Friday, 12 November 2010

Living in the past

Is anyone following the new adventures of Ruth, Alex and Peter in the Edwardian Farm, filmed at Morwllham Quay in Devon? I loved the Victorian Farm too, which was filmed at Acton Scott, in Shropshire. If you check back to an April posting this year, you will get the photos from when we visited it on my birthday. Not forgetting Tales from the Green Valley which I have on DVD and could watch over and over again and never tire of it. Everything they did just felt so right to me, so familiar. I have even used a recipe using Elderflowers (where they used leaf buds) for a cream for dry, work-worn hands for many many years. The recipe came from my cherished copy of Farmhouse Fare published in the 1970s, but this recipe obviously has links back hundreds of years.

I think I was born backwards-thinking. I have always loved history, always been drawn to the past. I'm not very good with reality.

I can remember at secondary school, envying the people in the dunces class, as they did wonderful practical things like spinning and weaving. . .

If I was suddenly plonked back in time, I would like to think I could cope: that I would soon learn to use a proper bread oven, to manage by candlelight and oil lamps (I can still remember how to trim a wick from tending the Hurricane Lamp in childhood. . .) Likewise doing the washing in what my mum called the "copper" and putting the clothes through a mangle. I still scrub my kitchen floor with a bucket and scrubbing brush. I can darn and quilt and mend and re-use with the best of them. I think I would struggle with wearing a sit-up-and-beg corset though!!! and the first week or two without a computer would be hard, until the reliance faded.

In the spring, I often put in anything up to 8 hours a day in the garden. I can handle horses from a lifetime with them. I can pluck and dress a chicken and skin a rabbit. We have raised bottle-fed lambs here in the past and still have a small flock on tack. Milking might be a challenge at first, and the ailments of ruminents, but I have made butter and a simple "Crowdie" cheese, and the Still Room has long held a fascination for me.

I can mend leather equipment (as in tack), make simple herbal remedies, recognize any wild flowers as I have loved them since I was in infants school, butcher a lamb carcase, make sausages and faggots. I have cooked from scratch all my life and made my own bread for 30 years now. I have always made my own jams, jellies, chutneys, pickles and preserves. I can spin, knit, crochet and embroider. I would like to think I could step back in time without to many challenges.

Of course, these programmes don't show the dark side of living in the past - the infant mortality, the loss of life from infection and contagion, the days before surgery, the poverty, the starvation, the old folks ending in the Workhouse in Victorian times, the sheer desperation of slum families in the cities, the homeless families travelling from farm to farm begging for a day's work, a meal of fat bacon and taties, and permission to sleep in the barn overnight.

But they inspire me to learn more, to gain more knowledge, more skills, and to have a deeper understanding of how my ancestors lived - my grandparents were Victorians, so that period in time seems so close to me . . .


  1. It seems we are two of a kind. I loved your post; it brought back so many happy memories of my childhood, particularly during the war when I lived with my grandparents for much of the time. And then of our early life here, converting this ramshackle farmhouse, barn and garden. I, too, still use my battered old copy of 'Farmhouse Fare' and also tackle many of the other things you list. Long may our love of the past continue so we may pass it on to future generations.

  2. Loved your post, I too have always been fascinated by life in the past. It was a treat for us as children to visit our Grandparents who lived on a farm, had no electricity or running water. I think I could make it but only if I had my husband with me because he's the really handy one, good at improvising.

  3. Glad you are enjoying The Edwardian Farm - we are loving it - so many things remind the farmer of his childhood. Andrew Billen was scathing about it in The Times, saying it was boring etc. but we loved it and I think it is sad that he could not find enjoyment in it. He is most likely a city chap and never looks at the countryside or wonders what hard work went in to it a century ago.

  4. Loved the pics and the post! I think I was born "too late" ;-)! I love the times in history...the homes, the dress, the lifestyles. I love reading about them and stories set in each of the time periods. I may not have all the skills it would take immediately, but I'd like to think I would learn quickly. I'd definitely enjoy a turn at the time machine! Maybe this is why I enjoy my journey into family history so much...

  5. I watched the first episode and enjoyed it but wished they'd go into a bit more detail about what they were doing - I'm especially thinking about the making of the rag rug here. I'd be happy to step back in time too but don't have all the skills that you do unfortunately. I WILL write next week, I've had two letters asking whether I'm all right from people who haven't heard from me so letters are going to be top priority this week.

  6. You have many talents related to old time living. How wonderful. For me I would love having horses and carriages as transportation, that would be my favorite part.

  7. The longer I live in our New Forest village, the more divorced I feel from the rush and bustle of today. I too had Victorian grandparents and the photos in your post bring back memories of the way they lived, even when I was a child in the 1950s.

    My most recent post is in a similar nostalgic mood - lots of beautiful heavy horses at a ploughing competition.

  8. J and I between us have many of the "old-fashioned" skills, some of them handed on from grandparents and parents, some deliberately learned. I think we'd both be squeemish about "butchering" although I have helped to cut up and package many a venison.
    Perhaps today we have the opportunity for a good balance--we can choose to practice [and hopefully pass on] many of the crafts and frugal ways of earlier generations and yet have the benefits of modern sanitation and medicine.
    Like you, when I explore the past I'm aware there were so many deaths of children and young mothers that needn't happen today.

  9. I love edwardian farm. I saw victorian farm as well, always find these programmes interesting and far better than most of the other rubbish that is on tv x

  10. We too are loving The Edwardian Farm. Morwelham is close by to us, and the children are fascinated to see it being brought back to life in this way.