Sheldon Jottings for November 2014

We were all very sad to hear of the death of the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire. She often visited Sheldon, which at one time was a ‘Chatsworth Village’, to see the Cowslips and Orchids in Deep Dale, to attend the Harvest Service in Church, and to open Sheldon Day. Many of us have memories and stories to tell of her interest in all things rural, her support for the villages, her sharp mind and her tremendous work at Chatsworth. Several of us attended the funeral in glorious weather – a real Derbyshire occasion, superbly organised as only Chatsworth can, from the staff lining the route from the House to Edensor, the big screens on the Green outside the Church, the moving Service to the refreshments on the South Lawn. Her wicker coffin, a recording of Elvis during the service and the swing band playing on the South Lawn provided a perfect ‘Debo’ occasion to remember and celebrate the life of a truly remarkable lady.

Now for really great news, we have a new resident in the village. Elizabeth, Mark and George now have a new member of the family – Alice was born early on Monday September 22nd, in rather a hurry! According to all who have been lucky enough to meet her, she is truly beautiful. Congratulations from us all.

The Harvest Festival Service, held as it always is in Sheldon on the first Sunday in October, saw the Church decorated with vegetables and donations from the village. There was a goodly congregation to celebrate and give thanks for the harvest. The produce was sent to Newholme.

We send our best wishes to Wendy N and to John C. Wendy is slowly recovering from a hernia operation. John and Michelle have had a very difficult time lately as John battles to recover from his cancer. Our thoughts are with you all.

The Sheldon History Group will meet on Wednesday November 19th at Hartington Memorial Hall for a ‘Bring and Show’ evening. We hope that members will bring an artefact, document or picture, indeed anything that has a Sheldon connection that we can show and perhaps explain. Here is a chance to show those little things which have been gathering dust in the attic which we can share with others. All are welcome, do come along even if you have nothing to show you may be able to shed light on something brought by someone else.

As we reported in last month’s Jottings, Sheila has relinquished her post as our secretary to the Parish Meeting. We are still looking for someone to step into her shoes. If you would like to be involved in our village affairs here is a post which allows you to do just that, there are six meetings each year when minutes are taken. If you wish to take this prestigious post or know anyone who would be willing to become our secretary (the person does not need to live in Sheldon) could you please contact either Alistair Warren or Andrew Joly.

Plans are already being laid for next year’s Sheldon Day, the group have booked the sunniest, warm and windless day of the year for the 2015 extravaganza. The great day will be held on Saturday 25th July with the Fell Race taking place on the previous Thursday 23rd July.

Dates for the Diary

Tuesday 4th November – ‘Cock and Pullet’
Vicar’s Coffee Morning

Wednesday November 19th – 7:30pm in Hartington Memorial Hall
Sheldon History Group Meeting ‘Bring and Show’ evening

Sheldon Jottings for October 2014

Signs of Autumn are all around us. Most swallows have flown south, they went at the beginning of the month – rather early this year. The nights are lengthening and are becoming cooler – and the morning mists are with us. Some leaves are beginning to turn – and the gardens are taking on a distinctly autumnal air with the asters and other autumn flowering plants brightening the borders; the children have gone back to school….

The 7th of September was an important day for several people in the village. Andrew L was 21 and the family celebrated with an evening at Hassop Hall. Peter and Sarah celebrated their first wedding anniversary on the same day; congratulations to you all!

We are delighted to welcome the new residents of Rose Cottage. Melanie F and her beautiful daughter Ruby have joined us in the village and it has certainly made Oliver very happy! We hope they will enjoy being with us for many years to come.

The last Cream Tea of the year was held on August Bank holiday Sunday – a lovely sunny day resulted in a very successful afternoon raising £265 to swell the coffers of the village hall. Cream teas this year have again been a great bonus for the hall and our thanks must go to all those who helped in any way, setting up and decorating tables, putting out the signs and helping in the kitchen on the day – a great effort. Well done to everyone and thanks go to you all.

