Saturday, 5 July 2008

A moment in time (Creative Challenge on Multiply)

Sissinghurst farm

“Mrs. Relf we are only have our photo done, not going to see the queen.“
“What is that supposed to mean Jed Gurr. I have put my best hat on for this photo. Not everyday that Mr. Stickell calls to us in the fields to make one of those pictures. You can talk, trimming your beard would have been a good idea. I won’t be having you standing next to me in the picture.”
“Don’t worry Mrs. Relf, I will be at the back in any case. I don’t know why the likes of me have to be there. I’ve got work to do. This picture thing is not going to pick any hops for us is it?.
“Well, look at that here comes Mrs. Edwards with her best hat on as well.” And Jed Gurr gave Mrs. Edwards a glance of amusement.
“Good morning Frieda” said Mrs. Relf “
“Morning Agnes” answered Frieda Edwards “Lovely day for a photo.”. She turned to her son that was walking alongside of his mother. “Reuben stop running around in that mud, you are going to make your shoes dirty.”
“Come on mum, Mr. Stickell won’t be taking any of those pictures of my feet. It is going to be my face that he is interested in.”
“Well that’s true” said his mother “So did we wash our ears this morning and what’s that grubby mark on your face. Been eating the squire’s raspberries again.?
“Oh, leave him Frieda” said Agnes Relf “nothing that a bit of spit and a wipe of the pinafore won’t clean off.”
So Frieda Edwards decided Agnes was right and went to work on Reuben’s face. It was clean afterwards but Reuben was not very happy.
“Ow, mum that hurt, didn’t have to rub like that.”
“Well at least you are clean now. What about you Jed Gurr, you could have at least trimmed your beard.”
“Oh, leave him Frieda. He reckons he will be at the back of the photo, because he wants to get away quickly to pick some hops. Look who’s coming, more people here now than you see at the church on Sunday morning, Joan Baldock and her son Jason. Morning Joan, morning Jason. Are you joining in on the picture.”
“It was mum’s idea” said Jason “She told me to put on my best hat and jacket for the picture.”
“I would think so too, Jason. It is not every day we have our picture taken. Just imagine me and my son on a picture together, never been done before. Jed Gurr, make sure you stand behind me. I don’t want that scruffy beard of yours down at the front.
“Now what have you all got against my beard. I combed it special for the picture. I won’t be at the front. All this new fangled stuff about pictures. Who wants to see me anyhow. I’m here to earn money by picking hops.”
“We all know that Jed Gurr. You are the one that drinks most of the beer down in the inn in the evening, so you have to make sure enough hops are picked to be brewed. “ and Agnes Relf gave Jed Gurr a disapproving glance.
“Now what’s going on, having a go at you are they Jed”. The sisters Emily and Isabel Pankhurst arrived on the scene. Both spinsters, but always there when something interesting was going on in the village. “Nice day to have a picture taken” Emily said and Isabel nodded in agreement. The Pankhurst sisters always agreed on everything.
“Well I must say everyone is looking their best. I told Emily we ought to put on our best hats, you never know who might see the picture one day.” And Emily nodded in approval. She nodded in approval at everything Isabel said. They were not twins, Isabel was the oldest, but only by a year, but that year meant respect when you lived in a small country village.
“Even Reuben has nice bright and shiny face.”
“Well that’s cos me mum spit on her pinafore and rubbed it up.”
“I should think so to Reuben” his mum said “can’t have you with a dirty face on a picture now can we.”
“You are right Joan Baldock, what would Mr. Stickell say when he arrives.”
“Talking of Mr. Stickell and his picture machine, about time he was here. I have work to do.”
“You and work, Jed Gurr, now that’s new. Thinking more about the time the inn opens up.”
“Oh leave him Agnes, as long as he stands at the back who cares.” And Emily Pankhurst found her sister Isabel was right.
“Look mum” Reuben Edwards was getting excited “Mr. Stickell is coming down the road with his three legged stand and big photo machine. Mrs. Crabb is with him as well.”
“Trust Philadelphia Crabb to want to join in on the picture.” Said Reuben’s mother. “She’s not from this village, but on the other side of the river. Only moved in a couple of years back and already thinks she belongs. “

“Morning ladies and gentlemen” said Mr. Stickell. “So are we already for having our picture made. Now get yourselves nicely organised. As I can see it we are going to make a nice picture. I think we will put the gentleman with the beard at the back in the middle and the ladies forming a row in front. The lady with her son should stand together on the right. Take these flowers in you arm I brought with me as a prop, brightens up the photo a bit, especially with your son standing next to you. Now let’s have the young man at the front on the right. But somethings missing. Can’t have a young lad on his own. Whose the girl standing over there watching.“

“That’s Reuben’s sister” said Frieda Edwards “she has just finished her work in the diary.”

“Well, young lady you come over here, take up a branch of hops like your brother and stand right next to him. Now all we need is that basket in front and I think that will be perfect. The sunlight is just right and the hops are a nice frame to the picture. Ok, everyone don’t breath, stand still, it won’t take long.”

Mr. Stickell put his head under the black cloth on the camera and pressed the button. And this photo is a moment in time in a village somewhere in East Sussex.

Well I think I owe an explanation. This photo is one of many handed down from my grandmother. With the possibilities of this day and age I could brush it up a bit. The colour is the original sepia, the original not being so sharp and intensive as the photo now on the computer. My grandmother was born in 1877 in the priest’s house belonging to Sissinghurst castle, in the village of Sissinghurst, county East Sussex in England. They were not a rich family, many children, the men being employed as farm labourers and the women either in the diary (as my grandmother) or in service in the larger more wealthy households. The plants on the photo are hops and Sissinghurst still possesses today once of the last existing oast houses in England, where the hops were processed, afterwards being mixed with yeast and producing beer. The photo seems to have been taken during a working day in the fields, although I think most of the ladies decided to dress up a bit for the occasion. I would say around 1900. I believe that the young lady on the left at the front was my grandmother, and the boy on the right perhaps one of her 11 brothers. There were in all 16 children, but 5 died in childhood.

Sissinghurst castle today is well known for its beautiful gardens designed by Vita Sackville West. I just could not make this entry without supplying the link to the castle and its gardens. At my grandmother’s time it was just farm land and a castle that no-one really took very much interest in.

I more or less used names from my own family - I have quite a full family record as was a part time genealogist. I also perhaps used some older words. I just had the feeling that the word photo was not used so much, more picture. A pinafore is the old world for an apron or overall.

Just to add the name Stickell was no invention. All the photos I have from my grandmother have the name Stickell in Cranbrook on the back. Cranbrook was the next village to Sissinghurst.

Sissinghurst Castle Gardens

Creative Challenge: A Moment in Time


  1. This is fascinating! I live at Sissinghurst Castle and have just written a new history of it. I wonder if you have any more pictures in this set you might post up on the site? People, buildings, farmland, animals, anything?

  2. I once wrote via the web site of Sissinghurst castle and sent a copy of a letter my grandmother received from Vita Sackville-West. I received a short reply from the late Nigel Nicolson. I have also had contact with a society that collected information about Sissinghurst before it came into possession of the Nicolson family and sent them some photos and details for an exhibition at the castle. I do have some photos in my possession. I would let you have my e-mail address but rather not over this site as it is too public. Any suggestions?

  3. Great to hear from you. I am on