Mangle wrangle, mingle and spangle (star studded of course).

It’s two weeks since I returned from my little excursion to the east of England, already it is a distant memory.  Partly because work has been hectic, partly because a number of quasi-social events such as the Llangynidr show and similar gatherings have interceded but mainly because the Star Spangled Banner has pervaded every aspect of life since my return.

On the walling front I have finally managed to get some more little jobs done and dusted.  One entailed a major reconstruction of a former cart horse wash at the Living Willow Theatre at Penlanole near Rhayader.  The stone walls that surround such a water holding pound are normally dry – lime mortar would be eroded by water washing against it and by absorption – but where the water is needed to be impounded the walls are generally sealed with clay.  The old wash at Penlanole has, for many years, been in a sorry state and the water has been left sitting to a depth of a couple of feet or so.  The inflow is from field drains and the course is lined with deciduous trees hence many leaves and twigs had long since blocked the inflow and outflow to the wash.  Clearing away that debris and opening up the culverts which pass under the many trackways into fields was a job completed last autumn.  In the early part of the year the old sluice-way was opened up by a mechanical digger and the years of silt which had accumulated – to a considerable depth – was cleaned out to reveal the old stone lined floor of the wash.

The purpose of such a water pound was simple, in the days of draught horses – those splendid animals with huge ‘feathered’ hocks – it was necessary, after a hard day ploughing or doing other work of cultivation, especially on heavy soils such as occurs at Penlanole, to wash the accumujlated mud off the hairy lower legs of the horses.  The pound, for that is what it is, it is not a pond as such, for the water is impounded only when required, is constructed with a shallow sloping ramp or walk-in, again stone cobbled, so as to allow the horse to be able to casually be led deeper into the water.  Around the side is a narrow walkway to allow the osler to lead the horse whilst keeping himself aloof from the cold water – no wellies or waders in those days. At other times the sluice which blocks the outflow to allow water to gather, is kept raised so that the feeder stream just flows on through and washes away mud and debris.  That was the intent of the reconstruction.

Dry stone water pound

The first job was to repair the wall at the inflow side which required total stripping-out as the lintel of the smoot had collapsed. The large pipe will ensure ease of clearing any blockages in the future.

As I mentioned previously, I decided to install a large diameter concrete pipe where the inflow stream passed through the dry stone wall surround.  This allows more volume of water and reduces the chances of sticks blocking the passage, should they do so it is easy to clear them.  This was accomplished prior to my holiday and now all that was left was to rebuild the outflow and install a sluice mechanism.

The stones at Penlanole are not particularly large in volume but their density is astonishing.  A loaf of bread size stone is a two-handed lift for sure and anything bigger defies my strength to lift it.  Fortunately my current assistant, who is briefly occupying the position normally entrusted to my herculean ‘little helper’, is also quite strong so between us we manage to manoevre the larger stones into place.  The young lady in question is an accomplished waller (and no mean metal-worker either for that matter) and has laready worked with me at Penlanole a couple of winters ago rebuilding a field wall to install a gate.  She is well versed in the difficulties these stones present.

Dry stone wall with pre-cast culvert

The reconstructed wall with the large pipe in-situ. Most of the stones in that wall were just too heavy for both of us to heave in to place.

For the sluice I had the idea of using an old washing mangle as the windlass.  It so happened that in a nearby junk yard, come antique shop, I spotted just the thing.  A cast iron C19th mangle with good wooden rollers, turned in elm of course, and, best of all, it had been made locally in the small town of Rhayader just a few miles up the road.  I told Phil who went and bought it and got it back to the farm – it too is immensely heavy – ready for me to do some calculations and fix it in place.

The idea was to position the mangle over the smoot through which the outflowing water passes.  This required an extra strong lintel on which to sit it – it weighs in excess of 200lbs – and as no suitable large flagstone was available, the local geology does not throw up such stones, I decided to cast a concrete slab.

A pair of draught horses

You see the problem, hairy feet get very muddy.

The rollers were used to wind the hemp rope – a nice touch as it had been the mooring rope for the owner’s boat for many years – and to squeeze any water out of it.  The channel for the sluice gate was timber and the boards were made from some well seasoned sawn sycamore which had been cut from a tree growing right next to where the mangle was placed.  It is nigh impossible to get elm boards these days since the scourge of Dutch Elm disease but that was the timber normally used for water sluices.

Once the wall was repaired the mangle was heaved aboard the link box of the old Massey Ferguson 35, which Miss America took great delight in driving and reversing into the wash.  It took three of us to gently ease it off the raised box and onto the platform, but once in place everyone was delighted with the result.

35 working for its corn

The advantage for Miss America is that the steering wheel is NOT on the wrong side ! If only I could get her to understand a centre wheel doesn't mean it is driven in the centre of the road.....

The boards which form the water barrier were attached to the ropes and then slid down the grooves of the timber frame.  A simple few turns of the old mangle handle raises them sufficiently to allow the water to flow freely out, success !  Now I just need everything to swell and seal so’s to get the ‘pond’ filled ready for a celebratory lifting of the sluice (and maybe a smashing of a champagne bottle and a “Bless this sluice and all who pass through….” ) at the forthcoming ‘Apple Day’ on 11th Sept.

We will both be there as I have promised to take a small display.  The Star Spangled Banner will be present in large numbers as Miss America’s whole family are coming to see the wonders of our smallbut beautiful land – it will be a strange thing, to have folks from the land of 9/11 on that very day, ten years on.  It is hard to escape the memories at the moment and even more strange is the fact that I am back working at the very place I was at on that very day.  I remember clearly the gentleman of the house coming out time and again to give me updates and his ashen face when he finally came to say “They’ve gone down”.  A poignant weekend lies ahead…

Old mangle as a sluice windlass

The mangle with mine host, the effervescent 'Sue', it is exactly the item to set off the new sluice.

