It will be seen that matters cycling occupy an important place in The Rambler. The cycle may be described as the key to the country. Certainly there is no way of learning and knowing the country equal to cycling. In fact without cycling we are absolutely at a loss to understand how the great majority of the dwellers in large cities in this Kingdom could see anything of the country except occasional flying glimpses of it from the train.
However, if a prominent position is given to cycling let it be distinctly understood that the paper will not be filled with cycle puffs and cycling advertisements, nor with accounts of runs by clubs of whom no one ever heard, nor with lengthy reports of the rulings of the various cycling associations.
Everything in The Rambler relating to cycling will be treated of only by experts. For example, in the first number will be found contributions by F. T. Bidlake, M. A. Holbein, and many other well-known writers. We need only mention that the paper will be edited by Mr Charles P. Sisley, the best cycling Editor of the day, and our readers will understand that any statements regarding cycling may be depended upon, as nothing will be allowed to appear on the subject which has not passed his very critical cycling eye.
(The Rambler magazine, Vol 1. No. 1, 22nd May, 1897)
Recently I got the urge to purge my vintage magazines and ephemera. Sorting my collection always takes twice as long as it really should, I stop to read all the advertisements, articles and classifieds just in case there is a great story hiding in the column inches. I came across a rather dog-eared but nonetheless charming copy of The Rambler from 22nd May, 1897, Vol 1 No. 1, first edition. A penny weekly magazine devoted to outdoor life and articles about cycling in the countryside feature heavily.
By the 1890s cycling had become extremely popular in Britain, particularly with women, as it offered them an escape from house and husband. This was also the age of suffragism, socialism and the civil rights movement. Many female campaigners used bicycles as their preferred mode of transport. The bicycle represented, freedom, mobility and independence.
Cycling, c1890. French illustration of a lady in ‘Rational’ cycling dress of knickerbockers and gaiters, giving her small daughter a ride on the saddle of her bicycle. (Photo by Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images)
In my edition of The Rambler, all illustrations depict the female cyclist wearing long skirts, conservatively dressed, modesty preserved. However, in the 1890s, cycling for some women provided an opportunity to make a political statement via their mode of dress. In 1881, The Rational Dress Society was formed, spearheaded by Lady Florence Harberton (1843-1911), Mary Eliza Haweis (1848-1898) and Constance Wilde (1859-1898) (wife of Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)). The Society’s mission statement read:
The Rational Dress Society protests against the introduction of any fashion in dress that either deforms the figure, impedes the movements of the body, or in any way tends to injure the health. It protests against the wearing of tightly-fitting corsets; of high-heeled shoes; of heavily-weighted skirts, as rendering healthy exercise almost impossible; and of all tie down cloaks or other garments impeding on the movements of the arms. It protests against crinolines or crinolettes of any kind as ugly and deforming….[It] requires all to be dressed healthily, comfortably, and beautifully, to seek what conduces to birth, comfort and beauty in our dress as a duty to ourselves and each other.
In 1892 free-spirited traveller and advocate of the outdoors, Miss Lillias Campbell Davidson, established the Lady Cyclists’ Association. Davidson was well-placed to head-up this new organisation and in 1896, her Handbook for Lady Cyclists was published. Previously she had written Hints for Lady Travellers (1889) in which she recommended the following dress code for ladies embarking upon cycling tours:
Wear as few petticoats as possible; dark woollen stockings in winter, and cotton in summer; shoes, never boots; and have your gown made neatly and plainly of flannel without loose ends or drapery to catch in your [bicycle]… Grey is the best colour, or heather mixture tweed, which does not show dust or mud stains, and yet cannot lose its colour under a hot sun.
Below are a few of my favourite quotes from The Rambler:
And she smiled sweetly: “How frightful I must look!” exclaimed the young woman cyclist who had fallen into a muddy excavation in the street. “You look,” exclaimed the panting but infatuated youth who had lifted her out, “like 150 pounds of extracted honey!”.
Queen Victoria and cycling: of the ladies in the Royal household Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Albany was perhaps the first to start the fashion of cycling, for in 1884 the Queen presented her with a valuable little tricycle, and displayed much interest in the course of instruction, which took place in the grounds. It is stated that Her Majesty, herself unable to resist the temptation, mounted in private and took a turn round her beautiful domain at Osborne.
A small but important matter: When having the bell attached to the handle-bars of a machine, be careful in seeing that it is within easy reach of your thumb without moving either hand from the grips. The bell should be rung without a moment’s hesitation if danger has to be avoided, and very frequently a second or two lost in reaching it, if near the centre of the bars, means a bad smash. A small bell again is not much good. It is better to purchase, within reasonable limits of course, a bell the clang of which can be heard without difficulty, instead of a tinkling little affair, the sound of which is drowned by the noise of ordinary traffic.
Formidable enemies of cyclists: The most formidable stinging insect in Britain is the hornet. Its attack is really extremely painful, but it is not very often encountered. Wasps are really more of a nuisance than hornets, for though less virulent they are more abundant, and will sometimes sting without provocation, being apparently subject to fits of bad temper.
Learn to ride with your mouth shut and breathe through your nose. To ride a long journey quickly and with comfort, eat beef steak and bread, taking no drink at the time. When very thirsty drink only hot tea, and take bread or toast with it. A good thirst quencher is to put the wrists in cold water.
Through the ages – sackings and burnings, invader and pirates, smugglers and highwaymen, Kings and Queens, statesmen and reformers, and, in more recent years, threats of invasion, bombs and incendiaries, to say nothing of “doodle bugs.”
And yet through it all Rye seems to stand quite imperturbable and seemingly unconcerned with the passage of time, for we read that in 1263 the Friar of the Sack were allowed “to dwell in peace and quietude… in the Town of Rye,” and we can stand in the same street to-day and feel the same sense of “peace and quietude” and realize that nothing seems to have altered in the last 700 years. The peculiar appeal of Rye is that inasmuch as other towns take you back to the past, Rye brings the past ages right into the present day.
(Handbook and Guide: Rye, Winchelsea & Northiam by L.A. Vidler and W. MacLean Homan, 1950)
I spent my childhood in East Sussex, it is a picturesque county with a fascinating history dating back to the 5th Century AD when South Saxons settled there following the Romans’ departure. The ancient town of Rye, close to the East Sussex coastline, was once contained in the Manors of Rameslie and Brede. I visited Rye many times with my family and is a town that remains close to my heart.
In my collection of vintage publications there is a 1950 copy of the Rye & District Holiday Guide. It is a joy to dip in and out of this little book, a slice of nostalgia from post-war Britain. For a majority of Britons, 1950 was not a time of prosperity, food rationing was still in place and petrol rationing did not end until 26th May that year. During the early 1950s, many Britons chose to spend their holidays or days out close to home. Guidebooks, such as this one, became an invaluable resource. It was not until the end of the decade that one in three British families owned a car and venturing outside of one’s locality became the norm.
The guidebook is jam-packed full of advertisements promoting local tourist attractions as well as establishments offering that ever popular British staple, afternoon tea. In the back section there is a comprehensive accommodation list, some of the descriptions given are so charming, I thought it would be nice to share some of my favourites with you:
The Mill, Iden-by-Rye. An old Millhouse all on one floor, rooms of good size and comfortably furnished. On Bus route 2 miles from Rye and situated in country surroundings. Our own farm produce. Sandwiches willingly packed. Inclusive terms.
Monastery Guest House, High Street, Rye. Principal rooms overlooking secluded garden flanked by the original old Monastery Chapel wall (1379). Spend a restful holiday in a happy atmosphere with comfort, courtesy and consideration.
Thornton House, Northiam (near Rye). Ideal for country holidays. Good food, a happy atmosphere and every consideration. Bus and London coaches pass the gate. Inclusive terms from 4 1/2 guineas weekly.
Robin Hill is a Guest House unusual – antiquity with fine old oak beams and timbered rooms with cosy chimney corners, yet possessing every modern convenience.
Rye as a touring centre is ideal for walkers, cyclists and motorists. Rolling wooded country North and West of the town, the sea to the South, and the wonderful Romney Marshes to the East. Good roads radiate in all directions with country lanes and paths in profusion.
Rye together with its surrounding area, has long been a mecca for literary types. Playwright John Fletcher (1579-1625) was born in Rye in 1579 at the Old Vicarage House and at which his father, the Rev. Richard Fletcher, then resided as minister and preacher during the vicariate of Rev. Richard Connope, an absentee; as he would not resign in Mr Fletcher’s favour, the latter left Rye when his famous son was two years old. John Fletcher’s birthplace was pulled down in 1699 and a new house re-erected in 1701.
Henry James poses outside Lamb House c.1900. (Photo by Kean Collection/Getty Images).
Lamb House (National Trust), Rye was home to American novelist Henry James (1843-1916) from 1897 until his death. James wrote The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903) and The Golden Bowl (1904) in house’s garden room (destroyed by a bomb in World War Two). Lamb House featured as Mr Longdon’s home in The Awkward Age (1899).
E. (Edward) F. (Frederic) Benson, c.1915. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
E. F. Benson (1867-1940) moved to Rye in 1919 and lived at Lamb House. He wrote six novels and two short stories in the popular ‘Mapp and Lucia’ series. These quintessentially English novels depict life in a 1930s provincial market town. Four novels are set in Tilling, a fictional location based upon Rye. Lamb House became the model for Mapp’s, as well as for a little while, Lucia’s home, ‘Mallards’. Benson was Mayor of the Borough of Rye from 1934 and accorded Honorary Freedom of the Borough on March 22nd, 1938.
In 1773, theologian John Wesley (1703-1791) visited Rye, East Sussex, and wrote in his diary: ‘I found the people willing to hear the good word at Rye but they will not part with the accursed thing, smuggling.’ During the eighteenth century, Rye and nearby Romney Marshes were awash with smuggling activities. Bandits would smuggle goods such as brandy and tobacco in at night by boat from France to avoid high import taxes.
Arthur Russell Thorndike (1885-1972), English actor and novelist, early 20th century. Thorndike was the brother of Dame Sybil Thorndike (1882-1976). (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
One of the most notorious gangs of smugglers was the Hawkhurst Gang who frequented The Mermaid Inn, Mermaid Street, Rye. Actor and author Arthur Russell Thorndike (1885-1972), born in Rochester, Kent, wrote a series of books, known as the Dr Syn series, based upon eighteenth century smuggling activities on the Romney Marshes. The main protagonist is the swashbuckling Rev. Dr Christopher Syn who leads a rebel band against the King’s press gangs.
Books in the Dr Syn series are:
Doctor Syn: A Tale of the Romney Marsh (1915)
Doctor Syn on the High Seas (1935)
Doctor Syn Returns (1935)
Further Adventures of Doctor Syn (1936)
Courageous Exploits of Doctor Syn (1938)
Amazing Quest of Doctor Syn (1939)
Shadow of Doctor Syn (1944)
Clip from The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh , a television adaptation of Thorndike’s concluding Dr Syn novel (but written first). This television series aired in three parts in 1963. Uploaded to You Tube 23.4.11.
A short ‘stills’ film I made showcasing the Georgian Christmas event at Chawton House Library, Hampshire (13.12.14).
Although Chawton House, Hampshire, is not a Georgian property (it was built between c.1583 and c.1665), it is still the perfect setting to step back in time and experience Christmas during the long eighteenth century.
