Incredible old Sussex photo shows giant haystack and horse-powered elevator

Hayrick​​​​​​​: AMS/7337/3

Hayrick: AMS/7337/3 - Credit: Courtesy of The Keep

This old photo, thought to be of Sussex's Bunces Farm in 1910, shows a clever agricultural tradition of fashioning a horse-powered elevator to help build a giant haystack. Words Lyndsey Tydeman

This hayrick must have been a wonderful sight in the Sussex countryside in 1910. At about seven metres high, no wonder it was thought worthy of a photograph.

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Three men stand on the top to unload and distribute the hay. One is in the cart unloading the hay onto the belt while two others and a boy are dealing with the horses. It’s actually a horse-powered elevator – if you look closely you’ll see that the horse on the right is working a kind of wheel to which ropes and metal chains are attached.

The bread loaf-shaped rick is nearly finished and what looks like a tarpaulin cover – or maybe it’s a large banner for a celebration or competition? – is ready to be swung over it. The men on top will be coming down on that very narrow ladder. 

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The cart has the lettering ‘Earl of Ashburnham, Ashburnham Sussex’, and archivists think this photograph may show Bunces Farm, Penhurst, on the Ashburnham estate (ref AMS/7337/3). One of the older men on the haystack may be Benjamin Thomas Hobday who was aged 61 in 1910, and the others in the group may include his sons Benjamin, Robert, Walter and Stephen.

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In its way it’s a moving image, seeming to show an agricultural tradition so permanent. Only we know of the upheaval which was to come four years later. 

Photograph courtesy of The Keep, which manages and conserves the records of its three managing partners: The East Sussex Record Office, The University of Sussex Special Collections and the Royal Pavilion and Museums Local History Collections.