A Meander Through The Victorian Weald

November 2016

Paul Gillies

Paul beguiled us with his magic lantern and the fascination of 19th Century slides that reflected the real social history of life in our area during the century before the First World War.

His slides reflected life in our woodlands, the simple homes of the charcoal burners, and their creation of the process (a day to build the furnace, three days to burn and one to dismantle.) Other slides showed the manual chopping down of trees, the transport of huge felled oaks, and men at work in the saw pit. Children gathered oak bark for tanning, with a ton of leather requiring two tons of bark, men coppicing for poles for the hop gardens or fence posts or bean poles, and the collection of the vast remnants into faggots for domestic fires, hop kilns or bakers’ ovens. Other slides showed wheelwrights at work, fixing iron tyres onto wagon wheels.

There were farmers at work guiding sheep through the river, washing them thoroughly before the shearers began their work. Other slides showed the dipping process.

A man and a boy guided three horses pulling a plough share and would have taken a day to cover an acre. Another slide showed broadcasting by hand. There were many slides of the harvest, men with sickles, then scythes and later the reaping machine. There were the hay wagons, the haystacks, the flailing to gather the corn in the barns, and later the use of the threshing machines.

A series of slides showed the hop gardens, the huts, marquees and bell tents that were used to accommodate the hoppers during their time away from London. Some of the clergy followed them, helping to create a “hospital” for the sick as at Five Oak Green or bringing missions with entertainment like magic lantern shows.  There were many slides of the hop gardens, with the hops growing on the poles and, later, along wires, being picked and measured before being taken to the oast houses, and then being loaded onto wagons to be driven to the station for transport to their final destination at the brewery.

Other slides picked up other aspects of rural life, the small holdings with “three acres and a cow,” the water supply from the well, the cart being pulled by a team of oxen, a pig being killed suspended from a tree , the myriad of life as it was in our agricultural community 150 years ago. Paul had provided us with an enchanting evening, using the technology of the time.

David James

November 2016