A family business in the Black Country produces beer the traditional way...
Solid and confident, the traditional Victorian building that is home to Bathams Brewery towers over the surrounding homes of Brierley Hill, West Midlands. Within the walls of this family-run business, a malty fragrance tickles the nostrils, especially pungent when the weather is damp. Rising and swirling steam is another indicator that brewing is in full swing.
The Bathams are a family born to brew. Five generations have been involved in creating the beer, which has become legendary in the Black Country. The brewery is entering its 140th year of operation, with its 11th pub opened in October last year.
“My great-great-grandfather Daniel started the business in 1877,” explains Matt Batham, the current joint owner alongside his brother Tim. “It’s thought that Daniel regularly helped out at a local brewhouse, the White Horse Inn in Cradley, before becoming the landlord, which is when his passion for brewing was sparked,” he says. “Our newest pub is called the King Arthur because the name Arthur has been in the family for three generations. It was our father’s name and he steered the business through some tricky times.”
Matt is certain the family tradition for brewing will continue. One of his nieces, Claire, keeps the Plough and Harrow, a Bathams pub in nearby Kinver. Another, Alice, has an MA in practical brewing and is taking a job with a smaller brewery.
Bathams brews three beers. “Our best bitter is the mainstay of the business,” says Matt. “Our other regular is mild ale, which was voted best mild in the Midlands by Camra.” The third beer is a Christmas special, XXX, or Christmas Brew as some customers call it. It is a very strong ale, at 6.3 per cent. “We brew XXX in November, and it’s sold while stocks last. Our customers start asking in October when it will be ready.”
Bathams also produces a bottled beer, brewed to the same recipe but pasteurised and dispensed differently. “As well as serving Bathams in our own pubs, we have a number of free trade accounts in the area,” explains Matt. Privately-owned and free from brewery ties, these pubs can choose their supplier.
The brewery uses three main ingredients in its beer: malted barley, hops and yeast. “The barley comes from Tuckers Maltings, based at Newton Abbott in Devon,” says Matt. “It is only one of four malt houses in the country to produce malt in the traditional, rather than mechanised way. The hops are locally sourced from the Wye Valley.”
The yeast is re-used and is 20 years old now. “Yeast from each brew is collected and saved for the following week. It has adapted to the conditions and environment of our brewery, so is exclusive to us,” he explains. “During the process, the yeast separates. Some of it dies, which goes to make animal feed or yeast extract. The live yeast is constantly monitored to ensure it is in top condition.” The water needed for brewing comes from Severn Trent.
Matt has ventured outside the region, supplying his beer to North Wales, Liverpool, Manchester and the East Midlands, but stays mostly local to the West Midlands and Worcestershire, due to demand.
The brewery remains committed to traditional methods. The raw ingredients are taken to the top of the tower and work their way down through various processes until the beer barrels finally roll onto the lorries at ground level. “We still use open fermenters, and we use open copper mash vessels. There is always a brew bubbling away,” says Matt.
Bathams’ most iconic pub is the Vine Inn, on the brewery site. It is also known as the Bull and Bladder, as it used to have a butcher’s shop within it. The pub is rich in Victorian ambience, with a tiled front corridor, engraved glass partitions and ornate carvings. The quote “blessing of your heart – you brew good ale” emblazoned across the top of the building is taken from Shakespeare’s The Gentlemen of Verona.
“We are proud of our heritage and have a great future before us,” says Matt. “Opening a new pub, when all around the country many are closing, shows the confidence we have in our brewery.”
Words Julie Brown Photography Clive Doyle
Ghillie Heather Mitchell’s work on Scottish estates relies on the strong bond she has with her sturdy, sure-footed ponies
Clad in tweeds, a woman strides purposefully over the hills and rivers of the Scottish countryside. At her side is a small, stocky Highland pony. The crisp air dances over the peaks and whistles around their ears as the pair move nimbly across the rugged terrain. On the back of the pony is a gleaming, bulky saddle, bound on with thick criss-crossed straps.
The woman is Heather Mitchell. She is a ghillie, a person who works as an attendant on a deer-stalking estate in Scotland. Unlike other ghillies however, she only occasionally plays a part in stalking the deer. Instead, her role is to attend to her pony, which is used to carry the deer from the hill. These sturdy animals, known as stalking ponies, or garrons, are a heavy type of Highland pony. They are strong enough to carry stags that weigh up to 18st (114.3kg) over rough ground on their special saddles.
Over the last 20 years, Heather has had six stalking ponies. Today, her companion on the hills is 13-year-old Mayfly. She shares a deep affection and trust with all her ponies. “The secret to being a good pony ghillie is to understand the horses,” she explains. “Young lads train as a ghillie, then think ‘I’ll just add a horse in’. But you have to know about horses. The skill is in being able to know what the pony is thinking, and why it might be frightened. You need to be able to pre-empt anything that could spook them.”
Learning the ways of the hills
Mayfly has been with Heather for four years. She was only introduced to stalking work last year, but is coming on quickly. Her background was in dressage, as far from the hills as possible in the horse world. But dressage is the art of training a horse and rider so they work in harmony. It has made this big boned horse as light as a feather on her feet and willing to learn. Heather hopes this will stand her in good stead in her new role. “I only have
to show Mayfly something once for her to get the gist of it,”
she says. “She’s very intelligent.”
Nimble and sturdy, the Highland pony is native to Scotland and the islands. The island ponies are slightly smaller in stature to their mainland counterparts. Both were bred to not only carry deer, but also to pull provisions and wood. They often worked across treacherous terrain in dire weather conditions where only the most substantial horses would survive. On today’s shooting estates, they transport equipment onto the hills, and carry birds home in wicker panniers as well as stags.
Mayfly is an exception to the rule that training usually starts at an early age. Often a foal will follow its mother out on to the hill when she is at work. This way it becomes used to the smells involved in the work in her reassuring presence. It also learns from her how to read the land for a safe and sure footing.
“The foal follows its mother out on the bogs and learns how to test the ground and where to tread,” says Heather.
“I used to have a grey mare who would go up to the bogs
and sniff them to tell if they were safe or not.”
The horse is a natural flight animal, so has to learn to suppress its urge to run from the scent of blood. It is introduced to the experience of carrying deer very gently.
The foal is gradually acclimatised to the scent so it is not frightened by it. “We take a fresh deer skin, and place their feed on it. In this way the deer’s smell becomes familiar.”
It is only when the bones have stopped growing, at approximately five years old, that the ponies are introduced to the deer saddle. Both heavy and cumbersome, this special saddle weighs approximately 2st (12.7kg). Added to this will be the heavy deer. The weight the ponies carry is gradually built up over subsequent training sessions, either using weighted sacks or part of a tractor tyre. As the pony progresses, Heather may recruit a friend to lie over the saddle. “I’ll get them to stick their arms and legs out so they move as the pony moves, mimicking the dead weight and movements the stag’s body would make,” she says.
After approximately three days’ training, the pony is confident and strong enough to carry a load over tricky terrain. As it learns, trust builds up between ghillie and pony. It is essential there is complete commitment between the handler and pony when the first stag carcass is loaded on.
If the pony panics and bolts, it could be injured by the antlers, or run into danger. The glens have many ravines and bogs that would prove treacherous to a bolting pony.
Heather first came across Highland ponies when she was 23. At the time she was working with very different horses at
a racing yard in north Yorkshire. When the racing season finished, she took a summer job at a trekking centre on Rhidorroch House estate near Ullapool in Ross-shire.
“I found myself with 17 of these short, fat, hairy beasts, which were totally different to the Thoroughbreds I was used to,” she says. “They fascinated me, with their slow plod and massive feet, their short, sturdy legs and long tails. Their sure-footedness and sturdiness was the opposite of racehorses. Nature’s four-wheel drives, they can go anywhere, including walking safely across a bog. When you come to a steep bit of ground, it’s as if they change gear and put the power on.”
