January on the farm (2020)

Snow clearing on the road to Helmdon. 1962/3 Winter.
Photo: Colin Wootton

Richard Fonge writes:

We are experiencing the wettest Autumn and Winter that I can remember, with the land at saturation point. Those of us who walk the footpaths will know how sodden the ground is, making walking that much harder. The consequences of all this rain has already had a serious impact on the sowing of crops nationwide as well as the lifting and picking of our horticulture crops.

The lambing season will start next month around our parish, and here again the land needs to dry up for the ewes and their lambs to be turned out to pasture, to prevent the land being churned up and muddied by their feet.

In the grass field behind Wemyss Farm, many molehills have appeared recently, showing a lovely fertile medium loam soil. This field with its ridge and furrow has been grass for centuries and has a great inherent fertility, as it has been stocked latterly with sheep, but for many years before that with dairy cows, both returning fertility to the soil with their dung.

I have been looking back at a diary I had to keep before going to Agricultural College, which covers the period from October 1962 to September 1963. What a contrast between the weather of that winter and this one. The first snow fell a week before Christmas, with hard frosts nightly, culminating in a tremendous blizzard on January the 19th which totally isolated our farm at Stuchbury for many weeks and cut off Sulgrave and most villages for a few days until they were dug out by hand, by teams of volunteers.

The drifts in some places were up to ten feet in height, but because of the severe frosts you could walk on the snow and not sink in. It was late February before it thawed, and it caused great difficulties. Groceries were fetched from Geatworth shop by tractor or by walking the footpath to Sulgrave Stores, who at that time used to deliver a fortnightly order to the farm. The milk from the dairy cows was sold in churns and it was two days before the Buckingham Co-op, our local dairy could collect by lorry. It really was an exceptionally hard winter to live through, with many indelible memories not least of which was to wake up every morning and go out to milk with the bedroom windows frosted up inside.

Enough of nostalgia, and let us look forward to a Spring that will hopefully redress the excesses of this winter.

Richard Fonge.

See here for more images of the aftermath of the 1963 blizzard.



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