Workday leader Mags reports:

There was a very impressive turnout for the workday, so thanks to everyone who came out for a Sunday in the woods at Benthall. The task was preparatory work for the removal of larger trees suffering from ash dieback – cut a swathe through to the ‘gator’.

… it’s through there somewhere

As I said at the time … I think I was absent the day they were handing out the mountain goat gene. This is not my favourate environment, but thankfully it was fairly dry, and not too slippery. The group split into two – tackling the work from both ends. Not showing favouritism, I spent a lot of time walking between the two ends, and calling cake o’clock halfway between, on the path.

Baking … a great way to use up leftovers!

There was a point before lunch when Nick seemed to spend a long time surveying our progress. Fingers crossed, I half expected him to say … Sorry, it’s in the wrong place. Put it all back and start again. With hindsight though, we had found the trees that had been marked up with hazard tape. Phew!

Fingers crossed

At lunchtime there were concerns that we would run out of work. No problem! Just expand the working area, get trees tangled up and burn, burn, burn.

I have no idea if the before and after photos are actually looking in the same direction, but I’m going to claim a WIN!

…Apparently a vehicle will be able to get through there now! (Ed.)

Workday leader Matthew describes what turned out to be a rather novel Sunday…..

SSNTV can take whatever is thrown at it. Pouring rain. Gale-force winds. Driving hail. A single cake for cake-a-clock. So the (soon-to-be-rectified- ?) fuel situation was not stopping 10 members from attending the workday at Morville. In fact we had some who journeyed by electric and some with hybrid cars.

The work was a continuation of that from the previous week. The tall ladders were still on site, having come from NT Dudmaston.  That meant we could attack more shrubs and trees which had put on too much growth since their last pruning. There was a large fig by the Hall, being careful to take care with the rambling rose. 

The rest of the volunteers worked their way along the long wall to the orchard, pruning fruit trees, beech hedge and weeding as they went. Is there anything taller than Gordon – yes Gordon and it wasn’t even Bonfire weekend – on top of a very tall ladder? 

Paul and Sharon had not volunteered at Morville before and liked the site as we all do – may be they were convinced by the friendly black labrador to which they took a shine.

Slight blot on the landscape this weekend was that the Bridgnorth motorcycle scambling club had permission to hold an event close to the Hall  – in the adjoining field in fact! Good job that this is not a regular occurrence. Every so often there was a huge roar as numerous bikes were obviously racing away from their start line.   In between there was more than a just a gentle hum!  Mel called the landowner to see when the last race would be – well it must have been a long last event, as it should have started at 2.30, but the noise finally calmed down after 3pm – and the landowner was away in Scotland on holiday…..!

So with the noise nuisance for the other tenants around the Hall on what was trying its hardest to be a sunny warmish day already confirmed, the Group decided on a bonfire among the compost heaps to burn all the green brash – clouds of smoke interspersed with heavy rain showers became the other feature of the day.

There is of course, no quick departure from Morville, with Melanie and Andrew showing us great hospitality after the workday, to add to the lovely home-made cakes at a late-ish cake o’clock. The Delia-inspired scones, with jam and clotted cream went down a treat.  Thanks for that!

Thanks to all for turning out today, the new faces and those returning for a second dose having been out in the sunshine the previous week.

PS: need to add reference to the glowing praise received after the two workdays from Mel:

Once again a huge thank you from Andy and I for not just one, but TWO back to back visits from the SSNTV to the gardens here.   I know I say it every time, but I never cease to be amazed at home much work you do in a day, it’s transformational and such an incredible help to me in keeping this place in check. The value of your time in paid help would equate to thousands of pounds. The Gardens look neat and well tended and the shrubs have all been given such wonderful haircuts.   I am hugely grateful and appreciative of all your efforts, delivered with such good humour and camaraderie that it’s always an absolute pleasure to welcome you all here and share the day with you, whatever the weather decides to throw at us – and we have pretty much had everything other than snow over the last few months haven’t we?!   Please pass on my thanks to all that came and especially to the new faces who I hadn’t met before, I hope the Moto X going on in the background last Sunday didn’t leave anyone with a headache!   With very best wishes and looking forward to seeing you all on 4th December….

A rare Sunday for SSNTV, in a change to the published programme we were double-booked at another NT place – and since apparently cut & burn has to give way to Brownies (the little ones, with yellow badges that is, not the cakes), Mel didn’t need asking more than once to get the other kind ready as the Group pitched up at Morville Hall for the first of what will be two consecutive visits.

Workday leader Chris – yes, AGM Chair only the night before – we keep ’em busy don’t you know, continues the tale:

Another bright and sunny day greeted SSNTV on arrival – a day which was to be a scorcher for some!

After a brief tour of the garden, we set to work cutting back shrubs in the main borders either side of the central path; this was no small job and, to get the tops of some, required the use of the two three-legged ladders – kindly supplied and delivered by Guy from NT Dudmaston.  