While at Rhidorroch, Heather was offered the chance to go out as a ghillie with ponies working on the estate. After just one day, she knew this was what she wanted to do. Then and there she bought a Highland stallion, Oscar.
Moving to a job at Lochinvar estate, she was able to learn from a keeper there. “I taught myself along the way and, as I was working with him, I was learning all I could,” she says. “Working as a pony ghillie isn’t something that’s easy to train for. You need to find a gamekeeper who wants to work ponies on the estate. Then you have to have the confidence to learn on the job. The knowledge is all passed down. I’ve learnt from a few old boys I met when working on other estates. They will tell you they know a better way to do something and will show you how. It’s a handing down of their knowledge. I’ve taken what they’ve shared and added other ideas myself.”
The majority of ghillies and gamekeepers are men, stronger than her. “I have to think a bit differently,” she says. “On the hill I can be up to 10 miles from anywhere, with a stag and a pony. I have to think tactically. Whereas the male pony ghillies can simply lift a stag over the back of their horse, I’ll drag the carcass on top of a nearby rock.
I then take the pony alongside it and slide the stag on.”
Stalking work is seasonal from July to February. Stags are taken between 1 July and 20 October, and hinds taken from 21 October to mid February. “All the deer that are shot on the Highland estates are taken as part of a cull programme,” explains Heather. “The stags are selected according to their age. A judgment is made as to whether the older ones are fit enough to make it through the winter. The weak are picked
off to ensure there are more resources for the younger healthy bucks. Also, stags with deformed antlers, which could cause damage to the other deer, are taken.”
When not working over winter, the ponies are in the field. “Then, when the grass comes through in spring, I need to take them into stables or they get fat,” she says. “At this stage, I change their diet to hay and a salt lick alongside unmolassed sugar beet. Each pony has a bespoke feed to treat any ailments or weaknesses it has. For this, I add in things like seaweed, devil’s claw, brewer’s yeast and turmeric. I’m always on the look-out for signs of grass sickness in the ponies, which occurs when bacteria is picked up from the soil, as that can be deadly.
“From April, I start showing the ponies at the country shows and taking them out for demonstrations. I tack one of the ponies up and show how they work with a dummy stag. It is important to me to teach people what we do and keep this tradition alive.”
Going it alone
Heather worked for estates for several stalking seasons, living on site for months at a time. She worked with both her own ponies and those of her employers. Then she decided to become a freelance pony ghillie. Today, different estates employ her each year, in the Highlands, and out on the islands. When working, the ponies are given a field to graze in while she stays in a bothy within the estate grounds.
She is also continuing the tradition of passing on the lore of the job. For the last two years she has returned to the Rhidorroch estate to teach Iona Scobie the skills of a pony ghillie. Iona has taken on the running of the estate from her mother.
“Twenty years ago, the tradition of using Highland ponies on the hill for carrying deer was being phased out,” says Heather. “Instead, estates were using motorised vehicles. But hunters love the authenticity of using ponies, and often ask for them. That is good news for us pony ghillies, and helps keep traditions alive.”
After two decades, she still gets immense satisfaction from working as a ghillie, and cannot imagine doing anything else.
“Being out on the hill is indescribable,” she says. “It’s beyond obsession. I was hooked from the very first time I went up there. As a ghillie working with ponies, you’re alone, but never lonely.
I don’t take my mobile phone out with me. Instead, I carry a radio with me, and the stalker will contact me when the shooting party is ready for me to come and collect the stag.
“I have great memories of lying up there on the hill with two horses tied to my foot, watching a pair of golden eagles swooping overhead, so still and silent. I’ve never felt that feeling of peace and serenity doing anything else.”
Workhorse of the mountains
The Highland pony is one of the three native breeds which are found in the Scottish Highlands and Islands.
It is unknown how this ancient breed arrived in Scotland, but there are records of them here by the 8th century BC. One theory is that wild horses arrived after the retreat of the glaciers 10,000 years ago. A second is that they arrived with prehistoric settlers.
The Highland has distinctive markings, such as eel or dorsal stripes along the spine, zebra marks on the legs, dark points (extremities such as the tips of the ars and tail) and shoulder stripes. These are primitive coat markings similar to those on ancient equine breeds.
Over centuries, this sturdy little pony has adapted to the changeable and often harsh Scottish environment. Its winter coat is made up of a layer of tough badger-like guard hair growing over a soft, dense undercoat. This allows it to survive on the hill, whatever the weather. It has a long, thick tail and mane, long tufted fetlocks and wispy whiskers under its chin. All help ensure torrential Scottish rains run off its body.
A versatile pony
Their bodies are well balanced and compact, with a deep chest, giving plenty of room for heart and lungs. The ponies’ powerful, well-developed quarters are ideal for the physical demands of work on the hills. They thrive outside, regardless of the weather, and can remain in good condition on the poor grazing afforded by the hills and moors.
Standing 13-14.2 hands high (a hand equals 4in/10cm), the Highland pony was originally a farmer’s workhorse on crofts. They were used for transport and carrying goods before roads were built approximately 200 years ago. After that they pulled carts.
Highland ponies are extremely versatile. They can jump obstacles up to 4ft (1.2m) high, are sure-footed and have indefatigable endurance. On top of this, they can carry weights in excess of 18st (114.3kg) and tackle the roughest, steepest, and trickiest terrain.
Their hardiness is accompanied by a kind and gentle nature, a steady temperament and intelligence. A Highland pony usually only needs to be shown something once to be able to then do it.
Special deer saddles are used to safely strap the deer to the pony’s back. These distribute the weight evenly so there is never too much pressure in one area. Made from thick buffed leather, they are stuffed with horsehair on top of straw, for comfort.
The straw absorbs moisture, keeping the pony’s skin dry. The padding is covered with a thick woollen cloth.
Many of the saddles are more than 100 years old and are now rare. “You need to ask around to find one, scour the papers and leap on one when you get the chance,” says Heather. “Some estates hold on to them, even though they’re not being used, so it can be near impossible to track one down.”
Because it is so hard to source replacement saddles, they are cared for meticulously and repaired as required.
Unlike a riding saddle, which has one girth, deer saddles have two or three girths, which are crossed over. “This keeps them securely on under the heavy weight of the deer,” explains Heather.
“Different estates designed their own saddles in different shapes and sizes.
These reflect the size of their deer, which varies depending on area.” She has a Glen Strathfarrar, which is designed is for bigger deer, while her Glen Quoich is for slightly smaller ones. Both are saddles that were made for carrying deer, but can be ridden in. They have two or three girths, a breastplate, breeching strap, which goes round the back of the pony under its tail, and a surcingle, which runs under the horse’s belly. All help to hold the saddle in position. On top of these, there are several straps designed to secure the stag in position. A third type of saddle is known as a combination. This is one made for riding, but has extra straps for fastening the stag on with.
Words: Abigail Alldis and Katy Islip Photography: Mark Mainz
The city where the dream of a united England was forged, Winchester has been a site of historic significance since the Iron Age
Tucked in the basin of the Itchen Valley at the western end of Hampshire’s South Downs sits an ancient city which was once the most important in England. For 2,000 years Winchester has stood between high chalk ridges to the east and low rolling downs to the west. In spring, its flint and limestone buildings are encircled by hillsides of fresh grass and bluebell-carpeted ancient woodland. Between the streets, the River Itchen gives life to damselflies and wildflowers while gardens are coloured with daffodils and cherry blossom.
Winchester first saw life as a Roman town, Venta Belgarum. This was established in AD70 on the site of an Iron Age settlement chosen because it was a good place to cross the River Itchen. Abandoned by the Romans when they left Britain in the 5th century, it went on to become the capital of the kings of Wessex. Named from Wintan-ceastre, the Old English for Fort Venta, it was the most significant settlement in England at this time.
Over the centuries, it has retained an intimate atmosphere. From the top of the sole remaining gate of the outer city walls at Westgate, it is possible to look down the length of the High Street to the eastern edge of the city. This is only 1,000yd (900m) away.
