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authors have supposed that the pure peat is a living vegetable, a species of marsh moss, of which there are no less than 600 different sorts; and that it is nourished by waters impregnated with bitumen which are thrown up
from the internal abysses of the earth*. This opinion is grounded on the assertion that “peat when dug to a certain depth, grows and fills up the hole from which it had been removed ; that every piece of peat, besides its roots and flaggy leaves,has a thick hollow tube in which the lateral leaves are inserted, which is for the conveyance of air; and that on being analysed, it is found to con. tain salts and oil in its composition like other vegetables." With this opinion, however, I cannot agree. The partial filling up of the places from which peat has been removed may easily be accounted for, without such a fanciful supposition as the growth like that of a living vegetable. Before the presence of salts and oil will prove peat to be a living vegetable, it must be shewn that such ingredients do not form part of dead vegetable matter ; and as to water springing up from the abysses of the earth, holding bitumen in solution, I think we can find a plentiful supply from more superficial sources.
On the east side of the Isle, the stratum of clay which forms, in most places, the bottom of the channel of the Trent, is, for some distance inland, covered with a layer of peat or peat-earth; which is again covered with that alluvial deposit called warp. The warp along the shores of the Trent forms a bed of uncertain thickness. At Althorpe, in sinking wells, eight or ten feet of warp have been dug through, then one or two feet of sand, and then warp again. At Garthorpe the warp is from one to fifteen feet thick, then a bed of
peat from half a foot to five feet deep; under the peat clay or warp, rally sand. Sometimes the warp is more superficial than it generally is on those grounds over which it has been artificially spread, the plough penetrating through it to the peat. The water obtained from the wells which have been sunk into this warp is not spring water, but merely what is termed a ground sype, i. e. water filtering through from the surface. It is very hard, contains a large portion of earthy salts, and furs every thing in which it is kept. Those wells which have been sunk into the peat afford that dark dis
but more gene
* Turner's Essay on Peat Bogs,
coloured water which is generally drained from such a soil. No wells have been sunk below this bed of peat, owing most probably to the expence of stopping out the peat water, and of sinking below it; an expence which those who live near the Trent side would be the more unwilling to incur, because the river affords them a continual supply of water, which all cattle delight to drink, and excellent for culinary purposes, and which, when cleared of the earthy particles it contains, is to the taste most balmy and delicious*.
No part of the Isle of Axholme rises to an elevation exceeding two hundred feet above the level of the sea. High Burnham, in the parish of Haxey, is the most elevated spot, from whence the view is very extensive; and the tall spire of the church of Laughton-en-le-Morthen t may be seen in the western sky, and often beautifully illuminated by the setting sun. On the highest part of High Melwood, the level of Hatfield Chase, the Yorkshire wolds on the other side of the Humber, and the hills about Alkborough and Burton in Lincolnshire, are to be seen at one view; and as you descend the hill towards Owston, the towers of Lincoln Minster are visible in the south. The central part of the Isle is most elevated, but this does not occupy an extent equal to one-fourth, the rest of the country being so low, that, in general, it is beneath the surface of the Trent at the time of high water. Formerly there were three woods 9, Belgrave Park, Melwood Park, and
one * Trent water being placed in large earthen jars, its muddy sediment soon sinks to the bottom. The water should then be taken for use with a dish from off the top of the vessel ; or it may be passed through a common water filterer.
† This village stands on the highest point of ground in that part of Yorkshire, and being seen by the people about Sheffield in the east or morning sky,has received from them the misnomer of Lighten in the Morning, a corruption which has even found its way into Speed's Maps of the Counties of England.
$ “ The principal wood of the Isle is at Belgreve Park by Hepworth, and at Melwood Park not far from Epworth. There is also a praty wood at Croule, a Lordship a late longging to Selleby Monasterie.” Leland's Itinerary, temp. Henry 8th.
At the time of the Conquest, however, a considerable portion of the forest, or the outskirts of it at least, seems to have been standing, as in Doomsday, the several parishes are described as having wood and pasturage one mile long and one mile broad, or wood and pasturage here and there two miles long and two miles broad.
one near Crowle. These have now disappeared, like the great forest which formerly covered the low grounds before they were overflowed with water.
Some of the higher parts of the country, such as Haxey Field, Epworth Fields, Belton and Beltoft Fields, and Crowle Field are remarkably fertile, and deservedly rank among the richest and finest soils in England. They consist of black sandy loams, brown sands, and rich loams, soapy and tenacious. Others are composed of strong clay, which, if not so valuable, are nevertheless capable, with proper cultivation, of producing good crops of grain, and of affording excellent pasturage for cattle. A very rich soil extends along the bank of the river Trent, “ commonly called the Trent side land,” which is formed of the alluvial soil deposited by the flux of the tide, mellowed by the sun, and enriched by cultivation through a long series of years. The best lands in the fields and along the Trent side produce excellent crops of potatoes, wheat, beans, oats, barley, flax or line, and also, on the most fertile spots, onions, turnips for seed, and carrots. The usual method of cultivation is this. Clean the land for a crop of
potatoes, which, when set, ought to have from ten to fifteen loads of good manure ploughed into the furrows. After that a crop of wheat is taken, and then a crop of barley and seeds. Some of the old warp lands, which by long cultivation have acquired a mellowness and fertility peculiar to themselves, are reckoned the best adapted to the growth of potatoes; and which being well manured every time the potatoes are set has borne a crop of that useful vegetable, and a crop of wheat alternately for a number of years. This, however, is reckoned an exhausting system, and it is far better to take a crop of beans after the potatoes, and then a crop of wheat, taking care not to plough the bean stubble above half the usual depth. The best method is, after the crop of wheat, to sow the land with flax and seeds, and to pasture or mow the clover produced from those seeds in the following year.
