A DORSET SHEPHERD’S HUT: A LITTLE PIECE OF HISTORY


shepherds-hut-4-copy

Shepherd’s huts are very vogue. For the price of a small- to medium-sized car you could have your own bespoke hut. For rather less, you could build one from a kit. If you had the time and patience. Then you could go glamping, even if only in your own garden. Or you could search online for a ‘pre-loved hut’, with the reassurance that apparently almost no hut, however dead, defunct or derelict, is beyond restoration. Even if what you end up with is, to all intents and purposes a new hut with couple of original parts (de-rusted). 

shepherds-hut-1-copy

For as long as anyone living remembers – and it’s at least 65 years – the hut featured here has been in situ by a gate in one of our fields. There’s some evidence that it may even have been brought over from Ireland sometime after my wife’s grandparents came to Dorset a hundred years ago. I first met the hut more than 40 years ago, when its condition seemed to be much as it is now. Over the passing years, until this winter, it had gradually become entirely concealed. First, there was luxuriant undergrowth. By the end, there was luxuriant overgrowth as well: you could have walked straight past without knowing there was anything under the thick tangle of bramble, hawthorn, old man’s beard and the like. Recently the area was cleared of much of the vegetation, and the hut stands revealed.

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As far as I know, no one has been inside – or even tried to open the door – for decades. The family that farms the fields is into its 3rd generation of pastoral care. They haven’t needed the hut. A bit more clearing of undergrowth will be needed before we try to get in. It may prove interesting. During WWII some shepherd’s huts were used to house prisoners of war who had opted to work on the land in preference to captivity. In one I know of, their graffiti is still visible inside.

Shepherd's Hut, Dorset: wheel

On the hub of the wheel is the maker’s name: Pierce Wexford Ireland – the Irish link. The company was established in 1839 and continued in operation until 2002. At one time, Pierce was the largest manufacturer of engineering and agricultural machinery in Ireland. Pierce stoves are still made, though elsewhere.15507008_1-2

the-forgotten-labour-struggle

The enormous former Pierce foundry is now mainly occupied by a huge Tesco supermarket, their largest store outside Dublin. A memorial to the historic usage, made from machinery parts, is all that remains there of Pierce of Wexford. However, the name lives on, stamped on machinery and other manufactured items from the past. I find there is quite a trade in Ireland for Pierceiana, as no doubt it is known.

tesco_pierce-copy

surprise_3-copysurprise_2-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-ahr0cdovl21lzglhlmfkc2ltzy5jb20vnwnlzjvlmzizodc0zgqxztyxmmnlnjzmotzlzwyzndrly2nhzjczmtdjndzmode5zjeyyzq3mdu3ztiymdrizc5qcgd8fhx8fhwzotr4

We have no plans for the hut, apart from having a look inside to see what (if anything) is there. A rattery, maybe. Its work is done, and it can continue to watch over the fields for many more years to come.

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Credits: Pierce’s info & images from random online sources, in particular Emma Stafford (Observations from Daily Life), who hasn’t posted anything for 2 years and who I hope will not mind a credited use of the Pierce tractor seat & drain cover if she comes across this post; Photopol for the Tesco / statue image; National Inventory of Architectural Heritage (gateway); History Ireland Magazine (foundry image); and adverts.ie for the other Pierce items

JERSEY TIGER MOTHS IN FRANCE & ENGLAND


Jersey Tiger Moths  Euplagia quadripunctaria, are widely distributed throughout Europe. Once rare in Britain, they are now increasingly found in the South of England. Recently we spotted one in the eastern Pyrenees one evening. It wasn’t very close and I had only a small camera with me so the results aren’t startling. However, the photos give a fair idea of this very pretty moth. 

Jersey Tiger Moth, Ceret, FranceJersey Tiger Moth, Ceret, France

I knew at once what sort of moth this was, because we had found one – the only one I’ve ever seen before – in our garden in Dorset last year, and I to go through the usual online process to ID it.

