Archive for November, 2013

Charcoal burners

November 30, 2013

My original home county of Sussex was once heavily forested. When iron stone was found as well, charcoal was needed in large quantities for the iron smelting business. Charcoal ‘burning’ became a steady occupation for men willing to live in rather temporary shacks out in the woods. It was actually a skilled job to get the wood carbonised into charcoal, but not to allow it to really catch fire. The charcoal fire needed round the clock attention for several days. Here we see a post card of a charcoal burner’s home in Arundel Park.


My family didn’t live in that part of Sussex, but even so, this is a family postcard.


This card was sent to my Gran, Ethel Stevens in January 1905. The address was that of my Gran’s own granny, Helen Stevens. The sender was my Great Aunt Eliza. She was in service in Firle.

The message really reflects how postcards were the text message of the day. It is really a brief message more or less saying, ‘see you at five o’clock at the station tomorrow’.

In 1903 Eliza had ‘got into trouble’. She had a child!  I have the feeling, from some postcards, that my gran, still a youngster, did quite a lot of caring for baby Ernie for Eliza had to work. But I note on this card that Eliza says, ‘hope all are well as it leaves us both the same’. So Eliza seemed to be writing on behalf of two people, but the second one might have been Will Hughes who she married in 1906.

Whatever the situation, it’s a cute card which perhaps great great granny might have remembered seeing in her area, and like all messages, it adds just a little to family knowledge.

West Somerset Railway

November 29, 2013

Back in 2008 we camped on Exmoor and took the opportunity to take a trip on the West Somerset Railway.

At nearly 23 miles, this is a long heritage line. There’s a need for several trains in the summer. On our visit there were three different steam hauled trains and a diesel.

We boarded at Dunster where we could park easily and enjoy a cup of tea made by the man in the ticket office.

One of the disappointments of heritage lines is that tender engines have to run tender first in one direction. To enable them to run right way round hugely expensive turntables would be needed at each end of the line. So our train, when it arrived (which was spot on time) was to be a large GWR goods engine running backwards.


The milepost shows we were 186 and a quarter miles from London.

At Blue Anchor we passed the diesel train.


I’m not in any way an expert on these diesel trains but it looks like a suburban set that might, in the early 1960s, have been used in and out of Paddington.

At Williton we passed one of the other steam trains.


Now for me that looks like a Western Region train of the 50s or early 60s. Wonderful! The engine is a 1927 design, but like most GWR engines its lineage can easily be traced back to the early 1900s.

We passed the third steamer AT Crowcombe Heathfield. This one, running tender first, failed to get up the hill without a rest first. It’s another heavy freight engine, but this one was used on the Somerset and Dorset railway.

We arrived at Bishops Lydeard where our loco could run round the train for the return. Now it was facing the right way.


This photo was taken from the train as the loco worked hard up the hill and around the curves.


We alighted at Watchet where we saw the place and the old Somerset and Dorset loco heading for Bishops Lydeard.


Our onward journey was with the lovely tank engine.


We took another break at Washford and then caught the diesel train through to Minehead. The great thing about these heritage diesel trains is that you could see out of the front of them.


We had one more leg of the journey – back to Dunster and we got it right so we were pulled by the fourth engine, seen here running round the coaches.


WSR – West Somerset Railway – was a very good experience.


November 28, 2013


OK, I know that correctly the piece of agricultural kit that both cut corn and tied it up into bundles was called a reaper-binder. In my experience, though, the fact that they reaped or cut the crop was taken as read. They were always called binders.

I associate them, very much, with ‘camp’.

Back in the early and mid-50s the sight of a binder working the fields with men following and stoking up the sheaves was commonplace. To me, as a child, it was timeless. As a child you imagine that things are as they always have been so to me a tractor hauling a binder with a crew of two must always have been what happened. I did know that historically, horses had provided the motive power but that was before my time and I probably guessed that it might have been alongside the Stone Age, rather than having been the norm for my dad.

However, the future was with us, and I remember my brother and me dashing up to the top of the downs to see a new-fangled combine harvester at work. My dad, sensible as ever, recorded the binder scene and here we have one of his charming photos.


So, a classic scene from 1955. Driving the tractor was a young man called Julian Freeman.


The farm we camped on was managed by his uncle Dick and he normally managed the controls of the binder, but on this occasion, I don’t think it is him.


In fact I really don’t know who that is. Julian’s father, George would have been helping at the harvest and his other uncle, Harry would have been around as well. But this isn’t either of them.

As the fifties drew to a close, the binders began to get swept into oblivion. My dad, realising this had another go at recording the scene at ‘camp’ using a colour slide film.


