Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Exciting Adventures with Torf Delving: Part Three

Right…we’ve now reached the final instalment of this torf delving article and, rather than recap (because, to be honest there’s little point in doing that when it’s all still posted just below this rubbish) another example of a mediaeval turbary dispute seems appropriate right about now. (Actually, it probably isn’t appropriate at all, but you’re going to get one anyway, otherwise this article’s going to be a bit on the short side.)
Here’s a quote from the Victoria County History: “In 1323 a complaint was made by William Boteler of the invasion of his turbary at Bispham by a number of neighbouring landowners…these disputed the boundaries, stating that there were large moors and turbaries in the vills of Thornton, Carleton, Norbreck and Little Bispham…the lords of the vills named were Adam son of William Banastre, Lawrence de Thornton, Randle Gentle, the Abbot of Dieulacres, Robert de Shirebourne and Henry de Carleton.”
All of which just goes to show how many treasured turbaries there were around the district.
And, yes, you did notice our old favourite Adam Banastre mentioned amongst that lot once again. (At least, you would have done had you actually read through it properly as opposed to just skipping quickly over the words because they weren’t interesting enough for you.)
As for the whereabouts of Adam’s turbary in Thornton, well, we had a look at our tithe maps and discovered Great Torver and Little Torver (the connection between ‘torver’ and ‘torf’ being obvious to a Pilling sheep with a particularly low IQ I would imagine) straddling Links Gate, illustrated below.


Another field marked on the maps was Dewan, which could originally have been found beneath what is nowadays the Lambs Road housing estate. Fortunately, William Thornber’s ‘History of Blackpool’ provided us with a translation of the name: “Dewon, white turbary”. Apparently: “The peat varies in depth from three to five yards, but is not so useful for fuel as that upon the Hawes; the latter being hard, black, compressed by sand deposited upon it, and more decomposed; the other light, full of branches, bark and leaves of trees which render it keenly inflammable, and soon consumed when thrown upon the fire.”
So there you go. However, we’re interrupting the flow here, so let’s get back to the process of ‘torf delving’ itself. Now, last time, we’d got as far as the ‘meemows’. Sounds like something from the Wizard of Oz, doesn’t it? “As Dorothy and her companions entered the Meemows they were suddenly aware that their creator, Frank L. Baum, had developed a cocaine habit.” Ahem…what was I saying? Oh yes, eventually, when the time was right, the ‘meemows’ would be dismantled and the ‘torf blocks’ were stacked in overlapping circles (incredibly similar to the ones below, in fact…although without quite such a colourful background perhaps).


As the torf layers grew in height the stacks or ‘howks’ curved inwards to a point.
Sometimes ‘howks’ (looking a bit like the one in our illustration below) were also called ‘round robins’ (not that they particularly resembled robins, of course, but torf delver vocabulary is in a league of its own) and their hollow centres were often filled with turf to make them more stable.


‘Howks’ were then left alone until sometime in October when the onset of winter meant that the torf was needed for fires or insulation. (Or in extreme cases, food, although there are no know accounts of this actually happening and the nutritional value would have been dire, so I probably shouldn’t have mentioned it really.)
Before they could be burned in a domestic hearth, torf blocks needed breaking down into smaller pieces. This was accomplished by using a ‘torf breaker’ (shown below), a simple device consisting of a metal blade onto which the block was pushed until it split.


Torf breakers were usually kept next to the hearth although quite what the Health and Safety representatives would make of a bloody great metal spike sticking up in the most likely spot for kids and animals to play, nowadays we couldn’t honestly say.
So there you have it; the wacky world of the torf delvers. To finish off this article (once and for all hopefully) we’ll end with a photograph of some smartly dressed ‘torf delvers’ digging a ‘torf dale’. All right…it’s probably up in Scotland somewhere, but the principle’s the same so it’ll have to suffice.


13 comments:

RVB said...

I wonder how chemically close Torf is to Coal...we have a lot of Coal down here in Victoria (hence our gorgeous GreenHouse gas emission record).

Would the quantity of Torf in the soils surrounding your end of the world (I'm talking about that obscure little village you live in) would be responsible for the lack of crop growth. I've never really seen many British farms covered with crops like they do here. Or is that the local aristocracy needing vast swaths of land to go shoot things?

Brian Hughes said...

Reuben,

That's got more to do with EU agricultural policies than anything else. France grows all the crops. We provide the beef and sheep and stuff...usually to their great displeasure.

RVB said...

Zan Sanders (who you're already acquainted with on the intertubes) is a supporter of the British Independent Party who apparently are strongly against EU integration...what do you think?

Brian Hughes said...

Reuben,

I live in the north of England. It doesn't make much difference to me whether I'm told what to do by a politician I didn't vote for in London who's never even been near the place or a politician I didn't vote for in Brussels who's never been near the place.

Jayne said...

Noice finish to the article!
Great sharp spikes next to hearths are so in fashion these days...or so I tried to convince my MIL :P

RVB said...

...and your local politicians haven't been near your place either I take it?

Brian Hughes said...

Jayne,

I've buried a landmine under the hearth rug myself. It's designed to stop the cat getting too close to the fire in case he does himself an injury.

Reuben,

Not since they were elected and bought themselves fancy apartments down in London at our expense, no.

Reuben said...

I have a cunning plan...

It involves capturing a politician...

And then forcing them to do the digging for Wyre and Fylde Archeology's heavy labour division.

Brian Hughes said...

Reuben

"I have a cunning plan..."

Yes, Baldric's famous last words. I suspect if we captured a politician we'd be paying his/her family a hefty ransom to take them back within the week.

RVB said...

The only reason why Blackadder met such demise was because he, more often than not, ignored Baldric's cunning plans.

Brian Hughes said...

That and the fact that he was a baddie, of course.

RVB said...

That's debatable.

Brian Hughes said...

Okay...I'll rephrase that to 'anti-hero'.