Tuesday 8 May 2012: The fields of time
I found this old plough lying at the edge of an isolated field. It must be many a long year since the ploughman plodded his weary way homeward, never to return. And here it has remained ever since. It's a Ransomes plough, made by the famous Ipswich firm, founded in 1789, that went on to manufacture a huge variety of ploughs and other farm equipment, threshing machines, traction engines and lawnmowers, then, in World War 2, armaments and aircraft.
Ploughs like this were exported to all corners of the world; in fact it's important enough to feature as one of the British Museum's History of the World in 100 Objects. Probably someone in the know would be able to identify and date this model but it looks a lot like this one from around the turn of the 19th century. It would have needed two horses and a great deal of skill on the part of the plougher. Do have a look at this excellent YouTube clip to get an idea of what was involved in tilling the land in pre-tractor days, for both man and beast.
John Stewart Collis, an academic who went to work on the land in the war claimed that:
"...it is the grasping of the handles for which there is no substitute, no compensation. Then your feet are upon the earth, your hands are upon the plough. You seem to be holding more than the plough, and treading across more than this one field: you are holding together the life of mankind, you are walking through the fields of time. This work has always been done. Whatever happens this can be done. Machine power may fail for fuel. This power will never fail."
He wrote that in 1946. Romantic perhaps, but prescient.
Is my team ploughing,
That I was used to drive
And hear the harness jingle
When I was man alive?'
Ay, the horses trample,
The harness jingles now;
No change though you lie under
The land you used to plough.
A.E. Housman, A Shropshire Lad