The 1965 scrapbook

Part 5: The seasons: a diary

Elizabeth Dodwell

THE FOUR SEASONS

The final pages of the scrapbook, written by Mrs Bennion who was the wife of the gamekeeper on the Pangshanger Estate, give a fascinating insight into the weather, the countryside and the wildlife on a month by month basis.  I decided to include this section in full as it is a wonderful record of that year.  These pages are accompanied with photographs and hand-painted flowers and ends with a day-to-day graph of temperature and rainfall (not reproduced here).     

Weather and countryside

January

January was a month of very mixed weather. Fog occurred on a few days, there was a very stormy period, some mild days with temperatures reaching 50F, and others only a little above freezing. Snow fell on four days, but there were also days of almost unbroken sunshine.  During the stormy period winds were severe.  Much of the month’s rainfall fell during this time and there were hail and thunderstorms.  Rainfall was above average.

Countryside:  The land is agricultural, mainly arable (light soil) with some woodland.  Trees in the area include oak, beech, ash, lime, sycamore, hornbeam, horse and sweet chestnuts, elm etc.  One or two spinney’s have Scots fir and larch.  The River Mimram flows through Panshanger Park.  On Cole Green are a number of very fine oaks.  Two quite young ones were planted in recent years to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary and the Coronation of our present Queen Elizabeth II. During frost early in the month birds cleared up the remaining hips and haws.  Fieldfare and wood pigeon then fed on holly berries.  More wild duck on the river and ponds than usual, probably because so many ponds have dried up owing to dry autumn winter.  After a fall of snow, pheasants, pigeons, and grey squirrels were seen foraging for acorns and beechnuts. Scraps put out during hard weather attracted blue tits, great tits, robins, one wren, lots of sparrows and blackbirds, and a few starlings.  Redwings have been seen too. Moles have been very active sending up their mounds of soil in unwanted places – a sign of snow.

February

Outstanding features of February weather were its exceptional dryness, and the number of cold, cloudy days. There were no heavy falls of rain – in fact it was the 4th successive February with rain below the average. On Wednesday, the 3rd we awoke to a heavy frost, the night temperature reaching only 23F and on Saturday 20th snow descended on us again, but  only lasted two days. Sunshine was less than average.

Countryside: Pigeons are feeding on ivy berries, having finished my Brussels.  Some small birds have started to sing, partridge have paired and a Heron was seen standing by the waterside, waiting for a meal no doubt. A green woodpecker was busy tapping a tree, and a coal tit was flying around, probably looking for a nesting site. Hazel catkins are in full bloom, but not so many this year. Seagulls, whose permanent home seems to be a nearby refuse dump, can always be seen following a plough, when it’s at work. Timber was felled in the spinney at Cole Green.

March

March weather certainly confirmed the Lion and Lamb theory.  The month started with a week of very cold days and nights, and snow again.  During the night of the 2nd the temperature fell to its lowest this century and the following night, winds were almost gale force. During the third week of the month we had more than our fair share of rain. In contrast, the month ended with a period of sunny and exceptionally warm weather, and Monday 29th was the warmest March day on record, temperature reach 78F.  These last days of unbroken sunshine made up for the considerable shortage for much of March.

Countryside: During the snowy period Greenfinch came for food, but many small birds died.  Footprints in the snow showed that, apart from birds, rabbits, rats and a fox had passed this way. Rabbit population was decreased by means of gun, ferrets and gas.  Hares lived up to the ‘March madness’.  Bullfinches, having stripped the gooseberry bushes, continued their destruction of buds on pear trees.  A buzzard was seen.  Jackdaws were busy feeding on newly sown corn.  Bats were brought out by warm weather at the end of the month. Trees in flower include:- Yew, Silver birch, Wych elm, Alder, Pussy Willow on which bees were busy collecting pollen.  

April

In many respects April was true to type with showers and some warm, sunny weather, but we often had a sharp reminder of winter with snow and sleet and night frost on two occasions. The only real warm, sunny weather was on the first three days.  Colder weather followed and on three days the temperature was below 50F.  Much of the rain was of a showery character, sometimes heavy and developing into thunderstorms which are accompanied by hail.

