Category Archives: Churton

Objects histories from my garden #10 – 19th century mocha and annular ware sherds

Mochaware sherd from the garden

This satisfyingly chunky piece of glazed earthenware, featuring a roughly beaded rim, was once a fairly large, open vessel, probably a pot or a tall-sided bowl.  Mocha ware, produced between the mid 1700s and the early 1900s, was relatively cheap and cheerful, pottery for using rather than admiring.  Its defining features include its colouring, the linear decoration (usually combined with panels of colour or white background) and the “dendritic” design. “Dendritric” means “branching,” and in mochaware refers to a pattern consisting of a feathery fern-like tendrils, usually emanating from a main stem, typically coloured either black or blue.  Vessels without the dendritic design are usually referred to simply as banded creamware or annular (ring-like) ware, in both cases due to the encircling bands of colour.  It is only those vessels with the dendritic design that are supposed to be referred to as mochaware.   We have found both in the garden, but the piece of mochaware is the most impressive, both in terms of solidity and distinctiveness.

Polished moss agate pebble. Source: Wikipedia

The name mocha derives from an imported stone known as moss agate, which was also known as mocha stone due to its export from the port of Mocha (al Mukha) in Yemen, on the southwestern end of the Arabian peninsula.  The stone is not actually found in that part of the world, and was imported from India and some parts of central Europe. Many of the first examples to find their way into western Europe were brought back by the East India Companies of Britain and the Netherlands.  Although the appearance suggested to its European admirers that plant remains had been preserved in the stone, moss agate consists of quarts with mineral inclusions, usually manganese and iron oxides.  It is not actually an agate at all.  

Fabergé box with moss agate lid. Source: Royal Collection Trust

In the 18th century the belief that the stone preserved plant remains indefinitely suggested that it had special health-preserving properties, providing good luck to the wearer.  Many were accordingly turned into jewellery, particularly as polishing techniques improved, and they were often accompanied by gemstones in settings.  The ability to cut the stone into thin sheets that could be polished encouraged its incorporation into various decorative objects.  The Royal Collection Trust has in its collection a piece of sliced moss agate formed into the lid of a box, by Fabergé, which shows clearly how the pottery emulates the stone, and how it might be used in luxury goods.  There are many similar examples.

The Greengates Works in Tunstall during the 1780s. Source: thepotteries.org

It is thought that the comparatively humble mochaware pottery was first made by William Adams of the Greengates factory, Tunstall, England (1745-1805).  Production moved to the factory of his cousin, also William Adams, at Brickhouse, Burselm and later at Cobridge Hall in Cobridge.  Many English factories were soon turning out large quantities of mocha, mainly in Staffordshire into the early years of the 20th Century.  Other factories were set up in Bristol, Hull, Leeds, Glasgow, Swansea and Llanelly.

Banded Creamware. Source: Lot-Art

Annular and mochaware vessels usually combine a limited repertoire of colours.  The concentric rings include yellow,  yellow ochre, blue, black and and beige.  More rarely some feature terracotta, orange and green bands.  The background is usually cream or white, and the dendritic design is usually blue or black. In some cases the mochaware decoration remained purely abstract, but on some vessels the acidic solution is controlled to create images representing trees.  Some examples of both abstract and more representational uses of the style are shown below.

Being so inexpensive, and at the same time so attractive, it became extremely widespread.  It was often used to make pint mugs for pubs, marked with an imperial symbol confirming the correct volume, and ordinary domestic items like cups, mugs jugs, jars, lidded pots and mixing bowls, and even chamber pots.   It was almost never used for flat items like dishes, plates or platters.  Because the patterns made could be influenced but not precisely determined, each piece was unique. Mocha and banded creamware were exported in large amounts to the United States, which was soon manufacturing its own mochaware.

Mochaware mixing bowl. Source: 1stDibs

On the pottery, the tendril effect of the moss agate is achieved by dripping a dark acidic colouring (which could include urine, tobacco juice, lemon juice, ground iron scale, hops or vinegar) onto the alkaline slip (mixture of water and clay) of the pot, whilst still wet.  The alkaline liquid splits, and the result was thought to resemble the moss agate.  Here’s a description of the technique from the University of Toronto’s Physics department:

The original recipe involves a “tea” made by boiling tobacco, which is then colored with e.g. Iron oxide. The piece is first coated with a wet “slip” (very runny clay/water mixture). Then the tea mixture is touched onto the wet surface. The acidic tea reacts with the alkaline slip and the dendrites grow quickly from the point of contact.  The dendritic pattern is clearly the result of a dynamic process in which the contact line between the two liquids, tea and slip, becomes unstable. The surface tension of the tea is less than that of the slip. The instability is probably driven by a combination of capillary and Marangoni (surface tension gradient) stresses, coupled somehow to the acid/base chemical reaction. Similar looking instabilities are known in surfactant driven flows.

