November on the Farm, 2020

November 21st, 2020

Friesian Dairy Cows as kept by Richard Fonge in 1975

Richard Fonge writes:

This November just like last year is turning out to be a wet one. As there is very little to observe around the Parish at the moment, I thought I would write about how farming has developed and its Environmental impact on the countryside, and why it is so important that we strike a balance between food production and conservation. Back in 1972 a White Paper was published by the government called “Food from our own resources”. This predicted that by the mid nineties we as a country would be short of food. A series of measures were put in place to increase the production of food, with new farm buildings, concrete, hedge removal, plant and machinery etc all attracting grants of up to 30% to 50% with an accompanying business plan submitted to your local Min of Ag office. The response was positive, and the way forward was led by the larger landowners, amongst whom there were now insurance companies and pension funds and others from the square mile who were buying land as an investment with the high rates of inflation at the time. Up to 18% at one time!

What our experts at the time hadn’t factored in was that science and new technology would by the early eighties bring about huge surpluses. For example: A fungicide spray was manufactured for the first time, this meant that the leaf of the plant could be kept free of disease allowing photosynthesis to have a greater effect. Result – yields went up by 50% or so. The nutritionists came forward with better diets for dairy cows and along with much improved genetics, milk yields increased. I was responsible in 1975  for a herd of 160 dairy cows whose average lactation yield was 5,500 litres, by the end of the decade the yield had risen to 7,500 litres (A lactation is 305 days). The cumulative result was corn mountains, excess butter and cheese, even wine lakes. Milk quotas were introduced, with each producer allotted their own amount they could produce, and we had to leave 10% of the arable land fallow.

The industry and those that serve it were a victim of their own entrepreneurial success and with farms getting bigger, labour getting less and greater awareness from the general public, farmers and land managers had to take heed of the Environmental impact.

The coming of the 1990s saw the greater influence of the Environmental lobby, and I will write a follow up to this article next month explaining as I see it how the different interests have developed.

Richard Fonge

At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month…..Sulgrave remembers………….

November 15th, 2020


Photo: Jo Powell

Owing to the pandemic regulations, it was not possible for the usual Remembrance Service to be held in the Church, with the names of the fallen being read out in front of the war memorial as they have been without a break for a hundred years. Rather unusually there is, of course, no permanent outside memorial in Sulgrave. At the “Zoom” Parish Council meeting held on 5th November, under “Public Participation” Graham Roberts commented that the village would be failing in its collective duty to let the anniversary pass with no commemoration at all. This view was endorsed by Parish Council Chairman, Richard Fonge and in the discussion that followed it was unanimously agreed that arrangements should be made for people to observe the two minutes silence on Castle Green. In order to provide a focus of attention and a place for the deposit of wreaths, it was further agreed that the “soldier silhouette” currently near the village stocks, should be moved to Castle Green on the morning of the 11th November.

The weather was appropriately sombre as many village people of all ages quietly gathered amongst the autumn leaves. The silence was only broken by the notes of the Church clock striking eleven, immediately followed by the sounding of the Last Post by Chris Kirkpatrick. People were left alone with their thoughts until the sounding of Reveille two minutes later.

Parish Council Chairman Richard Fonge then read out a Great War Poem (see end of this item) followed by the names of the eighteen men and women of the village who lost their lives in two world wars. Richard McCrow then read out the traditional words of remembrance:

“When you go home, tell them of us and say

For your tomorrow, we gave our today”

“They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old,

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn,

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them”.

Wreaths were then placed at the soldier’s feet by Richard Fonge on behalf of the village and by Donald Taylor on behalf of the British Legion.

