September on the Farm (2023)

September 12th, 2023

Vintage Ploughing Match in Sulgrave 2016

Richard Fonge writes:

The wonderful sunny weather of early September has allowed this years harvest to be completed in our area. With the sun following the rains of August, everything is growing as you will be aware in the regularity of the lawn mowing.

Oil seed rape has been planted in the field by Park lane, and has germinated and established itself. It is vital that oil seed rape has established itself by mid September as it can be attacked by the flea beetle, and of course pigeons later in the winter.

On the Stuchbury footpath can be seen a tremendous plant of wild white clover. How has this come about? When the grass was sown a few years back, it was a perennial ryegrass dominant mixture of grasses with wild white clover. Clover can produce its own nitrogen through its root nodules, so if you manage the grass by putting only a small amount of artificial nitrogen fertiliser on to stimulate growth in the spring and graze tightly with stock, (in this case sheep,) the clover will flourish as can been seen here.

The top half of this field had a crop of wheat this year which also benefited from residual nitrogen left by the previous crop of beans. Another legume. A rotation of cropping is vital for plant health, with each crop complimentary to the other.

 You will see less ploughing of the land in the future as direct drilling and minimal cultivation systems become the norm. These systems reduce carbon footprints and fuel consumption. The plough still has a part to play in the cultivation of the land albeit to a lesser degree. However the skill of ploughing is kept alive by vintage machinery clubs and others. We owe them a great debt in that they restore old tractors and use them in the many competitive ploughing matches they hold during the year. By doing so they keep alive the past and remind us of how far we have come in machinery development over the last seventy years.

This completes six years of monthly notes, describing what is happening in the countryside surrounding our lovely village of Sulgrave. We are just so fortunate to live in what is to me a great community.

Richard Fonge

Sulgrave Produce Show at the Village Church Hall on Sunday 3rd September 2023

September 5th, 2023

A winning entry

After a miserably rainy July and August, September began with a veritable heat wave. As usual, tables were placed outside the hall for those taking refreshments but it was so hot that most people were grateful to remain inside the bright, cool interior of the recently refurbished hall. On the following page you will find a few photographs of the event including the winning entries. I have tried to ensure a photograph of each of these and apologise if some are missing.

Click on “Read the rest of this entry”.

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Village Shop Newsletter for September 2023

September 3rd, 2023


August on the Farm (2023)

August 16th, 2023

Sloes (Fruit of the Blackthorn). Photo: Colin Wootton

Richard Fonge writes:

The month of August is the main harvest month, and this year like many in the past it has been so far a month of poor weather for both farmers and holiday makers. When there are short spells of fine sunny days it is essential to be able to harvest as much as possible, but it also means that the Farmer cannot wait for the grain to dry naturally to the 14% required for storage, hence it has to be dried artificially, increasing the cost of production, not cheap at today’s energy prices, unless solar panels have been installed on the grain store.

August 1st is Lamass day in the Church calendar. On Lamass day in years gone by when a village like Sulgrave was very dependant on a good harvest, a loaf of bread was blessed in the Church as a prelude to the harvest. This ritual is still observed by a friend of mine at her Church in Warwickshire.

Observing the crops around the village, the wheat looks as if it will yield well, as has the barley this year. The spring barley up the concrete road which has suffered from the heavy storms more than most, now needs fair weather to ripen off and yield well.

A comparison. Sixty years ago wheat yielded 1.5 tonnes /acre on average and ten acres a day could be harvested. 15 tonnes a day. Today 3.5 tonnes and eighty acres a day harvested. 275 tonnes a day.

Last month I referred to Banbury Market and how it was a stockyard of England. It seems incredible to think today but stock was driven through the streets of Grimsbury to grazing on the fields up Overthorpe hill. Once a month there would be a consignment of cattle from Ireland, which would come by train from Holyhead straight to the market and then to those fields, before their sale to local farmers. Markets provided not only a place for farmers to do business, but also a place to share experiences and socialise. So important when often living on a lone holding. Today so few are involved in the industry, due to the great advances in technology and specialisation that loneliness is a problem.

People used to whistle when working, a sound not often heard now. Indeed, those of us of a certain age can remember a radio programme on the Light Wave called “Whistle while you work”. The light wave became radio 2 in the late sixties.

Looking forward rather than back, the hedgerow harvest looks promising, with plenty of blackberries ripening, crab apple trees laden to the limit, and plenty of sloes for the gin, particularly along the old railway line.

Richard Fonge



August 10th, 2023

Sulgrave Pocket Park


There are still irresponsible dog owners here in Sulgrave who are not clearing their dogs’ mess. This situation is so bad that our grass cutting contractor has complained and is considering withdrawing his services. He tells me that his machinery and clothing get badly splattered so they have to be thoroughly cleaned after working here. It would be a great pity if this were to happen as this contractor has served us very well over several years with his high standard of workmanship.

If the dog bins happen to be full take your dog poo bags home with you:


At the entrance to the Pocket Park there is a “NO DOGS” sign, yet when I cut the grass I find dog mess. Who in this village thinks it is a good idea to let their dogs foul a play area used by our children?

Richard Fonge.

Chairman. Sulgrave Parish Council.

Village Shop Newsletter for August 2023

August 4th, 2023

July on the Farm (2023)

July 13th, 2023

Banbury Livestock Market in 1906

Richard Fonge writes:

This month sees the start of harvest, with the winter barley likely to be ready first in the field off Park Lane. The oilseed rape crop follows and then the wheat, and spring sown crops.

