Richard Bland

My brother John and I spent several months in Fovant during 1933 at our grandparents house called ‘Hill View’ (now renamed ‘Linthorpe House’), my grandparents names being Jesse George Randall (1862-1948) and Florence Susan Randall (nee Beale) (1873-1942). As my brother was nearly eight at the time, he of course was required to attend school. I was not quite four years of age, but, missing my parents, I was not going to miss my brother so they sent me along to the village school too. I sat right at the back of the class, but come the early afternoon I would be fast asleep on the schoolmistress’s lap. I would not be at all surprised if gran did not heave a secret sigh of relief that both her charges attended school. Who could blame her? Two boisterous boys to look after, when one is advancing in years, must be quite a handful. It could not have been easy for mother either. She was able to see her children once a week, on her day off. I can remember the sweets she brought with her on these weekly trips very clearly. Several times we were sent to the woods, only a short distance away to collect wood chippings, left by the woodman’s axe.

At that time, the water had to be drawn from a tap from across the road. The standpipe had a brick housing, and it must have been delightful having to make the trip in the wintertime. Several layers of grandad’s sacks would have been needed to prevent the pipe from freezing. I was too small to lug the bucket across the road, standing knee-high to a grasshopper. I think my brother managed half a bucket. At least it was half when he started the journey. On the way back most of the wet stuff ended up soaking his socks and shoes. I expect grandad gave him a boiled sweet as a just reward, and gran gave him a telling off.

Watching the cows being milked was another favourite pastime of ours. One small member of our group pointed to an animal on the far side of the field and suggested to the dairyman that he milk that one too. He laughed so much he knocked the pail of milk over. We could not see the funny side at all, until an older boy informed us with a deep air of wisdom, “You can’t milk bulls, silly!” We tried hard to look knowledgeable, and nodded our head in complete agreement. But we still could not see the point. The dairyman would insist on giving me a quick squirt of milk in the face if I stood too close. I could not quite fathom out where all the milk came from. “Has the cow got a lot of milk bottles in its tummy?” I innocently asked. “No, silly”, they all shouted in scornful unison, “cows chew grass to make it.” That sounded a sillier idea than the milk bottles, but I decided to give a whirl and retired to a corner of the field to chew mouthfuls of grass. I didn’t make any milk, but I did manage to make myself sick!

An economy of gran’s that springs to mind was her insistence of dishing up boiled rice for lunch without jam on it. Mother always maintained that the boiled rice was the reason for our pearly teeth. Running the whole length of one side of the table we had our meals on, was a long form. A long stick hung in pride of place over the doorway. Gran never hit us with it, but she was known to cast many meaningful glances in the stick’s direction. Gran always sat at the table with us to eat her meals, but not grandad, he had no intention of being so thick with us. He sat in his large chair by the fireside, an ideal place in the wintertime. His meal was placed on an iron stand that swung out from the stove itself. Whenever he had finished taking a large swig of tea, his walrus-like moustache was soaking wet. Grandad always made a big production out of draining the dregs from his upper lip. This made us laugh of course so gran would look stern in his direction which made us giggle all the more.

One sunny afternoon, four cousins arrived for a visit. The older ones of the group decided to go for a nice country walk, at least, that was the general idea. Crossing over a field, we spied some piglets that undoubtedly had escaped from a piggery. Some bright spark had the idea of catching one of the little curly tails. The sow came out of the long grass snorting with indignation. Suddenly the eldest cousin pointed a trembling finger to the angry mother’s direction. “Quick, run!” he yelled. Luckily for us, a stile showed itself in the hedgerow. I was hurriedly dragged out of the firing line of the angry sow’s snout. Talking about pigs, they usually went to their doom in a shed quite close to my grandparent’s cottage. It was normally the local butcher that did the slaughtering with the help of some hefty villagers, grandad included. The din the pigs made in the shed was frightening to us children. Their squeals could be heard the length and breadth of Fovant High Street.

Richard Bland – 1929 – 1995

(aka Dick Bland)

Grandad’s ancestors had all been blacksmiths, and grandad had himself spent his formative years in a Donhead St Mary forge. Saws, spades, rakes and hoes jostled with old blacksmith’s tools, hammers and boxes of nails. Not surprisingly, grandad’s shed drew us like a magnet. Two old tomcats held court over it all, bedded down on a pile of old sacks. Gran would never set foot in the place. That suited us, and grandad too very likely. He was able to smoke his foul-smelling pipe in peace out there. The back garden went straight up from the back of the shed. Clamping irons were almost a must in getting up the garden path.

Mrs Truckle kept the village sweet shop, and as you can imagine, was the focal point of our young lives. Her shop had once been a blacksmith’s, but it never showed. She was a dear old soul, and dressed in an old-fashioned way, even for those days. Her feet were resplendent in high buttoned-up boots, always with a high shine on them. The one drawback, if one imagined to be gasping for a sweet, was the time it took to get served. Mrs Truckle lived in a house on the opposite side of the road, at the end of a long garden. The bell was pressed on the shop door, then all eyes turned expectantly in the direction of the house. A brief silence, then a door slammed somewhere in the distance. A small florid-faced figure could be spotted, hurrying down the long garden path for all she was worth. When she drew within range, her face fell for she knew she had hurried all that way for just a ha’porth of sweets. Once inside the shop it really was a sight for sore eyes. She had jars and boxes, some of them dating back to the Edwardian times I should think. There were many, many jars of the most mouth-watering sweets that would have gladdened the heart of any child. Humbugs, toffee, hundreds and thousands, wine gums, gobstoppers, black jack (one of my favourites), pear drops (lasted a lifetime), sugared almonds, chocolate of all size and make, and much more, too numerous to mention, or recall.

Village life was a very pleasant sort of life to live, and still is I am sure. Everyone knew everyone else, a real close-knit community. Of course, there is a snag to everything. If one got up to hanky panky, the whole village knew about it. Life was lived at a pleasant pace. The same postman delivered the letters for years. The same policeman was on the beat. The whole atmosphere was warm and friendly. All good things have to come to an end, and in time my brother and I returned to Luton near Chatham, Kent to our new house. I had picked up quite a Wiltshire accent. My father laughed his head off when he first heard me speak. He laughed on the other side of his face when he heard my brother. John spoke in a broader accent than I did!

(This account was sent to us by Dick Bland’s son, also called Richard)

In 1944, Mr Bland’s father wrote this, which forms a suitable postscript to his son’s memoirs

Every time it was sunny, I cycled to Fovant to see my mother’s sister, Bess. She and her husband, Richard Lumby, kept the Cross Keys Inn at Fovant. My grandparents were there no longer. Grandmother had died in 1942, and grandfather was living in Salisbury with my aunt, Lily Daniels. My aunt at the Cross Keys was a cook by trade. What lovely meals she provided for us, and in wartime too. On the menu were roast duck, garden peas, sweet as a nut, crispy roast potatoes and thick gravy. To follow there were invariably some soft fruit, picked fresh that morning from her garden, topped off with fresh cream. I had to rest for several hours before I could attempt to cycle home.

Aunt sidled up to see me after the meal, ” Here you are, put this in your pocket, I expect you can do with it.” She pressed a half-a-crown, and a packet of ‘fags’ into my palm. Half an hour later, my uncle did the same thing. It’s a good job they never got together to compare notes! They were nice people, and not only because of the tips.

April 2009

Content last updated
27 April 2009