April on the Farm (2022)

April 23rd, 2022

Romney sheep on the footpath to Greatworth

Richard Fonge writes:

We are enjoying a warm sunny spell of weather as I write these notes, and with the blackthorn beginning to go over the air should feel warmer. The adage that we are in a blackthorn winter is a very true one, especially when it first comes out as in this year we had very wintry conditions followed by cold easterly winds, although the sun shone. I saw the first two swallows on the 10th April by the stream on the gated road. After their long migration they usually stay around a water course to feed for a week or so before beginning to nest.

The crops around the Parish are starting to grow with the oil seed rape now coming into flower up the gated or Moreton Road. Notice the variable flowering stages, this is because the pigeons have grazed it during the winter, so stunting the plant and therefore it flowers later and ripens later making harvesting time often a compromise. This year it has become a premium crop with the Ukrainian War, as most of our sunflower oil is imported from the Ukraine and Russia, as are our fertilisers. The conflict certainly brings food security to the fore!

A crop looking exceptionally healthy are the oats up the concrete road. Planted in mid November, small areas have suffered from wet, but as a percentage of the total acreage of all the field very insignificant.

The Romney breed of sheep on the footpath behind Weymss Farm are now lambing and are having singles (although I have noticed a set of twins). These sheep are part of a larger flock and were scanned to singles. Scanning at around seventy-five days of the 145 day gestation period enables the shepherd to manage his flock accordingly.

I mentioned in my January notes how important the pig was to the villager’s living until relatively recently. Other regular or seasonal foods from the farm were bislings or cherricurds, the first rich milk from a freshly calved cow. It was cooked and eaten like a baked custard. Sweet meats or calves testicles were another delicacy. Today we are inclined to look in amazement at what was eaten back in the past. However, it was a healthy diet of home grown vegetables and local delicacies of this kind, including pigeon and rabbit. The harder physical work of the time necessitated such food.

The electric fence to control livestock first came about around 1940, I believe and here are two true stories. My father was on Home Guard duty one night when two of the platoon, panicking in true Cpl Jones style, announced that they had heard a bomb ticking behind a certain hedge and that the end was nigh. It was, of course, an electric fence unit ticking. The second occasion happened at Stuchbury Manor where we had moved just after the war and Reg the cowman concluded that this bit of single wire was useless to keep cattle in, so he touched it with hob nailed boots on, leapt in the air and respected the darn thing forever more!

Richard Fonge


April 19th, 2022

Ronnie has been a familiar sight in the village for many years moving, usually at speed in her sports car or on foot, between her home in Helmdon Road and a whole range of voluntary occupations, including frequent work at the Village Shop and Post Office. Her regular voluntary work for the Katherine House Hospice has always been close to her heart, about which she writes as follows:

“I have been a volunteer at Katharine House Hospice for many years and joined in several fundraising events so, hopefully,  my 80th birthday ‘skydive’ challenge will raise some more, much needed, funds for this wonderful charity.

Katharine House Hospice provides specialist palliative care for adults with life-limiting conditions. This amazing team supports both the patient and their loved ones too, in warm, comforting, environment, ensuring that every moment matters. Your donation will mean more people can receive this care”.

She describes her forthcoming adventure (with typical modesty) as follows:

April 23rd, weather permitting, will see Ronnie, falling gracefully into her octogenarian years, doing a tandem skydive, and along side her,  

 to make sure she jumps, will be daughter Suzi and grandson Ed. 

Ronnie’s challenge is to raise money for Katharine House Hospice,

so what better way to celebrate her

80th Birthday. 

Please support Ronnie’s 80th Skydive challenge,

 visit https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ronnieat80 and make a donation

or send a cheque, in favour of Katharine House Hospice, to Stone Court, OX172SQ,

and if a tax payer, please add your name & address, to collect Gift Aid.




Summary of Annual Parish Meeting held at the Village Church Hall on Thursday 7th April 2022

April 18th, 2022

Parish Council Chairman Richard Fonge presents a bouquet of flowers to Parish Council Clerk, Christine Coles, in recognition of her 18 years of dedicated service to the Council.

The Chairman, Cllr Richard Fonge, welcomed everyone to the meeting, especially all the new residents of Sulgrave. He also noted the deaths of Mr Donald Barratt, Mr Donald Taylor and Mr Des White.

As usual at the Annual Parish Meeting, the business of the evening comprised a series of reports by various organisations, followed by a public forum, as follows:


Northants County Constabulary.

Two officers attended to report upon their work, much of which comprised liaison with the public. For example, a “Police Drop In Surgery” was scheduled to take place in the Village Church Hall on the coming Sunday, 10th April. Local crimes were generally of a petty nature.


High Speed Rail (HS2)

The Greatworth junction to be started in midsummer .New relief road to be laid with two roundabouts, exiting onto the B4525 by the Greatworth T junction. Work progressing on the Banbury Lane through Thorpe Mandeville.

West Northants Council.

