 feet high, cut down and
doubled up, revive and rear up their heads quite happily, though at
harvest the exact spot in every stalk could be seen where the wound
had taken place.
In May, if the weather is cold and ungenial, wheat turns yellow; this
is the weaning time of the young plants, which have then exhausted the
nourishment contained in the seed, and in the absence of growing
weather they do not take kindly to the food in the land, upon which
they now become dependent.
"The farmer came to his wheat in May,
And right sorrowfully went away,
The farmer came to his wheat in June,
And went away whistling a merry tune."
His wheat was what is called "May-sick" the first time, but had
recovered on the second visit, for another old saw tells us that, "A
dripping June puts all in tune."
May is said "Never to go out without a wheat-ear," but I do not think
this is invariably true, though by splitting open a young wheat stem
it is easy to find the embryo ear, only about half an inch long. I
have heard people exclaiming at the beautiful effect of the breezes
passing over a luxuriant field of growing wheat, giving the appearance
of waves on a lake; but when the wheat is in bloom, it is doubtful if
this is a reason for congratulation, as the blooms are rubbed off in
the process, which may be the cause of thin-chested ears at harvest,
when, instead of being set in full rows of four or five grains
abreast, only two or three can be found, reducing the total number in
an ear from a maximum of about seventy to fifty or less.
"God makes the grass to grow greener while the farmer's at his
dinner," is a proverb which may be applied to almost any enterprise,
for optimism is largely a physical matter, and "it is ill talking with
a hungry man."
I suppose that no man, even with the dullest imagination, can fail to
walk across a wheat field at harvest without being reminded of some of
the innumerable stories and allusions to corn fields in the Bible. He
will remember how, when the famine was sore in the land of Canaan,
Jacob sent his ten sons to Egypt to buy corn, and how Joseph knew his
brethren, but they knew him not; with the touching details of his
emotion, until he could no longer refrain himself, and, weeping, made
himself known. How he bade them return, and bring their aged father,
their little ones, and their flocks and herds, to dwell in the land of
His mind, too, will revert to the commandment given to Moses, "When ye
reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners
of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thy harvest";
so that he will meet the villagers with a word of welcome, when they
invade his fields for the same time-honoured purpose.
He will remember the story of Ruth and Boaz, told in the exquisite
poetry of the Bible diction, than which nothing in the whole range of
literature can compare in noble simplicity. And the corn fields of the
New Testament, where the disciples plucked the ears of corn, and were
encouraged, and the accusing Pharisees rebuked; with the conclusive
declaration that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the
Sabbath. And, finally, the familiar chapter in the burial service,
which has brought comfort to thousands of mourners, and will so
continue till the last harvest, which is the end of the world, when
the angels will be the reapers.
The word "gleaning" is never heard in Worcestershire for collecting
the scattered wheat stems and ears; it is invariably "leasing" from
the Old English, _lesan_, to gather or collect anything. When wheat
was fairly high in price the village women and children were in the
field as soon as it was cleared of sheaves, and they made a pretty
picture scattered about the golden stubble, and returning through the
meadows and lanes at twilight with their ample gatherings.
The "leasings" would be thrashed by husband or brother with the old
flail, in one of my barns, to be then ground at the village mill, and
lastly baked into fragrant loaves of home-made bread--the "dusky
loaf," as Tennyson says, "that smelt of home." One good old soul
brought me every week, while the "leased corn" lasted, a small loaf
called "a batch cake," and continued the gift later, made from wheat
grown on the family allotment; her loaves were some of the best and
the sweetest bread I have ever tasted.
"The man who makes two blades of grass grow where one grew before" is
said to be a national benefactor, and, I suppose, the same adage
applies _a fortiori_ to wheat, but I have never seen a monument raised
to his memory or even the circulation of the national hat for his
benefit. Too often the only proof of his neighbour's recognition of
his improved crops is the notification of an increased assessment of
the amount of his liability to contribute to what is, still quite
unsuitably, called the poor rate.
