Decker Murfitt - Working Horses In The Fens


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In her book on Cambridgeshire Customs and Folklore, Enid Porter, who was curator of the Cambridge and County Folk Museum for 32 years, states how her advisor, Thomas W. Bagshaw, told her to record not only the literacy – the measurements, the constructions, material, age, but also the provenance – the name that it was called by the users, the way it was used, worn or carried, and everything that can be learned orally from the donor in local custom, beliefs and traditions.  The latter is not literacy but Orality.

Enid Porter thus learned early on that everything is firstly about people and having discovered that she made a point of going out into the Fens and gathering this unwritten wisdom of the people, a wisdom that also represents a deeper and fuller view of history, a history that is carried only by the indigenous vernacular people.  This then led her to putting together quite extraordinary books of stories and information that had never before been written down from.  So when I was asked to present the first Enid Porter Memorial Lecture to be held at Swaffham Prior Village Hall, on 3rd November 2009, I realised that the most important thing for me to do was to present it in a manner that Enid Porter herself would have approved.

‘Folklore gathered on the inside is a lot different to that gathered on the outside’ said Levi Strauss and in R M Dawson stated that ‘history as written by historians usually has little relation to the historical traditions orally presented by the people’ and I have found both of those statements to be true.  So we could tell the history and folklore that surrounds the working horse in the Fens better than Decker Murfitt, horseman all his life who was willing to come and tell us, as it was, from the inside.

Decker Murfitt still keeps a dozen horses today on the same farm where he used to help out as a boy of 12.  At that time Cole Ambrose, by whom he was employed, had 200 horses.  Cole Ambrose believed in the work that the horse could do in the Fens and worked horses almost until the 1970s.  Decker tells us how he started in the Blacksmiths shop and was soon out on the 3,000 acres doing all of the other jobs.  Listening to the old horsemen and carrying with him the wisdom of ages in handling, foaling and above the single line usage of the horses that is distinctly a Fenland custom.  These are not nostalgic reminiscences for that belongs to the revival, they are history as told by one who worked the horse everyday of his life and still does and has that rare countryman’s ability to convert that spoken history into story for us. 

Here in his own words and language, Decker tells of the daily difficulties that horses would get into and how they got out of them.  He tells of his favourites and of the hard life.  A life far removed from the romantic and external perception so often portrayed by ‘the academic historian’.

Decker had a circle of admirers listening to his every word right up until the time that the caretaker locked the village hall.  I am very proud that Decker was able to present for us this vital horse history into which the wisdom of ages is woven.

Time:  1 Hour & 15 minutes  Produced:  March 2010

Product Code: NLDVD66




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