It’s the freezing winter of 1946/47, but Gran is still out and about in the countryside
It’s dated January 1st 1947 and is headed “A Country Diary”. The inside of the front cover has five or six paragraphs, the first of which goes:
Flowers bring a spirit of comfort and happiness which money cannot buy, and being a spirit, is neither measured nor defined, but only perceived.
This is followed by:
“The tragic beauty of life is revealed nowhere so movingly and so clearly to the spirit as in a wild flower, which blossoms into life and fades into death.”
June 17th 1945 – January 12th 1947
In memory of my friend, “Adrian”, (Kenneth R. A. C. Turvey) who gave me an even deeper appreciation of the beauty and wonder of nature. He died January 12th 1947 aged 34. His brave, wholesome spirit was an inspiration and an example. Semper Fidelis.
I suspect that the words in quotation marks were from Adrian himself, though the journal is peppered with similar rather trite and flowery quotes from all sorts of sources that are not Adrian. And the dates are the period of Gran’s brief friendship with him.
The first entry says:
Heavy white frost, clear and sunny. Winter Aconites showing in the garden. Heard Robins singing. A truly wonderful sunset, lasting some twenty minutes.
The next few days are rainy and dull. Owls are mentioned, calling in the dawn, and a Starling singing on the house roof, commuting Herring gulls, and wagtails, assumed to be a pair of local gray [sic] wagtails already known to her are noted at Eastleigh and on the journey between Chandler’s Ford and Eastleigh. There is no mention of the reason that she was in Eastleigh.
Winter moths came to light at the window in the evening. Peacock butterfly still hibernating in the fruit cupboard. Raised four cock and five hen pheasants in a field at Baddesley this afternoon (January 4th). A perfect Vinca minor (Lesser Periwinkle) open in the ditch at Baddesley.
Based on what I have read elsewhere in the journal, these entries are fairly typical: few explanations of her visits to nearby places; general observations about the weather and apparently random mentions of wild flowers and birds. Gran seems particularly fond of Iris stylosa, the first of which, she writes, was open in the garden on January 2nd. I think this plant has a romantic link with Adrian, and is mentioned many times throughout the journal. It still flowers in the garden at The Ridge, where the slugs love it – so it is generally picked and brought indoors.
Iris stylosa – Gran’s favourite.
Something else that appears characteristic is her making notes of wildlife experiences of my Dad, who at this time is 17 years old, for example, on January 5th:
Very cold. Dull. Reported by my son, Barry, from St Leonards. Tide going out 12:30. Lone Grey Plover, large flock of Dunlin on the mud with curlew, redshank and one oystercatcher. Two Shelducks, and a large flock of Wigeon resting on the mud. Party of Mallard and a few Teal in the flooded meadow.
“St Leonards”, I gather, refers to Needs Ore, on the coastal section of the Beaulieu Estate – still a good place to go bird-watching, and is regularly visited by Dad today, 70 years later. Nowadays, when Hampshire bird watchers say “St Leonards”, they are generally referring to the fabulous partially derelict barn there, where Little Owls can be seen sunning themselves in the entrances of little “caves” leading into the old walls.
Gran clearly cannot decide whether or not birds’ names should begin with capital letters! At least she spells “Wigeon” the correct way and not the old wildfowlers’ way of “widgeon”. It is unlikely I think, that many of these bird records will show changes in the birdlife present on the coast between the years just after World War II and the present. However, there is no doubt that some of her future entries for the locations around Chandler’s Ford show significant changes in the bird population since then. On January 7th she states:
…marsh-tit picking cement off the front of the house next door.
And on the 10th:
Green Woodpecker poking for ants on the front bank in our garden.
These, and other bird species that are mentioned later have not been recorded in the garden of The Ridge for several decades, though I myself remember marsh tits there in the 1970s and probably 1980s. I also remember that the front bank, which was a remnant of the heathy countryside in existence there when the house was built, held a fine colony of wild daffodils, most of which Gran thought somebody dug up one night around the same time, much to her distress. Certainly many of the flowering plants disappeared but a small number have now re-established and there are others in the back garden.
January 12th is an important date in Gran’s life. It’s the date Adrian died and the date, six years later, when her first grandchild was born. That was Julian Norris Goater, my elder brother and I believe Gran considered him almost an incarnation of the man her diary was dedicated to. There is no mention of Adrian’s death in her entry for that day in 1947, though surely she knew about it at the time.
What she does record is her sighting of a Red Squirrel in Cranbury Park. Red squirrels were still common in the area in those days, or had been until very recently. In the small sections of the diary I have already read, Grey Squirrel gets many more mentions, perhaps because that species was still judged to be newsworthy at that time. My Dad says, “I vividly remember seeing my first Grey Squirrel at Ampfield, when out cycling with Dad, at about that time, 1947 or ’48; Reds disappeared soon after that”.
The second half of January is peppered with reports of first noted flowering of generally common plant species in the local area, including Hursley, and along Poles Lane, Otterbourne. She says, ending a write-up of plants found on January 19th:
Potentilla sterilis (barren strawberry) in bloom on the wall of Otterbourne Church. Helliborus foetidus (Setterwort) in bloom. First recording of this rarity.
It isn’t clear exactly where the hellebore was found, though I think in later entries a location is mentioned. It is, Dad tells me, a fairly widespread but uncommon species on the Hampshire chalk. On the same day, she lists the birds seen by “son” around Beaulieu and St Leonards. The note includes a description Dad gave of “a largish grebe”, which was not positively identified but may have been a Red-necked Grebe. These were the days before many birders had a telescope – a great aid in distant bird identification. There is also a description of a duck identified as a Velvet Scoter –a new bird for him at that time.
