In a garden tucked in from the sea, the first tea grown in England is cultivated
Tregothnan is the producer of the first tea grown in England, and indeed the UK. It may be known as the most British of brews but, historically, tea leaves have come from India, China, Sri Lanka and Kenya. Today, this valuable crop grown in Cornwall is being turned into very special brews that have found favour even in the traditional home of the camellia.
The estate, on the banks of the Fal estuary, is home to members of the Boscawen family, who have lived here since 1334. As well as the 150 acres devoted to growing tea bushes, there is a 100-acre botanical garden and thousands of acres of farm and woodland. The Boscawens have a long history of botanical endeavour. Two centuries ago, they sponsored plant hunters and brought rhododendrons, rare trees and ornamental camellias from across the globe to the estate.
Inspiration from India
It is the evergreen Camellia sinensis shrub that produces the leaves from which all tea comes, whether it is black, white or green. A native of South East Asia and the Indian subcontinent, it is today cultivated across the world in tropical and subtropical regions. Camellia sinensis is one of the few species of camellia that contains caffeine. While there are others, such as Camellia japonica, C. sinensis is favoured as a tea crop due to its flavour.
In 1999, Tregothnan’s owner, Evelyn Boscawen, and his garden director, Jonathon Jones, came up with the idea to grow tea, inspired by an early flowering magnolia from north India and the ease with which the ornamental camellias grew.
Camellia sinensis plants grow well in acidic, well-drained soils, with an ideal pH of 4.5-5.5. They require warm, moist conditions with at least 39in (100cm) of annual rainfall. The ideal aspect is south-facing, with protection from extreme weather. All these conditions are found at Tregothnan.
“The key thing for these plants is the microclimate here,” says Jonathon. “We are far enough inland to be free from salt-winds, and we have an 18m deep sea creek running through the estate, which means we get relatively warm weather in winter. On top of that, we have all the usual things that tea needs: the right rainfall, soil pH, shelter belt and aspect of land.”
The following year, thanks to a scholarship awarded by the Nuffield Trust, Jonathon was able to visit tea gardens across the globe. “I deliberately went to the widest spectrum of gardens that I could find,” he says. “I didn’t just go to successful tea gardens, I went to those that were struggling. It’s a very diverse and complicated industry. It is done in so many different ways.”
On his return, he continued to experiment and research. He had collected cuttings and seedlings on his travels and started to propagate tea plants from them. “I was busy testing the theory, and convincing myself, that this was going to be an industry, not just a novelty attached to the garden,” he says.
Donated tea plants
As word began to spread of the estate’s plans, advice started to come in from botanists and other experts. “The reception was amazing. One of the country’s foremost authorities on tea cultivation, the late Dr Rex Ellis, would paint watercolours showing me how we should grow our tea. He sent me an essay telling me in no uncertain terms what I’d got wrong and what was going to work. It was really valuable.” Other retired tea growers gave their lifetime collection of tea bushes which they had brought back to the UK.
As a result of these donations, today there are 35 different varieties of tea bush on the estate. These include Camellia sinensis var. sinensis, C. sinensis var. assamica and their own cultivated varieties, including C. sinensis ‘Tregothnan Himalayan Valley’, C. sinensis ‘Tregothnan Coombe’ and C. sinensis ‘Tregothnan Selection’.
Each variety occupies a different garden or plantation on the estate. Each plantation is no bigger than an acre, to reduce the risk of spreading disease. Each acre contains approximately 1,000 tea bushes planted in rows approximately 203ft (62m) apart. Tens of tons of tea are now produced here every year.
Not all of the 150 acres are fully productive. Bushes are first picked when they are three to four years old, with about 10 per cent of the bush plucked. At this age, a bush yields approximately 50g of tea at its first plucking. This increases to 100g in year six to seven when the bush reaches maturity.
Tea bushes can last for hundreds of years. Some in China are more than 400 years old, so there is very good reason to believe that the tea bushes at Tregothnan will survive for many more decades yet.
Cuttings are taken from healthy mature plants to propagate new plants. These cuttings are potted and kept moist and warm in a greenhouse. When the cutting has firm roots and is producing new growth, it is repotted. These young plants will remain in nursery beds for approximately 18 months when they are placed in the tea garden. Thousands of plants are propagated each year.
Left to their own devices, Camellia sinensis plants will grow into a tree. However, in cultivation, the bush is kept to waist height by pruning. This takes place at the end of the harvest season. Every seven years, the bushes go through a deep prune, where they are stripped back to their main branches to encourage new growth and renew the plants.
The main harvest season lasts from April to October. “There is no hard and fast rule on that,” says Jonathon. “We might have a really mild January or February and get our first leaves then. Since 2005, when we made our first sale, we’ve found that we can harvest on almost any day of the year.”
In peak season, up to 20 pickers will start plucking at dawn. The young leaves are pinched from the bush and carried in baskets slung over the arm. The first rush of leaf buds coming from the tea bushes in early spring is known as first flush. Having stored a winter’s worth of nutrients, these leaves are considered the premium harvest and are used to make Tregothnan’s Single Estate tea.
Depending on the weather and the growth rate of new shoots, the plant is plucked again approximately seven days later. This is referred to as the plucking round. As growth slows down towards the end of the season, the plucking round is gradually extended to between 7-14 days until the plant no longer produces new growth.
White tea is made from the bud of the bush, while green tea and black tea is from the first two leaves and bud. “The final type of tea is down to what you blend with the leaf and how the tea is processed,” says Jonathon.
After plucking, leaves are spread out onto wire mesh racks, approximately 3ft by 6ft (91 x 183cm), in a steel walk-in container for several hours and left to wither. The purpose of withering is to reduce the moisture content in the leaves and make them pliable, ready for further processing.
Next, the withered leaves are placed in muslin cloths and rolled between the hands, releasing juices and intensifying flavour. This takes place in the same room. The length of time this process takes depends on the batch size and the type of tea being produced. It can take anything from a few minutes to more than an hour. “The longer and more vigorous the rolling, the stronger the resulting flavour,” explains Jonathon. “We’re about to release a very strong breakfast tea using four different camellias from across the estate that will go through a very abrasive rolling process to create a really rich, full-bodied black tea.”
The third step is fermentation, or oxidisation, a process that started with the rolling. In this enzymatic process, oxygen reacts with compounds inside the leaves, affecting the tea’s flavour, aroma and colour.
For small batches of tea, rolling will often be enough to oxidise the tea to the desired level. Larger batches remain in the steel containers for longer or are placed in a wooden chamber, where the temperature is kept below 30°C, and left to further ferment. The degree of oxidisation varies depending on the desired result. For Tregothnan’s green tea, fermentation is replaced by steaming to retain lightness of taste and the green colour.
Once the leaves have been oxidised to the preferred level, they are transferred to a drying room, another steel container, where they are dried using heaters to makes the leaves shelf-stable, ready to be sorted and packed. The whole bush-to-cup process takes just 36 hours.
A tea for every occasion
“Our teas vary a great deal,” says Jonathon. “The delicate crispness of our green tea is very different to our bold and malty Classic tea. Some teas need to be light and refreshing, whereas others need to be more full-bodied.”
Tregothnan sells six teas: an exclusive Single Estate; a Classic Blend, with leaves from Tregothnan blended with leaves from Assam; an Afternoon Tea, a blend of Tregothnan leaves and Darjeeling; Earl Grey, a blend of Cornish leaves and Assam, infused with bergamot oil; Great British Tea, a stronger blend of Tregothnan and Assam; and a Green Tea, a blend of Tregothnan and leaves from China.
The tea is processed and packaged on-site, apart from the production of the pyramid tea pouch, which is outsourced. The distinctive boxes were designed in-house by Tregothnan’s marketing manager Bella Percy-Hughes. “We’ve also made use of the creative talent pool that we have in Cornwall,” says Jonathon. “We’ve had input from students at Exeter University, based on the Cornwall campus, and the arts community in St Ives.”
Today, Tregothnan is a flourishing tea plantation, but it has faced challenges. There were times when Jonathon feared that he had undertaken the impossible. An early crop was decimated by a freak gale. Rabbits, which have left other camellia alone, have joined deer and pheasants to cause problems, plucking some varieties bare.
“What I’ve learned is that when you try to do novel things, you get attacked by novel pests,” says Jonathon. Netting around the young tea plants helps to keep these predators at bay. Once the bushes reach a certain size, they become more resistant.
Jonathon’s perseverance has paid off, and the future for the Tregothnan estate’s tea is looking bright. “If we had given up after the early hurdles, we’d never have all this,” he says. The aim is to continue to focus on quality and sustainability, and to still be a successful operation 100 years from now.
As the sunlight strains through the mist onto the rows of tea plants, the feeling is one of quiet pride. Finally, a great British institution has found a home in Britain.
Words: Emma Inglis Photography: Alamy
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
With its distinctive blue veins, Stilton has a long heritage as a cheese of quality, although its origins remain unknown
A large, drum-shaped cheese sits proudly on a table. With its crumble-cream texture, soft, butter-yellow crust and distinctive blue veins, this is Stilton.
