My mum Rene (Alice Irene Flitney née Harding) died in 1999. When my brother, sister and I went through her things we found an envelope full of old newspaper clippings and other bits and pieces. We looked through the papers and put the envelope away, but those yellowing pieces of paper keep whispering of half-forgotten times and places. Places like Butlers Cross, Stoke Mandeville, Aylesbury, West Wycombe, Little Kimble, Wendover, Ellesborough, Southcourt and Princes Risborough.

Friday, 6 May 2016

A Country Tale - Images of Rural Life

Looking at this week’s prompt it seems appropriate to write about dogs, shepherds, sheep, views, and/or gates. Why then have I chosen to write about countrymen with beards? Simply because the Sepia Saturday photograph (left) reminds me of my great-great grandfather Benjamin Stopps. The two men don’t look particularly alike. The similarity has more to do with them both being men of the land.

My father was also a 'man of the land', a farm worker through and through.  He judged the weather by the feel of the wind and the smell of the air. Clouds don’t only have silver linings they also have a myriad of different colours and hues, each with a different meaning. Did you know a yellow tinge to the clouds is a forewarning of snow?  It may not be true in other parts of the world, but it certainly is in England.   



Farming is a recurring theme in my family. My great-great grandfather Benjamin Stopps (1845-1928) lived and worked at Little Kimble in Buckinghamshire, England. According to the 1881 census, he farmed one hundred and thirty seven acres with the help of two men and a boy. An aunt of mine described him as a witty, handsome fellow with shining flashing eyes. I have to say he looks very dashing in this, the only photograph I have of him. Dressed in his best (or perhaps only) suit Benjamin is pictured at the wedding of his daughter Clara Ann Stopps to Edwin Thomas Bonham in the summer of 1906.

Images of rural life (the title of this post) suggests more than one photograph, not wishing to disappoint I'm going to share a few unrelated images of English country folk.  I hope you enjoy them.


This is James Minns c1901, reputed to be the oldest woodcutter in England. Born in Ditchingham, Norfolk in 1826, he was seventy-five when the photograph was taken. Suffering from failing eyesight the authorities decided James would be better of in the workhouse. James disagreed declaring he would sooner lie down and die by the side of the road. When the local squire heard this he offered him a free cottage and a shilling a week for the rest of his life.


Can you guess the occupation of 'Brusher' Mills?  In this photograph taken c1895 he is holding a two-pronged fork and has a large pair of tweezers hanging from the front of his waistcoat.  Both useful items when you spend your days catching snakes. Once caught the snakes were exhibited and sold at fairs and horse sales.


The falconer; Major C. Hawkins Fisher, of Stroud, Gloucestershire. November, 1901. 


This photograph taken in the North Riding of Yorkshire c1900 shows Kit Metcalfe knitting stockings. Kit knitted the fancy tops while his wife Betty did the rest.   


A forester on the South Ormsby estate, Lincolnshire enjoying a clay pipe after his midday meal. 


The following image shows a carter carrying the sign of his trade, a whip, he is wearing a carter’s smock and a crowned felt hat. The male 'smoke frock' or smock, evolved in the mid 1700s and continued to be worn until after the First World War. Roomy, long-sleeved and extending to the knees, smocks were worn to protect workers from the elements, and to keep their clothes clean.  


This fine looking chap with his flock of Hampshire Downs Sheep was photographed somewhere near Stonehenge, Wiltshire c1900. It's likely he and his sheep were on the way to the Marlborough sheep fair.


A report of the Marlborough Sheep Fair in the Swindon Advertiser August, 1902.




Thanks for visiting. Let me now guide you over to Sepia Saturday where you will be able to see what the rest of the flock are up to.




The Sepia Saturday photograph taken by Colonel Joseph Gale in 1890 is titled Ninety and Nine a Biblical reference to the parable of The Lost Sheep (A shepherd with one hundred sheep goes out to look for the missing one). 
With thanks to Alan Smith/Louise Janes-Stopps for the photograph of Benjamin Stopps
All other photographs Country Life, London.