A decisive contributor to the production of both mochaware and annular ware was the rose-and-crown engine-turning lathe, developed by Josiah Wedgwood.  There was a hefty up-front cost, but it allowed a mechanized approach to the otherwise hand-applied concentric rings of coloured slip.

Experiments described by The Ceramic Arts Network website, explain how the techniques have been used to make modern mochaware in modern experiments:

Pint tankard with an imperial stamp. Source: 1stDibs

The mixture that is used to form the patterns is called “mocha tea.” It was originally made by boiling tobacco leaves and forming a thick sludge that was then thinned with water and mixed with colorant. However, nicotine solutions are only one form of mild acid; many others will work, such as citric acid, lemon juice, urine, coffee or vinegar, particularly natural apple-cider vinegar. One of these would be mixed with colorant. Most colorants work quite well, although carbonates and stains are usually better than oxides, since they are typically a physically lighter precipitate than oxides. Heavy materials such as black copper oxide, black cobalt oxide and black iron oxide do not work well, because the acid can’t adequately hold them in suspension. A ratio of about one heaping teaspoon of colorant to a quarter cup of mild acid is usually a good starting point. However, a good deal of individual testing has to be done to get the two liquids to work together to create significant dendritic formations or diffusions. 

The Copeland (formerly Spode) pottery works in 1834. Source: Spode Museum Trust

The Colonial Sense website tells how Charles Dickens visited the Copeland Pottery Works at Stoke on Trent in the Potteries:

I am well persuaded that you bear in mind how those particular jugs and mugs were once set upon a lathe and put in motion, and how a man blew the brown color (having a strong natural affinity with the material in that condition) on them from a blow pipe as they twirled; and how his daughter, with a common brush, dropped blotches of blue upon them in the right places; tilting the blotches upside down, she made them run into rude images of trees.

Mochaware sherd from the garden

The sherd from my garden shows a band of yellow ochre on and beneath the rim with a beaded or rouletted design impressed into the surface below the rim, produced by using an embossed rouletting wheel.  The beading was achieved by a simple cylinder attached to a handle and rolled onto the surface of the ceramic.  It took a very steady hand.  Some rouletting is very subtle and complex, but this is clearly not.  Still, it is another decorative aspect to the vessel.   A segment of black dendritic patterning is visible on a cream background, separated from the wide band of yellow ochre by a thin band of blue.  It is a solid, utilitarian piece of earthenware, almost 1cm (a third of an inch) thick at the rim, narrowing into the body of the vessel.  The vessel originally had a diameter of 25.5cm (10 ins), which makes it a fairly substantial object.  Its walls show very little vertical curvature, unlike most mixing bowls, so it may have been a large pot of some description.

Yellow ochre reverse side (interior) and section of the sherd showing the fabric and glaze

Today,whole and undamaged items of  mochaware attracts collectors on both sides of the Atlantic.  My sherd, though part of a fascinating story, is of course worthless.  As usual, apart from trying to find out information about the odds and ends in the garden, together these objects are combining to form a sense of who lived here before and what sort of livings they may have had.

There’s a truly illuminating video of dendritic mochaware being produced by a modern artisan on YouTube, showing how the acid reacts when it meets the alkaline, as follows:

 

For other objects in the series,
see the History in Garden Objects page


Sources:

Books and papers

Wright, K.F. 2021. Artifacts.  In Loske, A. (ed.) A Cultural History of Color in the Age of Industry.  Bloomsbury Academic.

Websites

Ceramic Arts Network
Mocha Diffusion Acid/Color Mixture
https://ceramicartsnetwork.org/daily/article/Slipware-Decoration-Mocha-Diffusion-and-Slip-Dotting-Pottery

Colonial Sense website
Mochaware – The Hidden Utiitarian Gem. By Bryan Wright
http://www.colonialsense.com/Antiques/Other_Antiques/Mochaware.php

The Potteries
Greengates Pottery, Tunstall
http://www.thepotteries.org/potworks_wk/027.htm

Regency Redingote
Moss agates: pictures and power. By Kathryn Kane
https://regencyredingote.wordpress.com/2018/02/09/moss-agates-pictures-and-power/

Ceramic – Pottery Dictionary
Roulette wheel
http://ceramicdictionary.com/en/r/513/roulette-wheel-roller+tools

Royal Collection Trust
Box with moss agate panel 1903-08
https://www.rct.uk/collection/40155/box-with-moss-agate-panel

St Mary’s University
Mocha Ware
https://www.smu.ca/academics/departments/anthropology-mocha-ware.html

University of Toronto, Physics Department
Dendritic patterns on mochaware pottery
https://www.physics.utoronto.ca/~smorris/edl/mochaware/mochaware.html

 

A year in the life of a single tree in Churton

The tree in early April 2021, still rather bare of leaves.

