Blaker Family of Sussex - Reminiscences


Sussex Bell Teams.

AS was pointed out to me when I was a boy, if you carefully examine the old Roman road which runs parallel with the foot of the Downs, or any other old narrow Sussex road, you will find here and there, where it has not been altered and made wider, and remains wide enough for one waggon only, that at certain intervals the bank curves outward on each side for a few yards, and leaves a space sufficient for two vehicles to pass. The bells were used to give notice when two waggons were approaching in opposite directions, so that one could stop in a recess and allow the other to pass. In my younger days a bell-team was by no means uncommon, and the sound of bells on a bright sunny morning was perfectly delightful. The bells, which were in perfect tune, were fixed in a frame and carried on the collar of each of the four horses, and the carter took the greatest pride in his peal of bells. One was reminded of Theseus' description of his hounds in "A Midsummer Night's Dream," which ends :

           " Slow in pursuit,
But match'd in mouth like bells,
Each under each."

In former days carters took great pride in their horses and looked well after them and enjoyed seeing them in high condition with glossy coats. When they went on a journey away from the farm, especially if it were into a town, they used to put the bells on the shoulders of their teams, rosettes on each side of the bridle, the forehead plate (a plate of ornamental bright brass) on their foreheads and plait their manes and tails with bright coloured ribands. It gives rather a pang when one sees the bells used as dinner gongs, and the forehead plates as ornaments in a room.

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