I just got a lovely letter from Barrie Clark, after he read Hedge Britannia. He was a farmer’s son in West Cumberland (not Cumbria) in the 1950s, so knows the importance of a good hedge. He says:
Incidentally, we never called them hedges on farms or countryside. Hedges were those poor excuses full of privet in front of mean 1930s semis on the loop road in Whitehaven. Inhabited by schoolteachers etc. NOT farmers who as we know are the only important people on God’s earth. We called hedges/hedgerows DIKES! and talked of dikebacks. Hedgerows were some southern genteelism invented by the sort of people who produced those patronising Ministry of Information films about the countryside, full of cheery Kentish hop-pickers and picturesque gypsies in Enid Blyton caravans. We had dikes which real men tackled with billhooks, mells (or hammers) and axes. My father’s laying of a hedge was to watch an art form being produced. We did not cut hedges, we DESSED them. I had my own small ancient ‘bill’ which had probably seen service at Agincourt. It was worn, light and deadly.
Today Barrie has a hedge or native and exotic shrubs around his garden. As he says:
It marks my land. As Mr O’Hara in Gone with the Wind puts it to Scarlett: ‘Land is the only thing that lasts.’
Finally he sent me a cutting of this story about a recent hedge dispute: http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/407139/On-the-hedge-of-despair-Neighbours-5-year-feud-over-a-22ft-evergreen-that-blocks-the-sun