James Keable of Cratfield and Selina Boast of Little Linstead were married in 1887 in Cratfield. Selena was recorded as age 20 and James was 25. Since her birth is recorded for 1870, she was actually married when she was only 17. Their first child Ellen Maria was born in Cratfield two years lafter their marriage. The couple moved from Cratfield to Great Linstead in 1890 to occupy one of the three Low Farm cottages. This was the year in which their second daughter May was born.

During the 15 years that the Keables are recorded in Great Linstead and from the census information Selina gave birth to the following six children:

Frances born in 1893;
Edward born in 1897;
Alberta born in 1896;
Harry born in 1899;
Clarence born in 1900;
and Selina born in 1904.

The couple baptised three children, Ellen (1889), Francis (1894) and May Elizabeth (1895), in Cratfield. During this period, three children died; Edward when he was only a week old, Ellen at the age of 15, and Selina survived only 2 hours. A high rate of infant mortality was a fact of life in this community. Of the last thirty burials recorded in the parish register, two thirds were of children, and most of them were under three years of age.

In the 1901 census James is described as ‘an ordinary agricultural labourer. Information from the censuses points to the high mobility of farm labour at this time. For example, the Mowers, the Keable's next door neighbours in 1901, a family of four, had four different birthplaces; Cookey, Westhall, Walpole and Ubbeston.

We should perhaps reflect on the travails of the Keable family in relation to the day to day medical worries of our present long-lifespan culture. Can we match Selina Keable’s fear of knowing she had a fifty percent chance of loosing her next-born child against today's unquantifiable anxieties about occupational health and safety, the impact of environmental toxins on ‘unnatural’ urban and rural communities, and fears of GM crops entering the food chain. The Keable’s message is that we have been encouraged to adopt too high a standard for what counts as natural.

With regards nature in old time Great Linstead, no doubt there is now less of it in hedgerows and pasture, but then, as now, the ‘wildlife experience’ was a form of recreation best enjoyed by those with the time and resources to leave their jobs behind. Working the land with one’s own hands does not guarantee eyes to see nature that is all around us. It still requires learning to expunge the belief that we are separate from nature, an idea that is likely to reinforce environmentally irresponsible behaviour. This was not a message Ellen and her siblings would have received in school or home. Even today, teachers struggle to develop an attitude in their students that the interests of people are not necessarily identical to those of every other creature or of the earth itself.


Epitaph for Ellen Keable of Great Linstead

(buried 22 October, 1904 age 15 years)

This place is special
In its emptiness,
Nature’s Edenic narrative weakened
Through its centuries of sameness.
No trees upon this hill,
No bramble berries,
No birds among the bowers,
No sweet disorder of bushes
Gird a ruined tower.

Letting light
On the olden shapes
Of joy and woe,
A flattened stone,
And a trampled path through
Corn and other clusters
That delight the ploughman,
Now dress this hill.
These are cracks and chinks
Which time has made
On consecrated ground,
Like a sick rose that smiling died.
Forsaking faith and hope,
A Christian fountain dried.
An unmarked end
To local Christendom.

There was no thirst,
When, parched without reason,
God’s glory faded
In the split of nature
From supernatural grace

Below the combine’s dust,
Ellen’s bones hasten to be so,
With the race of saints she knew.
Now and again,
A serious sacrament
Would add significance
To her churchless faintness.
Engaging transient consumers,
By inserting otherness
Into their vacant naturedom.