Today, Stilton enjoys Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status. This dictates that it can only be produced in the counties of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire, to a legally-binding recipe. Each batch must pass strict quality controls. If one fails, it can only be sold as unnamed ‘blue cheese’. Just six dairies are licensed to create this sumptuous, tangy cheese, while a seventh makes only white Stilton. None of them are in, or even near, the village of Stilton in Cambridgeshire from which its name comes.
For many years, it was claimed that Stilton cheese did not originate in the eponymous village. Recent research, however, has fetched up a recipe dated 1722. This implies that a cheese called Stilton was made in the village in the early 18th century. As a white, pressed, cream cheese, it bore little resemblance to the product known today.
No one knows for certain, but it is believed the distinctive blue veining may have happened by accident. As it aged, the cheeses produced natural cracks into which mould spores would develop. Far from being repulsed, early connoisseurs were delighted by this. The cheese’s flora and fauna are at their most active in and around the rind, ensuring flavour at its most complex. Daniel Defoe, writing in 1724, said he had “pass’d Stilton, a town famous for cheese, which is call’d our English Parmesan, and is brought to table with the mites, or maggots round it, so thick, that they bring a spoon with them for you to eat the mites with, as you do the cheese.”
It is unknown what made the cheese mites so tasty to 18th century travellers. While Stilton today is made to methods that remain traditional, modern hygiene standards ensure the rind remains maggot-free.
Stilton cheese’s fame spread. This may have been because it was made with whole milk and extra cream, unlike many cheaper cheeses where part-skimmed milk was used. Geography also played a large role. Sitting on the Great North Road, Stilton was only 70 miles from London. This made it a convenient stopping point for coaches travelling north to York or further. At its height, Stilton was heaving with humanity and horses. A minimum of 300 horses were held at The Bell Inn, with 300 more at The Angel. These would be changed with the tired horses of coaches travelling through. There were a further 14 hostelries in the village, all with accommodation.
Visitors would be aware of Stilton’s large cheese market, held every Wednesday. In 1743, Cooper Thornhill, landlord of The Bell, had an idea. He began working with Frances Pawlett, a cheesemaker from Wymondham, Leicestershire, to make something truly special on a more commercial scale. It is claimed Pawlett came up with a novel way to avoid having to press the whey from her cheeses. She moulded them in ceramic pipes, fired with holes, from which the fluid could drain. It also gave the product the classic drum-shape it retains till this day. Pawlett set out high standards for her ‘Stilton’ cheese, giving it an early reputation for quality.
At first, Cooper Thornhill served it to guests, then sold it to passing travellers. Finally, as news of its superior quality spread, he began supplying Stilton to fashionable cheesemongers in London.
Traditionally, the cheese was made in the summer months, when the local pasture and, therefore, milk was at its richest. The rounds didn’t mature until December, but this made them perfect for Christmas. Stilton’s rich creaminess is still associated with the season’s feast.
The arrival of steam railways killed the coaching trade and Stilton’s hotel business. The cheese industry, though, flourished thanks to improved distribution. However, all six of today’s Stilton dairies remain within a few miles of each other in the crook of three counties.
In the 1790s, the cheese sold at half a crown a pound, twice a day’s wages for an average farm worker. Top quality ingredients and an intense hands-on
process mean it continues to be the luxury product it
has always been.
Making Stilton Cheese
Approximately 16 gallons (72 litres) of milk are needed to make a prime 16lb 8oz (7.5kg) whole cheese. Everything, from the breed of the cow to its health and what it eats, will affect both flavour and texture. To meet the requirements of the Protected Designation of Origin, cattle must be grazed within a certain area.
When Leicestershire cheesemaker Frances Pawlett created Stilton in the 18th century, her milk would have been raw, direct from the cow. Modern Stilton uses pasteurised milk. This is cooled in giant vats, before it is introduced to a live starter culture of friendly bacteria, along with penicillium roqueforti. These are the mould spores that will eventually develop the blue veins. Traditionally, Stilton’s clotting agent has been animal rennet, but in recent years a vegetarian alternative has also been made.
The cheesemaker’s skill
A fine Stilton takes between 10 and 12 weeks from the moment the milk is pasteurised. Most processes are still done by hand. These include mixing the milk in the vats and cutting the curds to ladling, milling or grinding the curds into soft crumbs, and salting. Giant hoops are filled by hand to create the characteristic, cylindrical Stilton shape. There are no machines that can accurately check curds for setting point, or the developing cheeses for quality. This means the skills of individual cheesemakers are tested on
a daily basis.
The cheeses are stored in the ‘hastening’ room in hoops very similar to the moulds Frances Pawlett developed more than 200 years ago. Over four to six days the whey slowly drains away, ensuring the cheeses will not collapse when they are de-hooped. The next process is
to smooth them. The master cheesemaker strokes each cheese round to create a smooth crust. This prevents oxygen activating the blue spores too early.
The rounds are stored in a maturing room to develop the creamy, leathery crust essential for all Stilton cheeses. Variables such as temperature and humidity decide exactly how long each batch will take.
For five weeks they are turned regularly to allow the air to reach each round evenly. Then they are individually pierced with steel needles to introduce air. This activates the mould spores for the blue veins. The blue does not develop in the pierced holes, but in tiny cracks and fissures within the cheese’s loose, crumbly body. The cheese rounds see out their maturation in the blueing store, for between four and six weeks. Here again, they are regularly turned and graded with a long coring tool, or iron, to ensure quality.
Some strange misconceptions have grown up around how Stilton should be served. It is best cut simply, in wedge-shaped slices. The general advice is to ‘cut high, cut low, cut level’. This involves cutting a small wedge in the top, about ½in (1cm) deep. Cutting is continued around it like a shallow cake, slicing it off horizontally to ensure the least amount of air reaches the main body. Scooping exposes more surface area to the air. This dries out the cheese, killing both flavour and texture. It is not recommended if the cheese is not to be eaten at one sitting. Nosing the cheese, that is removing the soft, creamy inner ‘nose’ leaving fellow diners with the hard crust, is not acceptable.
Stilton village’s guide to eating this most tricky of cheeses claims the high cream content not only renders butter unnecessary, it detracts from the experience, making it over-rich.
Words: Sandra Lawrence
From medieval ruins to red-roofed cottages, the North Yorkshire town o Helmsley is surrounded by striking buildings that enhance nature's charms.
The midsummer sun shines down on a glistening river as it makes it way past stone cottages with red-tiled roofs. A rich glow lights up the stones of an ancient castle’s tall tower, glowering down upon the town it once controlled.
This is Helmsley, a North Yorkshire market town where history, architecture and natural beauty are closely intertwined.
Located in a natural dip, it sits on the southern edge of the North York Moors, where Borough Beck meets the River Rye. The site has been a place of strategic and commercial importance since before the Norman Conquest. From turbulent beginnings, Helmsley eventually flourished in the 17th and 18th centuries as the ideals of romantic architecture and formal landscaping took hold. Today the town draws visitors who come to revel in its vivid connection to the past.
With a population of approximately 1,500, Helmsley has a bustling town centre. The large Market Place and Bridge Street are flanked by small independent shops, cafés restaurants and pubs.
One such shop is a delicatessen, Hunters of Helmsley. The business has won a range of awards for its service and ideas. Last year it gained the accolade of Best Small Shop in Britain, awarded by the Parliamentary Small Shops Group.
Owners Chris and Christine Garnett put their success down to their motto: shopping like it used to be.
“We talk to the customers, engage
with them, treat them like friends,” says Christine. “That can be tricky in summer when you’ve a queue out the door and 30 more at the ice cream hatch, but we always do our best!”
The shop teams up with local suppliers to create new products. One recent venture was a sloe gin ice cream. This was made with the help of Sloe Motion gin makers in Malton and Brymor Dairy in Masham. Another collaboration was with the Benedictine monks at Ampleforth Abbey, five miles away. This resulted in a slow roast pork and Ampleforth apple cider pie.
“The hardest part of my job is tasting the new inventions,” says a smiling Chris.
A microbrewery, Helmsley Brewing Co, opened in a tiny shop on Bridge Street last year. Its beers, Helmsley Honey, Howardian Gold and Striding the Riding, are sold in the shop.
“It’s not easy to be an independent and slightly old-fashioned shop in today’s fast-moving market,” says Christine. “What we really love is interacting with our customers. At the end of the day, we’re Yorkshire folk. We like to talk.”
A dominant structure
Beside the town, and dominating it, are the remains of a once-proud castle. Perched high on its defensive mound, the castle’s heavily fortified bailey and barbicans are still largely intact. Its four-storey East Tower is the tallest structure in Helmsley. Today the whole complex is cared for by English Heritage.
“You really sense the depth of history as you come in through the South Barbican, just as visitors to Walter Espec’s estate would have done in the 12th century,” explains Adam Price, the site manager. He says he feels the centuries of history every morning when he arrives to “wake up the castle”.
