My primary school was a converted oast-house in Rolvenden, where John Wesley had once preached under a nearby oak. In September, the beams were always hung with hops, and at home there were apples drying in the attic. I loved the harvest hymns, and often whistle “We plough the fields and scatter” now as I walk along the lanes through Bough Beech’s fields and woods.
I treasure my copy of Ladybird Books’ What to Look for in Autumn, published in 1960. The page pictured here shows women picking up potatoes in the field. When we lived in the Sussex village of Robertsbridge, I met a lovely old lady in her nineties, who had farmed there since 1947. She recalled that when she and her husband first moved there, they employed almost everyone in our lane of about thirty houses to pick the potato crop. By the 1990s, none of the residents worked on the land.
Some things change, and some things stay the same, thank goodness. There are still hops, apples, blackberries and conkers to be found in the hedgerows of the High Weald.
Another perennial pleasure is the annual scarecrow competition in Speldhurst. I drive through the village on my way to work, so it’s always fun, in the first week of September, to come upon this year’s entries. I don’t know which one won the prize at the Village Flower Show last weekend, but Bertie Bassett, sitting on the bench by St Mary’s Church lych-gate, was probably my personal favourite, made with great attention to detail from biscuit tins. Fantastic!