Wheat rejoices in a tropical summer, and it never succeeds better than
when stiff land like mine splits into deep cracks, locally called
"chawns." You can see the root-fibres crossing these cracks which go
so far into the earth that a walking-stick can be inserted to touch
the drain pipes in the furrows at a depth of 2-1/2 or 3 feet.
Apparently this cracking acts as a kind of root-pruning, and lets in
the heat of the sun to the lower roots of the corn, with the result
of, what is called, a great "cast" (yield) to the acre.
In building wheat ricks the most important point is to arrange the
sheaves with the butts sloping outwards, so that should rain fall
before thatching, the water will run away from the centre. I remember
at Alton, where the rick-builder was an old and experienced man, he
neglected this precaution; some weeks of heavy rain followed, but in
time the thatching was completed, and nobody dreamed of any harm. When
the thrashing machine arrived, and the ricks were uncovered, the wheat
was found so damp that, in places, the ears had grown into solid mats,
and the sheaves could only be parted by cutting with a hay-knife. The
old man was so discomfited that the tears rolled down his cheeks, and
the master's loss amounted to something like L300. There was not a
sack of dry wheat on that particular farm that winter, though some was
saleable at a reduced price. He told me that it was a costly business
for him, but worth any money as a lesson to me. I took it to heart,
and we never left a rick uncovered at Aldington; as fast as one was
completed, and the builder descended the ladder, the thatcher took his
place, and temporarily "hung" it with straw, secured by partially
driven-in rick pegs until we could find time to attend to the regular
The high ridges and deep furrows, to be seen on the heavy arable lands
of the Vale of Evesham, are a source of wonderment to people who come
from light land districts, and who do not recognize how impervious is
the subsoil to the penetration of water. The origin of these highly
banked ridges dates from far-away days before land drain pipes were
obtainable, and it was the only possible arrangement to prevent the
perishing of crops from standing water in the winter. The rain quickly
found its way into the furrows from the ridges, and, as they always
sloped in the direction of the lowest part of the field, the
superfluous water soon disappeared. Even now, when drain pipes are
laid in the furrows, it is not advisable to level the ridges, because
the water would take much longer to find the drains, and the growing
crop would be endangered. It is not safe to drain this land deeper
than about 2-1/2 feet, and many thousands of pounds have been
misapplied where draining has been done on money borrowed from
companies who insist upon 3 feet as the minimum depth for any portion
of the drain, which would mean much more than that where the drain
occasionally passes through a stretch of rising ground. As proving my
statement that 2-1/2 feet is quite deep enough, I have seen great
pools of water after a heavy rain standing exactly over the drain in
the furrows, and we had sometimes to pierce the soil to the depth of
the pipes, with an iron rod made for the purpose, before the water
could get away.
On light land, the subsoil of which is often full of water, the case
is quite different, and the pipes must be laid much deeper to relieve
its water-logged condition; but on our stiff clay the subsoil was
comparatively dry, and we had to provide only for the discharge of the
surface water as quickly as possible, where the solid clay beneath
prevented its sinking into the lower layers.
In the subsoil of the lias clay there are large numbers of a fossil
shell, _Gryphea incurva_, known locally as "devils claws"; they
certainly have a demoniac claw-like appearance, and worry the drainers
by catching on the blade of the draining tool, and preventing its
penetration into the clay.