See next page for some photos of this event (Click on “Read the rest of this item”.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Remembrance Day in Sulgrave 2020

November 6th, 2020

Unfortunately there will be no Church Service of Remembrance this year. However, the Parish Council has decided temporarily to move the recently installed “Soldier Silhouette” from the Stocks to Castle Green on the morning of November 11th. It’s an odd fact that Sulgrave has never had an outdoor war memorial such as is usual in other villages. The “Soldier” will therefore serve as a memorial where a wreath and individual poppies can be laid and as a focus for those wishing to hear the names of the fallen read out and keep the two minutes silence at 11 am. As this will be an outdoor event it will be allowable under the current “lockdown” rules as long as social distances are observed. All are welcome to this event.
Sulgrave Royal British Legion Poppy Day Appeal
Very sadly coronovirus restrictions make it impossible for Donald Taylor to make his usual personal house to house collection this year and he will be missed. Donald is such a welcome figure in the village with his cap, tie and medals. He works hard to collect money for the Royal British Legion. Each year Donald has raised more than the previous year, last year over £1200 was given by villagers. He writes “Sulgrave is well known for the generosity shown by all, please in this year of exceptional need continue this tradition”.
There will be a collection box in the shop (remember to wear your mask) or donations can be made online at: to give/donate
In the above picture, Donald is standing in the churchyard behind the Commonwealth War Grave Commission headstone dedicated to his aunt, Lilian Taylor, who died in the great influenza epidemic in 1918 at the end of the Great War. As we try to get through our own epidemic, those keeping the two minutes silence on Castle Green might like to walk the few yards to Lilian’s grave and pause to pay their respects.
See here for more details of Lilian and a special event which took place in 2018.
Those who have not seen it may like to click here to read the stories of two “local heroes” and also those of all 18 of the men and women of the village who lost their lives in two world wars. (Please note: This link will take you to an historic entry with references to events that are clearly outdated). I find that reminding myself of the short lives of those honoured on the church memorial by reading the details on the website beforehand makes the two minute silence even more poignant.
Colin Wootton

Sulgrave Village Shop Newsletter for November 2020.

November 2nd, 2020

October on the Farm, 2020.

October 22nd, 2020

Autumn in the Sulgrave countryside

Richard Fonge writes:

We are now halfway through Autumn with the leaves just starting to show their different colours. The winter season doesn’t start till December arrives, so please ignore all those in the media especially, who seem to think otherwise. At this present time we need more stories that are uplifting and not a surfeit of doom and gloom. I think it’s significant that we have on our screens so many programmes relating to the countryside, because in general the bucolic scenes they depict show a way of life that we all find relaxing to watch.

The squirrels are busy gathering nuts to hideaway for the winter, but the albino squirrels seen down Manor Road and the area behind have not been seen of late.

The planting of winter cereals is well advanced, but some fields such as those up the concrete road look as if the new crop has germinated. In fact, what has happened is that the previous crop shed some of its corn when combined. It was delayed in harvesting by bad weather, so when harvested a lot of corn fell to the ground when cut. Those seeds have now germinated after the ground was cultivated. In time past the housewives of the village and their children would have gleaned the fields. To glean was to clear the field of any ears of grain left lying on the ground and to use them, depending on type, to feed the family or the chickens or the pig, both of which were so vital to the well being of the home. It can’t be stressed enough how important the allotment, the hens and especially the pig were to villagers’ well being. That was why the church and chapel harvest festival services were so important. When you live off the land, your appreciation of it and the vagaries of the seasons have a much greater significance.

We have around Sulgrave a great variety of hedges, the Saxon double hedge that defines the boundary between Sulgrave and Stuchbury, newer hedges that have been laid and grown again to form stock proof hedges and wildlife corridors, and those that are trimmed mechanically each year, and these too harbour so much wildlife and fruits. There are two good examples of skilled mechanical hedge trimming. The hedge on the left of the Magpie Road and those on the way to Hemdon past Stuchbury. Hedges were planted as a result of the Enclosure Act of 1773 and are a unique feature of the British countryside. Before the act, all land was common. Once enclosed by hedges, stone walls, ditches etc it came into private ownership and the English country scene of today was born.

Lark Rise  to Candleford by Flora Thompson is a wonderful account of rural life in the late nineteenth century. Lark Rise is the village of Juniper, south of Brackley and Candleford is Cottisford, it is thought.

Richard Fonge

HS2 (High Speed Rail) Update. Lower Thorpe and Edgcote Viaducts.

October 21st, 2020

Artist’s impression of the proposed Lower Thorpe Viaduct

See the HS2 Page on this website for the latest information regarding the two viaducts.