Much of the money raised through Cream Tea Days has gone to the refurbishment of the newly painted, newly curtained Hartington Memorial Hall – Sheldon’s village hall. It has been a long journey for the trustees and particularly Lindsey, who has shouldered the lions share of the work and Pat, who has kept things going as the work has progressed. It has all been well worth the effort. We are lucky to have such a beautiful hall with such a long history. It was, of course, the village school before being gifted to the village by the Duke of Devonshire; thanks to all those involved.

Unfortunately, we hear from the last Parish Meeting, that Sheila has decided to hang up her pens and retire as secretary to the Parish Meeting. For many years she has been there as a tremendous support for each chair – John H, Georgina and now Alistair. Her work has been exemplary, her efficiency legendary – Sheila we will all miss you sitting next to the Chair at the Parish Meetings; thank you so much for all your hard work.

Would someone please think seriously about taking over the role and serving our community?

The next History Group meeting on October 22nd takes the form of a talk by Martha Lawrence from Buxton Museum, on the prehistory of the Sheldon area. Our countryside is full of evidence left by the earliest peoples to settle here. Stone age flints are found in the fields, there are bronze age round barrows near Manor Farm. We can see Fin Cop, an iron age fort to the north of the village and Arbor Low – the Stonehenge of the North – is a dramatic stone circle just a short distance away. It should be a fascinating talk. We hope you can join us at the village hall.

Finally, a reminder from Bakewell Safer Neighbourhood Police Team, for us to take steps to better protect our vehicles from being targeted by thieves. Valuables such as sat navs are still being left on display, as witnessed by them at Chatsworth Country Fair on August 30th. So secure your vehicle properly, park in well lit, overlooked areas and remove any visible marks such as sat nav holder rings.

Dates for the Diary

Tuesday 7th October
Vicar’s Coffee Morning in the village hall

Wednesday 8th October
Parish Meeting 7.30pm in the village hall

Wednesday 22nd October
Sheldon History Group Meeting 7.30pm village hall.
‘Before history’ – a talk by Martha Lawrence of Buxton Museum. You will be most welcome to join us

Wisdom, Wit and Well Dressing

Most of us in Derbyshire are familiar with ‘Well Dressing’.  Those of us not directly involved, stand amongst the astonished visitors, admiring the fabulous images created using natural materials pushed into clay.  But do we really know what effort goes into producing this spectacle, or why people bother with something so painstaking and time-consuming?  Georgina Tanner (née Slack) takes us on a privileged, behind-the-scenes glimpse into one Derbyshire village’s well dressing preparations.

Murky Waters

The precise origins of well dressing are hazy, with little documented and much theorised.  The widely-held belief is that well dressing derives from pagan practices (perhaps from as far back as the Celts), which were modified by, and incorporated into the Christian Church. Tissington is often referred to as the ‘mother-place’ of well dressing.  This is because the revival of well dressing in a form that we might recognise today, is thought to have taken place here.  In the summer of Sixteen Fifteen, during a prolonged drought, all of Tissington’s wells remained in flow.  As an act of thanksgiving, villagers decorated the wells with flowers, mosses, ferns and other foliage, arranged on the ground to produce sentences, primarily from the scriptures.

Sheepwash Well, thought to have been taken in the Nineteen Twenties or Thirties. This demonstrates the continuation of the ‘Floralia’ tradition. Photograph courtesy of Mr. & Mrs. T. C. Bettney.

Sheepwash Well, thought to have been taken in the Nineteen Twenties or Thirties. This demonstrates the continuation of the ‘Floralia’ tradition. Photograph courtesy of Mr. & Mrs. T. C. Bettney.

The custom became known as ‘Floralia’ (possibly derived from the ‘Floralia’, an ancient Roman festival dedicated to Flora, goddess of flowers and the spring) or ‘well dressing’.  It is thought to have evolved into the creation of an almost ‘grotto’ effect around the wells.  Later, as the familiar clay-filled boards emerged, they remained framed by a dense layer of foliage in ‘Floralia’ tradition, and mirrors were set amongst the plants to create the illusion of water.

Today, around 60 Derbyshire towns and villages uphold the tradition of well dressing, which remains virtually exclusive to the county.  Tissington’s are the first of the season, which runs from May to September each year.