The Georgian period started in 1714 and ended in 1830. In 1797, Jane Austen’s (1775-1817) third eldest brother, Edward Austen Knight (1768-1852), took control of the Chawton estate after inheriting it from his childless relatives, Catherine and Thomas Knight.
Edward’s new situation, as a gentleman of considerable wealth, enabled him to take care of his mother and two unmarried sisters (Jane and Cassandra). In 1809, he moved the three of them into Chawton Cottage, located only a short walk from his estate in the nearby village. Whilst living in Chawton, Jane had four of her novels published:
Edward did not live at Chawton House but instead spent most of his time at his other estate, Godmersham, Kent, letting out his property at Chawton to gentlemen tenants. His brother Frank also borrowed the house at one time. Jane’s mother and her sister are both buried at St. Nicholas Church, situated in the grounds of Chawton House. Jane died in 1817 in Winchester and is buried in the north aisle of the Cathedral nave.
During the eighteenth century, the Knight Family kept a handwritten cook book (Knight Family Cookbook), not uncommon for a household of Chawton’s size. However, what is unique is that the Knight’s cookbook has survived in good condition. The cook book was compiled on behalf Thomas Knight for his sister, when he died, the manuscript passed to Edward.
The Georgian period as a whole has got an awful lot going for it. The clothing is fabulous, the attitudes are interesting, the Enlightenment is in full swing and people are questioning philosophical, medical and culinary viewpoints, left, right and centre. As for the food, especially the feasting food, you cannot beat it. I would say that the flavours, tastes and textures of Georgian cooking are probably the best. Some of the combinations are just knockouts.
Dr Gray also treated us to food samples recreated from recipes she had transcribed from The Knight Family Cookbook. A delicious spread of sweet treats, cinnamon cakes, ginger cakes, mincemeat pies (with cow tongue!) and Twelfth Cake. There is an excellent interview with Dr Gray about the allure of Georgian festive fare on the Chawton House Library blog. Click here.
In Georgian England, Christmas lasted much longer than it does today. It began on 6th December (St. Nicholas’ Day) and ended with Twelfth Night (6th January, feast of the Epiphany). This month long season became a time of balls, dinner parties, dancing, playing parlour games, singing carols and, of course, feasting.
The upper echelons of society engaged in acts of philanthropy not only towards the poor but also their own servants. On St. Stephen’s Day (26th December), Christmas boxes filled with cake, money and clothing were donated, the modern name, ‘Boxing Day’, originates from this tradition. Dr Gray explained that festivities among the poorer sections of society were rather bawdy, drunken affairs. They would consume lots of boiled meats and puddings, that had been cooked in the household cauldron, normally used for washing laundry!
During the Georgian era, dining was an exciting experience. According to Dr Gray:
No children were present at the dining table, mealtimes were very much an adult affair. It was a ‘choose your own dining adventure’, the most exciting method of dining. The table would be laid à la française [all dishes served at the same time] with between five and twenty dishes for each course. The second course usually consisted of roast meats (game, beef, sirloin and game) from the landowner’s own estate. Another Georgian delicacy was brawn, made from a stewed pig’s head.
Plum pudding [plumb pudden] was treated like modern-day chutney. It goes very well with beef. Georgian plum puddings had a stiffer structure than we are now used to, it held its shape and could be sliced. If you fry slices of Georgian plum pudding, pair with slices of beef and cover in gravy it is delicious. Mincepies were not all sweet like they are now, one third of the filling was actual meat, for example calf or cow tongue.
Service à la française dated back to the Middle Ages and continued until the nineteenth century when it was gradually replaced by service à la russe, a succession of courses, each one cleared away before the next, we still use this style today. The rules of Georgian dining table etiquette were very strict:
When dinner is announced the mistress request the lady first in rank, to shew the way to the rest.., she then asks the second in precedence to follow, and after all the ladies are passed, she brings up the rear herself…The master of the house does the same with the gentlemen…The mistress of the table sits at the upper end (with) those of superior rank next to her, right and left, those next in rank following, then the gentlemen, and master at the lower end….
Soup is generally the first thing served, and should be stirred from the bottom….Where there are several dishes at table, the mistress of the house carves that which is before her, and desires her husband, or person at the bottom of the table, to carve the joint or bird before him…
Eating quick or very slow at meals is characteristic of the vulgar; the first infers poverty, that you have not had a meal for sometime; the last … that you dislike your entertainment. So again eating your soup with your nose in the plate, is vulgar, it has the appearance of being used to hard work, and having, of course, an unsteady hand….Smelling to the meat whilst on the fork, before you put it in your mouth…To be well received you must always be circumspect at table, where it is exceedingly rude to scratch any part of your body, to spit, to blow your nose (if you can’t avoid it turn your head), to lean elbows on the table, etc.., etc.., to leave the table before grace is said.
(The Honours of the Table, or Rules for Behaviour during meals by John Trusler (1791))
Greenery featured heavily at Christmas in the Georgian house and represented the strength of life through cold winter months. Greenery included, holly, evergreen, kissing boughs of holly, ivy and rosemary, foliage was dressed with spices, apples, oranges, candles, and ribbons, all of which would be put-up on Christmas Eve. Kissing boughs would only be hung in the servants’ quarter.
Yule logs were the centrepiece of Georgian Christmas decorations. The largest log on the estate would be chosen, one big enough to burn throughout Christmas Day. The log was so large it stick out of the fire hearth into the room and was wrapped in hazel twigs. A small piece of the log would be kept to light the following year’s Yule log.
Twelfth Night was an extremely important feasting opportunity in the Georgian calendar. Wassail and Twelfth Cake were traditionally consumed on this day. Hidden inside a Twelfth Cake would be a dried pea or bean, whoever found these pulses would be King or Queen of the household for the day, even if the finder happened to be a servant! Twelfth Cake went out of fashion in the Victorian era and replaced by the Christmas Cake. It is still tradition in France to eat a flaky cake known as agalette des rois (kings’ tart) on Twelfth Night (see image below).
(From The Knight Family Cookbook (Both recipes below transcribed by Dr Annie Gray)
‘I have already halved the amounts in the original recipe, which calls for a cake tin half a yard.’
Ingredients: 5pt. flour, 1/2 lb sugar, 1/4 oz mace, 1 1/2 nutmegs, pinch cloves, cinnamon, 4 lb currants, 1 lb raisins, 7 1/2 fl. oz. cream, 1 1/4 lb butter (melted into the cream), scant pint of warm water, with a tsp of sugar in it and 6 tsp dried yeast, 10 very small eggs (pullet’s eggs are ideal. Otherwise use 6 medium eggs). Half a jack of brandy (a jack is 2 1/2 fl oz), 1/2 lb peel.
Method: Mix all of the dry ingredients, and then mix separately the cream, melted butter and water/yeast mixture. Leave the liquid for about 30 minutes to activate the yeast (the liquid should be no more than blood-warm). Whisk the eggs. Now add all of the liquid and eggs to the dry mix and mix very well. Don’t use a standard mixer unless it is a catering model, or it will blow up! Use your hand (even using a wooden spoon is unwise, as you’ll get blisters). Layer about a third of the mix into your cake tin, then put in a layer of half the peel. Top with another third of the mix, and then the rest of the peel, and the rest of the mix. Slash the top with sharp knife. Tie several layers of brown paper around the tin and stand it on a few more. If the cake browns too quickly, you’ll need to stick a couple of layers on top as well. Cook in a moderate oven for an undisclosed amount of time.
Ingredients: 3/4 lb caster sugar, 1/2 oz ground cinnamon, a nutmeg (ground or 2 tsp ready ground), 1/2 lb unsalted butter, 2 egg yolks, 1/2 an egg white, 1/2 tsp rosewater, 2-3 tbsp. water (in reserve in case the pastry is too dry), 1 1/2lb flour.
Method: Mix the sugar, spice and butter and leave to rest for up to an hour. Break up the mix, which should form a loose but dry ball and gently mix in the eggs. Add the flour gradually, mixing until you have a malleable dough, which can be rolled out and cut into biscuits with a cutter (or wine glass, as the original recipe suggests). Prick each with a fork a few times. You may need to add the water if your dough is too dry and crumbly. Half of the amount here makes around 50 biscuits.
All players, except one, sit in a circle. In the middle of the circle the remaining person sits. It is their task to Hunt the Slipper. The players in the circle pass the slipper between them and behind their backs very quickly and everyone mimics the action of passing the slipper so that the person in the middle of the circle is unable to find it easily.
The millers trade involved long hours and a craftsman’s experience and skill. He, or the manager who supervised the running of the mill, needed to be conversant with a great deal more than just the basic mechanical workings of his gear. He had to judge the quality of the grain he brought or was required to grind, supervise its storage and cleaning and watch over every stage of its grinding and dressing.
He was required also to be something of a meteorologist, forever watching the sky like the look-out man on a ship, interpreting the local weather portents, setting his sails accordingly. Lacking understanding of the movement of clouds and air currents his mill would not operate to the best advantage, nor with safety. A freak squall, for example, might drive the sails round too fast, the millstones inadvertently left unfed with grain would overheat, the friction would strike sparks as they revolved and in no time the wooden structure of the mill would be on fire. Many a windmill was destroyed by some such accident.
A severe gale could be equally disastrous, bringing the whole building crashing to the ground. When the wind died the mill was becalmed, no grain could be milled, there would be a shortage of flour in the neighbourhood and the miller lost his customers to the nearest rival able to operate his mill.
(English Bread and Yeast Cookery by Elizabeth David, 1978, p. 22)
Bursledon Windmill, Hampshire, officially reponed today following a two-year restoration project which included replacement of its wind shaft and sails. This two hundred year old windmill is Hampshire’s only working windmill, a rare surviving example of a traditional tower mill. Measuring five stories high, the main structure is a circular brick tower with tapering sides. The windmill is a Grade II Listed building. Inside, much of the windmill’s original timber machinery still exists, restored to full working order. The team at Bursledon Windmill plan to start milling their own flour again by Summer 2015.
The restoration project was made possible following a £94,000 Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant together with an additional £47,000 from local councils. This latter sum of money will cover costs involved in recruiting and training more volunteers in traditional milling skills, provide guided tours, workshops and host special events.
Bursledon is the only working windmill in England that retains a wooden shaft and is one of twenty-seven still regularly working in Britain. Historically, most of Hampshire’s mills were powered by water which is why a wind-powered mill like Bursledon is such a heritage gem. Winchester City Mill (National Trust) is an excellent example of an urban working corn mill and is powered by the fast-flowing River Itchen. It was rebuilt in 1743 on a Medieval mill site. At one time, there were twelve watermills along the River Itchen.
The idea of harnessing wind power to do useful mechanical work dates back to 5th Century AD China. Four hundred years later windmills arrived in Europe and a hundred years after that Britain. Bursledon Windmill was built in 1814, replacing an earlier tower mill which was built in 1766. The machinery of the earlier mill was incorporated into the new mill. The mill eventually fell out of use in 1882. Hampshire Buildings Preservation Trust organised the restoration back to full working order between 1975-1991.
When Bursledon Windmill is grinding the corn, the sails have canvas cloths which spread to catch wind. If there is a strong wind, no canvas cloths are required. The ground floor of the windmill was used for temporary storage of newly delivered grain. The bin floor is where sacks of grain are lifted on the sack hoist and emptied into the bins. The dust floor is known as such because it very easily becomes dirty, greasy and dusty. It is also possible to view the cedar windmill cap from this floor.
