|The pictures chosen as the feature image for the farming topic are haymaking scenes. It is no coincidence that many pictures and stories about farming feature haymaking, probably because it is the epitome of bucolic bliss. To refer to the smell of newly cut grass and nicely dried hay may be cliché’s but they are very evocative smells.
Haymaking had to be done in good weather so memories of haymaking are dominated by sunny summers days. The reality is that haymaking used to involve a lot of hard work and very long hours. The saying ‘make hay whilst the sun shines’ is an exhortation to take the opportunities presented to you and to work hard, not an invitation to enjoy yourself.
|The basic steps have not changed in millennia. The first thing is to select the right time to cut the grass when it has reached the maximum height but before it ‘goes to seed’.|
|The next stage is to let it dry which is where the sunshine is essential. English summers are rarely hot enough to dry the grass without shaking up or ‘tedding’ it to give the technical term. This was still done by hand or by horsepower.|
|Tedding tended to scatter the drying hay so it needed to be raked into neat piles. This was more important when mechanical balers were used which required a continuous, even mound of hay to picked up. The may need to be tossed and turned to help it to dry. This process was called tedding.|
Some art is required in deciding when to pick up the hay. Too wet and it will heat up and ferment and go ‘fusty’ or even catch fire. Too dry and all of the nutrients will be dried out of it. Some raking was done by hand but various forms of horse powered rakes were used. The people shown are the Durk family who worked for the Speed’s but the close up of the horse-drawn rake is the reason for including this picture.
The hay may have been transported to the farmyard and put into a barn or a ‘rick’ of hay would be built in the field. It was necessary to use ‘pitch forks’ to built stack the hay and the height that a man could pitch the hay from the wagon used to transport it determined the maxim height of the barn or rick until mechanical elevators were developed. There was also some macho pride involved in how high you could pitch a bale by hand. This picture is also taken from the 1926 featured image and shows the Speed family in front of the elevators with pitchforks in their hands. The young lady sitting on the floor is Norah who is still with us and provided the picture. Her brother, Mervyn, was not born when this picture was taken but appears in several other pictures.
|This picture, courtesy of Arthur and Margaret Green, shows a young Arthur driving a horse-drawn rake used to collect the hay. This was taken on Dudwell Farm.|
|The desired result. A Hay rick may only have to stand for less than a year but it had to withstand Mendip weather which includes a lot of wind and rain. The neatness had a functional as well aesthetic function and the rick had its own thatched roof. Basic thatching was considered one of the skills required by a farmer.Ken Bishop and Brian Green were both local farmers who were recorded by Gerry Brice talking about their memories of haymaking when these pictures were take.|
|Ken Bishop farmed at Eakers Hill and he had no problem getting straw to thatch his ricks. He grew some cereals himself and was able to buy in more if necessary. The straw had to be sorted as only the long straight stems were suitable. The rest was used as bedding or feed.|
|Brian Green who farmed at Dudwell had to buy in his straw and later switched to Norfolk read which was more durable. He found he straightness of the reed deceptive at thatching competitions. The judges assumed that it should have ben possible to have completely straight and flat thatching using reeds but he found that more difficult to achieve. Lance Gillard worked for him and was one of the last ‘champion thatchers’ who was employed to provide training in thatching to other farm laborers.|
|Surprisingly it was not only straw that was in short supply. Brian Green stated he had to buy in hazel stakes or pegs used to keep the thatch in place due to a shortage of suitable hazel bushes on Dudwell farm. He also explained who some farmers on the Somerset levels would cut the long strands of brambles that grew in the hedges and soak them in a ditch to soften them. They would then scrape of the thorns and use the strands as ropes to tie down the thatch.|
|Brian also told how it was considered a local ‘law’ that no haymaking was done on a sunday. no matter how ready the hay was. This ‘law’ was broken by George Gane who had a small holding based in Lower Street. George was WW1 veteran which may have made him ‘independently’ minded. He broke with convention one day and was making hay rather than attending church one Sunday. News of this spread throughout the village and a number of people, including Brian, watched in silent disbelief as George drove his horses to rake up the hay. The only sounds that could be heard was the tinkling of the harness and George’s shouted commands. Nobody tried to stop George and other people made hay on a Sunday after that.|
|Haymaking was still a labour intensive process when I was living on a farm in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The men from the village would help my father after everybody had already done a days work. Cows still had to be milked and animals fed. One field would be cut one day and grass that had been cut previously had to be tedded, raked and bailed. Specialist contractors were used for some processes, such as baling, but a full days work would have been done before the strenuous task of picking up, transporting and stacking the bales was done. The men from the village had also done a full days work before they came to help my father. They were paid an agricultural worker’s hourly rate, which was not much, but part of the payment was a ‘harvest supper’ of bread and cheese with beer. My father did not make cider but both my parents remember the days when an experience farm worker would receive a gallon of cider a day as part of his wages. My mother used to say it was a good job the horses knew their way home because the driver may not have been in a fit state to make the decision.I left the farm in the 1970’s and my father stopped farming in the 1980’s.|
|His old elevator was given an honourable retirement the Agricultural Museum whilst several people remember the Speed’s loose hay elevator rotting away quietly in Grove Farm. Haymaking has been replaced by silage making in many cases. This is a different method where fermentation is encouraged as the preservative process. The cows enjoy the end result but the sour smell of silage does not have the same romantic appeal as well made hay. Where hay is still made, it is almost completely automated and large round bales protected in their own wrappings are produced. Richard Loxton 2012.|