“This building was about one thing – domination. The town’s inhabitants were in no doubt about who held the power here. It is imposing and awe-inspiring.”
These days the castle has a more benign influence on the town, says Adam.
“It has become part of the fabric of life here,” he explains. “It is loved by locals and admired by people who visit from all over. Generations of families have brought their children here to let them run around on the battlements and have a picnic in the inner bailey, especially in the summer.
“I meet a lot of adults who played
here as children. They are bringing their own children to tap into that wonderful sense of nostalgia.”
The best time to visit is at the start or end of a summer’s day. “That’s when the colours really explode,” he says. “Standing on the curtain wall near the keep, you can watch the morning light creep across the East Tower, bringing it to life. This gorgeously warm, yellowy-orange light picks out the lines of the keep and bounces off the stonework. Moments like that are magical. I believe Walter Espec, Robert de Roos and Charles Duncombe enjoyed them as much as I do.”
From powerhouse to ruin
Helmsley Castle was built by a Norman lord, Walter Espec. It transformed the small town, formerly known as Elmeslac, into a powerhouse of trade and military might. In 1120, Espec was granted almost unlimited power across northern England by the king, William II. Helmsley Castle was designed to underline his power and influence. Passed to the de Roos family following Espec’s death, it was strengthened through the 13th and 14th centuries. In the less turbulent 16th century, a Tudor manor house was added in the inner bailey.
The castle’s only active combat came in 1644, at the height of the English Civil War. Its Royalist garrison was besieged for three months by Parliamentarian forces. Only the threat of starvation forced surrender. In recognition of their brave resistance, the 200 occupants were allowed to march out with honour, sporting their small arms weaponry.
The victorious Parliamentarians blew up and dismantled parts of the castle. It was then left derelict until 1695 when it was bought by London banker Charles Duncombe. His descendants still own it. The family lived at the castle until 1711, when they built a new mansion in the adjoining parkland. The castle was kept a romantic ruin, visible from the long hillside
driveway that connects the two buildings.
Garden of delights
Another legacy of the castle plays an important role in the town today. On the other side of the ruins is the entrance to Helmsley Walled Garden. This was originally a kitchen garden for the castle in Tudor times. It continued to serve the estate until the second Earl of Feversham was killed in action in the First World War. The house was leased to a school and the gardeners departed. After a period as a market garden, it fell into disuse.
Then in 1984, a keen local horticulturalist, Alison Ticehurst, formed
a plan to reopen it as a place of healing. With a lot of help from friends, volunteers and benefactors, she succeeded. Today Helmsley Walled Garden draws visitors
and volunteers from all over the country.
“Alison’s husband was a GP and they both had a holistic approach to health,” says Tricia Harris, marketing manager and a long-time volunteer at the garden. “She felt very strongly that people could be restored through horticulture. All you had to do was create a safe place for them to do it. The walled garden, by its very nature, is that place.”
The stick man
Several businesses share Helmsley Walled Garden’s premises. Among them is the tiny workshop of Keith Pickering, known as The Stick Man. For 30 years, he has been carving elegant designs into walking and shooting sticks. Today he is one of Britain’s foremost craftsmen of his art, cutting approximately 1,000 sticks a year. “It started because I was a beater for a pheasant shoot and I thought I’d carve my own stick to take with me,” he recalls. “The first one was a cock pheasant. Not very good, but it made me want to get better.” He mainly uses hazel, but he also carves ash, chestnut, blackthorn, lime and holly. The majority of these raw materials come from the woods of Duncombe Park, with permission from the estate.
Making a difference
The garden is now a centre for horticultural therapy, as well as being open to visitors. Its team of therapists help a wide range of people. These include vulnerable adults, people with learning disabilities, and people coping with stroke, depression or bereavement. There is
also a patch tended by children from a local special needs school.
“Working in the garden is therapeutic in so many ways,” says Tricia. “You are outdoors, away from the difficulties you are normally up against. You are part of a team, so your presence makes a difference. And it provides the right kind of challenge. With a garden there are very few quick fixes. You have to work at a problem and solve it, and the reward for doing so is immense. You see something happening as a result of your labour. That is therapy in its most basic sense.”
In summer the garden is alive with warm colour. The main source of this is the Hot Border, a long floral bed forming the spine of the garden. It takes its name from the primary colours of the flowers planted there, which yield bold reds, yellows, oranges and purples. These include yellow Anthemis tinctoria ‘E C Buxton’ and Achillea filipendulina ‘Gold Plate’, purple spires of Salvia nemorosa ‘Lubecca’ and magenta Monarda ‘On Parade’.
“Alison had remarkable vision,” says Tricia. “I wish she could have seen how the garden looks in summer. It’s such an explosion of warmth and colour.”
Ancient monastic ruins
Leaving Helmsley, two miles to the north-west is the upper valley of the River Rye. Here, sitting in the heart of a steep-sided wooded gorge is Rievaulx Abbey, one of the largest and most impressive monastic ruins in England.
It was founded in 1132 by 12 monks of the Cistercian order who came from the abbey of Clairvaulx in north-eastern France. They chose the valley as their home because of the abundance of natural resources, and its seclusion. The Cistercian order aimed to follow a strict life of devotion and self-sufficiency.
The abbey was built with the patronage of Walter Espec, the original builder of Helmsley Castle. The monks named it Rievaulx (pronounced ‘ree-voh’), meaning Valley of the Rye. This name harks back to their original home in Clairvaulx.
The monks initially diverted the course of the Rye to create a flat space large enough for the building. Later they diverted it again in order to create a canal. This made it easier to transport building stone from a quarry in the valley wall.
Unusually, the abbey sits on a skewed angle from south-east to north-west. Under church law, most places of worship were built with a west-east alignment. This anticipated the return of the Messiah with the rising of the sun. But the lie of the land at Rievaulx did not allow this. Instead the monks obtained special permission from Pope Honorius II to align their abbey in the alternative form. A transept window faces east instead.
Throughout the 12th century, the abbey became the centre of a major monastic and industrial operation.
The monks mined lead and iron, and developed subsidiary churches around
the region. They reared sheep, sold wool and built a substantial tannery within
the abbey walls.
Over the next 400 years, the abbey thrived. At its peak in the 1150s under its third abbot Aelred, the abbey occupied half a square mile and was home to over 140 monks. There were a further 500 lay brothers and other assistants.
“The monks valued their privacy, but equally they were progressively enterprising,” says Mike Ward, English Heritage’s site manager at Rievaulx. “They were builders and shapers, and they knew how to run a business. If you came here in the 12th century you would have
seen industry on a grand scale, from construction through to tanning and mining. Food production was hugely important too, with so many people at Rievaulx. That’s the main reason why the refectory building is almost as large as the main church.
“The abbey also served as a hospital. The Cistercian vows required them to welcome and treat anyone who required medical help.”
The abbey’s life came to an end in 1538, when Henry VIII dissolved the English monasteries during his schism with the Catholic church. Left as ruins for 400 years, it was only rescued by an energetic restoration project. This was carried out by the Ministry of Works after the First World War. The work was done to help provide employment to returning war veterans who found it hard to get jobs.
It resulted in a clearing of the site, to reveal the abbey ruins in their full glory. Visitors could now appreciate one of the most spiritually and architecturally important abbey sites in England.
In more recent years, English Heritage has done much to return the site to as close an approximation of the 1150s era as possible. The buildings seen today are largely those that would have been familiar to Abbot Aelred and his brethren.
A visitor centre opened this summer, helping bring the abbey’s history to life.
“Summer is the abbey’s high season, and the site looks its best when it is being explored and enjoyed by people,” says Mike. “The vast majority of visitors come on foot, following the Cleveland Way from Helmsley. That’s by far the best way to approach the site; to see it suddenly revealed after following the river through the woods.”
View from the Terrace
Another dramatic view of the abbey comes from an elegant, landscaped bank above the buildings. This is Rievaulx Terrace, created in the 1750s by Thomas Duncombe, son of Charles, the founder of Duncombe Park. He wanted to echo the formal footpaths and temples found on his family estate with an ‘outpost’. His aim was to make visual use of an even more splendid ruin than Helmsley Castle, namely, the abbey.
The site features serpentine woodland walks leading to two temples at either
end of the terrace. One is Ionic, the other Tuscan. The woodlands are planted in sequences of contrasting colours. Paler trees such as lime and whitebeam
contrast with darker species including sycamore and beech.
The terrace is a haven for wildlife. Seventeen different species of bat have been recorded at the site. These include a new species to Britain, the Myotis alcathoe. In summer, the bank of the terrace is alive with vibrant wildflowers. These include lady’s bedstraw, knapweed, harebell,
water avens, betony, wood anemone, crosswort and ragwort.
“The terrace is all about the use of perspective,” explains Nick Fraser. He is the live-in site manager for the National Trust, which now cares for the terrace. “Thomas Duncombe wanted to create a perfect viewing platform for a spectacular landscape and frame it with perfect architecture. You have to say he succeeded!”
