Severe winter effects on small birds; an amusing put-down to a proposal of marriage; Barry is delayed by an aerial dog-fight and he ices a cake; Cranbury Lake is “bearing”; Cirl Bunting; floods and mumps.
On November 25th 1948:
Stonechats were present at Stony Cross in the New Forest this afternoon. Here also is the largest oak tree in the New Forest, known as the Knightwood Oak. Last August the tree measured 22ft 4½ ins in girth. The largest tree to be cut down in the New Forest was also an oak – in Langley Wood. When felled in 1758 it was found to contain 300 rings of annual growth, and required twelve horses to drag it to the coast.
She notes that this date is the anniversary of the death of Isaac Watts, “England’s greatest hymn-writer, who was born in 1674 and died in 1748”. He grew up in a house in French Street, Southampton, and his best-known hymn, she says, “O God our Help in ages past”, is played four times a day from the clock-tower of Southampton Civic Centre”. He was highly educated. Gran writes:
He never married. The lady to whom he proposed is said to have refused him with the remark that she “admired the Jewel but not the Casket”. A neat, if hurtful way of alluding both to his nobility of mind and mean-ness of stature.
On December 9th, Gran learns with regret of the death of “my old friend, the Rev. H. Purefoy-Fitzgerald”:
…who, though eighty-one years of age, was, up to a few months ago when I last saw him, still as keen on, and as full of a wide knowledge of wild flowers as ever. He has written books on natural history and wild flowers and was a member of the Hampshire Field Club, a fellow of the Linnaean Society, a member of the British Society of Dowsers and County Secretary of the Society for the Preservation of Rural England. It was in this latter capacity that I had most to do with him for he was always anxious to hear of the whereabouts of any rare flowers that I found and he helped me quite a bit with identification. I shall miss him.
Concerning the importance to her of flowers and their symbolism, Gran writes, having seen on December 10th, Daisies, Yarrow and Ox-eye Daisy unseasonably in bloom:
I remember during the late war, Barry, only a little lad then, was late home from school one afternoon. There was a dog-fight going on over this district between German fighters and our own, and I was petrified with fear for him. Eventually I set out to look for him but missed him. Mother, waiting anxiously at home, watching out of the window, saw him come in the gate quite unconcerned. Seeing her he gave the “thumbs-up” sign and held up a bunch of wild flowers. He had walked over the downs from Winchester, watched the fight from Shawford in company with a farm worker, and gathered the flowers before coming home! The horrors of aerial warfare not sufficient to smother his love of wild flowers.
Gran makes a pre-Christmas visit to Kingston upon Thames on the 14th December to take flowers and foliage, particularly heavily-berried Holly, to Adrian’s “Garden of Sleep”, but very nearly misses her train:
The ‘bus was late, the train in the station and I could not get through the press of workmen surging up the stairs. I reached the platform as the train started to move and with a helpful shove from a man standing nearby, I almost fell headlong into it!
While at Kingston, Gran receives a treasured memento of her recent holiday in Devon with Adrian’s mother. It is an enlargement of a photograph she took of the “little white cottage on the Prestacott road at Belstone” made into a calendar by Adrian’s brother, Eric.
The weather is unseasonably mild:
The highest December temperature since 1870 was also registered at Kew, fifty-three degrees, and on the roof of the Air Ministry in Kingsway it was fifty-nine degrees at 10 pm. Truly this is a month of surprises.
This, I assume, is the Air Ministry Meteorological Office at Princes House, Kingsway, in London, and not the closer-to-home Kingsway to which Gran refers so often! Christmas Day arrives and there is little talk of celebration other than a dawn visit to Compton Church for Early Service but Gran writes:
A digression! Our Christmas cake, iced by Barry this year, was a great success, but I trembled when it was cut, lest the inside be unworthy of the beautiful exterior, in white and a delicate shade of rose-pink! But all was well and it was much enjoyed.
That night is very cold and Cranbury Lake, Jane says, “is strong enough for her to stand on it”. And the next day, Boxing Day, was still freezing. Gran writes:
…and Jane rushed in in great excitement to say that Cranbury Lake was bearing. Collecting her skates, she returned to the lake and, except for her meals, spent all day and most of the evening, skating.
Barry, on the other hand, “went to Marsh Court, near Stockbridge, over Farley Mount and through Ashley this afternoon and saw many interesting birds”.
It includes the first mention of the Cirl Bunting (pronounced as though spelled with an “S”) in Gran’s journal – there were apparently “numbers” of these and Yellowhammers at Farley that day. It is a species that took me several years to find for the first time in the 1970s (at Chinnor, in Oxfordshire) but before that I had spent many hours desperately searching not only the hedgerows around Farley Mount, but also Southampton Common for this lovely, primarily Mediterranean bird. Dad, when young, had recorded it in both of these places but it was well into its decline in the UK by the time I was birding. The species is highly dependent on crickets and grasshoppers for feeing its young, and for unploughed winter stubbles for sustenance outside the breeding season – all features much reduced since the 1940s. Gran mentions the sound of crickets and grasshoppers almost every day during the summer in these early years, and winter stubbles are abundant. Today, Cirl Buntings have made a remarkable comeback in the South-West, the result of well-planned and well-executed conservation efforts in Devon and Cornwall.
On the last day of the year, Barry is out in Cranbury Park, watching a Kingfisher, which flies from there, across Hokham Road (as Gran still spells it, recte Hocombe) and into the swamp on the other side. Gran though, says:
My own chances of wandering and watching have been restricted today because Jane developed mumps this morning and is confined to bed for a few days, but she is a good, cheerful patient and, happily, does not feel ill, only uncomfortable.
