Medstead Memories #2
The 30's and 40's by Margaret Alexander
I and my cousin, Eileen Porter (nee Ward) spent most of our summer holidays with our relatives in Medstead, during the 1930's and 1940's. We have many happy memories and wanted to record some of them.
We both shared the same Grandparents, my father, Herbert, being the son of George and Emma Alexander of Medstead and Eileen's mother, Joan, their daughter. I also had another connection - my Great Aunt and Uncle were Emma and Richard Butt, on my mother's side of the family, who lived in Homestead Road.
I came on to the scene in the 1930's. All our summer holidays were spent at Medstead either with the grandparents and single Aunt Amy Alexander or with my great Aunt and Uncle Butt. We never went anywhere else and never wanted to. We all loved Medstead.
My father was born at Church Cottage, Bentworth, but spent most of his life with his parents and sisters, Amy and Joan, at various places in Medstead where they all went to school.
Richard and Emma Butt came to live at Medstead in about 1906 after my uncle's retirement from the Royal Navy where he was Manager of the Naval Canteen in Malta. They bought a "colonial style" bungalow in Homestead Road, with about two acres of land, which they named 'Elmdon'. They kept pigs, goats and chicken. Uncle was also an expert Beekeeper and his honey usually won prizes in the local Shows. He was a keen sportsman and umpired cricket matches on Medstead Green and was also a keen member of Alton Bowls Club. In the early days, during the First World War, Aunt Emma used to take the eggs to Alton Market each week, walking all the way to Medstead Station carrying the heavy basket of eggs. She quite often could hear the train coming along the track from Ropley and had to run all the way up the hill to Medstead Station.
Aunt Emma was a founder member of the Medstead Women's Institute and was Treasurer for many years. Whilst she was Treasurer someone broke into 'Elmdon' and stole the W.I. money. She was very distressed about this and when the local Policeman called to tell her that the culprit had been caught she exclaimed "but it couldn't possibly have been him, he is such a nice young man!" Such was her faith that she saw good in everyone. She was quite a poet and at the garden fete at Medstead Manor on 16th July 1919, she sold a kitten to Mr. Fred Batt a cousin of our parents and wrote this ditty:
Timothy White, so young and bright
Will catch your mice from morn till night
I have many happy memories of my holidays at Medstead. My parents and I journeyed to Medstead from Guildford where we lived, having to catch three buses changing first at Aldershot, then on to The Swan Hotel at Alton on the No. 14 where we caught the third No. 56 little bus to Medstead. The No. 56 was usually driven by Mr. Bishopp who always remembered us and gave us a welcome. Then, if we were staying at Homestead Road, we walked with our suitcases and bags across the stiles and three fields to muddy, rutted, water-logged Homestead Road having first of all called in at 'Wayside' for a cuppa with grandfather Alexander and Aunt Amy to help us on our way. 'Wayside', which was situated along the lane next to 'Home Lea', is no longer there.
Life at 'Elmdon' was quite primitive in those days, no proper sanitation, the privy was just a bucket with a wooden seat above, the contents of which were emptied each day onto the 'muck heap' in the field beyond the garden and eventually fertilised the garden. Water was drawn by a pump from a well in the garden. Household water was disposed of in 'a hole' in the garden. No one ever suffered any ill effects and no one complained. It was part of everyday life. The little bungalow built of corrugated iron in the 'Colonial style' with its interior wooden walls had a welcoming atmosphere. It had three bedrooms, a large sitting room, a scullery and a large walk-in pantry which always had a savory smell all of its own. There was no bathroom. All personal washing took place in a basin in the bedroom. The whole place gave one a feeling of happiness and security.
The garden was a delight. It was large with lawns, flower borders, vegetable patch, a large fruit cage in which were grown gooseberries, raspberries, blackcurrants etc. There was a pine wood and a large chicken run and house. How I loved to go out each morning to the chicken house and collect the warm newly laid eggs.
Next door to Elmdon where 'Little Barn' now stands was an asbestos type bungalow in which the two Miss Beasley's lived. They were recluses, were rarely seen and seldom had visitors. My Aunt used to visit them occasionally and after she had entered the bungalow, they always locked the door behind her. They wore long black skirts and tall black hats. I thought they were witches and I was terrified of them. I would never walk past the bungalow. I always ran. They were really quite harmless.