The secret, he says, is not to rush for the main viewpoints. Instead it is better to undertake a journey through the landscape to reach them.
“In the 18th century, the journey was just as important as the view,” he explains. “So as you follow the woodland trail, it builds up the anticipation and curiosity. The visitor is never sure where they are going or what’s around the next corner. There are actually 13 different viewpoints around the terrace. Glimpses come here and there. Then round the final corner, there’s the big reveal at Valley View. These wonderful temples are the perfect frames for the valley and the abbey beyond. It’s like a delicate piece of music, building to
a great crescendo.”
He explains that the terrace uses light to spectacular effect, particularly in summer.
“The temples stay cool and dark in the morning. It takes until midday for the sun to come round and light them up, then it’s all golden pyrotechnics,” he adds. “For most people, a lovely sunny day is best. However, I like the terrace on dramatic days when there’s a bit of storm in the sky and the wind is up. The temples play up to that nicely as well. They can be incredibly atmospheric when it’s blowy.
“If Turner came here, he wouldn’t pick a bright sunny day. He’d want something with texture, something raw and wild. You get those days in summer as much as in any other season.”
Nick also relishes the fact that the woodlands, planted 260 years ago, have only now reached their peak of perfection.
“We are fortunate to be living at this point,” he says. “The gardeners who created the terrace knew they would never see them in full maturity and splendour. That is where we are now. In a decade or so the original trees will start to decline, so we are witnessing them at their peak.”
When asked to sum up the appeal of the terrace, Nick has a reply that fits all
the attractions of Helmsley and the surrounding area. “The idea of this terrace was never about just planting something to make a place look nicer. It was about how you drew things in from the landscape to make them part of your scene.”
An enriching experience
That ethos is common to Helmsley Castle, Duncombe Park, the walled garden and, on a much smaller scale, the work of the Stick Man. All frame and magnify the natural world of which they are part. They all enrich the people who come to experience them. This may be through the historical revelations of the abbey or the holistic healing of the walled garden.
The snaking footpaths to the hilltop temples and the grandiose barbicans of Helmsley Castle all create an experience that can intimidate, entertain or enrapture. Helmsley is a narrative of landscape framed and punctuated by art.
If Yorkshire folk like to talk, this small Yorkshire town and its history certainly have a great deal to say.
Words: Nick Hallisay Photography: Alamy
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
Among some of the rarest animals on earth, Northumberland’s Chillingham cattle have roamed freely for centuries, without human intervention
A herd of small off-white cattle graze in open parkland dotted with huge, gnarled oak trees. Behind them are gently undulating slopes, down which meander streams lined with ancient alders. Stretching far into the distance are the peaks of the Cheviot Hills. This idyllic setting is the parkland of Chillingham Castle, approximately 23 miles south of Berwick-upon-Tweed in Northumberland.
Lazing under the trees, feeding in a slow, deliberate manner, or wandering through the bracken-covered hillsides, the cattle live as their ancestors did centuries ago. For these are Chillingham wild cattle, a truly unique breed.
With fewer than 100 bulls, cows and calves, they are among the rarest animals on earth. But what makes them so special is that they are never – and for hundreds of years have never been – handled by humans. Supplementary food in the form of bales of hay is provided in winter, but that is the limit of human intervention. Other than that, they fend for themselves, fighting, feeding and breeding as wild cattle would have done 1,000 years ago.
The first written record of the cattle at Chillingham dates from 1645 in documents held by the Earls of Tankerville. Historians have discovered, however, that, in 1344 King Edward III granted royal permission for Chillingham Castle to be ‘castellated and crenellated’, that is fortified, against the possibility of invasion by the Scots. A dry-stone wall was built around the 1500-acre (610-hectare) estate. This may have been the point when the cattle were first enclosed, to be hunted for food.
Another theory is that the cattle were present as early as the time of the Domesday Book, in the late 11th century. There are, however, no records to support this. Before they came to Chillingham, it is believed they roamed through the great forest that stretched from the Northumberland coast to the east to the Irish Sea in the west. Today the cattle scatter freely across 330 acres (130 hectares) of open pasture and wooded habitat, within the estate walls.
“No one really knows how the cattle got here, but we can be reasonably sure they are the descendants of domestic cattle that somehow escaped from captivity,” says Chris Leyland. He is the farmer in charge of the herd. It is his belief that, having broken free, the cattle may have been ignored for many years. For centuries the border country was largely a no-man’s land between the warring English and Scots. During that time the cattle would have been largely left alone, apart from some taken for food. When peace returned to the area, the wary and aggressive cattle would have been difficult to catch.
Small and light
Having lived in isolation for so long, these animals vary in behaviour and appearance from today’s domestic breeds. The first difference is that they are much smaller. Most are half the weight of a typical domestic breed. The average Jersey cow weighs 900lb (400kg), while the ubiquitous black and white Friesian is 1280lb (580kg). Chillingham cows weigh between 616-660lb (280-300kg), while the larger bulls are approximately 660lb (300 kg). Chris does, however, recall one large bull that weighed in at 880lb (400kg). They are short compared with domestic cattle, roughly 43in (110cm) at the shoulder, compared to a Jersey’s 48in (121cm).
From a distance, the cattle can be momentarily mistaken for large sheep, due to their off-white colour. Closer to, the curved, upright-pointing horns of both males and females are seen. There is a reddish tinge around the ears and, in some animals, around their feet, eyes and nose. From the rear they appear considerably thinner than domestic cattle. The latter have been bred fatter to provide meat or milk, whereas these animals are naturally lean, adapted for running and fighting.
Perhaps most peculiar, though, is rather than the typically bovine lowing, the cattle make an extraordinary sound. This is a rather mournful series of hoots and grunts, which echo around the park.
The bulls fight for the opportunity to mate with the cows, in trials of strength. Unlike animals such as red deer, whose rut is an annual occurrence in autumn, the Chillingham cows can conceive all year round. This means the males must always be alert to the possibility of mating.
The confrontations are usually over quickly as the dominant bull asserts his authority. He confronts and sometimes attacks his rivals to send the challenger running away. “This can be a dangerous time for the other cattle,” says Chris. “The beaten bull may flee in panic, and end up crashing into and injuring the watching younger males.”
These younger bulls hang around on the periphery of the herd, not daring to challenge the dominant bulls for fear of being badly injured. Overall the bulls form a pecking order in which each animal knows its place. This changes over time as one bull successfully challenges another higher up the hierarchy. Many of the cattle bear scars on their bodies, with few bulls living longer than 10-12 years. The cows can reach 15 years old.
When there were far fewer cattle than today, the herd was led by a single, dominant animal, known as the king bull. He would be the only one to mate and sire calves. His dominance lasted for a period as long as three years until he would be deposed by another bull. However, with an increase in the number of cattle, this situation has now changed. Today several bulls get the opportunity to mate.
The cows usually have one calf every two years. They can be born in any month of the year, an adaptation to help protect the calves. If they were all born at the same time, there was more of an attraction for predators such as wolves.
When the birth is due, the cow heads away from the other members of the herd so that her offspring will be safe. Otherwise the calf is at risk of being trampled by fighting males. After a week or so following the birth, the calf emerges from its hiding place to join the herd. It will not be weaned for a further seven to 14 months.
The appearance of the new calf often attracts the attention of the other females. Childless cows may try to steal the calf, so if they come too close the mother will push them away. All the calves used to struggle to survive during the autumn and spring months because sheep were competing with them for grazing. The sheep have now been removed, leaving the cattle without competition. Chris describes them as “good little grazers”, able to gain nourishment from poor grass where domestic cattle would struggle. They can survive harsh winter conditions when domestic calves would perish.
Following the long and freezing winter of 1946-47, only 13 animals, eight cows and five bulls, survived. This fall in numbers together with the fact that no new animals have joined the herd for hundreds of years, should have left the herd at risk of infertility caused by inbreeding.
Chris believes that the reason this has not happened is that over time any inbred animals have simply not survived. This has left the herd purged of anything that could adversely affect them. Members now are fit, healthy animals.
As well as the Chillingham herd, there is a second, much smaller group of approximately 20 animals at a secret site in north-east Scotland. This was established in case any unexpected problems, such as disease, occurred within
the main herd.
The Chillingham cattle are related to another rare breed, the White Park cattle. These are also white but have longer horns, and black, rather than reddish, ears. In the early 20th century, some Chillingham cattle were taken to be crossbred with the White Park.
The cattle roaming the park at Chillingham are a splendid sight. Left to their own devices, they are not only surviving, but thriving. To watch them is to take a step back to a time when Britain was home to more wild than domesticated animals. The majestic setting of their home in the wilds of Northumberland, the mystery of their arrival and survival all combine to make the Chillingham wild cattle one of the natural wonders of Britain.
Visiting the park Because the Chillingham cattle have never been handled, they can be dangerous to people. The only way to see them is to join a guided tour of the estate. Visitors are warned never to approach too close, as they risk being attacked and even gored by the sharp, pointed horns.
