It all began with Beating the Bounds, my project on here to look closely at everything within a one-mile radius of home. We have lived here for twenty-two years now so we're getting to know the land well and then along came my obsession with the 1841 tithe map and an interest in what are known as the apportionments which have continued unabated.
Fortunately for my purposes, our Parish has what is deemed a First Class Tithe Map. I have discovered that those considered 'sufficiently accurate to serve as legal evidence of boundaries' were marked with a seal of approval before being signed off by two of the three commissioners appointed by the government, in this case William Blamire, a Cumberland farmer and Capt T. Wentworth Buller.
All the documents in Devon at least are now digitised and availably online since my first foray into the tangled bowels of the microfiche and the machine for reading them at the local library, which all makes it a lot easier. I can sit at home with a magnifying glass on the screen trying to decipher the field numbers, which in turn can be referenced against the hand-written lists from the 1840s to give me the names of the fields.
I have this desperate urge to ensure that somehow the names of the fields aren't buried under the weight of modern-day farming around us here.
More and more of the land in our immediate vicinity, once tenant-farmed on long leases, is now sub-let to contractors who move in, plough, sow and reap on an industrial scale and then disappear off until the next cycle begins. We used to know all the farmers by name, now we don't.
It all looks fine, and a good thing that the land is being used, but the machinery is huge, far bigger than was ever intended for our narrow lanes and gateways, so we watch and weep as they whip stems off our hedge and demolish those ancient gateways, fracture the granite posts that must have been in place since time immemorial and leave the broken debris for the brambles and hedgerows to swallow. We might see the occasional agronomist eyeing up progress but apart from that no one seems to know and tend the land in the way that past generations must have done, or care about it and maintain the fabric of its existence.
It's change and modernisation and progress of sorts, that I know, but it seems sad all the same.
The field names are so special. Our house, once two farm cottages, is built on Outer Down, to the west is Middle Down and beyond that Homer Down. We walk up to the woods across Coombe Park and Great Field, into Lane Field and then across Tuell Field to check our spring water supply. Tuell a derivative of Two Wells and we benefit from one of them.
We look for the traces of Lower and Higher Parson Darts; smaller fields long since absorbed into Tuell Field and we wonder about the name.
Did it provide a little short cut for the local vicar...or maybe the Parsons family?
It brings us to the edge of what we know as Berry Wood...
..but in 1841 it was Barn Park Plantation and consisted of fir trees. The field behind it is Barn Park and alongside is Barn Park Meadow, further to the west is a field called Berry, everything makes sense eventually. Now it is mixed deciduous woodland carpeted with bluebells, and we have been told, by a farmer in the village who would know, that it was an old anthrax wood, a place to bury the dead animals. When did it all change we wonder.
Walking back down the green lane that runs alongside the fields we look for old gateways because part of the lane's ancient purpose has been explained by the tithe map.
Different fields belonged to different farms and the only access, without crossing someone else's land, would have been via this narrow track. It has sadly been discovered by the off-roaders who come armed with chain saws and winches to deal with any trees that may block their way. The council inform us that it is still classified as a metalled road and thus vehicular access is permitted, though criminal damage is not. Horse and carts back in the day maybe, but surely not a 4x4 with bull bars.
And so my quilted tithe map project has finally emerged from all this walking and discovering and watching along with a sense that it should all be recorded before it is too late.
Thus far I am working on the first of what I think may be one of many; what I consider to be an apprentice piece,a bit of an experiment in method and process and this my template, a first copy from the library microfiche.
I am experimenting with fusible interfacing and a variety of patterned fabrics at the moment. Suddenly I am looking through my stash for fabrics that look like grass, or ploughed fields, or stones.
We know there were a lot of orchards around us here, and meadows which would almost certainly have grown their share of wildflowers so I am having fun with some flowery fabrics too, and the plan is to edge around each field with a very narrow bias strip to represent the hedges, using something a bit wider for the lane.
I wonder whether you are seeing the landscape changing around your way too...
The old ways disappearing ('twas ever thus)...
And does anyone have any more hints and tips about finding out about things like long-deserted and now derelict properties and who may have lived there...
I get so far with Parish Records and Census Returns and then come across paywalls when I'm sure a lot of this used to be free.