The Roman origins of the High Street are now long buried, but the River Itchen still runs the course set by the Romans. An idiosyncratic collection of buildings and monuments line the street, an architectural jumble of flint, stone and red brick. Each represents a slice of time out of Winchester’s long history.
Staring back from that eastern end is the statue of Winchester’s most famous son, Alfred the Great. “King Alfred made Winchester a part of England’s national story,” says Robin Iles, the venues and learning manager for Winchester’s Westgate and City Museums. From 871 to 899, Alfred ruled the kingdom of Wessex. This extended across present day Hampshire, Dorset, Wiltshire and Somerset, later covering the whole south of the country. His defeat of the Vikings at the battle of Edington in Wiltshire in 878 helped pave the way for the unification of England.
“To consolidate his position in the south of the country, Alfred built a series of well-defended settlements called burhs. Winchester was the largest of these,” says Robin. “There is little left standing from those days. Only the outline of his church, the Old Minster, is visible. However, the streets you walk around today are still largely on the layout he planned. The names for these streets, such as Gold Street, Fleshmonger Street and Tanner Street, are clues to the crafts and trades of those who settled here during that time. Winchester was the principal royal city of Wessex and later of the whole of Anglo-Saxon England.”
The Great Hall
In the Middle Ages, one building would have towered over Winchester, from its site on the hill next to Westgate. This was the castle built by William the Conqueror in 1067, the year after he defeated Harold at the Battle of Hastings.
“The City of Winchester submitted peacefully to William’s rule in 1066. This was important because the Royal Treasury was based here,” says Robin. “He wanted the castle built at the top of the slope where everyone could see it.”
The majority of the castle was destroyed by the Parliamentarians in 1649 during the English Civil War. Only the Great Hall was left standing and was then used for assemblies and the County Assizes. Measuring 111ft (33.8m) long and 54ft (16.5m) wide, it is the largest surviving medieval hall in Britain. It was originally built by Henry III between 1222 and 1235 in the Gothic style, with tall Purbeck marble columns and pointed arches. The plate tracery windows were carved from a single slab of stone.
The stone and flint walls were once decorated with coats of arms, a map of the world and a wheel of fortune. The latter was an allegorical illustration about the fragility of power, often depicting the monarch and a personification of Fortune turning the wheel of chance. During restoration work in 1874, Sir Melville Portal, the Chairman of Magistrates, decorated the east wall with the names of all local Parliamentary representatives since Edward I. These still adorn the walls today. In the 1980s, decorative wrought iron
gates were installed to commemorate the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer.
The knights’ table
The centrepiece of the hall is a Round Table which hangs on the west wall. Weighing 1.2 tonnes with a diameter of 18ft (5.5m), it is made from 121 separate pieces of English oak. It was claimed to be the original table at which King Arthur and his knights sat. However, carbon dating in 1976 showed the wood was from the late 13th or early 14th centuries.
“It was probably made around 1290 to celebrate the betrothal of Edward I’s daughter,” says Robin. “Arthur was perceived as a man of romance and legend, the ideal king. Edward may have re-enacted the meeting of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table to show he was a man of chivalry.”
Another king who used the legend of Arthur to promote himself was Henry VIII. “In the early years of his reign, he entertained the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, in the Great Hall. It is thought Henry had himself painted onto the Round Table in the place of King Arthur, with a Tudor rose at the table’s centre. He was making a claim that he was descended from the legendary king.” A painted image of Arthur, bearing a likeness to the young Henry VIII, can still be seen clearly on the table today.
A historic street
A short walk up the High Street from the Great Hall passes a brick and half-timber building, named God Begot House. This dates back to the 11th century, when the original building formed part of the Manor of Goudbeyete from which it gets its name. The present building dates mainly from the mid 16th century, and it is now used as a restaurant.
Immediately opposite is the old Guildhall and Town Clock, both erected in 1713. Built of stone and red brick in the Georgian baroque style, the building is of modest proportions and is now occupied by a bank. The Guildhall itself relocated to a new and far bigger building towards the end of the 19th century. Inside the belfry of the old building hangs Winchester’s curfew bell, which is still rung at 8pm every evening. The curfew was introduced following a severe fire in 1141, which destroyed much of the city. It was
designed to remind people to cover their fires until the morning.
Halfway along the High Street stands
a 15th century market cross known as the Buttercross. Beneath it farmers would sell their produce to the townsfolk. There are 12 figures on the cross, one large one on each side and two smaller ones. These include St Peter, St Swithun and St Thomas. A scheduled ancient monument, the Buttercross was restored in 1865 by
Sir George Gilbert Scott.
The passageway next to the Buttercross leads through to The Square where the City Museum is located in a purpose-built building constructed in 1903. Here visitors can step inside a replica Victorian apothecary’s shop. There is also a display of intricate Anglo-Saxon art and jewellery dug up from Winchester’s streets during the 1960s and ’80s. “When King Alfred made Winchester his capital, the city became a centre of craft and trade,” says Robin. “The best jewellers and crafts people came here because they knew courtiers and bishops were wealthy enough to buy their goods.”
When the City Corporation outgrew the old Guildhall, the new Guildhall was built at the far eastern end of the High Street. Opened in 1873, it stands on the site of St Mary’s Abbey, demolished during the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII. Built of Bath stone in a striking Middle Gothic style, the Victorian Guildhall stands taller than the surrounding buildings. It remains an imposing sight in Winchester’s city centre.
It is, however, the 11th century cathedral that is the city’s real jewel. Sitting in Cathedral Close behind the museum, it does not actually stand out in the town. “When you get into the Close, it is there waiting for you,” says Jo Bartholomew, the Cathedral’s curator and librarian.
The northern segment of the Close, known as Outer Close, lies between the cathedral and town. It is entered via
a grand avenue of lime trees off Great Minster Street, out of which the cathedral emerges at the far end. Constructed inPurbeck stone the colour of light sand, Winchester Cathedral does not have a spire. The unity of Norman, medieval and Gothic architecture, however, is a magnificent sight. “When it was first built in 1079, its nave was the longest in Europe,” says Jo. “It would have looked quite a spectacle at a time when most of the town was still living in humble huts.”
Outer Close is an intimate and tranquil green space, blooming with daffodils in the spring. The first place of worship to be built here is known as the Old Minster. The outline of its foundations is marked in red brick on the north side of the present cathedral. Dating back to the 7th century, it was the first Christian church in Winchester. A second building, the New Minster, soon joined it. This was built by King Alfred’s son, Edward the Elder, according to his father’s wishes. The bricks from both these early churches would eventually be used to build the present cathedral.
To reach the Inner Close on the south side of the cathedral, pedestrians would originally have walked through the cathedral. But in 1632, Bishop Curle built a walkway through a buttress on the south side of the building. Known as Curle’s Passage, the narrow archway forms a grand entrance to an enclosed courtyard, encircled with historic buildings.
Four Norman arches on the east side would have once formed part of St Swithun’s Priory’s chapter house. Today they stand alone as the building’s sole survivors from the 16th century Dissolution. Also on the east side is the 13th-century vaulted porch of the Deanery, whose old Prior’s Hall boasts
a 550-year-old timber roof.
Remembering a gardener
A more modern addition is the Dean Garnier Garden. Created in 1995, it
covers the length of the monks’ former dormitory. A surviving flint wall can still be seen on the north side. The eponymous Thomas Garnier was Dean of Winchester from 1840 to 1872. He is best remembered as a horticulturist who planted many of the mature trees surrounding the cathedral and had a rose garden here. Today, the garden is laid out in three rooms, which mirror the shape of the cathedral.
In the south-east corner of the Inner Close is the 14th century Pilgrim’s Hall, which has a magnificent hammer beam roof. This was erected in 1310 as a guesthouse for pilgrims to St Swithun’s Priory. It is now attached to The Pilgrim’s School, one of the UK’s biggest choir schools. The Hall is used for school assemblies, concerts and plays.