22 comments:

  1. Lovely! Our great-great grandfather was a very smart man and I love the other photo's. Bobs Uncle Bill used to herd sheep from the south up to the market at Guildford and his great-great grandad was a Game Keeper somewhere in the Midlands. He also sported a wonderful beard, the fashion of the day for country gentlemen. X

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    1. Hello Sue, I vaguely remember stories about Uncle Bill and the sheep, but didn't know about and his great-great grandad. Have you any photos? Actually, I really must borrow the family albums from you one day (when you have finished all your redecorating) and copy the pictures. Maybe we could do a swap and you could copy the ones we have. xxxx

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  2. A fascinating collection of photographs of countrymen with beards. They match the prompt so well.

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  3. Clever stuff again Barbara, interesting from top to bottom. Thank you.
    You know that I worked on farms, I also have a beard. That was Liz's idea....it just grew on me...............Ho Hum!
    John

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    1. Thank you very much John, I really appreciate that coming as it does from you. I knew about the farms and the beard but didn’t know it was Liz’s idea. She obviously liked a man with a beard.
      Ho Hum back!

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  4. Love all the beards. What interesting occupations! I'd never have taken Kit for a knitter or at the wildest guess, pegged the snake catcher.

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    1. Hi Helen, well done on catching on re the snake catcher! I didn’t until I read about him. As for the knitter, I had no idea, although had I studied the photo, I probably would have worked it out. Barbara

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  5. A fine collection of handsomely bearded men, well-employed.

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  6. A snake catcher? Yikes...strange occupations for some of these bearded fellows! You hang out with odd company, Barbara -- but I love the beard theme...well done!

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    1. Hi Deb, I wouldn't mind hanging out with them just think of the stories they could tell. All I need is a time machine but thinking about it; I might give the snake catcher a wide berth! :)

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  7. A great selection of pictures, Barbara, and some fine beards too. Any of these occupations would have suited me, well, apart from one maybe, but luckily there were no snakes in Ireland.

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    1. I would be OK at the knitting, not sure about the rest! All fine on a sunny day perhaps but not in the depths of winter – oh yes, and I really don’t like snakes, so I will pass, thank you. Thanks for your visit.

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  8. A fascinating glimpse at rustic trades and occupations now lost. I like the forester's hobnail boots. It's astonishing to think of the hundreds of miles these men walked during their lives out in the country.

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    1. I can’t say I had thought about that Mike, but I suppose they must have done. Good job they had such sturdy boots. :)

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  9. Wonderful to be reminded of those old country crafts, most of which are now long gone. What an enlightened squire that was to provide the cottage for James. I was also pleased to see the newsclip about Marlborough; in the 1980s I taught at the village school in Collingbourne Ducis and the children from Collingbourne Kingston also attended.

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    1. Quite an unusual squire I suspect but thank goodness he had a kind heart. We live about an hour and a half from Marlborough and often drive out that way. Salisbury is our nearest town actually Yeovil is closer but not as nice. It’s a small world. Thanks for calling in and leaving a comment.

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  10. What a fun read, from your gggrandfather to J Minnis, to snake catcher, kniter, falconer and ending at Malborough Fair. Now each of these gentlemen have their own special place in my mind. Thanks.

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    1. I’m so please you enjoyed it Joan, thanks for coming over a leaving a comment. Barbara

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  11. An absolutely fascinating post. What a shame that we seem to have lost all the local characters today.

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    1. Hi Bob, you are right about the local characters. Back in the 1960s I used to cycle to work and would often see the same elderly chap cutting long branches out of the hedges. I used to wave or say hello but didn’t to stop to wonder what he was doing. In hindsight, I would guess he was cutting pea sticks. What a shame I didn’t ask him. Although I was only a teenager at the time so I don’t suppose I was remotely interested and would probably have been in serious trouble with my dad had I stopped! He used to tell me to ‘peddle faster’ if I saw anyone around – we did live in the country and there were no mobile phones then.

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I really appreciate your comment. Thank you!
Barbara x

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