They say you have to be a good walker to work with horses, and a man ‘must walk eleven miles to plough an acre.’
These three nineteenth-century buttons were found together in a ploughed field near Littleport. They had lain in the soil since they were lost or dropped. Who did they belong to? We can only imagine. But we like to think that they were lost when the field was ploughed. So who lost them? Most likely, one of that long-vanished breed, the fenland horseman.
Together with their ever-willing work partners, the heavy horse, these were the men who shaped our very landscape. But those days have passed into history. The glory days of the heavy horse came to an abrupt end with the mechanisation of farming.
And with the passing of the great horses, came the passing of the great horsemen (and women).
Those great Fenland characters: the blacksmiths and harness makers, the breeders and breakers, 'the horse-knocker boys' and the 'stallion walkers' (the legendary ‘Entire Men.’ )
The long shadows they cast over our fenland soil, are just that, now. Shadows. Shadows and memories.
The men and their horses may have gone, but they have not been forgotten. We can find traces of their work and lives all around us, in the fields and farms they toiled in. And this particular long-forgotten horseman has left us a gift: three buttons, lost and buried in the soil. Now found and brought into the light again.
The Field Theatre Group spent two years investigating the lives of fenland horsemen and the ‘gentle giants’ they worked with in the course of our Heritage Lottery funded project: The Horseman’s Word.
You can discover more about this subject by visiting. www.horsemansword.org.uk.
We have also produced a drama documentary DVD,
The Horseman’s Word (£10), and a book: The Horseman’s Word (£3.50).
Contact: the firstname.lastname@example.org for more information, or to order a copy.
Shadow of a Horseman