Just for fun, since April 2021 I have been photographing the deciduous tree that I can see from the window in my home office.  It stands in the middle of a rather untidy fence, completely dwarfing it, but finds itself in arboreal isolation, between two fields that belong to the Churton Hall / Barnston Estate dairy farm.  On the far, eastern side of the hedge, the field was eventually ploughed.

On the western side, cows grazed all summer during the day, vanishing at speed from time to time, presumably for milking and feeding.  Most of the time the cows ignored the tree, but on hot sunny days often gravitated towards it, even though it is not very large, and never offers much shade.

The same tree a few weeks later in mid-June 2021

The cows have surprised me.  Not dull, static, plodding things but always on the move, pushing one another out of the way for that special patch of grass, often cantering around together, and frequently departing back to their barn at a serious gallop, presumably for food.  The fresh air certainly seemed to agree with them.  The cattle vanished at some point during the late summer or autumn and the field remained empty of livestock, but reappeared in early April, making me smile when I saw them first exploring their fresh environment, rushing around and bumping into each other in something resembling excitement.

 

The tree, the backdrop to all this bovine activity, was ever-changing.  The time between bare branches in April and richly new light green leaves in June, a complete metamorphosis, was a mere six weeks.  Extraordinary.

This post is simply a set of photos of bits of a year in the tree’s life.  One or two of the photographs look as though the colours have been messed with in Photoshop to make them more interesting, but there would have been no fun in that.

I am too far away to know for sure what specie it may be.  I suspect from the shape that it is an oak, but I need to see the leaves, and the longest lens on my camera cannot get me close enough.
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An amazing sunset on 16th March 2022, when even my house, which is painted white, was peach-coloured. No Photoshop employed.

Snow on the 31st March 2022

Early April 2022, with the cows returned to the field

Mid April 2022, with leaves arriving on branches and a doom-laden sky in the background

Objects histories from my garden #9 – A Golliwog on a child’s cup

It never occurred to me that I would find any politically incorrect objects in the garden, but this is certainly a contender.  I dug it out of one of the flower beds when doing some planting last summer, and for a moment couldn’t figure out what it was I was looking at, partly because I was holding it upside down, but partly because it was so unexpected.

I remember that Robertson marmalade and other Robertson products were everywhere, with the distinctive Golliwog logo on their labels, with its bright clothing and crudely caricatured face.  ln spite of the Golliwog’s big red smile, or perhaps because of it, I found it threatening.  For others, however, it was (and still is) a cheerful and entertaining character, rather absurd but benign.

The Golliwogg as it first appeared in Florence Kate Upton’s “The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls” of 1895. Source: Wikipedia

The name “Golliwogg” (with the double g at the end) was invented by Florence Kate Upton, whose parents had emigrated from England to New York in 1870, and who had a black minstrel soft toy as a child, which was at the heart of many childhood games.  When the family returned to England in the late 1880s, Upton began to illustrate children’s books to raise money to attend art school, with verses for the books written by her mother Bertha.   The Golliwogg was introduced in their 1895 book The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls, complete with the shaggy hair, clown-like grin, bright clothes and bow tie.  This was the first of fourteen very popular books that featured Golliwogg as a central character, a jolly, benevolent, and good-natured friend who embarked on international adventures.

The name and character invented by the Uptons were not copyrighted, and the character was incorporated into works by other authors.  It became a popular home-made rag doll, but it soon went into production as a soft toy, mainly in Germany and Britain, marketed as a “Golliwog” (without the final g). The German Steiff Company became the first to mass produce them in 1908, going on to produce a female version of the doll.

Robertson’s Golden Shred Golly Badge, Pre-War Issue dating from 1937 commemorating the coronation of King George VI. Source: Portable Antiquities Scheme via Wikipedia

In the 1910 James Robertson and Sons  (based in Droylsden in Greater Manchester) first adopted the “Golly” on its branding after James’s son John had seen them being played with on a trip to the U.S., and by the early 1920s had been rolled out to many of their products.  In 1928, the company began to offer Golly brooches in return for tokens printed on product labels as a marketing gimmick.  The first were a series of Gollies engaged in different sporting activities and the Golly became a runaway success for Robertson’s.

