I have been admiring photos of late-summer flowers and harvests on blogs from the northern hemisphere, a far cry from our abnormally hot and dry spring. As respite from our drought here in South Africa, I dug out some old family photographs of country living in English villages in the first half of the 20th century.

My mother, her parents, and generations of their ancestors grew up in villages in Herefordshire and Gloucestershire. Despite two world wars – in which brothers and uncles were killed or wounded (along with millions of others) – and the Great Depression in the 1930s, family life in the small villages continued. Surviving photographs record not only special occasions (weddings and birthdays) and beach holidays for the extended family in Cornwall, but also informal scenes at home and in the surrounding countryside that are redolent of a bygone era.

Orchard tea

My mother was an only child, but her mother had six sisters and two brothers. In the photo above are some of the family taking tea in the orchard, perhaps while having a rest from picking fruit

In the orchard adjoining their home in the village of Longhope in Gloucestershire, were damson and apple trees. Damsons were harvested to be used to make preserves and jam. There was a central jam factory in the village, and in season, jam was the major export of the village.

Wikipedia has an interesting discussion on damsons and the distinction between the smaller fruited English varieties and the those known as “damascenes”. Some studies show that the English damsons developed from wild sloes and do not have cherry plums in their heritage. There are many varieties of English damson, for example, the Gloucestershire Orchards Trust lists 17 varieties of plums and damsons. Including, divertingly enough, a small greenish damson from the Chaxhill and Longhope areas known as Shit Smock, named for what happens when one eats too many.

Orchard damson harvest

The family in Longhope gathered in the orchard with baskets of freshly harvested damsons 

Several factors led to the decline of damson-growing and jam-making practices in England, including the rationing of sugar during and after the Second World War and the relatively high cost of British-grown fruit. Interest in heritage species such as damsons has shown a recent rekindling, and nurseries do stock and sell a number of varieties. Some damsons have become naturalised not only in England, but also in North America, where damsons were introduced by early settlers. Wild-growing damsons provide fruits for foragers that include humans.

Camp in a field

I have always been intrigued by this photo of my gran, looking very happy and relaxed, next to a relatively makeshift tent in fenced-in a section of a field. I have not been able to find out from others in the family about the reason for such a camping escapade

Punt on the water

A rather fuzzy photo, but charmingly showing one of my great aunts with two fellas in a punt. The photo was taken by one of her sisters. Note the swan at the back reflected in the water near the bank

My grandmother’s father owned the local butchery. In addition to the orchard, they kept sheep on a couple of meadow fields and they also kept horses to pull the trap and a cart. My great-grandfather loved attending the races in Gloucester with betting providing as much interest as the horses themselves. Family lore has it that he lost ownership one of the meadows as he had to use it to pay off a huge debt from a bad bet.

Great-Grandfather with horse

Here he is with a horse in the garden of their house in Longhope


Going further back in time, this is a picture of my gran’s mother’s parents, also in Longhope 

As in most families in small villages, my grandmother and her sisters contributed to running and maintaining the household, although to my grandmother’s ongoing regret, when she was quite small she got “farmed out” for a few years to live with her mother’s childless sister and her husband in Leominster.

Washday 1-horz

My grandmother and one of her sisters attending to the washing in the garden

Leominster garden

The aunt with whom my grandmother stayed, in her kitchen garden behind their large house just outside Leominster. The house is still standing, gracing what is now an organic kale farm

Leominster farm

My grandmother’s uncle, a well-known townsman and breeder of Hereford cattle, in front of a hay wagon on their farm just outside Leominster

Grandfather on walk-horz

My grandfather taking a rest while on a country walk and my gran seated on a stone wall in the village. I guess that the golf club belonged to my grandfather but perhaps she also played golf in her youth

Family car

My gran at the wheel, with two of her sisters in the family car. I have not been able to find out the make of the car. I love the petrol tank on the running board and the tiny elephant mascot on the bonnet

Train station group

Without a car there was always the train. Here some of my great aunts, great uncles and friends are playing it up for the camera

Snow above the village

Snow on the slopes above the village and one of my gran’s sisters with the family dog. My mother tells me that the dog was always a collie and, as one succeeded another, the males were all named Bob and the females were all named Nell

Formal family photo

And to end off, a formal photograph of my great-great-grandparents with their children and other relatives. This does not appear to be a studio shot, and the formality is softened by the garden and it is made a little mysterious by the bare trees forming the backdrop

 And as a footnote, back in contemporary times and our drought: after two exhaustingly scorching days of temperatures in the region of 40 degrees C, today it is overcast and in the low 20s, and we have even had the very lightest sprinkling of rain, which is thickening slightly as I write this!

x Rain

Small raindrops marking the dusty leaves of a gasteria in our garden this morning


Damson. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Damson#CITEREFWoldring1998

Gloucestershire Orchards Trust.  Plums. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Damson#CITEREFWoldring1998

Longhope Village Website. http://www.longhopevillage.co.uk/

Posted by Carol