I have heard the suggestion that our highly banked ridges were
intended to increase the surface of the land available for the crops,
just as it takes more cloth to cover a hump back than a normal one,
but of course the rounded ridge does not provide any more _vertical
position_ for the crop, and the theory cannot be maintained. Some of
these ridges, "lands" as they are called, are so wide and so elevated
that it was said that two teams could pass each other in the furrows,
on either side of a single "land," so hidden by the high ridge that
they could not see one another; and I myself have noticed them on
abandoned arable land that has been in grass from time immemorial, so
high as nearly to answer the description. Though the blue clay in the
Vale of Evesham is so tenacious, it works beautifully after a few
sharp frosts, splitting up into laminations that form a splendidly
mouldy seed bed, so that frost has been eloquently called "God's
It is a very curious fact that many of these old "lands" take the form
of a greatly elongated [Illustration: (S backwards)], though not so
pronounced as that figure, for the curves are only visible towards the
ends, and these curves always turn to the left of anyone walking
towards the end. Various explanations have been given, and one by Lord
Avebury is the nearest approach to a correct solution which I have
seen, though not, I think, quite accurate. My own idea is that, as the
plough turns each furrow-slice only to the right, the beginning of the
ridge would be accomplished by two furrows thrown together on the top
of each other, and the remainder would be gathered around them by
continuing the process, until the "land" was formed with an open
furrow on each side. The eight oxen would be harnessed in pairs, or
the four horses tandem fashion. When they reached the end of each
furrow-slice, the plough-boy, walking on the near side, would have to
turn the long team on the narrow headland, and in order to get room to
reach a position for starting the next furrow-slice, he would have to
bear to the left before commencing the actual turn. In the meantime
the horse next the plough would be completing the furrow-slice alone,
and would, naturally, try to follow the other three horses towards the
left, so that the furrow-slice at its end would slightly deviate from
the straight line. When the horses were all turned, the second
furrow-slice would follow the error in the first, and the same
deviation would occur at each end of the ploughing, gradually becoming
more and more pronounced, until the curved form of each ridge became
apparent. Lord Avebury says that when the driver, walking on the near
side, reached the end of each furrow, he found it easier to turn the
team by pulling them round than by pushing them, thus accounting for
the slight curvature.
"He that by the plough would thrive
Himself must either hold or drive,"
is largely true, but only the small farmer can comply with it. The man
of many acres cannot restrict his presence to one field, and must
adopt for his motto the equally true proverb, "The master's eye does
more than both his hands."
The thrashing-machine is the ultimate test of the yield or cast of the
wheat crop, and it seems to have something itself to say about it. For
when the straw is short the cast is generally good, and _vice versa_.
In the first case the machine runs evenly, and gives out a contented
and cheerful hum, but in the second it remonstrates with intermittent
grunts and groans. Even when the yield is pretty good, the voice of
the machine is not nearly so encouraging to the imaginative farmer,
when prices are low, as when prices are up.
Throughout the course of my farming the gloomy note of the machine was
that which predominated, but in the spring of 1877, on the prospect of
complications with Russia, when wheat rose to I think nearly 70s. a
quarter, it was again a cheerful sound, for I had several ricks of the
previous year's crop on hand. I do not remember that bread rose to
anything like the extent that occurred in the Great War. Forty years
has marvellously widened the gap between the raw material and the
finished product--that is, between producer and consumer; immense
increases have taken place in the cost of labour employed by miller
and baker, and rates and other expenses are much higher.
Farmers do not lose much in "bad debts"; they have to lay out their
capital in cash payments so long before the return that they are not
expected to give extended credit when sales take place, and for corn
payment is made fourteen days after the sale is effected. I had one
rather narrow escape. I had sold 150 sacks of wheat to a miller, and
it had been delivered to the mill, but one evening I had a note from
him to say that his credit was in question on the local markets. "A
nod," I thought, "was as good as a wink to a blind horse"; so next
morning I sent all my teams and waggons, and by night had carted all
the wheat away, except twenty sacks, which had already been ground.
The miller paid eventually 10s. in the L, so my loss was only a matter
of about L10.
A similar "chap money," or return of a trifle in cash from seller to
buyer, as that in vogue in horse-dealing, still exists in selling
corn; it goes by the indefinite name of "custom," and in
Worcestershire it was a fixed sum of 1s. in every sixty bushels of
wheat, and 1s. in every eighty bushels of barley; each of these
quantities formed the ancient load. I think the payment of "custom"
arose when tarpaulin sheets were first used instead of straw to cover
the waggon loads. The straw never returned; it was the miller's
perquisite, and its value paid for the beer to which the carters were
treated at the mill; but the tarpaulin comes back each time, so the
miller gets his _quid pro quo_ in the "custom."
Barley was not an important crop at Aldington, the land was too stiff,
but I had some fields which contained limestone, where good crops
could be grown. Even there it was inclined to coarseness, but in dry
seasons sometimes proved a very nice bright and thin-skinned sample.
