Peat Cutters of Rawcliffe Moss
WHEN I read the astonishing news that the Ministry of Fuel
contemplated importing Dutch labour to cut peat in this country, I just gasped.
Especially when they explained that this was “because skilled labour is not
available in England."
Skilled labour indeed! I thought it would be interesting
to know what the Over Wyre peat cutters thought of this ingenious proposal, so I
called on Mr. Emmanuel Nicholson (called Jack for short), who has been cutting peat
for well nigh 60 years round about Skronkey and Eagland Hill.
When I called at his cosy little cottage at Moss Edge, Out
Rawcliffe, Jack was " camping" his younger brother Bill who is also no mean hand at
turf cutting. Bill is 72, whilst Emmanuel, or Jack, is 74, and for an all-too-brief
stay I was entertained to a most interesting survey of life in general as lived
Over Wyre 50 or 60 years ago.
Turf cutting, however, was my immediate interest, and when I
mentioned the Dutch importation move to these two handy sons of the soil they
laughed with derision. " 'Appen there is a bit o' skill about it, but it's mostly a
matter o' hard wark, and that's what some folk seem feared on now-a-days."
Hard work had certainly not done either of these stalwart
brothers any harm, for both were sound in wind and limb, happy and content. Jack
jokingly admitted that it was time he took things a bit easier, but he had no
qualms about this because he has a son to follow, Just as good as him.
Started when eight
THEN he fell to reminiscences. "I started wheeling turf when I
was eight, and at 16 I was cutting it, and have been cutting ever since. I used to
work from 6 to 6 with short breaks for meals and in my prime regularly cut over
5,000 turf blocks a day. For this he received 1s. per day, and on wet days there
was neither work nor pay. Afterwards the turf was hawked round the district at 10
blocks for a penny. There was no fuel crisis in those days!
Despite Jack Nicholson's modesty, there is of course, a lot of
skill in both the cutting and the drying of peat, but this is largely a matter of
experience. One must know exactly how much soil to take from the top of the "dale"
before any turf is cut. Then there is the acquired skill in cutting those blocks
which the experts turn out with almost machine-like precision, the standard size
being 9½ x 11¼ x 3 inches, "Houks" and "Robins"
Before they are stacked they have to be set on end to dry, and
are then built up into those neat little towers which we see dotted over many
Over-Wyre fields. In some parts they are called "Houks," in others "Robins"; this,
I suppose, because they are round, incidentally, when turf is properly dried it is
practically impervious to rain it Just runs off.
The season for cutting is April to Mid-June, and turf cut then
is ready for use the following autumn and winter. At 74 "Jack" Emmanuel Nicholson
knows all the tricks, and could cut and shape a turf "Robin" with the best; and he
doesn't think there is any need to import foreigners to teach us. Neither do I.