The Field and Dyke project grew out of an oral history research project in South Holland district, in the fens of south Lincolnshire. This was organised and funded by the fantastic arts programme in the area called Transported, which aims to get more people involved in the arts. Only Danny was involved at this stage, and this first Field and Dyke project saw him travel around the district on a mobile library van talking with people about what they felt about their area. Very humble beginnings for this big project.
A bit of context: South Holland district lies on Deeping fen which stretches across south Lincolnshire and the north of Cambridgeshire. It has traditionally been an area made up of salt water marshes and fresh water fens that have only recently been fully drained. Due to this boggy landscape, that was commonly shrouded in mist, the history of the area is entwined with stories of bogarts, bogles and other marsh-dwelling creatures. Two local folk stories are on this website, under Field and Dyke. Or you can buy the book Field and Dyke: A History of South Holland in the website shop.
South Holland is an area that is now typified by far-ranging fields that dominate the flat landscape, overlaid by huge, uninterrupted skies. Due to the challenges of settling in such a watery environment, the area has always had lots of immigration. From seventeenth century Dutch drainage engineers, to nineteenth century Irish labourers digging dykes, these periodic influxes of people have kept the area above water. Nowadays, the water is mostly gone and the huge fields are farmed by heavy machinery. The fields’ produce is processed by huge workforces in large factories. Since 2004, Eastern Europeans have provided most of the seasonal labour that is required to harvest these crops that feed Britain, as well as work in the factories. Twinned with recent immigration from the English south, locals feel disconnected from their history and resentful of these new developments. South Holland voted to leave the European Union in huge numbers; it had the highest leave vote share, second only to the neighbouring district of Boston.
A re-creation of a map created by Jos Featherstone in 1763
by Neil Baker
This map shows the older settlements to the east that were built on naturally occuring ridges that rose above the marsh. The roads wind around the old fields and towns.
To the west, roads and dykes are straight because this is reclaimed land. Planning could start from scratch, as after the water was drained away, the land was a blank canvass to plan on.
Aided by Transported, Danny engaged with people on the mobile libraries, but also met people in market places and in factories to gain a diverse range of interviewees. It was their stories that inspired him to think about how their words could be amplified and start a dialogue on popular discontent, in order to change people’s attitudes on where they lived. It turned out that no traditional songs can be linked to South Holland as no folk collectors ventured that far into the fens; so a folk album, acting to reconnect south Lincolnshire with the national folk tradition, seemed like a good start.
Hear more about Transported's engagement activities in South Holland and Boston here!
Playing outside a mobile library with Lincolnshire musician Dave Gray
Danny contacted Greg, and because writing songs and singing them is what he likes best, they joined together to work on this project. After securing funding from Arts Council England, they wrote an album of songs inspired from the interviews. To root the music in the area more effectively, they included audio samples from the interviews and local factories. The album was recorded in January 2019 by Tom Wright at Powered Flight Music.
Danny and Greg worked in local factories playing concerts and teaching song-writing workshops for industrial workforces. We did this because we wanted to reach the audiences that inspired the music. Factory workers, a large percentage of whom are foreign nationals, often lack opportunity to engage with arts activities. We wanted to reveal a spectrum of local perspectives to these industrial workforces to change attitudes about where they lived and worked. We worked at Elsoms Seeds, Freshlinc and Bakkavor playing concerts, teaching workshops and talking to people about their local concerns. Some words gathered from the audience at Elsoms on the subject of south Lincolnshire’s landscape before the concert included ‘flat’ and ‘boring’, compared with ‘limitless’ and ‘shrouded’. when asked after.
A factory concert
A song-writing workshop
The artists also went into schools to teach more song-writing workshops and perform for kids in all levels of education. Danny and Greg had a great time writing songs with classes and playing for them. It turned out that in some isolated, rural schools, this was the first time many of the children had experienced live music!