My Early Life, Privvies,Peas and Walnuts
A Brief History of Our Village
I was born in a tiny railway village in Hampshire, England. In the 19th century the railways were being laid down at quite a rate and the main line from the capital, London to the south coast; the civil port at Southampton and the great naval port at Portsmouth all passed through Sutton Scotney and Winchester. Our village of South Wonston lay between the two and a small station was built there to serve the military base at Worthy Down.
The village was very small, some half a dozen abodes initially to serve the railway workers digging the railway through the chalk down landscape. All of the surrounding villages - Sutton Scotney, Micheldever, Norton, Stoke Charity and the Worthies were all of ancient lineage and well documented. (www.british-history.ac.uk ) Most can trace their heritage back to at least the Iron Age. This area of the south of England is dotted with hill forts and barrows.
And of course, there is Stonehenge, just 25 miles away! An amazing piece of engineering, surrounded in mystery that even today has not been resolved! No wonder the imagination of a growing child was constantly stimulated by all of the ancient wonders surrounding our small village. South Wonston indeed boasts several prehistoric long barrows, one of which was just quarter of a mile from my home and of great interest to me as a child. But sadly, the adults would never allow me to explore in any depth so it is only now that I’m beginning to piece together some of the past history of my home village. I’ve included here a quote from an historical website which goes some way to tell the tale.
South Wonston East Long Barrow http://www.themodernantiquarian.com
“This is well preserved and is now at the bottom of two gardens. You can see it from the Alresford Drove byway on the north-east edge of South Wonston”.
South Wonston South-west Long Barrow
“Finding this barrow makes up (almost) for the depressing state of most of the other sites in the area. It lay unknown in woodland for a very long time, unploughed and unexcavated, before being found by surveyors involved in the expansion of the nearby A34 dual carriageway in 1979. Given its proximity to the other long barrows around South Wonston, I think it should be regarded as part of that group. It is 60m long, 20m wide and 2-2.5m high. Berms of 2m wide and ditches of 0.1m deep and 5m wide.”
There are 3 more long barrows recorded on the same website for the South Wonston area, which in itself is intriguing. The area of the village stands on high ground, and as a child I can remember that one could see clearly across the fields towards Sutton Scotney some three miles away. Today, the village has grown somewhat and houses obscure the view. Obviously, the ancients saw this as a vantage point for their dead ancestors, or maybe there was a hill fort situated somewhere around which has not as yet been unearthed.
Winchester itself was a settlement in the Iron Age and dates back to at least 3000 BC. The cathedral was built on the ruins of an even older church, and that itself was built on the site of a prehistoric well, which could be visited until well into the 70’s.
South Wonston Family Photos
My South Wonston Ancestors
My own South Wonston ancestors came originally from Wales via Hammersmith the first years of the new century. My Great-grandfather’s occupation is unknown to me, but my Grandfather, Thomas Pratten was in the army and served in both India and South Africa. He, his father and his brother arrived in South Wonston and in the true manner of pioneers, set about fencing off 6 acres of land and claiming ‘Squatters Rights’. Whether or not they were involved with the construction of the Great Western Railway I do not know, but they paid the required sum of twenty five pounds and acquired the deeds of ‘Melcum’, Lower Road, South Wonston and set about building a bungalow and a home fit for a family. The acreage was large and sustained the family easily.
Cold Bedrooms and Scary Privvies
The house was small and what is termed today as ‘a Colonial Build’, in other words, it was very basic, six rooms as I recall with a porch to protect the front door. The ceiling sloped down nearly to the ground in the children’s bedrooms at the rear and the windows had bars on them – was this to prevent us wayward children escaping or to stop the burglars getting in? I’ve no idea, I can just remember it being dark in there, especially in the winter months when the ice obscured the outside and everything was so cold when you went to bed and you could see your own vaporous breath as you tried to keep warm. We had a ‘stone pig’ of course – a water-bottle which was often too hot and left purple patchy marks on your legs. Nothing could make you warm in those first minutes after going to bed and looking back on a wonderful childhood, I realize this was not part of the ‘wonder’ – this was sheer survival.
There was no indoor toilet so a china potty always accompanied you to bed. Heaven help you if you forgot to empty it the next day too! The privvy was situated miles up the garden – or so it seemed to my childish legs in the 1940s; so not a place to be visited after dark. If ever the need arose and you did venture to the outside toilet after dark, the horror of sitting in that dark and smelly little room was enough to cause severe bowel movements. The walnut tree, under which the privvy was built, scraped the corrugated tin roof with its branches, causing the mind to riot in all sorts of wild imaginings! The knowledge that really huge, malicious and ugly spiders lurked under the polished wooden seat was another horror to be borne, and the cobwebs that festooned the ceiling would be remembered in later years as I watched my first horror films with Vincent Price or Christopher Lee! The films had nothing on my imagination. The times I managed to bite through my lower lip as I held my breath at the thought of all the dreadful things that awaited me both inside and outside that little house cannot be imagined,
In the daytime the privvy was a place of great fun if my Grandparents had visitors, especially in the summer when the walnut tree was in full leaf and just bearing small nuts. My greatest delight was to sit in the wide branches above the toilet roof and drop walnuts or pebbles down onto the roof when an elderly aunt or uncle made the journey up the garden to the ‘little house’.
