Archive for 2020

December on the Farm (2020)

Tuesday, December 29th, 2020

Wildflower meadows on the Barrow Hill Footpath

Richard Fonge writes:

This is the second consecutive wet December, with the ground at saturation point. More planting was done in the autumn, than last year, but there is still much to be done, as can be seen up the concrete road.

Last month I briefly outlined agriculture development through the seventies and eighties, finishing with the consequences of over production. All arable producers had to take 10% of their land out of production, reducing to 5% after a few years, and there was a compensation payment. You could if you so wished put the whole of your arable land into the scheme, and thereby enhance the Environmental impact, subject to guidelines laid down by government. With the growing industrialisation of farming, there became quite rightly, concerns about the destruction of habitat and fauna, although it was sometimes forgotten that the building of houses, by passes, motorways et al were also damaging nature to an equal degree. By the noughties Environmental schemes were introduced, and farmers and landowners embraced them, to go along with the new payments. Margins of grassland were left round fields, beetle banks made, wild life mixtures planted, trees planted etc. Much good Conservation work, a lot of it unseen has been done over the last twenty years. On the Barrow Hill walk, you go through two wild flower meadows, rich in their diversity of plants, and past two woodlands of a young age, with strips of game and nectar mixes to feed a wide variety of birds and provide cover for the game birds. Pheasant and partridge shooting are an intrinsic part of rural life.

As we leave Europe new policies are being proposed, for farming and the countryside, which will obviously have an impact on the countryside we admire each day. Let us hope a balance is struck between food producing and conservation. Always remembering that you can’t eat the view.

We are so lucky in these difficult times to live in a village surrounded by unspoilt countryside to enjoy and relax in, albeit we are having to suffer the great scar of HS2.

A happy New Year to all.

Richard Fonge

Carol Service in the Church. December 20th 2020.

Friday, December 25th, 2020

Detail from the Crib in the Church of St James the Less, Sulgrave

Despite all the problems associated with public gatherings during the pandemic, the dedicated efforts of enthusiastic villagers ensured that a few days before Christmas a Carol Concert took place in the Church of St James the Less, Sulgrave, whilst fully respecting the latest regulations.

Shrimp Christy led the service and introduced the singers:

Micaela Haslam


Roseanne Wilson

The organist was John Wilson whose wife, Phyllis Wilson, gave one of the readings. Other readers were Andrew Dixon, Richard Fonge, Anya-Mae Crowley, Dominic North, Anne Dyde and Esther Miles.

The service was recorded by Charlie Ford-Ziemelis from the back of the church with help from Charlie Waite.

Click here to see and hear an edited version of the service.


Castle Hill Carol Singing. 22nd December 2020

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

Northamptonshire mud rather than snowflakes on Santa’s boots! Well, it’s that sort of year.

Despite the rain, the mud and the coronavirus, in early evening a few days before Christmas a cheerful group of villagers gathered on Castle Hill to sing traditional carols. A Christmas tree provided by the Parish Council and decorated by volunteers formed a focus of attention. However, where once everyone would have huddled around the tree for shelter and mutual harmony, singers kept to their family groups or were dotted around as individuals, maintaining the regulation distances, almost invisible to each other. Santa took time off from his pre Christmas tasks to lead the singing with his fiddle. If ever there was a need for some mid-winter cheer, however simple and home made, it was during this “annus horribilis” called twenty-twenty which will soon, hopefully, be banished to history.

See next page for more pictures (Click on “Read the rest of this entry”)


Sulgrave Village Shop Newsletter. December 2020

Thursday, December 3rd, 2020

Christmas IS coming!

Monday, November 30th, 2020

Despite the pandemic, Sulgrave Women’s Activity Group were determined that the now well established tradition of decorating the village bus shelter for Advent should be maintained. Last year record crowds gathered for the official opening (see here) but obviously that will not be possible this year. Nevertheless, the Group has transformed the little building into a bright and cheerful Christmas tableau and hope that people making individual visits will be comforted by the memory of past Advent times and the anticipation of the happy times which will surely come again in our friendly village.

Villagers will be able to donate to “Porch”, a charity for the homeless based in Oxford. A collection box will be in the village shop. (See here for more details of “Porch”)

This special post box in the bus shelter is for the children of Sulgrave to post letters to Santa Claus. Parents: Please ensure that letters include the names and addresses of the children. Last posting date for a reply is 23rd December.

See more pictures and further Christmas information on the next page (Click on “Read the rest of this entry”)


November on the Farm, 2020

Saturday, 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………….

Sunday, 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”.)


Remembrance Day in Sulgrave 2020

Friday, 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.

Monday, November 2nd, 2020

October on the Farm, 2020.

Thursday, 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