Countryside: Many birds are nesting, sparrows and starlings were very untidy with their building materials.  There is a pair of French Partridge looking for a site in the garden, and a pair of Doves spent their time coo-ing to each other.  We found a long-tailed tit’s nest, the first seen since the very severe winter.  A cuckoo was heard on April 16th and a Swallow seen on the 27th, both later than usual.  A Woodcock’s nest was found.  The Spotted Woodpecker, a rather shy bird, was heard ‘drumming’ on several sunny mornings.  A Moorhen has her nest near the pond.  Dead hedgehogs are often seen on the road.  They can’t have any road sense. Fish have been put in the river to improve the Season’s sport. Trees in flower are: – Hornbeam, Gorse, Blackthorn and Wild Cherry. Flowers in bloom:- Cowslips, Dandelion, Wood Anemone, Bluebells, Wild Strawberries, Shepherd’s Purse, Keck, Jack-in-the hedge, Groundsel, Ivy-leaved Toad Flax, Red Dead Nettle, Primrose, Dog’s Mercury. Wood Sorrel, Ground Ivy, Butterbur (attracts bees).  

May

The beginning of May was still showery and cool, but the second week of the month provided a lovely spell of warm weather which culminated on Friday the 14th with a temperature of 84F the highest May temperature for 12 years. The main feature of the month was the absence of late night frosts. Rain fell on many days during the month, heavy at times, but the total was a little under the average.

Countryside: Bird-song was at its best in the early hours of the morning and to a lesser extent in the evening.  A Nightingale was first heard on May 5th.  On a sunny day Skylarks sing high in the sky, and the Yellow Hammer calls “little bit o’ bread and no cheese” as a Jay goes squawking on his way.  Where are the Chaffinches?  No “pink pink” to be heard.  Swans have nested on the river.  A robin having built its nest on a low ledge lost it eggs when an inquisitive cockerel pecked them out.  The first pheasant brood was seen on May 9th.  Four Queen Wasps emerged from their winter hide-out, but got no further.  Butterflies seen were – Peacock, Red Admiral and Large White (cabbage). Crops have been sprayed, killing flowers, bees, insects, small birds and animals, and eventually poisoning us all (slowly). Bracken fronds begin to unfurl. Trees and bushes in flower are:- Rhododendron, Beech, Sycamore, Ash, Crab Apple, Hawthorn, Oak, Horse Chestnut, Broom, Mountain Ash, Guelder Rose, Holly. Flowers in bloom are:- White Dead Nettle, Plantain, Buttercup, Birds Eye Speedwell, Lady’s Smock, Marsh Marigold, Red Campion, Comfrey, Stitchwort, Chickweed, Nettle, Cuckoo Pint, Wild Forget-me-not, Ragged Robin, Bladder Campion, White Clover, Purple Vetch and Dog Violet.  

June

On average the sunniest month of the year, June showed very changeable weather.  There were occasional good days, but no prolonged spell of warm, sunny weather. The earlier part of the month was relatively dry, but the 18th was very windy, and nearly ¾ of an inch of rain fell in 24 hours.  Rainfall for the whole month was above average. Total days of sunshine were well below average.

Countryside: A Wren’s nest was found, the first since the severe winter.  An Acacia tree in full bloom attracts flocks of wood pigeons – why?  Cygnets, young woodcocks, pee-wits, water rail were seen.  Most of the grasses are in bloom. Trees and bushes in bloom are:- Dog rose, Elder, Spindle, Privet, Wild Raspberry, Blackberry and Dog Wood. Flowers in bloom:- Charlock, Dog Daisy, Hedge Stachys, Ground Elder, Hog Weed, Goosegrass, Docks, Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Red Clover, Foxgloves, Meadow Crane’s Bill, White Bryony, Woody Nightshade, Herb Robert, Common Sow Thistle, Silver-weed, Black Nightshade, Common Bugle, Creeping Cinquefoil, Biting Stonecrop, Salad Burnet, Hogs Trefoil, Field Poppy, Common Mallow, Knotted Figwort, Stock’s Bill, Rose-bay Willow Herb, Honeysuckle, Goatsbeard and Rock Rose.  

