I’ve been reading a book by Ella Noyes called ‘Salisbury Plain, its Stones, Cathedral City, Valleys and Folk’ dated 1913, with illustrations by Dora Noyes, Ella’s sister. Ella and Dora lived in Sutton Veny. The parts that I found most interesting were the descriptions and opinions expressed on farming in those days, when mechanisation was just coming in, and Dora’s paintings of farming scenes, which are beautiful. Ella’s writing can be rather flowery, compared to modern prose, but she obviously loved her Salisbury Plain as much as I do.
This is my favourite picture of women haymaking. Ella deplores the passing of the old ways and writes:
The women were wanted both in hay and corn harvest. Those groups of figures in light fluttering garments, following in line behind their “queen” – the bravest and most stalwart of the sisterhood – as they tossed the new mown hay swathes, or with great drag rakes gathered the hay into heaps, in the broad grass “hams” in the valley, or on the breezy uplands against the sky: where are they now? One or two you may see occasionally in haytime, raking behind the wagon as it jolts from heap to heap, loading up, in the melancholy mutilated rites of our modern harvests.
Then, written with nostalgia for times past, when she was most probably merely an onlooker:
The nation has sacrificed much for the economic advantages of progress. What sort of bodily virtue or beauty can the man have who, instead of the fine exercise of sweeping the scythe, sits hunched up all day upon the seat of a machine; these threshers and ploughmen turtned into stokers and engine-men and cramped in a coal hole, what sort of progeny will theirs be?
Imagine what she would make of today’s harvests, gathered with the help of computers and air conditioning. When, even then in 1913, she observed that:
“Harvest is over almost before you know it has begun.”