The KempleyTardis website records the social and economic history and life of the village of Kempley stretching from the C12th to the present day. The working landscape of today reveals the changes effected by man's development of the natural resource, and the response of fauna and flora, in this 'managed' countryside.
Listen to "Welcome to the KempleyTardis"
A starting point for any visitor to our virtual model of an English rural village is forestry commission officer John Anderson's interview in the 1,000 years of Dymock Forest audio story. He was the local beat forester for 40 yrs. The dialogue explains how the land was in the hands of the lords of the manor who employed "woodwards" to protect the forest from depredation by villagers and their livestock. Discover how "assarts", ancient woodland areas cleared by local monks, were further developed by charcoal makers who relied on medieval oak and hazel coppice management. Learn how the forest remained a thriving commercial business right the way through to the latter half of the 20th century.
The geology and post ice-age ecology of the Dean is described by John Christian, a true Forester born 1926 near Drybrook. Today he would be a landscape ecologist. He graduated as a land surveyor, and meanwhile maintained his passion as a bird 'twitcher' publishing in 1999 "Sketches of Dean's Birds - their history and whereabouts at the Millenium". His second chapter describes the industrial heritage of the Dean, its impact on the ecology, and from this basis the book describes all the birds, visitors, migrants and native to the forest and Vale of the Leadon - which starts west of the River Severn at Westgate Bridge, Gloucester.
Villages throughout the land have changed immeasurably from late Victorian times. Indeed, in her book English Villagers, Valerie Porter suggests that the link between the land and the community is largely severed. It is certainly true that those working in agriculture and rural trades in Kempley are now a minority. Incomers outnumber those who were born here and in a village of only 250 souls there are at least twenty who run businesses or earn their living from home. Perhaps we are at the start of the next industrial revolution with people leaving the towns to live and work in but not on the land. The internet continues to change our lives, and the KempleyTardis signals the capacity to create real, rather than virtual, social networks.
Transport, or the lack of it shaped the social life of the village. It is thought that until the arrival of the bicycle, enabling longer distant travel, the gene pool for a village such as Kempley was restricted to a ten mile radius. From the turn of the 20th century until after the second world war most villagers would have been engaged in one way or another with working on the land. Apart from the majority of landless agricultural labourers there were a dozen who worked in the Forest, there were two smithies, a stone mason, a carpenter and two bakeries. To find out more about how life and times were lived in the village visit the audio stories. Here you can listen to personal histories and then learn about their houses and the countryside within which they are set
Mechanisation on the farms also impacted jobs.
The first tractor in Kempley arrived in 1937, this together with the loss of labour during the war ended a way of life for itinerant farm workers that had existed since the16th century. That mechanisation and other factors of ‘improved grassland management’ had serious implications for the wild daffodil. Meadow populations declined significantly and the golden carpet that once greeted early spring, retreated to the old orchards and hedgerows.
From early C20th onwards the bicycle became the most common mode of transport, extending the range for itinerant workers and joining communities both socially and commercially.
Transport takes us neatly to the Great Western Railway Daffodil Line. Opened in 1885 it followed the bed of the old Gloucester Hereford Canal between Dymock and Over, where it linked with the Gloucester Line. The economic impact is obvious, local producers now had efficient, regular access to the major cities and the goods they needed came in on the returning trains. More than this, London Bristol and Birmingham were brought within reach. Read about the Dymock man who commuted to London between the wars taking no more time than the journey does today.
The romantic sounding Daffodil Line name arose from its role in carrying the local wild daffodils to markets in London and Birmingham. It also carried the Daffodil Girls as pickers, and the day-tripper tourist released from the Black Country toil and smog at Springtime. The daffodil fields as a tourist attraction were at the forefront of the Victorian and Edwardian love affair with the countryside. As an aside it should be noted that Ross-on-Wye as a base for exploring the Wye Valley and the Forest of Dean is generally regarded as the first railway fed tourist boom.
The wild daffodil was an important cash crop. In the 1920s this was an essential income for tied agricultural workers being their only cash crop source, through until the autumn blackberry season. Right up to the 1950’s children were known to miss school in March to help harvest the ‘gold’.
The Birmingham Weekly Post’s diary piece 1954 shows how daffodil season was not only income, and an away day opportunity, but an early charity event –for example TocH who supported their work in hospitals with a bunch of 50 daffs from each child.
