Turning Accident Into Artwork?

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I am not sure why he who lives in my house interfered with the washing machine hose, thus causing said machine to disgorge all over the utility room floor; and not once but twice due to the rinse and spin cycle. I think it was something to do with the fact that he had stored some of his bookbinding card on top of the washing machine, (he being in need of a flat surface that was relatively dust-free beneath the counter top) and earlier in the week was having a sort out in that vicinity, fishing out supplies that had slipped to the back, and thereby dislodging water exiting hose.

I was upstairs writing while all the repercussions of this earlier manoeuvre were happening, and so blissfully unaware of the downstairs flood. It was only as I was coming downstairs to get the washing out of the machine, that I heard loud exclamations from bookbinding man. ‘What on earth’s been going on in here,’ he says. I have no idea, I say, but I note the accusatory tone that suggests I might have been responsible for whatever it is.

By now I have reached the flooded utility room. Oh, no! I think. The washing machine’s given up the ghost after 18 years. But diagnosis will have to wait. First there is water mopping up to do. Luckily the floor is covered in quarry tiles so there is no particular damage done. The only casualties are the dustsheets that are kept under one of the cupboards. The downside is we don’t discover this till later, by which time they are very fusty.

In the meantime, after pulling out the washing machine from its slot, investigating its innards, the penny is beginning to drop in the mind of bookbinding man. ‘I think it’s my fault,’ he says meekly. ‘I must’ve dislodged the hose.’ Then he says brightly that at least it’s good to know we don’t need to buy a new washing machine, and that we also now have a very clean floor, even in the places where we don’t normally clean it.

The day is saved then, but for the washing and airing of dustsheets. And as the sun is shining I go out and take a washing line photo. Look! The garden is putting on a shadow play.

copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

 

Lens-Artists: Just for fun

Reblog: ‘If you only read and reblog one of my blogs, make it this one!’

Hear what Disney heir, Abigail Disney has to say about tax breaks – FROM HER OWN EXPERIENCE. The scenario she outlines is not just applicable to the US. Tax breaks for the rich rob ordinary people of decent lives.

Turn on the sound at the button in the bottom right of the video. To reblog the video you need to go to Judy Dykstra-Brown at Life Lessons blog

October’s Changing Seasons

Our October began bathed in the rosy glow of ancestral landscapes, the farm fields and vistas of four generations of maternal grandfathers, the millstone grit uplands of Derbyshire’s High Peak District. It would have been a hard life on Callow Farm, and especially for the grandmothers who would have managed a never ending round home and farm duties while rearing six or even eight children (the parish records suggest that many more Foxes survived into adulthood than were lost in infancy, but then yeoman farming folk would have been well nourished and well aired by comparison with most town dwellers down the centuries).

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By the time we returned home, summer was definitely on the wane in our Shropshire garden although many flowers were still holding their own. Even now, the front garden beside the road is bright with helianthus, sedum, Michaelmas daisies, purple toadflax, small pink roses and the stalwart geranium, Rozanne. And out back in the guerrilla garden there are sunflowers and dyer’s chamomile with its bright yellow daisies. There are also Japanese anemones, hesperantha, zinnias, snapdragons and the shrubby convolvulus still on the go. So kind of the garden to ease us so gently into autumn.

 

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Meanwhile, around the town and farm fields the change of season is more apparent:

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And finally a glimpse of the priory ruins and the little tower on the Prior’s House:

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The Changing Seasons: October 2018

Yesterday Over The Garden Fence: Autumn Sowing

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Instead of rook and jackdaw call our Sheinton Street soundscape was yesterday invaded by the shriek of black backed gulls. It seemed strange when we’re so far from the nearest sea coast. But then gulls are great opportunists, and these particular ones may have learned to make their living at our nearest land-fill site rather than out at sea. The season of ploughing and sowing also provides fresh, if fleeting, feeding grounds and the gulls arrived in Townsend Meadow like a small snowstorm, though I’m guessing it wasn’t the new sown grain they were after so much as the bugs and worms turned up by the seed drill.

