This is the last ‘month of the year’ of the late John Hinchcliffe’s illustrated Dorset diary of 2010. John left other writings from his keen observation of the countryside and many related lino cuts.The December copy below is especially poignant as John died on the 20th December 2010 during one of the coldest spells in Dorset for a long time.
The transformation from autumn into winter is now complete with the shortest day on or around the 21st December which is the time of the winter solstice when the sun is furthest from the equator in the southern hemisphere. Strong winds and heavy rain have now stripped most deciduous trees of their leaves and they now stand forlorn and bare. The whole character of the countryside has changed. The corn has been harvested, the maize is cut and the silage made; some stubble fields remain but most have been ploughed. Dairy cows are back inside and hunting and shooting are in full swing.
With Christmas looming, emphasis is placed on our conifers and evergreens particularly in terms of decoration. Evergreens are a symbol of undying life and are all equally suitable except for yew, which is more appropriate at Easter. There is also no need to confine ourselves to holly and mistletoe, as ivy, cypress, ilex, laurel, rosemary, bay and box are all historically correct. The symbolism is deep and manifold, holly is the crown of thorns, it’s berries are Christ’s blood, whereas holly is masculine, ivy is feminine and in Greek and Roman poetry it was dedicated to Bacchus: god of wine and merriment. Mistletoe, on the other hand was for a long time not allowed in churches because of its association with fertility and aphrodisiac properties, probably too because of its links with the Druids. Ironically perhaps, December is not particularly cold and even though Christmas is looming and we are reminded of the wonderfully ominous lines by Christina Rossetti
‘In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty winds made moan
Earth stood hard as iron
Water like as stone’
Nevertheless if this year’s weather pattern follows last, January and February might be very cold indeed with east winds, ice and snow. This is the month to start putting food on the bird tables but once started must be continued as so many small birds become reliant on a regular food supply. Do keep a record of which birds come and go for as well as being a source of great entertainment you will be really helping the bird population.Speaking of which and the proud focus of my last illustration, no bird is more popular in this country and particularly so at Christmas than the robin. Interestingly as we are now in the season of peace and good will there couldn’t be a more inappropriate symbol since the robin is a pugnacious bird but savage though it may be in protecting its own territory it is as all gardeners know a very friendly companion whilst digging or making a bonfire on a cold winter’s day.
John Hinchcliffe 2010
It has been pointed out to me that i did not post John Hinchcliffe’s November diary written for publication in the Dorset Life magazine in 2010, so here it is. On re reading this I am struck by sensitivity to the seasons and knowledge of the countryside.
The end of October and the beginning of November were and still are an important occasion: a period of time when Pagan and Christian beliefs are intertwined. All Hallows Eve or Halloween is on the 31st October and All Saints Day on 1st November with All Saints Day on the 2nd and also the Eve of the Celtic New Year. This is the end of summer and the onset of winter, a time of sacrifice, bonfires and for remembering the dead.Unlike the gradual changes that took place in the landscape during August, September and October the change in November is dramatic and somehow final, ravaged by high winds and torrential rain. The trees in particular now stand stark and leafless, their colourful displays almost gone. Everything is wet, damp and dying. The once rich vegetation of the Dorset Lanes, downland and meadows is reduced to seed heads and lifeless stalks, luckily, however for the birds there is still a rich harvest of these seeds, wild berries and windfall apples over which fieldfares in particular like to fight and squabble. Never-the-less it is not all bad, every season brings with it new opportunities and now it is time for brisk walks by the sea or on the downs, for chopping wood and open fires, for savouring the smell of wood smoke, apple tarts, sloe gin and roasted chestnuts.
Englishman need the winter when years ago I was working in India or on lecture tours in Australia and America I longed for these drizzly damp cold days. This is also a time for looking at the garden and planning for the new year, for deciding what to plant and where, assessing ones successes and failures. For consulting nursery catalogues and deciding which seeds to buy.
My illustration of a Lapwing highlights the importance of this time of year in terms of migration as many species of wading bird, ducks, and geese are now moving south to Dorset from their northern breeding grounds in Scandinavia, Russia or the Artic. Notable local sites include the brackish waters of Radipole and Lodmore, the Fleet and Poole and Christchurch. Harbours. Look out for birds such as Shelduck, Black tailed-Godwit, Oystercatchers, Redshank, Snipe, Curlew Ruff and Dunlin.