The wild cattle are not the only attraction for visitors to Chillingham Park. There are also herds of fallow deer and small groups of roe deer and hares.
A host of woodland birds can be seen, including resident nuthatches, green and great spotted woodpeckers, and summer migrants such as redstarts, which nest in holes in the oak trees. A small population of the native red squirrel also lives in the park, which is open to visitors from April to October.
Chris Leyland (pictured below right) is the part-time park manager for the Chillingham Wild Cattle Association, which has owned the cattle since it was formed in 1939. He also owns a 400-acre livestock farm in nearby Belford.
Words: Stephen Moss Photography: Steve and Ann Toon
Working Deep in a Northamptonshire wood, Hugh Ross and Carolyn Church are charcoal burners, practising a 5,500 year-old skill
A plume of perfectly white smoke billows from a circular steel kiln in a woodland clearing.
On this still day, the cloud mushrooms dramatically into the blue sky. The woods are peaceful except for the sound of birdsong and the occasional penetrating cry of a peacock, one of a large flock that roams the area. Hugh Ross and Carolyn Church are tending the kiln, which sits in the heart of Rawhaw Wood in Kettering, Northamptonshire.
For the next 24 hours, the couple will check the steel cylinder as a special alchemy takes place. Inside it just over one tonne of wood is being converted into pure charcoal. “This is a slow, quiet process, which cannot be hurried,” explains Carolyn.
The couple have been living in and working this 30-acre patch of ancient woodland for the past 20 years. In winter, they manage the wood by coppicing, manually thinning out the layers of wood. They cut down larger trees or remove branches to allow more sunlight into the wood and encourage new growth. From Easter to the end of September however their days revolve around making charcoal.
Charcoal is half-burnt wood, which is slowly and evenly cooked, rather than rapidly burnt. This gets rid of water and naturally-occurring compounds such as methane, hydrogen and tar. Once the heat has removed these substances, wood in a near-pure carbon form is left. One of the oldest chemical processes known to man, it creates an ideal fuel, burning with little smoke and strong heat.
Now mainly used for barbecues, charcoal was an essential fuel source for at least 5,500 years. It fuelled both the Bronze and Iron Ages. Without it, the metal ores could not have been heated to a high enough temperature for smelting.
“Charcoal burning is an ancient skill,” says Hugh. “We do appreciate that we’re doing something that has been going on for centuries.”
Living with the land
Carolyn and Hugh were working as volunteers for a wildlife trust when they became interested in woodland. “We wanted to live and work in the countryside, but we knew we weren’t farmers,” explains Carolyn. “We share a love of trees and decided that woodland management was something we could make a living at. A land agent told us that this wood was up for sale, and we came to view it. The wood had the right mix of trees, with hazel, ash, field maple and oak, to make it a commercial proposition. We could use hazel for hurdles, pea sticks, and stakes and binders for hedge laying. We could use a mixture of different woods for making charcoal which we could then sell.”
They bought the land, arriving in 1995 with their young son Kier and their dog. They had only a caravan to live in and a horsebox to store their tools. The woodland had been badly neglected, and this spurred them to produce charcoal. “We were cutting down a lot of poorly grown coppice, which left us with excess wood. Turning it into charcoal to sell was the obvious solution, as these tend to be narrow bits of wood, not much use for anything else,” says Carolyn.
Controlling the fire
The key to charcoal burning is the control of air to the fire. For this reason it is done in a kiln with a lid and air vents that can be opened and closed as necessary. Hugh and Carolyn’s kiln is 6ft (1.8m) in diameter and just under 4ft (1.2m) tall. It was made from steel in Nantwich, Cheshire, by a specialist kiln maker.
To make the charcoal, the wood is cut and stacked ready to be loaded into the kiln. Hugh and Carolyn use all the types of timber found in the wood. “Each has different qualities,” explains Hugh. “Hazel burns hot and fast, oak burns less hot and for longer, and it’s the same with ash. Mixing together different woods works well in terms of the overall burn on the barbecue.”
The wood has been cut from trees during the winter when the sap is down. It is partly dried by the time the charcoal season begins at Easter. In spring, it is sawn up and stacked. Any wood over 4in (10cm) in diameter has to be split, or it is too big to be made into charcoal. A small tractor and trailer trundles the loads on the five-minute journey to the kiln. “Our tractor is so old we have had wrens nesting in the holes in the canopy, but it does the job,” says Carolyn.
Once at the kiln, the wood is sorted into sizes, from 1-4in (2.5-10cm) in diameter. Working methodically, Hugh and Carolyn load it into the kiln, starting with the smallest pieces. “I like the days when we do this. We can listen to the cricket on the radio as we stack. It’s very peaceful,” says Carolyn.
Building the fire
Hugh stands inside the kiln to lay the wood in a criss-cross pattern around four metal inlet ports. These channel air into the kiln to regulate the fire. “We want the kiln to be as full as possible, but we also need some gaps. This allows the air to circulate and we get a more even burn,” he says. In the centre of the kiln, a setting called
a fire site is created. This is where the fire will eventually be kindled. It is laid with brown ends or semi-charcoaled pieces of wood saved from previous batches. These are used because they catch light more quickly than regular wood would do.
It takes just over one tonne of wood to fill the kiln. “When it is full, we crown the top a little, so it fills the conical lid,” says Hugh. The lid is placed on the kiln but not sealed. “We need a good flow of air to get the heat up,” he explains.
A diesel-soaked rag secured to a long stick is lit and passed along one of the fire inlet ports at the base of the kiln. Smoke starts to seep out. After approximately an hour, the temperature rises. Smoke now billows from the kiln rim, rising into the sky like a column. “At this stage, it’s mainly steam, so it feels damp when you stand near it. It’s not an intense heat at first, although it can feel pretty warm on a summer’s day,” says Hugh.
The kiln lid is now lowered and four chimneys measuring 4ft (1.2m) high are put in place. They are fitted into pre-made slots attached to the metal box channels on which the kiln sits. Air is drawn into the kiln through the inlet ports. Exhaust fumes leave via the chimneys. The fire is slow, so the timber is cooked, rather than burning away into soft ash.
Once everything is in place, it is left for 24 hours to burn. Temperatures need to hit at least 375°C in order to start the conversion process from wood to charcoal. They can reach
as high as 500°C. “During this time, the impurities, the sap and the resin, are driven off,” explains Hugh. “We can tell what stage the burn is at by reading the smoke. Grey with
a hint of yellow, for example, indicates that the wood is in the latter stages of a burn. In the end, it turns blue and starts to smell like a barbecue, rather than woodsmoke.”
The kiln is usually lit during the late afternoon and left to burn throughout the night. “We always check the progress in the night. If it is windy, for example, we need to shield one of the inlets to maintain a steady burn,” says Hugh. “It is silent in the wood after dark, apart from the sounds of creatures scurrying about, field mice, perhaps an owl screeching.”
Once the kiln is emitting blue smoke, the burn is complete. The chimneys are removed and small caps are placed on the inlets. Any gaps are sealed with sand so no oxygen can get in to keep the fire alight. Once the kiln has been smothered, it is left for up to 48 hours to cool. The lid is then lifted, releasing an intense tangy smell like smoked kippers. The centre of the kiln has burnt out, leaving a doughnut of charcoal around the edges. Hugh and Carolyn sort through this, wearing protective suits and gloves against the dust and grime. “The dust is not dangerous, but we only have a stand pipe for water in the wood, so we like to keep as clean as possible to cut down on the washing,” says Carolyn.
A useful fuel
The charcoal is now graded. The couple pass it over a giant sieve made up of two sizes of metal mesh. Large pieces of charcoal are used for barbecue fuel. It is packed straight into 3kg brown paper sacks, weighed on scales, stapled shut and stacked neatly to await delivery to local farm shops and ironmongers. Smaller pieces go to specialist blacksmiths who use it for historical re-enactments where they demonstrate the traditional way of smelting.
Hugh and Carolyn also fill the holes in the lanes and rides which criss-cross the woodland with them. “And we use them and the dust in our compost toilet,” says Carolyn. “Absolutely nothing is wasted.”
The kiln is then raked out to remove any tar, a natural by-product of the burning process, and the charcoal burning cycle starts again. The couple usually produce approximately three tonnes each year. “By the end of September we are a
bit sick of charcoal, but then it’s back to coppicing,” smiles Carolyn. “There is always so much to do, I have never been bored in 20 years of living here.”
The couple live in a sturdy oak-framed house, which they built in the wood. It is only a few yards away from the charcoal kiln so work is always nearby. “We haven’t had a holiday since we arrived here, and we haven’t felt in desperate need of one either,” admits Carolyn. “What we do can be very physically demanding, but if you love something, then
it doesn’t really feel like work.”
