Recollections of Fovant
My brothers and I were previously, on the outbreak of war, evacuated to Salisbury. Dennis and I billeted in one house and John my brother in another. This was because no one would take the three of us. Within a few weeks we returned home, as John was unhappy where he was billeted and we were missing home. All was quiet for a while and then the air raids started in earnest. They were becoming more frequent and the next thing that I remember is that my brothers and I were to be evacuated again. Joyce, my sister, was not in the best of health and she did not go with us.
So, with the same instructions from Mum – if we were to be split up, Ken, as he was known and later John, but not at that point in time, was to go on his own. Off we went by train to Salisbury and then by coach to a village 10 miles to the west from Salisbury and 10 miles further to the west from the town of Shaftesbury. The name of this village was Fovant, a lovely village set in between the rolling downs of Wiltshire, with far bigger hills than my beloved Portsdown Hill. In one particular area on the face of the downs there had been cut into the face various regimental cap badges. Among these, the Wiltshire regiment and Australian regimental badges. These always fascinated me even in later years when I have revisited Fovant. Recently, in this year of 1989 and I being now aged 61, I again revisited Fovant and now they call these badges the Fovant badges.
But again I digress, so back to the story line … On our arrival at Fovant we disembarked and were ushered into a small hall. This hall as I learned later was the Village Hall, where all important village events and meetings were held. Upon entering, the hall was filled with various villagers who had come to look over the evacuees and eventually to take one or more of us into their homes. I remember particularly it was a lovely summer’s day, with the sun shining and pleasantly warm. We stood in the hall, my brothers and I, while people mingled around asking the children various questions and slowly sorting out who was who. I was asked a few times who we were, and told them, as my mother directed, that if we were to be split up, my baby brother aged five was to come with me and my seven year old brother Ken was to go on his own. We didn’t seem to be getting any offers, and then I spotted her, the old witch looking at us and showing interest in my reply to the queries put to me. She was dressed all in black, with a hat very similar in style to that witches are shown to wear. She went up to a person that seemed to be in charge of organising the disposal and the settling of us, and said “I will take these three, there will be no need to split them up.” Whoever the old woman was, she was shown respect by the person responsible for us, this despite her hooked nose and appearance of a witch. I was a little apprehensive, but my brothers and I were together, and to me that was a relief.
With hardly a word, the old women who looked like a witch in my boyish imagination, bade me to follow her, she taking the hand of my 5 year old brother Dennis, and so we walked from the Village Hall eventually arriving at a large house. On our way to the house I glanced from time to time at the old witch and became reassured that there was nothing to be frightened of. On our arrival at the large house we were greeted by a younger woman, upright in posture and manner, with an air of authority. “Mother” she exclaimed! “What are you doing with three children?” Then the old witch explained, she had overheard this young lad explaining that if they were to be split, the youngest was to stop with him and middle brother on his own. “There was no way I going to see the three children split-up.” The witch I originally envisaged, I immediately recognised was an angel in disguise, and Aunt Annie as she became known to us was a loving kindly soul. My brothers and I had become the evacuees of the Hanhams, this was their family name.
The family consisted of Annie Hanham, the mother probably about 67 years of age, a widow, and her daughter, a spinster aged approximately 40 years of age, who was christened Irene Annie Hanham and who we were to call Aunt Rene. The large house that we had seen as we passed its frontage to enter by the back door, was in fact the village school house, with the school classrooms attached. We were in fact billeted on the village school headmistress and her widowed mother. I remember the first meal we had was tea, consisting of bread and jam in the summer afternoon, and thinking about the woods and new surroundings to be explored, quite innocently I asked if after tea I could go to the village and seek out the Ellis boys and others from Cosham who were now billeted at Fovant. I was told that due to the tiring journey we and others had undertaken it was really an inopportune moment to go visiting. This I accepted and left it at that.
Don’t forget I was used to being a fairly free agent so it was to be expected that when the Cosham lads started school, they in turn would ask me to join them when they went out. It soon became apparent that I was not to have the freedom that I was accustomed to and in some ways I never really got accustomed to this restriction being placed on me all the time we were at Fovant. But in later life I could understand Aunt Rene’s reluctance to let me roam, for after all she was responsible for our welfare and safety. Also what would have been said of the headmistress if I were to meet with an accident? Another thing that quickly became apparent; no school fighting was tolerated, for when one of the evacuees a chap named Turner started bullying and I stepped in and started to fight him it was nipped in the bud before it really started. I was told in no uncertain terms that fights at school were not tolerated. Because of the small number of children attending the school and three teachers to supervise there never was any fighting or bullying at Fovant school.
So our life in the small village of Fovant commenced.
