And did those hooves
It’s the time of year to get to your nearest agricultural show and celebrate the role of Britain’s farm animals beyond the delights of the table (page 86). sheep, pigs and cattle aren’t merely bucolic furniture—they explain why the countryside looks as it does. Many landscapes were created for them and by them.
Look at that lovely habitat, the English chalk downland, speckled with eyebright and field scabious. If the turf weren’t grazed, it would quickly be swamped by scrub— the wildflowers would go. Cows don’t only provide milk and butter and fuel the British cheese revolution, they ensure that the small fields of the West remain pasture and the remaining ridge and furrow of Northamptonshire isn’t ploughed up.
Animals exist everywhere. We have Oxford, Cowley, Bulmer and Calton (‘calf’s place’) thanks to cattle and shepton Mallet, sheepwash, shapwick, shipton, shipley and skipton from sheep. the impact of sheep was dramatic on some medieval and tudor settlements: villages were swept away by abbeys and landowners who got a better return from flocks that employed only a few shepherds than the labour-intensive open-field system.
the 16th-century Enclosure Riots, the Midland Revolt of 1607 and the Western Rising of 1630–32 all failed to halt ovine ascendancy—sheep were just too profitable. their fleeces built Fountains Abbey, Long Melford Church, stokesay Castle, the Merchant’s House in Marlborough, Halifax Piece Hall, the mills of Bradford (Wool City, as it was known in the 19th century), the Leeds-liverpool Canal and much of the architecture of the Cotswolds, whose shaggy, breed, known as the Cotswold Lion, was managed through a reticulation of dry-stone walls.
to the artist Charles Johnson Payne, better known as snaffles, The Finest View in Europe, seen between the ears of a horse, featured a sequence of formidable hedges, the stoutest of which could withstand lively bullocks. these were in the Midlands, where stock was fattened after being driven from Wales and explains why the cream of what R. s. surtees’s jovial hunting man Mr Jorrocks called the ‘Cut ’em down and hang ’em up to dry countries’ have traditionally been found in Leicestershire and Northamptonshire.
these landscapes continue to evolve, in line with modern farming practice; hedgerows that were once purely functional yield a crop of pleasure to walkers and birdwatchers. Farm economy may mean that some animals are kept indoors, but hurrah for gambolling lambs, peacefully grazing cattle and rootling pigs. We’d give a rosette to every one.
‘Hurrah for gambolling lambs, grazing cattle and rootling pigs