Home to Bishops
Pilgrims entered the Close by Priory Gate, which is coloured lilac and green with wisteria from April to June. This gate is attached to the magnificent Cheyney Court, a beautiful Elizabethan timber-framed house, with towering gables and leaded windows. Once the secular seat of power for the Bishop of Winchester, it dates from the 15th century and is now
a private residence.
Cheyney Court has survived the centuries, unlike the former residence of the Bishops of Winchester, Wolvesey Castle. This now lies in ruins outside the walls of the Inner Close. Built by the powerful Bishop Henry of Blois in the 12th century, it was little changed for over 500 years. Then in 1680, a new palace was built next to it, and the castle was abandoned. The new building itself fell into disuse in the late 18th century and was largely demolished in 1786. Its surviving west wing still serves as offices for the Bishop of Winchester. Its baroque architecture forms a marked contrast to the crumbling stone of its predecessor.
College Street runs along the south side of Cathedral Close. Opposite the ancient King’s Gate, P&G Wells Booksellers have been trading from the same premises for 250 years. “The buildings of Winchester all look old and venerable, but inside they are full of life,” says the shop’s owner and director, Crispin Drummond. “There is no sense of complacency here, we don’t just sit around and talk about the good old days.”
P&G Wells works closely with Winchester College whose old flint walls line the south side of the street. The students often call by the shop on their way to town at lunchtime. “We lie between the boys’ classrooms and their lunch,” says Crispin. Founded in 1382 by Bishop William of Wykeham, the College is thought to be the oldest continuously running public school in the country.
Spring brings great beauty. “College Street is unmissable in April. When the magnolia flowers, this is one of the loveliest streets in England,” says Crispin.
His words echo those of the poet John Keats, who stayed in Winchester for seven weeks in 1819. He regularly walked down College Street to the River Itchen and the ancient almshouse of the Hospital of St Cross. “It is the Pleasantest town I ever was in,” he wrote to his sister. It remains a beautiful walk today.
Centuries of charity
The Hospital of St Cross is believed
to have been founded between 1132
and 1136 by Bishop Henry of Blois. He was so moved by the plight of a young, impoverished girl he encountered by
the river that he decided to found a community to help the poor. Today
St Cross is one of England’s oldest charitable institutions.
“We’re the only place in the country that still gives out bread and water to those who ask for it,” says Catherine Secker, the on-site porter. She runs the Porter’s Lodge Shop and looks after the security of the almshouse. The original objective of the institution was to support 13 poor men and feed a further 100 every day. The
13 men became known as the Brothers
of St Cross. Wearing black robes they were known as the Black Brothers. In 1445 they were joined by red-robed members of the Order of Nobel Poverty, the Red Brothers. The Hospital still houses and supports 25 Brothers to this day.
“Our oldest building is the church,” says Catriona Morley, the Hospital’s Clerk to the Trustees. “Building on it started in the early 1100s. It is a Norman church which resembles a small cathedral.”
The church forms one corner of a quadrangle, the rest of which is completed by the almshouses themselves. “They were built around 1450,” she says. “Inside, there is a central wooden staircase leading to a flat on either side. Some of them have very old features, such as ancient beams and fireplaces, but they have been modernised.
“The toilets are still located at the back of the flats, but now with modern plumbing. They are positioned over a water channel which at one time ran straight to a fish pool. The fish were at least moved to another pond before they were served
up for supper!”
The grounds of St Cross are open to visitors throughout the year. “It’s a beautiful place, untouched by time,” says Catriona. “The Master’s Garden has herbaceous borders, several mature trees and a pond with fountains. In spring, there’s a wonderful display of snowdrops, daffodils, flowering cherries, cyclamen and winter aconites. We even see kingfishers dive into the pond in the early morning.”
The River Itchen
Keats wrote that in Winchester, “there are the most beautiful streams about I ever saw – full of Trout”. It is fitting then that the father of angling, Sir Izaak Walton, spent his late years in Winchester. His book The Compleat Angler (1653) is the most frequently reprinted publication in English after the Bible. Walton lived by the banks of the River Itchen for over
20 years. Above his grave in Winchester Cathedral is a stained glass window depicting him reading by the river with
his fishing rod by his side.
Upstream from the Hospital is the oldest working watermill in the country. Known simply as the City Mill, it lies near the King Alfred statue close to where the old East Gate would have been. There is evidence that a mill was operating on the same site as far back as Saxon times. By 1086 the Domesday Book records it as one of the most profitable mills in the country. The mill seen today was rebuilt in the 18th century but timbers from the 14th and 15th centuries remain intact.
To travel the short distance from Winchester’s Westgate to the river is to take a journey through 2,000 years of history. The mix of silvery stone, flint, brick and timbers has built a city that is both rich in culture and heritage. In spring, the colours of the buildings are enhancedby the vibrancy of foliage and flowers bursting forth. It remains, as the poet Keats described it in 1819, “an exceeding pleasant Town, enriched with a beautiful Cathedrall [sic] and surrounded by a fresh-looking country.”
Words: Rachel Broomhead Photography: Jeremy Walker
Once a safe place for newborn, orphaned lambs, a lovingly restored shepherd's hut now provides cherished sanctuary for one man and his dog
Tucked within a quiet Norfolk garden, the curved iron roof and silver-grey weathered wooden walls of
a traditional shepherd’s hut contrast gently with the greenery of spring. Chickens and ducks shelter beneath it, while homemade preserves are stored inside it.
Today, it is a quiet, peaceful place for owner Ian McDonald and his wife, Carol. In its heyday in the late 19th century, however, it would have provided much needed shelter for a working shepherd. Towed out to the fields in early spring by horses, the hut was the solitary shepherd’s home throughout
the lambing season.
There were few home comforts. Measuring 9ft high, by 7ft 6in wide and 12ft 6in long (2.75 x 2.3 x 3.8m) it was big enough to house its single occupant and one or two lambs. There would have been a rudimentary wooden bed but no mattress, a stove, storage box for medicine and food, and possibly a cage for orphan lambs. This was often placed under the bed, allowing
the shepherd and lambs to share body warmth on cold nights.
Ian and his family have owned the hut since 2003. It was in a derelict state when he and Carol first saw it at School Farm in their village of Barford, Norfolk. Rotting away, trees were growing out of the roof. The hut’s neglected state and obvious need for care instantly attracted them. “I just saw the hut and thought it was interesting,” says Carol.
History in the making
Using a forklift truck and a trailer, they transported the hut back to their house on the other side of the village. “Unfortunately the front axle fell off when we lifted it up as the wood was so rotten,” says Ian. Undeterred, he set about a thorough restoration. At the same time he started research to find out more about shepherd’s huts and their history.
Several months were spent carefully taking the crumbling structure apart, recording every detail. “I measured and drew everything.” This was done so he would know exactly how to
put it back together correctly. He also visited the Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse rural history museum in nearby
Dereham. They had two huts, and also gave him the number
of a woman who had researched the subject. She put him in touch with former shepherd and shepherd’s hut enthusiast, Gerald Beavis, from Cambridgeshire. All provided useful information for his restoration work.
Eventually, Ian was ready to begin the task of rebuilding his hut. An electrical engineer by profession, he was helped by what he learnt during a four-year coach-building apprenticeship in his youth. This provided him with the woodwork, metalwork and welding skills needed for much of the work. The restoration took approximately two years. “I thoroughly enjoyed it,” he says.
“It was a way of coming back from work and unwinding.”
A hut with heart
Today, the hut is warm and cosy. On a bright spring day, it is full of sunshine, with a gentle woody smell. Birdsong is heard through the open door. The interior is lined with pine and the floor is made from pitch pine salvaged from a chapel in Suffolk. There are two comfortable wicker chairs and a set of shelves.
“I love coming here,” says Ian. “When you step inside, you could be anywhere. It is so peaceful. As a child, I always wanted a den, somewhere to go and hide, and to keep my treasures. Even as an adult, it is great to have a hideaway.”