July

This month was very cool and cloudy.  There were few really sunny days, and no prolonged period of dry, sunny weather. Changeable weather persisted throughout the month, and there were frequent thunderstorms.  Many of the nights were unusually cool. Although not a stormy month in general, there were heavy gusty winds on three days.  Rainfall was above average.

Countryside: French Partridge, having nested in the garden, brought their brood for us to see, and then passed on out to the fields.  A number of young Pheasants and several young Moorhens were found minus their heads, probably the work of a fox cub.  A brood of wren were seen, the first for years. What a glorious carpet of flowers on Cole Green and to a lesser extent, part of Letty Green.  I wonder how many people noticed! There were patches of red and white clover, yellow bird’s foot trefoil, white yarrow, dog daisies and harebells, with a good sprinkling of various grasses. Trees in bloom: – Sweet Chestnut, Lime (late). Flowers in bloom:- Rag-wort, Wild Carrot, Common Thistle, Yarrow, Wild Canterbury Bell, Scarlet Pimpernel, Fumitory, Ladies’ Bedstraw, Enchanter’s Nightshade, Convolvulus, Mayweed, Meadowsweet, Agrimony, Field Scabious, Fat Hen, White Bindweed, Great Hairy Willow Herb, Knotweed, St. John’s Wort, Common Sorrel Burdock, Musk Mallow, Yellow Toadflax, Harebells, Common Hemp Nettle, Traveller’s Joy.

August

August was a little better than last month, but still cool.  However, many days in the first three weeks had good sunny periods. The weather was very changeable in the last ten days, with more rain.  Rainfall for the months was above average, and sunshine below average.

Countryside: The green was mown, and our carpet of flowers disappeared.  There were so many pigeons, jackdaws and sparrows feeding in the corn, one could almost call them a pest.  Golden Plover, Nuthatch and Green Finches were seen. Flowers in bloom:- Mugwort, Heartsease, Knapweed, Self Heal, Hemp, Agrimony, Nipplewort, Corn Sow Thistle, Spear Plume Thistle, Hedge Bedstaw, Great Knapweed, Teasel, Stemless Thistle, Great Reed Mace, Mignonette, Venus’ Looking Glass, Mullein (the first seen since the roadside verges were sprayed).  

September

This month was mainly cool and cloudy, but later in the month there were some warmer days.  Although the weather was changeable, there were few really strong winds.  There was less than the average amount of sunshine and, on two days, over ½ an inch of rain fell, in each case, in less than 24 hours.

Countryside: Ivy is in flower.  Everywhere there is a splash of colour, the leaves pale yellow to red and brown, berries red and black and the bracken many shades of gold and brown.  Wasps are a nuisance. When the starlings are not chattering, they are feeding on elderberries.  After this they cleared any apples which they could find. There are many bumble bees on the dahlias. A few mushrooms were to be found.  Various Fungi, from toad stools in ‘fairy rings’ to Puff Balls were seen, some on dead trees, other among leaves; some were red and some like dainty parasols. At dusk wild duck arrive on the stubbles to feed, as do the lapwings.  Some rabbits have myxomatosis.  The Swallows have departed. Animals seen: – Voles, Newts, Frogs.  

October

On the whole, October ran true to form, with fairly average temperatures.  However, in the middle of the month we had one extremely cold night when the temperature suddenly dropped to freezing point.  Towards the end of the month we experienced our first dense fog of the winter and, by the end of the month, these were quite common place.  On some days the fog did not clear at all. Rainfall was moderate, heavy rain falling on two days of the month only.

