Saturday, 3 December 2011

The British Hedgerows and Boundaries.

The fields both large and small have names, you wouldn't dream exist,
Some relate to owner past, and others the type of land persists,
Hanging Bank is most sinister name, it's a cold north facing bank,
More research into this is what's needed, but all we've drawn is a blank.

It seem most important to British people that their Boundaries are marked by a fence or ditch and hedgerow or both. It is also important to know who's responsible for its maintenance and repair. On farms it is your own responsibility to keep your own cattle contained within your boundary.

Having said that, in the early days you marked your boundary by digging a ditch along your side of the line, and throwing the spoil back into your own side, then plant a hedge on top of it. In other words it's your boundary if the ditch is the other side of the hedge or fence. Internal ditches were often dug and a hedge planted, to pick up springs and tile drains that crossed the farm, and clear storm water to prevent shallow pools forming, which would kill the grass after a few week submerged.

Very old hedgerows are often made up of many species, ranging from Hawthorn and Blackthorn to Brier and Elder, the latter two being not very desirable, as livestock tend to eat through them. Unless the hedges are trimmed each year they soon become open in the bottom, and very loose in the top. Hawthorn and Holly make a good tight knit defence against cattle, but can soon become gappy when Elder which is a quick grower becomes dominant. Then when livestock are turned into the field, they eat it.

In one of our hedges, a botanist counted over twenty different species of hedgerow plant in a hundred yard stretch. This is a hedge that had evolved over the years in a grazing pasture, where cattle have made their contribution to pruning. Only the less palatable species dominated and maintained quite a good hedge.

Often the best trees to grow from saplings are the ones that are growing in the hedge bottom, when they appear out of the top of the hedge they can just be cut round and simply left to grow. No problem of transplanting or guarding they grow on to make splendid trees with no setbacks.
Hedgerows are important to birds, for nesting and for berries for winter feeding, and the hedge bottom, is shelter for a wide range of small mammals.

The ideal hedge, I was told, over fifty years ago, should be A shaped, and when in full leaf sheads rain like a thatched roof. This gives maximum shelter to its inhabitants, and a wide and dry undisturbed hedge bottom, , and a build-up of dry leaf mould, for hibernating wildlife like Hedgehogs and Toads. Rabbits like to burrow under hedges, as very often the soil is relatively loose and not too compacted, the roots of the hedge also hold the burrow open, and no danger of collapse. Also growing on top of a small hedge bank, it is well drained and dry.
  Badgers often dig in old rabbit warrens, particularly if they hit a good seam of sand that is just below a hard gravely layer. Here they can dig rapidly forming great mounds of sand that could turn a tractor over, if you're not concentrating.

Field mice and voles find shelter in the hedge banks, running among the tussocks of grass. At harvest time they venture further out in the field margins foraging for shed grain, where they fall pray to the kestrels and buzzards. When they spot a mouse, they hover then dive, carrying them off in their talons, owls too like this type of habitat.

On our estate fifty years ago, the woodman when needed would cut down an oak tree. The main trunk would be cut into a 5ft 6in length and 10ft length and multiples of that to make best use of the tree trunk. These large sections of tree trunk were then cleft (split) with wedges and a sledge hammer to make fencing posts and the longer ones into rails.
This practice is never used nowadays, but cleft timber was always better and stronger than sawn timber. This was because split timber always followed the grain of the wood, and sawn timber inevitably crossed the grain somewhere along its length and could break in that place. There are still examples of cleft posts and rails in parts of the estate but they are getting few and far between.

In the Moor Cover wood there always used to be a section in the lower part of the wood that was coppiced. The stools that had been harvested two or three years before were again ready to be cut. The most common use was for hedge laying stakes, and the whippy tops used to bind the top of the laid hedge. When completed this binding would look like the top edge of a basket, holding the light stakes and laid hedge stiff, durable and stock proof.

 Another use of the lighter stakes was for thatching pegs, these needed to be about 2ft long the thicker ones would be cleft into two, they would then be sharpened at one end to make it easier to push into the stack of hay or corn. The brash left after coppicing found it way into many of the village gardens as pea and bean sticks, and no opportunity was lost on finding a new seven or eight foot cloths line prop with a natural forked top.

Field Names of Seighford

Out in Britons countryside, looks like a patchwork quilt,
Of roads and lanes and field tracks, evolved and some were built,
They lead from towns and villages, and farms, map nailed on beam,
Each field a hedge and ditch and gate, watered by pond or stream.

The fields both large and small have names, you wouldn't dream exist,
Some relate to owner past, and others the type of land persists,
Red Rheine's is one of these mean fields, when ploughed reveals red clay,
Unless the frost into it gets, no seed bed though you work all day.

Best known one I've no doubt, behind Yews farm is Cumbers,
Ten houses built along the village, take that name and numbers,
Down by the ford is Mill Bank, four acre few trees by the brook,
The Hazel Graze another great name, nut bushes to make a crook.

Fosters by the railway line, named after a soul long gone,
And Pingles also down the Moor Lane, that defiantly is a mystery one,
Noons Birch is the most beautiful name, one that congers' you mind,
Public Field it was part of the land , run to the pub up back and behind.

Hoble End is another nice name, where two cottages stood in the fields,
No track did they only footpath, lonely place only a well and concealed,
Moss Common a field where the ditch, springs in the middle to pick up,
It is important that they are there, to water the ewes and the tup.

Ash Pits are three fields in a row, the Big the Middle and Little,
Ash trees are the obvious reason, and only one pit in the lot,
Hanging Bank is most sinister name, it's a cold north facing bank,
More research into this is what's needed, but all we've drawn is a blank

Lanes to the fields also have names, Moor Lane runs way from the ford,
Connecting with that is Love Lane, a grassy rut track half way Bridgeford,
The Oldfords Lane goes up to the farm, to Coton not a short cut by car,
And Smithy Lane runs way through houses, the shortest of all by far.

Moss Lane is one that runs eastwards, cow lane that it is can be seen,
Grass up the middle and is long, see cattle grazing fields so keen,
It has path that runs up it, and gates shut on each end,
The path is quite long; it comes out near Doxey on bend.


See also my recent blog Post and Rails of Oak. Tag "Fencing"

If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant, if we did not sometimes taste adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672).