I was told by Aunt Rene one time when I inquired where the name Fovant came from, that it was taken from the Roman age, meaning the place of the seven springs. At that particular point in time water was evident everywhere you looked. Immediately at the entrance to the school were the watercress beds, with streams of running water. In these streams, in the clear sparkling water, were trout. Other areas of the village had streams passing cottages and in the main street through the village. Arising into the skyline, looking out over the watercress beds, could be seen Dinton woods. It really was a beautiful village and in the spring and summer full of flowers. This used to be more apparent as you entered the village from the main road which was the link road between Salisbury and Shaftesbury. As you entered the main road through the village, on the right the ground rose to a height of approximately twenty feet, with terraced gardens and in the spring these terraces would be a mass of colour with various kinds of tulips. The gardens of cottages and houses were filled with spring and summer flowers. It really was an idyllic village of which I have many fine memories.
Over the years I have often visited Fovant to see Aunt Annie up to her death and then Aunt Rene up to the time she died. In the visits I have seen the slow destruction of its beauty from development. Where there were open fields and land, houses now stand. The water cress beds were overgrown and sad looking. Although retaining some of its charm to me, a lot of the original beauty has been lost forever. So much for progress. Even the old school house and gardens where we lived have altered. The school house, the house that was warm and friendly, was now empty. All the gardens overgrown, or taken by an enlarged playground. When we were there, the garden had been carefully tended; lawn in the front of the house planted with rose bushes and standard roses and in the warm summer days I would be sent across the road to get a bunch of water cress. An open fronted tent would be erected on the front lawn, then we would have tea consisting of cress sandwiches, cucumber and tomatoes with cream and strawberries or raspberries to complete our feast. The strawberries were grown to the right at the back of the house in the strawberry bed which consisted of a wooden frame about twelve inches high and ten feet square and running down in rows of strawberry plants.
Chicken manure was obtained from the chicken small holding that was owned by the Cowdrys, I believe, the people who kept the village bakery and cake shop. As this chicken small holding was practically next to the school, so a bucket was got to fill with the manure, and carried and spread between the rows of strawberries. I can tell you a bucket full of chicken manure is heavy. When the strawberries were fruiting, rows of straw would be laid in between and under the plants to protect them from slugs and rotting through contact with the earth. The entire wooden frame would be covered with a netting to protect the fruit from the birds. Raspberries and loganberries were grown in the same way, but the wooden frame surrounding the bed was about six feet high in an area approximately ten by six feet. These beds were, as I have said, at the back of the houses and to the left outside by the back door entrance to the house. On leaving the back door to the house and to the right of it was the cold frame used for growing the early potatoes and cucumber for the summer. Further to the right, a greenhouse for the tomatoes in the summer and in winter months, chrysanthemums for the church and house, as Aunt Rene was a fervent churchgoer and supporter of the church, as was her mother Auntie Annie.
Situated in the frontage of the house and to the left facing the front door entrance to the school and the school was a small playground rising a few feet. At the back of the playground was the large vegetable garden which backed on to a copse. In the front of the vegetable garden were gooseberry, red currant and blackcurrant bushes. So, as you can imagine, very self sufficient. This area also contained the outside toilet in the right hand corner, used by the school children and us boys. This consisted of a wooden bench with seat with a bucket hidden inside. The other toilet was situated by the kitchen back door, but still situated outside in a lean-to, constructed in the same way as our toilet. This was used only by Aunt Rene and Aunt Annie. Nearby was a water pump, from which would issue crystal clear water; this was used to water the garden. Also at the rear of the house, but backing on to the copse and next to the lane, was the log shed, filled with logs. It was a job of mine to chop the logs into fire wood and this I used to enjoy. Some times I would have to lay and light the fires. I would pick out all the pine logs that were easily split and got the fire burning brightly in no time when it was lit. At times whilst chopping the logs I would skive off up the lane which ran at the back of the house up to the woods, this I suppose to relieve the restriction of not being allowed out. I could not be gone long and so I was never caught. In this time I made in the woods a bow and arrow set, the string of the bow being made from the stringy roots of the trees, so at times I managed to explore the woods and surrounding area.
With the garden we were practically self sufficient, potatoes stored in the attic room in sacks in the winter. It was one of my chores to empty a sack and remove the sprouting roots towards spring. Inside the house was a larder stocked with home made jams from the fruits from the garden and it was put to us that if we wanted jam we could not have sugar in our tea, as sugar was rationed, so we accepted this and from then until I was about twenty-two I never did take sugar in tea. The larder also contained a large earthenware urn with a wooden lid filled with eggs in a preserving liquid. Aunt Rene’s brother Percy who kept bees, so the larder contained all types of jams and honey. Percy lived at Wilton with his wife Lottie, who was also a school teacher at Wilton. He had met her through Aunt Rene when she was at training college. I never liked Aunt Rene’s brother Percy, as he was too familiar with me, and I disliked and distrusted him! I never let Aunt Rene know how I felt, for she idolised her brother Percy who had been gassed in the first war. Uncle Percy and Auntie Lottie as we were to call them when we visited them at Wilton, had no children. Lottie died quite a few years before Percy. In later life he lived with Aunt Rene at her bungalow at Fovant and between them they donated two bells for the Fovant church. Aunt Rene asked me to attend the dedication ceremony, but unfortunately at the time I could not attend. (I believe the bells are inscribed with their names, but I’m not sure). It was reported in the press, and Aunt Rene was in a high dudgeon about this.