Over the years, the hut has been used to hold parish council meetings and children’s sleepovers. Carol uses it as an art studio, her paint box and jars of brushes sitting on a small folding table. Underneath is a large wooden box. “It is a genuine shepherd’s chest and was given to us by a shepherd,” says Ian. Hanging by the door is
a selection of old tools accumulated over time, including sheep shears and a crook. In one corner is a small Victorian coal-burning stove.
“We have tried to keep it as authentic as possible,” he says.
A varied past
As part of his research, Ian traced his own hut’s story back to 1945 when it was bought to house a German prisoner of war, Hans Lenzen. He had been sent to work for Eddie Simmonds, of School Farm. Towed 15 miles by tractor from Hall Farm, Rackheath, it cost £7.
Hans appears to have lived in the hut until he was declared free of his PoW status in 1947. He married a local woman and remained in East Anglia. Ian managed to contact him, but Hans’ age prevented the pair meeting. Instead, his son Robin visited and gave Ian copies of his father’s papers. These included his PoW documentation and discharge form from the Luftwaffe. He recalled his father describing the hut as a basic, cold place where he struggled to dry his clothes in winter.
For the following 20 years, the hut was used as a farm store and dog house. Rodney Brown, the owner of the haulage company that moved the hut for Ian, recalled choosing a puppy from a litter born in it in the 1960s. “He helped me move the hut for free as he had fond memories of it,” says Ian.
The hut’s past uses are an important part of its attraction for Ian. “The history really gets me,” he says. “I love the fact it has evolved from a shepherd’s hut to a home for a PoW to a farm store and a dog house, and now we have prolonged its life. It makes it something special and gives it an atmosphere.
“I am fascinated by the history of how and why these huts were used, as well as the huts themselves. Sometimes there were notes written in the huts themselves, as the shepherds recorded information they might need onto the wooden walls.” Unfortunately, this was not the case with Ian’s hut as the original lining was tarred sackcloth.
Saving farming heritage
Ian is keen to share his knowledge to encourage others to rescue these huts. To this end, he has set up a website with links to the specialists who helped him. The site also records historic hut manufacturers and has a section on their history as well as practical tips.
“I want people to save these pieces of our industrial heritage while they are still out there,” he says. “I love the skill and craftsmanship and attention to detail that went into building the huts in the first place, but it’s their history that makes them so special.”
A labour of love
Ian restored his hut in sections, starting with the ironwork. Most of this was reusable, apart from the bolts, which had been corroded by the tannin from the wet oak. The four cast iron wheels and the axle swivel plate were sandblasted to remove rust. Next they were sprayed with hot zinc to protect them from future damage. Replacements for the bolts were commissioned from a company in Sheffield to old Imperial standards. “I wanted the hut to be built how it was originally. Where that wasn’t possible, I used new parts made to old specifications,” explains Ian.
The original wooden axles had to be replaced. Plywood patterns were cut, then new ones were made from solid oak at a nearby sawmill. These were bolted to the chassis with specially made 16in (41cm) bolts. Wrought iron pieces came from the Sheffield ironworks.
“The chassis sat on wet ground for at least 40 years as the wheels and axles sunk into soft soil. A screwdriver could be pushed through the 4in thick timber,” says Ian. Four new side panels were made from oak and pine. A new curved corrugated iron roof was sourced from a specialist who makes pig arks. The door was made of larch and the window frames of oak. He then assembled the hut with the help of some friends.
Finally the outside cladding, made of green or unseasoned larch planks, was attached. Butted together vertically, a much narrower larch plank or joining strip was placed over the gap between each plank. This allows for movement in the wood. In the summer the planks shrink, opening up a gap between them. The joining strip ensures the walls remain sealed. The wood has room to expand with the winter wet without buckling. The woodwork is now treated annually with preservative.
Huts on wheels
The earliest known mention of shepherd’s huts dates back to 1596. English writer Leonard Mascall mentioned a ‘cabbine upon a wheel’ used
by shepherds in a work on rural life. Their popularity peaked in the 19th century, with some continuing in use until after
the First World War.
Thomas Hardy gives a detailed description of Gabriel Oak’s shepherd’s hut in Far From the Madding Crowd. “The inside of the hut was cosy and alluring... In the corner stood the sheep-crook, and along a shelf at one side were ranged bottles and canisters of simple preparations pertaining to ovine surgery and physic... On a triangular shelf across the corner stood bread, bacon, cheese and a cup for ale or cider which was supplied from a flagon beneath... The house was ventilated by two round holes like the lights of a ship’s cabin, with wood slides.”
Out of lambing season, the huts were used to supervise sheep folding at the end of the year. This was the practice of using sheep to fertilise fields. A small area would be fenced off and the animals left to graze on root crops. Once these were consumed, the flock would be moved onto the next section. The land would then be ploughed and the nutrients in the sheep droppings returned to the soil. The ammonium nitrate fertilisers developed after the First World War rendered this process obsolete.
As changing agricultural practices saw shepherd’s huts fall out of use, many slid into disrepair, gently rotting away where they stood. Some were even broken up and burned. A resurgence of interest at the end of the 20th century has seen many surviving huts rescued and renovated for use once more.
Words: Diana Woolf Photography: Richard Faulks
Making hot metal horseshoes
Pressing the hot curl of metal against the horse’s hoof, a veil of acrid smoke rises around farrier Nina Thomas’ face. A few quiet words calm the chestnut gelding being shod. Nina lifts up the still-glowing horseshoe to examine the seared outline it has left behind on the hoof horn. The charred marks indicate the steel has been shaped to precisely ally with the hoof. The shoe is plunged into a bucket of cold water with a hiss of swiftly-dissipating heat.
Once nailed on, the set of four carefully-crafted shoes Nina is making will last for six weeks. They need to fit perfectly to support the horse whether it is grazing in a field, competing cross-country or hacking down country lanes.
For Nina, 34, farriery is a vocation combining traditional metal-working techniques with veterinary-level knowledge of equine anatomy. “I’m passionate about getting my work right. Horseshoes provide protection and grip. When they are tailor-made to suit an individual animal, and fitted to a correctly-trimmed hoof, they make a huge difference to how comfortable the horse is,” she says. “When a horse’s hoof hits the ground, that force is transmitted up through its leg. If the hoof isn’t level, the horse’s joints, tendons and ligaments are put under great strain. It’s critical I get that hoof balanced.”
Securing an apprenticeship
Nina made it her goal to become a farrier having seen a young apprentice help fit new shoes to her own horse. “I had only ever seen big, burly men shoeing horses before. I thought, if he can do it, so can I,” she says.
To qualify as a farrier, there is an apprenticeship of four years and two months with an Approved Training Farrier. During this time, Nina learnt her craft in stages. She first mastered the simpler aspects of removing old shoes and cleaning the hooves. Once that was accomplished, she moved to the more complex tasks of trimming feet and nailing shoes on. “All the time I was learning how to make horseshoes. It was hugely satisfying to see a shoe I’d made nailed onto a horse’s foot.”
She qualified as a member of the Worshipful Company of Farriers eight years ago. This body, which has existed since 1356, sets the world’s most exacting standards of farriery.
Trimming the hooves
It is not known exactly when shoeing horses started, but many of the methods Nina uses have been practised for centuries. The medieval members of the farriers’ company would be familiar with the hammer, nails and shaped horse shoes lying on the tailgate of her van which is converted into a mobile forge. Her anvil is similar to the one they would have used daily.
Nina typically shoes five horses a day. Her first task is to remove the old shoes with pincers. “I look for excessive or uneven wear on the shoe, other than what is normal for that horse. This might point out a problem I can help improve,” she says. The insensitive horn of a hoof grows in much the same way as human toenails do. The speed of hoof growth varies according to the time of year. It is faster in summer’s warm, moist weather when the grazing is lush. “The rate of hoof growth is dependent on the horse. A Thoroughbred’s hoof might grow 6mm in a month, but a big cob would need twice that amount cutting off,” she says.
Nina trims and reshapes the hoof using nippers and a rasp. A paring knife is kept close to hand in the side pocket of her protective leather apron.
