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quackers

The Origin Of The Broads

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Here are the traditional tools for the job JA. These are from Argyle but are very similar to those used in my home village in the 'Isle of Axholme' and on The Broads.

peat-cutters2.jpg

and peat cutting in Ireland. As an archaeologist you should see the speed we can wallop a trench in by hand. None of this 'council worker' five blokes looking in a hole while one bloke digs it! :naughty:

 

 

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Incidentally the peat is possibly the origin of the 'Normal for Norfolk' jibe. Communities that burn peat as fuel, no matter where they are in the world, are known as being a 'little strange'. This is due to the occasional narcotic effect of burning peat.

In the above video around 7:35 check out how deep they are and the water at the bottom of the trench.

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I would think that in this situation, a turf would be one of those log sized slabs, big enough to go on the fire.

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Thank you very much, Timbo, for your helpful advice and kind encouragement. I do appreciate it.

I shall soldier on. The truth is out there.

Bill Saunders

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Thank you, Timbo.

After I have recovered from some eagerly anticipated excesses, I shall try to buckle down to it.

The compliments of the season to you.

Bill Saunders.

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JanetAnne, a chap called R.F.Carrodus did some research into 19th century rural practices in the Horning area; he said the traditional broadland turf was three and a half inches square, and two or three feet long; he also said that to dig up a thousand turves a day was regarded as a good day's work, although some people claimed to be able to dig twenty turves a minute.

Traditions have to start somewhere, and the geographer C.T.Smith who did all the original work on the medieval records about the broads, followed Carrodus. He took the size of a medieval turf as a quarter of a cubic foot for the purposes of rough calculations about how long it would have taken how many men to dig out the basins of the broads.

Timbo is quite right to point out that the size and shape of a peat turf depends very much on where in the country it is dug up. I am going to reveal something about my age when I tell you that I can remember (as a very small boy) peat being used as a supplementary domestic fuel in WW2. Although my parents' home was in Rutland, their supply came, I think, from Skye, and the turves were shaped rather like giant Weetabix. When placed on the fire they gave out vast quantities of beautiful, honey-coloured smoke, a gorgeous aroma  -  and very little heat. It is, as I recall, virtually impossible to make decent toast with a toasting fork in front of a peat fire; held at the normal distance for a log fire, the bread dries up without actually toasting, and to get it to toast you have to hold it so close to the burning peat that, without the steadiest of hands, the bread gets knocked off the fork and falls into the fire.

Not a lot of people know that,

Bill Saunders

 

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So, to dig up to 1000 turves a day and with St Benet's showing 200,000 in a particular year, would this have been 'full time' work for a small team or a more labour intensive job for many over a short seasonal period? 

There must have been drying time in there somewhere or maybe the following years stock was dug ahead of time. 

Our toasting fork will be back in use over the festive season. Owners of wooden broads cruisers tend to have an open fire or wood burner (when they can), it not only provides heat but also hides the mistakes along the way!

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For my answer to your question about the St.Benet's job, I am going to refer you to my web-site, JA; go to "The historical evidence in detail" and thence to "The mystery of the Abbot's boat". (I confess to being rather pleased with my own efforts at putting Sherlock Holmes' principles into practice on this one, although the great man would have taken a fraction of the time that I did to arrive at the solution.)

You could well be right about the drying time. This is one of the factors which creates confusion in trying to analyse the medieval turf accounts. In those days the "financial year" ran from Michaelmas to Michaelmas, so one never knows whether turves sold in a particular year had been produced in the same or the previous year.

If you are spending Christmas aboard your boat, don't try digging up any peat for the fire. Whoever owns the fens nowadays, the rights to turbary in their deeds are still usually retained by the Abbey, so you could find yourself smitten by a hideous curse.