Before the repeal of the malt tax, which was accompanied by
legislation that permitted the brewers to use sugar, raw grain and
almost anything, including, as people said, "old boots and shoes"
instead of barley malt, good prices, up to 42s. a quarter and over,
could be made; but under the new conditions, the maltsters complained
that my barley was too good for them, and they could buy foreign stuff
at about 22s. or 24s., which, with the help of sugar, produced a class
of beer quite good enough for the Black Country and Pottery consumers.
I heard an amusing story about barley in Lincolnshire, some years
before the repeal of the malt tax, which, I think, is worth recording.
A farmer, after a very hot summer and dry harvest, had a good piece of
barley which he offered by sample in Lincoln market. He could not make
his price, the buyers complaining that it was too hard and flinty. He
went home in disgust, but, after much pondering, thought he could see
his way to meet the difficulty. He had the sacks of barley "shut" on
his barn floor, in a heap, and several buckets of water poured over
it. The heap was turned daily for a time, until the grain had absorbed
all the water, and there was no sign of external moisture. The
appearance of the barley was completely changed: the hard flinty look
had vanished, and the grain presented a new plumpness and mellowness.
He took a fresh sample to Lincoln next market day, and made 2s. or 3s.
a quarter more than he had asked for it in its original condition.
The following lines, which have never been published except in a local
newspaper, though written many years ago, apply quite well in these
days of the hoped-for revival of agriculture. I am not at liberty to
disclose the writer's identity beyond his initials, E.W.
FARMER NEWSTYLE AND FARMER OLDSTYLE
"Good day," said Farmer Oldstyle, taking Newstyle by the arm;
"I be cum to look aboit me, wilt 'ee show me o'er thy farm?"
Young Newstyle took his wideawake, and lighted a cigar,
And said, "Won't I astonish you, old-fashioned as you are!
"No doubt you have an aneroid? ere starting you shall see
How truly mine prognosticates what weather there will be."
"I ain't got no such gimcracks; but I knows there'll be a flush
When I sees th'oud ram tak shelter wi' his tail agen a bush."
"Allow me first to show you the analysis I keep,
And the compounds to explain of this experimental heap,
Where hydrogen and nitrogen and oxygen abound,
To hasten germination and to fertilize the ground."
"A putty sight o' learning you have piled up of a ruck;
The only name it went by in my feyther's time was muck.
I knows not how the tool you call a nallysis may work,
I turns it when it's rotten pretty handy wi' a fork."
"A famous pen of Cotswolds, pass your hand along the back,
Fleeces fit for stuffing the Lord Chancellor's woolsack!
For premiums e'en 'Inquisitor' would own these wethers _are_ fit,
If you want to purchase good uns you must go to Mr. Garsit.
"Two bulls first rate, of different breeds, the judges all
Both are so super-excellent, they know not which is best.
Fair could he see this Ayrshire, would with jealousy be riled;
That hairy one's a Welshman, and was bred by Mr. Wild."
"Well, well, that little hairy bull, he shanna be so bad:
But what be yonder beast I hear, a-bellowing like mad,
A-snorting fire and smoke out? be it some big Roosian gun!
Or be it twenty bullocks squez together into one?"
"My steam factotum, that, Sir, doing all I have to do,
My ploughman and my reaper, and my jolly thrasher, too!
Steam's yet but in its infancy, no mortal man alive
Can tell to what perfection modern farming will arrive."
"Steam as yet is but an infant"--he had scarcely said the word,
When through the tottering farmstead was a loud explosion heard;
The engine dealing death around, destruction and dismay;
Though steam be but an infant this indeed was no child's play.
The women screamed like blazes, as the blazing hayrick burned,
The sucking pigs were in a crack, all into crackling turned;
Grilled chickens clog the hencoop, roasted ducklings choke the
And turkeys round the poultry yard on devilled pinions flutter.
Two feet deep in buttermilk the stoker's two feet lie,
The cook before she bakes it finds a finger in the pie;
The labourers for their lost legs are looking round the farm,
They couldn't lend a hand because they had not got an arm.