The reporter Vivian Bird records that ‘ a ton of flowers half filled a 60ft goods van at the railway station, leaving overnight on the Cheltenham Flyer, reaching Paddington at 3.05pm.
The business was made possible by the rapid transportation of the crop to market on the GWR train for them to be networked on throughout the country, and the cathedral cities. What a pity that Covent Garden and wholesale markets are now wholly reliant on road transport.
For a nostalgic glimpse of the age of steam watch the film of “the last passenger train to use the Daffodil Line” (1962) by permission of Jim Clemens from the vol II Herefordshire Byways .The line closed to passengers in 1959 and to freight in 1964. How little the Westminster government knew, or indeed cared, about the loss of local jobs and the impact on mobility for those left behind. It is no accident that young people left the area, and it has taken 50 years for the school roll to recover.
The naturalist broadcaster Richard Mabey wrote about the Newent area and in 2011 singled out the Wild Daffodil as one of five most significant UK species in his radio series Mabey in the Wild “ Wild Daffodils”. BBC Radio 4 3/7/2011.
We have the Just Radio production company’s unedited interviews with villagers at the Daffodil Weekend 2011. This will form part of our oral history recordings archive at Gloucestershire Archives for retrieval by future generations, much as Mass Observation records were kept from WWII, and were so culturally enlightening 50 years on.
After the loss of God’s Wonderful Railway it was not until the mid-1970s that private car ownership permitted ordinary householders to visit the village’s traditional Daffodil Weekends.
Each March at the peak flowering time the three local villages open on consecutive weekends, welcoming the Lent Lily visitors to explore the landscape heritage of the area. There are guided walks, teas in the Village Halls as well as exhibitions and sale of local produce. These Spring events attract national attention to the village heritage buildings and late Victorian landscape. The many hundreds of visitors to Kempley act as an important fundraiser for the local church charity, Friends of Kempley Churches, as well as the village hall.
The Friends are the sponsors of the KempleyTardis website and the links give you a virtual tour of St Mary’s and St Edward’s, something you should not miss. To become a Friend and help maintain these wonderful churches just follow the link.
By the 1960s the traditions of coming out from Gloucester and the Severn Vale, as well as the Forest, meant the Forestry Commission needed to manage the 'harvesting' of the early cut flower market. Likewise locals had all sorts of scams, selling daffs on the roadside, and charging a shilling (sometimes at each end of the same field !) for people to come and pick. The survival of these daffodil populations has now been related directly to an ecological appraisal of its life cycle succinctly summarised in our submission to the Daffodil Society Handbook March 2013
A deeper and more scientific appraisal is found in the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust (GWT) survey carried out between 2007-2009. This document explains the distribution of wild daffodils throughout Europe after the last ice age 20,000 yrs ago. Our Golden Triangle population is one of only three sites in the UK where they are still found in any numbers. The survey traces their history and life cycle and shows how they survive in a wide variety of habitats. It concludes that despite not being a protected species the local community efforts to maintain and improve the distribution are vital and need to continue to be supported. This is especially important given the 2012 reduction in funding to the Forestry Commission for this area of responsibility.Before moving on to those efforts it is worth taking a look at the article on Ketford Bank. This 1.07 acre of land was bought in 1989 by Sonia Holland, the County Botanic Recorder, and bequeathed to FWAG. Here is a plant survey surviving from her survey in 1989 when she bought the land. A hugely varied flora at the site with more than 50 plant species and 14 grasses (all indigenous) surviving and thriving. The names like Nipplewort, Rough Hawkbit and Selfheal remind us of the use and local nomenclature for many of our indigenous plants.
Before moving on to those efforts it is worth taking a look at the story of Ketford Bank. This 1.07acre plot was bought in 1989 by Sonia Holland, the County Botanic Recorder. On her death she bequeathed the Reserve to FWAG. (Farming/ Wildlife group)
Here is a plant species list surviving from her survey:
a hugely varied flora with more than 50 plant species and 14 grasses (all indigenous) surviving and thriving. The names like Nipplewort, Rough Hawkbit and Selfheal remind us of the use and local nomenclature for many of our indigenous plants.