Cast iron mangle for winding a sluice

Stone and iron, wood and water, another piece of quirkiness at this enigmatic Shakespearean haven.

We wandered back to Penlanole a few days later to join in a fascinating ‘walk in silence’ through the wooded nature trail and around the farm.  A dozen or so people wandered behind the leader of the little experiential afternoon just listening to the sounds and getting lost in thought.  No one spoke for over an hour as we strolled and stopped at significant sites or trees or just gazed at the sky.  I found myself completely ‘in the zone’ as my ‘southern gal’ would say.  Even the noise of my most hated motor bikes, screaming along the nearby A470, somehow blended, almost juxtapose, with the silence, the wind in the trees and the honking of the penned-in geese.  In someways slightly bizarre, in other ways nothing more than my daily experience, quiet solitude with the sounds of nature, but being in a group somehow made the whole thing more tangible.  The things I get up to !

A walk in silence around the Willow Theatre

Wandering in silence somehow enhances the senses

In between all of this activity I somehow had to try to make hay.  I had wanted to do a ‘traditional’ 1940s harvest using my 1943 Standard Fordson and mower but time and weather got the better of me so I had to get my good neighbour ‘Tom Aberannell’ to cut it for me with his uber-modern machine – 10 minutes work !  On my return from holiday I set about turning it with rakes and my  hard working visitor got stuck in with an old wooden drag rake to get the crop dry enough to put it into hay-cocks until I could gather it onto a suitable old cart ready to take to the show behind the tractor – as I write the hay cocks are still in the field…… the best laid plans of mice and men….

An old wooden drag rake being utilised in 2011 to rake hay

She's got the action ! The wooden rake is best part of 100 years old and is a valuable and cherished item in my collection but I like things to be used and it is just the thing for making hay the 'old way' - thanks W, you deserved your beer after that !

Another little job was completed, a small set of garden steps for a family friend.  It entailed going to get the stone from an old customer of mine at a small farm high above the narrow valley that takes the A40 from Trecastle to Llandovery. Crug-y-Bwbach is the home of another real gem of a Welshman and his chat and banter amused us both for over an hour while we gathered some nice weathered stone from a derelict wall in fields on the edge of the Eppynt ranges.  I had to use my old army trailer behind the 90 land rover again (see ‘About’) and it does the job well.  We headed home across the bleak ‘easy to get lost in’ forestry plantations of Crychan and onto the closed part of the range where a short mile or so (not an ‘impact ‘area so we were pretty safe…) saw us rejoin the main public access to Tirabad – the land of the Abbot (of Strata Florida as it happens).

Dry stone steps

A simple set of dry stone steps using some nice weathered field wall stone from the edge of the Eppynt.

It can be difficult trying to build steps if the right stones are not present.  In particular the flat slabs to make the treads.  A way around that is to set stones like cobbles, called pitching, and we did this, or rather W did it, on the top step as there was an awkward triangular shape to deal with and we had no suitable slab left.  The important thing with steps is to make each rise the same height and each tread the same depth otherwise those using it may well trip.  This is easily achieved by deciding on the riser height – normally 8 inches / 20cms and dividing the total height to be gained by that figure.  That gives the number of steps and then divide that number into the total horizontal length to be covered giving the depth of each step’s tread.  Simple !

Cobbles or pitching to make a step tread

Stones are hammered into the sub-soil by placing a block of wood over them. The whole must be set in a well secured border of stone and in-filled with river sand. Good job W, another well deserved beer !

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”, or so it is said, I got to do some hard playing a day later when I took a display from my collection to the Agricultural show at Llangynidr in the Usk valley between Brecon and Crickhowell.  I had been asked to attend by the ‘Baileywick of Llangynidr’ – one of those ladies who are not used to being refused – and as I had long thought it was a show I should go to I agreed.  I was impressed how big it actually was and the crowds certainly came in.  A total surprise early on the Sunday morning was the arrival of my dear cousin and her famous French husband JC (he of the boule competition fame) who had somehow found-out I would be there.  Attending shows with my exhibition is something I seem to do less and less often and so it was a nice change to go somewhere new and have such interest shown, and stories of using the items told, by the locals and visitors from far and wide – the nearby Brecon to Newport canal with its motor cruisers and the proximity of the Brecon Beacons as well as a short hop from the valleys meant a great variety of accents, ages and interesting stories.  Luckily the rain held off to a greater extent and we all enjoyed ourselves, especially Miss America who managed to complete the ‘Dry Stone Wall’ puzzle cleverly made by William the chairman of the Walls of Llangynidr project.

Puzzling dry stone wall repair game at Llangynidr show 2011

But then she should be able to do it.... nevertheless it was an excellent little game, well done William, I want one !

The day at a show is very tiring but definitely worth it, there is rarely a show I attend where I don’t learn something or gather information or even get given items – something was suggestively mentioned here, but as yet…….

The Sunday of the Bank Holiday was well spent at Llangynidr but both of us were too tired to do much on the Monday other than potter and attack the hay again.  We needed to build up our energiy levels ready for the big one……..

Dorset Steam Fair here we come !!

Farm artefacts at Llangynidr

For some reason this is the only shot I have, and an empty chair was quite unusual for the day at Llangynidr show...

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One Response to “Mangle wrangle, mingle and spangle (star studded of course).”

  1. monasticdave Says:

    Excellent stuff there WW. I expecially liked the re-construction of the cart horse wash that incorporated the mangle. Such common sense is not thought of to readily nowadays.

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