Our local West Northants Councillor Alison Eastman attended to report on the work of the new unitary body. They had great concern over the HS2 proposal to work regularly at weekends. Reactions to this proposal were being sought from affected villages. Councillor Eastman reminded all of the new £42 annual charge for green waste bins. The new Council’s finances were in satisfactory shape and being deployed for the benefit of all. The County’s central geographical location makes it ideal for storage and distribution facilities and large developments for this purpose were taking place within the West Northants Council area at Towcester and near Northampton.


Sulgrave Manor. 

Mr Clive Preston, a trustee of the Manor, reported on the restricted Manor opening times of three days a week this season. The first visit of The Colonial Dames of America since before the pandemic will take place in late May. The sale of Kiln Farm is in progress to a private buyer. The Wool house had been sold, with the two Cottages in Manor Road coming on to the market ,hopefully in June.

Sulgrave Parish Council. 

The Chairman, Councillor Richard Fonge, reported on a two year period as there had been no formal Annual Parish Meeting last year. He firstly thanked Laura North and Anna Faure for their service to the Council and welcomed Councillors Sara Staples and Jen Castle who had replaced them in September last.
The wooden flower planter at the entrance to Stockwell Lane had proved a great success in improving the appearance of the area by preventing the destruction of the grass verge by the parking of vehicles. The Chairman thanked Maureen Jeffrey for caring for it. He was pleased that the library in the Church had proved itself, and offered many thanks to Sue Sanderson for setting it up, looking after it and refreshing the books from time to time. He hoped that the Parochial Church Council will organise coffee mornings from time to time to promote both the Church and library.
The village had been entered in the best village competition. A new boundary fence had been provided for the allotments. The pocket park shelter has a new felt roof and the pond has been dredged and overhanging branches cut back to let more light in. Further trees have been planted.
We are still waiting for 30mph signs to be moved back on Magpie road so that the New Sulgrave sign can be erected.
The Parish Council had complained about the poor workmanship of the road repairs on Magpie road.
The Chairman thanked Cllr Alison Eastwood for her conscientious work at West Northants Council on our behalf, and in conclusion thanked the clerk, Christine Coles and his five fellow Councillors for their work for the village – a good team, which he enjoyed leading.


Public Footpaths.

Footpath Warden Graham Roberts reported on the general good order of the paths, and expressed his thanks to the County officer for her help in getting the path to the Banbury Lane re-laid, cleared of scrub and fenced. He was planning to arrange walks this summer.


Graham Trower, Chair of the Allotment Committee, reported that only one allotment was not taken. The chairman thanked him for his work in getting the allotments back in good order. Janet Smith had stood down as secretary and was thanked for her services. The new secretary will be Jill Barratt with Anthony Barratt as treasurer.

Sulgrave Charities.  

Julian Rodway reported on the two Sulgrave Charities. There had been little take up from the village and so monies had been given to Culworth primary school and Chenderit Comprehensive School for educational needs.


Castle Green Committee

Committee Chairman Martin Sirot-Smith reported that there were no problems with the Green or the Hill at this time. He was pleased that such an asset to the village had been used for Winter fairs and Summer picnics, with the Queen’s Jubilee Picnic to come on June 5th.

Village Website.

Colin Wootton reported that he had now been looking after the village website for sixteen years, during which time 2,200 new front page items had been published, illustrated with 54,000 photographs, maps and diagrams. All of this information remains on the website and individual items can be found by entering a request into the Google type search panel on the front page.

He thanked Bob Foster for his work in maintaining a village weather station linked to the website and also Janet Smith for her dedicated work in editing the village newsletter from which much information for the website was taken.

Regular information on the website includes reports on HS2 construction news such as road closures; Parish Council agendas and minutes; Village Shop and Post Office information and newsletters; and Camera Club notes. Another much appreciated regular feature is Richard Fonge’s monthly agricultural notes “on the farm”.

A novel addition to the website contents first appeared in 2014, being the 24 consecutive Advent Calendar Window Displays and their attendant unveiling parties. This was meant to be a “one-off” but has clearly come to stay. It has a wide following both at home and abroad and the average monthly total of visits to the site rises from 2000 to 7000 during December.

The Chairman thanked Colin Wootton for his work on the website and also that of his grandson who acts as the service provider at no cost to the Council. The only additional cost is £20 per year for the domain name – www.sulgrave.org

The Chairman concluded the meeting with the presentation of a bouquet of flowers to the Parish Council Clerk, Christine Coles, for her eighteen years of dedicated service.

Richard Fonge, Chairman, Sulgrave Parish Council

Queen’s Jubilee Organ Concert, Sulgrave Church, Saturday 30th April at 7.30 pm. Application Forms and Programme available here.

April 1st, 2022


Click here to download a copy of the ticket application form.

Sulgrave Village Shop Newsletter for April 2022

March 31st, 2022

The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Village Picnic on Castle Green and Castle Hill from 1.00 pm on Sunday 5th June 2022

March 26th, 2022

1952 – 2022


An outline of the proposed event is given on the above poster. Further details will follow nearer the date.

The sheep will be taken elsewhere for the day and the whole area of the both the Green and the Castle will be freely available.

See here for some details of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee event in 1977

and here for some details of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee event in 2012.

Police Drop In Surgery. Sulgrave Village Church Hall. Sunday 10th April. 5.00 pm to 7.00 pm.

