Monday, 23 September 2013

...and for those who don't know of these pioneering women!

Lady Evelyn Barbara “Eve” Balfour (1898-1990) decided at the early age of 12 to become a farmer. She had perhaps been expected to fulfil quite a different destiny as the daughter of the 2nd earl of Balfour - a Conservative MP, and as the niece of Arthur Balfour, prime minister from 1902 to 1905. At the age of 17, in 1915, she began a Diploma in Agriculture at Reading University. Upon completion she set off to try hill farming in Monmouthshire. After struggling in the west of the country she turned her sights on the east and, with her sister Mary, bought New Bells Farm, Haughley Green in 1919. Despite a reputation in those days as “a bright young thing” – she was a saxophonist, sailor, pilot and author of crime fiction – she showed her serious side with her campaigning during the Tithe Wars of the depressed 1930s. It was around this time that she bought Wassicks, Haugh and Walnut Tree farms for a song. Walnut Tree farm was subsequently leased to her friend, Alice Debenham, who later bought it and renamed it Walnut Tree Manor. Lady Eve and Alice began to read up and develop ideas about the relationship between food, health and the soil. In 1939 they began The Haughley Experiment and set up the Haughley Research Trust. In 1946 Lady Eve became the co-founder and first president of the Soil Association.

Lady Eve, by Mary Eastman


Alice Debenham, by Alison Edith Le Plat

Alice Debenham was born in Hampstead in 1867. By 1911, in her forties, she may have been farming in that area. If she had any claim to fame in those days it was as the grand-daughter of the founders of Debenhams Store, Debenham & Freebody as it was known then. After beginning their collaboration on the Haughley Experiment, Lady Eve was to refer to her as the movement’s Sir Walter Raleigh. In her 1943 book, The Living Soil, Lady Eve explained that first come those who make initial discoveries, and after them people of vision, prepared in the face of all difficulties, to prove that the discoveries are worth official recognition:

“As an example, one might cite Columbus, who discovered America, and Raleigh, who founded the first English colony.”

If Lady Eve had been organic farming’s Columbus, then 
“it has had at least one Raleigh too, in the person of the late Alice Debenham.  The tragedy is that she died at the very outset of her great purpose, leaving to others the task of bringing to fruition the seed she sowed.”

Lady Eve goes on:  
“A practical farmer, trained in science and medicine, and during the latter years of her life an invalid, Alice Debenham saw very clearly the potential importance of the evidence concerning soil fertility and health.  She saw equally clearly that this scattered evidence must be collected and reproduced under controlled conditions if it were to convince the scientific world, and that unless science is convinced, Government will not act. Outstandingly public spirited, she founded a Research Trust to carry out this work.” 
Alice Debenham died in 1940.                                      

Walnut Tree Manor remained HQ of the Soil Association until October 1985.

Pioneers of the Organic Movement are honoured

At Walnut Tree Manor, Haughley Green on April 6th 2013 at 11 am, a blue plaque was unveiled by Alan Shaw, chair of Haughley Parish Council. It commemorates the formidable pioneers of the movement – Lady Evelyn Balfour and Miss Alice Debenham. Peter Anderson of the Norfolk Organic Group was the driving force behind this long-overdue public recognition of Haughley Green as the birthplace of organic farming. Hugh Wilson hosted the event, introducing speakers amongst whom were the CEO of the Soil Association, Helen Browning; Henry Chevallier Guild of Aspall Cyder; and Peter Anderson himself. Other guests included our Green Party councillors, Rachel Eburne and Andrew Stringer, Bob Flowerdew from BBC Radio 4’s “Gardeners’ Question Time”, Dr Erin Gill and many local residents.

A framed document detailing the morning’s events, as well as some biographical snippets about the two women, has been hung on the wall in the entrance of Walnut Tree Manor, now a base for the Kids’ Group Adventure Company. The East Anglian Daily Times and the Bury Free Press sent photographers, and the unveiling has been mentioned on the internet by the Soil Association and the Aspall Cyder Company. The guests were asked to sign and leave their comments.

This appropriately green file contains these comments, as well as a selection of photos of the event, here in the Maxwell Charnley Room at Haughley. In time a larger archive of printed materials and sources for further reading and study will also be placed here, and at Ipswich Record Office.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

A central archive for Haughley's history?

Haughley History Forum's last meeting was on 2nd March 2010, when our paper resources were distributed to members' homes for safe keeping. Since then the group has been dormant - but, I hasten to add, not the individual members!

Following publication of the Book of Haughley (Halsgrove: 2005), a bank account was opened to receive proceeds from sales of the book – it holds a few hundred pounds. Since 2010 one or two ideas for using these funds have been proposed and rejected. When the Village Hall Management Committee asked if we had any interesting photos to hang in what has now become the Old Reading Room (formerly Small Hall) I began to think about creating a central archive for our scattered & neglected resources. A fear we probably all share is that information we gathered for our D-Day Exhibition (2004) and the Book of Haughley, amongst other projects, may be lost or destroyed whilst in individual hands - moving house, or a death leave scope for such stuff to end up in skips! The village as a whole, or local history researchers and so on, deserve access to the fruits of our labour. There is possibly stuff "out there" that could be added as well.

Of about half a dozen possible locations for a central storage space the most feasible seemed to be: The Old Reading Room at the Village Hall; The Ron Crascall Pavilion on the Playing Field; the parish church. How we actually store items if and when a location could be found would depend on the requirements attaching to it – it seems the church has to have approved furniture styles. Our current funds could certainly pay for a filing cabinet & a display cupboard. But would that be enough storage?

Digitisation is a way to shrink some data (images on discs and/or memory sticks, cassette tapes likewise). Documents could be scanned to protect originals, but what about anything larger than A4? A wish list of equipment or services is already growing! We could maybe approach Heritage Lottery Funding for a community-shared, non-profit making project, and our treasurer is looking into this.

Even if we could raise more money a lot would depend on having pro-active members of the History Forum. Currently there are still eight people in the village out of the twelve originally credited in the preamble to the Book of Haughley, four of them having moved away. Of the eight, two are perhaps limited in how active they could be due to illness The remaining six of us are getting older, or might not want too much involvement, having moved on to other things since March 2010.

As a partial step forward our treasurer, an IT “whiz”, suggested we turn the Book of Haughley into an e-book - brilliant idea! We are now working towards an "open" History Forum session at the Maxwell Charnley Community Room in the New Year. We could invite those who originally contributed, those who MIGHT have contributed at the time but were overlooked or felt hesitant to join in, as well as those who don't even know the book exists (you can still buy a copy in the Bury Street Bookshop, Stowmarket by the way) and would like to read it in a more up-to-date format (on Kindle or Nook). An event like this could even unearth some younger historians who might carry the History Forum into the future.