It’s difficult to look at old photos of the countryside and not get nostalgic. Even for city dwellers, images like blackberry picking are only associated with happy, warm days in the open air. Country life has certainly changed over the past century, so let’s take a look at what components made up rural life, and see how much (or how little) has altered.
Country Life on Film
Snippet from the Countryman’s Diary on Vimeo by Screen Archive South East, part of the series for West Sussex Unwrapped.
Images should not be reproduced without permission from West Sussex Record Office.
Country Life in the Archives
Many of the photographs used in this blog are from our larger photographic collections, many of which have blogs dedicated entirely to the photographers. Check out our blogs on George Garland, John Smith as well as another local photographer John Fletcher for a few we have written this year.
Livestock and Animals
Chichester’s cattle market may be have moved on, but all across West Sussex there used to be numerous livestock and farmer’s markets. Their numbers sadly dwindled over the 20th Century. For example, Pulbourgh for a time had their own market, which opened in 1866 and closed in the 1970s. We are very fortunate that surviving photos are one of the ways that their impact on local villages and towns have been recorded.
In addition to markets, events like County Fairs and Shows were (and still are) major events in the agricultural calendar. Although cancelled in 2020, the Findon Sheep Fair is still is held every September. Garland took many photos of the fair over the years, showing us what has stayed the same and what has changed over the last 90 years.
Garland N38118 – Basket making display at the Sussex County Show, c1952. There were no cattle at this show due to an outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease.
As an indulgent aside, this author adores sheep, so hunting for photos of these fluffy loves was an utter joy. Below are a section of Garland images at Woolbeding, Brinsbury and Steyning respectively.
Less cute (to some) but still very important to local agriculture is beekeeping. Nowadays it is more common to purchase ready made beehives, but the practice of hand weaving bee skeps is still done in the present day. (Ref: Garland N10209 – Mr Hill, Camelsdale making beehives, 1934)
It’s a practice that has been going for over 2,000 years, so won’t be dissapearing anytime soon! (Ref: Garland N10206 – Mr Hill, Camelsdale making beehives, 1934)
John Smith, who you may have read about in an earlier blog of ours, kept poultry in his home of Fittleworth. Many of his photos show off Fittleworth before the First World War, and a what rural Sussex looked like at the turn of the century.
Garland N5468 – Walter Alfred Edwards, poultry farmer, West Chiltington, c1932. Walter was one-handed and by 1939 he is noted as being retired from poultry farming.
Finally we have horses, who are less livestock and more a helping hand for farmers. All they ask in return is that their shoes are kept in tip top condition. (Ref: Garland N18447 – Blacksmith at White Hart, Petworth, 1939)
John Smith’s photos show horses at work during the haymaking process in 1916 Fittleworth. Pulling those massive carts, it’s hard not be impressed with their strength!
Nowadays machinery has taken the burden off the horses. Though even these have gone through some serious changes over the century!
Of course, picking and working by hand is sometimes the only option, as Garland N18836 shows. Here we have cabbage cutting for market at Tillington in October 1939
Local businesses would advertise in county directories and newspapers. One example is J Cheal and Sons, who have their own collection at the Record Office. The nurseries the family maintained were established at Lowfield Heath in 1871 by John Cheal, and J Cheal and Sons subsequently had nurseries at Handcross, Pulborough and Crawley. Their collection can be browsed on our online catalogue under the reference AM 627. Other companies that ran nurseries include Framptons Nurseries Ltd, whose little article/advertisement can be seen below in a clipping from the Worthing Gazette.
It is impossible to talk about agriculture without referencing County Council records. Agricultural committees ramped up in influence during the First and Second World Wars. To the left is a page of WOC/CM82/1/1 which is the first volume of the West Sussex War Agricultural Executive Committee. Held on 22nd January 1917, this meeting reports back a survey of the County, including interesting information regarding the land usage and what land could be used to grow what. You can read more about this document on it’s own blog post by clicking this link!
Of course, not all of countryside life is working on a farm! It’s a space to enjoy the open air. Going for walks in the countryside has led to great shots for as long as photography has become more portable.
You can read more about the beach from our first Sussex Unwrapped blog, but further inland boat trips along the river were also a popular pastime. John Smith’s photos show boating along the River Rother, whilst Garland’s show evacuees from World War Two enjoying the River Arun at Pulborough.
Jumping forward to 1989, as part of the County Council Centenary celebrations, a Special Olympics and canoe race was held (Ref: WNC/CC17/2/2).
Back when it was acceptable for children to skip school to help their parents with work, E/1/12/1, Aldingbourne Primary School log book, discusses blackberry picking in September 1884. It reads on Monday the 15th: “Blackberries being unusually abundant this year, several children are absent from school blackberry gathering. They sell well in town which makes blackberry harvest a profitable one.”
Or if you’re a little too old to go blackberry picking, maybe a ploughing match is more to your liking. West Grinstead Ploughing & Agricultural Society still host a ploughing match each year and will in 2021 celebrate the Society’s 150th anniversary!
Beagling and fox hunting are also recorded amongst the archives. Kevis and John Smith took images from the turn of the twentieth century.
Kevis 4/104 – Kirdford: Shillinglee Park beagles and horses, 1907.
John Smith PH 12/363 – Meet and fox hounds around Fittleworth, late 19th Century.
It’s fair to say that the countryside for most people is an escape or a place for a holiday, rather than their permanent home. (Ref: Front cover to Lib 10004 – The Sussex Ideal Holiday Chalets, Bracklesham Bay, published in 1937)
But as these final Garland images show, life in the countryside goes on – charcoal burning, associations and meetings, dealing with the occasional flood, arriving home from work… Maybe not as much has changed as you would first think!
Oh and one last thing! To the left is part of WNC/CC20/7 – One of the three national certificates that were awarded to WSCC in 1977/8 for the Keep Britain Tidy campaign.
Remember to take your rubbish home with you after a day out in the country!
Keep an eye out for next week’s theme, ‘Shippams’, on Tuesday 4th August.
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