Wimpole’s hedge laying competition has been going for eight years now and for the last three years we have laid the 500 yard hedge up on Porter’s Hill. Each year this competition has attracted people from as far away as Kent and Cheshire but mostly it’s attended by local men and women and a fair number of them are from the Wimpole Estate itself.
One of the biggest headaches we’ve had in gaining access to the multitude of hedges available to us on Cobbs Wood Farm has been in improving the state of the farm tracks. Badly rutted and nigh on impossible to negotiate in the winter the estate team started to repair these farm tracks two years ago beginning with the top section near the Gloucesters on Cobbs Wood Farm. This, incidentally, is a main walking artery from the Eversden/Cambridge direction to Wimpole and a popular cycleway in the summer (not so in the winter months because of the mud). We now have only one section of track left to finish plus some public footpath access. Each year more improvements are also made by adding young hedges and providing our own seating arrangements (the thrones) and some artwork like the ‘Uncarved Block’ but the most spectacular improvement to the eye is definitely the hedge laying.
For quite a few years at my request the farm staff (namely Albert who does all the hedge trimming) have helped side the hedges but left the tops to grow. This has also been an excellent way to manage the hedges for wildlife as there are always flowers and berries available each year; not only that but, because we do let some hedges go and others are laid, there are many types of hedgerow structures around the estate in any one year. Turtle doves love tall hedges but yellow hammers and the like, like short dense hedges (while apparently corn buntings only like grass banks! Ooops!
Sometimes it’s just not possible for Albert to get the tractor and hedge trimmer to a particular hedge due to the wet ground especially the heavy clay land on top of the hill. In this case we resort to man power (oh and woman power 🙂 ) to cut the scrub away from the hedge. After cutting all the excess scrub, brambles and briar away we had to remove the plastic tree guards and plastic liner so that the hedge laying competitors only laid the hedge and do not have to do the clearing work.
Some years ago now, as part of the hedgerow management at Wimpole, we planted some willow to grow into binders which can be used to lock in the stakes that stop the hedge from being blown over. At present we are only cropping the smaller (basket weaving) type but hopefully next year we’ll have our own binders to use. The willow we cut this winter will be used for basket weaving and to provide decorations for the estate.
The last job before the day of the competition is to set out each cant (length of hedge) which each competitor has to cut and lay. We provide twenty stakes cut from the woods at Wimpole plus twenty binders (kindly brought over by none other than Tim Radford from Burwash Manor Farm ( the winner of the South of England style for the last three or four years) Wonder if he’ll win this year? … yawn!!!!!!
Here are some snippets I found out about hedges on the Wimpole Estate, the first are from the Portland papers.
Pl C 1/780 1 Feb. 1735/6 Letter from John Cossen, Wimpole, to Mr [William] London; Provides an account of the estimated cost of erecting a quick hedge to divide a piece of land at Stephen Hawks’ farm, and suggests that it would be cheaper to fence it; refers to Hawks’ request for the rent to be reduced; proposes, along with William Ratford, that some dead elms and ashes be cut down to provide wood for the year’s repairs.
Pl C 1/393 5 Mar. 1722/3 Letter from John Cossen, Wimpole, to Edward Harley, Street, London; Mentions that oats have been sown in the Avenue, and that the tenants have been engaged in bringing hedgewood, coal and faggots to the barn yard.
Pl C 1/442 23 Feb. 1723/4 Letter from John Cossen, Wimpole, to Edward Harley, Mentions that the new nursery is next to Pluckrose’s orchard, and asks for permission to plant a ‘quick’ around it; adds that work is progressing on the quicks and hedges at Mr Gill’s; points out that it will be expensive and therefore should be done well so that it will last; mentions that Mr Pigot the elder died and was buried at Abington.
