Tuesday, 28 June 2011

If you go down to the woods today. Sway Treacle Mining

There is no doubt about it, I live in a pretty strange part of the world. Don't get me wrong, I love it here, I've lived here since I was a small boy. The New Forest is a beautiful part of the U.K. and as a result it has attracted over the years some pretty wonderful people. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had a house in the forest and Alice Liddle (Alice in Wonderland) is buried in Lyndhurst Churchyard. But there are stranger stories that I have heard which definitely need further investigation. Sway Treacle Mines is one such tale.
Each time I've heard the tale told, the listener usually has a peculiar grin which is then followed by a strange chicken-like-laughter known as chuckling (if you've never heard a chicken laugh you need to get here soon!) I must confess that the first time I heard the tale I suffered the same symptoms. However, since receiving a mysterious phone call last Sunday I fear that my laughter may have been a little premature.
The phone call was from a Mr Tate, a resident of Sway for many years. He asked me to meet him at a secret location, where, he said 'the truth of the myth would be proved'.
I met Mr Tate late last Monday, just before dusk outside of Setthorns enclosure. He then led me to the secret location, about a mile into the enclosure, he then turned and led me to a small bush like shrub and beckoned me closer. 'This is it!' He explained. 'This is the key to the story. This is the missing plant of the Forest - the treacaldii suagardii'!
Not being an expert on such matters, I enquired why nobody else had ever mentioned the existence of such a plant. Mr Tate explained that the plant name had been removed from all records during the eighteenth century. The reason for this was because of the conspiracy set up by the sugar importers. The plant has a very sweet flavour and a natural stickiness, the sugar importers feared that if such a plant were to become widespread, then obviously their business would suffer.
When I asked Mr Tate how he had come to know of such a plant, he admitted that he had been searching for it constantly for the last 50 years. He'd come to know of it's existence from his grandfather, a My Llyle, who had sworn him to secrecy during his lifetime.
I took a closer look at this amazing plant and discovered that it was, in fact, slowly but surely dying. Mr Tate said that this was probably due to the light - the opening in the tree cover had only recently occured and the extra light was not helping the rare plants survival.
The myth of the treacle mines themselves was explained: A few members of the New Forest community started to dig holes within the woods, the holes would then be covered and camouflaged and the forbidden plant grown within them. A rare blend of black market treacle followed which was richly sought after.
Unfortunately, the black market treacle smugglers were to come to a sticky end! The sugar importers employed a group of men known as the 'trafia', their job was to seek out and destroy all 'mines' and their plants. Needless to say, they were very successful and the 'treacaldii sugardii' was not seen or heard of again, until now of course.
Mr Tate and myself took the precaution of removing this last plant from the forest floor to protect it from prying eyes and heavy feet. I hope that Mr Tate will have success in propagating further plants and, who knows, there could well be treacle mines in Sway once more.
Sway is a wonderful place. I'm going to show you around it here today. This picture on the right was taken in Setthorns and this one here is taken at Longslade bottom.
I got a little nostalgic today as I reseached this piece and I thought you might like this vid I made, sorry about the wind noise...


  1. Look after that little plant! LOL

  2. Mr Tate sounds like a right character. Full of stories I bet just waiting to sprout.