The half-term holiday mid-week event promised a good turnout and the National Trust had huge numbers both walking into Northwood and using the transport especially put on for the carnival-like day. The stone looked down over the planting field and caught the chilliest of the winds. It was rather surreal to come down at lunchtime to red-faced Rangers in T-shirts manning the barbecue at full output. I caught fragments of conversation about the planting – “he came early and wanted to plant 100”; “I’ve done eight!” – all contributing to the planting season and the future wood.
The stone was in demand from early till late with all mallets to the ready. Here (below) are the Pynn family from Worthing doing their bit; making their mark through the planting… and on the marker celebrating it.
It is poignant that those involved with the planting; coping with the cold, mud, and experiencing the South Downs in winter – will really be part of the creation process of the stone because they have experienced the sense of place. As it moves around the Slindon Estate through the Spring and Summer, new participants will have a subtly different involvement with the stone.
I travelled back to Slindon along the track past Warren Barn and pondered just where the rabbits may have been on the Slindon Estate all those years ago. In 1344, Archbishop John appointed huntsman Roger de Spyney as keeper of the park, warren, and out-woods of Slindon. ‘Warren’ could be ambiguous, as beasts of free warren – the roe deer, hare, rabbit, partridge, pheasant, woodcock, quail, rail and heron – provided the lowest form of hunting, some almost at the level of vermin in the wider countryside. The beasts of the chase (fox, marten and fallow deer) had a good deal more intelligence, which contributed to hunters’ sport through their better ability to try and find ways to stay alive.
Just as fencing keeps out deer from new woodlands and hedges keep stock safe in fields, warrens were managed to keep a good stock of rabbit meat available – and rabbits were an important resource. The Warren at Slindon has never been traced, but the 1700s Charlton Hunt records refer to chasing over Gumber Warren; now Warren Barn is a marker of times past. This image from the Queen Mary Psalter shows two women hunting rabbits with net and ferret in the sort of managed, enclosed landscape there would have been at Slindon over perhaps a hectare of land.
A little to the east, the etymology of ‘Holt’ (now Home) Farm is interesting; as well as signifying ‘wood’, it refers to lairs or burrows. I would have found this unconvincing if it was not for Coneygate on the present map – Dale Park was then part of the Slindon lands and coneys (pronounced with a short ‘o’ to rhyme with honey) be Olde English rabbits! The derivation from the latin Cuniculus provided plentiful double entendres through its additional meanings of subterranean passage, hole or canal; we need discuss no further.
A problem of the day was that the King James Bible had four references to coney; as they could not ban the word its pronounciation was changed to a long ‘o’ for reasons of polite conversation. It was only in the 19C that the word for their offspring – “rabbits” – replaced it in modern usage. The French connil, with its similar euphemisms, was replaced in the 18C by ‘lapin’.
Our block is moving from its Northwood homeland to Slindon Woods to see you in the bluebells this spring; look out for the incongruous non-tree object from late March, and come and carve on 4th April when there will be other Easter-related happenings. See here for the childrens’ Easter Egg Trail that day!
Friday 20th March sees an evening event in Slindon looking at the inspirations for the Northwood Sculpture, with the South Downs Folk Singers in attendance. See here