In the course of visiting the Fenn’s Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses NNR over the last few years, I’ve met and spoken with people on and around the site, either living locally, or visiting from further afield. I’ve also been put in touch with people from local communities with a connection to the place because they either lived or worked there. Collecting and recording their stories has become an ongoing part of my research and most people are very happy for me to share their memories. I will be adding some of these stories to the website over the coming months.
I first met with Barbara Clorley and Bill Allmark last September. Bill was born in 1942 and is well known as the last in a line of several family generations of peat cutters. Barbara’s family lived in Moss Cottages and were similarly involved with peat cutting for generations.
They talked about how tough the working life of a peat cutter was, yet they described the close-knit, supportive community life with great affection. Barbara, in particular, talked fondly of her childhood and a love of the landscape.
Walking along the lanes to church every week, Barbara recalled how she and her friends would make daisy chains and foxtails sat on the grass verge.
Both indicated how knowledge of the wildlife of the Mosses was integral to the Mossmen’s work.
Bill has a detailed knowledge of the site, its drainage systems and topography, so he became a valued member of the Bog conservation team, working initially for the Nature Conservancy Council, later Natural England.
We talked for over two hours, so these are just some of the edited recordings.
Fire was a topic that we returned to in different contexts, firstly in connection with the risk of fire in the peat during dry conditions, then we went further back in time to when Barbara could recall the German bombing raids during the Second World War and the lighting of the Starfish decoy fire baskets.
Most people visiting Whixall Moss at Morris Bridge will have seen John Roberts, often working in all weathers, and it was a wet and windy day when we spoke, too windy for sound recording.
John built his bungalow on the Moss, sometime after getting married in 1962 and he’s lived there ever since.
“My grandparents and mother were at Moss Cottages. My Grandad and [###} they did peat cutting. They all did, all the peat men…, their sons that took over, and they’ve all passed away.”
Given the close proximity to Bill Furber’s scrapyard, I talked to him about the place where his son used to work.
“He (Bill Furber) started with a couple of cars, and gradually got more, started with insurance jobs and crushing, taking scrap away, selling parts and moved to a very big business… Until about 7 years ago, he just folded. My son was there 31 years. He works at the chicken place now.”