As Gran sums up the year at its close she records that:
…the outstanding feature of 1948 must be the amazing wealth of berries, particularly Holly, and the almost unbelievable Winter birdsong, together with the incredible blooming of Spring flowers in December.
The new year begins with “torrential rain in the early hours, driven by a gale of tremendous force”.
The ford by the station at Chandler’s Ford is in flood and the water today reached the back doors of some of the cottages. The meadows were partially submerged too, and the ford itself had become a seething, swirling torrent, instead of the placid, rippling stream is usually is. The marsh feeding our Hiltingbury Lake had almost become a lake itself overnight, and the connecting stream that runs beneath Hiltingbury Road was a tumbling and rushing river over the rocky way under the road. Jane was poorly this morning and her very swollen face very painful so I had to hurry as I went for fish for dinner and did not have much time to loiter, poking and prying, as I like to do. But for the first day of 1949 I can record the male catkins of Corylus avellana (Hazel) fully developed in Lakewood Road… Primula vulgaris (Primrose) is also in bloom, self-sown, in the back garden.
On January 4th Gran is relieved:
Jane is better tonight, the swelling seeming to have reached its height this morning and is less painful. She really is the oddest sight – a friend said she was quite fascinated and could not take her eyes off her face. Happily Jane joins in the smiles at her expense and is in no way offended by our mirth. Even the doctor this morning had to look out of the window. But I am so glad she feels better.
Barry reports several pairs of Bullfinches in Cranbury Park on the 5th and Gran says:
I have a special weakness for Bullfinches because they mate for life and do not go in for the light love of one season!
She is out for her first ramble of the year on the 6th, now that Jane is “much improved”:
I followed a lane opposite Hursley Church, one which I had long wanted to explore and I was delighted with it and must go again in the Summer. About half a mile a long it, I met the first human being I had seen (I only saw two) – a farmer shooting rabbits – and I asked him if I could get right along, and if so, where did it go. He told me it that it led right through to Oliver’s Battery at Stanmore, Winchester, but that I should find it “very sticky”. It was certainly pretty muddy but far too interesting to deter me.
Gran is making beds on January 9th:
… a dull job itself, but one which nearly always takes twice as long as necessary because I keep looking out of the window – and I saw a party of small birds fly into our Silver Birch trees in the back garden. They were feeding on the seeds which were still hanging and uttering a musical little half-song all the time, and, though they were silhouetted against the light and identification was difficult, their forked tails were conspicuous. I called Barry and he went out with his binoculars and identified them, as I had thought, as Lesser Redpolls.
Their name is underlined in the journal – these may have been a new garden species for Gran. She hopes they will come again, but they do not.
She calls the following morning a pretty one:
… and there was beauty even in the workman’s “rest” on the rough ground opposite here if you shut your inner vision to the ugly bivouac and saw only the blue smoke rising in a spiral from the bright brazier against the background of misty silver birch trees.
Near Compton, on her way to Winchester that day she is saddened to see that some of the “splendid Beech trees near a farm here – a favourite haunt of Rooks”, she says, have been felled, and further on, at Bushfield:
… here again one of my delights has been destroyed – a bank of shrubby trees, Blackthorn, Privet and Spindle – above all, one particular Spindle where flaming beauty has for years been one of the joys for which I always looked…I pray that I may die before I see all England’s hedges cut down!
Goodness knows what her journal will record of this in the 1970s, when thousands of miles of English hedgerow were removed, the cost grant-aided by the Government. She will not be happy! Later the same day, Gran is watering Arum Lilies in the Park Road garden, having initially been frustrated in this by her watering can being blocked by a toad in the spout! And she is there again, in mild weather on the afternoon of the 11th, weeding “those insidious enemies of horticulture, Couch-grass, Goutweed and Sheep’s Sorrel”. She seems to work there only during afternoons. Late that evening:
Tano Ferendinos, the Greek tenor, sang two of my favourite ballads this evening and touched the depths of my soul. They were “I’ll turn to thee” and “I’ll walk beside you.”
She had a busy evening because she also says:
I attended a combined meeting of the Southampton Naturalists’ Society and the British Empire Naturalists’ Society tonight and it was very enjoyable though I was surprised to find that I did not know a single person there. Where do naturalists hide themselves? We had a very interesting talk on birds by Mr Hebditch, a Guildford member of B.E.N.A.. The increase in the number of Buzzards in the New Forest was mentioned, and also the decrease in the numbers of Goldcrests and Stonechats since the severe Winter of 1947.
Gran, herself, had not seen a Goldcrest since that bitter winter, yet on the 19th:
Hearing very small, thin bird voices in the Macrocarpa hedge of the corner house at mid-day today, I stopped and peered among the trees. To my great delight it was as I hoped. Goldcrests! I watched a pair hopping about on the branches…and could hear others in the thick foliage.
Confined once more to the house for the afternoon gave me little to record: Barry developed mumps this morning though he has had them before. Still, the sun shone, the birds sang and it was a lovely day.
The wireless, late evening, January 24th:
Mantovani’s orchestra is playing “Souvenirs”. They have just played “Tesoro mio”. One of the memories hidden deep within my heart: only one person ever called me that and I shall never be called it again. But it is something to remember.
Gran – called “Sweetheart” or “My darling” by another? To me, having known her and witnessed part of her rather self-contained life, it seems inconceivable, yet it is a truly lovely thought.
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 1)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 2)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 3)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 4)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 5)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 6)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 7)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 8)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 9)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 10)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 11)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 12)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 13)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 14)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 15)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 16)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 17)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 18)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 19)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 20)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 21)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 22)