The next two documents are in the Cambridge records office and are farm leases
1734 Thomas Easy ‘Thomas Easy is hereby impowred to lop such trees as have usualy been lopped from pollard tree as also the wood arising from plashing of hedges for hedgeboot and fireboot during ye sd term from ye sd premisses hereby letten and to expend the same thereon and the sd Thomas Easy is further to be alowed timber for cartboot and plowboot (wheels excepted) and plowboot so much as shall be thought necessary upon ye premisses or elsewhere as the sd Earl and Countess shall think proper to be set out by the steward upon notice to be given for ye purpose’
1766 Joeseph Custerson ‘The said Richard Barton excepts and reserves to the use of the said Earl as well all timber and timber like trees as pollards and all other trees and the tops and lops thereof and also all hedges, bushes and underwood growing and being or to grow and be upon the premises. Never the less the said Joseph Custerson shall be allowed wood in the rough sufficient for his own use upon the premises for hedgeboot, plowboot and cartboot (wheels excepted) as also for cow racks and hurdles for sheepfold if wanted and provided such and so much wood be growing on the premises,
the said wood to be assigned and set out by the steward of the said Earl for the time being and not also taken and to be used only in the business of the said farm – and when it shall happen that the said Joseph Custerson shall be desirous (with leave obtained) to plash any quick hedge or cut down border or coppice of bushes or underwood for fencing or other purposes he shall give at least ten days notice thereof to the steward of the said Earl for the time being in order to his marking or setting out such young trees there as shall be thought likely to become timber and on plashing such hedge or cutting up such border or copse of bushes or underwood he the said Joseph Custerson shall well scour out the ditch there and browboard the quick and set a backhedge thereto as he shall likewise do to any such border or copse of bushes and underwood or use some other proper and effectual means to preserve the same and the young trees there from the bite of cattle or other damage.’
The next references of hedge laying come from the “Earl of Hardwicke’s Minute Book of the General Proceedings of the Wimpole Estate commenced 1835.”
“Earl of Hardwicke’s Minute Book of the General Proceedings of the Wimpole Estate commenced 1835.” (The Original is in the Cambridgeshire Archives : R99/14)
1843 November 24th. Much rain has fallen this week. Finish’d drain at Pine yard. Got the Mangel Wuzel up this week, also the Turnips and stacked them. Raking leaves and carting them. Began Brewing on the 25th. Cleaning main drain as last week. Ploughing Barley land. Laying hedges at the Valley. Cleaning Potatoes at Eversden Hill. Took all Cows and cattle into the Yards – except Sheep.
1843 November 16th.
I consider that this has been a bad Game Season. The Spring was extremely wet and the Storm in the month of August continued to Injure the Brood but I am a Gainer on one point namely the Destruction of the Rabbits. Leaf cart is finish’d in the Park and we have cleaning the roads. Laying the Hedge round the House at Valley farm. Draining at the Valley and cleaning out a large water course that runs near the farm. Preparing Rentals for Rent day. Made an abatement to Tenants that suffered by the Storm. Very mild w’r.
1844 October 15th. We had rain yesterday. Look’d over the Wraggs farm. Started to tidy up the Hedges round the farm house and lay the hedges on the borders. Sent Sheep there, ordered dung in yards to be turned out. Preparing for sowing Wheat at Home, Hardwicke farm, Eversden Hill and settled to sow Rye on Wraggs farm. Took from Pritchard of Heydon into my own Stable, gave the Keeper a 8 year old by C to ride instead of his old horse now nine
1845 November 8th.
Lady Hardwicke and Self returned yesterday to Wimpole, after an absence on her part of 5 months. This day audited a/c. It is the finest season at this moment I ever saw. The land is all ploughed ready for Wheat but no Seed is yet put in. Today have been getting up Mangel and carting it. At work building peirs (sic) piers for the new Bridge over the fosse into the Home Close. Laying hedges, sawing and carpentry on the estate. Potato roots much affected the desease, have written a letter to the Labourers advising them how to treat the crop they have got of the ground.
1846 February 8th.
The ploughing is done. The dung is not yet on the land, not having one day of frost this winter. Falling Timber in the Horse Common. Hedging in Orwell laying all hedges the 1st. time since the Enclosure.
1846 November 10th.
Today I audited a/c with Woodruff, and finish’d all the work at the Valley and Wraggs farm and paid all off in that quarter. Have sown the Wheat on the Home farm and nearly all on Cobbs wood farm now on hand. Have begun to lay hedges.
1864 March 5th.
Debt 756 £. Finish’d sowing Beans but rain this week has stop’d the field work and we are carting gravel and work for the garden etc. Cutting trees and laying hedges. Keeper and Tenants killing Rabbits.
1864 March 19th.
Audited a/c, debt 795 £. Have nearly sown the Barley. Oats are sown. At work at hedges and ditches. Finish’d falling Timber.
1865 December 23rd. Audited a/c, debt 35 £. All the small bills of the year are paid. Work is at the pond, gravelling roads, cutting Coppice wood, laying hedges. . Raking leaves. Carpenters in farm yard on ceiling of Stables.
1868 October 31st.
Audited a/c, debt 531 £. Today the Harvest home Supper. Saw Mill going all the week. Ploughing fallows, laying hedges. Began an improved fence at Cobbs wood.
