Green Valley Stories, a BBC television series, explores life on a 17th-century British farm. The 12 ½-hour television documentary, produced and directed by Peter Sommer, was awarded the prestigious “Learning on Screen” by the British Film and Video Council
For an overview of the series and reviews, visit stories of the Green Valley.
You may also want to see another recently published feature in the series – Green Valley Tales: A Window in the Past
The following article is copyrighted by Countryman Magazine.
How was a farm operated 400 years ago in the UK? That’s the key question in the new 12-part BBC documentary series Tales From the Green Valley
When a new crop year began in fall 2003, five specialists tried to go back and find out. They stood in front of a remarkable farmhouse on the Welsh border, which was restored in 1620 during the reign of James I. For the past 17 years, a historic group has sought to restore property – farm and outbuildings – with state-of-the-art equipment, orchards planted with fruit trees at that time, and varieties of today’s crops. Now, a team of archaeologists and historians, Stuart Peachey, Ruth Goodman, Alex Langlands, Peter ‘Fonz’ Ginn and Chloe Spencer, has accepted the challenge of using only tools and equipment for a full calendar year (each program is one month). available in the 17th century.
It was my job to film them and try to put the theory into practice. From the beginning I knew what I did not want to do to do another series of reality shows in which we wondered if we could survive without shampoo. or “Alex meeting with Chloe in the barn?” What I wanted to do was to dive as deeply as possible into the social history of the time, which showed that the experts argued more with contemporary technology than with each other.
Things do not start. To plow the pack, in September we brought two English Longhorn, Arthur and Lancelot steers from Yorkshire. You are one of the few couples working in the country. Although horses are much faster than oxen, they are more expensive to feed and care for (they need shoes for starters) and have traditionally not been eaten in this country. For this reason, textbooks for agriculture were discouraged.
“If something calms an ox and ages it … then it’s the man’s flesh … the horse, if he dies, is just carrion.” And so I think that the ox plow is much more useful than the horse plow. “The Book of William Fitzherbert Husband’s 1534
The theory in practice
Wherever possible, we have tried to follow contemporary agricultural texts. It was a good starting point, but often omitted important information that was obvious at the time. Here the practice came into play and the story became reality. We had a replica built based on time and artwork, but at first the team had problems with it.
The ground was hard enough and they could not bite the plow, it just swept across the surface. When they finally buried it, there was a loud bang as the plow broke under pressure. Some hasty repairs and they went back to work and finally produced their first glorious furrow. They soon had more problems than the field stubble between the flock (the sharp iron pin that cuts the surface) and the plow (the blade that divides the earth). It was a taste of year-round development, an enthusiastic first attempt, then a return to the drawing board. As they adjusted the coulters and added more weight to the plow, their method seemed to click, and the crew’s faces split with a big smile. Suddenly the groove rolled on the furrow. They were fragile, a bit superficial and slow – one hectare of land should be able to plow a team of oxen in one day, they were very late – but they felt they were successful.
Technology was perhaps the most important slogan of the year. For most specialists it was the first time that they had the tools to measure time. They had heard of them and knew the theory, but putting them into practice was another thing: digging with one of the heavy wooden buckets, working with a ponytail or hitting the grain with a flail. I remember the magical moments when Stuart, Alex, Fonz, Ruth or Chloe forcibly stepped down and got a tool to do their job.
One of my favorites was when Peter ‘Fonz’ Ginn tried to make the most of the chaff. He used a replica of a winnowing basket, like a large, three-sided basket. The idea is to turn the fabric and turn it so that every wind blows light. Unfortunately, his grain started flying all over the farm. After hours of training and sore arms, he broke it. His action became light, fluid, and easy, and his satisfaction was evident.
Slowly but surely
We had to do everything by hand without a modern machine, and we became painfully aware of how much time we needed for the most common tasks, whether by picking wheat by hand, collecting pigeons or building a dividing wall. Dryer. Basket weaving was just one of many things needed to bake bread, and when Fonz poured his own grain into a bag, we realized that a farmer had to be a man 400 years ago. to bring everything to success.
The wife of the farmer
Not only the farmer had to be versatile. I was surprised to learn the vital importance of the farmer’s wife. They were an essential partnership. Without a wife it was almost impossible to run a farm. Time records show that a widowed farmer usually had another woman at his side. It was a simple question of time, work and economy. From the dairy to the brewing of the beer to the administration of the necessary vegetable garden, the housewife was certainly not a leisure woman. The coroner was another of his roles. Because the medicines were so expensive, she looked after the health of her household with ointments, pills and herbs from plants and garden plants.
“And for you, pharmacist, unfortunately, I do not even see your business in seven years … but for me when I’m sick …
I take the physics of cooking; I take my wife to my doctor and my garden to the pharmacy. Robert Greene, a team for a court artist in 1592.
Of course nothing was wasted on a 17th century farm. Waste from one process has become fuel for another. The ashes of the fire were used for the production of alcoholic beverages, a time equivalent to Persil, a laundry detergent. The leftover food went to pigs, the perfect “green” storage unit. Animal waste like today was scattered in the fields, even human waste was reused. Human faeces composted during an abortion were used as fertilizer and a housewife was stored to produce ammonia, an excellent stain remover for laundry. In fact, urine was collected on a large scale; Piss pots were set up outside the pubs and made of urine nitrate, an important ingredient in the production of gunpowder, a booming industry at the time. At a time when “bio” and “recycling” are among the most important environmental issues, it is fascinating to step back and learn from our past.
We film under torrential rains, blizzards and bright sunshine, watching the farm change over the seasons. Far from our pleasant city life it became clear how much the farmer was ruled by the elements from yesterday to today. Not only in the short term, but from year to year, from September to the harvest in August, the life of the farmer is determined by the natural cycle. For a peasant in 1620, planning, ingenuity, and the ability to survive were essential. Given the hard work of our experts, we wondered how long modern humans would survive if they found themselves in this environment. Although the valley crews shot through the fields, battered and exhausted, they felt a tremendous pride in what they had achieved, closeness to nature, and a different kind of contentment. “Work out of the country.