Farmers do not normally suffer from hayfever, but they do suffer a state of nervous excitement this time of year when contemplating their hay harvest hoping that the the weather will stay dry for the period – no problem this year. Then there are the horse-flies to contend with appearing at harvest time – they take chunks out of you when they bite.
Meadleys meadow has now been cut ready for the “big camp” weekend.
The hay crop has languished this year because of the drought – too dry for horse fodder making them cough so it will be processed for silage to feed to cattle in the winter time – stored in an airtight silo. The hesston bales wrapped in plastic can stand in the field for days awaiting collection. Remarkably the seventeen acre field has seen over seven hundred harvests in it’s time, first mentioned in 1315 – always a hay meadow and never ploughed, cut with a scythe by Irish day-labourers in the 19th century and before that by the village people for the deer in the Park when it was enclosed.
It is lovely to see the occasional buzzard or a wake of red kites which now follow the cutter picking up the carrion as the tractor covers the field – thirty years ago the raptors were not around in the Chilterns but red kite numbers have increased exponentially over the years.
When Stubbs painted his “Haymakers” in 1785, the vast majority of the population lived in the countryside. Agricultural practices have changed beyond recognition but farming, as then is still governed by the seasons. Agricultural life was made up of long hours of slow repetitive labour, followed by evenings of long hours of companionable conversation, either in the cottage or at the ale-house. Meadleys is in the parish of Aldbury and it must be remembered that the very existence of the village was to produce food – the village was a human community that lived in association with itself, not as it is today.
The 1785 painting depicts a bucolic scene showing the fashion of the time when people always wore shoes despite the dirty conditions, unless they rode a horse, when they wore boots. Everyone wore a wig called a peruque, from the youngest child to the farm labourer, along with the ubiquitous hat.
Over on the eighty acre Northchurch common the grass still stands waiting for the cutter when it will just be left to lie. Because of the high incidence of dog poo containing E-coli bacteria harmful to livestock, it cannot be baled for fodder!