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  • Remembering the Strips August 29, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern , trackback


    Today is an important day in the calendar of the Beach family, Beach and kids get to open the massive piggy bank (Money Pig) in the downstairs bathroom. Beach has then to double any money found there – it has been a year… – then kids, minus Beach, go out to spend Money Pig’s money on trinkets from China’s industrial heartlands. A short post, then, but one that got Beach a bit teary-eyed, concerning the memory of things past. The book in question is Norman Goodland’s Sexton’s Boy (1967) and once again we have that Beachcombian theme of transmission across the generations, in this case in one family. We are in an unnamed Hampshire village.

    One January afternoon, the sun was low, just level with the top of the church; the winter shadows light, and long. Father looked in, and said to me… ‘You look close at the sward, my boy. You see those dips? You can only seem ’em certain times when the light and the sun is like it is now. They don’t run straight, look – they run in a great double curve, like a S turned round backwards…. And if you look between them dips,’ went on my father, ‘you’ll see lines of darker grass, that follows them curves down – like strips. Do you see that?’ The pattern revealed itself. I wondered why I had not noticed it before.

    The father is showing his son the evidence here of one of the most important changes in British history, the enclosure of shared land. The ‘strips’ belonged to the different freeholders of the village. And why does the father remember?

    ‘Well’, went on my father, ‘if you count them strips from the coppice yonder, the first five used to belong to your great-great-grandfather’.

    The sums add up. The conversation took place in the early twentieth century. Father 1860, grandfather 1820, great grandfather 1780, great great grandfather 1740? Think now of father after father bringing their eldest son to see the family heirlooms in Hampshire loam…

    Other examples of family transmission: drbeachcombing At yahoo DOT com

    Jeremy Harte, incidentally, in his Cuckoo Pounds and Singing Barrows (6) suggests that the nameless village was Lockerley.

    Bruce writes, 30/Aug/2016: When I was a boy my Grandfather and I would go squirrel hunting in the fall. We would be doing a slow stalks down ridges over the large river bottoms below. As we would normally be hunting in late October, the winter cover crops had just been planted and weren’t quite up. Just miles of plowed river bottom interspersed with a few houses and stands of trees. As we had long vistas on the ridge, you could see for miles he would point out darker patches of swirled soil on in the fields, normally on the second river terrace. He would say “You see that? That’s an old Indian village. The curve is were the log walls used to stand.” If you spotted one that hadn’t been heavily plowed for years on end you could sometimes see the point where the sworl came close together, that’s where the old village entrance had been. Grandpa could pick out where single huts had been outside the palisade, but I never quite had the eye. I’d ask if something was a hut, he’s say no, that’s where Old Man So and So once had a pond that had dried up. I got a few, but they were tough. However the old villages were plain as day. You could spot them in the summer due to the organic material in the ground, the vegetation planted on the things was denser and taller than the crops off of it. Pothunters still use that trick to spot sites to loot later as they like to work when the corn is high and they won’t be spotted in the dark. As palisaded villages in the region started being built in the region in the mid-12th century and died out in the early 17th century, it was amazing to be able to still spot them in such a heavily farmed an altered environment. He showed me how to spot old, long grown over, logging and wagon roads to get through the woods and up and down the hills easily, which rock shelters were good for camping and which weren’t, (look for old soot deposits near the front.) and how to avoid the vegetation covered river cobble mounds that the Native threw up on the ridges in the region by what was growing on them, hawthorn and greenbrier were a dead giveaway. Where the old Native trails were and which ones were still reliable for short runs. Why to never follow a deer trail, they can climb and descend like a goat, a good way to get stuck on a cliff, and how to deal with a bear. If you found stands of honey locust, persimmon, and paw-paw trees up a hollow, it normally meant you were near what used to be a small Native village or hamlet probably located near the mouth of the hollow into the main valley, as they practiced arboriculture and favored certain trees. As a small boy that meant looking down as we crossed creeks and entered nearby fields as I knew arrowheads could be near. Even old churches and graveyards could give you clues to the past of the early European settlers in the region. English and Germans buried in and around churchyards. The Ulster Irish and Scots buried on hilltops. The Welsh did both churchyards and hilltops depending on how Anglicized they were. Some Germans and French buried in small private fenced graveyards, but as the early French settlers here were mainly Huguenots they generally adapted to practices of the Protestant sect they aligned themselves with once they got here. The ability to read the land, how it was used and the kind of folks who used to live on it is a lost art. 1967, the year of the book you quote was about when I was being taught this stuff and I’m afraid the knowledge is fading quickly.

    Strips from Ruth B, 29 Sep 2016: Reading this article again, with Bruce’s comment. brought to mind something my grandfather used to tell me about when I was a child around the very early 60’s. His house at that time was on a continuous strip of land that ended at his father’s house. A mile or two long, probably, or more. The land in between was mostly still prairie-ish with some stands of trees and an old pond fed by a creek. If you got in the right spot on higher ground you could see large areas of it that were bowl shaped, which he told me had been used by the buffalo as an area to roll in (an impressive site as many buffalo are close to a thousand pounds of muscle). They would roll on the ground to get rid of winter fur or just to have a good scratch. He was showing these to me back when that part of Oklahoma City was still pretty undeveloped and you could see much of what it looked like when some of my ancestors were still riding ponies and shooting with bows and arrows. Sad to say the rubs are no longer there of course, much of that area was built up, torn over by tornadoes in ’95 and and more recently, and is being rebuilt again. My brother and I found it funny when apartments built on the site of the old pond would flood all the time, and we had warned friends who moved in there!