My book review of 'Where are the fellows who cut the hay?' by Robert Ashton

by Robert Ashton

I've long been aware of the George Ewart Evans book 'Ask the Fellows Who Cut the Hay', published in 1956, but have never read it. So I wasn't in a hurry to pick up this book which is inspired by it. But I was given a copy, so dived in and found it a revelation! It's described as part memoir, part social history and a manifesto on why we should look back in order to move forward.

The author Robert Ashton has taken a journey through rural Suffolk, revisiting the village of Blaxhall which featured in Evans' original book, and has sought out the people who grow barley, milk cows and produce wool today. 

How have farming methods changed through the generations and are they sustainable and ethical?

He talks to local people and revisits traditions, occupations and pursuits. And he weaves his own observations and experiences through the interviews and reports.

It's a mesmerising read, strangely soothing in its gentle, nostalgic approach. It also feels optimistic and hopeful for the future despite such radical changes through the decades. Being local to Suffolk, there is undoubtedly an appeal in learning more about familiar people and places.

There were certain elements in the author's style of writing which were a little halting for me, particularly in his handling of chronology and some repetition, but ultimately this added to the book's charm. I really enjoyed it and found it rather inspiring and uplifting. It made me appreciate our countryside, its people and their industry more deeply. 

Date of this review: April 2024
Book publication date: 4th April 2024