When L P Hartley, in this book The Go Between wrote, ‘the past is a foreign place, they do things differently there’ he was not necessarily referring to Chatteris. Chatteris however is in the centre of the Fens and very much has its own ways, words and traditions as Bob Peacock explains here. He first of all tells us why ploughing with a single line is better than with two lines. ‘In the Fens,’ he says, ‘only milkman and coal men had two lines and that was only because they had to go on the road. A farm cart would normally be steered with one rein (or plough line) and when you had to go on the road and you had two because that was the law. If you pulled on the right hand rein the horse would go not right, but the opposite way, so they would still only steer with one rein.
The black and white archive footage is provided courtesy of Anglia Television and is of the Chatteris Ploughing Match filmed in 1963 and features Bob’s old pals Curly Buddle and Arthur William Maycock. Bob or he would visit one another every Sunday morning to inspect their horses and bike round to inspect farm stacks. Stack building in the Fens is a highly prized technique and prizes were awarded the same as for the ploughing matches.
Bob was born in Chatteris on 8th April 1925, his Father was a horseman and his Father’s Father a horse dealer. Having some experience with horses he started a 14 with Charles Rickwood and moved on to stay with his son Fred Rickwood until he was 16. He was then offered a position as horsemen with TW Dring & Son who had decided that Suffolks would be best for their root crops; Bob then spent his life with Suffolk Horses and explains why Suffolks are best and the points that he looks for. Having retired he bought two Suffolk mares. One, Wingfield Catherine who as a three year old was already in foal went on to produce a total of ten foals in ten years until she died in foal birth. Bob explains the difference in setting out your land in the Chatteris ploughing Match which is sadly no longer held. The Suffolk words I am used to such as broaches (sticks for setting out plough stretches), Bob refers to as beatons, sads for clumps of grass, and sweltry for pommeltree. When his horses, in the war time were frightened by a low flying aeroplane causing him to brake the pole he was told by the head horsemen that he had ‘stunt’ too soon. All words unfamiliar in ‘standard English’, but very much alive in the Fenland and Chatteris Tradition.
Total Time: 1 hour & 42 minutes Produced: August 2005
Product Code: NLDVD19