Saturday, 30 September 2017

Plough The Fields And Scatter

The great majority of our population now know little of the history of the Atlantic Isles. They are not going to learn much in schools, that being devoted to issues of the present and what we are supposed to think. The TV documentaries, mostly old programmes are largely about a very limited range of histories and of recent times.

The picture above by George Robert Lewis is unusual, in that we know the date, 1815, and the location. From past art there are many rural scenes but often more to do with the skills of the artist rather than the depiction of real moment in time. This one shows what was a critical point in the year. The harvest had been gathered blessed by a spell of fine weather.

Far across the world just a few weeks earlier a massive volcanic eruption had occurred, Mount Tambora, and over the coming months a veil of ash high above would affect weather conditions around the globe. 1816 would be the "Year Without Summer" and followed by other bad years.

The 1815 harvest came to be a golden moment and the content it gave would not be repeated for years to come. The economic effects and others led to major disruptions, revolts and political changes over the next decades which changed our societies, class structures and ways of life.

Agriculture then was the major economic activity by far. In 1815 Wellington's troops at the Battle of Waterloo were drawn largely from agricultural workers and the officers from landed families. Land was the real wealth, industry becoming larger and in the decades to come then the greater. There was always the money men, but then there always have been.

So the picture in it's quiet way shows the end of an era and of men unaware of what was to come and what might be for their families. The location is the boundary area between Herefordshire and Worcestershire close to The Malverns.  But who are the men?

One of them might be a John Britten, one of an extended family of Britten's in the area. His son, Thomas, left the land becoming a draper in Birkenhead, across the river from Liverpool. One of his sons, Robert Victor, became a dentist moving to Aldeburgh in Suffolk by the sea. A younger son, of his was Benjamin Britten, the composer.

We associate Benjamin with the sea and its life. Yet a hundred and more years before his Britten's were about as far away from the sea as you could get in the UK and Ireland.

It was not just the Britten family that left, over that century most of them did and with them went their agriculture, ways of life, beliefs and their history.


  1. Lovely post, and a beautiful picture by an artist I'd never heard of.

  2. 'Stooks' popped into my mind, a word I haven't heard for many years.