This was actually in 1964. Julian is still on the tractor but this time it definitely is Dick Freeman on the binder.

But the binder never quite died. In Wiltshire, where I have lived all my adult life, a few farmers grow long straw wheat and cut it with a binder. This keeps the straw in good order, and after the grain has been threshed out, the straw can be sold for thatching

So here we have a 21st century binder resting after harvesting a local field.



November 27, 2013

Every summer for fifteen years during my childhood and youth, some time was spent at camp. Camp indicated not just living under canvas, but also a location. Camp was on a ledge on the South Downs between Beddingham, Firle and Glynde. So much time was spent there, that it felt like a real home but also like a place to raise the spirits and spread happiness and joy.

The life style was simple. These days people might call it mere existence. For my mum, coping with restricted cooking facilities must have been a bit of a problem. For all of us, there were daily tasks like fetching water. Obviously we had no luxury like a fridge so food needed purchasing regularly – items like bread and milk. We had no car so we either cycled or walked to Glynde or Firle for these items. On a regular basis we cycled down to Newhaven to enjoy the delights of the seaside. It was about seven miles each way and at other times we played games, using our imaginations a great deal.

But we also helped on the farm. Dick, the farmer/shepherd worked to a time honoured system. Each day, the sheep were out at large in the huge field in which we camped. Every evening, he went off to find the sheep and bring them down to a pen. This was on a potential arable field and something would tempt the sheep to want to be there – no doubt a bit of lush summer growth. The sheep already had full bellies from a day grazing on the downs and during the night they emptied the contents of their gut onto this section of arable land, fertilising it and ensuring a good crop the next year. Once the sheep were out on the downs again, Dick would move the pen, ready for the next night. These days, the pen would be electric fencing – light and manageable. Back then it was sheep hurdles – heavy and cumbersome by comparison.

Two young lads reckoned they could help out a bit, by finding and fetching the sheep. These lads were, of course, my brother and I. Now I reckon the perimeter of our field measured some three and a half miles and it went from more or less sea level up to a height of close on 650 feet. Dick, to our eyes, was ancient. We took it on ourselves to get the sheep in and save him the bother of it.

And here we are.


I’m on the left and my brother is on the right. We both have sticks. Dick always carried one, so it seemed right. Some of the sheep seem to be looking at us as though they don’t quite believe that two little lads will take them to better things. I have to say we look a right pair of scruffy little urchins.

I have no idea who took this photo. It is not one of my dad’s but I thank whoever it was.


November 26, 2013

Piddinghoe is on the west bank of the tidal River Ouse, between Newhaven and Seaford.

It was always a favourite spot to visit from camp although it was on a longer route from Camp to Newhaven. What we have today is a photo my dad took


This was dad’s circular frame. He had a camera which used 120 film. This took big negatives which could be contact printed. Dad always did his own photo processing. We have a wonderful scene here. The small boy was my brother who died as a young man in 1980. It is always good to be reminded of him. Behind him is the village with the church with the round tower. We were always brought up to know that the round tower was very unusual in Sussex. In front of the church is what I feel sure my dad was keen to photograph – a sailing barge.

I think this photo dates from 1957.

Now interestingly, father in law took a photo at Piddinghoe too – probably a couple or more years later.


Is that the same barge? I’m not sure.

A Bread Bowl

November 25, 2013

Way back when, in days of yore, when people made their own bread, a large bowl was needed for mixing the ingredients. We have such a bowl – not actually suited for its original purpose, but with a bit of family history attached.


There’s the bowl, sitting in the corner of the kitchen with seasonal windfall apples in it. It is large –  about 40 cm across at the top and it stands almost 20 cm tall. It is old. We do not know how old it is but it was made at the ‘family’ pottery at Littlethorpe near Ripon in Yorkshire. I wrote about that pottery long ago and you can find a version of it on this blog by clicking here.

So this time we’ll cut the history and deal with the present. We visited the works – which still operates – in  August 2006. It was operated by members of the Curtis family who had been involved there for about 100 years. Roly Curtis reckoned that the bread bowl may have dated from before then – which would take it back to the time of the Foxtons who were my wife’s relatives. Back then bricks and tiles were major products. Manufacture of them stopped in about 1940, but other traditional  items are still made.

My wife disagrees with me here. She thinks Roly said rthe design dated back to the time of the Foxtons but she thinks this bowl is quite new.

Here we can see a range of items being examined by an avid enthusiast.


Now that has to be well worth a visit.

You can visit the website at and watch films of clay being dug and transported asnd a huge pot being thrown.

For us, though, it is the family connection that matters.