March 23rd, 2022

March on the Farm (2022)

March 17th, 2022

Green Woodpecker. Photo: John Sheppard

Richard Fonge writes:

March the first month of Spring. Bird song, new life and growth are all around us. This year the sound of the woodpecker tapping away has been sadly missing for some reason. The ash trees up the Moreton Rd are a favourite location as are the Manor trees, but quieter this year. Roe deer are to be seen on the farmland adjacent to the village, usually in groups of four, as are the muntjac deer, a much smaller deer who are voracious eaters of vegetation in gardens and woodlands and along with the grey squirrel need to be controlled when planting any size of woodland.

This week I witnessed a special sight of three pairs of hares charging around in a field, with one pair having a boxing match. There were also three more hares in a field of some twenty acres. What a privilege to be in the countryside at this time of year!

The crops are coming out of winter with most of them having had their first application of nitrogen fertiliser. The barley up Barrow hill will soon be turning green from its rather yellow colour, the oil seed rape on the Moreton Rd is beginning to come into flower, the beans on the Stuchbury path and what I think are oats planted up the concrete Rd are all starting to grow.

March is the main lambing month, and soon the fields across to Weston will be filling up with them. It is so important therefore to keep to the countryside code and keep dogs on leads at all times when walking through stock, and do remember dog faeces need bagging up at all time.

Presenters of countryside programmes and others have the annoying habit to those of us who are countrymen of not using the correct terminology and trying to sanitise the reality of nature at work, and using human terms. For example. Cows have calves, birds hatch chicks, dogs have puppies, they do not have babies. Cattle, sheep and horses produce dung or muck, not “poo”!

Another factor not always understood is that when a lamb, calf, foal or whatever is weaned from its mother, they have completely forgotten each other within a two or three days.

A true event involving cattle manure was an instalment of “Keeping up Appearances” filmed near Leamington Spa where the sitcom was set. A near neighbour of mine had to drive his full muck spreader down a lane and as Mrs Bucket approached in a car, start to spread the muck!

Richard Fonge.

The Jubilee Organ Concert at Sulgrave Church. Saturday 30th April 2022 at 7.30 pm. Soloist: Ian Tracey.

March 1st, 2022

Photograph: Neil Higginson

The Jubilee Organ Concert at the Church of St James the Less is a unique opportunity to hear an organ recital by one of this country’s leading musicians.

Ian Tracey is not only recognised as one of our foremost organists, but he has a world wide reputation through his recitals and concerts. We are extremely fortunate to have acquired his services to play our newly restored Church Organ in Sulgrave Church. For the past thirty years Ian has been the organist at the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool whilst giving recitals across the country in which he has the great gift of not only showing his musical skills but also engaging with the audience, making an evening of wonderful entertainment. Many of us so enjoyed his playing at the Inaugural Concert in 2017, after completion of the organ restoration, that we could not resist asking him back for the Jubilee.

Details of the programme will be published when this has been finalised.

Remember the date and book your tickets early. You will not be disappointed. Refreshments will be provided at the conclusion.

Ticket Application Forms in Sulgrave Village Shop and from Joanna Smyth-Osbourne, Rectory Farm: [email protected]

See report on the inaugural concert given in the church by Ian Tracey in 2017.



February on the farm (2022)

February 16th, 2022

Traditional Hedge Laying

Richard Fonge writes:

Forty days after Christmas is Candlemas day the 2nd of February, and there is a saying in farming, that says a prudent farmer should have ” Half his hay on Candlemas day.”
A reminder that while Spring will soon be with us, it can still be some time before livestock can feed off grass alone.

The effect of winter weather on Autumn sown crops can be seen especially in barley at this time of year. It starts to go yellow which is nothing to worry about if you are the grower, as an application of nitrogen fertiliser as soon as the weather permits, will green the leaves up. Nitrogen is essential for the growth of all crops and has a significant contribution to yield. It has become an expensive input, now 250% more than two years ago, so is used carefully in the crops management.

On the land up Barrow hill and along the Weston Rd, hedges are being laid in the traditional way, before stock fencing is put up. In places along the roadside the hedge has been cut off at ground level . This is for a very good reason, as the hedge was weak and thin. By cutting it back hard, it will now shoot out at base and with the planting of some new plants between the stumps, a much improved boundary hedge will be seen in a few years,

Mechanical hedge trimming finishes on the 28th of February, for the obvious reason of bird nesting and what is noticeable is the high standard to which it is done by local farmers and contractors. Maintaining a hedge takes skill and precision, and the value of hedges and the way they shape our countryside has been emphasised by the destruction by HS2 of great lengths of hedgerow, opening up long vistas and exposing buildings and houses previously hidden from view.

So much to do with the management of the countryside has to be viewed in the long term, an attribute not always apparent in Government policy. We are entering a new phase in agriculture policy after our exit from Europe, with many organisations wanting a say in our land management, and we will see in our own parish the effects of those policy changes in time.

Finally a quote from a past village character. When told of the death of a contemporary he replied.  ” That’s funny, he’s never done that before”.

Richard Fonge