An unusual happening took place today. A hen chaffinch, stealing food inside the rabbit run, was killed by the tame rabbit, who seized it by the back and shook it as does a dog. When rescued, the chaffinch was beyond aid.
This little snippet shows that the family kept a pet rabbit or rabbits, something I had never heard of, and subsequently Dad has told me that yes, they had black-marked Himalayans, called Rags and Thumper, well-loved and tended, and living in a run made some years before by Gramps.
Later two robins are noted feeding within the rabbit run and not being objected to by the rabbit. Just a day later, another report is given of a “strange occurrence”:
Report in newspaper of a “wild parrot” seen at King’s Somborne. I suspect a green woodpecker and have asked for investigations to be made.
Who was to make the investigations is not mentioned but the story reminds me that Dad himself thought Gran was sometimes guilty of what he calls “duff gen” when it came to bird identification. He cites a claim she made of a Golden Oriole in the yew trees opposite the house, which he insists must have been a Green Woodpecker, and also of a Melodious Warbler she recorded in Aviemore, some years later. I hope that there is more information on these further on in the journal, because I think that Gran’s bird identification skills were better than he thought. Dad tells me that she was sound on familiar species, but had no experience of rarities, and neither did she “gen up” from books. So I reckon, if she was “sound on familiar species”, there is no way that she would have mistaken the yellow rump of the almost daily recorded Green Woodpecker for a Golden Oriole.
Heavy frosts and snowfall characterize the weather of late January. This was the “bad winter of ‘47”, which older people always cite when I mention “my bad winter of ‘62/’63”.
On the last day of the month, with a heavy fall of snow, a Jack Snipe (underlined in the diary and therefore I think, a new bird for Gran) is brought in, suffering from cold, by a friend. It seems that Gran is the local “go to” person where wildlife is concerned. She makes a detailed description, leaving no doubt as to its identity, after which she writes:
The bird recovered after being placed in a basket by the fire but we were unable to feed it. Snow too deep to release the snipe but we placed the basket in the shelter of the front porch in case the bird wished to fly during the night. Unhappily it died later in the evening.
A Jack Snipe is claimed flying fairly high towards “the lake” (this is Hiltingbury Lake) on the following day, and another, by the lake itself on February 2nd. This species will turn up in odd places in extreme weather conditions, but will have been a very unusual record here, being somwhat out of habitat.
The first few days of February see Gran noting “posturing robins” and other birds along nearby Beech Road, a sparrow trying to peck a pigeon at Winchester bus station, Setterwort upright and in bloom at Compton, (so maybe this is where she recorded it on January 9th) two jays, at Hursley and chaffinches and sparrows on a cornstack along “the lane to Eastleigh”. This “lane to Eastleigh” is frequently trodden by Gran. It is Oakmount Road.
She recorded a number of plants including Butcher’s Broom in Cranbury Park on the 9th and a “Lesser-spotted Woodpecker on the Japanese oak next door near our fence” on the 12th. I’d heard that this (increasingly rare bird nowadays) had been seen several times in the garden of The Ridge in “the old days” and this is just one of several now more or less unheard-of species that was taken for granted there during the 1940s and 50s – as the journal shows later on. Dad recorded it three times during the 1990s, and none there since.
February 23rd and 26th have records of birds seen by Dad at St Leonards, Beaulieu and Totton. It seems that, unlike today, Brent Goose and Greenshank were worthy of detailed descriptions as though these were unusual birds or, at any rate, birds new to the observer.
And indeed they were unusual – Dad tells me “these were rare and extremely shy in those days”. Certainly Brent Goose was legitimately on the wildfowlers’ quarry list then, and being frequently hunted would have generally steered clear of Man. Nowadays, not hunted, they are the tamest of all wild geese and I had superb views of a flock near Keyhaven a couple of weeks ago.
Snow and heavy frost is reported into early March, when Gran notes on the 4th:
Speckled Wood butterfly newly-hatched but dormant in the greenhouse.
I wonder where the greenhouse was; there was never one in the garden of The Ridge since I can remember (since about 1959). There was still hard frost on the 7th, but Gran records her first moth of the year then – a Spring Usher, resting on a fence. Her father was a keen lepidopterist, and it was from him that Dad acquired his interest in moths and Gran clearly also had enough knowledge to successfully encourage him in his collecting and studies. Dad remembers that ” we used to sugar the oak [tree in the front garden] during the War, and visit it by masked torchlight”.
Fieldfare is a new bird for Gran the following day, and she also notes a “hen sparrow-hawk” – a bird which, within the next few years is likely to be recorded rarely or not at all, owing to the pesticide and eggshell-thinning problem. We shall see. She walks among flooded fields between Hursley and Otterbourne with gulls, lapwings and starlings. It interests to me to read about her early and new bird experiences. When she showed me my first winter thrushes along the River Itchen near Shawford in the late 1960s, it didn’t cross my mind that she too had had similar “first experiences” of these species, eight years before I was born.
So far, each day of the journal has included a brief summing-up of the weather, which is probably not particularly valuable. Later I know, more detailed weather information is given – particularly minimum and maximum temperatures. Although Gran’s thermometer was not set up in anything like a Stevenson’s Screen, being nailed to the north side of the shed at the foot of the sheltered back garden, it does provide a very long series of comparable readings. These, together with notes of first flowering dates of plants, breeding details of nesting birds and of first appearances of certain moths and butterflies on the wing, may prove to be of value to phenologists. There is much interest nowadays in this subject, owing to the perception of man-induced climate change and its effect on the seasonal activities of wild plants and animals.
- 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)