Monday, 23 September 2013

Village Craftsmen - The Blacksmith

Up until the 1950's almost every village  had all the regular craftsmen that covered all aspects of village life, from the nurse come midwife, to the wheelwright who not only laid out the deceased made the coffin and dug the grave, and pulled the four wheel hand pulled hearse, then made or repaired farm carts, made ladders, wheelbarrows,gates, and every thing in between. A brick layer on the estate maintenance  a cobler who mended and made boots and shoes and made and repaired horse harness  a shop keeper, a school , the vicar and of coarse the blacksmith, not forgetting the pub.  There was nine farms that surrounded the village five of which were in the centre, all the farms milked cows, and around pm in the afternoon herds of cows walking on the village roads in all directions, to their respective farms from out lying day pastures. Two herds passed through the this ford every day 

 This is an old picture of St Chads church looking from the north side, to the east end (left) of the church you can see the many chimneys of the big old vicarage which is now demolished

                                    The Blacksmiths Shop around the 1950`s
   Mr Giles travelled from Stafford to the village for two and sometimes three days a week; he also had a forge in East gate Street Stafford. With the number of horses rapidly declining it did not justify a full time blacksmith in the village. His main job was shoeing, welding repairing and fabricating gates and fences. Outside the blacksmiths shop was a heavy cast iron round disc, about 5ft across; to clamp wooden wheels down to while it was being hooped. To the extreme right ,at the chimney end was a tall narrow furnace ,the inside dimensions being only 18inches wide, but 6ft high and six foot long to heat up the wheel hoops to hammer them onto the wooden wheels.
   This furnace had a crude steel door to make the draught draw under the gap at the bottom, and through the fire grate and up through the depth of coke, to provide the heat. The fumes joined the chimney that is still there to this day. This furnace had quite thick walls and an arch at the top, then a depth or sand on top to help keep the heat in a tiled roof to keep the weather out.
  The original doors still cover the windows, but then they were just opening, never had been glazed. To the left of the double doors was a large pile of sweepings out of the shoeing bay, comprising of hoof trimmings and filings, dried on mud carried in the horse's hooves, and whatever the horses cared to leave behind. Through the double doors was the shoeing bay where the horses were tied up. Then through a door immediately on the right, the first thing you saw in the middle was the anvil, this stood on a large piece of  elm log to bring the top of the anvil to about two and a half foot high, handy hammering height. To the left was a pile of worn out horse shoes, some with nails still in. On the right fastened to a bench was a metal bending tool to form the hoops for cart wheels, this could be adjusted to how tight the bend needed to be. The strip of flat iron would be heated then the end fed over the first roller under the second and over the third. A big cranking handle turned the rollers the middle roller was screwed down to put pressure to curve the metal. The next along the bench was a large blacksmiths vice; this had a heavy bracket along the front edge of the bench, and a leg down into the floor. A long shiny bar with a knob at each end to tighten it with, and well worn jaws that had gripped and been hammered for what seemed to be generations. Also on this bench in front of the second window was a pillar drill , this had a large flywheel that turned horizontally above your head and a crank handle to the side driving it, underneath was a huge chuck and a small vice to hold the metal while being drilled.
   At the far end of the shop is the forge, this was made of bricks. At the front was an arch about eighteen inches high, by three feet wide with all sorts of scrap metal (useful off cut is the term I'm looking for) stuffed under for safe keeping. But the arch has a more practical reason for being there; it's for the blacksmith to put the toes of his boots under so he can stand closer to the forge without bending forward. The top edge of the forge the bricks had a rounded edge then nine inches in it was filled up with fine coke. The hearth was open on two sides, and bricked round on the other two with metal lining to protect it from the heat .Over the top was a metal hood with inches of dust on it leading into a brick chimney. At the back of the forge were the bellows, at one time, before I can remember he used the old bellows worked by foot pedal, made out of leather? These stayed there for quite a number of years, but got hidden by the "useful off cuts" but now the blowing was done by electric fan. All round the front and sides of the forge, except where he stood, were brackets holding all the tongs and tools of the trade. On the wall forming the left hand side of the hearth was his office; this took the form of a couple of nails with notes thrust onto them. One held the draughtsman's drawings of some fabrication job he had to do (drawn freehand on a torn off piece of cardboard full of thumb prints) one of many that had been put on before it. The other nail held an assortment of his wardrobe leather aprons jerkins and leggings that were in varying stages of dilapidation, the oldest at the back, right up to his older cap used when shoeing horses on the top. He had to reach just under this pile to operate the switch for the new electric fan.
