Cow Trampling

As most people will now be aware, the afternoon of Tuesday 10th September saw a female walker and her dog get trampled by Cows on the footpath in the field immediately before Magpie Mine. The lady was very badly injured, and sadly her dog died at the scene of the incident. Derbyshire Police and The Air Ambulance Service arrived on the scene relatively quickly, and with the assistance of locals and other walkers, the Cows were secured in a closed field whist the lady was airlifted to hospital. Our understanding is that there is a Bull in the field with several dozen Heifers, and whilst this is accepted practice, it is favourable to keep this type of herd away from rights of way or provide warning signs/fencing.

As a result of the incident, Derbyshire Police, The National Park Authority, Derbyshire County Council, and the Health and Safety Executive (who are now conducting an investigation into the incident) have taken the decision to close the field (and footpaths which cross it) until the tenant farmer moves the Cattle to a safer location.

UPDATE: 6th October 2019

Unfortunately, due to the inaction of The Health & Safety Executive and Derbyshire County Council, the footpaths which have been formally closed are easily bypassed (by both members of the public and the cows) meaning that the entire area shown below (outlined in red) should be considered dangerous and avoided until the owner of the cows decides to do the right thing and clear them from the fields in question.

Sheldon Jottings for December 2014

Living in Sheldon we are all acutely aware of the wonders of nature around us. At dawn and at dusk each day during November we have been treated to a spectacular event. We first noticed it this year on the 2nd November and since then it has been a wonderful twice-daily sight as a great cloud of Starlings flies over our village. As it gets light they come from their roosting grounds on the far side of Longstone Edge on Middleton Moor, past Longstone and Ashford, over the River Wye and up over Shacklow Wood. They then fly over the village to their feeding grounds in the fields of Flagg, Monyash and beyond. The flock returns at twilight and although it can vary in size is a sight well worth seeing. For an even greater spectacle go to Middleton Moor and see the ‘murmuration‘ where the flocks are coming in from all directions, creating amazing patterns in the sky before settling down to roost in the reeds. It happened last year and should now continue throughout the winter months.

With the shorter days of winter the number of visitors to our area has greatly diminished. Several of our farmers have heaved a sigh of relief. Pete Bush, our Area Ranger, has been in touch and has asked us to include the following:

Over the last 3 years a number of stone stiles in Sheldon Parish have been badly damaged. At first I thought by cattle as some of the adjacent walls are not that robust, but it has continued to happen sporadically, with the latest attack resulting in 3 stiles being completely smashed with some large through stones being broken in two. Some of these stiles were built at least 3 generations ago, when they were most commonly used by local people coming and going to work.

Now they are used mostly for recreation by local people and visitors to the area and have to be stock proof whilst at the same time relatively easy for people to use. What used to be regarded as suitable is not always the case today and the Peak District National Park Rangers have worked with many farmers in the area to improve their gates and stiles.

There is often a dilemma in changing a stile to improve access as it may be a heritage feature but in most cases we are able to alter it sympathetically.

There are limited resources so we cannot tackle everything at once but if there are stiles causing problems please contact me:

Pete Bush
PDNPA Area Ranger
Tel: 01629 884992
Email: [email protected]

We all need to keep an eye out and report damage if we are out enjoying the Countryside; please contact Pete if you see anything untoward.

In mid-December last year the History Group met in the village hall for the Christmas ‘Do’. With one of the worst gales of the winter raging outside Simon Unwin entertained us with his ‘Story of Magpie Mine’ in music, pictures and verse. The atmosphere was tremendous – it was probably one of the most gripping and pleasurable evenings held in the Hall for many years. We are happy to report that Simon is coming once more on December 17th to entertain us with his latest extravaganza. Come and join us, entry is free, we all bring some food (savoury of sweet), some drink is supplied, and enjoy a great evening with neighbours and friends – you will be most welcome.

If you did not manage to get to Sheldon History Group in October when Martha Lawrence from Buxton Museum came to talk on the pre-history of our area then you missed a treat. It was fascinating to think how ourancestors were living so long ago.

On Christmas Day it will be Noel’s birthday. We wish you and your family a happy day Noel.

The planning application for the substantial development at Home Farm has been unanimously turned down by the PDNPA Planning Committee.

Finally, villagers can sleep safely in their beds in the knowledge that the recently vandalised ‘fence’ was nothing more than a piece of string that two cows, Daisy and Buttercup, got caught in. Neither of them will admit responsibility but keep blaming each udder!

Happy Christmas and a great New Year to you all and to our friends in Ashford.