Once seed sowing would have done by hand, a skilled job that involved casting the grain evenly from either hand, tramping up and down the ploughed furrows. A field this size would have been a good day’s work. Now it is drilled in less than an hour.

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Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: things people drive

A Very Big Climb Up To Peveril Castle But Beautiful Views If You Reach The Top

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The header photo shows only the topmost portion of the path to the Castle of the High Peak. There were times as I hauled myself up there when I thought expiration – as in breathing  my last gasp – was a likely outcome. I had to sit down on every available seat (and thankfully there were several). There were also places along the way that were rather too vertiginous for my liking. On top of this we had been warned by the girl on the reception desk that that castle keep was closed for restoration works – so, you might think, why on earth were we bothering?

Frankly, if the keep had been open to visitors, I don’t think I would have made it up the spiral staircase to the main door. I like to think I’m fairly fit too, but I don’t seem be fit on the vertical. Phew and double phew.

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But then once you’re up there and can breathe again…

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What views of Derbyshire’s Hope Valley:

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The earliest fortification on the site, i.e. the extensive stone curtain wall, was already in existence in 1086 when it was recorded in the Domesday  Book. It was one of the earliest Norman fortresses in England, and held by William Peveril, a follower and so a beneficiary of William the Conqueror when it came to receiving territorial rewards. The castle served as an important administrative centre for extracting taxes from the local Saxon Pecsaetan people of the Hope Valley. At this time Forest Law was also strictly enforced, meaning people were brought before the Forest Court at the castle and fined for deemed infractions of the king’s royal  hunting forest that extended over much of the High Peak district. As time went on, and more and more forest was excised for settlement, farming and pasture, the fines for encroachment were seen more as rental payments than as penalties.

But back to the Peverils. Things did not go so well in the next generation. Son of Peveril was accused of plundering and treachery by the soon to be crowned Henry II.  On ascending the thrown Henry confiscated the castle and kept it for the particular purpose of overseeing the Forest of the High Peak, his personal royal hunting grounds. This was in 1154. He visited the castle three times in the next ten years. When he was not there, the place was apparently manned by one porter and two watchmen.

This all changed during the 1173-4 uprising when Henry’s three sons, Henry Young King, Richard the Lionheart and John Lackland, along with their mother Eleanor of Aquitaine, rebelled against Henry’s rule – a family argument of epic proportions. Peveril then became a garrison housing 20 knights who roved between the High Peak and Bolsover Castle some miles away. After the uprising in 1176, Henry built the impressive keep at a cost of £184. You can see from the photos above it was originally handsomely finished with dressed stone, an attractive proposition for later stone robbers.

Further improvements were made during the 13th century to cater for royal visits. And a very nice model shows us how things would have looked back then: stables, chapel, workshops, kitchens, bakery, a great hall for entertaining, new high-status apartments – an upscale self-sufficient community in other words, the whole perched atop a beetling limestone eminence and visible for miles around.

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The private chambers that backed onto the curtain wall came with their own garderobes or loos. The one in the photo coming up next would have had a wooden seat with a central hole, and waste would have dropped down into the Peak Cavern Gorge beyond the castle wall. The garderobe was also traditionally the place where noble personages kept their clothing, the whiffy draughts therein checking moth predation. Which also reminds me that Voltaire opined that the legendary bad temper of Edward 1, aka Longshanks and prolific builder of Welsh castles, was down to chronic constipation induced by the cold sea wind gusting up Caernarvon Castle’s royal garderobe. I always thought Voltaire might have a point.

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As time went on, the castle ceased to be of particular strategic importance. In 1374 King John ordered the lead stripped from the roofs for re-use at Pontefract Castle. And although local courts were still held there until 1600, by 1609 it was described as ruinous and serving no use. Thereafter its destiny lay in inspiring Sir Walter Scott’s novel Peveril of the Peak and providing a romantically rugged upland landmark for the first major flushes of tourists to Derbyshire in the 18th and 19th centuries. Oh yes, and  for inducing near asphyxia in people not good at hill climbs.

