chapter  4
20 Pages

Totting and poaching, woodland and waste

Supplementary resources were to be found outside the village as well as within. The immediate vicinity of Quarry was imperfectly colonized, a humble-jumble of waste land and grass-grown hollows, farmers’ fields, and individually rented ‘ground’, sometimes cultivated but apt to revert to common and waste. Clayhills, for instance, which bordered on the Vicarage, had originally been a farm, but by the later nineteenth century it became the waste extension of a nearby brickyard; it was used for lime-burning and sometimes as a source of brick-clay, but otherwise it escaped the control of its nominal owners.1 The village horse-keepers made free of Clayhills (and Parson’s Field, its neighbour),2 which they used extensively for grazing. It is also remembered as a good place to go ‘timberhunting’3 (there was a lot of wood in Clayhills), and a handy spot for bird-catching and rabbiting: ‘. . . that was sort of anybody’s ground the Clayhills was in them days - there was no owner to it . . . and we used to ketch these rabbits’.4 Snuffer Webb, an expert marksman, used to go there shooting black­ birds with his catapult when food at his mother’s was short. Waggle Ward, when he was a boy, went with him:5

Used to go out on the Clayhills and ketch blackbirds an’ thrushers and Granny Webb ’ud do ’em. Blackbirds and nothing else, no other bird . . . when Granny Webb used to do ’em you could see them little bits of fat running round the breasties . . . old Snuffer (I was only a boy, a-carrying) . . . he’d get his cat-i-polt like that . . . and then he’d stand and he’d see one right up the top of the bush, and . . . every time he’d near enough have ’em, down they come. I used to put ’em in a bag and then go back and Granny Webb ’ud do ’em . . . They used to joke - Granny Webb - our Mam did - she used to say ‘This pie’ll start

whistling when you bring him the oven’ . . . Old Snuffer Webb - that was my mother’s brother - he could knock them out of them trees - Clayhills - out of them big bushes every time he shot nearly. Winter time. With all the leaves off the ’edges, they be roosting there . . . You didn’t used to ha’ to make a row, else they’d always go out . . . Kept quiet and went against the wind . . . And I can remember eatin’ ’em. It was all right - waren’t a big bite on ’em but them old blackbirds when Granny Webb used to do ’em, you could see all the fat, all round the bodies like, yeller fat, you ’ud. Well . . . they eat snipe, and a good . . . thrusher’s as big as a snipe isn’ he? But you never eat starlings, never eat starlings, Granny Webb ud’nt. Blackbirds, thrushers and foults - nothing else - they was three things you could eat - we used to eat - and our Granny Webb ’ud have a dozen in a pie . . . you get a dozen thrushers in a pie - a dozen, and blackbirds, well that was a bit of a feed, waren’t it, when you come to look at it, in them days.