RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Harvesting in the Old Way

A favourite rural Sussex event is Harvesting in the Old Way, this year held on David Mortimer’s farm a mile or so northwest of Chichester at West Stoke.

Everybody goes happily back in time on the wheat fields watching ancient tractors and heavy horses working as they did up to a century ago. This year there were no less than three working corn binders, one pulled by a pair of horses.

The horses behaved very well with this strange clattering monster on their tails, with its sails revolving and the sheaves being flicked out every few yards. The cutter bar chattered back and forth at high speed, cutting the stalks which were folded onto the canvas tray and fed up into the 1890s-designed complex whirl of cogs and teeth, twine fingers and clampers as the machine tied a neat little knot around the parcel then spat it out upon the stubble. All this technological blacksmith’s art was driven by huge iron wheel which the horses had to turn. They got a bit puffed out at one point and were comforted by their lady handler who stroked their faces.

Not at all tired was a 1942 red David Brown tractor the like of which was the envy of my brother in that year who longed for the knee shields this tractor sported ( but no cab) against the Norfolk storms as he had to plough with a little grey Ferguson throughout those bitter WW2 years. The corn sheaves last week were taken to the Ransomes drum, properly painted in pink as I remember them as a child. The traction engine huffed and puffed with its long belt driven off the flywheel as it whirled sieves, shakers, riddles and fans inside the drum which hummed with a hungry moan for more. Wheat kernels dribbled into hessian sacks, chaff and dust came out of port holes in the side, loose straw spewed out at the back. Another engine drove a vast saw bench and made planks, others rumbled gently to themselves digesting fire and water in the bellies with contented noises.

The book stalls had tales of old by Sussex authors such as Richard Jefferies and Bernard Price. There was honey for sale, and farm tools, nuts and bolts, carvings of owls and hob goblins, displays of tobacco tins of long ago, stationary engines chuffing with their occasional single pop of exploding paraffin, a corn winnowing machine rescued from the bonfire and lovingly restored to good as new.

There were tiny tractors, weird tractors such as the 1942 Kramer made in Nazi Germany and just about the only one in Britain and restored as a curio, and there were classic cars of the type mum and dad used to drive before and just after the war.

All this under the peaceful, nostalgic skies of good old Sussex as it all once was. We all went home rested and happy and ready for the next one in 2018 we hope.