It’s the summer of 1947 – nesting birds, butterflies on the wing and flowering plants – and there are recollections of the Hiltingbury youth.
On May 22 1947, Gran notes Lithospermum purpureo-caeruleum (creeping gromwell) in the garden but, she says, “as this is a rarity I am waiting to verify my identification”.
Presently, the front garden of The Ridge has a large patch of this lovely blue-flowered plant, which was introduced from a small piece collected at Cheddar in 1967, so Gran’s earlier record of it is something of a mystery – though it was surely a garden escape from somewhere nearby. Dad tells me, “It is now a confounded nuisance, its long tough, slender rhizomes getting under paving slabs and amongst other plants, and producing flowering shoots in unwelcome places”.
She also notes a wonderful bed of Convallaria majalis (Lily-of-the-valley):
These were originally wild and I planted a few nineteen years ago and they have increased wonderfully. The wild variety is no doubt open at Ashley Down, and I hope in a few days to verify this.
All this digging-up and transplanting of plants from the wild was legal in those days but it seems very naughty now, viewed from today’s perspective. This past autumn, 2016, I dug up some roots of this very patch of lily-of-the-valley at The Ridge and I hope shortly to see some growth from them in our new garden at Braes’ End, in Doune.
There has been much written during this Spring’s entries about nesting birds; presence of nests, numbers of eggs, hatching dates, failures etc., such as a sparrow hawk’s nest in the top of a pine tree in the “woods opposite”, containing four eggs on 23 May. By June 8th, this nest contained three eggs, and was noted to have been built on top of a wood pigeon’s nest – an unbroken pigeon’s egg being found in the lining of the nest.
The house is being painted the following day, and Gran notes:
Great tit nesting in the gutterpipe quite unperturbed by the man painting the house, entering and leaving the site with him only two or three feet distant.
I know that Gran notes a particular Judas Tree at Otterbourne over a number of Springs, Its first mention is 25 May 1947, on the return from a walk or cycle-ride to Compton:
Euonumus europaeus (Spindle) is in bloom at the top of Otterbourne Hill and at the foot the Caesapinia ceras (Judas Tree) is a picture with its rosy-mauve flowers all along its slender boughs. This is not a wild tree but today it was too beautiful to leave unmentioned.
In the home of a naturalist whom we know I noticed a muslin “sleeve” upon one of his trees where, no doubt, some special caterpillars were feeding
This was on the 26th and she goes on:
A funny little sight here attracted my attention – a goose, bathing in a hip-bath in a garden, with two others looking on.
This appears to have been near to Bishop’s Waltham, for she visits the abbey there that day, coming home via Swanmore (where she notes a couple of hares).
Dad’s observations at Ashley that day are recorded too: green hairstreak, small elephant hawk moth, several pearl-bordered fritillaries and a turtle dove’s nest with two eggs. How things have changed since those days! The dove’s breeding population is now perhaps the most depleted of any British bird, shot in large numbers on some Mediterranean islands as they migrate north in Spring.
A flower that Gran found on the Isle of Wight, but which she was not confident of identifying, turned out to be a rarity, and she writes the following after mentioning earlier in the day, that she was planting cabbages:
This afternoon I took the flower found on May 24th to be identified and it is a notable find, Gentiana praecox (Early Gentian) a dwarf variety, some think, of G. amarella (Autumn Gentian). Its outstanding characteristics are its dwarf stature, seldom above three inches, and its -4-cleft corolla, where the gentian usually has five. It flowers about May and the only localities known to Townsend in his “Flora of Hampshire” are the downs above Brixton, Steep Hill above Sandown Bay and on Culver cliff. Bentham and Hooker do not mention the species at all…
Dad tells me that the plant to which her record refers is Gentianella anglica.