John Hinchcliffe 2010
I always have mixed feelings when we get to September, sadly on the one hand summer is over and technically it is now the Autumn and on the other it is an exciting and busy period of change, of course, much depends on the weather but generally mornings are getting chilly. There are heavy dews, mists begin to linger over fields and meadows and the nights are drawing in. Swallows and house martins, those harbingers of summer are now starting to gather in large flocks ready to migrate.
After all the spring and summer green it is good to get some colour back into the landscape, leaves are now tinged with yellow, rusts and orange and tractors followed by flocks of noisy gulls are busy ploughing up stubble fields and opening up rich brown soil. Hazelnuts, blackberries, sloes, plums, pears and apples are all ripening and if conditions are right, field mushrooms will appear. and the partridge shooting season now begins.
My illustrations for the year would not be complete, given Dorset’s rich agricultural and literary history without reference to dairy cows, none epitomise efficient modern milk production better than the black and white Holstein Friesian with and average annual milk yield of eight hundred litres plus. When we read of herds of one thousand cows and also that there are plans afoot to create a herd of seven thousand; that is a great deal of milk and a far cry from Thomas Hardy’s Dorset of 100 years ago as epitomised in ‘”Tess of the D’Urbervilles” In those days the predominate breeds were probably the Dairy Shorthorn, the South Devon and some Guernsey and Jersey cows. The two important dairying areas being the ‘: Valley of the Great Dairies’: the fields and water meadows alongside the river Frome and “The Vale of the Little Dairies” more commonly known as the Blackmore Vale, with the river Stour running through it. What a lot has since vanished as a result of machine milking and the production of butter, cream and cheese to factories elsewhere is the army of dairymaids and men employed in the hand milking and processing of milk on local farms.
September: lino print by John Hinchcliffe 2009
My illustration for this month highlights the importance of footpaths and the vital link they provide us with in accessing the open countryside.
According to the Countryside Agency we have somewhere in the region of 120,000 miles of public rights of way ranging from down land and coastal paths, Hadrian’s Wall, disused railway lines and river and canal towpaths. Our footpaths, apart from being a national treasure, symbolise rights of passage created by ordinary people going about their business and for hundreds of years they linked village with village, village to town and were essentially tracks or routes used by farm workers, drovers, smugglers, school children, churchgoers and pilgrims before the age of public transport and cars
There is no better time than the present to take to the footpaths. August is the school holiday month, it is also the traditional harvest month, the culmination of the farmers year which is probably why in the past country children at this period of time were expected to help in the fields rather work than in their classrooms.
Hopefully under cloudless sunny skies thousands of acres of cereal crops, principally wheat, barely and oats are now ripening. When I was an art student in London in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s I would always go back home to the downs in Sussex where I grew up in order to help with the harvest. Even then it was relatively labour intensive involving long days and a lot of hard work, but still nothing in comparison to the effort required by many more people only a hundred years earlier. What is remarkable is how in such a relatively short space of time so much has been achieved with the efficiency and speed of the modern combine harvester.
John Hinchcliffe 2010
August by John Hinchcliffe: lino print
Stephanie sent me this photo of her collection of cockerel plates. When we lived in Normandy we made lots of cockerel plates and these are a really good example of Hinchcliffe and Barber plates of that era.
Blue Spongeware Jug – available in small, medium and large sizes
I’m delighted to announce that we’ve just relaunched the Hinchcliffe and Barber on-line shop with lots of our favourite ceramics, including Country Ware, Studio Ware and our ever-popular Fish Platters.
Prawn and Seaweed Platter – hand decorated in the studio
Classic Hinchcliffe and Barber Country Ware – our Pear Jug
Always in demand: Dorset Delft
Do take a look.
As I read John’s Dorset Diary for July, which was written in 2010, I realise how different the weather conditions are this year. I love this image of old farm machinery but the rampart growth is very pertinent to 2012.
