Saturday, January 10, 2009

Exciting Adventures with Torf Delving: Part Two

In the last section of this educational article (yes…it is educational…and no, it isn’t boring…one of these days you’ll be sat in the pub when somebody asks, out of the blue, “I wonder what the correct methodology of torf delving was?” and you’ll be able to tell them, instead of sitting there like a pudding…where was I? Oh yes…) in the last section we dealt with a short (but comprehensive I reckon) history and explanation as to what torf delving was… (Editor: Is that even English?)
So, now onto the actual business of delving itself, and when it came to ‘delving the torf’ there were two basic methods.
The first involved the ‘Irish Spade’ (go on…get the old xenophobic jokes out of your system if you must…just don’t expect me to laugh, will you?) that comprised of a long wooden beam terminating in a right angle of metal. At the top end of the beam was a pommel against which the ‘delver’ would push the palm of his right hand. About one quarter of the way down the beam was a handle, which the ‘delver’ would grip with his left hand.
I hope you’ve got a good mental image of that, because I haven’t drawn up a picture for it.
The ‘Irish Spade’ was then pushed into the ‘torf’ at an angle. The metal blade would cut a rectangular, ‘brick-sized’ block of torf from the ground. Simple really.
The second method of ‘delving’ required a bit more preparation. First the ‘delver’ would mark out the cubes of ‘torf’ to be cut, using his ‘T’ shaped marker (as shown below).


No…it’s not a crucifix for sheep. That’s a ‘T’ shaped marker, that is, as I’ve just told you. It’s got metal points on it. By simply crossing the lines cut by said points at right angles to one another, a square grid was created on the ground.
After this the ‘delver’ would employ his ‘feying spade’ (illustrated below).


I hope you’re paying attention to these ‘specialist item names’. When that bloke in the pub brings the subject up you’ll be sorry if you aren’t!
The blade of the ‘feying spade’ was exactly eighteen inches deep, the same distance as that between the points of the marker. This ensured that an exact cube of ‘torf’ was removed from the moss. Again, incredibly simple and even more incredibly obvious really…but it fills out this article, if nothing else.
A collection of five hundred ‘torf’ blocks was known as a ‘Fal’ (write that down in your exercise books) and an experienced pair of ‘torf delvers’ would be capable of digging a fal in an hour.
Obviously, with all the hard work needed to ‘delve torf’, the ‘delvers’ required plenty of sustenance, so they would take ‘bagging baskets’ full of food, and metal ‘bagging tea kits’ containing hot drinks (a typical example of which is illustrated below) onto the moss with them.


No, it’s not just a picnic hamper from Woolworth’s and a couple of old flasks. We asked retired torf-delvers about all this and it is a special torf delving butty and brew kit…unique to the trade…probably.
Before being dried out an average block of ‘torf’ weighed eleven pounds. Nine and a half pounds of this was water. Wet ‘torf’ blocks would be stacked in rows, each one ‘fal’ long. Every day the blocks would be turned by a quarter. The first turn was known as ‘plucking’ (Notebooks! Notebooks!), and a complete 360-degree rotation was called a ‘bulerneck’. (Don’t ask…I don’t know. These Over Wyre farmers have a language all of their own.)
After one month the blocks were stacked against one another, so that they resembled a ‘House of Cards’ (a bit like the ones in our illustration below), only considerably fatter, obviously, and without the pictures on them...and they were rubbish for playing cribbage with.


This technique was known as ‘meemowing’ (look, I’ve told you…I’ve no idea! It’s probably Norse or Stalmine speak for ‘making pretty patterns’ or something) and it allowed the wind to circulate the torf more easily, thus speeding up the drying process.
I hope everybody’s enjoying this so far because I reckon it’s time I stopped again for now. We shall continue again in a few days’ time when we’ve all had a break, so make sure you’ve bookmarked your notebooks and bring a pen that actually works with you next time.

17 comments:

Reuben (not logged in) said...

...you’ll be sat in the pub when somebody asks, out of the blue, “I wonder what the correct methodology of torf delving was?” and you’ll be able to tell them, instead of sitting there like a pudding…where was I? Oh yes…)

That'd be the same day Kevin Rudd decides to declare war on Belgium.

Jayne said...

I'd pack a whole pack of pens to take notes if I were you, Reuben, Ruddster's been drooling over Belgium ever since Therese bought him those choccies to celebrate winning the election.

Brian Hughes said...

After sitting through the countless hours of Poirot that Michelle insists on watching, I'm considering declaring war on Belgium myself.

RVB said...

Xenophobia, my dear Brian.

Brian Hughes said...

Not really, Reuben...I'm never going to visit Oxford again either since having to sit through forty-odd back-to-back episodes of Morse.

John said...

Wasn't this torf delving in your first book? It all seems so familiar, yet still incredibly fascinating.

As for Belgium... is war really neccessary? I mean... Belgium? Who wants it?

Anonymous

Brian Hughes said...

"It all seems so familiar, yet still incredibly fascinating."

All right...enough of the sarcasm, John.

"Wasn't this torf delving in your first book?"

Probably...it's been going along a long time.

"Anonymous"

Hmm...bit late for that really, John. The trick is to sign in as anonymous really.

John said...

Brian,

You caught me... I just didn't want anyone out there knowing that I think Brussels is a @#$%^ #$%#. The rest of Belgium may be fine, but... well, the less said the better.

Please, back to torf delving!

JOHN :0)

Brian Hughes said...

John,

"Please, back to torf delving!"

Now there's a sentence I never thought I'd hear in my lifetime.

Jayne said...

Next you'll tell us you're never going near Glasgow again after a Rebus marathon :P
Having watched some of Frankie Howerd's bio Rather You Than Me last night I demand more torf delving, in spades!

Brian Hughes said...

Jayne,

I don't need to watch Rebus (or even Taggart) to realise that it's wise to steer clear of Glasgow.

Jayne said...

Have just watched the 2nd episode of TT (we're travelled back in time)and they were investigating a Roman fort with mentions of "turves" being dug, dried and placed just so as part of the fortifications.

Brian Hughes said...

Jayne,

The second episode of Time Team? Would that be from the very first series...and if so, were they digging at a place called Ribchester?

If that's the case, well...let's put it this way...that's the first (and probably last) time that Time Team have ever been in our neck of the woods...with the exception of the World War II plane they dug out of Freckleton Marsh, but that doesn't count.

Jayne said...

Yes, it was Ribchester, from the very first series, Brian. Told you we've gone waaaaaaaaaay back in time (and it's not too pretty).
That wasn't your local pub that Tony patted the entrance columns of and jokingly stated they were Roman, only for Mick to say they very probably were Roman ?
The one you've written about?

Brian Hughes said...

Jayne,

That would have been the White Bull...as mentioned in various local newspapers, generally accompanied by a photograph of me holding my hat on in a force ten gale...such as this one:

http://wyrearchaeology.blogspot.com/2008/
08/monday-afternoon-quickie.html

(You might have to copy that address into the top-bar in two gos. I never could work out how to create a link in these comments boxes.)

Jayne said...

I used the "newspaper clippings" tag to find the article; yes it was the White Bull columns Mick and Tony were talking about.
So, if Mick says they're Roman, that puts the seal of authenticity on them for you!
(tongue removed from cheek).

Brian Hughes said...

Jayne,

Whatever Mick says is, naturally, the final word as according to the ancient laws of England...although usually it consists of little more than, "Ooh, look at thart."