|Abstract||Harvest Supper Speech - Layer Marney, 1965
Birch, Layer Breton & Layer Marney Local History
Published in Parish News - November 2003
Layer Marney, Rogation Sunday 1949. On the Left, Basil Bowyer, one of the two churchwardens, leads Rector George Armstrong and the congregation.
Many locals remember Basil Bowyer, who farmed at Layer Marney and was churchwarden there for many years. Early in 2003 a member of his family produced a copy of a speech that Basil had made many years ago, and here it is. A few words are undecipherable, and they are indicated as ????. Someone may be able to fill in the gaps! Who was at that Harvest Supper, and where was the 'vast building'?
Basil Bowyer's speech at Harvest Supper at Layer Marney, 1965.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I have been asked to say a few words about the Essex Countryside but when I stand here in this vast building among the local princes, the governors, the captains, the judges, the treasurers, the councillors, the sheriffs and all the rulers of the people, I feel inexpressibly small and dumb and unable to do justice to so great a subject.
I would like to take you back 100 years when this book of Essex was published. At that time I see that Layer Marney had 276 inhabitants. Rev Sam Farman lived at "The Towers", the Rev Sam Farman Junior, Curate, lived at "The Rectory", the tithes of the parish amounted to £466 per annum and if I tell you that in the same book beer is advertised at 8d per gallon, ???? at ¼ a gallon, meat at 4d per pound. Bread being made at home, you will see that £466 was a comfortable income.
I do not say that Rev Farman would preach a very good sermon on beer which he would have undoubtedly drunk for breakfast, but he could buy gin at 9/- a gallon and a very old and mellow port at 5/- a bottle so no doubt his evening sermons were more mellow.
In those days the 276 inhabitants would all have worked in the parish, whereas today there are about 220 souls but most of them leave the parish for their work and return in the evening: there were far more cottages than there are now, down the lane where old Mrs Taylor now lives, then known as "Workhouse Lane" there were many cottages: again on the top road to Tiptree. Probably about 75/100 men worked on the farm and there were about 80 horses kept for working on the farm, no wonder there was a blacksmith, a wheelwright and a saddler in the parish.
Of course there was no other means of transport except the horse and walking, and the old horsekeepers walked across the fields from Layer Breton and the Tiptree road to look after and work with the horses. I am fairly sure that where we sit tonight was stabling for 12 horses for this farm.
In those days a gang of men at harvest time got up very early, mowed their acre before "noonses", then they turned the acre they had mowed the day before and carted one acre per man after 'fourses', stacking it loose in the barns and having a ???? on the top of the stack to keep it down. During the winter this was thrashed with the flail. The harvest was let to the men and they elected their own "Lord of the Harvest" who bargained with the master for the price, set the pace of the mowing and ordered all the men to their respective jobs. Then about 1890 came the reaper behind which the men had only to tie and bind the corn; then the binder which tied the sheaf with string and this must have been the golden age of the picturesqueness of farming with the sheaves put into stooks and field after field set up in perfect rows to mature ready for carting. How different now when our vast combines literally swallow the corn and discharge it into barns where it takes many times as long to dry as it did to harvest.
I have the books of a 450 acre farm in which 20 men and 3 boys took the harvest. The men's average pay was 14/- and the boy's 3/- per week for driving away. One by one the fields were cleared and as the last load came home, the harvest bough was tied to the top and placed on the ridge of the last stack made. In those days there was always a "Hockey" or "Harvest Home" at each farm, I seem to remember big joints of salt beef boiled in the copper and plum puddings boiled and tied in cloths and then the speeches and traditional songs. During harvest, the Lord stopped all strangers and rakes for largesse and drew largesse of all the tradespeople.
And now I would like to talk of the wonders of being a countryman and how blessed we are to wake up in the morning, go out into the yard or garden and find there a new world awaiting us. For to a countryman, every one of the 365 days differs from the others. The sun rises in a different spot on the horizon and sets at a different spot each evening. In the summer he leaps higher into the heavens and shines down directly on us, in the winter he is low down and gives the beautiful winter sunlight. Each day the countryman sees changes. The grass has grown, the weeds have grown, the flowers or the weeds have gone to seed and the rosebud of the morning has become the fully blown rose at night. In the spring one day the hedges are sending out their little green shoots. In the autumn the leaves are turning. The birds are starting to sing. The swallows have gone. To us Nature gives a new Kingdom every day while in the towns, man does his best to destroy beauty. The skyscraper rises foot by foot, the carriageway destroys all the trees, hedges and greenery in its path. The roundabouts seize great slices of countryside to prevent one monster of steel (but no life) destroying another monster of the same ilk. But Nature is kind, she is always healing the wounds made by man and, as the seasons go by, Nature always wins. We in the countryside can watch Nature slowly gaining her victories whereas in the towns the inhabitants can only think of man's longing for power and yet more power. I think we can rejoice in our Kingdom and pity the Mr Clores, Mr Gulbenkians, the Mr Licktensteins imprisoned in their private suites at the Ritz and the Dorchester. Even they daily send out to buy the choicest gifts of nature which we have given to us every day.
"And the evening and the morning were the first day." Have you ever thought that from time immemorial the day break has come to nations, to tribes in their waxing and in their waning, to Kings and their armies poised for battle, to the harvesters, to the simple folk going about their daily tasks in the villages, the lovers, the mourners, the children? One thing we can be sure of is that morning and evening will come. Let us each day be thankful for morning and evening.
Then another of the wonders of the people in this part of Essex are the sea coasts, the sea walks and saltings. Go down to Mersea, Tollesbury, Tolleshunt D'Arcy, Goldhanger and you will feel at any time of the day or night the tide running in, filling each of the creeks, each one of the runnels, with fresh sea water and hours later running out again to the sea. It is never still. Time and tide never cease. It is a country marvel that only the countryman can marvel at.
And lastly I give you the third wonder of the countryman - the life which is always being born around us, the small humans, the young animals, birds and insects so small that it seems impossible that they should live, and yet so long as their hearts beat and pump forth their life blood, they will survive and make up the pattern of nature. And so tonight we give thanks to Nature with feasting, the harvest home. Tomorrow we give thanks to the Almighty for all the wonders of nature given to the Countryman in his Kingdom, at the Harvest Festival in our Parish Church.
In asking you to drink to the Essex Countryside, I give you a well known character of the Essex Countryside and, if I may say so, a much loved figure in our immediate neighbourhood, that is Dudley Narborough, the suffragan Bishop of Colchester.
FOOTNOTE: It is not clear to me what book he was using. The 1862 Kelly's Directory agrees with the figures on population and tithe and the Farmans. It also has William Everitt as wheelwright and The White Horse, Jonathan Hutley as blacksmith and shop, William Sparrow as The Black Lion, Mrs Elizabeth Chamlet as schoolmistress. It does not mention a saddler but this does not mean that there was not one. Kelly, however, does not give facts like the price of beer! I have changed his population figures for 1965 using the figures given in the 1961 census. In that census there were 66 houses and I find it difficult to believe that there were 'far more' in 1865. The 1861 Census Index shows Harman and not Farman. I suspect that this is a transcription error and it would be easy to check in church records. The two Samuels were aged 52 and 23, William Everitt, 66, Jonathan Hutley, 59, William Sparrow, 73 and Elizabeth Chamley 41.
In front of the churchwardens went the Crossbearer and choir. Who were they, back in 1949 ?
Essex County Standard photograph