Thankfully, some bushes required no ladders, being taken down to ground level. The resulting mass of vegetation was dragged across the lawn to be consumed by fire on a prior burn site next to the old swimming pool. The flames held good with a steady supply of dry alder removed from around the ornamental canal from the previous August workday. As there was quite a lot of smoke, it was helpful the bonfire site was some distance from the Hall; I’m not sure Mel wanted that much fumigation!  The work continued all day in sunshine with the bonfire attendees looking ever more red-faced every time there was a break for tea/coffee and cake.

Some saw it as an artistic challenge to sculp the shrubs into new shapes.  Most took on the task of balancing atop the large ladders.  By the end of the day the sun streaming through the varied coloured shrubs remaining was evidence of a job well done.

Many thanks to Mel for making us so welcome, as ever, and for the steady flow of tea and coffee – with even a slice of lemon for the peppermint tea. The cakes were plentiful, varied (flapjack, rocky road, apple & cream sponge, and Earl Grey cake for the very sophisticated!) and extremely welcome – I enjoyed each one so I know!

For those that missed out, I can only encourage you to make the journey this coming Sunday – petrol permitting, there’s still plenty more to go at  – as an added encouragement, some of the apples in the adjacent orchard may also be ready to pick.

AGM with Cake and…

As well as a Sunday workday, this last weekend was the time for a face-to-face (but not too close!) SSNTV AGM held at Wightwick Manor.

With a change in some of the Committee roles, it was a chance to say particular thank yous to Chair, Chris B for his efforts during lockdown and special thanks to long-server Dot, founder member, one-time Treasurer and most recently Secretary.

There was a special cake-o’clock….

Treasurer Peter, tried but failed to get Chris to accept his online banking token, it having stayed in the drawer all year….

And then what your member contributions added up to…an embossed swiss army knife….

….flowers and choc’s all around!

For the record, Committee now comprises:

ChairRussell B
Vice ChairMatt H
TreasurerPeter O
SecretaryChris(tine) B
Programme Helen P
ToolsDave M
HoursMags C
PublicityMatthew H
Web Matt & Russell

Chairman Chris, one of our two workday leaders tells the tale of a two – or for some, three-day weekend – continuing the work started on our Kinver visit of 5th September …..

The Rock House at Vale’s Rock and Beyond ……..

Having never visited the rock houses at Kinver this was a chance to not only undertake some physical activity but also to enjoy an overnight stay.

The Trust are starting an archaeological survey of the tremendously overgrown site of some as yet unrestored rock houses at Vales Rock. These currently only attract people in search of a quiet, unobserved hidey-hole!  

In preparation for the archaeologists’ visit, 11 members turned up on a bright and warm Saturday morning to undertake the task of clearing and burning any material unlikely to have been part of life in the Rock Houses and surrounding gardens/allotment/orchard up until the middle part of the last century. This inevitably meant gathering up litter and, as this wag suggested, checking every discarded beer can for its sell-by date!

Including the debris from the previous workday, there was a huge amount to burn and the fire, held in a metal tumbril, almost kept pace but just kept getting hotter.  Come the end of the first afternoon, few things seemed nicer than the prospect of a hot shower, but for those staying, unsurprisingly, the Rock Houses had none! 

Ever resourceful, Ewan had arranged showers with a local farmer and after a short drive through a herd of docile cattle we found ourselves in the middle of a field with a portable shower unit and several sheep. Having switched on the shower, the farmer advised us to leave it running to avoid malfunction.  Three people managed to get through the process (ladies first, well 1st and 3rd, as I stopped the gap in the middle) before the malfunction turned up anyway; proved immutable to all efforts to repair it; and Neil ended his shower with cold water.  Our Vice-chair braved his, but the rest of the group baulked.  

The changing fortunes of the shower did, however, allow a discussion regarding the field itself, its numerous small brick structures (valves as it turned out) and nettles.  The farmer explained that the plot was used to dispose of sewerage for almost 200 years, initially from Stourbridge and then from Dudley as well.  The consequent heavy metal contamination means the field can only be grazed – not even pigs are allowed to root around.  Amazing what you can learn whilst trying to get clean!

Then it was back to base, to set up camp for the night in two of the public accessible rock houses at Holy Austin – the resident bats needing a whole house to themselves – a special treat for us for all our hard work to be allowed to stay! Spurning the idea of hanging from the ceiling, we elected for airbeds and camp beds; only one collapse. An extremely welcome supper was provided by Ewan with some fabulous local bangers and burgers all masterfully cooked over the BBQ, on the rock house café terrace. With a clear, mild and windless evening, we were able to enjoy the views and seclusion until bed called around midnight.

The next morning only the early risers had another cold shower – heavy rain this time! – as they made their way to the facilities. But on the upside, we were treated to more good food (bacon sandwiches, toast with jam) with lashings of delicious tea and coffee from the café, where we very nearly gained a new SSNTV recruit, as the weather brightened. 

Back to the worksite for Day Two – 14 volunteers this time – we were joined by NT archaeologist Viviana – the firepit taking only minutes to revive despite its overnight dowsing.  Getting the aching limbs going was helped by the thought of cakes – in plentiful supply unlike the previous day and the rewarding ability to increasingly see the site as gaps appeared between the shrubs and trees and sunlight streamed in.  