It was only in the 1960s when increasing issues surrounding attitudes to race and the growth of  racism became dominant that the role and significance of the Golly became questionable, and began to seem like very bad taste, offensive to many, potentially encouraging unconscious bias in children.  In some countries today the word, either in its entirety or split into “golly” or “wog” is categorized as a racial slur, and the image of the Golliwog has been banned from some of them.  At the same time, Golliwog-themed items, particularly vintage ones, have become collectable.  Indeed, the Robertson’s Golly was not actually retired until 2001.  The BBC reported that it was to be replaced by characters from Roald Dahl books, illustrated by Quentin Blake.  Robertson’s Brand Director Ginny Knox commented on the changeover:

We sell 45 million jars of jam and marmalade each year and they have pretty much all got Golly on them.  We also sell 250,000 Golly badges to collectors and only get 10 letters a year from people who don’t like the Golly.  Whereas we are concerned about those people and it’s not our intention to be offensive with the Golly, we have to look at what our research says and what the sales say.  The feedback has consistently been that for the vast majority of people, the Golly is a positive thing that they like.

One wonders what, in particular, people said that they liked about the Golly.

The very battered sherd from my garden was probably part of a child’s teacup or similar.  The fabric is just over 2mm thick, and the diameter is probably something a little in excess of 7cm diameter.  This would be more accurate if this as a rim piece, which can be measured by laying the rim on a simple map of concentric circles, (a rim chart or radius chart) but even though this is just a body sherd, the curvature is obvious and it is unlikely that it will have been much wider at the top.

The head of the Gollywog is typical, with the big round eyes, spiky hair and wide red mouth.  The bow tie is yellow and the waistcoat or jacket is blue, fastened with a big white button.  Just visible across the base of the waistcoat/jacket is a splash of red, which could either be a jacket buttoned across the base of a waistcoat or the top of the trousers.

The eyes look slightly down to its left, which was a standard feature of the Robertson’s Golly.  The most familiar Robertson’s Golly was usually shown with a bright yellow waistcoat, red bow tie, blue jacket and red trousers but there variants.  In spite of making myself substantially uncomfortable by paging through dozens of images on specialist websites, as well as paging through Google Images, I have not found one that looks like the piece from the garden.

The  paragraphs looking at the history of the Golliwog on this post were based on Dr. David Pilgrim’s detailed article The Golliwog Caricature on the Ferris State University / Jim Crow Museum website (dated November 2000, edited 2012), which includes a full bibliography.   For the really fascinating, if often disturbing full story, with a useful discussion of the racism issue,  see the link below.   Dr Pilgrim is Professor of Sociology at the Ferris State University.  https://www.ferris.edu/HTMLS/news/jimcrow/golliwog/homepage.htm

The above-mentioned story about the end of the Golly as a Robertson’s brand in 2001 is on the BBC website.

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For other objects in the series,
see the History in Garden Objects page

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Adventures with Churton Honesty Eggs: A little Ukrainian inspiration – фаршировані яйця

As the glossy chocolate Easter eggs line up on the supermarket shelves, replacing the eternally dubious Valentine’s Day gifts, I have gone into Churton egg mode, with a Ukrainian slant.

I have an Eastern European recipe book, which is absolutely excellent, and has a few Ukrainian recipes in it. One of them is a stuffed egg recipe фаршировані яйця – farshyrovani yaytsya (or stuffed eggs).  Better and inferior versions of this are recognizable over most of Europe, and in 1970s Britain was a particular (very dubious) favourite as a starter, with the mayo mixture sprinkled with paprika and crossed with two salted anchovies.

In the Ukrainian version, the chopped egg yolk is mixed with mayonnaise (my mayo recipe is here), sour cream, as well as finely chopped chives or spring onions.  I put my sour cream into the mayonnaise as I was making it   I used chives, but I also added cress, and the result was excellent.  This mixture not merely stuffs the little yolk cavities but overflows to provide a really good dollop of the mayo mix.  Crucially, the egg is topped with caviar (please note – inexpensive Danish caviar).  Caviar is salty, which I love, and is delicious.

As I was eating the finished article, I wondered whether the salted anchovy fillets that usually sat on a 1970s British mayonnaise-stuffed egg were attempting to replicated the caviar experience, fishy and salty at the same time.  I am not denigrating the 70s version, which might well be worth revisiting

Photographs online show various different ways of presenting the Ukrainian фаршировані яйця.  Mine is topped with two chives pointing out at angles, emulating many of the pictures online, and some cress over the top of the caviar, which is nothing like the traditional pictures, but which I liked.  I have mine sitting on a fan of wild garlic leaves.  If you have the time in your life to stuff an egg, this is a really nice way of doing it 🙂

I have never used food dye before, but just for fun here’s a Ukrainian flag theme, using hard boiled eggs, halved.  I simply left hard boiled eggs, halved, with a few drops of dye in cold water in a glass bowl, and left in the fridge for a few hours, checking them occasionally to see what depth of colour had emerged.  The yolk didn’t survive intact, disintegrating slowly during submersion, so the result is rather more decorative than edible.

