Saturday, July 12th 2014
Britain has been languishing under a heat wave these last few weeks and this has token its toll on our activities. The heat, combined with that traditional bugbear of these islands, the humidity, has disinclined us to engage in more than minimal activity. This afternoon, however, we gritted our teeth and set out. Where were we going? I’m not sure, but we ended up south of the river in Vauxhall.
This strange name, now applied to a railway station and the area around it, is said to derive from Falkes de Breauté, a henchman of King John, who had a manor or hall hereabouts. By the 13th century, this was known as Faukeshale (“Falkes’ Hall”), later Foxhall and, eventually Vauxhall.
We walked across Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, today a pleasant park, but which, from the mid-17th century to the mid-19th century had been a famous gardens and place of entertainment. It was said to be a favourite of Sir Christopher Wren. We discovered this rather fine piece of wood carving protruding from the grass. It looks as if it is the stump of a tree that has been carved to represent a fire-breathing dragon. I could not see any indication of the artist’s name but engraved below it are the words “Saint George’s Day Festival 2014”.
On the east side of Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens is the Vauxhall City Farm. Our first glimpse of the inmates was of this alpaca grazing in its compound. How many city farms are there in London? That’s not an easy question to answer because it depends on how your define a city farm. It’s probably safe to say that there are more than 12 and fewer than 20.
It’s also not easy to say what animals you can expect to see in a city farm. There will usually be examples of the more common farm animals such as sheep, goats, pigs, ducks and chickens though relatively few seem to have cows or bulls. In addition, they may have more exotic species such as llamas, alpacas, guinea fowl and runner ducks.
City farms are characterized by their educational intent which covers not only animal welfare but also general environmental concern. There is usually plenty of information on display and staff, who present more like keepers in a zoo than farm hands in the traditional sense, may give talks and be on hand to answer questions.
An indication of wider environmental concerns is the presence of “bug hotels” to provide living quarters for the smaller members of the community.
It is not always easy to get a good photo (or even a good view) of your favourite animals because they usually reside in comfortably sized enclosures and move about freely within them. You have to keep a watchful eye and take your chance when it comes.
Something else that makes life a little difficult for the photographer is that city farms are likely to be crowded, especially at weekends and in fine weather. Many a good shot has been ruined by people stepping in front of the camera at the critical moment! This is a good, though, because it means that people are interested in seeing the animals and by doing so they learn about them. Surveys have shown lamentable ignorance among school children who were unaware that milk came from cows or could not put a name to sheep and other common species.
A clear difference between the traditional farm and the city farm is how the animals react to you. On a traditional farm, a stranger in unlikely to get anywhere near the sheep as these shy creatures will run away from him. The opposite occurs on the city farm: even the sheep will approach you and make eyes at you! This is cupboard love, of course, as they are hoping for a snack.
There are more ways of reacting to a human audience than asking for food. This turkey cock, for example, seeing that he had an audience, began his display routine, as he would in front of a hen. He was clearly saying “Look how magnificent I am!” (Click to see the other pictures.)
City farms are busy places and, as on any farm, there is a lot of work to do. They run on a shoestring and welcome volunteers to support the regular staff.
I don’t know where this pair of goats was off to but the animals were obviously excited and rarin’ to go. This energy and interest shows that the inmates are well cared for and are healthy.
We decided we had had enough of the heat and took a bus home for a rest and a cup of tea!