I always imagined that the diary was written by Gran as she was tucked up in bed each evening, but on May 28th she notes “a one-footed great tit that frequently makes its way in and out of the greenhouse through the ventilators without hesitation”, and she says:
Am writing this now at Ashley Down, a cloudless afternoon with a good breeze. Amid exquisite scenery with the larks and other birds singing all around me. The hill upon which I sit is ablaze with small flowers and there are numerous butterflies of various species…on the way up we noticed several chalk-loving flowers…
This “we” is herself and Dad, and Gran notes a singing Nightingale whose nest is being searched for, and I picture her sitting there writing while her son scrabbles about under bushes nearby. She describes the scene and hints at her unquiet mind:
A typically English scene, this, where I am writing, green fields, flower-covered hill behind me, and rising downland behind to the right. In the front, another hill, with a ring of trees on the top and two haystacks at the foot. A cuckoo is calling in the distance and a cock pheasant gives his familiar cry. There is no-one about save ourselves and the utter peace and beauty does much to help quieten a restless mind.
On the last day of the month she continues in a similar vein:
So filled am I with a restless longing to be always out among the trees and flowers that I find the confines of the house oppressive to an almost unbearable degree and I feel completely in sympathy with the tramp who said that he preferred his way of life because he was nearer to God and the stars!
And this, Dad tells me, “was one of his father’s complaints – that she never did any housework – his feelings understandable in the circs”!
The most wonderful dawn bird chorus I have ever heard with a vast number of birds calling and singing including many cuckoos. Perhaps it seemed so full and complete because we lost so many birds during the war when this was a defence area and our lovely woods a military camp.
Dad corrects this somewhat, saying that it was not a defence area: the huge military camp was one of many in the district in the build-up to D Day, 1944, and that during most of the War the woods were unspoilt.
The next day, a marsh fritillary butterfly is noted by the little pond beyond the yew trees – “a first one in this district”.
On June 10th I find the first mention in her journal of the “Park Road garden”. This must be where Gran was planting those cabbages, and where the greenhouse is that she occasionally mentions. It appears that she has a job in this garden, and indeed, I have found further details about this some way ahead in her journal. The entry this day simply records:
Bees around the acacia trees in the Park Road garden in such numbers that I thought at first they must be swarming somewhere…
One of nature’s most attractive sounds, I think, is that of bees at work among the flowers. Campanula rotundifolia (Harebell) has opened its first sweet blue flower. Another great favourite. True, it is in our garden, but nevertheless it is a wild flower, for it is self-sown, as are many others in this garden. I like to think that flowers like to come into my garden because they know that they are loved and welcomed. It is a garden where the flowers walk where they wish and are undisturbed as far as possible.
This sentiment of Gran’s I remember very well, as she reiterated it to me many times. I agreed with her concept, though thought it might also be an excuse not to do much conventional gardening!
Her mention of the Park Road garden tempts me to deviate from the journal briefly: in 2002, while working on contract for the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), I had reason to stay on a small caravan site at Streatley, in the Thames Valley. On discovering my name, the lady owner asked if I was related to Barry Goater – a boy she knew from a place called Chandler’s Ford when she was a girl. This boy’s mother, she said, used to earn money picking apples at her family’s orchard.
This I thought, on reading Gran’s journal fourteen years later, must be the Park Road garden! However, having checked various facts I realise that it was not this garden, as Dad tells me, “This must be the orchard at West End, where Norris [Gran’s brother] worked for a time and where I myself picked plums”. Nevertheless, I’ll continue with my deviation.
The lady, whose name I cannot recall, found a photograph showing a posed group of happy youngsters of various ages, which included herself in the front row and Dad, older than she, in the back. This, she thought, might be some of the “Relievo Mob”.
Doug Clews, contributor to Chandler’s Ford Today, tells me that the game of Relievo:
…as I remember it, started with two, I think but possibly more, ‘Catchers’ on the bridge [over the outflow of Hiltingbury Lake] … it was their job to go out and catch the ‘others’, and when caught they went on to the bridge … it then became the job of the ‘others’ to get to the bridge without being caught and ‘Relieve’ those captured and it continued until either all ‘others’ were caught or all captured had been released … GREAT fun, particularly in winter when there was a lot of water in the spillway from the lake, or snow on the ground … the youth of today, I am sure, would think we were all mad and couldn’t possibly see any fun in that as it didn’t involve i-phones or computers !!!
This then, was the exciting “tag game” played during the war years by the Hiltingbury youth, that I had been told about from a very early age, during which Mum (then “Jock” MacNoe) had once made a famously risky and death-defying leap across the chasm below the bridge to avoid the Catchers.