Bill Saunders

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Already suffering a hideous curse....  got married :hardhat::hardhat::dance

Joking aside, am looking forward to a more in depth look at your site over the holiday period. 

cheers

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Right you lot, now I'm in trouble with the wife big time,

I have been digging up the back garden for two reasons, to extract peat and to test Bills theory about the broads neither I may add work. The turfs I have been digging although kept in the airing cupboard for several days cannot be forced between the bars on either of my gas fires, all it has succeeded in doing is causing untold damage to the workings of the fires and has just cost £130.00 to get repaired.

And as for digging a broad this does not work either, I have currently dug eight 6x4 ditches to a depth of 8 feet none of which have flooded, so I proceeded and joined them all together and filled to hole with water. This has caused untold sadness in the household, the simple task of hanging out of the washing now involves the use of a ladder and lifejacket.

I am not going to listen to any more of your bright ideas :naughty:

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I know where you went wrong old chap. Your 6x4 trenches, while a tad small would eventually form into something the kids could swim in but a depth of 8ft? :eek: Hardly representative of the Broads is it!

 

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If you are going all Blue Peter on us...for real authenticity you need to add enough grass cuttings so that the water depth is now less than 4 inches, remove any bankside features anyone could possibly moor up to,empty your wheelie bins by the side of your new Broad then ask the council to take the wheelie bins away, put up your charges for access by 40% then rope off two thirds of your excavation so it can't be navigated. Now think of a name for your Broad and have signage made to display the name. Then change the name and have new signage made...then change the name yet again and have new signage made for as many times as it takes to run out of money. Now go round all the neighbours and really annoy them, then hold a meeting to ask their opinion, ignore their opinion and finally write to Buckingham Palace and ask for a Knighthood.

If the Mrs starts giving you grief over your experimental archaeology just ask her 'why she's got Pete in the airing cupboard'. :naughty:

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Your lack of success, QV, is probably down to your use of the wrong tools.

B&Q do a very reasonable range of turf spades, dydles and crooms, although the long crooms were out of stock last week. For some strange reason they don't offer slubbing spades, but you can get them from Homebase on special order.

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Reading through the thread, reminds of my School days in the Outer Hebrides (1971 -1975), where the sgoil kids got on the bus for sgoil, but the bus driver stopped in the middle of nowhere, on the way to let off the kids to go peat (Moine) cutting.

The reference to 3 foot long turves seems excessive as they would be likely to break when moving them around, my thoughts are that the 3ft is the "spit cut" by the spade but the 3 ft would have been cut into two or three for ease of transport.

The report earlier about baskets to be carried by 2 men between poles, I would have thought more likely to be baskets on the back  / shoulders of the one person at a time transporting them. A common method of transport of goods in those days, Two people carring something between them across rough ground / planks on to boats, is much more difficult than two people carrying individual baskets. Also you can carry much more on the back than in your hands and newly cut peat is wet and heavy...

Note that peat cutting was often a two stage move, cut, place on bank for a week or two for the water to drain , then move to your property / final drying area.

Here is how they did it in the Hebridies, after the inital couple of weeks on the moor drying, until recent times, post ww2, note the turf size. ( I suspect the pile on top is a little exagerated for the camera)

Image result for baskets on the back  peat carrying

Peat cutting is recorded into the late 1800 on the broads,  and I would have thought it probably went on till at least the 1st world war, and in some local areas, people may well have cut some during the shortages of WW2, (maybe without  permission, so no records)....

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You could well be right, TheQ, with all the points which you make. Most of these things, however, have been, and will probably have to remain a matter for speculation. One of the problems with the generally accepted account of how the broads were created is that the original speculations in the 1950's, some of which were not very well informed,  have been around for so long and repeated so often that people have grown to accept them as fact.

The only point I would make is that comparisons with the bog peat turbaries of Scotland and Ireland need to be made with care. Conditions under foot are likely to have been a great deal softer in these medieval fen peat turbaries, with the water-table probably no more than three feet below the surface, and the peat itself of different and varying constituency. Joyce Lambert herself went to have a look at bog peat turbaries during her researches, saw that the workers used wheelbarrows to transport turves about the place, and speculated that the makers of the broads would have done the same. This has become incorporated into received wisdom by people who presumably have never tried pushing a loaded medieval wheelbarrow over broadland peat, who see evidence  of gravel-filled ruts  where none exists, and  who assume that up to the end of the 13th century all the excavations in the broadland turbaries were completely dry.

