Wednesday, 8 May 2013

The conservatism of Moorlanders- the experience of WH Hudson

In May 1913 the Anglo Argentinian writer WH Hudson was in the area. He was at the peak of his powers and had produced many books on bird watching and nature either in Britain or on Latin America. His most well known book “Green Mansions” was published in 1904 and often cited as the first ecological novel subtitled- A romance of the Tropical Forest- it is a mystical novel on the life of a forest child in the Amazonian jungle who is at one with the animals of the jungle. Hudson was collecting material on Axe Edge for a book “Adventures Among Birds”. Hudson was not impressed by the locals comparing them unfavourably with the more fiery Lancastrians. He blamed their lack of spirit and energy on Methodism.

“Moorlanders are not a happy looking or a lively people. They have colourless faces and for good looks compare badly with inhabitants of the adjoining districts.

The farming methods were backward. “The farmers depend mainly on their lean ill fed cows for a livelihood: they make butter and feed a pig or two with the skim milk. They live on bacon and buttermilk themselves and bread which they make or buy, but vegetables and fruit are luxuries”

“I asked several farmers why they did not cut bracken which was plentiful enough, to serve as bedding for cows, since they could not get straw. They answered that occasionally a farmer did so, but it was not a custom and they thought the cows did just as well without bedding at all!”

Hudson encountered the innate deep rooted conservatism of the area. This entirely coincides with an account from a farmer Tom Mullins born in 1863 whose autobiography is included in a collection of writings of working people called “Useful Toil” published by Penguin in the 70s. Mullins whose book was collected when he was an old man recounts walking to Leek market as 10 year old from his parent’s farm at Rushton Spencer with a basket containing two hundred eggs on one arm and another basket with twelve pounds of butter on the other.

In the 1870s Mullins records that the reaction of the locals when the first steam powered farm machines arrived in the area was one of laughter! The farming methods described are not far removed from the medieval with Mullins quoting a farmer who was so far opposed to anything modern that he even refused to use horses.