DATES FOR THE DIARY

Monday 1st December
Christmas Wreath Making Night – 7.30pm Village Hall
Contact Lindsey for information

Tuesday 2nd December
Vicar’s Coffee Morning – Cock & Pullet (with Church Meeting afterwards)

Tuesday 9th December
Sheldon Seniors Christmas Lunch – Cock & Pullet

Wednesday 10th December
Sheldon Parish Meeting – 7.30pm Village Hall

Wednesday 17th December
Sheldon History Group Christmas ‘Do’ with Simon Unwin – 7.30pm Village Hall

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 March 2014

The rain and wind continues to sweep in from the Atlantic and our hearts go out to those people in the south of the country whose homes have been flooded. We are all watching the River Wye and hoping it does not rise any higher, our thoughts are with our friends in Ashford. The storms have been a little less severe here but have still caused problems. The farmers are having great difficulty getting the manure and slurry onto the fields and opening the large barn doors which are acting like sails, and there has been some minor damage in the village. Let’s hope that it will all come to an end soon. On the plus side the late winter flowers, the snowdrops, aconites, hellibores and winter honeysuckle are out to cheer us, and the bird-song is quite spring-like now on fine days.

Despite the terrible weather on the night of the February Parish Meeting, it was one of the the worst nights of the year, the meeting was very well attended. Matthew Hutson who is the Peak Assessor Network Co-ordinator for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme attended this meeting. He gave a short but very informative talk and answered questions during a lively discussion.

We learnt that the Peak District hosts more groups than any other region in the country, in fact more than the next three areas, The Lake District, Snowdonia and The Yorkshire Dales, combined!  Indeed it is quite possible that even more groups will be coming to our part of the Peak District this year. The Scheme, it seems, is tightening up on its regulations and ‘control’ of groups participating in their Expedition section. However, it also became obvious that if there are issues like gates being left open or walls being knocked down, it is necessary to have clear evidence and the name of the school before any action is likely to be taken.

Two other points emerged from the Meeting. The lively Sheldon Day Group will be beginning its planning meetings shortly, if you would like to join them please contact Andrew. Secondly, if you need contact numbers in emergency for electricity, water etc they have been placed permanently on the excellent village website.

Last month a very well attended History Group Meeting viewed films shot in the Peak District in the first half of the last century, particularly in the 1930’s and 40’s. A very enjoyable and entertaining meeting was enhanced by some of the ‘pearls and shines’ i.e. senior members, ‘spotting’ people they recognised. Thanks go to Bron for arranging this excellent meeting.

During March the History Group will be holding its annual exhibition of artefacts, all found in and around the village, often as a result of some members engaging in their favourite pastime of ‘turning’ molehills to find out what the industrious little creatures have dug up! There will also be maps, old photographs, pottery, and many other objects of interest. You will be very welcome to pop in and look round, learn more about our lovely village and have a cup of tea, a bun and a chat on Saturday 22nd March and/or Sunday 23rd March. You will be very welcome.

Finally we hear the happy news that Pauline’s daughter, Georgina, is getting married in September – more later.

Dates for the Diary

March 4th Cock and Pullett
Vicar’s Coffee Morning
Your chance to have an informal chat with Canon Tony over a coffee and cakes

March 19th Hartington Memorial Hall 7:30pm
History Group Meeting
Preparation for Exhibition

March 22nd and 23rd Hartington Memorial Hall 10am to 4pm
Sheldon History Group Annual History Exhibition
An opportunity to see original artefacts, flints, pottery etc. found in the village.

Scour the skies for Orion

The Peak District Dark Skies Group is seeking the help of residents and visitors to help monitor the impact of light pollution on our night sky.

The constellation of Orion

The constellation of Orion

The group is asking people to join in an annual star survey by assessing the brightness of the constellation Orion over the Peak District National Park.

Orion – the hunter – is one of the wonders of the night sky in this early part of the year and can be recognized by his ‘belt’ of three bright stars in a line with a smaller ‘dagger’ of three stars below.

On clear nights up to February 2, using the star charts available here, people are asked to identify Orion and record details of where they were and which chart best matches what they could see. There is no limit to the amount of observations that can be made, skies permitting.

Peak District Dark Skies co-ordinator Sue Smith said: “We’d be really grateful for people’s help with our ‘Orion in the Peak’. Previous surveys have been very encouraging and have shown that 80 per cent of people in the national park were able to stargaze under excellent skies.

“Our ability to see the stars is very much impacted by artificial light, so we hope it will prompt people to think about whether outside lighting is necessary, and where and when it’s needed. We can all help to reduce light pollution which affects not only our view of the skies but also the wellbeing of people and wildlife.

“The monitoring will guide us in protecting our landscapes and dark skies for all to enjoy now and in the future.”

All the information needed to take part, including how to report your observations, is available from the National Park Authority website.

Sheldon is a dark sky “friendly” village, and we are pleased to say that we only have one streetlight illuminated overnight. If you’d like to visit our village to stargaze, then please drop us a line for suggested viewing locations.