Most grain is sold to a merchant, unless it’s been grown for home use where the Farmer has stock. Selling is now done mostly over the phone with a Merchant and a price per tonne agreed dependant on quality and month of collection or it goes into a Farmers’ co-operative for storage and is then marketed from there.

Up until the mid sixties there were four grain merchants in Banbury, where you could take a sample of barley, wheat etc, and agree a price. Lampreys had a mill by the canal, which is now the Arts centre and Clark’s who were taken over by Lampreys in the ‘60s had a mill as you went to the railway station. Watts and Goodenough were the others. In those days there was also a corn exchange at the Banbury Livestock market, where you could take your grain sample on market days .Midland Marts.

The original livestock market was in the town centre as it was in most towns, but in 1925 Mr Mcdougal set up the market in Grimsbury off Bridge St, and by the 50s it had become the biggest market in this country, if not in Europe and was to remain so until it closed 25 years ago in 1998. Also during these times there were five agricultural engineers in the town. A market town that changed so much after the M40 was built and the market closed. At the same time agriculture made great advances in modernisation, through science and technology.

An interesting footnote is that Mr Mcdougal became the father in law of The Right Hon Richard Crossman M.P., a fellow of New College Oxford and a prominent Cabinet Minister in the Labour government of the 60s, but perhaps most noted for his diaries revealing the inner workings of Government.

Many of you have heard of Stuchbury. Where is it? Stuchbury is one of the lost villages of Northamptonshire and was once a parish in its own right, but now in the Greatworth  Parish. Today it has three farms and two cottages. Two farms Stuchbury Hall and Stuchbury Lodge are accessed from the Sulgrave Helmdon Rd and the old Parish boundary runs along to Peter’s bridge on the south side of the road and then south to the Welsh lane. Stuchbury Manor is now part of the Marston Estate and is accessed from the Welsh lane or B5425.

See here for more about this lost village.

We have many good footpaths in our area but please remember that the concrete road leading eastwards from Rectory Farm, is not one of them. We walk and ride it with bikes and horses by the kind permission of the farming tenant.

Richard Fonge.


Clare Pollak – An Appreciation

July 9th, 2023

Clare at a Castle Green event, ready to answer questions about Sulgrave History Society Projects. (Photo: Colin Wootton)

Sulgrave was very fortunate when Peter and Clare Pollak arrived in the early 1990s. Both being very socially oriented people, they soon immersed themselves in local village events and activities. The main beneficiaries being the Parish Council and especially the Sulgrave History Society. Clare with her background as an Archaeological Illustrator soon became involved in its activities, quickly becoming a very pro-active secretary. Under her watch a very ambitious programme of projects was not only proposed but seen through with meticulous care and detail.

Clare became the official co-ordinator for many of its projects. Her ability to strike up valuable and positive relationships with the administrators of the many grant awarding bodies brought repeated successes. Her patience and persistence in following through all the requirements, record keeping and reports needed, pre and post award, was remarkable.

Through her unstinting efforts we were able to raise from the various grant awarding organisations: £10,000 for the Oral History Project; £25,000 for the Field Action Group; and £89,000 for the Sulgrave Castle Archaeology Group. Click here for the far seeing outline programme Clare drew up in 2004. It is to her eternal credit that every potential project has since become a reality.

It was tragedy for Peter, her friends and the village of Sulgrave when, five years ago, the onset of Alzheimer’s disease suddenly curtailed all her activities. She deteriorated very quickly and the decision was taken to move her to a care home near Cardiff where her daughter, son and family lived. Peter followed her a little later to live nearby.

All will miss her warm and calm persona, her humanitarian views respecting all living things and her extraordinary ability to empathise with all and sundry.

Clare and Peter in 2007 (Photo: Colin Wootton)

Martin Sirot-Smith

Chairman: Sulgrave History Society, Sulgrave Castle Archaeology Group, Castle Green Management Committee.

Sulgrave Gardens open to the public – Sunday 25th June 2023

June 30th, 2023

At the Watermill. Photo: Jo Powell

On Sunday 25th June, seven Sulgrave gardens were open to the public in aid of charity, under the National Gardens Scheme. Nationally, over the last 90 years this scheme has raised more than £50m for nursing, caring and gardening charities  The gardens open to visitors were: The Chestnuts, Hanglands, Mill Hollow, Rectory Farm, Vinecroft, The Watermill and Wootton House.

I apologise for the fact that, owing to a “gammy” leg, I only managed to visit three of the gardens and so for the first time not every open garden features in the photographs on the following pages. In fact, without Jo Powell’s excellent contributions there would have been little to show and I am, not for the first time, indebted to her. The few photos not credited to her were taken by myself.

Colin Wootton

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Sulgrave Gardens Open – Sunday 25th June 2023

June 22nd, 2023

Threeways Garden in 2019



See Sulgrave Gardens Open in 2019

Sulgrave Gardens Open Day 2017

Sulgrave Gardens Open Day 2015

Sulgrave Gardens Open Day 2013

Sulgrave Gardens Open Day 2011

Sulgrave Gardens Open Day in 2009.

Photo galleries are also available for the following gardens which took part in the scheme in 2007:

Church Cottage, Church Street (Hywel and Ingram Lloyd)
Ferns, Helmdon Road (George and Julie Metcalfe)
Mill Hollow Barn (David Thompson)
The Old Stocks (Mr and Mrs Robin Prior)
Sulgrave Manor Herb Garden (The Herb Society as Sulgrave Manor)
The Old Farmhouse (Peter and Moo Mordaunt) 
Threeways (Dr and Mrs D Lewis)
Greenfields (Mrs S Harding)