A new year begins!

“This blog is the unfolding story of Rush Farm and an exploration of life by its philosopher farmer.”

Welcome to my first notes for 2021. 

That being so, I originally felt that I must not spoil the mood and so should say nothing about ‘our Donald’, the pyrrhic victory of Brexit achieved by ‘our Boris’, or the tribulations caused by COVID-19 and its mismanagement.  

However, the total lockdown in this country, and then on Wednesday the storming of Capitol Hill in Washington DC just cannot pass unmentioned.   

The first event was hardly unexpected, but the action in the USA, though it perhaps should have been seen as the inevitable outcome of the Republication Party, deeply racist and lacking the courage to act against Trump, was truly unsettling, yet seemingly inevitable given the fracture lines in the American nation and the obscure absurdities of a constitution written 250 years ago.  

As ex-President Bush said about what he watched with disbelief and dismay, ‘this is the behaviour of a banana Republic’.  

Farm News

To the farm, after a very wet period up to Christmas Eve we experienced our first lengthy cold snap of the year. Nothing exceptional at first, but for part of a day we had at least a quarter inch of snow on the ground. As Boots discovered, not cold enough for the ice in the scrape in 5k to hold his weight on Boxing Day!  

Before Christmas we had one new calf, and two more this week, and all seems well. Feeding the cattle now takes a much shorter length of time than in the past, and the fact the feeding does not require disturbing the cattle must play a part in their seeming very content. That being said, one steer, attempted to jump over the tombstone feeders and got stuck. Without Martin’s machinery, we and the steer, would have really been up the creek.

This week two steers were sold, which obviously helps both in terms of finance and space, and hopefully next week a third steer will go as well as a number of sheep.  

Moving the sheep

The ewes have had to be moved twice. In part because of the minor flooding we experienced in the week before Christmas, but essentially so they might be on a larger pasture, and as important, a field where there is hard standing for the feed trailers to be located on.  

The next major event will be scanning and obviously we shall hope having two new rams will improve the ratio of lambs to ewes.  

To side-track, the ideal outcome is no ‘empties’, few ewes carrying three of four foetuses and an overall scan ratio around the two mark.  

In general however, despite the torrential rain we had, flooding was limited and very short term. Additionally, the number of fields where standing water was a concern could be counted on one hand.  

The ‘jetting’ of the drains which collect water from field 8 for passage under the drive, that was carried out during the summer in field 8, meant flooding in that field was much less than in previous floods. Similarly, considerable filling in of the quarried area in field 6, together with a new drainage pipe, meant that the area of standing water was much reduced. 

Further work has been carried out around the barn, essentially laying down more concrete to keep vehicles off the grass as much as possible. Matters are not complete yet, but the setup is a major improvement. 

I mentioned that the scrape in 5k was full, and in due course it was covered with ice thick enough so that Boots and Milly could walk over it. In fact, though this week was very chilly indeed, the water in the scrape is much reduced. Though daytime temperatures were generally above freezing, nights saw hard frosts. Further showers appeared to sprinkle the ground with snow but could just have been frost. 

The pyracantha, which was full of berries a week ago, is now, after hordes of blackbirds appeared looking rather bare.  

With the ground increasingly hard, though vehicle tracks are very marked, existing compost heaps were tidied for use this year. But of far more significance has been the work on the hedges in field 13 – the field across the river. It is possible to replace the fence some metres back along the river line, but the fences on the other sides of the field were deeply enmeshed in the inevitable expansion of blackthorn and brambles following no hedge control for an untold number of years, which meant the fencers could not do their work. The growth meant that the hedges had extended some three or four metres into the field. This was not a task that could be done by a hedge cutter, and in fact required heavy machinery. Re-fencing can now be carried out and we have re-claimed quite an area of field!  

Though hawthorn and blackthorn are both members of the rose family and hence sucker, blackthorn is far more vigorous and given free rein will spread outwards as fast as upwards so forming very thick and dense hedges.  

Hawthorn tends to sucker from the base of the tree and so does not present the same problem.  

Dung beetles are once again a matter of great interest to farmers concerned with conservation. Indeed, should you have the time and interest, you might wish to explore this website http://www.dungbeetlesforfarmers.co.uk should this be too basic for you, try www://knepp.co.uk/knepp-wildland-podcast.  

In general, what is excellent news is that more and more farmers are realising the soil they farm needs better care and attention.  

Listening, watching, entertainment

Aside from deciding that Gemini’s embellishment of Corelli’s ‘Concerti’s grossi’ is quite outstanding, for the first Christmas I can remember, carol music was not a key feature of music in the house over the Christmas period.  Nor for that matter has been watching the television. Even the younger members of the family restricted themselves to ‘Calamity Jane’ and ‘Paint your wagon’ in the snug.  

Unusually, I did listen to the Queen’s speech, and felt how fortunate we were to live under a constitutional monarchy who could speak for us all.  

Anne and I did watch both the ballet and opera specials, but the two programmes that stood out for us were firstly Crystal Pipe’s production of ‘Betiffgonheit’ – I know not how to describe it but it was compelling. Not perhaps for the weak hearted or the easily shocked but the physicality of the dancers was extraordinary.   

We also watched ‘Uncle Vanya’. A play we have both seen live and on screen a number of times. The play in its way, is strangely compelling despite different producers attempts to mark it with their own take. Tragedy, comedy, static, bathos perhaps rather than pathos but in this production with an outstanding ending by the performance of Selena and Toby Jones, which was not spoiled by the bizarre scene where the professor’s wife hurls herself at the Doctor.  

