I recall from my early days two elderly farmers when one said “Ow many vields ‘ast got down to ‘ay?”. The other replied “Tu’ Dree”. “Dree” is still recognised by some as “Three”. This came to mind as I am writing about a number of different subjects, maybe two or three, something of a “rag-bag”.
After an afternoon flying our model aeroplanes, one of our friends invited us back for tea. His father had a garage and several other sidelines, including an old bus used for the school run and known among its passengers as “Alexanders Ragtime Bus”, a play on his name and a well-known song. As we arrived we were confronted by a lorry with a large triangular structure to the rear which was completely covered in dead rabbits. When we enquired of our colleague he said they will soon be off to London, for sale. We were told that his father had the trapping rights for a section of Salisbury Plain. This was before the myxomatosis epidemic decimated the rabbit population. They were a regular sight on country walks, with ample evidence that they had been there.
I once joined a walk over Pilsdon Pen led by a knowledgeable lady archaeologist who told us that the hill may have been an old rabbit warren. She said rabbits were introduced to this country by the Romans who constructed warrens in suitable places, such as on sandy soil and downland. It occurs to me that perhaps Coney’s Castle on the edge of the Marshwood Vale may be so called because it once housed a thriving rabbit colony, coney being another name for rabbit. A few hundred years ago gaming houses called novices “coneys”, perhaps because they might be fleeced!
In the 14th century Lords of the Manor created warrens in their parks or poor downland as a commercial enterprise. By the 15th century, rabbits were sold for 4d or 5d for a couple. One West Country manor received one-third of its revenue from sale of rabbits, more than the proceeds of sales of wool and livestock together. It was said that rabbit meat was favoured by the royal household and by many poor households also, until comparatively recently.
Some years ago the musicians Chas and Dave produced a record called “Rabbit, Rabbit” but I believe this referred to too much chatter!
The Ox House
When I was a youngster we frequently passed a farmhouse with an effigy of what I thought was a cow in front and I was told this was the Ox House. This puzzled me for a long time. An ox is a large bull and very strong and better at ploughing sticky mud than a cart horse. The Oxford English Dictionary states that the ox was a castrated bull, hence more docile, but strong.
The road which passed the Ox House led to the market town of Devizes up the very steep Dunkirk Hill, which must have been almost impassable, in mud, snow and ice before it was tarmacked. One can imagine coach and horses being exchanged for oxen in winter, to better scale the slippery hill.
Cecil N. Cullingford in A History of Dorset shows a photograph from about 1900 of two teams of oxen ploughing at Parsonage Farm, Dewlish, three drawing each plough. Oxen continued in use there until 1914, when no doubt the introduction of tractors reduced the need for oxen. We never see them in fields now and only hear of them at Christmas time when English carols and rhymes refer to them near the crib.
Some years ago there were sheep dips or washing pools on many farms to enable sheep to be washed beforehand clipping. This reduced the grease from the fleece on the worker’s hands and made clipping easier. William Barnes wrote a dialect poem The Shepherd o’ the Farm:
“An’ I do goo to washen pool, A – sousen over head an’ ears, The shaggy sheep, to clean their wool,
An’ meake ‘em ready for the shears”.
There was a sheep wash at Symondsbury and another at Bradpole, the latter having been renovated as a Millenium Project. This dip is adjacent to the River Asker in Lee Lane, Bradpole on the downstream side near Whitehouse Farm. It is roughly semi-circular, with a diameter of about three metres and with walls about one metre high. The open diameter faces the bridge wall at a distance of approximately a metre. Presumably, the sheep were driven parallel to the bridge, into the semi-circular enclosure to be pushed under the water. This sheep wash was probably last used in the 1940s and farmers might have obtained 1d per pound weight extra for the wool if it was clean.
Thomas Hardy wrote about a sheep wash in Far from the Madding Crowd saying “The sheep washing pool was a perfectly circular basin of brickwork in the meadows, full of the clearest water… a tributary of the mainstream flowed through the pool basin by an inlet and outlet at opposite points of its diameter….The meek sheep were pushed into the pool… thrust them under as they swam along, with an instrument like a crutch, formed for the purpose and also for assisting the exhausted animals when the wool became saturated and they began to sink. They were let out against the stream and through the upper opening, all impurities flowing away below”. Hardy described five men working, waist deep in water, but he was probably writing about a larger sheep wash than that at Bradpole, which was probably only a two-man job.
Now we wonder about Washing Pool Farm between Bridport and Salway Ash. Has that place name the same origin?
Well, that completes my “Tu’ – Dree”! I am reminded of the Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan, where the minstrel sings “A Wandering Minstrel I – a thing of shreds and patches, of ballads, songs and snatches and dreaming lullaby”.
Bridport History Society meets on Tuesday March 13th to hear about “Joseph Clark, a popular Victorian artist and his world” from Eric Galvin at 2.30 pm in the United Church, Main Hall, East Street, Bridport. All welcome, visitors entrance £3.
Cecil Amor, Hon. President, Bridport History Society.