There have been five millers at Bursledon:
William Fry – the first windmill was built during 1766-7 by William Fry following a request to the Bishop of Winchester. William built it: ‘at his own expense for the benefit of the neighbourhood where such a convenience is much wanted’;
William Langtry 1787-1813 – when the windmill was a post mill;
William Langtry 1814-1820 – son of the previous mill owner. Together with his mother, the strong-minded and entrepreneurial Phoebe Langtry, they rebuilt the mill creating the structure that exists today. Phoebe undertook the build independent of her husband at a time when women did not own their own property and it was unusual for a woman to run her own business. In October 1814, Phoebe took a mortgage out on the windmill for £800 for a term of six years. She did not redeem the mortgage when the payment became due, probably because of the depression in agriculture that lasted from 1812 to the early 1820s. In the same year that Phoebe took out the mortgage, she also asked the Bishop for a grant of thirty poles of land. Phoebe’s son, William, became the Miller and she managed the business side of things. In 1820, records show that the mill, house, piggeries and other outbuildings were offered for sale;
John Cove 1847-1871 – John and his wife Susannah Emmett both came from Wiltshire. His daughter, Mary, married a Jarvis and ran the Jolly Sailor public house in Hamble and one of his daughters ran a market garden at the end of Windmill Lane. His son, also called John Cove, became a farm labourer;
George Gosling 1872-1907 – George was a Methodist lay preacher from Upham who together with his wife and, at that time, two children moved to Bursledon. The couple went on to have five more children. By all accounts he was a much loved local figure, kind and philanthropic. George allowed the local poor to mill their grain free of charge.
Also on the same site as Bursledon Mill are two reclaimed buildings, a sixteenth century barn from Four Lanes Farm, Chineham, nr Basingstoke and a late eighteenth century granary. The timber-framed granary was rescued from Hiltonbury, nr Chandlers Ford and sits on nine staddle stones.
A barn was the epicentre of a village windmill during harvest-time. The wheat was left out in the fields to dry in stacks, then transported to the barn to be threshed or beaten with flails. Men would work rhythmically and in pairs. Once the grain was collected in sieves or riddles it was winnowed or tossed in the air to get rid of the chaff or straw dust. The grain was then bagged up on the thresholds by the barn door.
How to bake your own bread: Put a bushel of flour into a trough, or a large pan; with your fist make a deep hole in the centre thereof; put a pint of good fresh yeast into this hollow; add thereto two quarts of warm water, and work in with these as much of the flour as will serve to make a soft smooth kind of batter. Strew this over with just enough flour to hide it; then cover up the trough with its lid, or with a blanket to keep all warm, and when the leaven has risen sufficiently to cause the flour to crack all over its surface, throw in a handful of salt, work all together; add just enough lukewarm soft water to enable you to work the whole into a firm, compact dough, and after having kneaded this with your fists until it becomes stiff and comparatively tough, shake a little flour over it, and again cover it in with a blanket to keep it warm, in order to assist its fermentation. If properly managed, the fermentation will be accomplished in rather less than half an hour. Meanwhile that the bread is being thus far prepared, you will have heated your oven to a satisfactory degree of heat, with a sufficient quantity of dry, small wood faggots; and when all the wood is burnt, sweep out the oven clean and free from all ashes. Divide your dough into four-pound leaves, knead them into round shapes, making a hole at the top with your thumb, and immediately put them out of hand into the oven to bake, closing the oven-door upon them. In about two hours’ time they will be thoroughly baked, and are then to be taken out of the oven, and allowed to become quite cold before they are put away in the cupboard. (A Plain Cookery Book For The Working Classes by Charles Esme Francatelli, 1861).
To make white bread: To a gallon of the best flour, put six ounces of butter, half a pint of yeast, a little salt, break two eggs into a basin, but leave out one of the whites, put a spoonful or two of water to them, and beat them up to a froth, and put them in the flour, have as much new milk as will wet it, make it just warm and mix it up, lay a handful of flour and sieve it about, holding one hand in the dough, and driving it with the other hand till it is quite light, then put it in your pan again, and put it near the fire and cover it with a cloth, and let it stand an hour and a quarter; make your rolls ten minutes before you set them in the oven, and prick them with a fork; if they are the bigness of a French roll, three quarters of an hour will bake them. (The Experienced English Housekeeper by Elizabeth Raffald, 1769)
Goose Revival at Taste of London Winter Food Festival 2014
I recently appeared at Taste of London Winter food Festival 2014, Tobacco Dock alongside Michelin Chef Adam Gray. The theme of this year’s event was ‘Forgotten Foods’. Looking at ingredients, techniques and skills form the past that are not as commonly used today. Remembering what our great grandparents and previous generations cooked. Chefs were encouraged to use wild British ingredients that are often ignored or simply just not readily available in supermarkets today. For more information about this year’s Taste of London Winter food Festival, click here.
Chef Adam Gray cooked breast of goose with caramelised apples and shredded Savoy cabbage. Chef Gray also used bespoke iron pains made by Netherton Foundry in South Shropshire, birthplace of the European Industrial Revolution (http:/www.netherton-foundry.co.uk/). Beautiful, heritage cooking equipment, the level of craftsmanship displayed in these pans is outstanding. Chef Gray found them a joy to cook with.
Although Chef Gray used apple, other fruits that work well with goose are quince, blackberries, gooseberries or any fruit that has a high acid content to help cut through the richness of the meat. Apples have always been a popular accompaniment for goose, I found references to this fact in several of my Victorian cookbooks, including Alexis Soyer (1810-1858) in his Shilling Cookery For The People. Chef Gray also suggests cooking goose over a tray filled with apple juice which helps infuse the meat with a sharp and sweet flavour.
Cabbage was domesticated in Europe before 1000 BCE and revered by Romans and Greeks. Savoy cabbage first appeared in Europe during the sixteenth century. This humble brassica thrives in Britain’s nutrient rich soils and has always been a peasant dish staple. Brassicas are hardy vegetables but no species of cabbage survives in a wild state.
In Medieval Britain, people were nervous about eating cabbage as it was considered to be bad for you, probably due to its gas-inducing qualities! Medieval cooks were encouraged to boil the vegetable well and add oil, marrowbone or egg yolks to soften the texture. Chef Gray continued with the tradition of making cabbage more digestible by shredding it very finely and adding a butter emulsion. I can promise you there was not a hint of school canteen cabbage hanging in the air at Taste of London last week.
Traditionally, goose would have been cooked over an open fire, probably using a spit, turned by hand. This method continued to be used in poorer households until kitchen ranges/half ranges then cookers became cheaper and more widely available. Cooking meat over an open fire gradually declined in popularity before World War One. If the spit mechanism had a treadmill as opposed to a spit/roast jack (nickname for an odd job man), dogs or even geese were put to work keeping the wheel turning. Geese are hardy creatures and were known to work the treadmill for twelve hours at a time.
Sadly, goose is now considerably more expensive than turkey and because of this many home cooks shy away from buying it at Christmas. A 7kg goose can cost around £100 and a turkey of the same weight usually costs £65 (retail prices based on free-range birds, Christmas 2014). The meat-to-carcass ratio for goose is lower than turkey and in these cash-strapped times, getting more bang for your buck, so to speak, is in the forefront of most of our minds.
However, I do believe the tide is beginning to turn in favour of goose. Growing interest in reviving British heritage foods is fuelling this trend as well as a realisation that eating goose is more humane, the animals are not intensively reared and are usually free-range. The price of meat, like so many other foods, is dictated by inflation as well as supply and demand. If more people want goose on their Christmas table, as opposed to turkey, prices will drop.
Geese are very cheap to keep, live by grazing and don’t need expensive grain, making them a greener choice for the environmentally conscious cook. Their eggs make spectacular omelets and their feathers can be used for stuffing cushions or for the creative among you, turning into quill pens. We all know that goose fat makes the best roast potatoes.
In my opinion, goose is a far tastier meat than turkey. Goose is not just for Christmas, it can be enjoyed throughout Autumn and Winter. Gressingham, well-known for their duck meat, also sell goose. Their Geese are grown free-range on farms in East Anglia, from early summer until autumn, there they graze on grass as well as eat a mix of wheat and soya with vitamins and minerals. For more information about Gressingham Goose, including recipes, click here.
Goose has always been associated with deep Winter feasts and its origin goes back as far as ancient Egypt. According to Greek historian Herodotus (484 BCE – 425 BCE), geese stay with their young in the most imminent danger, at the risk of their own lives. The goose of the Nile was Velpansier and when geese appear on walls of temples they are often painted in bright colours. Egyptian mythology classifies goose under the care of goddess Isis. Along with the ram and bull, goose is also a symbol of the creator-god, Amun/Amen.
Goose comes into season around the Christian feast of Saint Michael the Archangel, or Michaelmas (29th September). This type of goose was often known as ‘green goose’ due to the fact it had been raised on grass (‘green’) and was fairly lean. Eating goose at Michaelmas dates back to Elizabeth I (1533-1603) who is said to have dined on one at the table of an English baronet, when news of the defeat of the Spanish Armada reached her. In commemoration of this event, she commanded goose make its appearance at table on every Michaelmas. Alfred Suzanne, in his book La Cuisine Anglaise, writes of this historic event:
The principal dish that day was roast goose, to which the Queen, it is said, was particularly partial, and in an excited outburst of patriotism and… gourmandism, she decreed that this glorious occasion be commemorated by serving roast goose on the day every year.
The Harvest goose or Martinmas goose comes into season around the time of Saint Martin’s feast, 11th November. This goose is fattened on grain (wheat or barley) and is plumper and meatier as a result. This is the bird traditionally served at Christmas time.
Unlike today, goose was once cheaper and more widely available than turkey which was expensive. The turkey came to Europe from Mexico in about 1541, brought in by Spanish and West African traders. In Victorian England, turkey gradually replaced beef and goose at the Christmas dining table. Ever since Victorian times, the trend for having turkey at Christmas time has remained, thus nudging the poor old goose out of the picture. Victorians liked to stuff their goose with sage and onion.
Evidence of this can be found in A Christmas Carol (1843) by Charles Dickens. Bob Cratchit and his family tuck-in to the traditional Victorian fayre of goose. The Cratchits are poor, so goose is the proud centrepiece of their Christmas dinner. However, following his epiphany, Scrooge wants to lavish gifts upon employee Bob Cratchit and family. One of these luxury items is a prize turkey, only meat that the wealthy could afford in Victorian England:
Then up rose Mrs. Cratchit, Cratchit’s wife, dressed out but poorly in a twice-turned gown, but brave in ribbons, which are cheap and make a goodly show for sixpence; and she laid the cloth, assisted by Belinda Cratchit, second of her daughters, also brave in ribbons; while Master Peter Cratchit plunged a fork into the saucepan of potatoes, and getting the corners of his monstrous shirt collar (Bob’s private property, conferred upon his son and heir in honour of the day) into his mouth, rejoiced to find himself so gallantly attired, and yearned to show his linen in the fashionable Parks. And now two smaller Cratchits, boy and girl, came tearing in, screaming that outside the baker’s they had smelt the goose, and known it for their own; and basking in luxurious thoughts of sage and onion, these young Cratchits danced about the table, and exalted Master Peter Cratchit to the skies, while he (not proud, although his collars nearly choked him) blew the fire, until the slow potatoes bubbling up, knocked loudly at the saucepan-lid to be let out and peeled.