“My aim is to trim the hoof so it is level when the horse puts it to the ground,” she says. “I think of the tendons and ligaments in a horse’s leg as a system of pulleys and levers. If a hoof is uneven from side to side, ligaments on the sides of the joints will be put under strain. If it is not balanced from heel to toe, then tendons at the front and back of the leg are subject to injury.”
Nina selects a horseshoe from the neatly stacked rows in an enormous drawer in the back of her van. For most horses, she shapes shoes which have been pre-manufactured. She stocks 15 different sizes. “The smallest shoes are 3½in wide, and are used for a little show pony called Nighty. The largest shoes measure 7in across. These are used on a large cob, called Norman,” she says.
Shaping a shoe
The shoe is heated for three to four minutes in her mobile forge. This is powered by propane gas and reaches a temperature of 1,370°C. Nina gauges the shoe’s temperature by its colour, removing it when it glows a vibrant orange. “The shoe is grey to start with. It first flushes a dull red, then a bright red into orange and yellow,” she explains. Grasping the shoe with a pair of tongs, she uses a hefty 2lb shoe-turning hammer to customise it around the anvil.
“I build a picture in my mind of the hoof’s shape while I am trimming it and I shape the shoe to match,” she says. She uses the anvil’s point, or bick, to widen or tighten the curve of the shoe, and its flat upper face to level the metal.
“If the steel is at the correct temperature, I don’t need to hit it hard to create a change. It’s all about good technique rather than brute force, although it does help to use familiar tools. Every hammer has a different swing to it.”
A carrying pritchel, a type of punch, is then knocked into a nail hole and the still-hot shoe placed against the hoof to singe the horn. “The smell is very strong and I’m so close to the smoke it feels like it’s burning my eyes. It is a smell I remember vividly from my local riding school when I was a child,” she says. The charred horn deposits a faint black outline on the shoe. This enables Nina to see what alterations need to be made to achieve a flush fit. “When I first started to shoe horses, I was back and forth to the anvil reshaping a shoe. Now it is rare if it takes more than two attempts.”
A final press of the shoe against the hoof tests its fit. “I want to see a singe mark on all of the hoof where the shoe is to sit. That way I know it is completely level with no gaps,” says Nina. Any sharp edges are removed by a rasp then the finished shoe is doused in water to cool. The hoof is cleaned with a wire brush.
Fitting the shoe
Using a 12oz hammer, Nina drives six nails through holes in the shoe to attach it to the hoof. “Some horses have harder hooves than others, but it’s generally easier than nailing into wood,” she remarks. Nails are engineered with a chamfered tip. This ensures they bend outwards as they penetrate the hoof, emerging through its outer wall. The sharp points of the protruding nails are removed with the hammer’s claw. Nina uses a clenching tool to bend their tips downwards. A final rasp to smooth the hoof completes the process. It typically takes an hour and a quarter to shoe a horse and must be repeated every five to seven weeks.
“It is physically a tough job and I’m well aware how debilitating it is on my body. If I’m not holding up half the weight of the horse then I’m at the anvil throwing a hammer around. Everything involves strength.” Nina is 5ft 8in tall but standing alongside the chestnut gelding she is shoeing, her head reaches only to its withers where the neck joins the back. “It’s easy to understand why only five percent of farriers are women. But I think women often have a quieter approach,” she says. “I’m very relaxed with the horses and that makes them relaxed with me. I’m very aware if the horse is nervous or in pain. I have endless patience to help sort his problems out.” However she has no qualms about passing on a job which requires more strength than she possesses.
Following in the footsteps
This ancient craft is still evolving. Farriers today will have veterinary-level information about the horse’s hoof and anatomy. They have increased knowledge about the measurement and analysis of the horse’s movement.
All this helps with the ability to make special custom-made shoes. These are increasingly being used to help treat horses who are lame, or to compensate for imbalances in the way they move. It is into this arena of corrective shoeing that Nina is now directing her expertise. “I enjoy working alongside a vet to help find a solution,” she says. “Remedial shoeing is all about altering the balance and angle of a horse’s joints to alleviate a problem. One horse I worked with has arthritis in her front feet and hind legs. By trimming and shoeing her correctly, I was able to put her joints at the right angle to ease the discomfort of the arthritic spurs. She’s now ridden every day.”
To address such specific requirements, Nina must often craft remedial shoes from scratch. For this she keeps a 100-kilo anvil and a coke-fired forge at a local farm. This forge can reach temperatures approaching 2,000°C. “The coke forge allows heat to penetrate deeper into the steel. I can bend and draw the metal more easily and accurately,” she says. The intense heat facilitates fire-welding. Nina uses this to forge shoes with a supportive bar or plate joining the heels. These are used to help relieve pressure on a horse’s heels. They also create more ground-bearing surface, spreading the load, and helping horses recover from lameness.
“If a horse has got a problem that I can help with, that’s hugely satisfying,” she says. “I get pleasure from the fact that my work is making a difference to those horses’ lives.”
Photography: Clive Doyle
The feature about Nina's forge originally appeared in the Sept / Oct 2014 issue of LandScape.
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A SURREY COUPLE LOVINGLY RESTORE A HISTORIC IMP FOR THEIR TRAVELS
Parked in a meadow, a tiny, mint green caravan is ready for the road. A lovingly restored Winchester Imp, it was hand built in 1939. Today, it is the only survivor of an original four. At 11ft long by 6ft 3in wide (3.3 x 1.9m), it is truly tiny.
Despite this diminutive size, it has provided owners George and Angela Windsor with comfortable accommodation for up to 10 days. They take it on three holidays a year as well using it when visiting family and friends. It has been towed the 220 miles from their home in Surrey to Hull. As members of the Historic Caravan Club, they regularly attend events and rallies throughout the year with the Imp.
“The Winchester Imp is very practical because of its layout,” says George. “It has a toilet, good cooking arrangements, sink, work surfaces and a wardrobe. It has got everything you need and it is as small as you can get to be practical to go away for more than a week. Any smaller and it just wouldn’t work.”
The Winchester Imp was made at the works of Mr Bertram Hutchings Caravans Ltd, of 124 Stockbridge Road, Winchester, Hampshire. The company was founded in 1912 when its first caravan, a 14ft (4.2m) model, light enough to be drawn by a single horse, rolled out of his workshop. In 1930 the first streamline design was launched. This was a more curvaceous, less boxy ’van which was easier to tow. It was named the Winchester and from then on, the name stuck for all Hutchings caravans.
“Often called the Rolls-Royce of caravans, the quality and workmanship of Winchesters was very high,” says George. “They were built with good quality materials, were well thought out and a lot of work went into them. Bertram also spent months away testing ’vans and designed them to make life as ergonomically sound as possible.”
The Imp’s name derives from its small, rounded shape. These smaller caravans were made “when business was slack”, according to an original company brochure. It is unclear why only four of this particular model were made, although they were not cost effective for the firm. “They didn’t like producing these little ’vans because they took just as long to make and cost nearly as much as the big ’vans to produce,” says George. What happened to the other three Imps is another mystery. “They probably got turned into garden sheds or Wendy houses, then the weather got into them and they were scrapped.”
Pre-Second World War exquisitely handmade caravans were expensive and made to order. On 7 June 1939, the Windsors’ Imp was delivered to Mr and Mrs Jack Fellows, of Cradley Heath, Birmingham, for the sum of £145, the equivalent of more than £3,500 today. The very same day the Fellows towed their new Imp to Scotland for a touring holiday.
Condition and restoration
George and Angela bought the Imp in June 2012, from the daughter of a friend in the Historic Caravan Club. “I could see all the things that needed fixing, while Angela saw the beauty in it without all the rough edges,” says George. “The interior, including the cushions, roof woodwork, and side wall framework, were painted bright pink, which we hated. Incredibly, though, most of the original fittings were pretty much intact.”
“As soon as I saw the Imp, I thought how beautiful she is,” says Angela. “I love her shape, colour and the tininess of her. She’s like something from an adventure story by Enid Blyton.”
