Burrow Hurdle by H. R. Robertson. Source: Life on the Upper Thames. Text and formatting by George P. Landow, [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the University of Toronto and the Internet Archive and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite it in a print one.]

"Wide rent, the clouds
Pour a whole flood; and yet, its flame unqnench'd,
The unconquerable lightning struggles through,
Ragged and fierce." — Thomson.

The great extent of some of the meadows by the side of the river, renders the burrow-hurdle, as it is called, a necessity for the boy whose duty it is to mind the herds there pastured. For instance, the field in which our sketch for this subject was made is more than three hundred acres in area, and is without any trees except those situate at its extreme limits. Were it not for the temporary protection afforded by his burrow-hurdle, the poor boy would be absolutely without shelter, "come rain; hail, or shine" (his own expression), when in the middle of this great meadow.

It frequently happens that certain people have privilege of pasturage in these cases, similar to common rights, which extend only to particular parts of the meadow. The boundary lines of these properties are accordingly marked by large white stones, placed at some distance from each other, and crossing the field in different directions. It is, of course, the lad's business to see that the cattle belongfing to the various owners do not stray from their proper ground. Reeds of the previous year's growth and sedge thickly matted together form the thatch of this simplest of roofs, which is supported by a single pole placed at such an angle as naturally enables the weight it carries to keep it in position. It can be moved round, with very little exertion, just as inconvenience from sun or wind may render desirable.

On one occasion, when we gladly took refuge under a burrow-hurdle from a passing thunder-storm, and chatted with the rightful tenant, we told him that we thought his life a very pleasant one, and that when painting failed we intended to take to cow-keeping. He seriously advised us to think twice before deciding, telling us confidentially that "cows is the most mischiefiul beastes as is." We were somewhat surprised at such a sweeping assertion, as we had always regarded the placid herd as of a totally opposite character; but we gathered from our young friend that the demon of mischief haimts them with an inordinate longing for "fresh fields and pastures new." "When making for a gap in a hedge, it seems, they display considerable cunning. Proceeding slily at a very measured pace, and stopping occasionally to divert suspicion, till they have gone too far to be overtaken, they suddenly make a rush for it, as fast as their legs can carry them. The boy assured me that, on these occasions, they calculate distances wonderfully. Troubles arise too from the fact of part of the meadow bordering on the river. It often happens that a bull from the other side will swim the stream and have a battle royal with the autocrat of the neighbouring herd. As one might guess, it is a task of no slight difficulty to separate the combatants and to beat back the intruder to his own territory. Again, owing to the banks of the river being undermined by the rats and washed away by the current, a cow or sheep feeding close to the edge sometimes falls into the water. The boy has then to run quickly to fetch assistance, in order to extricate the animal before it gets drowned. Any one who attempts to pull out a sheep in this predicament will, if not very careful, find that he himself will be probably pulled in, owing to the additional weight of the fleece when frill of water; not but what the creature seems to have sense enough to understand that one's intentions are friendly. We asked the lad what were the names of the cows in his charge, and could not help being charmed with his string of sweet old-fashioned names, that seemed to have all the fragrance of the meadow about them, and doubtless have been borne by each successive herd since the days of Chaucer, and before. We can recall some of them, as Daisy, Damsel, and Dumpling; Blossom, Butterfly, and Beauty; Snowball and Strawberry; Primrose and Pretty-maid. These, "the sweetest of names, and that carry a perfume in the mention," are common to very many herds throughout the country at the same time; indeed, we have come across few others but what happen to be descriptive of some individual peculiarity of the animal in question.

On the Upper Thames the word "burrow " is used as an adjective in conjunction with other substantives; or "simply of itself," as in the expression, "Come here, it is more burrow under this hedge."


Robertson, H. R. Life on the Upper Thames. London: Virtue, Spalding, & Co., 1875.Internet Archive digitized from a copy in the University of Toronto Library.

Last modified 7 May 2012