“What has ever got your precious father then?” said Mrs. Cratchit. “And your brother, Tiny Tim! And Martha warn’t as late last Christmas Day by half-an-hour?”
“Here’s Martha, mother!” said a girl, appearing as she spoke.
“Here’s Martha, mother!” cried the two young Cratchits. “Hurrah! There’s such a goose, Martha!”
Such a bustle ensued that you might have thought a goose the rarest of all birds; a feathered phenomenon, to which a black swan was a matter of course—and in truth it was something very like it in that house. Mrs. Cratchit made the gravy (ready beforehand in a little saucepan) hissing hot; Master Peter mashed the potatoes with incredible vigour; Miss Belinda sweetened up the apple-sauce; Martha dusted the hot plates; Bob took Tiny Tim beside him in a tiny corner at the table; the two young Cratchits set chairs for everybody, not forgetting themselves, and mounting guard upon their posts, crammed spoons into their mouths, lest they should shriek for goose before their turn came to be helped. At last the dishes were set on, and grace was said. It was succeeded by a breathless pause, as Mrs. Cratchit, looking slowly all along the carving-knife, prepared to plunge it in the breast; but when she did, and when the long expected gush of stuffing issued forth, one murmur of delight arose all round the board, and even Tiny Tim, excited by the two young Cratchits, beat on the table with the handle of his knife, and feebly cried Hurrah!
There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn’t believe there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavour, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration. Eked out by apple-sauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family; indeed, as Mrs. Cratchit said with great delight (surveying one small atom of a bone upon the dish), they hadn’t ate it all at last! Yet every one had had enough, and the youngest Cratchits in particular, were steeped in sage and onion to the eyebrows! But now, the plates being changed by Miss Belinda, Mrs. Cratchit left the room alone—too nervous to bear witnesses—to take the pudding up and bring it in.
Scrooge buys a turkey for the Cratchits:
“It’s Christmas Day!” said Scrooge to himself. “I haven’t missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like. Of course they can. Of course they can. Hallo, my fine fellow!”
“Hallo!” returned the boy.
“Do you know the Poulterer’s, in the next street but one, at the corner?” Scrooge inquired.
“I should hope I did,” replied the lad.
“An intelligent boy!” said Scrooge. “A remarkable boy! Do you know whether they’ve sold the prize Turkey that was hanging up there?—Not the little prize Turkey: the big one?”
“What, the one as big as me?” returned the boy.
“What a delightful boy!” said Scrooge. “It’s a pleasure to talk to him. Yes, my buck!”
“It’s hanging there now,” replied the boy.
“Is it?” said Scrooge. “Go and buy it
(A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1812-1870), Staves Three and Four, 1st edition, 1843)
The brilliant American chef, Julia Child (1912-2004), shows you how to roast your goose. The French Chef was a television cooking show created and hosted by Julia Child and produced and broadcast by WGBH, the public television station in Boston, Massachusetts, from February 11, 1963 to 1973. It was one of the first cooking shows on American television. All rights belong to the Cooking Channel. Uploaded to You Tube 8.3.13.
According to Larousse Gastronomique (1961), the Toulouse goose, from the Garonne basin in France can reach a weight of between and 10 and 20 kilos after fattening. This bird carries its body almost perpendicularly; its behind, called ‘artichoke’, drags on the ground even before the fattening process. The skin covering its breast is loose and slack, forming a lappet, or wattle, which constitutes a veritable fat store. This variety of goose is used in the south-west of France for the Confit d’oie and the livers are used for pâtés de foie gras with truffles.
Nottingham Goose Fair (1947) by British Pathé. The fair is still held during the first week in October. In 1284, the inaugural fair took place and apart from 1646 (bubonic plague) and throughout the two World Wars, has taken place annually for over seven hundred years. Originally the fair was a celebration that coincided with flocks of geese being driven from Lincolnshire to be sold in Nottinghamshire. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.14.
Fascinating Facts About Goose
Italians Goosestep For Hitler (1938) by British Pathé. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.14.
Goosestep is a distinct marching step originating from mid eighteenth century Prussian military drills. This manoeuvre reminded soldiers how geese often stood on one leg, hence the nickname. Many military organisations today, across the world, still use this marching style.
Nursery Rhyme ‘Goosey, Goosey Gander’ is from 1784 but its origins can be traced back to the sixteenth century England when Catholics faced persecution and men of the cloth had to hide in ‘Priest Holes’. ‘Goosey, goosey gander’ also implies something unpleasant may well happen to anyone not saying their prayers:
Goosey, goosey gander,
Whither shall I wander?
Upstairs and downstairs
And in my lady’s chamber;
There I met an old man
Who would not say his prayers;
I took him by the left leg
And threw him down the stairs.
Goose bumps, medical term cutisanserina occurs when you experience cold or strong emotions. Goose feathers grow from stores in the epidermis which resemble human hair follicles. When goose feathers are plucked, the bird’s skin has protrusions where the feathers once were, these resemble the bumps on human skin following cold or strong emotions.
Goose bumps , in Elizabethan times, if someone said; ‘I’ve been bitten by the Winchester goose’, this meant that they had contracted syphilis. A ‘goose bump’ was the first tell-tale sign on the skin that you had contracted the pox. The Winchester Geese were prostitutes that plied their trade in South London, Bankside close to The Globe. This land was owned by the Bishops of Winchester. Brothels in Bankside were known as ‘stews’. In the sixteenth century there were eighteen recorded ‘stews’ in the area. These establishments provided the clergy with a regular income stream. Pandarus (a lecherous old man) in Troilus and Cressida (1602) by William Shakespeare: ‘My fear is this/ Some galled goose of Winchester would hiss/ Till then I’ll sweat and seek about for eases/ And at that time, bequeath you my diseases/’.
Herd geese in London – If you are a Freeman of London you are allowed to herd a gaggle of geese down Cheapside. This is according to an old book of traditional ceremonies and privileges granted to those who have The Freedom of the City of London. This book dates back to 1237.
Historical Recipes For Goose
Georgian Era Recipe for Preparing Goose
Singe a goose, and pour over it a quart of boiling milk. Let it continue in the milk all night, then take it out, and dry it well with a cloth. Cut an onion very small with some sage, put them into the goose, sew it up at the neck and vent, and hang it up by the legs till the next day; then put it into a pot of cold water, cover it close, and let it boil gently for an hour. Serve it up with onion sauce.
To Marinate A Goose
The Experienced English Housekeeper by Elizabeth Raffald (1786)
Cut your goose up the back bone, then take out all the bones, and stuff it with forcemeat and sew up the back again, fry the goose a good brown, then put it into a deep stew-pan with two quarts of good gravy and cover it close, and stew it two hours, then take it out and skim off the fat, add a large spoonful of lemon pickle, one of browning, and one of red wine, one anchovy shred fine, beaten mace, pepper and salt to your palate, thicken it with flour and butter, boil it a little, dish up your goose, and strain your gravy over it. NB. Make your stuffing thus, take ten or twelve sage leaves, two large onions, two or three large sharp apples, shred them very fine, mix them with the crumbs of a penny loaf, four ounces of beef marrow, one glass of red wine, half a nutmeg grated, pepper, salt and a little lemon peel shred small, make a light stuffing with your yolks of four eggs, observe to make it one hour before you want it.
Eighteenth Century Receipt Book – Boiled Goose With Celery Sauce
When your goose has been seasoned with pepper and salt for four or five days, you must boil it about an hour; then serve it hot with turnips, carrots, cabbage or cauliflower; tossed up with butter. The goose would have been hanging in the dairy or game larder with a north aspect for five days or even longer (depending on the outdoor temperature) so that its flesh would have become more tender and developed flavour in that time.
To make celery sauce, take a large bunch of celery, wash it, pare it, very clean, cut it into little thin bits and boil it softly in a little water until it is tender; then add a little beaten mace, some nutmeg, pepper and salt; thickened with a good piece of butter rolled in flour; then boil it up and pour it in your dish. You may make it with cream thus; boil your celery as above and add some mace, nutmeg, and a piece of butter as big as a walnut rolled in flour and 1/2 pint of cream; boil them all together, and you may add if you will a glass of white wine.
Eighteenth Century Receipt Book – Sauce for Green Goose
Take some melted butter, put in a spoonful of the juice of sorrel, a little sugar, a few coddled gooseberries, pour it into your sauceboats and send it to table.
To Dress a Green Goose
Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1869 edition)
Ingredients: Goose, 3 oz of butter, pepper and salt to taste. Mode [Method]: Geese are called green when they are about four months old, and should not be stuffed. After it has been singed and trussed, put into the body a seasoning of pepper and salt, and the butter to moisten it inside. Roast before a clear fire for about 3/4 hour, froth and brown it nicely, and serve with a brown gravy, and, when liked, gooseberry-sauce. This dish should be garnished with water-cresses [watercress].
Hashed Goose (Cold Meat Cookery)
Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1869 edition)
Ingredients: The remains of cold roast goose, 2 onions, 2 oz of butter, 1 pint of boiling water, 1 dessertspoonful of flour, pepper and salt to taste, 1 tablespoonful of port wine, 2 tablespoonfuls of mushroom ketchup.
Mode [Method]: Cut-up the goose into pieces of the size required; the inferior joints, trimmings, etc, put into a stewpan to make the gravy; slice and fry the onions in the butter of a very pale brown; add these to the trimmings, and pour over about a pint of boiling water; stew these gently for ¾ hour, then skim and strain the liquor. Thicken it with flour, and flavour with port wine; add a seasoning of pepper and salt, and put in the pieces of goose; let these get thoroughly hot through, but do not allow them to boil, and serve with sippets of toasted bread.
Behind the scenes at St. Barbe Museum & Art Gallery, Lymington, featuring the Museum’s Director, Mark Tomlinson and Emma, Editor of Come Step Back in Time. Uploaded to You Tube, 3.10.14. Film made by The Reel Media Deal .
An exciting and fascinating new exhibition opens at St. Barbe Museum & Art Gallery, Lymington, Hampshire, on Saturday 15th November and continues until Saturday 10th January, 2015. The exhibition, ‘Lives Less Ordinary’, is supported by law firm Clarke Willmott and celebrates the lives of nearly thirty local residents who made a mark both close to home and nationally.
The exhibition provides a chance to discover more about an eclectic mix of people whose exploits, influence and vision brought them to prominence or notoriety on the New Forest coast and beyond. These range from Gilbert Oswald (‘G.O.’) Smith (1872-1943), the David Beckham of his day, captain of the England Football team and every schoolboy’s idol to religious cult leader Mary Ann Girling (1827-1886), founder of a sect called The People of God, also known as the New Forest Shakers.
I am particularly interested in The New Forest Shakers, over the last year I have been researching this topic but there is a lot more library legwork still to do. A community of Shakers, led by Mary Ann Girling, settled in Hordle from 1873-1886. At their height, her group had one hundred and forty members. Whilst the community flourished in Hordle, worldwide Shaker membership declined, partly due to their doctrine of celibacy, the cult’s future looked bleak.
At first their eccentric doings attracted crowds from all the neighbourhood, and brakeloads of people from Southampton would drive over on Sunday afternoons to see the Shakers go through their wild performances. But as novelty wore off there was less to attract the hysterical, funds dwindled and the faith of the devotees dwindled also; and though some lingered on in destitute condition the death of the organiser [Girling] was the death also of the sect.