The above is light-hearted, but of course the situation in Ukraine is absolutely no joke.  It is peculiar how one’s mind turns to different ways of expressing any possible form of solidarity.

In an authentic assessment of Ukrainian Easter eggs, here’s an excellent link showing how Ukrainian eggs are not merely given a bit of a paint job at Easter, but are provided with remarkable and beautiful designs:  https://ukrainian-recipes.com/easter-eggs-discovering-symbolism-of-colors-in-ukraine.html. I really wish that my artistic skills were up to it, but they are not.

More adventures with Churton Honesty Eggs here

 

The 1898 Sibbersfield Lane milepost along the Chester-Churton-Worthenbury turnpike

Today I was able to take a photograph of the 1898 Sibbersfield Lane milepost, just on the way out of Churton as the road heads towards Crewe-by-Farndon (which is on the other side of the bypass).  I have been taking photographs of the mileposts since I first became interested in the turnpike.

The turnpike (or tollroad) that ran from Chester to Worthenbury was marked with mileposts.  All of those surviving date to 1898, when the council was obliged to take over the turnpike.  They presumably replaced earlier ones.  I have been collecting them, digitally, for over a year now.  So many of them were completely encased in foliage and shrubs that it was impossible to verify their existence until the winter, when all the leafage died back.  I have posted about the turnpike in two parts.  The first looks at turnpikes in general, and the second looks at the Chester to Worthenbury turnpike in particular.  Another post includes photographs of the mileposts as I have located them.

Sibbersfield Lane is a very fast road, and it is not at all safe to stop, get out and take photographs, and as much as I would have liked to get some good shots, it was clearly unwise to get out of the car to risk life and limb, so these are two shots taken from the car, with my handbag camera.  I didn’t have the professional camera that I usually use, so they are a bit blurred.  The camera was, however, perfectly level, and this can be seen by the line of road and hedge.  It is the poor, sad milepost that is at a perilous angle, slowly subsiding into a ditch.  It seems, otherwise, to be in reasonable condition.  I will alert Chester West and Cheshire Council, but it seems unlikely that it will be high on their list of priorities.

 

Adventures with Churton Honesty Eggs: Mum’s chicken, egg, mushroom and spinach pancake.

With Pancake Day (Shrove Tuesday) coming up on March 1st, here is a recipe of my mother’s.  It always feels good to do some of the recipes that I associate exclusively with her, even when I have the devil’s own job reproducing them.  I’m not very keen on sweet stuff, so on Pancake Day savoury pancakes are excellent.

Eggs are used in the recipe both in the pancake batter (beaten) and into the pancake filling (hard-boiled and chopped).  The chopped egg makes a real difference to both the flavour and the texture of the filling.  This is an immensely filling dish. I make one small pancake and serve a light salad to accompany it.   It is a great dish for making use of leftover roast chicken, but of course you can grill or fry some chicken (thigh has great flavour) specially.

You may want to pre-heat your grill if it is electric.

Although most of my recipes are gung-ho, pancakes are simply not a suck-it-and-see item.  The relative proportions are important.  Hence, for two people:

  • 100g plain flour,
  • 190ml milk,
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten,
  • 1/2  tbsp vegetable oil
  • a pinch of salt
  • tablespoon of oil or butter for the frying/omelette pan

The eggs and milk are whisked together with the oil, then poured into the flour and whisked lightly, ignoring small lumps.  After a couple of failures on the pancake front, when I first had a go at this, I was told that being careful not to over-whisk the batter was important, and that leaving the batter in the fridge for a couple of hours, giving it a final stir before using, would increase the likelihood of success.  This seems to work for me.

Heat the oil or butter in the pan and pour in the batter.  Before flipping, it needs to be set well on one side, and I always take a sneak peak to make sure that it is going golden on the underside before flipping with a big wooden spatula.

To make the filling, which I do in advance, and heat through whilst making the pancakes, toss the following in hot oil and/or butter

  • two large handfuls of mushrooms (they shrink in volume when cooked)
  • two handfuls leftover roast chicken, thickly sliced or in chunks (or slice up and grill/fry a large chicken thigh)
  • crushed garlic, to taste (optional)
  • bay leaf (optional – and remember to fish out before stuffing the pancake)

When the mushrooms begin brown and give off a wonderful aroma, the following are mixed together and thrown in, and stirred just until everything is warmed through:

  • one or two hard boiled eggs, chopped
  • fresh tarragon, sage or oregano/marjoram to taste
  • a big handful of parsley
  • chopped spring onions or chives, to taste
  • seasoning to taste (I used salt, ground black pepper, ground fennel seeds and a few chilli flakes)

Next add the following, and stir gently until the spinach begins to wilt and everything is again warmed through:

  • some chicken or vegetable stock
  • cream (traditionally double cream, but I usually use crème fraîche, and sour cream also works a treat)
  • a really big handful of spinach