Lens-Artists: Big can be beautiful too

copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

Antony Gormley’s ‘Learning To Be I’

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We have to test our environment, both built and elemental. We are the only animals that choose to live in an environment that is entirely articulated through Euclidean geometry, but at what cost?

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After all the displeasing extravagance of the interiors, I was pleased to find this Antony Gormley work in the Chatsworth House grounds. Here it stands so internally and externally grounded – overborne if not overwhelmed by Joseph Paxton’s Rock Garden. I believe this is indeed its creator. I remember seeing a TV documentary, Gormley in his studio being plastered over by his assistants to create the casting mould. To me he is always an artist whose work we can meet head-on, even when it is as stupendous as the 30 metre high Angel of the North.

You can see more of Gormley’s work HERE

Six Word Saturday

Back To Chatsworth And A Bad Case Of Over-gilding?

I promised some interior views of Chatsworth. So here they are – not easily taken I might add, what with much penumbral gloom and spot lights where the camera least wanted them. But you will get the idea.

Much of what you will see was the work of the 4th-Earl-made-1st-Duke by the imported protestant regime changees, William and Mary, at the end of the 17th century. The earl certainly forked out for his dukedom. First among his creations to welcome the new monarchs is the Painted Hall. It replaced the original Elizabethan Great Hall, its walls adorned with scenes from the life of Julius Caesar. (Painted by Louis Laguerre who had the Sun King Louis XIV for a godparent.)  It seems the intention was to flatter William III, although it is suggested the included scene of Caesar’s murder was a hint for him not to overstep the mark.

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The next glimpse is of The Chapel built between 1688 and 1693, and little changed since then apart from the addition of Damien Hirst’s creation of St Bartholomew, Exquisite Pain – upon which I pass no comment other than to say that the Devonshires continue to take pride in the commissioning of contemporary art for the house. On a general note though, the chapel struck me as a touch lacking in what one might expect of Protestant self-restraint.

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And now for a few hints of grandeur from the State Apartment with its drawing and withdrawing rooms and state bedchamber and closet – all laid on for the monarchs’ great good comfort, with the exception of the gilded leather wall covering (next photo) which was added much later by the 6th Duke during a redecorating spree. (Apologies for the spotlight flares).

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By now I’m overstuffed with the extravagance, and we’ve not even looked properly at the art piled up in every room or reached the Library:

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And then there’s still the Great Dining Room to see. It is being set out for a grand private banquet on the day of our visit. The guide book says that until 1939 and the outbreak of war, this room was used by the family whenever there were more than six to dine. A thirteen-year old Princess Victoria also enjoyed her first grown up dinner here. To ensure nothing went wrong, her host, the 6th Duke, ordered a fully cooked banquet dress rehearsal the day before.

As we gawp passingly at the 6th Duke’s silver (the surtout de table  commissioned from silversmiths Paul Storr and Robert Garrard) I am amused to see two women pressing the damask cloth’s long skirts over their respective ironing boards.

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But now for the case of gross over-gilding that caused me much mental frothing at the mouth. Way back in the Chapel Corridor that I haven’t shown you, and where artworks from 4 millennia are displayed, I happened on some notices attached to the windows. They referred to the £32 millions’ worth of renovations carried out at Chatsworth over the last decade.

This is what the current Duke, Peregrine known as Stoker’ has to say of one particular restoration venture – the breathtakingly expensive (demented?) gilding of exterior window frames:

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And this is what the gilder had to say:

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And here’s a segment of the finished product:

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And here’s what was running through my head: What are we doing here, encouraging these people, and paying £21 each, plus parking fee, for the doubtful privilege of witnessing this ludicrous waste of money when an artist’s impression of how the windows once looked would have done just as well?