(Extract from a 1908 Guide)
Many people of Hordle and surrounding areas were none too keen on this ‘alternative’ community and remained unhappy at unwanted attention being brought upon this otherwise tranquil area. Eventually, through a series of unfortunate incidents, mainly relating to an unpaid mortgage, the group were evicted from their house, New Forest Lodge (now Hordle Grange) where they had been living for three years. The Lodge had been partly paid for by one of the followers, Julia Wood and the remainder financed by way of a mortgage. The group did, however, have a number of high profile supporters including Auberon Herbert, Andrew Peterson and William Cowper (1811-1888).
The group of a hundred and forty were forced to resettle on an estate in Ashley. Several months later they moved to a field near New Forest Lodge and in 1878 settled in nearby Tiptoe, living in huts and tents until Girling’s death from uterine cancer in 1886. Following her death, the community disintegrated. Girling is buried in Hordle churchyard.
Other people of note featured in ‘Lives Less Ordinary’ include: occult novelist Dennis Wheatley (1897-1977); Arthur Philip (1738-1814), who originally founded the colony of New South Wales, and was the beginning of what would eventually become the nation of Australia; local hero Sir Harry Burrard-Neale (1755-1813, a British officer in the Royal Navy and MP for Lymington; John Howlett (1863-1974), who helped shape modern Lymington; Andrew Peterson (1813-1906) the eccentric builder of Sway Tower, a 66m high Grade II listed folly in the heart of the New Forest; and William Charles Retford (1875-1970), the best violin bow craftsman of his time.
Retford wrote, Memoirs of Growing-Up in Ashley, which provides a wonderful glimpse of rural life in late Victorian Ashley and Burley, two villages not far from Lymington. Retford moved to London in 1892 to take-up an apprenticeship as a bow-maker for cellos and violins:
All good things come to an end. In 1892 Arthur Hill, the violin maker, spent the weekend at the Old House and offered me a job. By the end of March I was in a third floor back in New Bond Street cleaning fiddles and fitting pegs. Unhappy and hard up. After the first week I was taught nothing more for a year. “Thereby hangs a tale,” written but quite unprintable. Cleaning fiddles was kids play to me.
(For a transcript of Retford’s Memoirs together with a more detailed biography of his extraordinary life,CLICK HERE.)
The lives of contemporary figures will also be showcased such as Sammy Miller, championship winning motorcycle racer, in both road racingand trials, and Sir Ben Ainslie; the most successful sailor in Olympic history who has won medals at five consecutive Olympic Games including gold at the last four.
For more information about the ‘Lives Less Ordinary’ exhibition, click here;
For visitor information on St. Barbe Museum & Gallery, including ticket prices and opening hours, click here.
Short film I made showcasing the 2012 Festival of Samhain at Butser Ancient Farm, Waterlooville, Hampshire.
It is not a secret that I am happiest in Wintertime, if it snows, even better. My birthday falls at this time of year and it is said one often prefers the season you were born in. There are also a number of festivals and customs associated with Winter in Britain, usually involving fire, fireworks and some rather quirky rituals. They are not everybody’s cup of tea, but for me as a social historian they hold a particular fascination. Here are a few of my favourites.
Halloween, Wickerman and The Feast of All Hallows
Halloween is actually Celtic in origin and dates back to the pre-Christian era (1st to 5th centuries AD). Some of the earliest references to traditions associated with Halloween, have been passed down from Julius Caesar (100-44 BCE) and Roman historian, Tacitus (56-117 AD). Both writers attacked early Druid practices:
..that unless for a man’s life a man’s life be paid, the majesty of the immortal gods may not be appeased; and in public, as in private life, they obsene an ordinance of sacrifices of the same kind. Others use figures of immense size, whose limbs, woven out of twigs, they fill with living men and set on fire, and the men perish in a shoot of flame.
(Commentarii de Bello Gallico, Book VI, by Julius Caesar)
..slake the altars with captive blood and to consult their deities by means of human entrails.
(Annals by Tacitus)
The ‘figures of immense size, whose limbs, woven out of twigs, they fill with living men and set on fire’, you might recognise as the ominous ‘Wickerman’. This tradition was immortalised in British director Robert Hardy’s cult 1973 horror film, The Wicker Man.
Pagan blessing at a Wickerman Festival. For over ten years now the Wickerman Festival, an annual alternative music event, is held in July near Dundrennan in Dumfries and Galloway. This is the area associated with the 1973 British film. Thankfully today, no live sacrifices are made by way of burning men (or women) inside the wicker structure!
Halloween (or Hallowe’en if you want to spell it correctly!), derives its name from the eve of the feast of All Hallows which in the Christian calendar is 1st November. The Roman Catholic Church refer to it as a Holy Day of Obligation, compulsory attendance at Mass. The feast of All Hallows dates back to c.875 AD.
The end of October and the beginning of November was also a time when farmers reduce their livestock. These slaughtered animals were preserved using either salt or smoke. Also at this time, the final grain harvest of the year would be brought in and winter ale brewed.
Celtic Festivals of Beltene and Samhain
In the Book Of Rights (10th Century), it states that taxes and maintenance payments by foreigners in Ireland and Scotland were due to the authorities at the end of October and beginning of May. These two events were accompanied by feasting, they were known respectively as Beltene (31st April) and Samhain (31st October). It also made good business sense to collect taxes from farmers at the end of October as this was when their crops were harvested. There was an ancient custom of placing a bowl of milk and some bread for the Faerie who would visit at Samhain, to forget would bring dire consequences to the homesteader.
Samhain was once considered to be the beginning of the year. The old year finished at sunset on 31st October and the new year began at sunset on 1st November. This time ‘no man’s land’ created a culture where normal rules of behaviour did not apply. This is also when fire-festivals traditionally took place.
In England, 5th November is known as Bonfire Night/Guy Fawkes Night. Tradition dictates that large bonfires are lit and an effigy of a man, known also as a Guy, is burnt. The origin of this tradition is normally associated with commemorating a foiled attempt by Guido Fawkes (1570-1606) and his associates to blow-up the parliament of King James I (1566-1625) in 1605. To celebrate the fact that the King had survived, people lit bonfires across London. On 21st January, 1606, the Observance of 5th November Act was passed which created an annual public holiday. The Act remained in force until 1859.
Across central/Eastern Sussex, parts of Surrey and Kent, bonfire festivals take place, organised by Sussex Bonfire Societies. These festivals take place annually between September and November, usually accompanied by a public firework display. Some of the most famous Bonfire societies are located in Lewes, East Sussex. There are currently seven active societies in the town, the first bonfire festival took place there in 1661.
There are many rituals and customs observed at Lewes Bonfire celebrations, you can read more about these here. Battle, East Sussex, also has its own society and the earliest known records of an organised bonfire celebration taking place in the town, dates back to 1646. More information about the Battel Bonfire Boyes (as they are known collectively!) can be found here.
Short film I made (shot on my digital stills camera), Battle Bonfire and Firework Display from 2012.
Light a fire and strike a light
For in this house there’s going to be a dreadful fight
Between King George and the Black Prince
And I hope King George will win
Every year in Antrobus, Cheshire the tradition of soulcaking or souling occurs. The Antrobus Arms and other pubs in surrounding villages host a traditional ‘mumming group’ who perform a number of plays each night from All Souls Eve (1st November) and the following two weekends:
a traditional hero/combat play including sword fighting with the Black Prince who has just been revived by the Doctor;
Dick the Wild Horse of Antrobus, the real star of this tradition, causes mayhem when he arrives at each venue much to the delight of onlookers.
Blackening your face, when participating in a number of these winter traditions, meant that you could not be recognised, allowing for the opportunity to be more mischievous. Traditionally, on the 1st and 2nd November, children in Antrobus would dress-up and knock on villager’s doors singing the rhyme below. In return they would be rewarded with spiced cakes or money.
A soul-cake, a soul-cake
Have mercy on all Christian souls for a soulcake.
(The soulcaker’s chant spoken when helping yourself from the cake pile)
In Hinton St. George, Somerset, on the last Thursday in October, the children of the village carry lanterns in a procession around the village chanting a special rhyme, begging the villagers to give them candles for their lamps.
It’s Punkie Night tonight
It’s Punkie Night tonight
Adam and Eve would not believe
It’s Punkie Night tonight
Give me a candle, give me a light
If you don’t, you’ll get a fright
These ‘Punkies’ lanterns are hollowed-out mangold or mangel-wurzel (a cultivated root vegetable) and are carved to represent trees, houses or faces. It is believed the origin of this custom is thought to stem from a time when wives in the village would go in search of their drunk husbands who had been lost on the way from Chiselborough Fair.
This tradition closely resembles customs we associate with modern-day Halloween, hollowed out lanterns with candles and trick or treating by children.
Burning The Clavie
Thought to be either Pictish, Celtic, Viking or Roman in origin, this tradition takes place on the 11th January each year in Burghead, Moray, Scotland. Under the old Julian calendar (until 1752), the 11th January was when the Christian New Year began.
The clavie is made from a tar barrel sawn in half, the staves of a herring barrel and a six foot salmon fisherman’s pole, called a spoke. The half barrel is fixed to the spoke with a nail hammered home with stone (no iron hammer allowed). The barrel is then filled with tar and pieces of wood. The staves of the herring barrel is then filled with tar and pieces of wood. The staves of the herring barrel are used to secure the clavier to the spoke and to provide a cage for the carrier to get his head through.
The clavier is lit with burning peat, and it is then carried around the village by a series of men before being carried up a hill where fuel is heaped on so that a large fire is created. The embers are then scattered on the hillside where people scramble for glowing portions. Each one is said to bring good luck to the finder.
(p. 9, The Festival of Hallowe’en by T. P. Concannon, Butser Ancient Farm, 1998)
An ambitious undertaking, involving a number of different locations. Brockenhurst station, Lymington Town station, Brockenhurst village and Berthon Marina, Lymington all came alive with the sights and sounds of wartime Britain. Vintage vehicles from the era, restored D-Day vessels (HMS Medusa and Pilot Rescue Launch 441), retro-themed stalls, fair rides, dance displays, music, singing, specially designed heritage walks and much, much more.
In Brockenhurst Village Hall, there was also an evening showing of The Longest Day (1962) together with a fish and chip supper. The film is all about D-Day and based uponn the 1959 book, of the same name, by Cornelius Ryan.
In order to showcase, fully, this fabulous day of nostalgia and reflection, I made this short film.
‘D-Day Commemorative Event – New Forest Remembers, 21.6.14’ created by Emma, Editor of Come Step Back in Time.
On Lymington Town Quay there was a service of thanksgiving as well as the dedication of a plaque commemorating the departure of 2nd Battalion The Essex Regiment (The Pompadours) for Normandy on 3rd June, 1944. The plaque was unveiled by a representative of The Royal Anglian Regiment and Mr Maurice Crosswell JP, President of The Rotary Club of Lymington.
The 2nd Battalions of the Essex, Glosters and South Wales Borderers were organised into 56th (independent Brigade) in January, 1944. On 25th May, 1944 the Essex moved into Camp B3 in the Beaulieu area, where it prepared for D-Day. Early morning PT and route marches ensured the physical fitness of all ranks with the emphasis now being placed on stimulating a sense of urgency. Training continued for street fighting, mine laying and clearance and weapon training, whilst night operations were extensively carried out. In short, the battalion was fighting fit and fit to fight. The camp was sealed and the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel JF Higson MC, briefed all ranks on their role in the invasion.