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A more professional photo… (Wiki)ecaille_chinee_-_euplagia_quadripunctaria_havre_begique_3

The Wrong Sort of Tiger Moth… “CHOCKS AWAY”tiger-moth-1-copy

DARCY WITH BUTTERCUPS


Darcy & Buttercups 3Darcy & Buttercups 2Darcy & Buttercups 1Darcy & Buttercups-1Darcy & Buttercups-2

MEGACHILE CENTUNCULARIS: LEAF-CUTTER BEES IN DORSET


Bee box on a wall, Dorset

This is the first year that leaf-cutter bees have discovered the bee box placed invitingly on a south-facing wall – and only in the last month. Or maybe they had and didn’t like the box. Or the other occupants. Anyway, quite soon they had tenanted the remaining holes in the prestige penthouse log. Bee box with leaf-cutter bees, Dorset

Last week, the LCBs were quite active, so from time to time I watched them. The first one was completing its work in the top-right log on the lower storey. Having packed in the leaves, it spent quite some time perfecting the job, leaving a smooth end to the bright green plug.

Bee box with leaf-cutter bees, DorsetBee box with leaf-cutter bees, Dorset

Bee box with leaf-cutter bees, DorsetBee box with leaf-cutter bees, Dorset

Later on I saw a bee engaged in an earlier stage of construction. It chose the same log, and initially went for the middle hole, disappearing with a strip of leaf. It then revised its accommodation plans, reversed out with the leaf and took it to the adjacent hole.

Bee box with leaf-cutter bees, DorsetBee box with leaf-cutter bees, Dorset

Bee box with leaf-cutter bees, DorsetBee box with leaf-cutter bees, Dorset

I found the bees surprisingly difficult to photograph. I had to change cameras to a ‘faster’ one, because a bee would zoom back to the hole with its leaf and dive straight in, dragging the leaf behind it; and emerge suddenly and fly off at speed. Sometimes there was a struggle to get the leaf into the hole, which helped take a shot; or I could see the bee pause in the dark but quite close to the entrance before flying off. But mostly, the comings and goings took me by surprise every time, even though I was ready for them…

Bee box with leaf-cutter bees, DorsetBee box with leaf-cutter bees, Dorset

I checked the plants in the vicinity for the tell-tale semi-circles cut out of the leaves. They seem to have liked a nearby rose and another plant whose name I forget (if I ever knew). They use saliva to glue the cuttings together to build the cells for their larvae. The larvae have a safe place to hatch and develop. They pupate in the autumn and hibernate during the winter. Now that the leaf-cutters have found the box, we are hoping that next year the new generation will go through the whole process again. And that I will be more handy with the camera.

NOTE: I see that these bees are often called Leafcutter bees, or Leaf Cutter bees, whereas I have plumped for a hyphen. I’m going (having retrospectively checked) with the Natural History Museum’s version…

HOVERFLY IN DORSET (Helophilus trivittatus)


Hoverfly (Helophilus trivittatus) Dorset 15

While photographing bees last week I encountered a smartly marked hoverfly.  I was particularly impressed by its striped head. I have to admit that until I looked into it, I has assumed that there were maybe half a dozen different species in the UK. I’ve never really examined them closely until this one flew into my lens range.

Hoverfly (Helophilus trivittatus) Dorset 13

How wrong I was. Fortunately by googling ‘hoverfly ID’ my first hit was a wonderful site about the natural history of Rutland and Leicestershire called NATURESPOT.  The link will take you to their hoverfly page, from which you will learn that “There are over 280 species of hoverflies in Britain and around 140 of these have been recorded in Leicestershire and Rutland”.

Hoverfly (Helophilus trivittatus) Dorset 14

Additional useful information includes this lightly edited précis:

  • Many have black and yellow markings and are often confused with bees and wasps
  • Hoverflies are totally harmless and are definitely a gardener’s friend
  • The larvae of several common species have a voracious appetite for aphids
  • Very few hoverflies have common names
  • Those that exist (e.g. “The Footballer”) are not always widely known or agreed
  • However the Latin names of all the species are accepted

Hoverfly (Helophilus trivittatus) Dorset 18

This is the best (though somewhat average) in-flight shot, included to show the trailing back legsHoverfly (Helophilus trivittatus) Dorset 03

I had to scroll quite far down the hoverfly page to reach the striped-headed ones. Here’s a clip of the part that I used for a clear ID as Helophilus trivittatus. I highly recommend Naturespot not just for hoverflies, but for many different species. It may be local to a specific area, but it is a mine of information for the UK generally, and very well organised.