Countryside: Michaelmas daisies attracted honey bees and butterflies.  Birds sing on sunny mornings as if it were spring. Horse Chestnut leaves were the first to change colour and fall.  Rats and mice have made their way into buildings, sheds, etc. from the fields, where they have found plenty of food.  Owls hoot and screech at night.  A dead barn owl, found earlier this year, has been examined by experts and found to contain a high content of Dieldrin.  (Dieldrin was originally produced in 1948 by J. Hyman & Co, Denver, as an insecticide. However, it does not easily break down and passes down the food chain it is toxic to both animals and humans. For this reason it is now banned in most countries of the world.  Editor)  

November

This was a month of great contrasts in weather, from the early mild and sunny days to the severe wintry conditions during the second half of the month. The mild sunny weather ended on the 4th, four cold days following.  We had another brief spell of fairly mild days, but on the 16th we had the coldest November day since record began.  On the 23rd we had the first snow of the winter, over an inch falling very quickly.  On the 30th almost an inch of rain fell. However, despite the great changes in weather during the month, November was sunny.  On many occasions the days were beautifully bright, but temperatures fell at the end of the day, giving many frosty nights (sixteen in all).

Countryside: Early in the month bees were attracted to a patch of White Dead Nettle in the warm sunshine. The leaves are falling fast. A good crop of hips and haws were eaten by the birds during the spell of bitter weather.  They also ate many holly berries; this is unusual so early in the winter, Grey squirrels ate what few hazel nuts there were before they were ripe.  There was a moderate crop of acorns, beechnuts, conkers but very few sweet chestnuts. Moles are very active.   A Sparrow Hawk was seen, and a Magpie appeared to be chuckling to himself as he devoured a rabbit carcase.  

December

December was a wet month but apart from the cold weather around Christmas weekend, it was also a mild one. In spite of so much rain, most parts of the area had more than the average amount of sunshine.  On several days there was almost unbroken sunshine, and December 26th was the sunniest for many years.

Countryside: Fieldfares and Redwings have arrived.  A Kestrel was seen hovering over what appeared to be either a mouse of a vole. Hazel catkins are already visible. Holly, minus berries, was being collected for decorations, while branches of mistletoe hang high in the lime trees, tantalizingly out of reach.  

General

A number of wild cats (once domestic) have been seen, living on rabbits.  They have probably been abandoned as unwanted, as was a puppy which was left by the wayside, complete with box and blanket.  As for the rest of the ‘wild life’ who leave their litter and filth in the countryside – I’m disgusted!  There has been the usual car and furniture, a sack of poultry heads, legs and entrails, a heap of women’s shoes, just to mention a few of the ‘treasures’ to be found, or should I say ‘seen’. I wonder where these people live?  

Game report

It has been a moderate season for pheasants, but very few wild birds.  There has been wild duck shooting, as usual, with an odd snipe and woodcock.  Several good coveys of partridge have been left alone in an effort to increase stock.  

 

CONCLUSION (taken from the scrapbook)

In December 1964 a Scrapbook Committee was formed consisting of eight WI Members.  After deciding the style the book should take, each of the committee was asked to be responsible for a section of the book.  Everyone else who was willing began work too, and so throughout the year the scrapbook became very much a parish affair.  Every month the committee met and as the year neared its close, so the pile of pictures, statistics and information mounted.  Then came the New Year and work began in earnest.  The committee met two nights each week for compiling sessions, while the handicraft section spent their evenings embroidering the cover. 

Now all is finished and grateful thanks go to the WI members, their husbands, children, Aunts and Uncles, in fact the whole parish, for their contributions to the scrapbook.   Of the future, can we be certain that our rural sanctity will not be destroyed by the increasing spread of Urbanisation?  With Welwyn encroaching on us from one direction and Hertford from the other, the green belt is slowly disappearing.  We can but hope that our Parish remains unchanged, but, in the name of progress, so much of what is good in the countryside of ours gets swallowed up, forgotten quickly by the rising generation and remembered nostalgically by the older residents.  We feel that, in this day and age the future must take care of itself, while we here can but record the present.

I hope that you have enjoyed reading this unique look at 1965.

Elizabeth Dodwell, October 2009      

This page was added on 13/01/2010.

No Comments

Start the ball rolling by posting a comment on this page!

Add a comment about this page

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *