Cat no. 569

Patterns of Britain: Fenlands

Running time17:58 Black & White Sound 1945 The Fens

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Farming in Fenland.

Genre:

AgricultureDocumentary

Harvested fields of stooked corn and highlighting the drainage system. A map shows the Fenland area and early development by the Romans and Medieval monks before Vermuydan and the Dutch drainage engineers, The Adventurers, came to the area during the 17th century. On one of the drains a tug pulls a series of laden barges and a steam pumping station by the side of the drain. A sequence shows the work of dredging the drains and using the extracted clay to build up the river banks. They are aided by a narrow-gauge railway. Gangs of workers, men and women, pick crops in the field and hoe others by hand.

Other crops are shown including a potato harvester at work and sugar beet lifted. This is taken to the factory by rail. Apples are picked by hand that leads into a street sequence of Wisbech, showing the bridge and the market. In these shots an officer rides by, in uniform and on a horse. There follows a sequence about the control of flooding in the Fens. There are aerial and ground level shots of the Wash, probably at Welney, and of smaller sluice gates before Denver Sluice. The flood watch is seen on its rounds, checking for breeches in the banks of the drains. The sequence ends with scenes of old Fen life.

A marshman, called Argie Smart [Hagen Smart?] in the film, goes punt gunning and sedge is loaded onto the barge. The final scenes are shots of Ely Cathedral from the river and then over the rooftops of the Close. Other houses in Ely follow.The second subject of the film focuses on one farmer and his operation. He visits various sites in his car to check on progress. A bog oak is found and blown up. Reeds are cut from around a drain and the drain cleared. The farmer highlights concrete roads and railway sidings leading straight to the farms as being of benefit to the farmer. The railway trucks are loaded and the train steams away. A lorry leaves, passing a horse and cart as it goes. The farmer highlights problems that a Fen farmer faces. The ground is shrinking and therefore dropping. Roads and even the drains are often higher than the fields. A house is shown that has no soil left around its foundations and a drop of several feet from the front door.

The farmer visits a field where an army of workers are picking potatoes. He calls these workers his fen tigers. He introduces one of his farm managers who is visiting sites on his bike. The farmer drives back to his office at his townhouse in Chatteris where his daughter works as a secretary. Here he meets another of his farm managers and takes a telephone call from Spitalfields market. As he talks we see shots of potatoes, celery and carrots being picked by hand and shots of the workers travelling to the fields on bikes. A female fen worker explains her life. As well as working in a gang, she and her husband have a 5-acre plot attached to a wooden bungalow in the fens. The husband ploughs using a hand-held horse plough. She explains that in the Fens the land is bought and sold regularly and it is possible to work up from a smallholding to owning your own farm.

Background Information:

The farmer featured in the film is Arthur J. Rickwood who farmed between Ely and Chatteris. The reference to 'near Peterborough' is a little misleading. His secretary is his daughter. This scene was filmed in a studio in London which accounts for its contrived appearance and the uneasiness of the farm manager. Arthur Rickwood specialised in growing carrots, for which Chatteris is now famous. He left part of his land near Mepal to agrarian research. The M.A.F.F. Arthur Rickwood Experimental Husbandry Farm is named after him.

Featured People:

Arthur J. Rickwood, farmer; Miss Rickwood; Haargen 'Argie' Smart

Featured Buildings:

Ely Cathedral

Greenpark Productions

Ministry of Information for Ministry of Agriculture

Ken Annakin

Edgar Anstey (associate producer)

Peter Hennesey

Peter Scott

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