Unprecedented for caravans in the 1930s, the Imp has two doors, the main one still with its original leaded light windows. “It makes a big difference when using the ’van because when someone is standing at the sink you can go out the other door,” adds George.
The curved fibre-board roof has a thin canvas overlaid on top, painted with lead white paint. Two centrally placed opening skylights are incorporated into the roof. “The skylights provide a lot of daylight and fresh air, and it’s lovely to lie in bed and look up at the stars,” says Angela.
Both roof and skylights needed repairing. The entire roof was repainted using paint with fibres in it for strength. Then early last year, George stripped the paint from the skylights to bare wood. Sections where one skylight had rotted were repaired. Both were then primed and repainted using the white roofing paint. There were cracks in the Perspex so both were re-glazed in Plexiglass.
“It was quite a job getting the skylights out,” says George. “One was stuck shut with previous painting and I had to remove layers of paint over the hinge screws. To do this I squeezed through the opening from the inside of the ’van using a step ladder.”
Refreshing the exterior
The frame is timber. “Probably ash,” says George. “It’s a hardwood, and at the time, reasonably plentiful.”
He has repainted the exterior green, but hesitates at repainting the signwriting above the rear window. This reads ‘1938 Winchester Imp’. “The year is incorrect and I’ve thought of repainting it to ‘9’, but I couldn’t guarantee it would look convincing. It’s a dilemma,” he says.
The pressed wheels have been stripped and shot-blasted. He then powder-coated them in a rich cream colour. This is a type of dry coating, applied as a free-flowing, dry powder. The coating is applied electrostatically and then cured under heat to allow it to flow and form a skin. It creates a hard finish and is tougher than conventional paint. New Excelsior tyres and inner tubes were fitted. The wheel bearings were re-greased and the automatic braking system adjusted. The Imp was ready to go.
Inside the caravan
There are four main windows, the largest at the back. There is good cross ventilation on a hot day when they are all open, together with the doors. The original glass in the windows would have been clear, not the leaded lights there now. George, however, has no intention of changing them. “It would feel like I was stripping out some of its originality. I don’t want to remove what has been there for over 22 years,” he says. Besides, he adds, they look nice and are safer if the glass breaks.
The interior is compact, with its original well-crafted oak veneered drawers, shelves and cupboards. It also contains some wonderful details. On one side are what appear to be built-in cupboards and drawers. Lifting a timber leaf, however, reveals the original sink of pressed steel with a green vitreous enamel coating.
Over the sink is an in-built stainless steel panel with a stainless steel drainer that cleverly folds out. Another wooden counter top, lined underneath in stainless steel, sits next to it. This lifts up to reveal the original Bottogas cooker with two burners and a grill. Both the cooker and sink were in a good state of repair when the couple bought the Imp.
A unique feature is a built-in chest of drawers located near to the stove. This includes a lift-up top lined in stainless steel so that hot pans and food preparation can be carried out.
The wall panels are white painted oil-tempered hardboard, single skin from the waist up and double skin below. The ’van was designed for summer use so the single skin hardboard did not need the same thermal insulation properties of the double skin. The single skin was cheaper, and lighter, making the ’van lighter to tow. The double skin is stronger and is better able to protect the cupboards and furniture. George had eggshell paint mixed to match the oak woodwork. He then spent many painstaking hours painting over the pink to get the interior back to a more sympathetic appearance.
The couple then set about matching the interior furnishings to the new exterior colour scheme. The cushions did not fit properly and both they and the curtains were pink. George and Angela wanted a more period looking colour. So new comfortable cushions were made to order, covered with subtly-flecked green fabric.
“At £600, the cushions and lining were quite expensive,” says George. “But we’re really happy with the colour which goes well with the green of the ’van. The new curtain fabric is very much like the cretonne curtain material of the 1930s. We still have the original chains to tie them back.”
Further into the ’van is a wardrobe with a mirror fixed to its external face. When the table leaf is folded away, it is clipped to the inside wardrobe door. At the bottom of the wardrobe door, is the original stainless steel chrome-plated brass Bottogas Tom Thumb gas fire. At the moment, it is missing its mantle, so cannot be used, but George is hopeful he can get it working again.
“It’s not often that we need a fire,” he says. “If it does get chilly we turn on the gas ring and it gets warm in no time.”
The Imp still has its original, still working, Elsan toilet. There are also two Bottogas Calor gas lamps, located at either end of the ’van. George has restored these and fitted them with new mantles. Protection bumpers in the form of horseshoe-shaped brass rings sit below the lamps. Theyare designed to stop anyone from bumping their heads on the glass shades. At 6ft 1in, George says he still manages to bang into them. “They do give a lovely light and you can vary the brightness,” he says. “They generate quite a bit of heat and warm up the ’van nicely.”
The original 12-volt ceiling light has been converted to use LED bulbs without affecting its appearance.
Time to sleep
When setting up the ’van for sleeping, the table is folded away. Wood panels kept under the settee are brought out and fitted into slots on both sides. The cushions go on top creating a double bed. George and Angela sleep widthways. “It’s approximately 6ft across,” says George. “I can’t stretch out properly, but it’s OK.”
“It took us a while to get used to setting up the bed,” says Angela. “But we now have a routine, and the bedding goes into the car to give us room during the day.”
The ’van still needs some bodywork restoration in parts. This will be done as part of a rolling programme as time allows. “I have the practical experience and I don’t find the work challenging at all,” says George.
An attractive history
It is the history attached to a vintage caravan that is so attractive to George and Angela. That, and the fact that they are so lovely to look at. “We see the beauty in the Imp’s construction, its shape and quality materials,” he says.
And they are not the only ones. Angela says that whenever they attend vintage rallies they often have a hard job getting out of the Imp due to people queuing up to look inside. “People say, ‘oh, it has two doors and parquet flooring’. They are amazed by it,” she says.
They frequently have offers to buy their Imp, but turn them down. “We will always keep the Imp,” says George. “We’re never going to find another one like this. When you buy a ’van like this, you’re a custodian who has to look after it for the next person. It’s lasted 77 years, and it deserves to live on for longer.”
Words: Amanda Birch Photography: Clive Doyle
SPECIALIST POTTERS USE TRADITIONAL METHODS TO PRODUCE THEIR DECORATIVE WARES IN A FARM STUDIO
Hidden in the trees at the end of a stony track in the hills of Scotland’s Southern Uplands is an isolated farmhouse. The nearest town, Castle Douglas, is over five miles away along single track roads. Opposite a disused cowshed stands an outhouse that has been converted to an artist’s studio. This is the workspace of potters Doug Fitch and Hannah McAndrew.
The couple specialise in slipware, a type of pottery where slip, a suspension of clay in water, is used to decorate an unfired pot. For centuries, it was the traditional pottery of ordinary people in both town and country. However, the mechanised processes of the industrial revolution caused its near total decline. Added to this, many of the remaining craftsmen were lost during the First World War, and their skills died with them. Today though, this husband and wife team keep the age-old tradition alive in the warmth of their studio, while the wild winter wind blows outside.
Working with nature
Doug weighs out clay while Hannah works on a mechanical potter’s kick wheel, which is powered by kicking the legs. There are pots and plates everywhere, some finished, others on racks drying. “Our work is influenced by a tradition that has changed and evolved over the centuries,” says Doug. “Medieval potters were based outside the towns and villages because of the fire risk and the amount of smoke from the kilns. They drew inspiration from the countryside around them, where they also found wood, lead ore for a basic glaze and clay. They even used to dig clay from the roads. That’s where the term ‘potholes’ comes from,” he explains.
“We work with traditional natural earth tones. In Britain we have a lot of red clay and smaller amounts of white. The white clay comes from North Devon. It is finer than red clay and requires a higher firing temperature, which many potters didn’t have the equipment to achieve. Because this made it more expensive, it was used mainly for decoration.” The basic palette of black, white, green and red slip is made by mixing different clays with naturally occurring iron, manganese and copper oxides. By placing the pots in the hottest parts of the kiln, varying tints of brown can be produced.