Water was drawn from a well or rather, two wells. When one was empty, the other one was used. The highlight of our childhood summers was to help our Grandfather to clean the wells out. He would empty them, and then we would get inside them with him and scrub the walls. When thinking back on these golden days it’s with some wonder that we ever survived. What came out of the wells we gave no heed to. But now, dead mice, mosquito larvae, earthworms, - anything that could fall into a deep hole and drown, obviously did so in our wells. But we were never ill, - the childhood illnesses of measles, mumps and chickenpox were all taken in our stride, but I can rarely remember a cold or feeling ill. I guess we built up an immunity to all the bugs around us and it makes one think of the mollycoddled world that children grow up in today and how ill they can become.
My Mother actually had five of us children in those conditions – no running water, no electricity and no indoor toilet. How did she do it? How did we all survive? It seems amazing now looking back, but it was the norm in those days and we were happy in our ignorance.
The Veggie Gardens
The vegetable gardens were still in existence when I was a child, and chicken, a cow and other animals were also kept to aid the aim of self sufficiency. ‘The Good Life’ was a normal way of life in those days; people just did not have the money to do anything but manage self sufficiency in the only way they knew how – hard work. My fondest memories of our huge vegetable gardens were my Grandfathers face when he came to harvest the runner beans, carrots, swedes or peas that were on the side furthest away from the kitchen window. My brother and I would get bored and hungry in the summer holidays, so would creep along the line of runner beans, settle ourselves happily in a nest of foliage and proceed to eat whatever our little hands could reach. Oh the fantastic taste of raw runners, peas and carrots! We were never hungry at meal times and no small wonder! And these were not the only vegetables to fall to our hungry mouths. Part of the six acres was leased at various times to an old man in the village who owned a herd of cows, his name was Arthur Hollamby. He was our village milkman and his cows produced delicious milk. But we tried to sabotage their efforts by eating their beet crop. Another good tree to hide behind was the pink horse-chestnut by Grandpa’s barn. From here we made forays out into the field and ate a large semi circle of these delicious veggies. Isn’t it amazing that we never got a tummy ache? By all rights we should have been very, very ill with all the soil and bacteria we consumed in our young lives, but it just passed through along with all the raw fruits and vegetables.
The Early Days
It was here on this acreage that Thomas courted and married my beloved Grandmother, Agnes Matilda Woods in the early 1920s, and in 1925 my Mother was the first child born to them, closely followed by my two Aunts, Mabel and Margaret. The family had a happy childhood surrounded by peaceful farmlands, woods and Mother Nature. They had no close neighbours, the nearest being Tom and Louise Green some quarter of a mile away on another large acreage of farmland which Tom turned over to strawberry beds in the years after the second World War.
The road was an unmade cart track and to access the main road they had to walk over a mile. An unpleasant task I remember well in the cold, wet winters when I had to catch a bus to school and often arrived looking like a muddy gypsy. Oh the embarrassment! Oh the mortification! All the other girls would arrive in their dainty shoes, clean clothes and even cleaner socks; but I had to arrive in Wellington boots covered in mud and with half as much again kicked up my back as I’d walked. It was fine for my brother, he was a BOY after all and boys were supposed to be dirty! Girls were ‘sugar and spice and all things nice’ weren’t they?
Hello Great - Grandad!
Back to our small-holding - within the six acres was a small copse of maybe half an acre and it was here in the left corner that my Great-grandfather was buried. Many acreages had burial places on them and on the next door land was a Mr Addaway (or was it Blackadder – that sounds much more romantic), safely incarcerated in an eerie tomb, nothing like Great-grandpas. It always felt a bit creepy when you saw its starkness in the middle of winter from your bedroom window.
Our Great-granddad’s resting place was comfortable and never caused us any concerns at all. His last resting place was surrounded by lovely trees and with a view he would have enjoyed many times during his sojourn in the countryside there. The grave was always kept immaculate and was surrounded by a chain link fence and posts. But, as is the want of naughty children though, my brother Robert and I would often wander there and play, never fearing the spirit we may have been disturbing. We were so intrigued by the thought of this dear old man lying interred there that we tried to dig him up one day – with tablespoons! Needless to say, we didn’t get very far, the ground was too hard and the wrath of our Mother at this sacrilegious act was something awesome and not to be forgotten in a hurry! She had the most boney fingers and the marks on our legs stayed to remind us of our iniquity for many days! But nothing daunted, we still used to visit the old man several times a week and put wild flowers on his grave. I’m sure he forgave us and had a good laugh wherever he was.
Many years later, this was to come back and haunt us when the land that we’d all been born on, was compulsorily purchased by Winchester Council. The grave had to be removed and the old man re-interred at the church of the Holy Trinity at Wonston, some four miles away. But the dear old man, our beloved Great-grandfather was an atheist and during all of our years of trying to exhume him we’d never realized his grave was orientated South to North, not East to West as with a Christian burial. He had been, according to my Mother, a devout atheist and refused to have anything to do with the church. A tradition which Thomas kept up, much to the consternation of my Grandmother, who was born into a Methodist family and went to church regularly. But re-interred he was, and I’ve sometimes asked my Mother if she had any qualms at all about burying her Grandfather in consecrated ground when he was genuinely an atheist. She had no option really I suppose, but I often wonder if his spirit is okay with the situation. Although I never knew the old man, I feel as though he was an intrinsic part of my childhood and loved him dearly.
Old Family Photos
There are so many parts to ones life and here I’ve just written a few odd memories that have made me smile over the years. It was a happy and idyllic childhood with warm summers scented with wild flowers, hay and pine resin. We played without fear of bad, mad or sad things and in our innocence developed into the people we are today. As I write, so many more memories come flooding back and as with so many people that open the floodgates to their memories, I know there will be a lot more stories after this one.