New Beginnings

On a spring day in Nineteen Fifty-Four, a woman pedalled furiously on her bike from Ashford-in-the-Water to Youlgrave.  She was on an important mission; one which she could not have imagined would have such a huge impact on Ashford-in-the-Water, even to this day.  She had been asked by the new Vicar, Rev. George, to restore the ancient custom of ‘well dressing’ to the village.  This once enthusiastically upheld tradition, like so many things, had died out with the onset of Word War II, and remained dormant for almost 20 years.  Now the Vicar wanted it revived in time to celebrate Trinity Sunday, the Patronal Festival of Ashford’s Holy Trinity Church.  Ida Thorpe didn’t know anything at all about well dressing; she had no idea about boards, clay, petalling, and certainly not drawing, and she had just nine days to do it!

Youlgrave villagers kindly explained exactly what was involved, and offered their help.  Later that day, Ida set her husband to work constructing a wooden board, whilst she attempted to sketch out a simple Biblical design for the well dressing.  Permission was granted from the Duke of Devonshire to extract clay from a pit at Hassop station, and the board was duly filled.  The design was marked out from the drawing onto the clay, and natural materials were collected to create the image.  With a gargantuan team effort, the board was completed on time and a new era of well dressing in Ashford was born.  The tradition flourished year on year, with additional boards being created and decorated.  Ida also developed her own three-dimensional style, with plants and objects stretching out in front of the board.

A ‘Well Dressing Year’

Little has changed since those days, except that villagers now create six well dressings; one for each of Ashford-in-the-Water’s wells. This collective annual effort is steered by the Well Dressing Committee, a dedicated band of residents who meet monthly from January. However, well dressing begins in October for Committee Secretary, when they apply for the license from Derbyshire Dales District Council to collect donations for charity at the well sites. Early on in the year the themes for the wells are chosen, often something contemporary (a national/international celebration or anniversary) or perhaps a Biblical subject. A hymn relevant to the theme is then picked, to be sung during the procession and blessing of the wells on Trinity Sunday. A Silver Band is booked for the procession, and Police permission obtained for the roads to be closed. Posters are printed, and well dressing guides produced, which explain the themes and a give a brief history of each well (with a map). The guides also detail the various activities taking place in the village during well dressing week, and are sold throughout the village for a mere £1 (donated to charity). All this effort, and before the official well dressing period has even begun!

‘Claying the boards’ on the banks of the River Wye, near Sheepwash Bridge

‘Claying the boards’ on the banks of the River Wye, near Sheepwash Bridge

The wooden boards used for well dressing are constructed using a ‘lath and plaster’ technique (but without nails which might catch on well dressers’ hands), and their dimensions are dependent on those of the well they frame.  A single well dressing may comprise several boards: top, bottom, middle and sides.  They alter little from year to year, save for any necessary repairs.  The boards are first placed in the River Wye to soak, in a pile weighed down with stones, and secured to the edge with rope; the damp wood is believed to retain moisture in the clay.  One week later, the banks of the river near Sheepwash Bridge are teeming with children (and adults) of all ages, for the much-anticipated ‘claying of the boards’.  Clay is literally ‘splatted’ on to the boards, filling a depth of a few centimetres, and the surface skimmed to produce a smooth finish.  This year, one tonne of potter’s clay was required which is more expensive than previously used powdered clay, which can no longer be obtained.  The children, eager with excitement, become covered from head to toe in clay and delight in making hand prints on each other’s backs, before racing into the shallow water to see who can get soaked first!  Meanwhile, the adults finish the job, but great fun is had by all.  The boards are then taken to their temporary ‘homes’; various garages and buildings around the village, where groups of residents (mainly women) hunker down, night and day, for the next week to complete the finished article.

‘Filling in’ a 'wooled' design using natural materials.

‘Filling in’ a ‘wooled’ design using natural materials.