The filling is added to the pancake, heaped in a line up the middle.  The pancake is folded to cover the filling and overlap, and then turned onto a baking tray (which is how I did it for the photo on the right this time last year) or oven-proof dish (the one at the top of the page, which I did most recently) so that the edges are secured underneath.  I find that pancakes are so filling that instead of making two, I put additional filling down the edges of one small pancake in an oven-proof dish.  Cheese is grated over the top (for my most recent version it was a mixture of Cheddar and Emmental with chilli flakes sprinkled on top) and it all goes under the grill until the cheese starts to melt and go golden-brown.   In the summer I scatter over some fresh marjoram leaves from a pot on the patio to provide an aromatic edge.  On this occasion I served it with a light side salad drizzled with a mustard vinaigrette.

Notes and alternatives:

I have to take real care not to pour too much batter into the pan, which makes the pancake too thick.  A thick pancake results in something really stodgy, quite hard to roll and unpleasant to eat.  It needs to be thin and light.  Part of the trick is to make sure that the pan is hot enough to melt the butter or heat through the oil, but not so hot that the moment the pancake batter hits the pan it starts to set.  It needs time to  flow out to the sides of the pan and spread properly before the heat is turned up to allow it to set.

The previous time I did this I noted that the filling needed to be rather oozier than the one I made, because of course the pancake itself is dry, and requires a bit of liquid to balance it.  So I was careful not to simmer off too much of the stock and cream, and although it looked a bit too liquid, it actually provided a really good oozy sauce.  An alternative would be to make a sauce to pour over it, like parsley and chive, or chervil sauce.

If you don’t have time to fiddle around making pancake batter, or if it always comes out more like pizza than pancake, you can always use pre-made soft tortilla flat-breads instead, which are sold in all supermarkets these days.  I’ve had a go, and they work well if they are heated and softened gently in a dry non-stick frying pan just before adding the filling.

Whether using either pancakes or tortillas, if you are using a baking tray and serving on a plate, anything that has fallen out of the pancake during the perilous transfer from grill pan to plate can be served to the side of the pancake. To avoid having to move the pancake from the oven dish or baking tray to the oven, a good alternative is to serve it in individual oven dishes straight to the table, with side dishes on the side.

Alternatives or additions to the chicken in the filling could include pancetta or chopped bacon, sausage-meat balls, or chunks of ham hock, the latter going well with leeks added to the fill.  Dijon mustard is a great addition to the sauce for all these.

The basic recipe is easy to convert to a vegetarian recipe by adding extra hard boiled egg and replacing the chicken with loads of wild mushrooms, or/as well as leeks, asparagus, courgettes and/or fennel bulb, and using mustard and cheese to add more flavour to the sauce.  A very nice seafood version made with king prawns makes a great alternative by leaving out mushrooms and instead adding fennel, asparagus and/or leeks, and making the sauce super-cheesy.  This combination works well with ham hock as well.  

Leftover filling can be used on toast for lunch, or served deliciously on a baked potato, with  cheese or fresh parsley sprinkled over the top.  I often make more than I need deliberately to use in this way, and this is my plan for Shrove Tuesday.  I have a wood burning stove, and a maris piper spud wrapped in foil and chucked in for 45 minutes works wonderfully.  Even with the foil, the smoked wood flavour penetrates and is wonderful.

Enjoy!

Big Garden Birdwatch 2022

I only started doing the Big Garden Birdwatch when I moved out of London, but it has become a real pleasure since then. This is my fourth go at it, but my first in Churton, done on 30th January.  At this time of year with the unpredictable weather, it can be a bit hit or miss, particularly as we now experience so many more storms.  Luckily, in spite of Storm Malik, in which one of my bird feeders vanished completely in spite of my efforts to locate it, there have been long dry periods and the birds have been out and about, stocking up with calories whilst the going is good.  Because it has been so dry, I had to refill the bird bath, and they were soon drinking from it.

Of the birds that paraded themselves for one hour this year, there was nothing rare, but that’s not what it’s all about.  Any and all Birdwatch observations contribute importantly to the statistics that have been collected by the RSPB for over 40 years and help to chart trends in bird populations.  In 2021 over a million people took part.

Just a selection of my visitors on the day. My kitchen windows seriously need cleaning 🙂

I was in the kitchen, looking out of the window due to the cold, so I was mainly watching the bird feeders on the Japanese maple about 10ft away.  The robin that fights for the patio territory with ferocity was there, scooping everything that the almost ubiquitous blue tits and great tits drop so untidily on the floor.  Male and female house sparrows have mastered the bird feeders, some even performing the rudimentary forms of gymnastics that the tits perform so sublimely.  Male and female blackbirds bounced around the ground, scattering the smaller birds.  I was so pleased to have three chaffinches, a male and two females, for the first time ever, and they arrived very handily in the hour that I was doing my official watch.  They scurried around underneath the bird feeders in the shade of the shrubs, and I couldn’t capture  them with the camera.  Another time.  Missing from the usual suspects were the collared doves and the  sole dunnock that often visits.