   First job when he arrived in a morning would be to light the forge, a few sticks that had been kept in a dry and warm place over night would be placed in a hollow in the centre of the hearth on a couple of sheets of crumpled newspaper. This was lit and the fan put on low, as the flames got enthusiastic some coke was gradually pulled over the burning sticks, and within a couple of minutes the fire was hot enough to boil the kettle. The fan was turned off and the fire would remain dormant most of the day, it being ready at a moments notice when switched on again. Along side the forge was a  rusty dousing tank three quarters full of equally rusty water, where metal that needed cooling quickly was dunked in with a tremendous fizzling in clouds of steam, on the end of his tongs.
At the back of his work shop was a rack that held new metal of all dimensions, some for horse shoes some for cart wheel hoops, some for making gate hinges   and all the ironwork needed when the wheelwright was making a new cart or wagon plus everything in between. This had to be reached by climbing over, jobs waiting to be done, things taken in as patterns and all the useful off cuts that might come in handy (should I say scrap metal). The only clear floor area was from the door to the forge and round the forge, then round the anvil. 
   Every so often they would fire up the furnace at the end of the blacksmith's shop for hooping wheels that Mr Clark the wheelwright had made or repaired. The hoops would be lifted out red hot and burned onto the wooden wheel that was clamped firmly on a huge cast iron disc that was permanently on the frontage of his shop. When hammered down into place firmly, water would be poured on to cool the iron hoop and shrink it tight onto the wooden wheel, these would then be rolled across the road and leaned against the wooden fence opposite, as many as twenty five of all sizes and weights ready to be repainted and refitted to there respective vehicles. On certain days of the week he would concentrate on shoeing horses mainly shires some cobs or float horses and a few hunters.
  When our two remaining shires wanted shoeing we would be put up on top of them and set off to school, Mr Giles would lift us down to continue to school, then on the way home for dinner we would be pushed back on top to take them home again. Some times he would let us switch his forge fan on to heat a horse shoe, the shoe on the end of his tongs he would bury it in the centre of the burning coke for about a minuet, and it would come out more than red hot but going white hot with little sparks jumping off it. This would hold the heat while he burned it onto the trimmed hoof of the shire, this made the shoe touch the hoof all the way round and bed it in amid clouds of smoke. The shoe was then cooled before nailing it onto the horses hoof, the new set of shoes would last 6 to 8 weeks depending on the roadwork do. Old "Flower" one of our shires, had a habit of twisting her one back foot every time she put her foot down and would ware this one shoe out in a month, so an extra visit was necessary for that one foot every now and then.
I can still hear the ringing of the anvil as the blacksmith pumled the soft hot metal into the desired shape, after every blow to the metal he was working with there would be at least two smaller bounces of the hammer on the anvil creating a very sharp ringing, then two or three blows to the hot metal quite a dull sound. As the metal cooled to a dull red it would harden again and have to be reheated then the finer touches would be made turning it over and around until it reached the shape he wanted. It was a very hot job, sleeves rolled up and a heavy leather apron on, his cap turned slightly more than when he was cool and tipped back a little. Everything he used was shiny made so with the palm of his hardened hands that held the skill of many years of experience

The blacksmiths shop closed around 1975 as did the wheelwrights, horses had reached there lowest numbers, with no shires at all in this district, but riding horses and ponies are on the steady increase and mobile farrier are taking over. The demand for wooden carts and wagons gradually came to an end as tractors with hydraulic tipping became more popular.

This was the blacksmiths shop  in 1945 when we were going to School. The tall narrow door on the right, was a furnace in which the iron hoops were heated red hot then hammered over the wooden wheel, which was clamped tight on the cast iron circle, permanently situated outside his shop.

