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Ploughing

William Loxton (Grandfather)Ploughing is one of the archetypal activities  of farming, it is perhaps not as romanticized as haymaking which involved the whole family and could only be done in good weather. Ploughing was normal done in the autumn or winter and is a relatively solitary experience. This picture was taken on the southern side of the Mendips during World War 2. The driver is William Loxton. The picture is significant because it show the overlap between horse power and tractors.
 The introduction of ploughing may be seen as the beginning of settled farming. Hunter gathers may have domesticated dogs to help with their hunting or used other animals as beasts of burden but they would have still been Nomadic. Any settlement in Chewton Mendip based around Chew Head (Option A) is unlikely to have involved any ‘ploughing’ beyond digging for roots or burrowing animals.
 One reason why the permanent settlement was probably based around the site of the church is because it gave access to land suitable for growing crops. Once there is a permanent settlement there is also a defensive need.
 The availability of cultivable land may have resulted in the location of the first four tithings where communities sprang up that were far enough away from the centre to have their sense of identity. The Saxons may have used slaves as labourers but they also used oxen or other animals
 Remenents of the medieval field strips can still be seen in the 1794 map and this was the era when horses replaced oxen as the primary source of power and remained so until replaced by tractors as seen in the picture above.
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.
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