The great defect in the present system of agriculture, as pursued in the Isle of Axholme, is the continual cropping of the land, without sowing seeds at the proper intervals, or pasturing the lands with sheep for a sufficient length of time. On these lands, when well managed, one hundred sacks of potatoes per acre is reckoned a good crop, four quarters of wheat a fair crop, from eight to
ten quarters of oats, four quarters of beans, and about two tons of clover. A good crop of flax would produce from thirty-five to fifty stones per acre.
It appears from the Nona Villarum *, which is a valuation made in the reign of Edward the Third, A.D. 1340, of the ninth sheaf, the ninth lamb, and the ninth fleece in every village through the kingdom, that hemp and flax were grown in all parts of the Isle, even at that remote period, to a very considerable extent; for that is one reason given why the value of this ninth was, in this part of the country, less than the value of the tenth or tythe. This continued to be the practice until the introduction of potatoes about forty years ago. The great fertility of the soil made it unfit for the cultivation of corn, the crops being so heavy that in wet seasons they rotted on the ground. Hemp and flax therefore were resorted to as yielding a more certain and profitable return. Potatoes have, however, completely cured this evil; and will, whereever they are planted, cause the richest soil to produce no more corn than can very well stand to get ripe.
When hemp and flax were the principal products of the country, the inhabitants during the winter months used to prepare them for the market. The hemp market at Gainsbrough began as early as five o'clock in the morning. The importation of foreign hemp from Riga and other places, together with the cultivation of potatoes, has very much diminished the growth of these articles, and for some years scarcely any was produced. Fields of hemp are now no longer to be seen ; but line or flax is still grown to a very consider. able extent, and affords much employment for the poor.
This is the common method of cultivation for a crop of flax. The land, usually wheat stubble, is cleaned in the usual manner ; the seed is sown in May, afterwards carefully weeded, and then, when the plant is gone out of
* From these records it appears that the parishioners of every parish made a return upon oath of the value of the ninth of corn, wool, and lambs. The amount of the ancient tax of the church was stated ; and when the ninth did not exceed the tenth or tythe, which is the case in all these parishes in the Isle of Axholme, the cause was asigned, namely, that within the valuation of the church were included other articles besides corn, wool, and lambs, such as the dos or glebe of the chureh, tythe of hay and other tythes : and in these parishes the growth of flax and hemp is also added as an additional reason for the low value of the corn, &c,
flower, about a week after midsummer, it is pulled and bound in sheaves or beats ; then carted away to the pits * or dikes, covered with sods, and left to steep in the water from ten days to three weeks, according to the weather. After the line is taken out of the pits, it is spread on grass land for about three weeks, then again bound up in sheaves, taken home, and stacked for dressing · The expence of an acre of wheat stubble to grow a crop of flax the following summer, is as follows,—when the land is hired for that specific purpose :Seed,
£0 15 0 Value of thirty-five stone, Weeding 0 8 0 at 9s.
£15 15 0 Pulling,
0 6 0 Expences, £130 0 6 Leading and retting, - 0 5 o Profit,
2 14 6 Getting it out of the dikes,
Total . £15 15 0 spreading and turning, 0 12 0 Taking up f leading home, 0 7 0 Rent of the land including ploughing,
6 0 0 Hackling,
46 Expences, £13 0 6
* Some attempts have been made to improve these methods of preparing hemp and flax for use. About ninety years since a man of the name of Clegg, who lived at Haxey, invented a machine for crushing and dressing these articles, which it performed very speedily and at half the usual expence. Want of encouragement and support seems to have been the reason why the inventor was not able to perfect his machine, or introduce it into general use. From Romley's Correspondence to the Society at Spalding.
The practice of steeping the plant in stagnant water being very injurious, spoiling the colour, and when bleached requiring strong alkalines, which have a tendency to burn or rot the linen, and also cause the loss of the seed, induced some years since Admiral Lord Amelius Beauclerc to introduce an improved method. His plan was to pull it from the ground when ripe, and lay it out in the same manner as hay to dry in the field ; when dry, stack it and thatch it. When the flax was to be prepared for use, the seed was taken from it by means of a mill; the boor was taken from it by other machines, and it was prepared for spinning in the yellow state. If required to be made white before spinning, the plant was laid on the grass, sprinkled with water, in the same manner as the old fashioned method of bleaching. Flax prepared in this manner, after undergoing the operation of hackling, is as soft as silk.