             I Remember Blacksmiths Shop

This was the blacksmiths shop in  1945 when we moved to the village and started school

I remember blacksmiths shop, all dingy dark and dusty,
Great big pile of horse shoes outside, all a going rusty,
Tom Giles was smithies name, all jolly strong and hot,
With shoeing father's horses, he did the blooming lot.

When setting off to school one morn, the horses we would take,
To blacksmiths shop for shoeing, would make us very late,
On going home for dinner, these horses we would ride,
Pitched up high on Flower, the others led with pride.

Welding cutting bending shaping, everything was there,
To make it new, or fettle up, to make a good repair,
His stock of metal had a rack, but most of it had missed,
It lay about in piles around his forge, which was in its midst.

All day you'd hear the hammer, a ringing out aloud,
Hitting out the red hot metal, made him very proud,
The different shapes and sizes, needed for a gate,
Lay around the workshop floor, no need for him a mate.

Alone he worked all day until; we kids came out of school,
Then he would be invaded, his metal then would cool,
On his forge he put his kettle, there to make some tea,
We kids tried out his drilling tool, great flywheel turned by me.

With tongs we tried to heat the metal, in the furnace hot,
To make and shape we would try, to bend on anvil, but,
Not hot enough to work it, so pumping the bellows up,
It made the spark fly every where, our school cloths covered us.

The water in the blacksmiths shop, was warm to wash our hand,
With dowsing all the things he'd made, red hot metal into bands,
With cloths soiled and singed, and not a hole in site,
Mother knew where we had been, said it's late it's nearly night.


Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of the fire.Quotation by W B Yeats

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Farming on a peat bog

Farming on a peat bog (only part of the farm)

Almost a quarter of our farm is on a peat bog, at one time each of the farms in the village had a proportion of this peat ground, splitting and fragmenting the farms.
In the last forty years as farms became vacant with retirements the estate amalgamated the farms into bigger units and got them into ring fence units. My farm being to the east side of the estate nearly all this peat ground fell into my circle on the map.
When I first started farming, and fresh from farm college, keen to try out new ideas, I had a small area of peat and some river side land as well, both areas prone to flooding once the river bloke its banks.
 The peat grassland was full of buttercups and the soft rush, and when neglected the soft rushes became what we called ‘sniggle bogs' the centre of which rose up and made it impossible top cut with the old finger bar mowers.
So being keen I contacted my local MAFF  (Ministry of Agriculture fisheries and Food) adviser. He was and old man who had had plenty of experience and seen these type of meadows before.
Being peat it was very acidic and no amount of lime would bring the PH levels up to that required by modern seed mixtures he advised. Best way was to improve the indigenous species of grass that was already growing down there.
First job was to rake or harrow the centre out of these ‘sniggle bogs' and if that did not work it was advised that I take some bags of Sulphate of Ammonia fertilizer and a bucket onto the meadows and place a handful of the fertilizer into the middle of each bog of rushes, the aim was to burn the centre out of the bog and the nitrogen fertilizer would benefit and encourage the surrounding grass.
After a couple of years these risen bogs had disappeared and the remaining rushes could be cut twice or three times a year with the finger bar mower. In later years, and as I took over more of the meadows the finger bar mowers had been supper seeded by the drum or disc mowers, and these were capable of cutting directly under and sniggle bogs cutting out the hand work involved in burning the centres out with fertilizer.
Back to the early days, once the meadows were mow-able, I started to leave a good proportion to cut for hay, it was before silage was invented in our area, and we managed to get the baler on to the meadows to bale the crop.
Confidence building and wishing to increase the yield of hay a complete fertilizer was applied and a tremendous response was seen from the old grasses that grew on the meadows, it was difficult to mow with the finger bar mower as there was a certain amount of rotting vegetation at the bottom of the sward so dense that it lacked sunlight. It was okay for the first one or two summers when the weather was with us, then we hit a bad year weather wise
It was mowed as usual and after two days was turned with an old ‘dickey swath turner' this flipped up just over half of the heavy side of the swath, a second turning the next day brought the rest of the swath to the top, it was at this point that  the weather bloke and we had a very heavy down pour. A deluge that went on for most of the night, bringing the brook that run through the meadows to over flow, of course at mowing time of year, the brook and the river lower down were also weeded up which impeded the flow.
So it was the following day we watched with dismay, the water rose in between the heavy swaths, and later that day the swaths were actually floating and drifting to one side of the meadows. As the water receded so the swaths settled nice and neatly over each other each four foot swath now being four inches apart with overlapping. The whole crop was lost and that part of the meadow ruined for the next two years where the swaths lay and rotted down.
On reflecting back without the fertilizer, and with lighter crop that hay could have been baled a day earlier and the bales carted. That was imprinted on my mind for the rest of my farming days, however on the odd occasion we have had bales stranded and standing in flood water when rucked into piles of eight, only the bottom two were ruined and the other not up to much by the time they were carted. But that is the risk taken on these meadows.
Up to these modern times, the meadows are the same, we take the crop it produces usually towards August being the best time to cut, they are cut with a fifteen foot disc mower conditioner, wilted one day rowed up and baled in the following day or two days depending on the forecast, being big round bales these are loaded and moved without much physical effort on my part, that suit me fine, and stacked at home outside.