Again I digress…
Milk that went sour was also allowed to curdle and hung in muslin to make silver cheese. In warm weather, milk was boiled to assist in stopping it going sour. We lived and ate well, nothing was wasted, vegetable water was kept as stock for soup, and odds and ends would go into the pot for lunch times. In this would be tomatoes and various home-grown vegetables. Sometimes mushrooms, for in the autumn we would put on our wellington boots and go out and collect these with Aunt Rene. Aunt Rene was always imaginative in her cooking and would involve us in what we could have as a special treat on occasions. These specials varied from chocolate shredded to make sandwiches. Chocolate was a rare treat and it was rationed, that’s if you could get it. Dad and Mum would visit and invariably brought bars of chocolate but we never had a bar, this being conserved and used in the sandwiches, and these were thoroughly enjoyed.
Aunt Rene would say “shall we have a special make-do pie”? Pie was another treat which we children loved, this consisting of vegetables and pieces of bacon in a crusty pie. Flapjacks were another treat, consisting of flour, lard and currants made into a form of dough, fashioned into round circles about one inch thick. This would then be fried in fat and on completion of cooking, placed on your plate and covered with honey or treacle. These were delicious; it is also a recipe that I have cooked for my family over the years and they liked it too. Aunt Rene also included myself in some of her cooking activities at which I became quite adept. Aunt Rene used to say I should become a chef, but I always enjoyed helping, and so as you can see we were really well looked after. I can honestly say we were never physically chastised in any way, and we were well looked after, mind you we were well brought up, but justly by our parents, especially showing respect for our elders. Funnily enough, Aunt Rene never outwardly showed any loving ways that I can remember, but Aunt Annie always did, and she would be the one to scold her daughter on our behalf if she thought Aunt Rene was scolding us too severely, to her mind. Which looking back was really nothing. In the many years visiting Aunt Rene she would always greet you with a bear hug and plant kisses all over you.
As I have already stated, Aunt Rene and her mother Aunt Annie were staunch churchgoers so it was only natural that my brothers and I were also expected to attend church. I was in the church choir, the Rector was Mr. Usher, with Mr. Blake a blind organist. When the sermon was being preached, some of us lads would sometimes make paper boats out of the bit of paper with the hymn’s numbers written on and then make a runway down our surpluses to slide them down. I would sometimes get a disapproving look from the two aunties, but that would then be the end of the matter – until next time. I thoroughly enjoyed the church as it was a treat to escape the confines of the house, but I don’t mean this in a derogatory way. Eventually I was confirmed at Fovant, by the Bishop of Salisbury (I am not certain, but it may have been the Bishop of Portsmouth). After the ceremony Aunt Rene presented me with a confirmation bible.
Aunt Rene, I now believe, recognised the restlessness in me and would organise me to go hay making, potato picking, milking, and other activities. We would all go at times to the vicarage for tea on the lawn in the summer with the Reverend Usher and his wife. They were both in their seventies, and the reverend’s wife was white haired and gave the impression of being the most gentle and kindly ladylike of women. Again they had a large lawn in front of the vicarage and it was here we had tea and scones. As I said before, it was only natural that I should join the church choir and this I thoroughly enjoyed, especially dressing up in surplice and cassock. I would sing my heart out. At one point in time, Aunt Rene was talking of putting myself forward for Salisbury choir for which you had to attend for an audition, however nothing was to come of this as we left Fovant prior to the move coming to fruition, but to all accounts I had a good voice (my wife would not agree and she would say had). After being confirmed I would attend morning communion with Aunt Rene.
Two things I did enjoy was to go on a baker’s round with a chap called Don, who was the son of the owner of the bakery. We would go to other villages and he would allow me to lean over from the passenger&rsqo;s side and steer the van; it was great fun. I also used to go milking at Wyatt’s dairy. Mr. Wyatt who had a son of my age Michael, his father taught me to how to milk. All the cows were of a mixture, but all had their individual names, some of near by villages; for instance one was called Chilmark. I used to love the milking and being involved, but then again, my forefathers were farmers, so in some ways I suppose I have always had an inbred love of the country. Mr. Wyatt, as I remember him, was a lovely chap, and always had a smile on his face. We could see his cottage from the back door of the school house, and see the milk being sterilised. You can’t do that now, the field is built on.
To be continued …
(but unfortunately Fred Harman died before he could send us the rest of the story, although, luckily, we did receive a photograph taken of him at his home in Waterlooville in 2004).
Content last updated
26 January 2009