Lovell, Peter (b.1921)

Peter Lovell was one of the last peat hand cutting workers on the moors around Sharpham on the Somerset Levels.


Mr Lovell began cutting peat by hand in the 1930s and witnessed the mechanisation of the industry in the 1960s.


He worked for Fisons peat merchants and saw the decline of the industry, and the new emphasis on environmental conservation.

Peat being transported by boat in Westhay. Peat being transported by boat in Westhay.
Sound File
Listen to Peter Lovell - 1.93MB Duration 4:12 min.

PL: He comes from the direction he is going to deliver the peat, and he comes round in a half-circle so he faces the man digging, and the man digging the peat throws them up on here, still on the slab, and the man with the horse, on the board rather, board, the man with the slab, he can take twenty-one like that on the slab, you see, so 3 x 7’s are twenty-one.  And the man can, can dig three benches, and when he’s got the slab loaded, he goes up and deposit them and back round again.


But he wants an old horse and a quiet one, because in the summer if the flies are about, a younger horse wouldn’t stand still long, you see.  I’ve had a horse down there years ago when the ground was clear but not all the roots got out, and you had to dodge all these stumps, and if he got hitched in there, he sort of get frustrated and he may take off with your slab.  He’s done that before, you see, so that’s another way of digging them, you see.


AH: Right.  It does take out the work of the man with the wheelbarrow, doesn’t it?


PL: Oh yeah, that, that’s the idea, oh yes, yes, yeah, yeah, quite a bit.  He can also change over with the man with the horse, you see.


AH: That was usual, was it, you changed over?


PL: Oh yeah, yeah, it wasn’t, yes, if you felt that way inclined, I mean to say it was fair on each.


AH: Tell me about loading the boat?


PL: Ah well, you pushed them on, load them, throw them in, and when you get up to the edge of the boat, you had to pack them round, stop them falling in the ditch, and then when you got your 1,000 on, you just hop across from the wheelbarrow, with a bit of luck, on to the top of the boat, and then you had to pull it back round to the main ditch, the Cuckoo Ditch.


The Cuckoo Ditch used to run off left, almost down to Ashcott Corner.  There was a signal post then, when the railway was there and just, just this side the Cuckoo Ditch.  Then you had to pull it back up to Sharpham Crossing, and that was the hardest work pulling the...


AH: How did you do that?


PL: Pulling with a rope.  Two men did pull a rope, like a horse would on the side of a canal.


AH: And were they both on the same side?


PL: Oh yeah, the men were on the same side.


AL: And were they both pulling one rope?


PL: Oh yeah, both pulling one rope.


AH: How did, how did you pull the rope?


PL: Well, you pulled it with your hands, and, if it came into the side, touching the bank, you had to have the pole and push en out again, push the boat out again, because you understand, if you’re pulling a boat, eventually can come into the bank.


Then, when you got up to the Sharpham Crossing, you could pull them up and do opposite way pull round to the left, so that you can load them on to a cart straight on the road.  And if you done two load in the wintertime like that, you were lucky.  Say from 10.00 to 4.00, because this was going almost a mile down the, down the Railway Ditch, you see, from Sharpham Crossing.


AH: And you’d take them back to dry land and put them into, into a rick?


PL: No, no, they were already dried.  They, they would be put on to a cart for delivery, you see.


AH: Oh, for delivery?


PL: Yes, yes, yes, yeah.


AH: Oh, so they’d be on higher ground in a rick?


PL: No, no, they were on higher ground where you had to fetch them but, as I say, you couldn’t get down the drove.  That’s when the boat came in.


AH: Oh, I see.  You could get down by the water, but not by the drove?


PL: Yes, not by the drove, yeah, yeah.


AH: It obviously gets very wet down there then in the wintertime?


PL: Oh yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

Copyright Information
Copyright. This recording was made by Ann Heeley in November 1997. Photograph ©SRLM. For access to full interview please contact the Somerset Heritage Centre.