Simon Bates selects…

We asked celebrities to choose their favourite photograph and share their thoughts about its significance for our region.  Disc Jockey and Radio Presenter, Simon Bates, selects the photograph below by James Ravilious.

Loading up thatching reed, Beaford, Kiverleigh, 14th August 1973. Documentary photograph by James Ravilious for the Beaford Archive © Beaford Arts


Simon Bates, Disc Jockey and Radio Presenter

‘When I was a kid, my Grandparents would annually swap their rural lives on the Welsh border, where they were tenant farmers, for a rural spot in a field near Sidmouth, tenanted by a friend of theirs. 

The family would lumber down in the old Armstrong Siddeley pulling behind it a sad sack of a two wheeled caravan that swung none too gently from side to side picking up bracken and earth from either side of the high banked lanes. 

We’d park, and put up a couple of WW2 tents to shiver in. 

But it was magical for me, because here in Devon, most things seemed pretty much like home, but for an imaginative kid, a place of complete difference. 
I could believe the stories my Grandfathertold about this being an old county soaked in time and in blood and sometimes, now that I live here and I walk out on the moor when it’s deserted, I remember and wonder about the lives lived here before me and those lost. 

Which is why I’m cheating ever so slightly because this photograph of rows of stooks really has no place in modern Devon. But neither should it be looked at in a rosy glow of nostalgia. 
I can remember the backbreaking work that went into raking up the hay into bundles, stacking them against each other and then a few days later, loading them onto the truck.  There was a twist with the pitchfork that the men used to give to the bundles, which helped to get some momentum behind them as they swung them up to the bloke who was standing on the truck ready to create a safe stack. 
And that itself was a skilled job, creating a neat load to be carried and turned into a haystack. 

All skill, all relentless hard work.   It just reminds me of long gone generations of Devonians who worked through the hard times, summer and winter. 
And it’s proof the hogwash about everything in rural England being “light and joy after the Industrial Revolution” is just that. Hogwash. On my summer holidays in Devon, I recall seeing people working themselves to a standstill. 

And if you know where to go in this wonderful county, they’re still doing it. 

Still working from before dawn till after sunset, though thank heavens with mechanical help. 

But take another look at the photograph and if you’re tempted to think “times were better then”, think again.’ 


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