Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Walking through time

Map of early Southampton from Wikimedia Commons.

I had a strange end to my evening yesterday. We came up to bed early (I was really tired). I just wanted to look up something on the computer - two boundary stones I'd seen marked on an old (1835) map of Southampton (my home town) - the Bosell Cross Stone and the Haven stone. I'd never heard of either, so curiosity got the better of me. I found out about them (but Lord knows what happened to them, as they faded from memory, unlike some other places such as the village of Hill on the western borders of the town which ended up giving its name to busy Hill Lane.

Anyway, I digress. I got a Google map up of where I used to go riding, at Testwood. I was horrified to find that though the lane was largely unchanged, where the riding school had been was just a tangle of undergrowth and some sagging barbed wire. When I drove down there 8 or so years back, the outbuildings and stables were still standing although it was overgrown. Now there's no trace of them. It upset me beyond belief.

I knew I wouldn't sleep with that on my mind . . . so I Googled up a map of the area where I used to live in Southampton, starting at old Mr Stark's, where we kept our first ponies. The old couple are long dead - he was in his very late 70s/early 80s in the late 1960s. He had been a blacksmith in WW1 and one of the lucky ones that survived. I like to think us girls brightened up his life a bit, especially when the rats ran over our wellies when we went into the swill room (he kept pigs and we kept our pony feed with his pig feed) with only feeble torches for light on winter nights. We screamed like Banshees!!! One Christmas he and his wife asked us in for a Mince Pie and gave us a small glass of sherry each and then worried themselves witless that we would get home safely after" having had a drink". We were 16 at the time!

Their bungalow is still there. The 10 acres surrounding it no longer houses hens and black Dexter cattle for fattening, or teenage girls' ponies, but has had Christmas trees planted on part of it and vehicles abandoned in one corner.

Anyway, I popped the "walking person" down outside the field on the map and began walking up Portsmouth road, where all looked pretty much the same. I turned into Grange road and then Shop Lane - a couple of new houses, but the rest of it was comfortingly familiar and the fields either side of Shop Lane hadn't been built on so it must still be Green Belt. Then left into Botley Road, and lots of newbuild houses there - some replacing elderly bungalows which had had big gardens so made for good building plots. One place always looked abandoned and scary, and was surrounded by huge trees (the balsam-scented firs). We used to walk very fast past that one! That's long gone and a couple of big houses in its place.

Down past my old junior school, and the little fields opposite, that the gypsies rented and grew strawberries on (and which we cut across to Mr Stark's as they backed onto his stretch of woodland). I was glad to see they are still fields. When the gypsies bought ponies and grazed them there, we offered to "look after" them and I can remember buying hoof oil and the owners telling us to "put lots of that on!" - as they hadn't paid for it! I can still see those ponies so clearly: Shane, a narrow little palomino of about 12hh, Storm a similarly-sized skewbald and Kerry Blue, who was a grey Irish-bred gelding of about 13.2, with a hogged mane which rubbed our faces like a dandy brush when we jumped him. (The record was 4 foot - we maintained!!! - over a single "pole" (read branch), balanced on old oil drums and bricks, and approached galloping up between the old rows of abandoned strawberries. All bareback with just an ex-Army Surplus bit and a bridle made of a length of rope - the loop of the reins ended half way up Kerry Blue's neck!

My school hadn't changed much, nor had the houses by it - just a few newer ones. I wandered the long way back to my old home, as I had to follow the Google route, so along Orpen Road, which used to be "unadopted" and all muddy gravel and puddles in my time. Past the back of Charly Fadden's house - "don't go in the back garden, there's Adders out there" Mr Fadden senior told us. Past where the Target pub used to be and just the other side of the busy Bursledon Road is still the house where Spitfire inventor R J Mitchell lived. The Target was so named because it was built overlooking where the Rifle target practice area had been in late Victorian times, and Butts Road was named for the Rifle Butts there.

Then down the hill and past the old Co-op and then the little corner shop which was one of the first self-service shops in the 1960s - I can remember my mum going on about it! I still have a little bread-making recipes booklet I bought there in 1971, for 60p - and use it all the time. The refit was quite a change from the corner shop with the little dark brown pony in a "stable" (more like a prison, as it was dark and overgrown by shrubs) out back, that did the deliveries in the 50s. I can remember always looking in to see him when I took the cut past his stable. He had navicular and went the way of all broken down ponies, sadly.