It was a much favoured hot spot for daffodils – witness this Citizen report of a 60yr reunion in 1990 – a story which replays in 2013 with Gladys’ daughter Pauline Mitchell, amazingly living in the same house and phone number 20 years on!
Sadly since the death of Sonia Holland, the bank and bridleway management regressed, particularly the livestock grazing regime, and the biological succession of invasive plants took over.
In 2010 however the site was transferred to the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust (GWT) for a nominal £1 fee, and stalwart efforts by volunteers under the stewardship of Kevin Caster have revealed the daffodils once more.
The Wild Daffodil Project (WDP) came in to being in 2003 in response to the decline in daffodil populations in the village verges, footpaths and churchyard.
We started by surveying where daffodil populations existed and collecting anecdotal memories of villagers and visitors. The project volunteers set about developing a management strategy for maintenance of the public forest estate and the county council verges, to create a sustainable daffodil-friendly habitat.
In 2005 Kempley Parish Council were nominated to administer a grant from the National Grid who were constructing the gas pipeline from Milford Haven to Tirley, Glos.. The broad objective for the resultant project was to manage the woodland, hedgerow and meadow habitats sustainably to benefit wild daffodils and, by extension, the region’s valuable biodiversity.
A co-ordinated Programme of activity from 2007 reaped rewards with a Golden 2012 for volunteer Seed Guardians who collected seed, propagated and planted 75,000 seedling daffs. Bear in mind that at any point along this 5 year cultivation cycle, if strimmed, dessicated or otherwise shaded-out the plant would fail.
From here on out the self-seeding spread should bring dividends
The story of the efforts to achieve that success is remarkable. It embraced council licences for managing the verges, agreement with various parties including farmers and landowners to re-colonise with wild daffodils and, crucially, remove the hybrids, which were invading the wild spaces.
Learn how the installation of the gas pipe-line was seen not as a threat but an opportunity to get funds for more conservation and propagation. Above all be impressed by the sheer logistics of mobilising volunteers to carry out so much work. See Countryman March 2009
As we worked to develop the site we noticed an increasing reliance on the internet both for importing and exporting data and information. This together with the meteoric rise of social media has totally changed traditional ways of working. It would seem that the KempleyTardis site is a paradigm for the way we will all connect and share in the future. Perhaps, as we suggested earlier, work in the future will be distributed to many, many small locations. Ominous times for monoliths like the Shard and Canary Wharf?
Such is the potential impact of social development of hubs and information networks in the C21st.
The history of national government policy of the last 100 years in farming even, let alone the long term commitment of forestry and landscape value, is demonstrated on a local scale by the chopping and changing of the working plan at Dymock..
Set up in 1915 (only 100 years ago) by a minister responsibility for munitions and forests – the public forest policy through the century comes from an ideology of concerns within a Defence budget (cf Nelson planting his oaks in the coastal belt of the Dean)
The Forest has been under threat in 1981, 1992 and 2010, threats vehemently and vigorously faced down by the people of the Forest.
Public concern in the 1980s led to the formation of the Windcross Paths Group, and the formal designation of the Daffodil Way and Poets Paths. The cultural interest in the local Daffodil Weekends and Walks in March, along with the history of the Dymock Poets – regularly featured in the rural county life magazines
By 2010 we had collated a comprehensive report called
the Dymock Forest Case, presented to the House of Lords to lobby against our Forest passing into private ownership
Our Report demonstrated in scientific and environmental policy terms that the ‘multiple benefits’ of ancient woodland were far in excess of merely their timber value. These benefits included health and well-being, tourism, countryside access, and in a national /global context, their biodiversity, climate mitigation and sustainable local resources value.
The conclusions showed with dramatic clarity that such Heritage Forests as Dymock have a 1000 year history of cultivation by local people. They also showed that its size, ecologically, is already at a minimum for its survival. The next two years lobbying will be about keeping In Trust for the Nation the public estate within a updated version of the Forestry Commission, within a local Working Landscape partnership.
Call to Arms (well, legs!) - March 2013
The Daffodil Way : the ten mile circular footpath celebrates its 25th Anniversary this year – come to the Golden Triangle villages throughout March 2013, attend the celebrations, and see how local activist conservation is making our Working Landscape as relevant today as it was 1000 years ago.