At 5.oo pm on 3rd June the battalion left camp and was taken to Lymington, where it embarked on Landing Craft Infantry (Large) for Southampton. Bad weather delayed the landings and the battalion finally sailed from Southampton for Normandy at 7.00 pm on 5th June. The evening was dull and overcast and although a heavy swell was running it was a quiet crossing. At 12.30pm the following day the battalion landed without casualties east of Le Hamel, which was still in enemy hands.
(Text above is from the back cover of a booklet produced especially for the ‘Plaque Dedication Service and Ceremony’ that took place at Lymington Quay, 21st June, 2014)
In 1939, Brockenhurst station received the first cohort of evacuees, mainly from Southampton and Portsmouth. During World War Two, nearly five thousand child evacuees came to the New Forest. In order to commemorate this at the ‘New Forest Remembers’ event, local school children, dressed in period clothing, recreated the spectacle of evacuees arriving in the village during the war.
All evacuees would have been placed with local families who received ten shillings and sixpence to accommodate one child per week (£16 in today’s money). This fee was reduced to eight shillings and sixpence for two or more children at the same address. Villagers in the New Forest were not particularly well-off and all evacuees had to bring with them:
knife, fork, spoon, plate and mug;
comb, toothbrush, gas mask;
handkerchief, shoes, plimsolls, socks and a change of clothes.
During World War Two, large areas of Open Forest, close to Brockenhurst – Wilverley Plain, Ober Heath, Longslade Bottom, Whitefield Moor – were ploughed over and crops planted. Approximately fourteen thousand allotments worth of land was utilised for the ‘Dig For Victory’ campaign. The crops grown ranged from cereals, potatoes, turnips to rapeseed and flax.
In 1943, Setley Plain, close to the main road between Brockenhurst and Lymington, was Camp No.65 for prisoners of war (POWs). The first POWs to be housed at Setley Plain were Italians captured in Africa and later on Germans. POWs in the New Forest often helped the Land Army and took odd jobs in local villages. Some worked in the local sawmill and made toys for local children. On the whole, the POWs received a warm welcome from the locals in the New Forest, some even stayed on after the war ended.
In 1943, at a site near South Baddesley, Lymington, construction began to create a temporary airfield, an Advanced Landing Ground (ALG), known as RAF Lymington. The airstrip still exists but is now private property, part of the Newtown Park Estate. Between 1939 and 1945 there were twelve airfields operating in the New Forest.
In 1944, RAF Lymington had two landing strips, four blister hangars and many parking bays. The original landing strips at RAF Lymington were made of steel mesh pinned to the ground with large stakes. Tented accommodation for the Airmen and other staff working at the airfield was provided, hidden, in the nearby woods.
RAF Lymington became home to the 50th Fighter Group, Ninth US. Tactical Air Force, they were first to use the airfield from April, 1944. P-47 Thunderbolts were familiar sights to anyone living in the New Forest area during 1944. Thunderbolt aircraft covered the beach landings on 6th June, 1944 as well as supporting allied troops invading Normandy. RAF Lymington ceased operation in Spring, 1945.
Other Squadrons stationed at RAF Lymington in 1944 were: 81st Squadron; 50th Fighter Squadron; 313rd Squadron and 9th Tactical Air Force U.S.A.A.F. The first three Squadrons then moved to an airfield in Normandy after 24th June, 1944.
British Pathe ‘D-Day Landings’ (1944) from classic series ‘A Day That Shook The World’. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.2014.
When the Allied forces landed in Normandy, France on 6th June, 1944, it marked the beginning of the end of World War Two. D-Day (codename OVERLORD) was one of the greatest amphibious assaults of modern history and Hampshire was the nerve centre of military operations. Large numbers of troops embarked from ports along Hampshire’s coastline and the county’s various industries were crucial to the invasion’s successful outcome.
Hampshire was important because of its robust travel infrastructure which consisted of a comprehensive network of railways, established Sea Ports and developed industries. It was the perfect strategic location to centre a majority of the Country’s preparations for D-Day. Without access to all of these facilities, available within easy reach of the coast, the choice of Normandy as a location for the invasion of Europe would not have been possible.
This article tells Hampshire’s unique D-Day story, in the words of those who experienced it first-hand. Once the county’s best-kept secret it can now be re-told. These individuals made a vital contribution towards changing the course of world history forever and their stories must never be forgotten.
FORT SOUTHWICK – Portsmouth
Preparations had begun in Hampshire several years before 1944. An extensive network of tunnels were excavated by Welsh and Belgian miners of the Pioneer Corps underneath Fort Southwick, Portsdown Hill near Portsmouth. Completed in 1942, the UGHQ at Fort Southwick became known as Portsmouth Naval Headquarters and had been fitted with all the latest telecommunications equipment. There were no lifts down to the tunnels. Staff had to negotiate, perhaps two or three times a day, the ‘dreaded steps’ to UGHQ, all one hundred and seventy-nine of them, if you used the eastern entrances.
Naval Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Naval Expeditionary Force, Admiral Sir Bertram Home Ramsay (1883-1945), coordinated Operation Overlord’s naval plans (codename NEPTUNE) at Fort Southwick from his office in nearby Southwick House. Southwick House, or Southwick Park as it was known back then, was HQ for the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF).
Diana Evans, a twenty-one year old Wren Switchboard Operator at Fort Southwick, recalls:
You could see all the ships beginning to line-up [for D-Day], and all these lanes [around Portsmouth] were full-up with tanks and people and men sleeping everywhere…they were coming in as a blessed battalion and they were all sleeping under tents and on the side of the road, wherever they could get. And then, all of a sudden, they were gone.
(Diana Evans, oral history, recorded 25.11.1997, transcript in D-Day Museum Archive, Index Key 5339A)
Marian Boothroyd (nee Heywood), a WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) Plotter, remembers that:
Special passes were issued to enable our entry to the “Underworld” which lay below many, many steps…The Plotting Room had several cameras located at strategic points around the Plotting Table in order to record the sequence of the plots. On one wall was a gigantic map which was used for plotting aircraft. There were two balconies, one for the Controller and Officers in charge and one at a higher level for the Teller and the Commander and his staff, who often put in an appearance, especially when allied shipping was being attacked.
After a few days I was fortunate to be offered the job as “Teller”. I loved it! I had direct telephone contact with “Sugar King” [The HQ for General Eisenhower] and also the Admiralty where Mr Churchill was located. It was all so top secret, that small wonder I had been taken to “Sugar King” in a car which had all the windows completely blacked out.
The invasion force was plotted twice. On the first occasion, inclement weather prevented the force from proceeding but on the second attempt the multitude of ships set forth and the Plotting Table was saturated with the massive number of vessels which were taking part in the invasion of Normandy. At the end of this shift I had lost my voice. However, when the Commander complimented me on my work I was able to glow with pride…Plotting work continued until July 1944 and then we were posted to the radar station in Dunkirk, Kent.
(Marian Boothroyd (nee Haywood), oral history transcript from D-Day Museum Archive, Index Key 750.1999/DD 1999.52.2)
Joan Faint, another Plotter with the WAAF, recalls:
On D-Day I must have been in a shelter because I remember being in a strange place when we were woken-up about 1.30am and told to report as quickly as possible. We couldn’t understand what the urgency was about when we went on duty but as time went on we couldn’t believe what was happening. The plotting table was saturated with ships of all sizes. The Wrens working behind us became very excited as the names of the ships were registered. They seemed to know someone on lots of the ships. It must have been a worrying time for them as we gradually realised what was happening.
We worked extremely long hours with short breaks. We didn’t feel tired at the time and certainly didn’t want to leave the plotting table. At the end of our stay we all received a letter of thanks from the Commander-in-Chief.
Wren Telephone Operator (Second Officer WRNS), Pat Blandford, found working underground difficult to adjust to at first. In some of the oral histories I read, given by former staff of UGHQ, several mention feeling ‘sick’ and ‘claustrophobic’ in the tunnels. These conditions were soon overcome as everyone adjusted to their surroundings and simply got on with the job in hand. Pat remembers:
There were large rooms with Plotting tables, and small tunnel-shaped rooms equipped with Teleprinters and Switchboards. Offices with desks and filing cabinets; a Galley and Wardroom, Dormitories and Wash-rooms….Early in the morning of 6th June, our waiting was ended. Officers of the three Services were standing around in groups and the strain showed on their faces. I had been on duty for 48 hours, with just short naps. and felt very tired.
Suddenly, one of my young Wrens shouted, “Maam, Maam, something is coming through”. The red light on the panel glowed brightly….I rushed to the position and listened. There it was – the long-awaited code word which meant so much. They were through at last. A cheer went-up and many young girls shed a tear. Maybe, a boyfriend was over there – it was a very emotional moment – one which I shall never forget.
(Pat Blandford, interview recorded April, 1991, oral history transcript in the D-Day Museum Archive, Index Key 2001.687/DD 2000.5.2)
Diana Evans, Switchboard Operator (Combined Operations with the WAAFs) with the WRNS at Fort Southwick recalls:
We used to live down there for twenty-four hours when we were, sort of, on shift. You got time-off, obviously, and you’d get a couple of days off, but we used to sleep down there…. Then, one day, someone discovered we had nits! … But you don’t wonder when you are [down there] twenty-four hours, [sharing the] same blankets and bedding. Goodness knows what was down there…. We had to go for ultra-violet treatment, because they thought that [living] underground was not all that good for all these girls… [We got] undressed and sat in front of a big lamp. No suntan…The things you could get down there, if you weren’t careful, were verrucas, and I think possibly that was caused by the coin matting…We had to ask what the day was like outside [when we were working down in the tunnels].
I never went into the Plotting Rooms. We were very busy because we were connected-up to Southwick House. Well we had lines to everywhere. We had all the Air Force bombing places, and everywhere you could think of…All calls were scrambled…We had Post-Office engineers there twenty-four hours… There were also WRNS, WAAF Army Officers, Sergeants. Each Officer looked after two or three girls.
(Diana Evans, oral history, recorded 25.11.1997, transcript in D-Day Museum Archive, Index Key 5339A)
‘Eisenhower in Britain’ (1944). British Pathe film. Published on You Tube 13.4.2014.
SOUTHWICK PARK (HMS DRYAD)
In contrast to the difficult working conditions at Fort Southwick, SHAEF HQ at Southwick Park was a far more pleasant location with its spacious grounds, lake and dense wooded areas (deforested in the 1970s). The house itself became the nerve centre of Operation Overlord. On the ground floor were offices of the Naval Staff Officers, Operation, Navigation, Landing Craft and Weather personnel together with their respective personal assistants. Also located on this floor was the famous Map Room.
Col(Retd) Jeremy T. Green OBE, Regimental Secretary, RHQ RMP at the Defence School of Policing and Guarding (DSPG) introduces us to the famous Map Room at Southwick House. Interviewed by Emma, Editor of Come Step Back in Time. Uploaded to You Tube 4.6.2014.
On the first floor were the offices of General Field Marshal Montgomery (1887-1976), Captain Moore (Admiral Ramsay’s Secretary), Admiral Ramsay, General Eisenhower, Admiral Sir Maurice James Mansergh (1896-1966), Commander Powell, Staff Officers, Plans/Operations and Wren Baker. At its height, across all of the advanced command posts, of which Southwick was one, SHAEF consisted of six thousand staff and seven hundred and fifty officers.
