Saturday, 17 December 2011

Too Good To Pass By

A few more bits and bobs that I saw during bike rides and walks earlier in the year.

A well-laid hedge

Before the invention of barbed wire men toiled for endless hours during the winter months making hedges like the one above. The individual bushes of the hedge are cut almost through with a bill-hook and the branches are woven in and out to construct a stock-proof barrier. The hedge would continue to live and grow and also provided shelter for the animals during severe weather. For those of you who like to collect unusual and largely forgotten words, the strong leather gauntlets which were worn for the job were called "dannocks". My father spent many freezing hours at this thankless task.

How high?

If you're in the habit of inspecting old walls and stones you might have come across one of these mysterious marks. It's an Ordnance Survey bench-mark, an accurate measurement of the height above sea level of a particular point, all part of the minutely detailed and accurate work of mapping this country. If you're really interested in how the land was mapped then "Map Of A Nation" by Rebecca Hewitt should be on your reading list. It's a fascinating tale of the historical necessities which led to the map's creation and the obsessive madmen who undertook the mission. A glance at an old map tells me that the point above is precisely 59 feet above sea level. 

Have a "butcher's"!

The past use of this shop in St Ives is obvious for all to see, preserved in this lovely tiling. Well done, architects, for saving this shop front. Readers from outside Britain may not know that "having a butcher's" means "having a look". It's an example of Cockney rhyming slang - from "butcher's hook" = "look". 

The village pound

Most villages would have had one of these, a pound, where stray farm animals were penned in (impounded) till the owners came to collect them, usually after paying a small fee. This one is in Swaffham Prior, Cambridgeshire.

A model villager (or a village modeller).

These cheerful bits of craftsmanship were spotted in the village of Linton, brightening up, as well as individualising, an otherwise unremarkable house in a back street.

There was a church on top of the garage roof too!

Take care.


  1. I especially enjoyed your explanation of the stone bench-mark... and about your dad's toil to construct hedges...

  2. The windmills look like they could also be whirligigs. That's something I've been thinking I need to try my hand at. They can be interestingly complex. Jim

  3. John, your post is wonderfully informative, as always. Especially the part about how hedges are created.

    Several years ago I read something about how hedgerows were becoming endangered in England. Sometime you might use that as the theme for a post. (If your report is that hedgerows are doing great, that would be even better.)

  4. The hedge is impressive. I didn't know Uncle Ted did that kind of thing. I kind of wish that hedges had become the way to fence in the US--it's such a great "green" way to control animals, but then as you say the work to maintain them is difficult.

    And Swaffham--do you know the story of the Peddlar of Swaffham? It's a standard in storytelling world and I believe there is a statue there of the Peddler. Or maybe there are two Swaffhams?

  5. Thanks for the comments. Sorry, Jack, but hedges are still a problem: from the point of view of wildlife, especially the smaller forms, hedgerows provide corridors connecting woods and spinneys. So although new hedges are being planted in places there are still large gaps in the system where large arable farms are removing hedges. There may be a post later. Sorry, Sue, too. The Swaffham where the tinker came from is in Norfolk - might go there sometime in the future. Hedging and ditching was the usual job during the winter months and Dad used to do it while working for Mr Ayres. They never had enough men or time to do the job properly and he and Fred spent most of their time patching up hedges which had been allowed to deteriorate. Nowadays they just bash the hedges into shape using a mechanical flail attached to a tractor.

  6. The living fences are such a good way of containing animals. We are also losing our hedgerows, many of which were built of field rocks(no shortage of them around here)with hawthorn and apple trees dotting the length and other native shrubs filling in the gaps.

  7. John, your posts are a treasure trove of information and joy. I love the hedge-building philosophy of providing a micro environment for the wildlife! And I always like learning a new word :^)

  8. I've always been very interested in hedges and wanted to learn how to lay one properly. It is such a pleasing sight. Love all your other photographs too! Jane x

  9. Fine examples of English village and rural life, all of them.

    I have a layered hedge myself and watched the man do it. It's a very skilled job.

  10. As always John, a wealth of information. Enjoyed the part about the fencerows.

  11. THAT WAS A CRACKINGLY interesting post.... loved the first hedge picture... oh I would love to learn to do that... a couple of years ago I learnt to lay dry stone wall!!1

  12. I came across your lovely blog today.

  13. Interesting as always John, I particularly like the photo of that well laid hedge. It's good to see that the old country skills are alive and well.


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