Oldstyle all soot, from head to foot, looked like a big black
Newstyle was thrown upon his own experimental heap;
"That weather-glass," said Oldstyle, "canna be in proper fettle,
Or it might as well a tow'd us there was thunder in the kettle."
"Steam is so expansive." "Aye," said Oldstyle, "so I see.
So expensive, as you call it, that it winna do for me;
According to my notion, that's a beast that canna pay,
Who champs up for his morning feed a hundred ton of hay."
Then to himself, said Oldstyle, as he homewards quickly went,
"I'll tak' no farm where doctors' bills be heavier than the rent;
I've never in hot water been, steam shanna speed my plough,
I'd liefer thrash my corn out by the sweat of my own brow.
"I neither want to scald my pigs, nor toast my cheese, not I,
Afore the butcher sticks 'em or the factor comes to buy;
They shanna catch me here again to risk my limbs and loife;
I've nought at whoam to blow me up except it be my woif."
HOPS--INSECT ATTACKS--HOP FAIRS.
"Oft expectation fails, and most oft there
Where most it promises; and oft it hits
Where hope is coldest and despair most fits."
--_All's Well that Ends Well_.
In a very rare black-letter book on hop culture, _A Perfite Platforme
of a Hoppe Garden_, published in the year 1578 and therefore over 340
years old, the author, Reynolde Scot, has the following quaint remarks
on one of the disorders to which the hop plant is liable:
"The hoppe that liketh not his entertainment, namely his seat, his
ground, his keeper, or the manner of his setting, comith up thick and
rough in leaves, very like unto a nettle; and will be much bitten with
a little black flye, who, also, will not do harme unto good hoppes,
who if she leave the leaf as full of holes as a nettle, yet she
seldome proceedeth to the utter destruction of the Hoppe; where the
garden standeth bleake, the heat of summer will reform this matter."
Thomas Tusser, who lived 1515 to 1580, in his _Five Hundred Points of
Good Husbandry_, included many seasonable verses on Hop-growing, among
which the following are worth quoting:
Get into thy hop-yard for now it is time
To teach Robin Hop on his pole how to climb,
To follow the sun, as his property is,
And weed him and trim him if aught go amiss.
Whom fancy perswadeth among other crops,
To have for his spending sufficient of hops:
Must willingly follow of choices to chuse
Such lessons approved, as skilfull do use.
Ground gravelly, sandy, and mixed with clay,
Is naughty for hops, any manner of way;
Or if it be mingled with rubbish and stone,
For dryness and barrenness let it alone.
Chuse soil for the hop of the rottenest mould,
Well dunged and wrought as a garden plot should:
Not far from the water (but not overflown),
This lesson well noted is meet to be known.
The sun in the south, or else southly and west,
Is joy to the hop, as welcomed ghest:
But wind in the north, or else northerly east,
To hop is as ill, as a fray in a feast.
Meet plot for a hop-yard, once found as is told,
Make thereof account, as of jewell of gold:
Now dig it and leave it the sun for to burn,
And afterward fence it to serve for that turn.
The hop for his profit, I thus do exalt,
It strengtheneth drink and it favoureth malt,
And being well brewed, long kept it will last,
And drawing abide, if ye draw not too fast.
In Worcestershire and Herefordshire hop-gardens are always called
hop-yards, which seems to be only a local and more ancient form of the
same word, and from the same root. The termination occurs also in
"orchard"--from the Anglo-Saxon _ortgeard_ (a wort-yard)
--"olive-yard," and "vineyard."
The quotation from the _Perfitie Platforme of a Hoppe Garden_ refers
to "a little black flye," now called "the flea" (Worcestershire plural
"flen"), really a beetle like the "turnip fly," and it is the first
pest that attacks the hop every year.
"First the flea, then the fly,
Then the lice, and then they die,"
is a couplet repeated in all the hop districts to-day, but the damage
done by the flea is not to be compared to that caused by the next
pest, the fly. The latter is one of the numerous species of aphis
which begins its attack in the winged state, and after producing
wingless green lice in abundance--which further increase by the
process known as "gemmation"--reappears with wings in the final
generation of the lice, and hibernates in readiness for its visitation
in the spring next year.
