THERE’S a small piece of land in our village with no obvious function. I’m hopeless at guessing measurements but it’s probably about 30 yards by ten, surrounded by a wall with a gate. This is it from the road:
Inside there is nothing but grass and a tree.
It might be just big enough for a house but it would be very small and a very strange shape.
OK, I’ll tell you what it is – a pinfold, as the sign on the wall says, or animal pound.
It is an ancient enclosure where stray farm animals were kept until claimed by the owner, usually on payment of a fine to the ‘pinder’, who was an officer of the Lord of the Manor.
The Sussex County Magazine in 1930 said:
‘Nearly every village once had its pound for stray cattle, pigs, geese, etc. to be driven into and there kept at the expense of the owner, till such time as he should pay the fine (the amount claimed by the person on whose land they had strayed, for damage done), and the fee to the pound keeper, man or sometimes woman, for feeding and watering the same.
‘If not claimed in three weeks, the animals were driven to the nearest market and sold, the proceeds going to the impounder and pound-keeper. An ingenious form of receipt was sometimes used. The person who found the animals on his land cut a stick and made notches, one for every beast, and then split the stick down the centre of the notches so that half each notch appeared on each stick; one half he kept, the other he gave to the pound-keeper.
‘When the owner came to redeem his property and had paid for the damage done, the impounder gave him his half stick. He took this to the pound-keeper, and if the two pieces tallied, it proved he had paid and his beast was freed. Hence the word tally-stick and the pound-keeper being referred to as the tallyman.’
The earliest pinfolds date from medieval times but most of the remaining ones are from the 16th and 17th centuries. Fines were typically 1d for a horse, 4d for a pig and 2d for 20 sheep. The walls were built high, not just to prevent the animals from escaping but to prevent the owners from climbing over the wall and retrieving their animals, an offence which could result in a jail sentence. The one in our village is looked after by the parish council, but as far as I can tell it is not certain who owns it or if it could be put to any use.
An enthusiast named Nigel Mills has compiled a national register of pounds and pinfolds, which can be found here. It’s a brilliant piece of work. Nigel is still collecting entries (ours is one he has added after I made contact), so if you know of one that is not on the list, do let him know. I am so glad that there are individuals who do this kind of thing. Details of our history must be preserved.
WALKING by the Ribble this week I saw a white bird which at first I took to be a little egret – there is often one on the river, and I wrote about them here. Then I realised it was much bigger, and it had a yellow beak instead of black. Looking it up at home I found that it was a great white egret (Ardea alba), which is the same size as a heron. According to the British Trust for Ornithology it is a scarce visitor which has occasionally bred in Britain, and the winter population is 72 (how can they be sure?) Anyway it is a pretty unusual bird and I have been kicking myself all week that I didn’t take a picture of it. Luckily a friend saw it and did have the presence of mind to photograph it.
The portion of sheep in the background helps to show its size.
I SAW this butterfly this week and identified it as a small copper (Lycaena phlaeas).
The books say it is widespread and common, but no butterflies are common round here any more. It is on my fancy-leaf geranium ‘Pink Happy Thought’, which has done extremely well this summer.
Sheep of the week
THE Wiltshire Horn is unusual among sheep because it naturally sheds its coat (which is more hair than wool) in spring, so it does not need shearing. This is an advantage in an industry where wool production has become uneconomic: labour costs are drastically reduced with no need to gather the flock for shearing or dipping.
It is a big sheep with rams weighing about 250lb and ewes 150lb. The coat is white with occasional black spots and both sexes have horns. The rams have spectacular spirals while the ewes’ versions are daintier. From the videos I have seen they are friendlier than most sheep – I wonder if that is because they do not get rounded up and frightened.
The breed was possibly introduced by the Romans, and until the end of the 18th century was the predominant type on the Wiltshire Downs with numbers estimated at 700,000. It declined in popularity in the 19th and 20th centuries when there was a high demand for wool, and came close to extinction. Thanks to a small group of breeders who formed the Wiltshire Horn Sheep Society in 1923 it survived, but went into another decline in the 1960s. At this point it came under the protection of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. In 2000 there were 300 breeding ewes but by 2019 the number was 4,898. The main reason for its resurgence is the self-shedding characteristic, but it also produces particularly good meat.
The RBST reports that the Wiltshire Horn has other talents. Their website says: ‘In 2011, a flock of Wiltshire Horns were borrowed by Network Rail to graze a railway cutting that was home to wild orchids and other flora. The sheep were used to clear the scrub without harming other plants and left the orchids alone. They seem to be natural conservationists and land management specialists too.’
Here’s a great video of a ram duel. It seems to end in a draw.
You can read more about the breed at the (very interesting) Wiltshire Horn Sheep Society website.
Wheels of the week
THIS is a 1962 Ford Consul Classic. It was launched in 1961 as a larger version of the Anglia intended to be ‘suitable for the golf club car park’, but it was overshadowed by the Cortina which came out the following year, and was produced only until 1963, a shorter lifetime than the company intended. There were two-door and four-door versions, and a total of 111,225 were made. The basic styling came from Ford’s HQ in Dearborn, Michigan.
When it was launched in 1961 it had a 1340 cc engine, and the one tested by Motor magazine that year had a top speed of 78.4 mph, accelerated from 0-60 mph in 22.5 seconds and did 35.8 miles to the gallon. A two-door standard Classic sold for £745 including taxes (£11,681 now, according to the Bank of England inflation calculator). In 1962 the engine size was increased to 1499cc.