Essential Wessex: Domestic Pig Breeds

Wessex is home to many breeds of domestic pig. Some of the most prominent are as follows.

The Berkshire Pig (illustrated) is one of the oldest breeds of domestic pig in Britain, and the first to have pedigrees recorded in herd books (a development which occurred much later than it did for other species of livestock, due to pigs being seen as a peasant's animal). It originated around Reading in the early 18th century, when native breeds were crossed with imported pigs from East Asia.

The Gloucestershire Old Spot is called "old" because it has been around since time immemorial. Its meat is geographically protected, due to traders fraudulently mislabelling the meat of other breeds as GOS meat.

The Hampshire Hog actually originated around the Scottish border. but was exported to North America from Hampshire. It is so identified with the county that its inhabitants are referred to as Hampshire Hogs.

Closely related to the Berkshire pig is the Oxford Sandy and Black. This breed was on the verge of extinction in 1985, when a Breed Society was formed. Thanks to the Society's efforts, numbers are on the increase, though it is still among the rarest of breeds. It is sometimes nicknamed the Plum Pudding, because of its distinctive colouring,

Finally, the Wessex Saddleback is now extinct in the United Kingdom, though it survives in Australia and New Zealand. It was traditionally farmed for bacon and ham,

Essential Wessex: Feral Ponies

Wessex is home to many breeds of feral pony, on Exmoor, Dartmoor, Lundy and in the New Forest.

Ponies have existed in the New Forest since the end of the last Ice Age. Currently, all New Forest ponies are owned collectively by the Foresters who have right of pasture over common land. The Court of Verderers appoints five Agisters to look after the ponies, each covering a different area of the Forest.

New Forest ponies formed the basis of the breeding stock for Lundy Ponies in the 1920s., crossed with a Welsh Mountain stallion. Exmoor or Dartmoor ponies would have been closer geographically, but the owner of the Island at the time, Martin Coles Harman, wanted a larger breed, able to cope with the relatively harsh conditions on Lundy.

Fossil remains of Exmoor ponies have been found dating back to around 50,000 BC. They are smaller than New Forest or Lundy ponies, but are agile and sturdy. They were used as pit ponies in the past.

Finally, Dartmoor ponies were also used by tin miners, and make excellent foundation stock for riding ponies. Their numbers are in steep decline, however, from around 5000 in 1900 to 800 today. The Dartmoor Pony Society and the Duchy of Cornwall are currently engaged in a breeding programme to try and reverse this trend.

Wessex Attractions: Poole Harbour

Poole Harbour is the largest natural harbour in Europe, a haven for wildlife and watercraft alike. It features a marina for yachts, an area for jet-skis and personal watercraft, and another for wind- and kite-surfing.

The area is rich in wildlife. Nearby Brownsea Island will feature in its own blog post in due course, but the harbour itself is an SSSI, a SPA and a RAMSAR site. A mile offshore is a marine conservation where over 40 species of fish (including rays and black bream), 50 species of seaweed, and 40 species of sponge and sea anemone can be found, along with lobsters, oysters and crabs.

Birdlife includes cormorants, teal, great crested grebes and spoonbills (see photo above). The latter are attracted by the warm, shallow water. Unfortunately, this shallowness makes the area uncongenial for divers. A project is currently underway to reintroduce a breeding population of ospreys, with birds translocated from Scotland.

A marina guide detailing all the harbour's facilities is available from the tourist information office.

Wessex Worthies: John Locke

John Locke (1632-1704) of Wrington in Somerset is often called the "father of liberalism", though he is noted more as an apologist for the Glorious Revolution of 1688 than as an originator of Enlightenment thought. His work attracted comparatively little attention during his lifetime, but garnered renewed interest in the period leading up to the American War of Independence.

Locke's work is often contrasted with that of another Wessex-born philosopher, Thomas Hobbes. Both men believed that humanity originally existed in a state of nature where all people were equal and free, But where Hobbes believed that this led to rampant egoism that needed a strong despot to control it, Locke was far more optimistic. For him, the purpose of the state was to secure the natural rights of the individual. He was a supporter of a constitutional monarchy, and of religious toleration, but only for the different Protestant denominations. Catholics and atheists were still considered to be beyond the pale.

Phrases from Locke's Two Treatises on Government later found their way into the American Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson considered him to be one of the three greatest men who ever lived, along with Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton. However, the left-wing American historian Howard Zinn has accused him of overlooking disparities of wealth in his writings on equality, while from the right, Roger Scruton has criticised his ideas about the Social Contract for concentrating solely on the living, while ignoring the needs of those yet to be born.

However, even Locke's critics are forced to acknowledge his immense contribution to modern thought, Thanks largely to the worldwide influence of the United States his writings have, for good or ill, helped to define the global neoliberal order.

Essential Wessex: Wessex Culture

Wessex culture in this context does not mean the wider sense of anything to do with the region's history, heritage or arts scene. Rather, it refers to the early Bronze Age culture of what would later become Wessex.

The term was coined in 1937 by the Hampshire-born archaeologist Stuart Piggott, in an influential paper for the Prehistoric Society entitled The Early Bronze Age in Wessex. Piggott was best known for his part in the excavations at Sutton Hoo, and was portrayed by Ben Chaplin in the Netflix film The Dig.

Wessex culture was characterised by burials in richly-furnished barrows, decorated with gold, copper and amber. It is related to the Hilversum culture of the Low Countries. It is usually subdivided into two phases, from c2000-1650 BC, closely associated with the building of Stonehenge, and from c1650-1400 BC, though this subdivision has been questioned. In the early stages of prehistoric studies, it had been thought that the Wessex culture constituted a distinct material culture, but nowadays, it is believed more to refer to an elite social class.

Regardless of changes in archaeological thought, the prehistoric landscape of Wessex is one of the region's most distinctive features, and was the inspiration for Tolkien's Barrow-Downs.