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Hoverfly weblink: http://www.naturespot.org.uk/taxonomy/term/19415

PAINTED LADY BUTTERFLIES IN DORSET: FIRST SIGHTING


Midsummer’s Day is usually the first day I begin to notice painted lady butterflies in our Dorset garden. They have probably been around for a few days before then without my noticing them. So when I actually start to look out for them to test the robustness of my ‘Midsummer’s Day’ theory for the ‘first’ ones, I am in fact working with a flawed self-fulfilling hypothesis. It worked again this year, as usual… And as so often these days I only had an iPh@ne with me to record the success, with unspectacular but tolerable results.

PAINTED LADY, DORSET 1PAINTED LADY, DORSET 5PAINTED LADY, DORSET 4PAINTED LADY, DORSET 3PAINTED LADY, DORSET 2

I was hoping to get an underwing shot, but no luck. So I have plundered Wiki to get one

Painted Lady Butterfly underwings (wiki)

All photo except the last, RH with an iPhone

SPARROW CHICKS IN DORSET


Our house provides nesting opportunities for sparrows on all sides. Somewhat ramshackle, with plenty of holes in the thick walls and under the eaves, it is perfect for the communal sparrow lifestyle. Every year we think of filling the holes, and then to decide not to. The sparrows do no harm. We’d miss them. Here are some chicks in the most easily accessible hole for photography. It is used every year, usually twice. An iPhone is best for the purpose because the flash is right next to the lens.

Sparrow Chicks, Dorset 01 Sparrow Chicks, Dorset 02 Sparrow Chicks, Dorset 03 Sparrow Chicks, Dorset 04 Sparrow Chicks, Dorset 05 Sparrow Chicks, Dorset 06 Sparrow Chicks, Dorset 07 Sparrow Chicks, Dorset 10

Gable End Wall 2
Gable End date

ORANGE TIP BUTTERFLY, DORSET


There’s a time and place for resorting to an iPhone for close shots. The time is when your camera is not handy – possibly 3 or 4 counties away; the place is where you are right now, when an orange tip – so often a skittish species – decides to choose a plant to land on and to stay there for a while.Orange Tip Butterfly, Dorset 3

The technique for getting reasonably sharp pictures with an iPhone is this: take 20 – 30 rapid shots of the subject, holding the phone at varying distances from it until you get too close and the creature flies away. This specialist process is necessary because it is impossible to be sure what the camera has actually focused on and what the optimum distance for the shot actually is. This may be a question of distance, angle or lighting – or any combination. These were the best of them – but I also got some great detailed shots of the flowers and their stems, with the butterfly a smear of orange and white.

Orange Tip Butterfly, Dorset 4

These images are never going to make the grade in the aggressively contested photograph section of the village art and craft show (unless there’s a special iPhone group, perhaps). But they are better than I was expecting, with reasonably sharp ‘buds’, as I think the blobs on the end of the feelers are called. That’s the first thing I look at when deleting butterfly photos…
Orange Tip Butterfly, Dorset 1

JUMIEGES ABBEY: AN ELABORATE EARLY SUNDIAL


Mass (Scratch) Sundial, Jumieges Abbey, France 1

A picnic lunch at the Abbey of Jumièges, Normandy, has much to commend it – not least tranquility and a stunning view. As we sat enjoying the sunshine on our white bench, we both noticed something unusual on the nearest tower, something not mentioned in anything we had read about the Abbey. On the south wall below the 4 levels of arcaded towers you’ll see in the header image a small red item pointing down at 45º. A gnomon – and where there’s a gnomon, there’s a sundial (although the reverse is often not the case). So we went to investigate.

Mass (Scratch) Sundial, Jumieges Abbey, France 3

The Abbaye de Jumièges was a Benedictine monastery founded in 654AD. In the c9, the original abbey was burned down by Vikings, then rebuilt. A new and larger Abbey was consecrated in 1067, and it was further enlarged in the c13. Restoration work was carried out in the late c16. Subsequently, a vast sundial dated 1660 was crudely carved in the south face of the tower.