These ditches are bottomless, and the meadows mown leaving two metres uncut by the water course. 

  This type peat meadows now are getting rare and Natural England, the modern equivalent of MAFF have asked if they could monitor these meadows of ours and sent out advisers to study them. Some groups have been round from Nottingham University and now they are monitored and controlled by the Stewardship Schemes that I participate in.

Some of the principle rules that I have now got to abide by to maintain these meadows and receive a subsidy for doing so is,
1 Not to go on the meadows for any reason before 15th July.
 This is so we do not rut and poach the ground; this is what I have already done over the last fifty years
2 Do not apply fertilizer or lime or farm yard manure.
Its impossible to get on the ground to spread FYM and as from experience no fertilizer or lime has ever been spread by me over the last fifty years. (Other than the few years explained above)

3 Graze the aftermath growth of grass and remove stock by 1st November every year.This is what we have done on the meadows over the last fifty years. 

4 The Ditches and dykes only to be cleaned of every third year in rotation.
Well that job is taken out of my hands, I have never done that job, it is undertaken by the River Board who clean out all the main rivers and water courses below a certain contour line. Never done that job over fifty years.
5       Leave two metres un-mown along side all water courses.
This is new to me, with the modern disc mowers you can only cut to the top of the bank or edge of the ditch, with the old finger bar mower you could hang the cutter bar down almost to the waters edge. The longest swath with the most grass is always the outside one. We loose out on that last swath of grass. So this rule is already catered for with the use of the disc mowers. 