A first trip abroad

November 24, 2013

Back in the 1950s and early 1960s going abroad was what the rich people did. I never dreamt that it was something we might ever do, but by 1962 my dad’s Bedford Dormobile was tried and tested and we were ready for adventure. We went to Bremen in North Germany where my dad had a friend. Herman had been a prisoner of war and after the war was over and before he was repatriated, he became friendly with our family. There are still communications between descendants of Herman and people in my family.

We took a ferry from Dover – just going there was a big adventure – to Flushing in Belgium. We had overnight stops before reaching Bremen, driving through Belgium and Holland including the long dyke across what was still called the Zuiderzee.

I liked being with a family in Bremen. We could go out with their children, catching the tram into the city centre where I, of course, wanted to visit the railway station where steam trains still operated.

Others were more interested in the sites.

These are dad’s colour slides.


The Bremen Town Musicians feature in a fairy story. My wife and I have a raffia model we bought on a later holiday.


Here’s the cathedral.


And here’s the statue of Roland which I am posing by, with my mum and dad.


One of the Bremen trams is just passing by.

After a stay in Bremen we headed south through Germany, visiting places like Hamlin and the Rhine Gorge before returning through Luxemburg and a ferry home from Ostend.

Foreign travel had begun but I am still not hugely travelled. I have not left Western Europe and nor have I ever flown in a powered aeroplane.

Not the only happy nerd in the world

November 23, 2013

From time to time I get to visit my pal Nick up in Norfolk. I have known him since we were at junior school so he is a very old friend. He’s very different from me, but he has nerdy tendencies and one of these was in evidence when we paid a quick visit last year.


On the table, there was Nick’s wind up gramophone, complete with record. He also had a book of HMV records so he could date his record. There are obviously other records there in a case. I spot a Broadcast 12 in the sleeve – a cheap record which used narrower grooves so a 10 inch record could play as much as a normal 12 inch one, albeit at a slightly reduced volume. A toolkit is there as well so maybe Nick had needed to do some running repairs on his gramophone. I believe it is a Columbia portable.


The record is from the dance band era being a performance of ‘Loving you the way I do’, a fox trot, by Ambrose and his Orchestra. It dates from 1931.

Nick and his wife provide a real home from home for us. Like me, he seems such a happy nerd.

The will of Anthony Burnett

November 22, 2013

Anthony Burnett was a distant relative (actually of my wife).He came from the Ripon area of Yorkshire and was born in 1754.  He was in fact a 6 greats uncle or as the Americans say, a five greats grand uncle. Many wills were made more or less on death beds. This one is dated the First f march seventeen ninety nine. This was twenty years before Anthony died – at Littlethorpe, a village just south of Ripon. Here is the will and a reminder that an enlarged version – big enough to read – can be seen by clicking on the picture.


We can sometimes learn quite a bit from a will. So here we learn that Anthony was a flax dresser by trade, that he had three brothers, Peter, William and Christopher and there sisters, Elizabeth Postell, Ann Walls and Mary Burnett.

The brothers and the married sisters were each to get five pounds and Mary was to get the residue. As probate valued the estate of Anthony at £20, it could be that Mary did badly out of this.

Anthony died in 1819.

Ann Walls, by the way was my wife’s 5 greats grandmother. That means it was a direct ancestor who received the legacy of £5. In today’s terms that is worth anything between about £320 and £16000 depending on how you do your calculations.

Acton Moat Bridge

November 21, 2013

Back in 1974 I was by no means a canal ‘virgin’. My wife and I crewed a trip boat on our local Kennet and Avon Canal and we knew parts of that quite well. But the K and A was derelict at the time. The locks were out of use so I really only had theoretical knowledge of how to manage them as we set off for our first canal holiday. Five of us had hired a 47 foot long boat from Penkridge in Staffordshire. There was a lock nearby so we were helped through that and then we were on our own. I don’t think we experienced any particular problems as we made our way northwards (roughly) up the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal. I was straight away taken by the way the bridges on this canal had names as well as numbers, and within a couple of miles I had a photo of the bridge name plate at Acton Moat.


The photo was taken with my little Canon Demi camera using Agfachrome film.

Back in 1974 people didn’t paint these signs but there it was in all its glory, just above the arch and on the rather battered brickwork of the parapet.

The bridge is what I call an accommodation bridge. It takes a track or footpath over the canal. It leads from the village of Acton Trussell, over the canal, then over the River Penk and under the M6 motorway before dumping walkers on the A449 road.

You can find pictures of the bridge by searching on the web. They show a scene which looks very rural – but with a neatly painted black and white bridge sign.

It was a great week – still fondly remembered.