Doug’s interest in pottery began when he was at school in Northamptonshire. “When I was 11 my old headmaster, who was an archaeologist, used to take us out field walking around the site of the long-vanished medieval village of Lyveden to collect medieval pottery shards. We’d take them back to school and identify them using archaeological surveys of the area. Some of the bits had the potter’s thumb marks and fingerprints still in them.”
At college, he learnt kiln-building, glaze chemistry and all aspects of ceramics. “All I was interested in was slipware,” he says. “I love the feel of slip. I love the feel of clay in my hands, its coolness to the touch and its malleability. Kneading clay, which we do to eliminate air and evenly blend the material, isn’t like kneading bread, the properties are very different. And the properties differ across the many types of clay. Porcelain for example is more plastic, more flexible, but it lacks the integral strength that our clay has when it’s soft. This makes for a completely different type of pot.”
For 19 years Doug worked as a ceramics technician at Exeter College of Art and Design. In his spare time he helped other potters around Devon fire their kilns, loading the pots and ensuring the kiln stayed at the correct temperature. Then at the age of 40, he took redundancy. “I thought if the others can do it, so can I,” he says. “So I spent all my redundancy money on a pile of bricks for a kiln and on converting a derelict barn.” This was to be the first of a number of studios Doug had in the Devon area before relocating to Scotland.
He begins making what has become one of his trademark products, a large jug. “I love the form, the shape of the jugs,” he says. “They have character. They have a foot, a belly, a shoulder, a lip, a waist, a neck. They have beautiful curves.” His jugs have their own style, but are strongly influenced by examples from the past, where function dictated the form.
Doug scoops up a handful of clay. “I worked in a flowerpot factory for a year in 1985 after leaving art college. One of the few things I learnt was how to judge a three pound ball of clay accurately, though we still weigh it on scales to be certain.”
His large pots are approximately 17in (43cm) tall, 12in (30cm) wide and weigh in the region of 14lb (6.3kg). They are thrown in two sections. The base contains 14lb (6.3kg) of clay, which he splits into 7lb (3kg) blocks to make the kneading more manageable before re-joining the two. The neck uses a further 1.5lb (0.6kg). The clay, called Etruria Marl, is sourced from the big pits around Stoke-on-Trent as the local Scottish clay is too sandy. It lacks the plasticity to throw a pot with a bellied form. Grit is added to increase the clay’s strength for the bigger pots.
“Throwing a pot takes absolute concentration,” he says. “Your fingertips and the side of the knuckle are exerting pressure and lifting the material. You have to know exactly when and how much pressure to apply.”
“And your muscles remember the movements,” adds Hannah. “You feel it through your fingertips. One false move, though, and the whole thing collapses. It’s important to know your wheel and materials really well.”
Doug starts throwing the base of the pot on the electrically powered wheel. This is a 10in (25cm) diameter circular metal plate sitting on an encased electric motor which is 3ft (90cm) high. It is surrounded by a tray containing a pan of water. The water is added through the throwing process to prevent the hands sticking to the clay.
He raises the clay into the beginnings of the jug, his head moving around the pot at almost impossible angles. His elbows are high as his hands coax the clay upwards. “People tell me I do these strange movements but I’m not aware of it at the time. I’m just completely focused. It’s like meditation.”
Creating the jug
Once the base is finished, he partially dries it using a gas burner to increase its strength. This is to prevent it collapsing when he places the neck on top. He measures the top of the base with callipers so that he can throw the neck to exactly the correct diameter to make a perfect fit. Once thrown, the neck is also partially dried and then carefully lowered onto the base. The wheel is then started and the two are compressed together using the fingers and a tool called a rib, which helps create a smooth junction. The whole throwing process takes not much more
than 20 minutes.
Doug holds the top of the neck in place with the thumb and forefinger of his left hand. Then, hooking the forefinger of his right hand over the edge of the neck, he gently pulls backwards to create the lip of the jug.
The jug is then left to partially dry and strengthen until the following day when the handle is added. The handle is created using a technique called pulling. Doug takes a lump of clay and, using plenty of water, squeezes it gently while dragging downwards over and over again. This is done until the clay has become the correct diameter and length for the handle. He then scores both the end of the handle and the side of the pot. After adding some slip to help bind the two, the end of the handle is pushed onto the pot. As this is done, he supports the pot from the inside with his other hand. The handle is carefully bent downwards to create the required curve, and the process repeated to join the bottom of the handle to the pot.
Before applying slip, the pot is left until it is leatherhard, a state where the clay has partially dried to a consistency of cheese. This can take several days, the time depending on the thickness of the pot, the temperature and the moisture in the atmosphere.
Although both create designs that are strongly influenced by nature, Doug and Hannah specialise in different slipware techniques. Doug rolls out small pieces of clay and lays them on the surface of the pot, a process called appliqué. He also uses clay stamps called sprigs with patterns of daisies, blackberries or leaves that he has made, before covering the pot in slip.
Hannah brushes a background slip layer on and pipes different colours of slip on top to create her designs of birds, tulips or trees, a process called slip trailing. Depending on the size of the pot it can take days of intense concentration to decorate one piece.
The pots are left on racks in the studio to dry for up to eight weeks. Drying too fast can cause cracking so they are covered in polythene to control evaporation. This is followed by a firing in an electric kiln which turns the raw clay into hard-fired pottery. The kiln, which they keep in the barn opposite, takes 12-14 hours to get to the necessary 1000°C where it is held for
30 minutes before cooling for two days.
Glazing and firing
When cool, the pots are dipped in glaze. This is a mixture of white clay, water, iron oxide and lead frit, a safe form of lead. Before the advent of lead frit in the early 20th century there was a high incidence of lead poisoning amongst potters. This can lead to mental impairment, and is possibly the origin of the expression ‘going potty’.
Finally the pots are loaded into the wood-fired kiln. The kiln, a brick structure surrounded by a wooden shed, is situated several hundred yards down the track. During the afternoon 70 pots, the result of six weeks’ work, are carefully loaded onto shelves and at 8am the following morning the kiln is lit.
“We have a firing every six weeks or so,” says Doug. “It’s a big event. You have a trusted firing team and help each other out. Hannah was part of my team for a long time and I was part of hers.”
“It can be incredibly stressful and you need two people to keep it running,” says Hannah. “The kind of wood you use and the atmospheric conditions can really affect the burn. You have to control the temperature carefully and watch the chimney. If the smoke is black the kiln is burning in reduction, which means there’s not enough oxygen for the amount of fuel and the glazes will blister and the pots go an ugly brown.
“For our kind of work the chimney should have no smoke, or very white smoke. We use a denser wood at the beginning of the firing, a hard wood if we can get it, for a slow burn, and then we use old pallets from local farms. You don’t have to store them and they have a fast, clean burn that helps you control the temperature.”
They place pyrometric cones, a set of three ceramic cones that melt and bend over at different temperatures, in with the pots. These can be seen through a spyhole by extracting a removable brick from the door of the kiln and are used to estimate the temperature within. It takes 16 hours of tending to get the temperature to 1100°C. The kiln is kept at that temperature for 30 minutes. It is then sealed up and left to cool for two days. “We walk away and try not to think about it,” says Doug. “It’s a private moment when you open it again. You’re usually up against a show deadline and you feel sick.”
When the pots finally emerge they are in their finished state, yet there can be unexpected results. “You can get large atmospheric variations across the kiln with flames and gasses going through,” says Hannah. “Identical pots next to each other can come out completely different. But you have to resist the temptation to smash the ones you don’t like because you can grow to love them later on.”
Back in the warm, dry studio, Doug has a collection of old pottery. “I love these old jugs,” he says. “What excites me is that they were part of someone’s life.”
“If Doug had his way,” concludes Hannah, “he would make jugs and nothing else, forever and always.”
Photography: Rob Scott
The feature about Doug and Hannah's pottery originally appeared in the Jan / Feb 2016 issue of LandScape.
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