Year 2008 was interesting in that I was approached by the Environment Agency, Natural England, they wanted me to go on a scheme Farming Flood plains for the future project.
They are looking at raising the water levels of our moor (peat) during the winter month. This they did by inserting some controllable dams in key sections of the ditches, and held the water at field level through to May when a sluice was opened in each dam to return the water level back to what was it natural levels. Below and above each dam was a censor, to measure the water levels by computer, and again censors out I the middle of the fields to register the water table again they connected to a computer to read the levels every few weeks.
All this work and altering the water table levels did not affect the crop of grass that we harvested at the end of July and August.
Conclusion, not enough infield standing water to benefit wading and wet land birds, so the dams were not closed in the winter of 2010, but the levels are still being monitored.
So it looks like I should be telling them how to maintain the meadows, and do like I have done for the last fifty years, but some folk just will not be told.
Another project was under taken on the moors when I was asked if the Wildlife trust could do a botanical survey of all the interesting indigenous species of plant growing on the peat. Apparently there are not many of these old untouched meadows left in the country, and this is what they found almost 40 different species.
  Habitat: Neutral grassland: unimproved  29/05/2008
Recorder(s): -----(I won't name them here)-
flowering plant
Alopecurus geniculatus  Marsh Foxtail locally  frequent       
Alopecurus pratensis      Meadow Foxtail           abundant
Anthoxanthum odoratum Sweet Vernal              Grass abundant
Caltha palustris               Marsh-marigold          rare
Cardamine pratensis       Cuckooflower             frequent
Carex acutiformis           Lesser Pond-sedge      locally frequent
Carex disticha                Brown Sedge               frequent
Carex hirta                      Hairy Sedge                frequent
Carex panicea                 Carnation Sedge          rare
Cerastium fontanum        Common Mouse-Ear occasional
Cirsium palustre              Marsh Thistle              rare
Deschampsia cespitosa  Tufted Hair-Grass        occasional
Eleocharis palustris        Common Spike-rush locally abundant
Festuca rubra                  Red Fescue                 occasional
Filipendula ulmaria        Meadowsweet locally frequent
Galium palustre              Marsh-bedstraw           frequent
Glyceria fluitans             Floating Sweet-grass   abundant
Holcus lanatus                Yorkshire-fog               frequent
Juncus articulatus           Jointed Rush                 occasional
Juncus conglomeratus    Compact Rush               frequent
Juncus effusus                 Soft-rush                      occasional
Lathyrus pratensis          Meadow Vetchling          rare
Leontodon autumnalis    Autumnal Hawkbit           rare
Lychnis flos-cuculi           Ragged-Robin                   rare
Persicaria maculosa        Redshank locally            frequent
Plantago lanceolata           Ribwort Plantain            frequent
Poa pratensis                 Smooth Meadow-Grass    occasional
Ranunculus acris           Meadow Buttercup            frequent
Ranunculus bulbosus        Bulbous Buttercup            occasional
Ranunculus flammula        Lesser Spearwort locally    frequent
Ranunculus repens             Creeping Buttercup            frequent
Rumex acetosa                   Common Sorrel                 occasional
Senecio aquaticus             Marsh Ragwort                         rare
Stellaria alsine                 Bog Stitchwort                          rare
Taraxacum officinale agg.  Taraxacum officinale agg.     rare
Trifolium pratense            Red Clover                         occasional
Veronica serpyllifolia      Thyme-leaved Speedwell              rare
Vicia hirsute                        Hairy Tare                                rare
We were asked if one of our meadows could act as a donor meadow, to provide seeds to another meadow 20miles away. 
 So on a pre-booked day we mowed (mower without the conditioner we need the seeds to stay on the plants) and baled the grass/crop loaded it on their transport and by mid afternoon it was being spread on the receiving  meadow, for the seeds of all the above plants to establish on a new meadow. Not had any feed back on the results but I imagine it will take a long while before it can be said to be successful. 

Old Maps.

Its nice to look at very old maps, all faded and dog eared,
See what has change over the years, and what has disappeared,
Years ago they measured the land, all in furlong and chain 
The length of a furlong a chain wide and an acre to attain,
Most roads and lanes are still the same, so are most the fields,
Village houses have increased built in corners quite concealed.

Countryman  (Owd Fred)

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Vicon Acrobat spider wheel

Vicon Acrobat spider wheel 50 Years ago (May 1962)

We took delivery of a brand new Vicon Acrobat spider wheel hay turner come rowing up tool fifty years ago this month.
It was an amazing machine at the time with no driving parts or gears, just turned by dragging the four wheels along the ground at an angle and it raked grass across just to turn it or to row up ready for baling.
It suited the small tractors of the time like the Ferguson T20 and the International B250 that we had, Took some getting used to working it as any twist if the steering wheel would throw the rear end of the mounted machine in the opposite direction, missing the particular swath that your working on, so accurate and constant attention to ya driving was essential to make a good job.
It made a good job in light crops but rowing up hay made from long tall grass it had a tenancy to roll it into a long rope of hay the length of the field. The pickup balers of the time, we had an International B45 baler, was driven by the B250 tractor, had only the single clutch, which meant the baler started turning as the tractor started moving forwards and stopped whey a wheels stopped. When in first gear and this rope of hay started going in too heavy for the baler to take, it would drag the hay form forward of the tractor stalling the tractor and blocking the baler intake.
This Vicon Acrobat turner survive for almost 50 years on this farm although it had been supper seeded by other mounted twin  rotary tedder come rowing up machines that were power driven, we still turn back to then vicon for work on light crops
Many of these Acrobats could be seen on stock farms used for blocking a gap in a hedge to keep cattle from escaping, ours had that job over some winters when not in use, but eventually the frame started to crack up with all the whipping about that it got working through dips and hollows on the peat meadows.
I still have the machine now, but is looking dangerously close to the scrap ruck.