Mass (Scratch) Sundial, Jumieges Abbey, France 4

The primitive design and execution of the sundial is rather at odds with the architectural precision of the stonework and the daring of the conceit of  building a hexagonal tower on two square ones, and topping it off with a circular tower… just because they could. The rustic sundial has more in common with the medieval Mass or Scratch sundials on churches, primitive devices that originally evolved simply to indicate the time of the next Mass, with the Priest moving a stick into the appropriate hole on the wall to mark the forthcoming canonical hour. From being an ‘event marker’, the addition of a gnomon and roughly scratched numerals placed higher on a church wall would later provide a community with a way to mark the hours – at least when the sun shone.

A rough medieval scratch dial above a church door near Epernay (sans gnomon)France sundial

Longburton Church, Dorset: a more sophisticated scratch dial high on the Ham stone south wall – ?c16Longburton Church, Dorset: scratch sundial

Returning to Jumièges, here is a closer look at the sundial, with embellishments that seem to have been carved freehand and endearingly ineptly for such a splendid and august building. Yet the time markers have clearly been carved with precision. My only negative comment on this exuberant and enjoyable timepiece is the modern gnomon that looks completely out of place to me. Maybe it’s the colour that’s the problem. Or the flat utilitarian blade of metal. Anyway, without glimpsing it from our picnic spot we would never have seen that side of the tower, and we would have missed an unusual treat.

Mass (Scratch) Dial, Jumieges Abbey, France 5Mass (Scratch) Dial, Jumieges Abbey, France 2Mass (Scratch) Dial, Jumieges Abbey, France 7

All images: RH

 

ST MARY’S, MELBURY BUBB, DORSET: A “SINGLE-TREASURE” CHURCH


St Mary's Church Melbury Bubb Dorset 03

St Mary’s Church in Melbury Bubb, Dorset stands on a hillside deep in Hardy Country. In The Woodlanders, the hamlet is called “Little Hintock”. The little-known church contains a particular pre-conquest treasure – a well-preserved c10 Anglo-Saxon font of great beauty and intricacy of carving. Simon Jenkins calls St Mary’s a “single treasure church” and praises its extaordinary “lack of pretension”. This remains one of the few un-electrified Dorset churches, with oil lamps for light and a coal-fired stove in the nave for warmth. The solitary church at nearby Hilfield is another. 

The interior has a carved wood rood screen and wooden ‘waggon’ roof. The stove and oil lamps are visible.St Mary's Church Melbury Bubb Dorset 05St Mary's Church Melbury Bubb Dorset 06

THE FONT

A quick glance at the font reveals that it is in fact upside down. The theory is that it is carved from the upturned base of a Saxon cross, perhaps a “preaching cross” that presumably predated the original early church building as a place of congregation and worship. The carvings appear to depict – possibly – a lion, a wolf, a horse, a stag, a dolphin or porpoise, and a couple of smaller creatures. It takes a bit of a leap of imagination, and of course the beasts may even be mythical rather than representational. However, the helpful memorial frieze on the wall certainly makes tentative identifications easier without having to crick one’s neck unduly. I thought I’d detected a fish of some sort, but it turned out to be an upside-down animal haunch… I have included photos of the documents that are on the wall by the font, which give additional information and historical interpretations about the “single treasure”

St Mary's Church Melbury Bubb Dorset 04St Mary's Church Melbury Bubb Dorset 07

St Mary's Church Melbury Bubb Dorset 08 St Mary's Church Melbury Bubb Dorset 09

St Mary's Church Melbury Bubb Dorset 12

St Mary's Church Melbury Bubb Dorset 13 St Mary's Church Melbury Bubb Dorset 14

St Mary's Church Melbury Bubb Dorset 15

Two c17 tombs in the churchyardSt Mary's Church Melbury Bubb Dorset 02 St Mary's Church Melbury Bubb Dorset 01

Credits: all photos RH; light-touch research from church documents and Simon Jenkins ‘Great English Churches’