Sulgrave Village Shop Newsletter for October 2020

October 11th, 2020

Report on Parish Council Meeting held via Zoom Technology on Thursday 1st October 2020

October 5th, 2020

Richard Fonge, Chairman, reports as follows:

Discussion on the Twenty/Plenty signs which were agreed at the September meeting. In general, a favourable response. The Chairman thought it would be better if Councillors were contacted first rather than through social media when questions are asked about decisions made by the Parish Council.

The Chairman thanked Councillor North and Dominic North for the re-painting of the Helmdon Road sign and Councillor Mike Powell for doing the Spinners Cottages sign.

Nothing to report on High Speed Rail (HS2)

Sulgrave Manor. Now closed for the winter.

The Pop Up Picnic was cancelled due to the latest Covid 19 rules. The concept had gone down well with the village, so it was hoped to re-arrange the picnic for next May, pandemic permitting.

It was agreed to place a planter over the rut on the verge by Stockwell Lane.

County Highways had agreed to repair the pavement in Helmdon Road, but what section and length was queried. Parish Clerk to follow up.

The Vehicle Activated speed sign is due to go up in mid-October, on Helmdon Road.

The Pocket Park Annual Safety Report was discussed. Very comprehensive, but no action needed on any points. The shelter needs some attention to its roof. The long grass around the perimeter of the park to be cut when the final village mowing of the year is done.

Allotments: The Chairman asked for it to be minuted how well the allotments looked. Last year half of them had to be strimmed. This year they are cultivated, with only one vacant plot and that has been kept tidy.

The Parish Clerk reminded Councillors that there will be elections next May and thoughts should be given by early next year as to who was going to stand.

Date of next meeting: Thursday 5th November 2020.

Richard Fonge, Chairman.

Fund Raising for Brackley Community Hospital

September 27th, 2020

Jane holds the basket of tickets and Richard makes the draw

Richard Fonge writes:

Caryl Bellingham MBE, Chair of the Brackley Community Hospital Trust, has sent me a message to say that she and her fellow trustees would like to thank most sincerely the villagers of Sulgrave for their generosity in raising £695 towards the Hospital Appeal.

The total sum came from gift aid and the raffle organised by Sulgrave Village Shop for a food hamper, donated by the shop, won by Becky Hunt. Thank you Jane and Sally.

It was a great disappointment to have to cancel the picnic but let us hope we can do it next year and have a village get together.

Richard Fonge, Chairman, Sulgrave Parish Council


September on the Farm (2020)

September 17th, 2020

Texel rams on Castle Hill

Richard Fonge writes:

As I write these notes the harvesting of crops is now complete after a lovely hot spell. Although the harvest from the land is in general a poor one due to the very variable weather conditions of the last year, the hedge and tree fruits are abundant. Plenty of sloes for the gin, blackberries, apples, pears, plums to preserve for the winter and conkers for the children and to keep away spiders

It is three years since I started these notes, and September as I wrote then is seen as the farming years end. Michaelmas day the 25th September is the day when farms change hands, either in ownership or tenancy. The land ownership has changed over the years, as the industry itself has evolved to meet the needs and demands of an ever more discerning public.

The land to the east of Sulgrave to Weston is owned by an Oxford College. The colleges of our two oldest universities are still owners of many estates but not as much as they used to own. Stuchbury Manor Farm where I was brought up was owned by Balliol College, Oxford until it was sold with the rest of the Marston Estate in the late sixties. They had a great way of extracting the rent by giving the tenants dinner in college twice a year, with the Master of Balliol, Bursar and estates committee always present. A very civilised way of paying.

A crop which will not be seen so much nationally and therefore locally will be oil seed rape. The flea beetle the main pest to the crop since the banning of neonecotins has been hard to control, to such an extent that many farmers have not sown oil seed rape this year. Therefore I can see more beans and linseed being grown, to maintain a healthy rotation.

Sheep are very evident in the pastures around the village, and with a gestation period of 145 days it will soon be time to put the Rams in with the ewes for lambs to be born in early spring. The Suffolk ram with its black face was for many years the main crossing ram. Whilst still popular, the Charolais and Texel have superseded it as they can produce a great butcher’s lamb. Those eight young rams that have been grazing Castle Hill all summer are Texels and at some time this Autumn all their Christmas’s will come at once!

Richard Fonge