Although I didn’t have any idea how this picture would look, when I began making it, I wanted to introduce a more wintery atmosphere into my series, “the earth the colour of a hare”, and to suggest more human effort and strain too.
I had been reading Gilbert White’s and James Woodforde’s accounts of really severe winters in the eighteenth century. White describes “the remarkable frost of January 1776″. On January 7th, there was driving snow all day, then a frost, and more snow, until “a prodigious mass overwhelmed all the works of men, drifting over the tops of the gates and filling the hollow lanes”. On 31st January, White records that “During these four nights, the cold was so penetrating that it occasioned ice in warm chambers and under beds; and in the day the wind was so keen that persons of robust constitutions could scarcely endure to face it.” (OUP, 1977 reprint, pp.277-9) The temperature which he measured was at one point zero degrees Fahrenheit, nearly -18 Celsius, although it warmed up slightly to 16.5 degrees Fahrenheit, about -8.5 Celsius!
James Woodforde felt personally afflicted by the severe cold. In his younger days, when a student at Oxford, he relished the winter weather more, and, in 1763, skated to Iffley, and, with a friend, even to Abingdon and back, along the river. When he was rector at Weston Longville, Norfolk, he notes on December 12th, 1791, that the temperature dropped as low as 42 Fahrenheit, about 5.5 degrees Celsius, in his study! (Folio Society, p.319) In the same winter, on 14th January, 1792, “The Milk in the Dairy in the Pans was one Piece of Ice and the Water above Stairs in the Basons froze in a few Minutes after being put there this Morn’ ” (F.S., p.322) On 28th December, 1798, “Frost last Night & this Morning & all the Day intense – it froze in every part of the house even in the Kitchen. Milk and Cream tho’ kept in the kitchen all froze. Meat like blocks of wood. It froze in the Kitchen even by the fire in a very few Minutes. So severe Weather I think I never felt before. Even the Meat in our Pantry all froze & also our Bread.” (F.S., p.405) Travelling by foot, carriage, or horseback was very difficult in these winters. Households and the wildlife were affected.
For this picture, I have kept a limited colour palette with winter colours.
The scraps which evoke snowy drifts and the whitened landscape with tracks or with furrows actually come from pictures of eighteenth century dress. In the early 2000s, there was an artist who exhibited in the Vale and Downland Museum, Wantage, ceramic pictures of the nearby countryside. Some of these ceramic pictures showed ploughed fields or wintery landscapes. I believe that the style of these has influenced the bottom components.
Perhaps this montage could do double duty, because Parson Woodforde also refers to “moonshine”, receiving contraband liquor which locals, sometimes the blacksmith, would drop outside his house at discreet times.
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The books which I have cited are,
Gilbert White. The Natural History of Selborne. OUP in The Worlds Classics series, 1937 edition, reprinted 1977.
James Woodforde. The Diary of a Country Parson. Selected by David Hughes; engravings by Ian Stephens. London: The Folio Society, 1992