Monday, 22 March 2010

Encounters with our Predecessors.

This weekend we started the hard work at the allotment, trampling paths, evening out the bumpy ground, digging in soil improver etc We're all exhausted but happy, it's been a thoroughly enjoyable experience (so far!).

Two other families and their children were also there, it turns out they go to school with Willow so all the children happily ran amok together, kidnapping worms to occupy the worm hotel they built. The weather was glorious and it was a pleasure to spend time in such a beautiful spot while the birds sang (well, apart from the pheasants who sound like a rusty gate)

While digging over my fruit bed I was delighted to uncover two small sections of clay pipe (one is pictured below) These pipes were smoked between about 400 and 150 years ago, they were the cigarettes of their day being almost disposable, designed to be thrown away after a handful of uses. The stems were long and thin and frequently became clogged with spit/smoke deposits so users would bite off an inch or so, throw it away and continue smoking the stub. What I found here is a couple of those bitten off bits of stem.

It's quite amazing to think that one of our predecessors, probably a farm labourer rather than an allotmenteer, stood in this field all those years ago and carelessly tossed his pipe stub away where it lay until yesterday. I also found various shards of cups, one or two modern and one that looks quite coarse and hand made so is probably older. I love this evidence of continuity of use. For how many years have people toiled in this field, paused for a smoke and a cuppa, then carried on. Even yesterday people brought out their china cups and flasks at lunchtime.

It's also thought that many of the fruit trees in our hedgerows are a product of the lunchtime break. Farm workers would sit in the shade of a hedge to eat lunch and then throw their leftover fruit stones/pips/cores into the ditches before resuming work. And many years later, canny foragers came along and enjoyed a free feast, probably ignorant of the helping hands from the past who made it possible.


  1. What a lovely day you seem to have had. I'm glad the weather was nice for you and I hope you continue to enjoy your allotment.

  2. Sounds like the children had a ball. Did they have many worms staying in their hotel?
    What a lovely way to spend a weekend.

  3. We found a lot of clay pipes when we dug our ground, plus many animal bones, yuk !
    Karen (Samphire)

  4. Lucky you Karen (though maybe not the bones!) I love finding this sort of stuff.

  5. When I was young, we lived in big Victorian house with stables and a pig sty. I used to love having "archaeological digs" around the place and found thousands of pipe fragments. Also found some interesting other stuff - loads of various animal bones, old bottles - and even old Kilner jars which most have been the best part of 100 years old with various pickled stuff in. Looked good enough to eat, but we thought better of it!

    Good luck with the plot. Looks like you're in for a long hard summer's graft getting it into shape. Does you the power of good though!