On Saturday February 4th over twenty hedge layers from as far away as Kent came to take part in the annual hedge laying competition at Wimpole. Half of the contestants were from Cambridgeshire which is always good to see.
The hedge chosen was at Rectory Farm and had been destined for this year’s National Hedgelaying Competition but, alas, it could not be held here so, luckily for our local competition, we had some excellent hedge to lay.
David Owen et al looked a bit perplexed… what to do?! where to start?! Their team was the only one to use only hand tools. Below is a small gallery of the contestants making headway.
By early afternoon most hedge layers had laid the bleachers and were starting to place the stakes and weave in the bindings, some looking very pleased with themselves!
Below is another gallery of some of the contestants finishing off their section of hedge
There were two styles of hedge: Midland, which has no brash on one side, and South of England which has brash both sides. The former is very common in central England and is used when there is pasture one side (brash side) and arable land the other (no brash side). The latter is used predominately in the south east of England where there are grazing sheep and other livestock both sides. Below are a few photos of both styles
So what style is used in the east of England? I have no idea as there is little evidence of the styles used in the historical records but the hedges at Wimpole have certainly been laid since the mid-eighteenth century as indicated in farm tenancy in 1766 and later nineteenth century records.
1766 ‘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 clear winner of the Midland style was Graham Teece and Roger Taylor was second but it was a hard choice for third position and eventually I decided to give it to the David Owen team that had only used hand tools.
Last year Tim Radford lost out because I ferreted around in the bottom of his hedge as I had smelt a rat… indeed I was rewarded for my diligence in finding a pleacher that had broken off the stool, needless to say he didn’t come first. This year he drew a poor cant which made me think he wouldn’t be able to win this year either! However, as it turned out, he back laid a section to cover a gap to produce a very even hedge and the clincher was his excellent stake and binding – straight as a die and bound to perfection- so he was the clear winner of the South of England style. Tony Gallow was second and again third place was hard fought for – Terry, Frank and Roy’s hedges all stood out and it was hard to choose which one would take third prize… in the end Roy’s hedge with its straighter staking and binding narrowly pipped the other two.
The photo to the left is Tim Radford’s most excellent stake and binding; nobody in all the years we have held the local hedge laying competition at Wimpole has been able to out do Tim’s ability to produce such straight staking and binding.
Time for lunch which was cooked by Olga Damant with bread rolls produced by the baker Graham Damant. As always liquid refreshment was of the beer kind. This year the stew was made from muntjac, rabbit and some most excellent pheasants kindly donated by Barrie the gamekeeper, I think they were Bazanty pheasants.