Little Forest Field in March

On the Farm in March

spring growth

Around the farm, there are signs of new growth. We have nothing in flower yet but the banks of the ditches are filling with bright green primrose leaves and the tiny fern like leaves of cow parsley.

honey bees and honeycomb

When Storm Doris blew through at the end of last month, the limb of an ash tree crashed to the ground. When Bill went to clear the debris and cut up the branch, he noticed a few bees buzzing around. Further investigation revealed a honeycomb in the hollow of the branch and an awful lot of bees. The chainsaw was quickly put back in the shed and the branch was been left in situ as we waited to see what happened to the bees. After a few days of wind and rain there were several dead bees scattered about but the main mass was sheltering under the honeycomb. We were told that if the queen bee is still there, the workers will huddle around her to keep her warm and if they’re left too exposed and cold they will gradually die off. There are still several bees in the branch today (you can just about make them out in the darkness on the right*), so for the time being we’ll leave them and the branch alone.

Hay barn at slamseys

Slamseys Hay Barn

Every time the fields start to dry out there is talk of starting the spring land work but then it rains and makes them wet again so there has been a great deal of building work and maintenance. Most recently some of the twentieth century repairs to the old Essex barn have been stripped out, which has completely changed the look of the barn.

The sun is shining today, so with luck the primroses will soon be flowering and the tractors will be able to get onto the fields.



*This was the best shot I could get without disturbing the bees

Going, Going, Gone

Going …

farmyard view

This was the view from one of our bedroom windows. The red tiled building is known as the Chitting Shed. Originally, a cowshed and then used for chitting potatoes the shed is now used for general storage and is where my chickens, ducks and guinea fowl are shut up each evening. The door fell off a couple of years ago and after a couple of attempts to re-attach the doorpost to the wall it seems there are no screws long enough to do the job and it remains propped against the wall.

Behind the Chitting Shed is the Cats’ Barn, so named because that’s where the farm cats were fed and though the cats have long since disappeared, the name stuck. Butted up to right hand side of the Cats’ Barn is the old Essex Barn that I wrote about last year.

Going …

barn roof removal

This month, men in suits and protective masks moved in to remove the asbestos sheeting from the Cats’ Barn. They looked rather sinister, as if there’d been an outbreak of a deadly disease and they were here to clear the area.

Gone …

the farmyard

This week, the roof and its supporting framework have been removed and the view has changed. For the first time in over fifty years we can look across to the farmyard, though of course the view behind has changed rather a lot in that time.

Surprisingly (or perhaps not so) within a day, we no longer missed the roof and it seems quite normal to see across the yard. The kitchen window is below this bedroom window, so the outlook from that has changed too, though not quite so dramatically as the block wall still blocks the view. When that comes down, it really will look different.



A Traditional Essex Barn



Like most farms in Essex, our farm buildings are a mix of traditional and new. Looking back at a map of 1777, the farmstead appears to consist of three buildings that one might surmise are a house and two barns. A century later, maps show there had been some major building work undertaken with the farmstead now laid out in two quadrangles, the sides formed with open fronted and closed buildings and each quadrangle dominated by a large barn. The farmhouse had been repositioned outside the farmyard with its own entrance drive and (as described in a set of Sales Particulars) “capital kitchen garden and pleasure grounds”.

Fast forward to 1964 and an aerial photograph shows the pattern of the two quadrangles still evident though there has been additional building and the quadrangles opened out. Buildings that were the height of fashion in the 1870s were becoming less useful now that livestock were no longer kept on the farm and the sheds were too low for tractors so new barns were tacked onto old ones and new sheds incorporated existing shed walls in much the same way that The Barley Barn was built using medieval timbers from older buildings.

Nowadays we build purpose designed barns that comply with ever stricter regulations for storage of grain, pesticides and fertilisers; few of the buildings from the quadrangles exist in their original state and some of the buildings from the 1960s have outlived their usefulness. However, the two barns that dominated the yard 150 years ago are still standing. Two years ago The Barley Barn was in a sorry state and of little use but since it has been renovated it not only looks wonderful again, but is a useful asset to the farm.

traditional Essex barn


Now we have to consider the future of the other Essex Barn. This barn hasn’t been used for agriculture since the 1980s but has been used as a storage depot for a disposable nappy home delivery service, a builder’s store and for a computer refurbishment business, which rather reflects the social changes over those years.

entrance doors to traditional Essex barn


Most recently, the barn was used as a tack room, feed store and stabling. Following the building of a new stable block, the horses have now moved out (shortly followed by all their paraphernalia we hope) and we have to decide what to do with the barn. As you can see, no matter what we decide, there is the small matter of properly repairing the walls and doors.

traditional Essex barn interior


inside traditional farm building


There’s no shortage of ideas from the younger generation as to possible uses for the barn but while we work out budgets and pit one idea against another it’s nice to just sit and appreciate the splendour of these wonderful buildings.


1960s barn attached to traditional barn

And wonder why on earth anyone thought it was a good idea to build another barn this close.