So: we were more than a bit aggravated after the two-hour-trek wherein we only scratched the surface of the opulence on show, and were further forced to grit our teeth as we were allowed to view the family’s still much used cosy salon, a room where one whole wall was taken up depicting The Rape of the Sabine Women.

Yet it wasn’t all overbearing. There were some things in the ducal collection I did like – Lucien Freud’s portraits of the late duke and duchess, a Clarice Cliff coffee pot, some earthy ceramics, the name of whose maker I could not find, the Cornelis de Vos portrait of his daughter, a monster sized foot belonging to a 3,000 year old Greek goddess, Barry Flanagan’s Leaping Hare in the Inner Court, the silk wall covering in the Duke of Wellington’s bedroom and a fossil fern. And then there was the very nice man, rather surprisingly playing Eric Coates compositions in the Ante Library. He told us the composer was much undervalued:

But the undoubted prize for self-regarding humbug has to go – not to the artist Jacob van der Beugel for his extraordinary creation and execution, but to the Cavendish conception of the work in the North Sketch Gallery. The whole corridor is installed with 659 ochre ceramic panels that provide, in abstract form, portraits of the present duke and duchess and their son and his wife, Lord and Lady Burlington. The portraits’ composition derives from the mitochondrial DNA sequences taken in swabs from each of the four individuals.  A fifth portrait depicts Everyman, showing the DNA common to all of us. Meanwhile interspersed mirrors allow passing (in our case bemused) visitors to place themselves fleetingly amongst these family ‘portraits’. The whole is described as ‘the most significant single art installation at Chatsworth since the creation of the 6th Duke’s Sculpture Gallery in 1832.’

Or an ill conceived stab at faux inclusiveness?

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Phew. Enough already. Time to take a break and go out into the garden – more of which another time.

copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

To Chatsworth And How Mary Ann Went To The Ball

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So here we have a fine contrast between the Fox family’s tenanted property at Callow Farm, a few miles uphill and upstream in the Derwent valley, and the landlordly premises that ate up farm rents and lead mining royalties and employed armies of local craftsmen and servants.

This, then, is Chatsworth House, the place called home by the Cavendish family, otherwise known as the Dukes of Devonshire. It is one of England’s most imposing stately piles, these days run by the Cavendish family as a charitable trust, and caught here so flatteringly in the October sun. The setting alone is magnificent.

And so how does it come to be here. Whose money built it?

The answer is somewhat convoluted – successive generations of royal patronage is part of it. But so too is Henry VIII’s desire for a male heir and his subsequent break from the Catholic Church, one result of which was the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

If you have ever wondered what happened to the amassed wealth of some 900 monastic estates during Henry’s big 1530s campaign to liquidate holy assets and usurp papal domination, then Chatsworth is one place to look. William Cavendish, courtier and royal employee was a man with a good head for figures and a strong survival instinct, though he did slip up badly in the end.

For a time he held a post in the  Exchequer. In 1530 he was also one of Thomas Cromwell’s commissioners who visited the monasteries to audit their wherewithal and demand its surrender to the Crown. This included the lead off the roofs, which would have been worth a fortune by itself, and its stripping key to the physical dissolving of monastic edifices, which disintegration happened pretty soon after the weather got in.

It is said William took unfair advantage of this appointment. On top of this he was officially rewarded by the king with a knighthood and estates in Hertfordshire. He continued to enjoy royal favour even as his former boss, Cromwell, fell from grace (and was beheaded). Cavendish was despatched to Ireland to repeat the property assessing exercise. When Henry died he remained in the young Edward VI’s court and was granted still more monastic land. He even managed to hang on when Mary Tudor succeeded (he having paved the way by sending the Lady Mary tokens of loyalty before her accession). When she returned the nation to the Catholic Church he conformed and so gained a post as her Treasurer of the Chamber (1546-1553). It was here he rather over-reached himself. In late 1557 when the auditors arrived in Westminster to discover what he had been doing while in office all those years, they found the accounts in a shambles. Sir William was accused of embezzlement. He then died pretty much at once thereby avoiding further unseemly exposure, but begging for clemency for himself and his family.