Dad describes the “scene” further:
Hiltingbury Lake and the adjacent Pinewood were the social centre of the youth of the day. We played Relievo from the bridge, Chain-hee and football among the trees in the pinewood, climbed the trees (one of them I know has my sister Jane’s initials carved near the top). We skated and made slides on the ice every winter, made boats of looped-over rhododendron leaves and sailed them across, competed to see how far we could throw stones across the Lake (I was the only one who could reach the far shore!) and fished (then there were only Perch and Eels – the Carp were introduced long after the War ended). We made a raft out of planks and empty fuel cans, courtesy of the US Army. The Lake was edged by Rhododendrons, and we tried to climb from one end to the other without touching the ground. Boys and girls mixed quite unselfconsciously, although just a few girls were considered too haughty to join in. We must have been incredibly fit by today’s standards, and health and safely people, who were unknown then, would have been horrified at what we got up to!
It is to me now, achingly poignant to think of that generation of war-time kids, healthy and fit, too naive to understand the enormity of the war, and young enough to enjoy it – the shrapnel collectors, the doodle-bug dodgers, the watchers of dog-fights high in the summer skies. And athletic “Jock” MacNoe, dead some years now, her ashes scattered in the dunes of the Angus coast.
Most of the names of those in the photograph are known, and I give them here in case readers of this post are interested or can fill in any gaps: Michael (and possibly Richard) Cottell, John Rice, Barry Goater, Donald Thompson, John Cranmer, John Hardwick, Peter Baker, Hugh Reilly (remembered for firing home-made rockets from the handlebars of his bike!), Roger Tobia (“Tibby” – probably Dad’s best friend), John Shard, Jean and Pat Littlecott, Janet (“Niggly”) Parsons, Mavis Bronsden and Ron Lush.
But, apart from the girl with glasses, in the front row (Pat Littlecott) who are the other three – one of which is the lady who gave me the photo?
Back to the journal:
June 10th sees the first mention of Stag Beetle in or close to the garden. This impressive insect is still present at The Ridge, its larvae feeding on half-buried rotting birch logs that are left there especially for it. It is one of the only places I have seen it and I suspect the garden is probably the only place locally at which it is still recorded.
A trip to Farley Mount the next day produced a list of butterflies to make one’s mouth water in these present times; most of them probably no longer to be found there. Gran notes:
Numbers of five-spot burnet moths were on the wing and we disturbed cinnabars with almost every step. Many butterflies were about including common blues, pearl-bordered fritillaries and at least three species of skippers, the common, dingy and grizzled. We saw one Duke of Burgundy fritillary…
The same day, Gran quotes a short piece by John Clare – probably my own favourite poet, in relation to her recording of the inconspicuously flowered white bryony along the “lane to Eastleigh”:
And scallop’d Briony mingling with her bowers
Whose fine bright leaves make up the want of flowers.
She occasionally copies excerpts of poems, and sometimes complete poems from a number of sources, and I wonder if her bookshelves held the works of Tennyson, Ruskin, Clare, Whitman and others, or whether she visited the library to get access to these. I know too, that there are a considerable number of her own poems, signed J.A.G., included throughout the journal, though I have not come across one yet, in 1947.
…I revel in the utter peace of the countryside and I pray that I may never be condemned to live in a town. And I pray also that I may never hurt any little bird or animal and that others will in time feel this way also, and turn from the artificial, unsatisfying pleasure of the outer world and open their eyes and ears to the beauty and absorbing wonder of nature and then the cruel streak will be blotted out and true Peace might come.
On June 20th there were so many baby “frogs”, (“they will actually have been toads”, Dad tells me) all over the pinewood and in the nearby road, presumably emerged from Hiltingbury Lake, that Gran was distressed because it was difficult to avoid stepping on them. The lake and its surrounds are, I think, unlikely to support breeding amphibians now, at least in any numbers.
Mid-summer’s day saw her at Farley Mount looking for orchids. She records many flower species, as she does most days when she’s out. More out-of-the-ordinary, by today’s standards was her finding of a “gamekeeper’s tree”, as she calls what I know as a gibbet, with three stoats and one magpie hanging. She says:
I know these creatures do damage yet I am always sorry to see them treated in this way.
I’m with her there, hating such disrespect of perfect animals, and apparent pride in their slaughter.
- 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)