So long as the hop plant maintains its health the aphis is
comparatively harmless, for the plant is then able to elaborate to the
full the bitter principle which is its natural protection. On a really
hot day in July it is sometimes possible to detect the distinctive
scent of the hop quite plainly in walking through the plantation, long
before any hops appear, and when this is noticeable very little of the
aphis blight can be found. There is however nearly always a small
sprinkling lying in wait, and a few days of unsuitable weather will
reduce the vitality of the plant so that the blight immediately begins
There is little doubt that all the distinctive principles of plants or
trees have been evolved, and are in perfect health elaborated, as a
protection from their most destructive insect or fungoid enemies; just
as physical protective equipment, such as thorns, prickles, and
stinging apparatus, is produced by other plants or trees as safeguards
against more powerful foes. If it were not so, plants that are even
now seriously damaged and kept in check by such pests would long ago
have become extinct.
Pursuing this theory it seems likely that the solanin of the potato is
its natural protection against the disease caused by the fungus
_Phytophthora infestans_. The idea is suggested by the invariably
increasing liability to the potato disease experienced as new sorts
become old. The new kinds of potatoes are produced from the seed--not
the tubers--of the old varieties, and the seed, when fully vitalized
and capable of germination, may be assumed to contain the maximum
potentiality for transmission of the active principle to the tubers
immediately descended from it. During the early years of their
existence these revitalized tubers contain so much solanin that they
are not only injurious, but more or less poisonous, to man, and it is
only after they have been cultivated, and have produced further
generations of tubers _from_ tubers, that they become eatable, showing
that in the tuber condition the plant gradually loses its efficient
In the case of the hop the most effective remedy is a solution of
quassia and soft soap. The caustic potash in the soap neutralizes the
oily integument of the lice and dries them up, but the quassia
supplies a bitter principle not unlike that of the hop, though without
its grateful aroma, which acts as a protection in the absence of the
bitter of the hop itself. So closely does the hop bitter resemble that
of quassia, that in seasons of hop failure it is said to be employed
as a substitute in brewing, and at one time its use for that purpose
was prohibited by law.
As a further proof that the bitter principle of the hop is distasteful
to the aphis, it is noticeable that when the fly first arrives it
always attacks the topmost shoots of the bine where the leaves have
not developed, and where the active principle is likely to be weakest.
The same position is selected by the aphis of the rose, the bean, and
every plant or tree subject to aphis attack--it is the undeveloped and
therefore unprotected part which is chosen.
It is remarkable that when a destructive blight is
proceeding--generally in a wet and cold time--and a sudden change
occurs to really hot dry weather, the hop plant often recovers its
tone automatically, shakes off the disease, and the blight dies away,
a fact which strengthens the assumption that in normal weather the
plant can protect itself. Again, the blight is always most persistent
under the shade of trees or tall hedges, or where the bine is over
luxuriant, when owing to the exclusion of light and air the plant is
unable to elaborate its natural safeguard.
Fertilizers not well balanced as to their constituents, and containing
an excess of nitrogen, act as stimulants without supplying the
minerals necessary for perfect health. The effect is the same as that
produced in man by an excess of alcohol and a deficiency of nourishing
food, the health of the subject suffers in both cases, leaving a
predisposition to disease.
Reasoning by analogy, these causes affecting the success or failure of
plants give us the clue to the remedies for bacterial disease in man.
Disease is the consequence and penalty of life under unnatural or
unfavourable conditions, which should first receive attention and
improvement. When in spite of improved conditions disease persists,
specifics must be sought. The conditions which produce disease in the
vegetable world are fought by the active principle of each plant, and
inasmuch as the germ diseases of man are probably, though distantly,
related to those which affect vegetable life, the specific protections
of plants should be exploited for the treatment of human complaints.
This, of course, has for long been a practice, but possibly more
success might be achieved by careful research to identify each
distinct bacterial disease in man with its co-related distinct disease
in plants, so as to utilize as a remedy for the former the natural
protection which the latter indicates.