My garden is quite long so I could not see what else was dashing around in the trees and shrubs in the rest of the garden, but splendid magpies, raucous crows and enormous waddling pigeons were all visible in a patch of fugitive sunshine at the end of the garden, as were two squirrels competing for territory in the beech tree. 

One of my recent visitors

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had some more unusual visitors recently.  A week ago I saw a spotted woodpecker who was sitting in the big Japanese maple on my patio, trying to work out whether or not the bird feeders were at all feasible (not).  On the same day I walked downstairs to find a pheasant standing at my back door looking in.  I assume that someone else is feeding him from their back door, because he looked so expectant.  In my last house, in Aberdovey (west Wales) I had a community of pheasants daily in my garden during the winter, which I used to feed on peanuts, but although pheasants roam the fields around here, I’ve never before seen one in the garden.  Once in a while I hear and then see a thrush, but so far none have established a territory here.  I have been trying to encourage goldfinches into the garden with nyjer seeds, because I had a community of them at my last house and they are enchanting, but so far they are resistant to all my efforts, although I saw some splashing in a pool of water in Pump Lane last year.
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The late 19th century Churton village pump

A little way down Pump Lane, opposite Churton Hall in the village of Churton is a cast iron hand-activated water pump, in an alluring shade of bottle green.  Its original manufacturer marking is almost illegible, but apparently reads “G. INGOLD B. STORTFORD,” referring to G. Ingold of Bishop’s Stortford.  The modern paintwork makes this illegible today.  I haven’t found any photographs of the pump prior to 2005 when it was renovated and reinstalled, but there must be plenty in local collections, so perhaps some will turn up.  It looks as though it is in very good condition, at least externally, its paintwork glossy and its structure intact.  Its What Three Words location is ///lance.alas.prune.

Pumps were installed from the 18th century, and began to replace wells in the  latter half of the 19th Century.  Wells in Churton are recorded at Churton Hall, Pump Lane, inside and out, and inside Cherry Tree Cottage on Chester Road, discovered during renovation work, the latter now sealed over.  Latham says that well water was very hard in the Farndon area, and that most houses had some form of rainwater storage as a common supplement to use of the well, for washing clothes and other tasks were softer water was required.

There were two primary types of upright pump commonly installed in Britain in the mid-late 19th Century: the lift pump and the force pump.  The Churton pump is probably a lift type.  These are relatively simple, with two valves opening and closing as a piston is lifted and dropped with the lever.  When the handle is lifted, the lower vale opens and the upper valve closes.  The barrel draws the water up the downpipe, filling the barrel below the piston.  When the handle is pushed down, the lower valve closes and the upper one opens, forcing water into the barrel about the piston.  The next upward pull of the handle pushes the water out of the spout, with water again filling the barrel below the piston.

Pumps relied on bringing water up from local aquifers via boreholes, which were the biggest part of pump installation.  A simple screw-shaped auger could be used for soft soils (I use a small one for planting daffodil bulbs), but percussion drilling was required for sinking a borehole through stone, a far more laborious and expensive process.   

The first village standpipe pumps were made of wood, which inevitably rotted, and later lead.  Lead was malleable and enabled smaller pumps to be made, but it was expensive and was targeted by thieves for melting down for resale, in spite of the threat of transportation, which was the standard punishment for theft of village pumps. Cast iron, a new technology in the 18th century that spread during the 19th century, replaced both.   Cast iron pumps were cheap to produce and far less prone to decay.  They spread rapidly into villages that had not previously been able to afford a pump, and found their way into homes, inns, farms and public institutions such as schools and hospitals.

Public pumps were not merely water sources but, much like the office water fountain today, places where people bumped into one another and where information, news and gossip were exchanged.  Some activities were easier to carry out at the pump itself rather than carrying the water back to home or business, whilst some better-off residents paid for the water to be delivered to them.  Comings and goings at the pump made it a social as well as a functional resource, and probably changed the dynamic of village life quite substantially once installed.

Servicing the pump was important, replacing the more vulnerable parts to ensure that it stayed functional.  The pump would sometimes be out of commission during the winter months due to frozen water, and the pumps themselves might be chained up to prevent use, and wrapped against the cold to protect them from frost damage.  I do much the same (wrapping, not chaining) with my high-tech hose reel and my outdoor taps.