Drawings will have been sketched onto big pieces of paper during the preceding weeks, usually laid out across a living-room floor.  They are placed on top of the clay, and the design pricked through using a cocktail stick or needle, leaving something resembling a ‘join-the-dots’ picture.  The outline of the design is then created, usually using black wool pushed at intervals into the clay, in a technique known as ‘woolling’.  The design is ‘filled in’ using a mixture of both wild and garden flowers and leaves pushed into the clay, along with other natural materials such as sheep’s wool, sweet corn, alder cones, lichen and fluorspar.  For example, in 2008 there was a hydrangea dress, a geranium coat, a straw flagpole with ceanothus leaf flag, privet leaf lettering, lavender sky and eggshell skin; the imagination runs wild!  Delicate petals (the first to dry out) are left until the last possible moment, and inserted into the clay like overlapping roof tiles, enabling raindrops to trickle off.  As happens fairly frequently, one of this year’s groups toiled into the early hours in order to finish their design on time, but it is unheard of for any board to remain incomplete.

At 6.00am the next morning, it’s over to the ‘Heavy Gang’ (mainly men) and their trailer, who collect each board and transport it to its well site, where it is hoisted into position and secured in place.  ‘Brute force’ is required to lift the extremely heavy boards.  After three hours, the boards are in place and the ‘Heavy Gang’ retire to the Old School building for a well-earned ‘fry-up’, before installing donation boxes and ropes around each well, as well as signs around the village.  The well dressings remain on display for a week, and some are lit up at night by wiring stretching out of people’s homes.

The author's husband demonstrating the art of "sheepwashing".

The author’s husband demonstrating the “art of sheepwashing”.

As if well dressings were not enough, the village is buzzing with activities to keep visitors enthralled throughout the week.  These include a ‘sheepwash’ demonstration, where sheep are washed in the river to rid their fleece of dirt and the natural oil, lanolin (a clean fleece would have fetched a higher price).  Demonstration of this age-old tradition, which is no longer practiced, requires permission from DEFRA and the consideration of some very modern health and safety issues!  Inside the Church, a rich, sweet scent fills the air from the vibrant and colourful floral displays.  There is a well dressing demonstration, a stunning Arts and Crafts display, scrumptious refreshments available for visitors in the Old School or Ashford Institute, and a comical scarecrow competition.

After a week exposed to the unpredictable British weather, the boards start to look a little worse for wear.  The natural materials are scraped off the surface of the clay using a wallpaper scraper, and as much of the clay as possible is retrieved, to be used again the following year.  Two weeks later, participants gather together at a BBQ to celebrate their hard work, and mark another year’s outstanding achievements.

Parsley, Petals and Rigor Mortis!

So why do people give up so much time and energy to well dressing?  There seem to be several, very admirable reasons to do so.  One may be the opportunity to enhance and exhibit the creative skills involved in well dressing, which have been passed down through the generations.  After all, well dressing surely is an art, requiring extensive expertise built upon year after year.  One example is knowledge about the durability and weather resistance of different materials.  Dorothy Daybell, who has been involved with well dressing in Ashford for almost 50 years, describes the example of the Queen’s horse (part of a design commemorating the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002).  That year, aubergine peel provided the perfect silky black of the horse’s coat, but only 24 hours after being pressed into the clay, it had shrivelled up and was hurriedly replaced by copper beech.  The timing of well dressing, differing slightly each year, also exerts an influence.  It is no use settling on a particular petal, if the plant is not yet in flower.  A further consideration is whether sufficient quantities of a particular material can be gathered, to complete a certain area of the design.  With identical side panels, one trick is to work with a particular colour on both sides at once.  Should this material run out, this can be compensated for on both sides, which therefore match.  Attention to detail is paramount (for example the musical notes of one design had to be accurate, as did the Chinese characters on another), as members of the public do notice, and will pass comment!  Above all, well dressing provides people who may not normally consider themselves ‘artistic’, with an opportunity to participate in a highly creative process.

Another motivation may be the fantastic sums of money raised for good causes, with the aim being to donate £1,000 each year.  The groups working on each well get to choose their own charity, to which £100 is donated, with the Well Dressing Committee determining recipients for the remainder.  A range of local organisations benefit, both within the village itself, and in the surrounding area.  Yet this is not without obstacles.  In 2007, a donations box was stolen from beside a well, with the thief gaining an estimated £12.  This is not the first incident of its kind, with money also having been taken from beside the Children’s Well, created each year by the children of Ashford.  In another incident, one well was subject to shocking vandalism, when it was slashed with a knife.

