BIG INTERVIEW: A rural tradition recorded for our future generations

Botesdale, Suffolk. Neil Lanham has made a DVD of people about the people who drink and use the Swan Pub in Worlingworth. ANL-140723-154555001
Botesdale, Suffolk. Neil Lanham has made a DVD of people about the people who drink and use the Swan Pub in Worlingworth. ANL-140723-154555001

Folk, travelling across the idyllic Suffolk countryside on a warm summer’s day on horse and cart, looking forward to a sing-song and a dance, as well as time to spend with friends over a pint of ale.

The image sounds a little bit too quaint to be true in this day and age of fast-living and modern technology.

Worlingworth, Suffolk. Worlingworth Pub Horse and Cart feature -   Worlingworth, Suffolk. Worlingworth Pub Horse and Cart feature - pictured is Kenny Hambling with Steph Moon and Berry ANL-141108-000529009

Worlingworth, Suffolk. Worlingworth Pub Horse and Cart feature - Worlingworth, Suffolk. Worlingworth Pub Horse and Cart feature - pictured is Kenny Hambling with Steph Moon and Berry ANL-141108-000529009

But for one group in the region, this long-running tradition still exists today, centred at The Swan Inn, in Worlingworth.

The pub, currently run by Steph Moon, has hosted this for almost 50 years, it is believed. Although it is rarer to see the horse and carts venturing along the many country roads throughout the region at this time of year, during the summer months this group will make their trip every Saturday and Sunday.

It is all inclusive – men and women of all ages keep this pastime alive, some travelling as far as 16 miles to get to Worlingworth.

Teresa Goff, former landlady at The Swan and Steph’s mother, described the tradition as “unique”.

Worlingworth, Suffolk. Worlingworth Pub Horse and Cart feature - from left Berry, Kenny Hanbling, Steph Moon, Teresa Goff and David Mitchell with Ebony ANL-141108-000456009

Worlingworth, Suffolk. Worlingworth Pub Horse and Cart feature - from left Berry, Kenny Hanbling, Steph Moon, Teresa Goff and David Mitchell with Ebony ANL-141108-000456009

“I don’t think there are many places where you can come along with horse and carts, tie them up, and watch them from the bar,” she said. “I think it is so lovely to see. A lot of them tell me they are not welcome in other places because horses can cause damage but on the whole they are such a good group of folk that come along.

“They and the people who visit get so much pleasure from it.”

This has been documented by Neil Lanham – an expert in the oral traditions of Suffolk – with his DVD, The Last of Old England. Mr Lanham, who lives in Botesdale, was brought up in Boxford, near Sudbury, and is a former auctioneer, has been recording all of his life. Now 76, he got his first tape recorder back in the 1950s and began documenting different stories from people he has met over the years. He now has more than 100 DVDs of oral recordings.

The Last of Old England hears from these people who continue this pastime; from Percy West, born, as his 16 brothers and sisters were, in a Reading Gypsy Wagon, who tells tales from life on the road; and Kenny Hambling, now in his 80s, and how he bought his horse, Berry.

“I have known about this pub for all of the time I have been recording and I had known that it has a tradition of its own unlike anywhere else,” said Mr Lanham.

“First of all you have the old boys who keep their horses and they drive their pony and traps on a Sunday, and I don’t know of anywhere else where people arrive like that, so there is a horse culture about it. A lot of our folk traditions surrounded the horse in the past. The horse was vitally important. If you can imagine a world without engines, the horse reigned supreme.

“They will go into the pub, have a pint, and perhaps have something to eat.

“Then, there is the local tradition, and the local music was always played on button accordion, and they step dance.

“Everybody cheers at the end. It is a way of life; a natural way of life, if you like, which is far removed from the modern day.

“If we can stand in their way and their vision, and look at today, you can see some of the things that we have lost, particularly this self-participation. We have all become remote-grabbing couch potatoes and click when we want to see instant self-entertainment by someone else. In the old ways, everybody participated and did something within their social structure.

“When they go into the pub, the most important thing is the company; the people there; the ambience, and the whole thing it creates. It is truth, it is beauty, and it is natural, whereas we live in a artificial world, controlled by contrived artificial gadgets that in my view have altered our minds into this very material world we now live in, and this is pre-that.”

He credits his mother, Ruby Alleston, for the initial spark of interest in oral recordings, who used to tell stories “all the time”, mostly about the agricultural depression.

His father, Arthur George Lanham, died when he was five in 1943, and admitted he went “backwards” in his schooling.

“I used to get down the cartlodge with the old boys and I used to listen to them. If you were quiet, and showed them respect, they would tell you things they wouldn’t normally tell other people. I used to enjoy them and realised they had something then which we didn’t have in the school environment which I was forced into. I just loved being out on the land and all I wanted to do was be a farmer. But they sent me to be an auctioneer.

“Even when I was an auctioneer and I was doing valuations I was always asking the farmer ‘have you got any old boys who sing any of the old songs?’ so all of my life has been an access to it.”

“I’m not funded and most of what I do, I don’t get my money back on,” he said. “But when you go to the grave, there are no pockets in the shroud, as they say. So I feel that I am doing something for humanity, in a way; recording this while it is still available, and hope the next generation will want to know something about it.”

Is there a chance this tradition will one day come to an end?

“There aren’t many young people taking on the old tradition because there are so many distractions nowadays, on the PCs and the pop world and television and Facebook and all those things,” explained Mr Lanham.

“But on the DVD you will see a young boy step dancing, and he also plays a button accordion, so he will help to carry on that tradition. In this pub, the old mix with the young. Having said that, there are not too many young because they are distracted by modern artificial devices.”

Teresa added: “The whole place is just steeped in traditional things which seem to be dying out. We are very lucky. We have some of the younger customers, a few of which are taking up step dancing to keep that tradition going but there does not seem to be many following through with the horse and carts.

“I think it is tragic it could die out.”

n To buy any of Neil’s DVDs, see www.oraltraditions.co.uk, call 01379 890568 or email neil@oraltraditions.co.uk