It was during his years of service to Mary Tudor that he married for the third time – a rich young Derbyshire widow, Elizabeth Barley. She would later become [in]famously known as four times married ‘Bess of Hardwick’. She wanted to live in her native Derbyshire and so Sir William sold up all his monastic acquisitions and in 1549 bought the then lowly manor of Chatsworth for £600. Thus began the massive building of the first Cavendish family seat, which was only completed by Elizabeth after Sir William’s death. She would later go on to build the even more astonishing Hardwick Hall. She also the founder of the Cavendish Chatsworth dynasty, bearing 8 children during her marriage to Sir William.

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Thereafter the heirs sought and bought titles, including the Earldom of Devonshire, and it was the 4th Earl who gained a further step up by being rewarded with the dukedom (1694) – this for his part in bringing Protestant William and Mary to the English throne. It was also  the 1st Duke who went in for some massive rebuilding, including most of what we see today. He began by adding more family rooms and the extravagant State Apartment for receiving the new monarchs. Once started, however, no frontage could be left untouched. He also had the formal gardens laid out on a jaw-dropping scale. This included the famous Cascade, though he lived to enjoy its creation for only four years after its completion in 1703.

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The 4th Duke (1720-64) decided the house should have westerly approach, which meant demolishing the 1st Duke’s stables since they interfered with the view. He also relocated the village of Edensor where his staff and tenants lived, so it too did not spoil the view. Architect James Paine was commissioned to build the new stables we see today plus a new bridge upstream of the house.

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And Capability Brown was engaged to make the now enclosed park look more ‘natural’. In the meantime the Duke found a vastly rich heiress to marry and acquired  even more property and family titles.

The 5th Duke was famous for marrying celebrated beauty and socialite, Lady Georgiana Spencer. They lived in London but had lots of jolly house parties at Chatsworth. They also lived happily in a menage a trois with Georgiana’s best friend Lady Elizabeth Foster. The 6th Duke never married, but nearly bankrupted the estate with all his ‘improvements’. These included funding plant expeditions around the globe and having his head gardener Joseph Paxton construct the Emperor Fountain (85 metre/280 feet of jet). The fountain meant draining the upland moor into an 8-acre man-made reservoir on the high ground above the house.

On the day we visited the jet was on short measures due to the high wind.

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The 7th Duke (1808-1891) was apparently a sober successor to the Batchelor Duke, a sad widower who lost his wife when she was only in her twenties. For thirty years he maintained strict economies in the running of the estate. Our family legend has it that my great grandmother Mary Ann opened the tenants’ ball with him one year, she as the eldest daughter of the oldest tenant family on the estate. He is said to have remarked to her on her family’s long presence in the locality, far longer than his own, he said. He would have been quite elderly at the time, and Mary Ann perhaps in her late teens or very early twenties. The blue silk covered  buttons from the dress she wore were apparently kept down the generations, and still in my grandmother’s sewing basket when my mother inherited it. I’m not sure if I have a real memory of seeing them or not. Anyway, it was not long after this that Mary Ann ran off with the Bolton spindle manufacturer, and had her more usual  bright print country dresses scoffed at by the dark clad women of Farnsworth.

When we went around the house we had hoped to see the ballroom, but when Graham asked the attendant she said it was in the family’s private quarters and had been turned into a theatre. And as for the interior rooms we did see, and the severe outbreak of aggravation they induced in me, they and it will have to wait till the next post. For now, here’s the Emperor Fountain making a rainbow, which we very much enjoyed.

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copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

 

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Places People Visit

On Derbyshire’s Moors And A Change In The Weather

We were driving over the moors below Stanage Edge and stopped to take in the view. In this first shot to the east  it was all lowering skies and rain in the air. And then I turned on the spot through 180 degrees and took this next shot.