Yet, is there an even more powerful reason to take part in well dressing?  As people beaver away on the wells, the sound of voices and laughter emanate from the garages.  Much of the labour is sustained by copious cups of tea, and in some cases, delicious home-baked cakes!  Neighbours use the opportunity to catch up with each other’s news (some may only come together like this once a year, at well dressing time).  There are also the reminiscences; senior residents recall how, in the Nineteen Sixties, they had to endure a two-year ‘apprenticeship’ under Ida Thorpe, pressing in only parsley, before they were allowed to advance on to petals!  There are also memories from childhood; one resident recalls picking flowers with the Vicar as a ten-year-old.  When she had the misfortune to lose her Wellington boot in the process, the Vicar brought her home in a wheelbarrow!

Despite hours of back-breaking work, hunched over the boards, humour is never absent.  This year, one resident commented “By the time the board was finished, we had spent so long sitting in one position that rigor mortis had set in!”  When asked why they participate, another resident replied “It’s a labour of love, a challenge, and we’re mad!”  Madness may come into it, but teamwork, camaraderie and a sense of achievement must surely be the biggest draw.  So, if your town or village continues to uphold one of Derbyshire’s most distinctive traditions, and you are not already involved, why not consider it?  After all, you can’t beat the feeling of being part of something special.

The 2013 Wells

About the author

Georgina pressed her first sweet corn into the clay, whilst attending Ashford-in-the-Water C. of E. Primary School between 1983 and 1986.  Georgina would like to thank Ashford Well Dressing Committee and the residents of Ashford, for their generosity and support in compiling this article.

An edited version of this post was published in Reflections, August 2008.

Sheldon Jottings for June 2014

It’s now mid May, the cows are back in the fields and everything is burgeoning forth as we hopefully await a sizzling summer!

We have now had two Cream Tea Sundays at the Village Hall and both were extremely successful and much appreciated by those who sampled our scrumptious large scones with lashings of jam and cream. They made £400 in total to put towards the present on-going refurbishment and running costs of the Village Hall. The latter keep going ever higher especially the electricity costs as everyone is experiencing. A tremendous vote of thanks goes to all those involved and to all those who organised, helped and brought items for sale; they sold out extremely swiftly, always a sign of great quality.

Bunting evening took place on May 12th and as always was a jolly occasion. It was a well attended evening to renew/replace our worn out bunting with sewing machines whirring, tea and refreshments on hand and plenty of chat, produced miles of new bunting ready for Sheldon Day. Not a little wine was consumed to help oil the needles and so it was a fun evening! The new bunting will be gracing the village street during the week of the Fell Race which is Thursday July17th and Sheldon Day itself which is Saturday July 19th. Angela is looking after the raffle this year – we all need to sell as many tickets as we can. Top prize this year is a helicopter ride – wow!

We have heard from Angela and Andy that daughter Alice has a new job which she started on 19th May in London. She will be working for NDCS (National Deaf Children’s Society) as an assistant project manager on their Deaf Children Worldwide Project. Great news and congratulations.

We are very pleased to say that Ken is feeling so much better after his brief stay in hospital. Thinking of you Ken…

Congratulations go to Adrienne and Noel who will be celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary on June 5th.

Some of us help every year at Ashford Well Dressing. It is backbreaking stuff but the camaraderie is great and the end results are beautiful. The well dressings go up on Saturday 14th June but if you would like to help on any of them in the week prior to this or if you would like to be part of the heavy gang (the chaps who put the wells up early on the Saturday morning) then do let us know and we can put you in touch.

Dates for the Diary

Thursday June 3rd
Vicar’s Coffee Morning
Your chance to meet and chat with Canon Tony in an informal setting over coffee/tea and a piece of cake.

Wednesday June 11th – Village Hall at 7.30pm
Parish Meeting

Wednesday June 18th
History Group Meeting
A visit to Taddington and a walk around the village with Ray Slack.

