Where are the Fellows who Cut the Hay?

By Robert Ashton

The story of how almost forgotten trades and ways are being rediscovered in rural Britain today.

There is an endless cycle to life as it passes down the generations; we are conceived, born, raised, work, marry, have families and then grow old and die. The natural world around us remains a constant to be discovered afresh as each new generation starts to explore the world beyond the childhood home.

We all start our lives drinking milk, wool keeps us warm and wheat makes our daily bread. These things have not changed over the centuries, but our relationship with them has. The people George Ewart Evans interviewed had an intimate connection with these basics, but today we simply buy them without a thought about where they come from.

The people Evans wrote about drank milk that came from cows they saw grazing in the fields around their village of Blaxhall. They knew the shepherds who tended the flocks of sheep that provided the wool their mothers, sisters and wives knitted into the clothes they wore. And as children, they had gleaned the fields, picking up ears of wheat left behind after the harvest. The village miller turned these into flour that was baked into bread in every cottage.

Today we buy our milk and bread from the supermarket and as often as not, the clothes we wear are made from man-made fibres, woven and sewn in countries thousands of miles from our own. Will this continue to be the way? Many rediscovered the joy of baking bread during the 2020 pandemic and climate change is prompting us to return to wearing natural fibres, rather than those derived from oil and gas.

Change is of course a constant in our lives and always has been, but what can we take from the experience of those who lived before us for whom community meant the people who lived around them, rather than those they connect with online?

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