All there is by way of direct evidence is about sixteen surviving records (1312-1383) of boats being used to ferry turves and bulk peat on-site in three of the turbaries, three records (1299, 1306, 1383) of turves and bulk peat being carried, and one record in 1383 of "baskets" for the carriage of peat being purchased at 3d. each; since this price represents less than half a day's pay for a skilled artisan with, presumably, a bit on top for the cost of materials, the construction of these baskets is unlikely to have been very elaborate. There is also some direct evidence of the long distance transport of turves by horse and cart, and by boats on the rivers.

The reason for my speculation about the "baskets" being  a sort of stretcher are set out under "How did they really do it?/Conclusive evidence" on the web-site.

Bill Saunders

 

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I'd agree wheel barrows are unlikely as peat ground anywhere is soft, and they won't have laid planks because they were an expensive labour intensive item to make in those days. Laying stone or the like doesn't work because it just sinks in the peat.

As you can see from the picture of south Uist the island on which I went to school, the land is just as soggy if not more so than the broads, and the rainfall much much heavier!!

 

images.jpg

And a picture of North Uist

548359101.jpg

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The nearest and most likely comparison would be the Isle of Axholme, where I grew up, about ten miles by road from where I live now. Peat is still extracted here, for horticulture these days, but has been extracted for a similar duration as Broadland. 

However I had a face/palm moment the other day whilst discussing peat extraction with a former Dutch colleague of mine. Basically I was chastised for my 'English' attitude.
"This modern idiocy must be catching.' said my friend as I looked a bit sheepish.
So extracting my head from up my bum...I took a wider view of a near neighbour whose lands sits on the exact same peat beds laid down in the Holocene as does Norfolk and Lincolnshire. What's more Norfolk and Lincolnshire both were home to large communities of people from this land from the pre Roman period right up to the 19th century. HOLLAND!

The Dutch Hand Graving Method of Peat Extraction. The digging of Holocene Peat alongside natural river courses which will be adapted, diverted and canalised to ship the peat away from the diggings,which flood, resulting in large man made 'lakes'. If we think peat extraction in Norfolk was on a large scale its nothing compared with what was going on in the Netherlands in the medieval period to 1600's and through to the 19th century. Through the medieval period just under 58 square miles of peat workings were exploited.

Prior to 1600 canals were dug to expressly open up another 30,000ha, thats 116 square miles, of peat beds which was extracted primarily for export. This is industry on a vast scale with companies formed in 1600 to exploit these resources.

Now then. If this is all going on just across the channel...and the same Dutch Graving Method is confirmed as being used in Lincolnshire, I don't for one minute think it's such a big ask to wonder about Norfolk?

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Incidentally Ernst, my Dutch friend, poured more scorn on the Great Estuary Theory. Peat inundated with saltwater is totally useless for burning. It smokes far too much and is consequently not exploited. When I say poured scorn...he almost wet his pants laughing. Apparently Wageningen University had been writing detailed papers on this since the 1920's. 

Talk about feeling 'provincial' or what!

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Having had a re read of your web site  and notes above I'd point out basket such as used by the ladies above, could be made very quickly with preprepared  materials, the skilled basket weaver could probably make well into double figures per day. Similarly the preparation of huge piles of materials for their construction, could be quite quick. Therefore I find that 3d for a basket quite expensive!

 Probably though, much of the broads tree cover had been cleared by then (for fuel !) and the baskets of what ever type were brought in from some distance.

As to the the picture of the couple shifting hay, that is also possible, though for peat I'd suspect that shoulder straps to take the weight off of the hands would be very likely.