Wren Jean Gordon, who was on the secretarial staff at Southwick Park, remembers a painting in the main Operation Room (OR), that had been created by a Wren Messenger. It was an allegorical design of Neptune with ships, winds and the sea. The painting was put under glass on the table at which the Admirals sat, in the “Command Area” of the OR. (Jean Gordon, oral history, transcript in D-Day Museum Archive, Index Key H.670.1990.5)
Another Wren, Jeanne Law, worked on Admiral Ramsay’s staff at Southwick having previously worked for him at ANCXF HQ, Norfolk House, London before moving with his elite team down to Hampshire on 26th April, 1944. When war began, Jeanne went to work at the Postal and Telegraph Centreship in London, censoring mail from Canadian Soldiers. She eventually became a Wren ‘White Paper Candidate’ which, after passing WRNS Board, meant she was put on a three month accelerated pathway to becoming a Wren Officer. After an initial period of training, she became a qualified WRNS writer.
During her interview at Norfolk House she recalls her first glimpse of what the job she was going for might entail:
We were shown into a room up on the naval floor, which was the third floor, and there were several officers there and there was one Wren Officer, who did the interviewing. We sat opposite her and I noticed that on the wall hanging behind her, there was a map of Normandy and on her desk she had closed the filed which was in front of her, which I read upside down, which said ‘Landing Craft’. So I realised what we were doing there then.
(Jeanne Law, oral history, interview recorded 27.2.1997. Transcript held in D-Day Museum Archive, Index Key PORMG: 5333A)
Jeanne recalls being told by Admiral George Creasy (1895-1972) that whilst they were stationed at Southwick, not to walk in groups of more than two or three in case the enemy became suspicious of a large gathering. Staff at Southwick were not allowed to keep private diaries, take photographs or make personal telephone calls to the outside. So as not to alert local tradespeople that a large influx of staff had congregated at Southwick, additional food rations had not been ordered. Jeanne remembers living off of bread, margarine and peanut butter for quite some time after arriving. In one day she consumed eleven slices!
There are very few photographs/illustrations of Southwick Park in operation from 1944, save for a few official group photographs of the Commanders and other selected military personnel who worked alongside. There is a picture of the Map Room at Southwick painted in June, 1944 by Official War Artist Barnett Freedman (1901-1958). This painting is a rare and fascinating glimpse of the staff who worked in the room during D-Day. The whole operation at Southwick was conducted at the highest level of secrecy, staff had to sign an additional Official Secrets Act called BIGOT. This was codename for a security level beyond Top Secret.
Jeanne recalls what daily life was like at Southwick in 1944:
Our quarters were in a brick bungalow type building to the South West of the main house. We slept in the usual double berthed bunks with an ‘Ablution Block’ of lavatories and wash-basins attached to the building. There was an air-raid shelter nearby…Our steel cabinets and office equipment which we had packed-up ourselves after normal duty before leaving London [Norfolk House], arrived with us and was placed in Nissen Huts erected alongside the main house on the north eastern side on part of the driveway. Next to us was the Meteorological Hut with the “Weather Men”. The rest of the operational staff were in offices in Southwick House itself.
Montgomery was in his caravan in the woods behind us. Tedder [Arthur – 1890-1967] was somewhere else, I don’t know where he was, but he used to arrive in a white sports car, I was rather impressed. Well the Admiral and his staff and I think most of the officers were in Southwick House itself and we were working in a Nissen hut.
[Eisenhower] was quite shy really and he said, ‘good morning’ and he fled up the stairs, three at a time, a very fit man. We did see him quite often. On the day before D-Day, when they had just made their decision, we had been to get our pay, which was fifteen shillings and a soap coupon, and we were walking back when I heard the guard come to attention, and I said, ‘something’s happening let’s wait a minute’, and out of the door came Eisenhower and Ramsay and Tedder and Lee Mallory, and they saw us gorping at them, and Eisenhower gave us the thumbs up sign and we knew it was on.
Very early on the morning of D-Day, we hardly slept, and one of the girls in our room was a plotter and she came back just after midnight and she said, ‘I have plotted the first ship’.
I recall after the invasion we were allowed into Portsmouth and we borrowed awful old bicycles and I remember I used to bicycle into Fareham to have dinner.
(Jeanne Law, oral history, interview recorded 27.2.1997. Transcript held in D-Day Museum Archive, Index Key PORMG: 5333A)
All troops and Army personnel were fully briefed by SHAEF four days prior to D-Day. All units were instructed to be sealed-off completely from the public and guarded by barbed wire as well as the military police. Only senior Officers knew the exact locations for invasion in Normandy. In order to ensure secrecy was maintained right up until the point of embarkation, troops were just briefed on the manoeuvres and told false locations. It was also at this briefing that the men were given their invasion currency and printed beach instructions.
Following D-Day, staff at Southwick found themselves with quite a bit of free-time. However, in the immediate aftermath of June 6th, were far too exhausted to take advantage of movement restrictions being lifted. Many staff fell asleep at their desks having worked for days on end with little or no sleep. Jean remembers witnessing colleagues sleeping in the grounds, on the lawn or outside their Nissen Huts. Jeanne also recalls that the staff were given a bit of leave after D-Day and when she returned she discovered that Admiral Creasy had been taken off in an ambulance with exhaustion.
After a period of recuperation, staff did begin to explore their location. Wrens could often be seen cycling into Southwick village, sailing on the lake, going to the cinema in Portsmouth or picnicking on Hayling Island. Southwick’s Golden Lion pub was a favourite haunt of SHAEF HQ’s servicemen and women. The front bar was known as the ‘Blue Room’ and officially adopted as the Officers’ Mess.
‘Ready for The Day’ (1944). Showing preparations across Southern England in readiness for D-Day. Published by British Pathe on You Tube 13.4.2014.
HAMPSHIRE PREPARES – THE KHAKI INVASION
In early 1944, Prime Minster Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965), General Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) and US President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) all met to discuss in detail the plans for D-Day. General Eisenhower had arrived in Britain earlier in the same year, on the 15th January.
‘Ike Visits Monty’ (1944). Published by British Pathe on You Tube 13.4.2014.
It was essential that a dress rehearsal took place approximately one month before the main event. This operation was codenamed FABIUS. A full-scale exercise which took place at the end of April, beginning of May. The aim was to test all aspects of the land, sea and air forces ability to implement both Overlord and NEPTUNE (codename for naval plans).
Hampshire played a vital role in Operation Fabius. British and Canadian assault forces departed from Southampton and Portsmouth to mount a mock invasion on Littlehampton, Bracklesham Bay (Forces S and J) and Hampshire’s Hayling Island (Force G). American units (Forces O and U) attacked Slapton Sands in Devon, in several phases, as part of the ill-fated Exercise Tiger in which many men died when German E-Boats sank two tank landing crafts (LCTs) and damaged a third.
Estimates for the number of men dead or missing at Slapton Sands, range from seven hundred and forty-nine to nearly a thousand. A final death toll has never been given for several reasons including the fact that the whole tragic incident was shrouded in secrecy for years afterwards. Surviving servicemen who took part in Exercise Tiger were threatened with Court Martial if they discussed what happened on that fateful Friday, 28th April. If events had become public knowledge then morale amongst servicemen would have been severely compromised at such a crucial stage during the preparations for D-Day.
In addition to the various military components and logistics, the contribution made towards D-Day preparations by the Home Front, not just in Hampshire but right across Britain and America, should not be underestimated. In order to equip an Allied force of this magnitude a comprehensive production programme had to be put in place.
Conscription for women was brought into force in Britain. In order to be exempted from conscription, a woman had to now prove that her husband’s war work or her children would be adversely affected by her absence. It was no longer possible to give domestic responsibilities as a reason for exemption.
Fuel was rationed and raw materials amassed on an unprecedented scale. Aluminium saucepans were collected for smelting down into aircraft components and iron railings were removed from outside public buildings and private residences. Evidence of ‘stubs’ left following the mass removal of railings can still in many towns, villages and cities today.
From April, 1944, onwards, American, British and Canadian military personnel poured into Hampshire along with army contingents from Poland, Czechoslovakia, France, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Greece, Australia, Rhodesia, South Africa and New Zealand. Troops were recalled from theatres of war in North Africa, Sicily and Italy.
By D-Day, over one and a half million American troops alone had arrived in Britain armed with their rifles, nylons and Hershey bars much to the sheer joy of local young ladies as well as small children. At Southampton’s Royal Pier Pavilion, American GIs were a familiar sight and at the Guildhall, Glenn Miller and his Orchestra played several dates to keep the troops entertained whilst waiting upon final orders for D-Day to come through.
American Army’s field kitchens provided their troops with a constant supply of apple pie, clam chowder and hamburgers, a familiar sight particularly at encampments on Southampton Common and in the New Forest. For local people who had been used to a diet controlled by rationing, this must have been quite an enviable spectacle.
At Warsash, near Southampton, there was one instance where American Army caterers chucked surplus food stuffs into the Hamble River. Large hams, meats and cheeses were simply thrown away as the date for embarkation drew nearer. Locals made a dash to River in order to claim their bounty. Customs’ officers from Southampton turned a blind-eye. The British remarked that the Americans were: ‘overfed, overpaid, over-sexed and over-here.’ To which their Atlantic cousins retorted that the Brits were: ‘underfed, underpaid, undersexed and under Eisenhower.’
Hoards of trucks, tanks and jeeps could be seen parked-up on Hampshire roadsides particularly in the southern half of the county. Bridges had to be strengthened and roads widened to accommodate heavy-duty traffic. Fields were soon full of army supplies and munitions. Sleepy rural idylls were turned into giant army encampments and country lanes became military car parks. Red-bricked estate boundary walls were covered in white-painted numerals to indicate where tanks and jeeps should be parked.
Local pubs were filled with military personnel and it wasn’t unusual for families to adopt the tank parked outside their house. Troops enjoyed good local hospitality many being invited indoors to join the family at mealtimes. Kitchen tables were often used by Officers to spread their maps out on.
Soldiers could be seen sleeping in hedgerows, on the roadside or by their vehicles. Following their initial arrival in Hampshire, troops would bide their time playing cards, writing letters and sharing friendly exchanges with the locals. Many other troops lived in temporary camps, mostly in wooded areas such as the New Forest or Forest of Bere. Both of these locations were close to embarkation points.
Men stationed in camps had reasonable facilities including showers, film-screenings areas and basic outdoor facilities to play sports such as softball, football, volleyball and table tennis. Southampton’s main parks and the Common became densely populated military camps and later marshalling areas prior to embarkation. The atmosphere, full of heightened expectation, must have been palpable.
Canadian soldiers stationed in a remote part of the New Forest before D-Day, would gather for regular church services at a site were there is now a permanent memorial to the fallen. Men of the 3rd Canadian Division RCASC (the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps) erected a cross on 14th April, 1944 were they all gathered for worship. The cross can still be seen today. Men of the 3rd Canadian Division and 2nd Armoured Brigade landed on Juno Beach, June 6th, 1944, suffering fourteen fatal casualties on that day. There were further losses in the weeks and months that followed.
On Friday, 2nd June, 1944, Winston Churchill arrived at a tiny railway station in the Hampshire hamlet of Droxford, not far from Southwick. Churchill was accompanied by members of the War Cabinet and overseas leaders (Charles de Gaulle, President William Lyon McKenzie King and Jan Smuts). Operation Overlord’s Commanders, based at Southwick, met with these political giants for one last conference before final orders to proceed were issued.
