‘In the early 1970s, just as James Ravilious was beginning his long stint as photographer-in-residence at the Beaford Centre, I was studying for a degree in agriculture. Had I seen the below images at the time, I would have been astounded to learn that they were exactly contemporary. Such practices had no place in my vision of a technology-driven modern English agriculture for which my course was preparing me, and that I had experienced in pre-college work on Kentish farms.
In one narrow sense I would have been right: Ravilious wanted to record aspects of country life before they were lost forever, and so his pictures of corn-stooking, hand-milking, horse-ploughing, etc. are of practices which were already arcane, and which survived only in tiny patches for specialist reasons. Modern tractors, field machinery and milking machines do not feature heavily in the Ravilious opus, though (as these quotations confirm) the pace of technological change was rapid in much of North Devon as elsewhere, assisted by government grants and tax incentives.
But this would have missed the point. Ravilious recorded what was there in his patch, in all its rich tapestry. Above all he shows us the cold, dirty, exhausted and often exuberant humanity of farming in an area heavily constrained by geology, climate and remoteness, where modern technology cannot supply all the answers. He shows us the importance of developing a multi-faceted comprehension of farming and the people that sustain it, rather than relying on one-size-fits-all approaches developed elsewhere. All that has been lacking, up to now, is for the farming people of North Devon to add their voices to the images, to help us and future generations further enrich our understanding... ‘
Trustee and Chair of Hidden Histories Project Board, Beaford
The quotes below are taken from a group Oral History interview which used photos from the Archive to inspire conversations about farming practices and land management.