The history of charcoal burning
As far back as 5,500 years ago, the use of charcoal was commonplace. Whereas pure copper could be smelted at about 800°C, only charcoal would burn at the 1000°C temperatures required to produce bronze from tin and copper. Bronze was hard-wearing, and ideal for making swords, axes and tools. Charcoal production grew steadily, and by 1,000BC its production was a major industry. By AD43-410, iron was being produced on
a large scale. Archaeological evidence indicates that thousands of acres of coppice were efficiently managed to produce enough wood to keep up with demand. The by-products of charcoal, such as tar, were used to caulk ships.
By 1334, charcoal had found a new use, as a component of gunpowder. Then in 1735, it was discovered that coal could be converted to coke, which produces a higher temperature. The new fuel was more efficient and within a century, most of the charcoal furnaces had converted to coke. Over 4,000 years of charcoal use as an industrial fuel were over. Today, only approximately 100 people in the UK produce charcoal commercially.
Most of Carolyn and Hugh’s charcoal is sold for barbecue fuel. However, they also produce approximately 200 charcoal pencils for artists each year. These are made from willow twigs cut into lengths and placed in a small steel cylinder. This then sits on top of the box channels at the bottom of the kiln. Keeping the fragile pencils separate from the larger chunks of wood ensures they are not crushed.
Words: Fiona Cumberpatch▯ Photography: Clive Doyle
BOBBINS AND COTTON ARE TRANSFORMED INTO HONITON LACE IN A DEVON HOME
Outside, winter is at its height. The leaves have gone from the trees, the east Devon skies are darkening, the light low. Inside a neat home, tucked away from the bustle of daily life, a piece of exquisite lace is slowly being created.
Pat Perryman’s nimble fingers move silently across the curved surface of a blue-clad pillow, weaving bobbins and cotton thread around an array of silver pins. Fraction by fraction, a picture emerges, following the pattern on a card beneath the pins. For hour after patient hour, Pat works towards her finished creation. Eventually, several hundred hours after she started, the work is done, and a new piece of historic Honiton lace is born.
For Pat, making this complex but beautiful piece of lace is a therapeutic labour of love. “If life is stressful, I can sit and do lace and be in another world,” she says. It is something she has been doing for nearly half a century now. Today, she is a seasoned expert, known around the world.
A natural talent
A trained dressmaker, Pat came to lacemaking by chance. In 1969 she joined a class at the local community college. The mother of two young children, it gave her the opportunity to do something away from the house.
Her teacher spotted her innate skill as soon as she started. Three years later, the teacher retired and Pat was running the class. “I was the youngest in the class, both in age and experience,” she says. “I had to go into that class and tell them I was the new teacher. It was daunting.”
In the years since then, she has created a prodigious quantity of work. It ranges from tiny, delicate pieces enclosed in pendants to larger work displayed in frames. The majority of her creations are decorative, although some have practical application. A lace parasol, adorned with 24 different butterflies, is redolent of a more feminine age. A sumptuous lace garter made for the wedding of her granddaughter-in-law took 80 hours of dextrous work. To make a wedding veil could take several years. “If you have a five-year-old daughter, you had better start now,” she says.
A Parliamentary task
In 1980 she was asked to make a new Honiton lace jabot, or ornamental neck frill, for the then Speaker of the House of Commons, George Thomas. The pattern was designed by Honiton School’s art teacher, Tom Griffiths. It depicted a portcullis and crown, the flower emblems of the UK’s four countries, plus images inspired by the Devon landscape. It took Pat many hundreds of hours to make, over three years.
By the time it was finished, a new Speaker, Bernard Weatherill, was in office. He came to Honiton in 1984 to be presented with the jabot. Later that year Pat was invited to the State Opening of Parliament, at which the Speaker wore her unique creation for the first time. At the subsequent reception she was asked to make a pair of matching cuffs. That resulted in a further thousand hours of work over four years.
Project of beauty and skill
Her biggest single project is safely contained in a quilted box. This is an exquisitely beautiful fan, consisting of 11 separate pieces of lace. “I always wanted to make a fan, and I was working on this for about three years,” she says. “I had all sorts of ideas for its design, but was eventually inspired by a piece of lace we have here in Honiton, in Allhallows Museum, called the Treadwin Flounce.
“Mrs Treadwin was a 19th century Honiton lacemaker. She made the flounce for Queen Victoria’s fourth son, Prince Leopold, the Duke of Albany, for his wedding in 1882 to Princess Helena of Waldeck and Pyrmont. The intricate designs in this flounce inspired my fan.”
She has presented her own work to royalty. When Princess Anne visited Honiton in 2005, Pat gave her a piece of lace with an intricate swan design. It had taken her approximately 350 hours to complete. She also gave the Princess a brooch depicting a lace horseshoe with the initial ‘A’ woven in it.
In 2013 Pat achieved the jewel in the crown of her career. She was awarded the British Empire Medal for Services to the Heritage of Lace-Making in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list.
Today, she continues to teach lacemaking classes. She has also had two books published. One is her New Designs in Honiton Lace, created in collaboration with a lacemaking colleague, Cynthia Voysey. The other is Pat Perryman’s Lace Patterns. Both remain in demand.
The future for lace
For almost half a century Pat has inspired many people to take up the threads. She is delighted that the craft is continuing to thrive. “We still have a class on a Saturday morning for children. It is now taught by one of my former child pupils, and it’s rewarding to see the tradition carried on.”
Her enthusiasm for the lace is infectious. For her, it is a task of unstinting dedication to creating works of delicate art that will last for centuries.
Words: Simone Stanbrook-Byrne Photography: Clive Doyle
WEAVER PRODUCES YARN, BLANKETS AND TWEED CLOTH IN HEART OF THE SPEY VALLEY
Knockando Woolmill sits by a tree-fringed stream amid arable farmland in the northeast of Scotland, the heart of whisky country. In operation since 1784, it is the oldest continuously working rural mill in the UK. Today it produces knitting yarn, blankets and tweed cloth using machinery that dates back to the 19th century.
The mill was bought by its chief weaver Hugh Jones, together with two friends, in 1976. A teacher, he was on holiday in the area when he saw the mill for sale. He had no knowledge of weaving but was attracted by the machinery and the idea of making something useful. The mill owner Duncan Stewart, who was selling up after 50 years, taught him the basics over a two-year period. He also learnt from a loom mechanic at the Scottish College of Textiles.
“I am mechanically minded and just got on with it,” says Hugh. “I had to learn or I wasn’t going to eat. I find it very satisfying, making something of genuine value and use. I have a feeling of great pleasure when a new design comes out of the loom and the cloth is right. I’ve got the settings on the loom and the tension correct, and there’s a uniformity to the cloth. It’s a powerful feeling to have control over all those threads.”
Originally managed as part of a croft, the mill was powered by a giant water wheel until 1949, when it switched to electricity. Local farmers would bring their fleeces to be converted into cloth or knitting wool. Combining farming and weaving made it possible for the crofters to eke a living.
“There used to be mills like this dotted all over Scotland,” explains Hugh. “They were an evolution from local hand-spinning and weaving. As mechanisation came along, little mills got hold of machines when they could. These formed the basis of the local economy in terms of blankets, knitting wool and basic cloth that the population used and wore. By 1960, they were nearly all gone, but Duncan Stewart kept going.”
By 2000, the strain of continuous production had taken its toll on the mill. Hugh handed over control to the Knockando Woolmill Trust, which raised £3.4million for restoration. The machinery and the once ramshackle stone and timber-clad buildings were renovated. The work was completed in 2013 and the mill is now operating as smoothly as ever.
“It’s a piece of history, the last one of its kind,” says Hugh. “My aim was to improve the working environment rather than change it. We’ve kept the simplicity of the place while making it functional today.” The equipment, including two looms from the 1890s, is housed in three old workshops with whitewashed walls and low ceilings. A new building is home to two additional looms.
Hugh describes the process of turning sheep fleeces into fabric as a matter of “making order out of chaos”. When a sheep is shorn, its wool is a mass of greasy, matted, unruly fibres. By running the fleece through the mill’s carding machines, those fibres are separated and straightened ready for spinning and weaving.
The fleeces used are bought in bales after they have been scoured (washed). Traditionally, the mill has used wool from Cheviot sheep which have a white, resilient coat. “The coarser wool from the older sheep mixed with younger wool makes a good tweed yarn. The younger wool makes soft blankets,” says Hugh. He looks for wool fibres that measure 2.5-4in (6-10cm) in length as this best suits the mill’s Victorian carding and spinning machinery.
To produce yarn that can be woven on a loom, the raw wool goes through three main processes: teasing, carding and spinning. At Knockando, only the natural wool is processed in this way, with coloured wool yarns being sourced from other British mills.
Teasing and carding
The first task is to feed the wool through a teaser, a machine with rollers studded with shark-fin teeth. “The washed wool is still in clumps and the motion between the rollers opens it up into smaller clumps,” says Hugh. “An industrial conditioning oil is put on to preserve the fibre length. Without it, there is breakage and wastage.”