Our artificially evolved domesticated plants are more subject to
disease than their wild prototypes, because they are not natural
survivals of the fittest. They are survivals only by virtue of the art
of man, inducing special properties pleasing to man's senses, and
therefore profitable for sale; but in the development of some such
special excellence, ability to elaborate protective defence is
generally neglected, and the special excellence produced may possibly
be antagonistic to the really sound constitution of the plant. It is
thus that cultivated plants are more in need of watchful care and
attention than their wild relations, and that, in the development of
quality, a sacrifice of quantity may be involved.
The observant hop grower notices constant changes in the appearance of
his plants from day to day under varying weather influences and other
conditions: a retarded and unhappy expression in a cold, wet and rough
time; an eager and hopeful expansiveness under genial conditions; a
dark, plethoric and rampant growth where too much nitrogen is
available, and a brilliant and healthily-restrained normality when
properly balanced nourishment is provided.
There should be sympathy between the grower and his plants, such as is
described by Blackmore in his _Christowell_; though in the following
passage with consummate art he puts the words into the mouth of the
sympathetic daughter of the amateur vine-grower, and gives the plant
the credit of the first advance:
"'For people to talk about "sensitive plants,"' she says, 'does seem
such sad nonsense, when every plant that lives is sensitive. Just look
at this holly-leafed baby vine, with every point cut like a prickle,
yet much too tender and good to prick me. It follows every motion of
my hand; it crisps its little veinings up whenever I come near it; and
it feels in every fibre that I am looking at it.'"
Blackmore was much more than a writer of fiction; I think he had a
deeper insight into the spirit of Nature and country character than
perhaps any writer of modern times; he combined the accuracy of the
scholar with the practical knowledge of the farmer and gardener; the
logic of the philosopher with the fancy and expression of the poet. I
regard the appreciation of his _Lorna Doone_--a book in which one can
smell the violets--as the test of a real country lover; I mean a
country lover who, besides the gift of acute observation, has the
deeper gift of imaginative perception. If only the book could have
been illustrated by the pencil of Randolph Caldecott, such a union of
sympathy between author and artist would have produced a work
unparalleled in rural literature.
Like all insects the aphis has its special insect enemies, among which
the lady-bird ("lady-cow" in Worcestershire) is the most important. It
lays its eggs in clusters on the hop-leaf, and in a few days the larvae
(called "niggers") are hatched, aggressive-looking creatures with
insatiable appetites. It is amusing to watch them hunting over the
lower side of the leaf like a sporting dog in a turnip field, and
devouring the lice in quantities. I knew an old hop grower in
Hampshire who had a standing offer of a guinea a quart for lady-birds,
but it is scarcely necessary to add that the reward was never claimed.
The hop is dioecious (producing male and female blossoms on separate
plants), but very rarely both can be found on the same stem--the plant
thus becoming monoecious. In 1893, a very hot dry year, several
specimens were found, including one in Kent, one in Surrey, one in
Herefordshire, and one in my own hopyards at Aldington. It is curious
that the same unusual season should have produced the same abnormality
in places so far apart, practically representing all the hop districts
of the country.
"Till James's Day be past and gone,
You might grow hops or you might grow none."
St. James's Day is July 25, and so uncertain was the crop in the days
before insecticides were in use, that the saying fairly represents the
specially speculative nature of the crop in former times. As an
instance of the effects of varying years I had the uncommon experience
of picking two crops in twelve months: the first in a very late season
when the picking did not commence till after Worcester hop-fair day,
September 19th, and the second the following year when picking was
unusually early, and was completed before the fair day. At Farnham,
where many of the tradespeople indulged in a little annual flutter as
small hop growers, in addition to a more regular source of income from
their respective trades, it was said that the first question on
meeting each other was not, "How are you?" but "How are _they_?"
Hop-picking is always somewhat reminiscent of the Saturnalia; with
hundreds of strangers from distant villages and a few gipsies and
tramps, it is not possible to enforce strict discipline, for it is
very necessary to keep the people in good-humour. On the final day of
the picking they expect to be allowed to indulge in a good deal of
horse-play, the great joke being suddenly to upset an unpopular
individual into a crib among the hops. Shrieks of laughter greet the
disappearance of the unlucky one, of whom nothing is to be seen except
a struggling leg protruding from the crib.