Sheldon Jottings for May 2014

It is April 14th as we write and Julia saw our first swallow on April 9th. They faithfully come thousands of miles each year, back to the barn off Johnson Lane. It is just so incredible to think they fly so far. We hope that more will soon follow.

The dairy cows will soon be going back to their summer pastures after the winter inside. Have you watched them when first let loose – they are jumping about wildly then gorging on the fresh grass – so, so happy to be free again – a sight to behold.

We have a new Chair of the Parish Meeting – Georgina has relinquished the role after 15 very successful months following on from John’s tenure of office. We are all sad to see her go as she has done such a wonderful job, but needs to place her energies elsewhere. Good luck and thank you for all your hard work Georgina. Alistair has been elected to take on the role. We wish him all the best and can assure him of the support of all of us in the coming months.

The Parish Meeting was held in the village hall as usual, complete with its new and very smart radiators which are part of the ongoing refurbishment. Decorating will take place shortly and new curtains will complete the job. We were reminded that Sheldon Day is on Saturday July 19th and the team is already working on the details with Angie looking after the raffle this year. That great social occasion – Bunting Evening will take place in the next few weeks so look out for that. Do come along, it is great fun as well as contributing yards, or should it be metres, to our bunting!

The Blackshaw family are pleased to have Diane, Kelvin and their two children over here from New Zealand for a month’s holiday. Diane went out to NZ many years ago now to be a shepherdess and comes to visit her family back in Sheldon whenever she can. Welcome back for your holiday Diane.

We have planted 2 apple trees on the playing field, they are within the grove of trees nearest to the playground. Being Sheldon, they are no ordinary apple trees as they need to cope with the playing field climate, even though we hope they will have a bit of shelter. They are Bardsey Island Apple. Bardsey Island is a lonely, windswept island off the tip of the Lleyn peninsular in north Wales. It has long been a venue for pilgrims both pagan and Christian. A single gnarled old tree was discovered near the remains of the 13th century abbey in 1999. Hailed as the ‘rarest tree in the world’ it is perhaps all that remains of the monastic orchard. It is the only apple variety from the Celtic Welsh heartland. On the island both tree and fruit are completely disease free. The fruit is a medium sized eating apple, sweet and juicy with a unique lemon aroma and to be picked about the end of October. An exciting prospect!!

A new business has been opened by one of our busy villagers – Scoff Online – the brainchild of Amanda and her friend. They are providing meals to parties of 10 or more who come to the Peak District to stay in large holiday cottages and do not wish to cook for themselves. The meals look, and we are assured, taste terrific. We wish the enterprise luck, although with the number of orders already flooding in, signs are it will be a great success.

In March, Dave and Gill visited Tajikistan to meet Aid workers who have lived there for 15 years. They write:

Tajikistan is one of those ‘forgotten’ countries on the Silk Road, bordering Afghanistan, China and Uzbekistan – a mountainous, land- locked country in Central Asia with an inhospitable climate (-20c in winter to +40c in summer), influenced by Persians, Chinese and of course Russian occupation for most of the last century. The remains of Soviet influence are everywhere, drab concrete apartment blocks, concrete hospitals and schools, with an occasional red star or statue of Lenin still in existence. The black haired locals were generally friendly, amazed to see westerners, and spoke no English, staring as we walked about on muddy roads wrapped in our winter clothes. There are no cafes to stop for coffee, but delicious flat bread everywhere, bazaars that extended for acres, worn-out vehicles and groups of unemployed men (Tajiks provide the migrant workers for Russia). It was such an interesting visit, enabling us to learn about their culture, how we can support Aid workers in the field but also made us appreciate our western comforts’.

DIARY DATES

Sunday May 4th and Sunday May 25th – 2pm until 5pm
Cream Teas in the Village Hall

Tuesday May 6th
Vicar’s Coffee Morning in the Village Hall

Week beginning Monday May 12th (day not yet decided)
Bunting Evening in the Village Hall

Wednesday May 21st – 7:30pm
Sheldon History Group Meeting in the Village Hall.
Ray Slack will give an illustrated talk entitled “Taddington – the history of a village”. This will be followed in June with a walk around Taddington.