There are other documents relating to hedge laying in Cambridgeshire some dating back as early as the 16th century and continuing to the 19th century including some about men from the Ely area who died and left wills stating that they were hedge layers.
Below is a small gallery of photos taken during the 2016 hedge laying competition.
The competition started at 9am and finished at 2pm, all cants were then judged by me. Judging is not an easy job I must say but for me the important thing is that the hedge has to be fit for purpose, after all it is supposed to keep the livestock from escaping and Jacob has appreciated our laid hedges as it has meant he has not had to put out so much electric fencing. Of course when you’ve done a hard day’s work a hearty meal and a beer don’t go amiss and Olga my mother kindly cooked my hogget (older sheep) and made a massive stew. I mustn’t forget the bread baked by my father too! (Won’t get any next time if I don’t mention him :-)). The meal was kept warm by the catering staff including my daughter Ellie in the Home Farm restaurant where we had our meal and presented the prizes. The winners names are below… gosh I hope I’ve got the winners right… lost the bit of paper I wrote the results down on so have had to rely on my memory…please correct me if it has failed me!
Midland style 1st Paul Martin 2nd GrahamTeece 3rd Roger Taylor
South of England style 1st Clive Gilligan 2nd Tim Radford 3rd (Joint) Will Westlake & Frank Wright
Here’s another snippet from the 4th Earl’s day book (wonder if anyone wants OUR brash?).
THE EARL OF HARDWICKE, REGULATIONS for the HEDGES,
Belonging to, and Bounding the Cottage gardens and Allotments.
Ordered. That they are to be cut once a year, (unless other-wise directed) either, during the Month of November, or Just before Harvest, as most convenient to the Occupier.
That the Occupiers of each particular Piece, or Allotment, take in Turn each Year, to Cut the Hedge, all round the Piece or Allotment, and that they begin this year (1843.) with N’r 1. of each Allotment and etc and each in Turn, are to be responsi- ble for the well-doing of the work.
That the Occupier doing this Work, may call in the assistance of a friend to help him if he thinks fit, and the persons who Cut and Trim the Hedges, are to have the Cutting as a perquisite.
Where situated on the Roadside, the Occupier of a Cottage Garden, or Allotment, is entitled to the Grass, abutting on the same, and is recommended to Mow it, and take it away for his Pig.
August 26.1843. FRANCIS HART STEWARD.
On that point, before the advent of cheap fossil fuel ALL wood and brash arising from working the land was put to good use- larger wood was used for repairing buildings and farm equipment or making hurdles and fences, even for making dead hedges to protect the newly planted quick hedges. If there was any left over it went for range wood to cook with and keep warm in the winter. Nothing was wasted at all (unlike today where it seems everything is wasted, a careless society indeed). Mind you, if we lost the fossil fuel and went back to using wood one realises that the population in England, Wales and Scotland would inevitably make our land look like Easter Island. Six million people in medieval England almost denuded our fair isle of trees… what do you think 70 million would do? ( gulp!!!!)
Here are some other snippets I’ve found lurking deep in an old external hard drive, they are copied direct from books in the Cambridgeshire Archives with all the spelling mistakes etc. if you can call them that, I prefer to say that they are spelt as they are spoken and heard. Also you will see variations of the word plash: ,
Church wardens accounts 1496-1540 Bassingbourn.
The receytes off those same Robert and Rooger yn their iide yere wardeyns Anno Domini Mlvc & xvii than endyd (25 March 1517-1518)
Item for falling off woods on those ground bilonging to those chirch landes in Wendy 2d
Item payd to one Sheene off Wendy for plasshing dicching on those grounds in ernest 5d
Item paid for i lode busshis to the yong springge fencing at Walton 1s 6d
Item paid for caryage of that lode busshis to Robert Bolnest summa 4d
Item for i dais werk an hegger, his wages and bord and ward bord 6d
Item for stakys to that same hegge payd summa 6d
Accounts of Rev John Crakanthorp Fowlmere 1682-1710
11 days tying up an old hedge etc March 1705 9s 6d
3 days work hedging roundabout May 1705 2s 6d
2 days hedging in the courtyard 10d per day June 1706 1s 8d
6 days Feb Mar lopping in close plashing the hedge there etc Oct 1706 5s 11d
6 days lopping and plashing the hedge in close Dec 1706 5s 11d
8 days lopping and hedging in the further close etc May 1707 6s 8d
22 days hedging against Linch lane etc May 1707 18s 4d
2 days hedging next Linch lane March 1708 1s 8d
10 days work lopping hedging in my close etc March 1709 3s 3d
6 days hedging in back yard and about horse pond June 1709 5s