Friday, 9 June 2017

Out In The Wind

On this morning of great doubt and uncertainty, I think we should consider things of far greater interest like the lookers' huts on Romney Marsh in Kent. By the sixteenth century the Marsh was unproductive and the population decreased dramatically. Large tracts of land were bought-up by absentee landlords who turned it into sheep pastures. By 1890 there was a staggering quarter of a million sheep, and freelance shepherds were hired to look after the flocks, sometimes spread over a very wide acreage.This meant spending much of their time away from their families, particularly at lambing time. And so very basic shelters were built, usually in brick with a hearth and chimney at one end. They could also be used to store tools and act as an infirmary for sick sheep. The Romney sheep are wonderful grazers, with the added bonus that they won't jump the dykes and waterways that criss-cross this open landscape.
    The hut above is below the Isle of Oxney at Cliff Marsh Farm, and one of probably only a dozen still extant where once there were around 350 dotting the Marsh. I spotted it from the road that runs in tandem with the Royal Military Canal, out in what are now arable fields. The farmer was very kind in letting me investigate, warning me that the door lintel was in danger of collapse, but I did manage to get a photograph of the interior:
Spartan accommodation is probably over-selling it, but I couldn't help imagining myself in here with a roaring fire and a few bottles of Harvey's Sussex Best and just the sound of the wind and pitiful bleating outside for company. Most of the woodwork was sound, the Kent peg-tiled roof now replaced by corrugated iron sheeting. A small bed would have occupied a fair part of the space, but I expect there was a chair and a small table from which the occupant would eat his mutton and vegetable Looker's Pie.
    It was back in 2010 that I made my first discoveries of these sadly neglected and all but forgotten tiny buildings. And of course the now ubiquitous mobile variety. There is thankfully a fully restored looker's hut at School Farm at St.Mary in the Marsh, but most of the survivors are gradually disappearing into the soil like the one above at Cutter's Bridge. About the same time that I was wandering the lanes another photographer, Nigel P.Crick, was seeking out the last remnants, and I am indebted to his book The Looker's Huts that has both photographs and map references.
    The Romney Marsh, with its remote medieval churches with Georgian interiors, lonely tile-hung houses and seemingly endless vistas that end either at the ancient cliffs of the original coastline or the bleak shingle of Dungeness, will always fascinate me, will always call me back.

12 comments:

John Foster said...

Did you run into the good Doc?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctor_Syn

Peter Ashley said...

I thought I saw him disappearing behind Old Romney church. But it may have been a trick of the light....

Stephen Barker said...

Peter nearer to home are the livestock shelters in the fields built in red brick with slate roofs. These are disappearing from the landscape due to changes in farming practice particularly the over wintering of livestock. About 30 years ago I was involved in a mall project recording these buildings in the Harborough area, many have since gone.

One or two did have fireplaces built into them, I assumed that they served the same function as the buildings on Romney Marsh.

Peter Ashley said...

Thank you Stephen. This is very interesting because I've recorded a few remote red brick barns in Leicestershire. I must do more before it's too late!

Stephen Barker said...

It would be a pleasant project on a fine summer's day. I will send you details of a rather fine field barn/animal shelter in the parish of Foxton. Unusually it has some simple decorative brickwork at the top of the wall under the eaves.

Peter Ashley said...

Thank you Stephen. You have inspired me!

Zephyrinus said...

Peter.

Reference The Romney Marsh, you may find the following of interest. In September 2015, a Roman Catholic "Missa Cantata" [Sung Mass] was sung in the Church of Saint Augustine, Snave, Romney Marsh. It was the first such Mass in 477 years.

"Feed My Sheep".

https://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=4974322791812743403#editor/target=post;postID=2105906536210322151;onPublishedMenu=template;onClosedMenu=template;postNum=1584;src=link

Peter Ashley said...

Hello Zeph. Thank you for the link but for some odd reason I couldn't get the link to work. It does sound really interesting though.

Jon Dudley said...

Beautifully observant post of the vanishing minutiae of this fabulously mysterious part of England. Your mention too of the Military Canal - now that's a piece of work isn't it? Cobbett dismissed it out of hand as a huge folly, being government funded, and preferred instead to praise the sheep grazed on the Marshes. We had friends who alternated the grazing of their sheep between Chiddingly in East Sussex and Romney Marsh, resulting in the most wonderful Mutton and Lamb (depending). Your mention of Harveys, reminds me that purely for a matter of record, they have employed, probably for the very first time, a designer to start a brand makeover!...out with the black background and in with the white it seems....

Peter Ashley said...

Thank you Jon. The Marsh appeals more and more to me. I'm just about to watch The Loves of Joanna Godden again because I'm pretty sure there's a looker's hut in it. As for Harvey's, I wish I'd worked in their new labelling. A bit disappointing considering their fabulous heritage.

John Simlett said...

My only connection to Romney was designing a tea towel for Romney Railway - a million years ago.

Nothing to do with the subject matter, Peter, but I do like to be part of you interesting 'chats'!

Peter Ashley said...

Thank you John! Funnily enough I hope to partake of the delights of the little railway this weekend (24th June). Perhaps your tea towel will still be in evidence. I do hope so.