Additionally although a great number of the lochs in the Hebridies will be natural, it would be interesting to find out how many are man made. The tree cover was destroyed by man hundreds, if not thousands of years ago, so peat cutting there has been going on a very long time...

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There is certainly evidence that the Dutch in the 16th c. were using the same technique (see attachment) for dredging bulk peat from the bottom of flooded diggings in North-west Overjissel as was used in broadland in the 14th century for certain, and in my opinion before then. I would agree that there are likely to have been many practices common to all turbaries, both nationally and internationally..

But as peat diggings the broads are in one respect unique, namely their depth below the water table at the time they were excavated.  Even allowing for the sea level, inland water levels and the surface of the peat fen all being about a metre lower than they are now, the makers of the broads still dug down by hand through a layer of reed peat on the surface, down below the water table through a layer of clay (of undisclosed nature and origin, but not, definitely not estuarine clay as many superannuated authorities have foolishly proposed), down through a thick layer of dense, humified brushwood peat (which clearly was unsullied by any trace salt water), down through a second, deeper layer of clay (of similar undisclosed nature and origin) and down through a second layer of virgin brushwood peat to  a gravel floor, which lay anything up to fourteen feet below the water table above. Now how do you suppose they managed to do that without drowning themselves in the process?

Our authorities, admittedly without much assistance from their omniscient Dutch counterparts, have told us for the past sixty years that all the diggings were kept dry with manually operated 19th century mechanical bailing devices which were manifestly incapable of raising water out of a pit more than about four feet deep. Unlike everybody else, I don't believe them.

I don't believe them because what they are telling us is nonsense, as would be obvious to any reasonably intelligent twelve year old who was acquainted with all the evidence. The trouble is that nobody, including the authorities, seems to be willing to look at the evidence. The alternative theory which I propose, however, has one great advantage - it was successfully put into practice in 1953 by a splendidly eccentric lady of doubtful sexual orientation (which is maybe why nobody paid her the attention she deserved}.

Another rant over.

P.S. In case your Dutch friends start getting above themselves, Trambo, ask them what they make of this (which should also appeal to you as Classicist): "For fuel they use a kind of mud, taken up by hand and dried in the wind rather than the sun. With this 'earth' they heat their food and warm their bodies, frozen by the rigorous north"  Pliny the Elder, de historia naturalis xvi Ii

verveender-bruintoon-275x300.jpg

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P.P.S. I have taken the liberty, TheQ, of downloading the picture of your Hebridean basket ladies, with a view to incorporating them onto my website. Thank you. This sort of basket is at least as plausible as a stretcher. I suppose it all depends on the ground pressure generated.

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The photo is not mine but off of the net , I wasn't around that far back! but as far as I could see it's an historic photo well out of ownership. There are photos around showing similar baskets where the carriers are definately wearing post 1945 clothing.

There are also pictures  of two of those baskets being carried one each side of a pony. (must have been a rich crofter)

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I am out of my depth in this - pun intended - but I just wanted to add a small detail.

Norfolk wherries were loaded with bulk cargo such as marl (for bricks), the bricks themselves, sugar beet, coal, etc., using special wheelbarrows with no feet, since they were run down into the hold on a plank and could be laid down on the incline of the plank if necessary. I have read elsewhere that navvies used something similar. 

Could it be that peat used to be loaded into the early Danish type barges in a similar fashion, in those days?

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They had two similar problems, Vaughan: yours and the reverse of it.  The first was getting turves up and out of the deep pits once they had been cut, and the second, which you pose, was getting them down in to the hulls of the keels or whatever the cargo carrying vessels were called, and then out again, of course.

They could have used the system you describe (although TheQ may well be right about planks being a costly item), they could have used TheQ-style baskets and step-ladders, they could have used hods and stepladders, or they might even have thrown each turf up or down to a catcher on the different level. Who knows - all we can do is speculate, because there is no direct contemporary evidence. All we can say with certainty is they did it  in the way they found the simplest, easiest and quickest.

 

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