Tales from the Clunch Pit

This article appeared originally in the June 2002 edition of the Bulletin, and records recollections by Ray Parcell.

transformation aided by 66 woolly volunteers

Orwell Clunch Pit, so Ray Parcell tells me, is now looking as it did thirty years ago, before hawthorn, privet and brambles covered the flower-scattered chalk grassland. The most recent transformation has largely been accomplished by English Nature, aided by 66 woolly volunteers, but the Breed family's cattle used to graze the pit and keep the scrub in check when Ray was a boy. The cattle used to come down to drink at the trough in the yard of Quarry Farm, which stood on the High Street, just behind the mulberry tree. In winter time Sid Neaves and Clifford and Roland Breed would cut back any growth not dealt with by the livestock and Orwell children were able to wear the backsides out of their trousers, sliding down the chalky slopes in summer or tobogganing in winter.

Photo:The Clunch Pit in the 1930s

The Clunch Pit in the 1930s

Winters were more severe in the 1940s and 50s and the pit was sometimes filled to a considerable depth with snow. On a good toboggan run, starting from the kissing gate into the Glebe field, it was possible to speed down the west end of the pit, cut across the back of Quarry farm (now the garden of No.19 High Street) and turn sharply into the lane leading down from the pit to the High Street, ending up across the road at the village hall – safe enough in the days when there was little traffic. This was great fun, unless one got too ambitious as did Mick Sutton and friends.

Unfortunately , it was too fast and heavy

Mick built a nine-man sledge and launched it, fully laden, down the usual route. Unfortunately, it was too fast and heavy to take the sharp turn down Quarry Lane and carried its passengers headlong through a hedge and a barbed wire fence. After nearly forty years Ray still hasn't forgotten the scratches and bruises he received. He also remembers the 1953 Coronation bonfire in the Clunch pit. The village had celebrated the event at Manor Farm during the afternoon, despite pouring rain, and everyone made their way up to the pit in the evening, eagerly anticipating the lighting of an enormous bonfire, built by the local building firm of Rayner & Bullen. However, an enterprising local lad - who shall be nameless - had decided to get the fire going early, and when the crowds arrived there was little left but glowing embers.

The caves have been an attraction to children for generations

The caves in the chalk face of the pit have been an attraction for children for generations. We don't know who excavated them, but Ray Parcell's grand father played in them just after the First World War. The Clunch pit is of course much older than that. It is shown on the Chicheley Estate map of 1686 as The Quarrie and is no doubt the source of the clunch stone that can be seen in the chimney stacks and walls of several old Orwell houses. The Enclosure Award, made in 1837, confirmed that the pit, and another on the south side of the Cambridge Road at Orwell Hill, belonged to the parish and was for the use of the parish vestry and residents. This valuable amenity was nearly lost to the village when Quarry farm was developed for housing, but through the timely intervention of Cliff Bullen, Alan Miller and Joe Brown the Clunch pit was secured for our leisure and recreational use. Enjoy it!

This page was added by Martin Grigor on 28/12/2012.

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