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It was hard to believe, the Hope Valley as evanescent as a soap bubble, as if the sun was shining only on that place. To the left you can see the cut through the upland – the wild Winnat’s Pass, scene of real and legendary tragedies. On the right is Mam Tor with its scree-scarred face. If you squint you can just make out the ramparts of an Iron Age hillfort on the green plateau top.

Further back along the road above North Lees Hall I had tried to take a photo of Stanage Edge. The light was poor and it was not co-operating. And then there was a moment, and the Edge emerged like the mythic backdrop in some Renaissance painting. It is a shape-shifting place, the Peak District.

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Lens-Artists: Change This week Amy asks us to show her change, however it strikes us.

The Derbyshire Gate Post Mystery Explained?

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In the last post I queried the large perforations to be found in the tops of some Derbyshire stone gate posts or stoops. I thought they made handy viewfinders, but could find no other explanation. Then I found some more photos I’d taken at Callow Farm. These are a pair – one with a partial orifice, the other without.

And it’s at this point things may become as clear as Derbyshire mud. But I have found an explanation. The only problem is I don’t wholly understand it.

It comes from a worthy volume published in 1813 and available for free from Google. (How I hate it that they have laid claim to all the old books in the universe, but how I love being able to access such works without leaving my desk, this despite the fact that much of the scanning is often execrable.)

The book in question is volume 2 of General View of the Agriculture of Derbyshire by John Farey senior, Mineral Surveyor of Upper Crown Street, Westminster. This is what he says. I’ve increased the font in hopes comprehension might strike:

Anciently, the Gates in the Peak Hundreds were formed and hung without any iron-work, even nails, as I have been told; and some yet remain in Birchover and other places, where no iron-work is used in the hanging: a large mortise-hole is made thro’ the hanging-post, perpendicular to the plane of the Gate, at about four feet and a half high, into which a stout piece of wood is firmly wedged, and projects about twelve inches before the Post; and in this piece of wood, two augur holes are made, to receive the two ends of a tough piece of green Ash or Sallow, which loosely embraces the top of the head of the Gate (formed to a round), in the bow so formed : the bottom of the head of the Gate is formed to a blunt point, which works in a hole made in a stone, set fast in the ground, close to the face of the Post. It is easy to see, by the mortise-holes in all old Gate-Stoops, that this mode of hanging Gates was once general.

From this it seems clear that any iron hinges and latches were later additions to such old stoops. John Farey goes on to praise this kind of improvement:

A great contrast to these rude Gates, is exhibited, on the Farm of Mr. Thomas Harvey of Hoon Hay, who has four sets of hooks and catches, all adjustible by nuts and screws, fixed in his Gate-Posts, which are very stout, in the line of a private and bridle Road thro’ his Farm ; so that from whichever quarter the wind may come, in blowing weather, the Gates can readily be shifted, so as to be shut too by the wind, instead of being forced open thereby : there is also a screw for adjusting the top thimbles of these Gates, for making them shut more perfectly.

So there we have it – a loopy length of ash or willow used to do the job of a gate, though I still can’t quite picture it. But then instead of wondering about that, I found myself distracted by Mr. Farey’s genuine enthusiasm for more efficient gatery with all its iron trappings.

In this modern era we all assume a well functioning gate is a good thing – guarding property, keeping out vagrants and cold callers. But this notion of privately controlled land is fairly new. And to my mind it has had every one of us hoodwinked. Simon Fairlie puts it succinctly at the start of his very enlightening essay A Short History of Enclosure in Britain  from The Land magazine:

Over the course of a few hundred years, much of Britain’s land has been privatized — that is to say taken out of some form of collective ownership and management and handed over to individuals. Currently, in our “property-owning democracy”, nearly half the country is owned by 40,000 land millionaires, or 0.06 per cent of the population, while most of the rest of us spend half our working lives paying off the debt on a patch of land barely large enough to accommodate a dwelling and a washing line.

He then explains that from Saxon times, and continuing under Norman rule into the Middle Ages, the Open Field System was the norm. It was also the norm in much of Europe until modern times, wherein each family had its own plot within a communally managed ecosystem.