Past Old Don's, "Don't talk to him dear, he's a bit strange - has a metal plate in his head from the war and he likes little girls . . ." Poor chap - he was always trying to give us sweets and entice us into his house, but whether he was what we would now call a paedophile, or just a sad lonely old man with a damaged head and a liking for children, we'll never know. Our parents didn't worry much and we knew better than to go with him.

Past the Ivy Tree - just a big old Hawthorn swarming with ivy - where the travelling gypsies would set up their caravans when they were visiting neighbours in the area. Once a little strip of a field, it had long become overgrown with shrubs and weeds and eventually got covered in housing, as did much of Weston Common. We used to go in and talk to them and they would come selling things to the houses roundabout - I remember swapping a pair of johdpur boots which rubbed me for a lovely arrangement of moss and Primroses that they'd made . . . All under houses now.

Past my old house, looking small and hemmed in on either side now - it stood in about 1/2 an acre when my dad bought it back in the 1950s, and had been the brickworks manager's house once. On one side was a wilderness of Gorse and Damson trees where the Nightingales sang. In those days, the old trackway to the brickworks still ran down past the back of our garden, and the remains of the brickworks buildings were still there, plus the ponds where they had dug for clay. Much of this area of Southampton had been brickworks from the late Victorian period until the 1930s.

Where Queenie Goddard resided behind her lace curtains and Fir Trees, with her tall hedge which was smothered with the white moonlike faces of Greater Bindweed and divided her plot from the prefabs - all gone and replaced with houses. The next corner shop is now turned into a private house again, whilst a tree still remains in Canterbury Avenue which probably even now has my DNA inside it after I was practising being a Dressage Horse and cantering BACKWARDS (as they do!!!) until I met the tree and came to an abrupt halt . . .

Beauchops, where we bought wool, talcum powder, haberdashery and wool, and also paraffin for the heater for the bathroom, is now a Tesco Extra . . . and the rest of the little row of shops is still serving the public too.

Past the Bullseye pub - still there - and past Checkleys corner shop (now a hairdressers') and down Bunny's Hill, where I once managed to bend my scooter round the one and only lamp-post in sight . . . Then along Botany Bay, which hasn't really changed at all, except for some more permanent dwellings for its travelling community . . .

I still know it all so well - like the back of my hand of course, as you do with your childhood haunts. The stories I could tell - the scrapes we got into - the adventures we had - and the freedom we had to run wild.

I hear that they will soon be filming The Wartime Farm (the next wonderful series with Peter, Ruth and Alec of The Victorian Farm, The Edwardian Farm and previously Escape to the Green Valley) at Manor Farm, Hedge End. I know this area as Cricket Camp. My parents lived there temporarily with other families after the war with dad's parents, when they had been bombed out of Southampton. I walked and rode and dog-walked there year upon year and know it well. Time Team were there, on the edge, excavating the remains of a Tudor warship (I know the exact spot). Happy memories. Perhaps I shall walk round that way next time . . .


  1. I am very far away, in California, and greatly enjoyed this walk down memory lane with you. My spirits always lift when I see a country lane or farm unchanged, and it disappoints when something ugly goes up.
    Long ago my husband and I traveled England and Wales in a camper van we rented, and met gypsies, saw Stonehenge, stayed on a sheep farm in Wales. Ah, good times. Hey, I see we both like ponies!

  2. Thanks BB. I thoroughy enjoyed walking beside you through your old haunts and you made me feel like doing the same. The tales we can tell about places like that eh?

    Great stuff, like I said. I really enjoyed that!

  3. I have never ever thought of doing this BB but shall now go and Google the village where I was born and no doubt thoroughly depress myself with how it looks now.

  4. Oh, I did enjoy that walk with you, especially as I know some parts of your old home area. I had friends in Bursledon and Swanwick and sometimes used to cycle over that way as a teenager. The Main Road was also the main bus route to Southampton, and I can see it now - the view from the top of the double decker as we travelled from Fareham for a day out at the Big Shops!

    Now you have inspired me to go for a Google Earth walk around my old Hampshire village.......

  5. This was so much fun, I'm going to see if I can do it to one of my old homes.

  6. Great post Jennie but I must admit that my mantra for places I knew and loved as a youngster is 'never go back' as the difference between what was then and what is now is so distressing. There are a couple of exceptions because I know these two places are unchanged - the house and street I lived in until I was 9 and the country lanes near Capesthorne where mum and I often walked. These are still part of the Capesthorne Estate and are just the same apart from being much more manicured now.