Miss Harris lived at Hill Top another bungalow further up the road. The bungalow laid well back from the road and was approached through a gate and up a long path on either side of which was the most magnificent herbaceous border. Mr. and Mrs. Fisher and Laurie lived on the farm. The tall hedges around the fields were always beautifully trimmed. They kept cows and a few riding horses which I was occasionally allowed to ride. Mrs. Fisher had a weather beaten appearance, her face tanned and leather like. She always wore an old beret on her head. Laurie was ginger haired and looked after the cows. Mr. Fisher, a very neat and tidy little man, endeavoured to keep Homestead Road in a passable condition, at least their part of the road.
Next door at 'Brambles' lived Mrs. Cooper, a large, happy, jolly lady. She had a daughter called Phyllis. We often had tea with them. Then there were the two elderly Miss Fish also with a beautiful garden and next door to them, Mrs. Branch, and at the top of the road the Maxim family. Mr. Maxim was the Churchwarden. Mrs. Latham lived at the bottom of Homestead Road and often called for tea.
Although Homestead Road was nearly always a muddy mess, wild flowers grew in great abundance and abounded with butterflies, mainly blue.
Uncle Dick, as he was known, retained a great interest in all matters naval and vowed he could see, through binoculars, the steam ships sailing up the Solent, always a great pastime, even when I was a child. I was never quite sure whether we could actually see the smoke, but we liked to think we could!
One of our greatest treats during our stay at Medstead was to go on the charabanc - 'The Ruby Queen' to Portsmouth and Southsea.
Mr. Eddolls had the Saddlers shop just beyond the village green in South Town Road, later taken over by Jim Blake who sold all manner of bric a brac.
My mother's sister worked for a time for the Howards at Medstead Grange. We often visited her there. I remember Trinity Hill was very narrow and winding with high banks on either side and the telegraph wires hummed eerily. Traffic could be heard winding its way round the narrow bends and suddenly appeared with frightening effect as we clung to the banks. Remnants of the old road can still be seen to this day.
Both my parents and Eileen's parents were married in Medstead Church. We always went to Church on Sundays. I remember hurrying across the fields to get there in time. We always sat in the same seat opposite the door and I recall the local 'gentry' entering the church by the North door and always sitting apart from the rest of the congregation.
We often visited the Cemetery to place flowers on family graves. I remember just inside the gate on the left hand side was a small grave said to be the grave of a gipsy baby which always made us feel sad.
At other times we stayed with Grandfather Alexander and Auntie Amy at 'Wayside'. During the Second World War, Grandfather and Aunt Amy took in evacuees from Portsmouth. In fact they were friends of the family and had been bombed out. They were father and daughter Annie. The elderly father we called 'Grampy'. Grampy was quite old and had worked on Portsmouth Station in his younger days and remembered the red carpet being laid out on the platform when Queen Victoria arrived at the station on her way to stay at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. Sadly he became confused and muddle headed (probably Alzheimer's Disease) and he imagined he was still at work and called out "God Save the Queen" - much to our amusement as children! He always sat in a black leather chair at 'Wayside' and my cousin and I used to pile on his head all our Aunt Amy's hats (and there were many) till they reached the ceiling and there he sat without a murmur with all the hats on his head; of course we thought it extremely funny, but Aunt frowned and showed disapproval. He would give us a penny (1d) and ask us to get him some Boo Boos! These were extra strong Peppermints!
My other cousin, John, lived at Elmdon with Aunt Emma and Uncle Dick. Although he was a few years my senior, we had great fun at Elmdon. He was a very clever boy and I remember, at the top of the garden, he used to bake clay bricks in Oxo tins and build little houses and roads. Of course Homestead Road was renowned for its clay! In the field at the top of the garden was an old unused pig-sty which he converted into a play house with a carpet and furniture and we spent many happy hours playing there. Cricket on the large lawn was another favourite pastime. He was quite a junior entrepreneur as well. As Homestead Road was quite a long walk from the village, he used to buy 1d bars of chocolate and sticks of licquorice and other small sweets and sell them to passers-by at the gate!
Before our grandmother Alexander married, she was a Miss Batt and came from Bentworth. In the 1950's a descendant of the Batt family came over to England from America searching for his ancestors. He subsequently wrote a book which he entitled 'Hunting Batts in England'. In it he writes of the Medstead district "tiny fields, narrow, twisting roads, where frequently one must back up to let another small car pass by, high hedges everywhere but always quiet, green fields, fine trees, good looking sheep and a few cattle - altogether a peaceful, dreamy countryside free of signs and roadside clamour". That too is how we remember Medstead.