The wool is then conveyed into the carding machines. “Carding separates the fleece into individual fibres that are going roughly in the same direction. It’s like brushing hair,” says Hugh. The carding set comprises three machines with 5ft-wide rotating rollers covered in tiny teeth: a scribbler, an intermediate and a condenser. The set can process approximately 22lb (10kg) of fleece an hour. After the intermediate stage, the wool fibres emerge in thick continuous strands known as slubbings. These are wound on to balls and fed into the condenser, which thins them. The carding process concludes with the resulting rovings (unspun threads) being wound on to spools. “There’s no strength in them but the fibres are more or less regular. At this stage, some twist is inserted to get yarn,” says Hugh.
Spinning a yarn
The more twist there is, the tougher the material produced. Tweed, for example, which has to withstand the rigours of the outdoors, uses yarn with more twist than a blanket, which is soft.
The twist is inserted on a 60ft-long 1870s spinning mule. The spools of rovings sit on the back section. The other section is a wheeled carriage mounted with 120 tubes, called cops, on fast-turning spindles. When the carriage is pulled out – a distance of 78in (198cm) – the rovings are reeled on to these cops and a twist is inserted in the thread. “Every time the carriage comes out, approximately 260 yards of yarn is spun, in 22 seconds,” says Hugh. “As the carriage returns, the yarn is wound neatly on to the cops.”
Next a warp is made from the yarn that will be tied in to the loom. These are the lengthways threads of a cloth. A blanket requires approximately 2,000 of these across the width. To keep all these threads under control, they are wound round tiers of pegs on a warping frame. If the finished cloth has a coloured pattern, the different coloured threads have to be kept together in the correct order.
For manageability, the warp is made in two halves. Once Hugh has removed the threads from the frame in two long coils, they are passed through a set of pegs, called a raddle, on a warping machine. This sets the warp to the required width. For a blanket, the width is 78-80in (198-203cm). The machine chatters as the threads are wound on to a warp beam that will fit into the loom.
Before the beamed warp is transferred to the loom, it is threaded through a set of four shafts or frames that will sit in the loom. Each shaft has wires with holes in the middle suspended along it called heddles. The threads are passed through the heddles. “One person presents the thread and the other draws it through,” says Hugh. “You can draw about 1,200 an hour.”
The warp is then threaded through a reed, which resembles a comb that keeps the threads correctly spaced. The reed beats up or pushes the weft (widthways) thread into place during weaving. That apparatus is then set in the loom, where the threads are attached to a beam cloth that anchors them ready for weaving.
Weaving is the introduction of weft threads, interlacing them with the warp threads. Shuttles, each holding bobbins (or pirns) of yarn of the required colour, are shot across the width of the loom trailing the weft threads. The original shuttles were wooden but today’s are more durable nylon with pointed metal ends. These travel at 90 times a minute, first one way then the other. “When a shaft goes up or down, the warp threads go up or down with it,” says Hugh. “When the shuttle flies across, it trails a thread between the warp threads that are down and the threads that are up.”
Blankets are commonly woven in 2/2 twill. In this weave, one weft thread passes over two warp threads then under two warp threads and so on, creating a diagonal pattern. The reed beats up each new weft thread tight against the previous one to form the fabric. It is a noisy operation as the old loom clatters rhythmically at speed.
The finishing process
The cloth is sent away to a textile finishers in Galashiels. Finishing involves washing, which removes the conditioning oil, and shrinking. “When it comes off the loom, it’s just a bunch of threads put together,” says Hugh. “When washed, the cloth shrinks as the fibres mill together.” If the cloth is being made into blankets, it is put through a teasel gig, a drum with barbed natural teasel heads that raises the pile so it feels soft. The raw edges are then blanket-stitched.
After its refurbishment, the mill is now equipped to continue the cloth-making tradition that began at Knockando during the Industrial Revolution.
“People are looking for natural fibres much more than they were 20 or 30 years ago,” says Hugh. “The idea is to produce simple but handsome, good quality designs. The smallest of the industrial producers, we’re still using traditional skills in a unique environment.”
Words: Caroline Rees Photography: Mark Mainz
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
A Kent garden is home to historic lawnmowers, which stand testament to their original workmanship
Christopher Proudfood guides a vintage lawnmower round his garden. Nearly 90 years old, it shows no sign of its age as its eight blades clip the tops of the grass. This is a Shanks' Ivanhoe mower, made in the 1930s. It is in good working order and Christopher uses it regularly to keep his lawn in good trim.
A lawnmower collector, Christopher has lost count of how many he has. He thinks it is safe to say it is nearly 400. "My interest started when I was about seven and I found an abandoned lawnmower in the back of the shed. But I didn't start collecting until I had a huge garden to mow," he says.
He keeps his models in their predominantly green and red livery, in sheds around his garden. They come in many different shapes and sizes, with some designed for specific tasks. These include the Ransomes' Edge Trimmer which has a star-shaped set of blades at the side.
His collection is restricted to models made or sold in Britain that were made before he was born. He has rescued mowers from nettle beds and skips. Most require some renovation, most of which he does himself.
Photography: Clive Doyle
The full feature about Christopher and his vintage lawnmower collection originally appeared in the May / June 2016 issue of LandScape.
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A RIVERSIDE STROLL TAKES IN THE GLOUCESTERSHIRE MARKET TOWN OF LECHLADE
Nestled among the gentle hills and green fields of southern Gloucestershire, streets of mellow stone buildings glow in the sun. The golden tones are interrupted by occasional splashes of red or blue plaster. Crooked chimney pots perch atop steeply sloping roofs in the Cotswold market town of Lechlade.
For centuries, this small settlement was an important inland port, the highest navigable point of the Thames for goods-laden barges. Today, the river still draws visitors, travelling languidly downstream in barges and boats. Pleasure, not commerce, inspires these journeys though.
This 3½-mile walk starts in the town’s marketplace, below the soaring spire of St Lawrence Church, before taking a route along the winding River Thames. The furthest point is a tiny church with over 1,000 years of history written on its walls.
With a current population of 2,800, Lechlade owes its growth to its position on roads and river. The main roads into the town converge at the small marketplace. In 1210, King John granted the town a charter allowing a weekly market and an annual three-day summer fair to be held. The market probably stretched down what is now the high street. Traders from Lechlade and nearby villages sold fruit and vegetables grown in the surrounding fields. The good pastureland meant cheeses were a speciality.
Dominating the marketplace is St Lawrence Church, its spire climbing 140ft (42.5m) into the sky. It is believed that a church has stood on this site since Saxon times, but the present building was completed in 1476. Constructed of local Taynton limestone, the church was financed by local merchants, who had grown rich on the town’s thriving wool trade. Because of this, it was known as a wool church. Like other Cotswold churches similarly paid for, it was originally richly decorated, with beautiful woodwork screens that have now gone, and a fine oak panelled roof.
The church was initially dedicated to St Mary. Then in 1501, the manor was given to Katherine of Aragon, who had come to England to marry Prince Arthur Tudor. She changed the church’s name for that of a saint from her native Spain. Prince Arthur died soon after their marriage, and eight years later Katherine married his brother, the recently crowned King Henry VIII. Tudor roses are cut into the stonework, and a pomegranate, Katherine’s emblem, is among the carvings on the vestry door.
A summer’s inspiration
To the left of St Lawrence Church, a small path makes its way through the graveyard. This is Shelley’s Walk, named in commemoration of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley’s visit to the town in the summer of 1815. Shelley, his novelist wife Mary and two friends rowed up the Thames from Windsor, hoping to find the source of the river. They only got as far as Lechlade, however, as their boat became entangled in thick weeds. They stayed for two nights, reputedly at the New Inn, in the marketplace.
St Lawrence’s inspired Shelley’s haunting poem ‘A Summer Evening Churchyard’. “Here could I hope, like some enquiring child Sporting on graves, that death did hide from human sight, Sweet secrets,” he wrote. His words seem to linger among the lichen-encrusted tombs and trailing ivy.
Shelley’s Walk opens onto a small lane, and the route now crosses through the gate opposite. The path travels down the side of an open field, scattered trees breaking the skyline. After passing through another gate, it is raised above flood meadows. The trees lining each side intertwine to form a tangled archway. This route follows in the footsteps of medieval monks, who travelled the pathway between the church and the Priory of St John the Baptist which once lay ahead. Slightly less than half a mile on, the path ends at a main road.
At the road, a right turn is taken towards St John’s Bridge and the Trout Inn. The inn was once part of the priory, which was sited behind the present day building. Established in 1220, the Augustinian priory superseded a nunnery on the same site. Its monks were charged with looking after the sick and poor. The Trout was likely to have been the original Priory guesthouse. A steady flow of travellers visiting the Priory boosted Lechlade’s already flourishing economy.
It is near The Trout that the River Leach joins the Thames, before the enlarged river flows under St John’s Bridge. From this meeting comes the derivation of the name Lechlade. A lade is a muddy confluence of rivers. From 1234 a fair was held every year in a nearby field called The Lade. It is not known why the town took its name from the River Leach rather than the Thames on which it stands.