The notion of one man possessing all rights to one stretch of land would have been unthinkable to British medieval smallholders. The king or lord of the manor owned an estate, but not in the way we understand ownership. The peasant population also had rights and, at specified times of the year, could graze stock, cut wood or peat, draw water or grow crops on various pieces of land, often in a number of different places.  English farmers also met twice a year at the manor court where land management issues were discussed, and those taking more than their fair share of communal resources challenged.

The benefit of the Open Field System is explained as follows:

A man may have no more than an acre or two, but he gets the full extent of them laid out in long “lands” for ploughing, with no hedgerows to reduce the effective area, and to occupy him in unprofitable labour. No sort of inclosure of the same size can be conceived which would give him equivalent facilities. Moreover he has his common rights which entitle him to graze his stock all over the ‘lands’ and these have a value, the equivalent of which in pasture fields would cost far more than he could afford to pay. CS and C S Orwin The Open Fields, Oxford, 1938

A group of peasant farmers could also share equipment such as a good plough and a full team of oxen to haul it, a facility that would benefit them all. One herdsboy could supervise the daily grazing of the community’s cattle, taking them out after family milking, bringing back in for evening milking at their individual homesteads, so leaving farmers free to carry out other income producing pursuits. Everyone’s sheep could also be driven out to the common moorland to graze, each animal identifiable to their owners by a sheep mark.

Somewhat strangely I have learned that the sheep mark of my Callow Fox ancestors was still in existence in 1930s, when the fiery right-to-roam campaigner G H B Ward, editor of the Sheffield Clarion Ramblers’ Handbooks went to interview my great uncle Robert Fox about the history of the Callow Foxes. Ward visited him in his cottage at Foolow and there saw the sheep mark belonging to an earlier Robert Fox (1780-1863), who used it to mark the horns of his sheep communally grazed on the Longshaw pasture. Enclosure took place there during the early 19th century, the Inclosure Act commissioners awarding the Duke of Rutland nearly 2,000 acres. And so the former sheepwalk used by William and Sarah Fox of Callow during the 18th century, and by their son George and grandson Robert into the early 19th century was turned into the headquarters of the largest grouse-shooting estate in the Peak District (David Hey The History of the Peak District Moors).

For nearly a century this former common land was policed by gamekeepers, and the general populace denied age-old rights including access to paths and bridleways. It was only with the mass trespasses of ramblers like G H B Ward during the early 20th century that the countryside began to be opened up once more. One cannot help but cheer when one learns that the decline in Rutland fortunes led to the sale of the estate in 1933. Ramblers and other members of public raised the necessary funds to buy the park and then handed it over to the National Trust. Sheffield Corporation bought the moors, which are now part of the Peak District National Park. Humanity is now free to roam there once more, as we saw on our recent visit – hundreds of families striding out in the fresh upland air.

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The fact remains though that Britain’s big landowners exploited the Inclosure Acts to enrich themselves by taking for their own use alone (and still hanging on to them) thousands of acres that were once communally used for centuries by their tenants.  But I leave the last words on the Commons land rights to Simon Fairlie. At the risk of sounding totally reductionist I contend that this is how we ended up where we are now; the wretched state of the planet; and the current tax-haven millionaires’ mortal fear of any notion of communal rights or shared resources. If we continue to let such people control and grow rich on resources which should benefit all – more fool us.

Britain set out, more or less deliberately, to become a highly urbanized economy with a large urban proletariat dispossessed from the countryside, highly concentrated landownership, and farms far larger than any other country in Europe. Enclosure of the commons, more advanced in the UK than anywhere else in Europe, was not the only means of achieving this goal: free trade and the importing of food and fibre from the New World and the colonies played a part, and so did the English preference for primogeniture (bequeathing all your land to your eldest son). But enclosure of common land played a key role in Britain’s industrialization, and was consciously seen to do so by its protagonists at the time.

copyright 2018 Tish Farrell