The last operation in the hop garden is stacking the poles, and
burning the bine, a most inflammable material which makes a prodigious
blaze. As the men watch the leaping flames the same remark is made
year after year--"fire is a good servant, but a bad master." These
fires seem a great waste of good fibrous matter, as in former times
the bine was utilized for making coarse sacking and brown paper.
During the war I suggested to the National Salvage Council that, owing
to the scarcity of both these articles, it might be worth while to
attempt the resuscitation of the manufacture. The suggestion was
followed by experiments which produced quite a useful brown paper of
which I received a sample, but the cost of treatment was unfortunately
prohibitive from the commercial point of view.
Worcester hop fair is the start of the trade, and the market is held
behind the Hop-Pole Hotel, where there are spacious stores and offices
for the merchants. When the crop is bountiful the stores are filled to
overflowing, and the ancient Guildhall built in 1721 has to be
requisitioned. On either side of the doorway stand the statues of
Carolus I. and Carolus II., who must have watched the entrance and the
exit of innumerable pockets. Worcester is distinguished as the
Faithful City, for like the County it had small use for Cromwell and
his Roundheads; and to this day, on the date of the restoration of
Charles II.--"the twenty-ninth of May, oak apple day"--a spray of oak
or an oak-apple is in some villages worn as a badge of loyalty, the
penalty for non-observance being a stroke on the hands with a
It was a great relief to get away from my 300 pickers and ride the
eighteen miles to Worcester on my bicycle, through the lovely river
scenery of the Vale of Evesham, the hedges drooping beneath the weight
of brilliant berries, the orchards loaded with apples, the clean
bright stubbles, and the cattle in the lush aftermath; then, after a
visit to the busy hop-market and a stroll among the curio shops in New
Street, to return by a different road as the shadows were lengthening
beside the copses and the hedgerow timber trees.
In former times the October fair at Weyhill, near Andover, was the
market for the Hampshire and Farnham hops; it was the custom for the
growers to send them by road, and load back with cheese brought to the
fair by the Wiltshire farmers. I heard of a Hampshire grower, who in a
year of great scarcity had spent some time trying to sell several
pockets to an anxious but reluctant buyer, unwilling to give the price
asked--L20 a hundredweight. They continued the deal in the evening at
the inn at Andover, where both were staying, and said "Good-night"
without having concluded the bargain. The grower was in bed and almost
asleep when he heard a knock at his door, and a voice, "Give you L18,"
which he refused. Next morning trade was dull and the buyer would not
repeat his offer, and at the end of the week the grower sent his hops
home again. Prices continued to fall, until two years later he sold
the same lot at 5s. a hundredweight to a cunning speculator, who took
them out to sea, after claiming a return of the duty (about L1 a
hundredweight originally paid by the grower), which the Excise
refunded on _exported_ hops. The hops went overboard of course, and
the buyer netted the difference between the price he paid and the
amount received for the refunded duty.
At these old fairs the showmen and gipsies take large sums in the
"pleasure" departments for admission to their exhibitions--swings,
roundabouts, shooting-galleries, and coco-nut shies. In Evesham
Post-Office a gipsy woman once asked me to write a letter; she handed
me an order for L10, and instructed me to send it to a London firm for
L5 worth of best coco-nuts and L5 worth of seconds. They were for use
on the shies; it struck me as a large supply, and the economical
division of the qualities as ingenious.
METEOROLOGY--ETON AND HARROW AT LORD'S--"RUS IN URBE."
"But if I praised the busy town,
He loved to rail against it still,
For 'ground in yonder social mill
We rub each other's angles down,
"'And merge,' he said, 'in form and gloss
The picturesque of man and man.'"
During the terribly wet summer of 1879 the following lines were
written--it was said by the then Bishop of Wakefield--in the visitors'
book at the White Lion Hotel at Bala, in Wales:
"The weather depends on the moon, as a rule,
And I've found that the saying is true;
For at Bala it rains when the moon's at the full,
And it rains when the moon's at the new.