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The Countryside Remembered

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The photographs date from the 1930s to the 1960s and come from the archives of the Institute of Agricultural History at the University of Reading where author Sadie Ward works.

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I doubt he would change his hard and independent outdoor life with a king's.

Jimmy Dunford, a timeless figure, who has passed out of time in England, was "one of the last shepherds in charge of an arable flock, standing guard over his snow-bound sheep on Salisbury Plain in a blizzard in December 1937".

Sadie Ward's book is full of country details such as shepherds living in huts near their ewes during lambing, and finding "patience, warmth and whisky" the best cure for sickly newborn lambs. (I think it's a good cure for men, too.) The time when sheep naturally shed their fleece was called the "rise of the wool", and arable sheep were washed in rivers before shearing. In one of my favorite images from the book, a sheep dives into the River Ure from a height, and looks as grave and determined as an Olympic medallist with back legs outstretched.

Ward is not a romantic about country life, but she is an affectionate guide. Country life united hard work, treats, good fellowship, and enormous skill and resourcefulness in farming, the woodland economy and crafts. Artist Gordon Beningfield, who wrote the introduction, recalls -

You looked forward, say, to new potatoes, apples, collecting rosehips from the hedgerows for rosehip syrup and blackberries for blackberry and apple pie. I still remember the real excitement that went with getting an unplucked cockerel straight from the farm for a special occasion like Christmas.

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Threshing in Kent

Life seems lovely and normal except for one momentous detail - the children are carrying gas masks over their shoulders. It is September 1939, and World War II has begun.

The Countryside Remembered was a Christmas present to David from his sister Mary. It's a wonderful book.

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