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So far a precise date for the installation of the Churton pump eludes me. Latham says that the village pump at Crewe-by-Farndon was installed by William and Mary Barnston in the 1850s, and the one in Farndon by Mary Barnston in about 1877.   However the Churton pump is on the Churton-by-Aldford side of the road, inset into a field on that side of the road.  This is relevant because Churton was divided at that time into two parts, Churton-by-Aldford and Churton-by-Farndon, the division between the two running down the middle of Pump Lane.  Churton-by-Aldford came under the Grosvenor family’s Eaton Hall estate, and Churton-by-Farndon came under the Barnstons of Farndon, so the pump, if not paid for by public subscription, is more likely to have been donated by the Grosvenor family rather than the Barnstons of Crewe-by-Farndon.  On the other hand, I can find no record of a village pump in Aldford at around the same time.  Aldford, of course, was a model village, built from scratch by the 2nd Marquess of Westminster in the mid-19th Century, and the houses may have been supplied with running water.  So the question of how and precisely when the Churton pump arrived remains, for the time being, unanswered, but there are clues to establishing a rough date.  

G. Ingold of Bishop’s Stortford (Hertfordshire), made pumps for a variety of locations, although usually in the south, including villages in Essex and Cambridge.  The company had been founded in 1851 by John Ingold for sinking wells and manufacturing pumps.  He was based at Rye Street with a workshop in Apton Road in Bishops Stortford.  Following the death of John Ingold, the business was taken over by his son George, but the latter was marking pumps “G. Ingold” well before his father’s death.  This seems to put our pump quite late in the 19th Century.  This is born out by a number of wells and pumps in Uttlesford in Essex, where the date was recorded.  The earliest marked as “G. Ingold” as opposed to merely “Ingold,” was in 1873, then 1886, with a cluster of five in the 1890s.

Where images are available, all of the Ingold pumps looked very similar. As far as I can tell from the Essex and Cambridge examples posted on the web, most Ingold pumps had handles to the rear, with only some, like the Churton pump, fitted with handles at the side.  The Ingold spouts often had a thorn-like feature at the top of the bend, a bucket hook, often decorated.  This is absent on the Churton pump, although there is an indentation where one might have been located, visible in the photograph above left.

There are two modern signs on the walls flanking the Churton pump.  One is a disclaimer notice drafted by a local solicitor, commenting on the quality of the water available from the pump, saying that  it derives/derived from an artesian aquifer and warning that one drinks at one’s own risk.  I did try to activate the pump, giving it a really good go after heavy rainfall when the aquifers were all filling up, but it produced nothing.  Although I’ve never tried to use a village pump before, there was no feeling of resistance as you might expect of a lever raising a piston.  Thanks very much to Irene Mundy and John Gallagher for the information that When the renovated pump was reinstalled it was discovered that the pipe delivering water up to the pump was deeper than expected. Half way down the pipe towards the water reservoir another, secondary pumping mechanism had been attached in the past.  Although the pump initially drew water, it eventually ceased to function.  It’s nice that it did work for a while, and it still looks great.

The other sign refers to the restoration.  Although it says that it was a Millennium project, commemorating the arrival of the 2000s, Latham comments that the renovated pump was not actually installed until 2005.  The sign records that the project was supported by both Barnston and Grosvenor estates, both with vested interests in the village, as well as the Chester City Council.  The engineering and installation work was carried out by A.E. and K.E. Jones, farmers near Pant yr Ochain (Gresford), and the welding by J. Vale.  Someone must have a record of the project and the installation of the pump, including photographs of the installation and official opening, which would be really good to see.  The Eaton estate repaired the stone wall that encompassed the pump.  If any more details come to light, I will cover the restoration project on another post.

It was super, late last summer, to see that the sandstone trough beneath the pump had been planted out, and that a very attractive display of bedding plants had replaced the straggling weeds (see also the photo at the top of this post).  Many thanks to whoever took the trouble.  It was great to see it looking so good.  The photograph was taken in August 2021.  The other photos on this post were taken in May 2021.

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For more information on village pumps
I recommend the short book, Village Pumps by Richard K. Williams and the Village Pumps website (details of both below), both of which provided a lot of the general information in this post and are comprehensive resources on the subject of all types of village pump.
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Sources:

Books and papers

Latham, F. 1981.  Farndon: the History of a Cheshire Village. Farndon Local History Society

Williams, R.K. 2009.  Village Pumps.  Shire Library

Websites

The Recorders of Uttlesford History
https://www.recordinguttlesfordhistory.org.uk/

Village Pumps website
http://www.villagepumps.org.uk
Village Pumps: Churton entry
http://www.villagepumps.org.uk/pumpsChesh.htm#C10C

Waymarking.com
Village Pump, Widdington, Essex
https://staging.waymarking.com/waymarks/wmC4MW_Village_Pump_Widdington_Essex_UK