Lunch came and went with yet more cake (a home-made, marrow-based concoction) and then it was a matter of containing the fire ready for departure.

The weekend was a great success and thoroughly enjoyed by all – there is already talk of a repeat! As ever, many thanks to Ewan for organising, cooking & for cake (thanks too Mr Chair): to the catering ladies (and potential new recruit) in the café: and SSNTV Treasurer for co-ordinating it all.

Note: Some volunteers returned on Monday to help continue the burn. It’s been confirmed that all the cut brash has now been consumed by fire; and that seven bags of rubbish were taken off site; …and that all those above-mentioned sell-by dates had indeed expired!

All that remains now is to await the report of the external archaeologists to see what they find.  We’ll let you know….

Because I saw that someone else wrote about this topic elsewhere, I thought I’d just make sure everyone is aware – at our recent anniversary bash we handed out “thank you’s” for volunteering efforts over time ( …ok, so perhaps not every Sunday.. )

These totalled ....345 years….

Quite an achievement – Well Done again to all those concerned, they know who they are (including our outgoing Chair)!

So the first real cut and burn of this season’s workdays has come and gone!

All the group’s tools were out last Sunday (in joke) as, whilst ranger Mike was sunning himself on holiday, SSNTV ventured back to Dudmaston and Bonemill, Dudmaston Bank in particular near to Comer Wood to thin and help to regenerate the woodland.

It was a chance to see the impact of time away because of Covid too, as those who made it out to the last Christmas work weekend – now which year was that? – and were returning on Sunday, struggled to recognise the patch the group had cleared on the last visit. There was head-high himalayan balsam which had quickly taken the place of the previously weather damaged, felled trees and there seemed to be plenty more candidate trees to clear away.

Soon there was a sizeable fire eating up the damaged wood and hot enough to burn up the unwanted green shrubbery.  As autumn temperatures hadn’t quite arrived yet, during the day there was a gradual drift away from the strenuous tree felling and heat of the burning pyre, towards the slightly less demanding task of pulling the shallow-rooted balsam from the soil.

We were joined by new assistant ranger Sophie and one of the Dudmaston volunteer ranger team.  In fact Sophie managed a very passable impression of ranger Mike,  as she whipped round the site removing large stems at ground level with an argumentative chainsaw.

Thanks to Mags for some excellent bread pudding at cake o’clock – it’s amazing what you can do with leftovers (from our recent 40th anniversary bash).

By the end of the day the site almost looked like how we had left it the last time in 2019… oops, no, got my year wrong should read 2020!

Next up, back to Kinver for a weekend double-header amongst the sandstone rock houses.


On Sunday eleven SSNTV volunteers headed out to Kinver Edge for the first of three September visits starting the new cutting (and burning) season, Yay!! However this time, writes workday leader Matt, we had even more extra special treats in store………

  1. We were starting work around the Vale’s Rock rock-houses in an area that is currently not normally open to the public!!
  2. We were going to be hunting for archaeology!!!!!
  3. Lead Ranger Ewan had organised an awesome cake for us!!!!!!!!!!

Working with Ewan and NT archaeologist Janine, our task was to start to clear through the dense undergrowth in front of the houses and seek out any lost garden features ready for a team of archaeologists and historians to investigate further in a few weeks time.

Janine had brought copies of a number of historic maps showing the position of the garden areas, but we had no idea what might still remain as the last residents had permanently moved out of the houses in the 1950s and the gardens left to go wild.

This time round we were cutting and stacking (burning next time!) , so we made good progress breaking into the undergrowth from multiple points of entry. By cake o’clock we had uncovered some rusting metal tanks and stone pipe work and by the time Ewan’s fabulous cake arrived at lunchtime we’d found possible garden terraces, a couple of walls, some steps and other stone and concrete remains.

For the afternoon we cleared further round the garden area, removing the Himalayan balsam, pruning some of the larger trees and cutting back more of the invading scrub. Having already made a vast difference to the area during this workday we are really looking forward to coming back and continuing this exciting work.


Just been reading that the Exeter group also reached 40 this year:

They like cake too!

Read more here:

The 40th anniversary of the Group’s founding at Wightwick Manor has fallen during the Covid lockdowns. After a couple of belated attempts a fairly small and intimate gathering was held in a field adjoining the grounds of – not the Wolverhampton manor house – but Benthall Hall, Broseley near Ironbridge on Sunday.

The sun shone, as duly expected on the righteous and a good time was had by past and present members of the Group who attended the festivities.

There was much cake, as expected, also more than a fair amount of sandwiches, pork pies, cheese, pink fizz, quiches, samosas, sausage rolls,…need I go on.

Check out this link again for more photos appearing on this page to record for posterity of all those who were there!

So here’s just a few….

Not just one but two special cakes ( much can you read? ….tip: link with the coloured sweatshirts below..)

Getting going…

People watching….

Food, food, glorious food….

There was a bit of speeches (thanks Mr Chair and Ranger Al from NT) and silly games (thanks Dave)

Reminiscing;… and just a few of the Group’s clothing variations over time on view on the day (check with that cake…)