In this photograph the figure of the woman bending down to collect water in a bucket draws the eye. It’s a moment ‘frozen in time’ and Ravilious would often catch his subjects in this way. The woman isn’t looking at the camera; in fact Ravilious’s subjects were often so used to him being around them as they worked that they didn’t hear or notice the camera shutter. They were surprisingly at ease with the artist in their midst.
What seems strange when we look at this image today is what she is wearing. The well made, good quality overcoat looks incongruous with the action of collecting water from a no doubt muddy river bank and of course she is also wearing wellington boots. But at the time it would be entirely practical, keeping her both warm and dry. What sort of clothing would we wear today to do this kind of work?
The scene is at Cawsey’s Meeth on the River Mole, says long standing local resident John Rainger. He says there is a mill close to the scene which as far as he can remember has always been derelict; but when in use it was an ‘undershot’ wheel, with flat paddles dragged along by the flow of water.
Cawsey’s Meeth is also the name of the farm which had the land on this spot, and John has identified the woman in the photograph as Brenda Herniman, who used to farm there. He notes the fact she’s gathering water and wonders if she might possibly have had chickens kept nearby.
The composition leads your eye back upstream, following the course of the tree-lined river. There is the familiar sight of an old hedgebank to the right of the image and a fallen tree in the foreground also acts as a focal point. It’s presumably lying in the direction of the river’s flow, its exposed roots collecting the debris carried past by the water. Fallen trees are a fairly common site on rivers in north Devon, especially so after storms and heavy rainfall. Are they more common now than in previous years due to environmental changes?