Some of you may remember that in the early days of television the BBC saw it as being within their Reithian role to create productions of many classic plays written usually by European playwrights but also by modern English writers. Looking back this aspect of the Reithian approach served many of us really well.  

My own reading over the break was unusually light, though I did read Robert Harris’ latest novel. His style reminds me of C S Forester, a writer I hold in high regard. The trilogy on the life and death of Cicero should be read by anybody trying to better understand the Roman period. 

Our house 

Though I inflicted a number of books on members of the family, I actually read little myself as I have just remarked, caught up as I was with working my way through the collection of maps and papers we hold, some relating to the history of this house and farm. All this started because one sleepless night I realised that though I have lived in at least twelve houses before Rush Farm, the oldest had been built in 1911. That in fact for the vast majority we were either the first inhabitants or no more than the second or third.  

In an effort to discover more about the house I turned to these papers and maps I had collected 15 years ago. Inevitably I lost touch with my initial intention to write about the house as well, so what we know about that will have to wait for next week.  

When I write about maps here, I am not of course referring to my rows of out of date 1 inch to the mile Ordinance Survey maps. All now redundant but hard to throw away not least because, aside from my love of maps, they all have memories attached to them. The same is true of course of our maps of Northern Europe and Canada. After all, in those days, maps and the ability to read them was an essential component of any travel.  

Working through my rolls of maps I found the majority actually related to my father-law’s farm and stamping ground, but there were 19th century maps of this farm, and also the relevant geological and flood maps. Additionally, I had papers relating to the sale of the farm in 1907, the ending of the tenancy of part of the farm in 1912 and the next sale of the farm in the 1970’s. 

The sale in 1907 followed the death of a Miss Philips, whose estate covered some 1000 acres, including seven farms all located in this part of Worcestershire. Rush Farm at that stage covered some 240 acres of which 90 were tenanted. The farm sold for just over £2,500 to the Hillmans who already farmed some thirty miles to the north.  

In a way, the most interesting papers related to the buying out of the tenant in 1911 to 1912. Valuers were involved and they detailed the value of stock, farm equipment, hay and straw holdings together with a range of household items. The later included brewing equipment! The valuation charge was £23 pounds and five and a half pence. 

What stands out very clearly was that it was the land that had most value. From the 1907 sale, land prices ranged between £16 and £18 per acre. The vast majority of items were valued at no more than a pound.  

None of the above called for much effort, but efforts to discover anything about the period before 1907 were deeply frustrating, and at the end of the day very unsatisfactory.  

In the papers was a map showing the enclosure plan of 1817 – agreed by parliament, and put into effect in 1818, but tantalisingly that was it.  

I did discover that it was the three main landowners for this area, who in 1814 moved the act for the enclosure of Inkberrow which received Royal Assent on April the 19th 1814. They were the Earl of Abergavenny (who owned the Manor of Inkberrow from1781 to 1891), Earl Beauchamp, and the Marquess of Hertford. Of these three it was the Earl of Abergavenny who received the bulk of the land.  

Thereafter the position becomes extremely confused and it seems it was not just the aristocrats who benefited. Existing legal entitlements were respected, and it seems only the squatters of Stockwood who really lost out. The owners of Rush Farm would have retained their holdings. 

(If this topic interests you try sprint.worcs.ac.uk Chapter 1 Worcester Research and Publications.)  

Who they might have been is a mystery: we know nothing about how Miss Philips came to be the owner, or who was Mr Griffiths who put her estate up for sale.  

Rush Farm inevitably does not sit neatly in any one parish or Manor. Fifteen years ago, when we took over the farm, I might have had the energy and enthusiasm to put the necessary hours in at the County archive holding, but there were other priorities to manage. Oh well, life is just too short!  

The issue of the rights and wrongs of enclosure, and its effects on the human population is as contentious now as it was in the 19 century. Its effect locally does at least seem clear and aside from the squatters, left labourers relatively unaffected.    

As related in earlier notes, Inkberrow was an open parish which at that time was unusual. Within it, the areas of Stockwood and Stock Green were largely taken over by squatters. The development of light industry in Redditch at the start of the 1830’s provided much needed work, and these two areas rapidly became depopulated since squatters had no legal rights.  

The poem below expresses clearly how enclosure was seen by one agricultural labourer in an area where hardship was very real – it was written in 1818.  

John Clare obviously. 

There once were lanes in nature’s freedom dropt,   
There once were paths where every valley wound –  
Inclosure came and every path was stopt;   
Each tyrant fix’d his sign where paths were found,   
To hunt a trespass now who cross’d the ground.   
Justice is made to speak as they command;   
The highway now must be each stinted bound:  
Inclosure thou art a curse upon the land,   
And tasteless was the wretch who thy existence plann’d.

And given this is a New Year, and appears to be starting in the way the last one ended, I attach below the words of a young man whose life was cut short by the First World War but left a positive poem.  

Thomas Edward

Rise up, rise up,  
And, as the trumpet blowing  
Chases the dreams of men,  
As the dawn glowing  
The stars that left unlit  
The land and water,  
Rise up and scatter  
The dew that covers  
The print of last night’s lovers—  
Scatter it, scatter it!  

While you are listening  
To the clear horn,  
Forget, men, everything  
On this earth new-born,  
Except that it is lovelier  
Than any mysteries.  
Open your eyes to the air  
That has washed the eyes of the stars  
Through all the dewy night:  
Up with the light,  
To the old wars:  
Arise, arise.

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