A PIECE OF HISTORY
Slaidburn Archive has just published a new booklet ‘Bringing Home the Turf: A History of Peat Cutting in the Upper Hodder Valley’, written by local historian Helen Wallbank
‘Bringing Home the Turf: A History of Peat Cutting in the Upper Hodder Valley,’ is the culmination of eight years quiet research inspired by author Helen Wallbank’s now late father-in-law, who cut peat (or turf as it was known locally) to use as household fuel for the family up until 1957. After hearing her father-in-law reminisce, Helen felt that it was a lost tradition that should be recorded before it fell out of living memory.
Turf was cut for hundreds, if not thousands of years on the fells to be burnt in the house for warmth as well as cooking – indeed it has been said that it was more important to get in the turf than it was to get the hay in for the animals. No means of cooking could mean the family may starve and so, although it was a laborious and time-consuming task, it was an essential part of the country calendar, especially for outlying communities such as those in the Hodder Valley.
Helen began by seeking out people who remember their parents cutting turf – sadly since talking to them many have passed away, taking their knowledge of old countryside ways with them. However, many were able to tell her of their experiences and one gentleman told her: “We began turfing in late May to June, after lambing time, but before hay time and after the cows had been turned out, so we could have a good long day on the job.”
After being cut, the turves were laid out and turned to start the drying process before they could be stacked into large beehive-like heaps to finish drying over the summer.
When they were ready, they were brought home in the autumn to be stored in a turf house. Peat was said to warm you twice, once during cutting and again when burnt on the open fire, where it glowed red and hot, with a sweet, pleasant smell.
After talking to many people, Helen then went out to look at the sites mentioned and recorded what was still evident, in many cases, the area of turf extraction. Sometimes turbary stones marked the area, turbary meaning the right to get turf. These rights were sometimes detailed in old deeds and Helen has pored over many such documents to gain unique references, some dating back to the 16th century.
The Forest of Bowland AONB, funded the printing costs of the book, feeling that it was an important record, meaning that all proceeds can go directly to the Slaidburn Archive, where Helen works as administrator. The Archive, housed in a quant 17th century building in the village, aims to preserve the history of the Hodder Valley and has a wealth of local, family and social history of the area.
As well as first-hand accounts and historical references the booklet is illustrated with old and new photos and is priced at £9 plus £2 postage, available from:
25 Church Street, Slaidburn
Clitheroe BB7 3ER
It is open for research each Wednesday and Friday from 11am to 3pm by appointment
Please phone to book on 01200 446161 or see: www.slaidburnarchive.org