We mourned for a lost Eden. Farming was becoming a noisy, mechanised, stinking business. Wagons, ploughs, and the horses that drew them were all disappearing. Wood and stone were giving place to asbestos and corrugated iron. Care and grace, and the old slow pace and the old thoroughness and craft were all abandoned. The farm tractor was now king, and speed was all-important. Thatched ricks, cut-and-laid hedges, shocks of corn and cocks of hay, handmade wooden gates and stiles, were rare sights now. The stone-breaker was no longer needed since the white limestone lanes were tarred. Flowers that were once common had become rare, and only a few of the old mixed pastures escaped the zeal of farmers keen to sow ‘leys’ without a ‘weed’. Those who never saw Edwardian England can have no idea of its beauty. Old photographs show this with great poignancy. True, the children in them often looked cowed and ill-clad, and the men and women are bowed with labour, but that need not have been the heavy price paid for beauty and naturalness: the brash angularity of today, its harsh shapes and unsympathetic textures, its litter of poles and wires, its makeshift, temporary appearance lie like an ugly palimpsest upon the old countryside.
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In the sleepy England of my childhood it was an event to see a motor car, or watch a biplane for the first time until it became a speck in the distance and vanished. Nothing ever changed. Sugar was twopence a pound, and a letter required a penny stamp. Yet the ugly and stupid technological revolution was imminent. Over the years I have watched the change from age-old agriculture to a mechanised ‘agro-business’. Horses and men have gone, and traditional farming craftsmanship such as rick-building and thatching, coppicing and hedge-laying has been extinguished in the process. A hedge has become an obstacle to be removed, and wild flowers troublesome weeds to be exterminated.
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Year by year we lose more and more of the things we have loved: ancient woodlands, flowery meadows, handsome old farm buildings, stiles and gates of oak and ash; things made of wool, linen or silk; cloth-bound books of lissom paper, their sections properly stitched so they open easily; and a multitude of domestic things that were good to handle – all made before the fatal invasion of synthetic substances and shoddy methods.—Robin Tanner, Double Harness (1987)