July: lino print. © the estate of John Hinchcliffe, 2009
We are now in July and it is as though nature has taken a break from the weight of growth and energy that has been generated through April, May and June. The landscape is changing yet again and many of our loveliest flowers are appearing: chamomile, rose bay willow herb, honeysuckle, tansy, meadowsweet, scabious, harebells, wild marjoram and knapweed. and plant production is going into seed and berry generally rather than new growth. This is the time to harvest our first vegetables and soft fruit. It is also a time to rest and relax, for picnics and barbeques, cricket and tennis and coast and downland walks. We are now in full summer and these are the dog days named after Sirius the Dog Star, warm and sultry but also high temperatures and thunderstorms. This is holiday time and where betters to be than in Dorset: what to do and where to go? The choice is enormous.
My illustration for July of old rusting farm machinery entangled in brambles, nettles and ground alder is a reminder of the days when agriculture was much more ‘hands on, and more also labour intensive and unsophisticated. This collection, half buried in places, includes metal rims from cart wheels, disks, ploughs, rollers, harrows, machines for grinding roots for sheep hay, rakes and even a decaying McCormick tractor. I read recently that the agriculture industry has changed more radically in the last 100 years than in the previous 4.000 and with winter barley sown in the Autumn and ripening in the fields it is now a sad reality that harvest time is now once again upon us and summer is soon coming to an end.
John Hinchcliffe, 2010
We gathered once more in the beautiful grounds of Clayesmore School for the society’s literature event. This year the weather was clement which made for a very relaxed and English summer outing.
Speakers answering questions: 27th June
So who did we hear? First up was Roman Krznaric who gave a very interesting talk, indeed performance, on his lifestyle philosophy. Much of the content of his talk is in the forefront of my mind. Certainly listening to Roman has prompted me to expand my reading. He joined us for what was once again an amazing feast at lunch and was generous with his knowledge and thoughts.
Next up, was Germaine Greer, an icon for generations of women and she did not disappoint. We were thoroughly entertained as professor Greer set out to prove that Ann Hathaway made Shakespeare the man he was.
Germaine Greer: speaking on the subject of Shakespeare’s wife
Then it was time for a cream tea!
I imagine it is not easy to take the stage at the end of the day and after Germaine, especially if you are a woman and a poet, but Wendy Cope more than held her own, she was punchy, self assured and gritty. Her readings made us laugh and think at the end of another fabulous day.
Plenty to amuse
Lino print by John Hinchcliffe: June
June is a month of long days and evenings, prolific growth, fragrant scents, roses and lilac, the first vegetables, haymaking and all those things that epitomise the English summer.The longest day at the midsummer solstice falls on or around the 21st of June whilst midsummer’s day is the 24th of June, however an old country saying is that “ summer is never fully established until until the elder is in flower and ends when the berries are ripe;”
My illustration of a punt, a river, reeds, pollarded willows and a bridge is really about calmness, well-being and those lazy, hazy days of summer. When I think of June I always think of Kenneth Graham’s ‘Wind in the Willows’ and the water rat’s conversation with the mole, “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing, absolutely nothing half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats” whether it is rowing boats or sailing boats, simply standing looking over a bridge or sitting beside a lake or river, water has a healing and calming effect.
In Dorset we are especially lucky to never be far from water, we have it all, a unique and unspoilt coastline, chalk streams, brooks, lakes, water meadows, former clay pits-now pools and exceptional rivers such as the Stour and the Frome. We all have our special and magical places, walks and memories. Was it sitting one evening on the shingle at Ringstead Bay or walking down to Chapman’s Pool for a picnic or was it standing on White Mill Bridge at Sturminster Marshall watching the cows wading into the river, a motionless heron and the sound of the chattering hedge and reed warblers, or Sturminster Mill and the ancient mill and pond at Fiddleford, buttercup carpeted meadows alongside Manston brook, turquoise waters of Blue Pool, The list is rich, varied and endless.
John Hinchcliffe 2009
This photo of a Hinchcliffe and Barber floral jug, made in our studio in Normandy was sent to me by Charlotte. Most Hinchcliffe and Barber decoration involves the use of stencils but when we were writing ‘ Ceramic Style’ we experimented with other techniques. Charlotte, in her email says she loves this piece.
Below: majolica jug by Hinchcliffe and Barber