The Scrap Ruck

I got a pile of scrap iron, and it builds up real fast,
And another round the corner, where I dropped it last,
I save it just in case, nothings ever chucked away,
Piles of it every where, It might come in one day.

Broken bits of tractor, and its off cut bits of steel,
Some is thick and some is thin, and some a bit of wheel,
Angle iron in six foot lengths, some point was a bed,
Other bits chucked into the rucks, some still painted red.

Nettles growing through it, and it makes a nesting site,
For rats and mice and vermin, who are only out at night,
Disturbed they run like mad, get away from you or me,
And where do they head for, their scrap ruck home with glee.

I'm looking for a bit of metal, the size ta mend a gate,
Seen some in the scrap ruck, but I can't locate,
Remember when I chucked it, don't know which pile it's in,
Turn each pile over and see, praps neath that pile of tin.

It's rusting in the winter, when the snow and rain soaks in,
It's rusty and it's flaking, and its no use for welding,
Don't know why I saved it, cus the price of scraps sky high,
Have to have a clear out, home for rats and mice deny.  

Countryman  (Owd Fred)

Sunday, 1 September 2013

The Se-----ford Staffordshire Hoard

The Se-----ford Staffordshire Hoard 

Most everyone in the world must have heard about the Staffordshire hoard, all that buried gold found in a ploughed field a few years ago not that many miles from me.

Well this is my contribution to finding treasure on the farm, and its took me fifty five years to find this.

1772 Silver George 3rd half penny piece

Its not every day that you have a "find" even though it be modest, a friend of mine was walking the footpaths along our fields a few days ago, and came across a rabbit hole with fresh soil dug out of it. On top of this soil was a coin, he picked it up, took it home and cleaned it, and found the date on it to be 1772.
He told me about it and gave it to me to investigate its value and coinage, It turns out that it is a Silver half Penny George 3rd.

You can only imagine back years ago, a farm worker layering the wood side hedge, with his jacket slung over the completed hedge, dropping a coin out of the pocket, a coin that would be the biggest part of his week’s wage.
How the coin lay in that hedge bottom for over two hundred years, leaves rotted covering it, soil brought up by earth worms allowed it to gradually sink beneath the ground, eventually being dug out by a rabbit only an hour or so before being spotted again by human eye after all those years.

It’s often said that stiles, foot paths and gateways are the place to use the metal detectors, also old cottage gardens and cottages pulled down years ago. I think we have almost come to an end of finding old work horse shoes, they often end up round the point of the plough sooner or later.
We did find a billhook, that’s a chopper used when chopping sticks or even laying a hedge, the wooden handle had long since rotted away leaving a six inch long spike which ran through the handle, and by some misfortune the tractor front tyre found it.
Without me knowing it was gripped in the tread of the tyre and came up under the plastic/rubber mud guard/fender blade first and sliced two inches off the mudguard all round, it was the bit that folds over the edge that helps to give it strength.

The tractor at the time, that day was a new demonstrator tractor from the local dealer, a Deutz four wheel drive 100 plus horse power. It was trimmed off so neatly that the dealer never noticed it and it eventually sold on to a farmer, who again did not twig what had happened.
The tyre went down rapidly and a repair man came and patched the tyre and blew it up, there again you could not see where it had been spiked, I have no doubt that eventually the cords around that area spiked would give way after a few years of hard work, and a new tyre would have to be fitted.
The billhook was duly dispatched to the scrap ruck and safely stored until it was weighed in to a scrap yard.    

Time is the coin of life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.Carl Sandburg  (1878 - 1967)