The monks’ bridge
Erected in 1229, St John’s Bridge became the first Thames bridge outside London to be built in stone. It replaced a wooden bridge swept away in a flood. Responsibility for keeping the new crossing in good condition fell to the priory monks. In return they were allowed to charge a toll on people and goods going over or under it. Chief among these were packhorses loaded with salt travelling the ancient Salt Way from Droitwich in Worcestershire. Cattle driven from Wales and the West Country along drovers’ roads also crossed the bridge. Some were sold at Lechlade, while others were put on boats to London.
The monks, however, did not always honour their part of the bargain. Several times the Crown had to pay for repairs to the bridge. This was not the only area where the monks were involved in irregularities. Reports from 1300 show that some monks were accepting money in exchange for saying masses. In 1472 the priory was finally dissolved, with stone from the buildings being used in the construction of St Lawrence Church.
The current road bridge dates to 1886. With no footpath, it is crossed with care. Over the bridge, there is an immediate right turn, down the steps and through a gate to St John’s Lock.
At 234ft (71m) above sea level, this is the highest lock on the Thames. It is also the first of 45 on the way to London.
The lock opened in 1789, to coincide with the opening of the Thames and Severn Canal further upstream near Inglesham. Before this, Thames locks were ‘flash’ locks, dams with sections that could be raised to let a boat through. Usually effective, there was a risk that the ‘flash’ of water that escaped might actually sink the boat. The flash locks were replaced with the new pound locks, still familiar today, which have a chamber with a gate at either end.
The new lock was capable of accommodating the big Thames barges. These giants of the river were 12ft 2in (3.7m) wide and up to 90ft (27.5m) long. Able to handle 85 tons of cargo, they constantly ferried goods up- and downstream.
Boats were supposed to pay a toll to pass through St John’s Lock but this was often evaded by the rough and ready bargemen. Until 1830 the lock-keeper had traditionally been the landlord of the Trout Inn. Believing it would lead to improved efficiency and better revenue collection, the Thames Commissioners who ran the lock decided he should instead live on site in a purpose-built house. However, the first landlord to be offered the house, Benjamin Hodges, refused to move. In 1831 care of the lock was put out to tender.
Today the Thames barges have gone, but St John’s remains a favourite stop-off for boaters. Brightly coloured narrowboats and river cruisers line the basin.
On the way to the gate at the far end of the lock there is a statue of Father Thames, by Rafaelle Monti. This was sculpted in 1854 and exhibited at the Crystal Palace. Surviving the fire that destroyed the Palace in 1936, it was bought by one of the Thames Commissioners. It was placed at the source of the river at Thames Head Springs, before being moved to the lock in 1974.
A working river
The route now follows the Thames as it winds its way through expansive water meadows. Swans glide down the river as the breeze ripples the water, kingfishers a flit of blue as they search for food. Above it all rises the spire of St Lawrence’s, visible over the open fields for miles around, a beacon to the traveller of old.
On the far bank of the river is a squat concrete structure with thin slits for windows. This is a Second World War pillbox, one of a string built along the Thames in 1940. Designated GHQ Line Red, it was part of a strategy to stop a possible German invasion from reaching the Midlands.
In the distance, draped in willow, can be seen the honey-coloured tones of Halfpenny Bridge. The route passes through the small archway on the left to emerge at Riverside Park. On the opposite bank is the Riverside Pub, a former goods warehouse, standing on Parkend Wharf. This was one of several wharves built in Lechlade from the early 1600s onwards to replace the medieval ones originally at St John’s Bridge. Goods brought here could be transported on to London and the Continent. The wharves handled everything from livestock to coal, timber and stone.
The route continues along the river, passing over walkways and through gates towards Inglesham, which lies over the border in Wiltshire. After approximately half a mile, two buildings emerge on the horizon. The one to the right is the Roundhouse, where the Thames and Severn Canal once joined the Thames. Now part of a privately owned property, this was originally a lengthsman’s cottage. The occupant maintained a designated stretch of canal and operated the nearby lock. The ground floor was used as a stable, with living quarters on the two floors above. Inglesham is one of five roundhouses built along the canal in 1790, the year after it opened. It is one of only three with an innovative inverted cone roof which channelled rainwater to an underground storage tank.
The opening of the canal, linking the Rivers Thames and Severn, meant that goods could be transported between London and Bristol. Lechlade was an important link in the chain. Within a century, however, the canal had been superseded by the railways and fell into decline. It was little used after 1911, finally closing in 1933.
The walk now cuts across the meadows towards the building on the left, the church of St John the Baptist. It is reached by passing through the gate at the far edge of the field and turning right. This church is beautiful in its simplicity. Its essential medieval fabric is almost untouched, thanks to the efforts of William Morris. One of the leaders of the 19th century Arts and Crafts Movement, he lived five miles away at Kelmscott Manor. From there he supervised the 1888 renovation of the church. His intervention successfully safeguarded the church’s medieval identity from any plans to restore or alter the interior.
Although the core of the building is Saxon, most of the present structure dates from 1205. Today the interior looks much as it would have done to worshippers in the mid 1600s, with the then-new box pews that allowed families to sit together during services, 15th century screens and font, and original timber-board roof.
What make this church so special are the paintings that adorn almost every wall. Ranging from the 13th to the 19th centuries, they are several layers thick in places, with parts of earlier paintings visible among later ones. This, and their worn condition, makes them difficult to decipher. Even so, they give a sense of how this church would have looked to centuries of worshippers.
Several of the original consecration crosses survive, painted red. These mark the places where the church was anointed with holy water or oil as part of the sanctification ritual. It is also possible to see how the chancel would have looked when the church first opened its doors. It would have been decorated with imitation stonework, delicate foliage and flowers, and a pattern of red and white stripes, possibly mimicking a textile hanging. Fragments of 14th century paintings of St Catherine holding her wheel and figures from a Doom, a depiction of the Last Judgement, remain. There is also a vivid Tree of the Seven Deadly Sins emerging from under a picture of St Christopher. On the north aisle is a depiction of The Weighing of the Souls. This painting shows a golden-winged St Michael holding his scales as Mary shelters souls in her cloak.
The walls are also inscribed with texts, ranging from the late 16th to the 19th centuries. Some are framed with vividly coloured scrollwork and flowers. Later ones are more classical in style, bordered with simple lines. They include biblical verses, the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer.
St John’s Church and nearby Church Farm are all that remain of what was once a much larger village. Ridges and furrows still visible in the surrounding fields mark the medieval settlement. This was abandoned with the passing of the wool trade over the centuries.
The route is now retraced back to Halfpenny Bridge, going up the steps at Riverside Park on to the bridge, to turn left down Thames Street.
Halfpenny Bridge was built in 1792 to replace the old ferry crossing. As the name suggests, a halfpenny, or ha’penny, toll was charged to pedestrians using the bridge. The tiny tollhouse, topped with a pyramidal roof, stands on the north side of the bridge. Public pressure led to the toll being scrapped in 1839.
At the end of Thames Street, a right turn is taken at the T-junction. Ahead lies the marketplace, the spire of St Lawrence’s, and journey’s end.
Words: Diane Wardle Photography: Alamy
Rural setting for industrial achievements
Standing proudly in the broad floodplain of West Yorkshire’s Aire valley is a monument to one man’s vision and care for his workers. Surrounded by moorland and fields, the village of Saltaire is a proud reminder of how the best Victorian manufacturing was combined with philanthropy.
Rows of pale yellow stone workers’ cottages sit in the shadow of the imposing architecture of Salts Mill. Gardens are filled with spring flowers, bringing a burst of the natural world into what was a hub of industrial activity for more than 150 years. This mile-long circular walk gives a taste of what life was like for the cloth mill workers fortunate to earn their living at Salts Mill. It encompasses the mill, the impressive United Reformed Church, the factory school and Victoria Hall, as well as the labourers’ homes.
Extending the walk a further three miles, along the tree-lined Leeds and Liverpool Canal to nearby Bingley, leads to another industrial wonder. This is Five Rise Locks, the steepest staircase of interlinking locks in Britain.
The full feature of the walk around Saltaire to Five Rise Locks originally appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of LandScape.
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Flint has been used to build durable walls for centuries across a band of south-east England from East Anglia to Dorset and the South Downs. Lynn Mathais has been working with flint since he was 16. Then he helped his father repair the flint section of a medieval tithe barn in Bedfordshire.
"I love my job, I like working outside in the warmer months and I like the creative aspect of the job. It is truly rewarding to restore something to its former glory," he says. The tools and processes he uses are unaltered since medieval times. The only modern additions are a spirit level, a knee pad, gloves and goggles.
Flint has been worked for building since Roman times. It was used in the construction of Saxon and Norman churches. Then in the 14th century it began to be used with other materials to create a more decorative finish. The Victorians used flint in a whole range of buildings, from cottages and church restorations to country houses.
Photography: Clive Doyle
The full feature about Lynn and flint walling originally appeared in the Mar / April 2016 issue of LandScape.
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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.
For back issues click here.