Droxford was chosen for two reasons. Firstly, it was close to Southwick and secondly, the station was near to a railway tunnel, should there be an air raid, the train could back into the tunnel and obtain safe shelter. The overseas leaders also visited troop encampments and inspected vessels anchored on the Solent. Accompanying this illustrious team were a number of smartly dressed secretaries and personal aides. Everyone lived on the train from Friday 2nd until Sunday 4th June. A local farmer, living opposite the station, delivered fresh milk every morning and was escorted along the track to the train by an armed guard.
In the months prior to D-Day, airstrips across Hampshire witnessed an increase in traffic. Sites at Needs Ore Point, Beaulieu, Holmsley South, Ibsley, Lymington and Stoney Cross became fully operational. Portsmouth-based aircraft manufacturer, Airspeed Limited, built the famous Horsa gliders. These gliders were unique in that they had a higher percentage of timber used in their construction than traditional military aeroplanes. Both the control column and wheel on a Horsa were made of wood.
During the D-Day, sixty-eight Horsa gliders, carrying men of the 6th Airborne Division, along with four giant Hamilcars loaded with heavy equipment, headed for their landing zone. Forty-seven Horsas and two Hamilcars reached their destination. As daylight took hold, another two hundred and fifty gliders, most of which were Horsas, delivered seven thousand five hundred men directly into the battle zone.
On 31st May, 1944, troops were moved from their temporary encampments to begin boarding their landing crafts and ships. Communications and general entente cordiale with the locals was forbidden from this point onward. Along the South Coast there were a total of twenty-four embarkation points all with troop marshalling areas close by.
There were four embarkation points in Portsmouth and three in Gosport. The Eastern Docks of Southampton were used for docking the larger ships and the Western Docks sheltered landing crafts. Southampton Town Quay had three separate embarkation points for troops boarding landing crafts. Both the Isle of Wight and Hythe Ferry Terminals, as well as the Ocean Cruise Terminals, were used to full capacity.
Civilians living close to ports did not have the same degree of interaction with troops, following their initial arrival in the county, as they did in rural communities. On 31st March, 1944, a Regulated Area (No. 2) Order was issued whereby a ten mile wide coastal strip of land from the wash to Lands End meant that the movement of civilians was restricted, closed in fact to all visitors. In the city of Southampton, no-one was allowed to enter or leave the city without a permit. The only exception was for residents living on the Isle of Wight.
A subsequent Direction (no.26) was issued on 19th April, 1944 and remained in force until 14th June, 1944. Southampton Docks were covered in camouflage and smoke screens which was meant to ensure that dockside activity was obscured from enemy reconnaissance. However, there are reports of local citizens travelling on the top of double-decker buses in the city who were able to see soldiers making their tanks waterproof.
On the night of 5th June, local people were woken by the sound of thousands of aircraft flying overhead. The invasion of Normandy had begun. When civilians awoke on the morning of 6th June all military vehicles and personnel had vanished overnight.
However, on 13th June, 1944, D-Day+7, Hitler attempted to have the last word when he ordered the launch of the first V1 flying bombs (Doodlebugs), London being the first target. Several days later, on 15th June, two hundred and forty-four V1’s were fired at the capital and fifty at Southampton. One month later on the 15th July, 1944, a V1 fell on Newcomen Road, Portsmouth, killing fifteen and injuring eighty-two.
Group Captain Sir J. Martin Stagg RAF (1900-1975) – D-Day & The Weather
Col(Retd) Jeremy J. Green OBE, Regimental Secretary RHQ RMP (at Defence School of Policing and Guarding (DSPG)) explains in detail the significance of the weather and D-Day. Interview by Emma, Editor of Come Step Back in Time. Uploaded to You Tube 2.6.2014.
In the above Podcast, Emma, Editor of Come Step Back in Time uses Stagg’s diary entries to piece together the facts behind the decision by Eisenhower to delay invasion by twenty-four hours based upon Stagg and his team’s detailed weather forecasts in June, 1944.
Extracts Below from Group Captain J. M. Stagg RAF – ‘Report on the Meteorological Implications in the Selection of the Day for the Allied Invasion of France, 6th June, 1944’
I(a) For such a complex operation as a landing on a heavily fortified coast, it is not an easy matter to determine one set of meteorological conditions which would be ideal from the points of view of all arms concerned. The ideal conditions would change with each stage of operation; in the hours immediately preceding and following the actual hour of first landing, the conditions would vary almost from hour to hour.
Probably the only firm prerequisite is the restriction on the strength (and in part on the direction) of the surface wind with its immediate effect on the waves and surf on the landing beaches.
Hence, from the viewpoint of naval operations alone, the ideal conditions would be little or no wind within the actual sphere of operations and no swell-producing wind for the whole period covering the time of sailing of the assault forces to their landings on the beaches.
Visibility, as affected vertically by cloud and horizontally on the surface by fog, mist/haze, is one of the most important factors for the Air and Naval aspects of the operation.
There are other factors; for example, the condition of the ground in the operational area as regards softness (mudiness) for the movement of heavy vehicles both tracked and untracked. This factor is taken into account in the planning stages but in certain circumstances may also be important in deciding the day of assault.
(i) Surface winds should not exceed Force 3 (8-12 mph) on shore or Force 4 (13-18 mph) off-shore in the assault area during the days D to D plus 2. Winds might be Force 5 in the open sea but only for limited periods.
(ii) In the days preceding D-Day, there should be no prolonged periods of high winds of such direction and in such Atlantic areas as to produce any substantial swell in the Channel.
(iii) Visibility, not less than 3 miles.
Air Force Requirements
(i) Airbourne transport:
a) Cloud ceiling at least 2,500 feet along the route to and over the target area.
b) Visibility at least 3 miles.
(ii) Heavy Bombers:
a) Not more than 5/10 cloud cover below 5,000 feet and cloud ceiling not lower than 11,000 feet over the target area.
(iii) Medium and Fighter Bombers:
a) Cloud ceiling not less than 4,500 feet, visibility not less than 3 miles over the target area.
(iv) Fighter and Fighter Bombers:
a) Cloud base not less than 1,000 feet.
(v) Base areas:
a) Cloud not below 1,000 feet and visibility not below a mile except for heavy bombers for which there is the additional stipulation that low cloud tops must be less than 5,000 feet high and there should be only fragmentary middle cloud.
i) Airborne Troop Landings:
a) For paratroops, the surface wind over the target area should not exceed 20 mph in the target area and should not be gusty; and for gliders the surface wind should not be over 30-35 mph.
b) The intensity of the ground illumination should be less than half moon at 30 degrees altitude or the equivalent in diffuse twilight.
ii) Ground Forces:
The ground should be sufficiently dry to allow movement of heavy vehicles off made-up roads.
Actual Weather Conditions According to Stagg For 5th & 6th June, 1944
June, 5th, 1944 – 10/10 cloud over the assault area at 0600 hours and had been so during the night;
June 6th, 1944, 0100 – Wind W. Force 3 Cloud 7/10-10/10 3,000-5,000 ft; 0400 – Wind WNW Force 3, cloud 4/10-6/10, 3,000ft, 05.45 – Beachhead clear with 6/10 low, cloud inland, 0800 – Wind WNW Force 3-4, cloud 7/10-9/10.
Late afternoon clouds broke and cleared over the Channel. 1700 – Wind WNW Force 4 (Force 5 at times) cloud clear over Channel but 6/10-9/10 over beachhead and further inland. Clear area over the Seine estuary (N. value for airborne, glider flight). 1800 – Cloud, Cherbourg 4/10-6/10, 3,000-5,000 ft, Havre 1/10-2/10, 2,000-3,000 ft.
‘Factory-made Invasion Harbour’ (1944). Fascinating film by British Pathe about the Mulberry Harbours including lots of original footage. Uploaded onto You Tube 13.4.2014
Mulberry & Gooseberry Harbours & PLUTO
Thought to be one of the greatest feats of engineering in the twentieth century, the Mulberry and Gooseberry harbours were a crucial part of Operation Overlord and Neptune. These pre-fabricated harbours provided shelter and enabled troop reinforcements, as well as all of their equipment, to be landed in France following the initial invasion of the Normandy beaches.
These artificial harbours, both the size of Dover, were operational from D-Day+10 until, and after, Cherbourg was liberated. They were made to last for ninety days. There were two Mulberry harbours, Mulberry A and Mulberry B, one at Arromanches for the British forces and another at Utah beach, for the Americans. Unfortunately, Mulberry A was put out of use on D-Day+15 (21st June) following several days of severe storms in Normandy.
The harbours and associated structures were constructed and stored at various sites in Southern Hampshire:
Lepe (Stone Point), Stokes Bay (Gosport) and Hayling Island – all beach locations and chosen for their small tidal range;
No. 5 Dry Dock, adjacent wet berths and the Inner Dock, Southampton (twelve of the largest caissons were built here);
Beaulieu. Some of the smaller caissons were built here in April/May, 1944;
No. 7 Dry Dock, Southampton. The steel Bombardons were constructed here.
Construction of the various components began in December, 1943, although planning had started a long while beforehand. The whole project was, like all other aspects of Operation Overlord, highly secretive. Every component had a separate codename. At is peak, there were forty-five thousand men working on the project, drawn from a nationwide workforce at a time when labour was in short supply. The workers were a mix of Irishmen, conscripted local teenagers and middle-aged men who were employed as scaffolders, steel benders and steel erectors. The harbours consisted of:
deep water shipping, floating, breakwaters for the larger ships (BOMBARDON);
floating pierhead units;
temporary in-shore breakwaters (made-up of sunken blockshops known as the GOOSEBERRY harbours);
steel floats (BEETLES) which were used to rest the articulated steel sections that formed the roadways;
SPUDS. These were vertical steel columns that supported the steel pontoons;
permanent in-shore breakwaters;
RHINOS. Pontoons fitted with two outboard motors. Each pontoon had its own tug;
reinforced concrete caissons (PHEONIXES) – these were sunk in situ to support the pierheads and floating roadways. They provided the main breakwater or harbour wall and two hundred and thirteen of them were built.
Lepe (Stone Point), near Exbury, Hampshire was both a construction site and embarkation point for six thousand troops on D-Day itself. The site was established within a very short space of time. Wilson Lovatt & Son were the firm chosen to manage this site with technical assistance provided by Messrs Holloway Brothers (London) Limited. Seven hundred men worked on construction of the Mulberry Harbours at Lepe. Letters have survived (Cadland Estate archives) that show some of the labourers were caught stealing chickens, poaching and vandalising a bathing hut on the nearby Cadland House estate.
Archaeological remains of the former construction site at Lepe can still be seen today (more of which has revealed itself following the Valentine’s Day storms earlier this year). Some of the above ground archaeology includes:
On the northern half of the site a long, raised, concrete and brick platform where the PHEONIX caissons were assembled;
On the southern half of the site at platform end are slipways and winch-house foundations used to launch the casissons sideways into the sea at high tide;
There are remains of concrete hardstandings and beach hardening mats (which look like giant bars of chocolate);
Jetties used for the embarkation of the troops and vehicles;
Two bollards on the hardstanding were used to secure vessels during the loading.
Editor of Come Step Back in Time discussing the importance of the Mulberry Harbours and explores the site at Lepe (Stone Point), near Exbury. In the background behind Emma, you can see the two ‘Dolphin’ iron structures. These are the remains of jetties used to load vessels.
D-Day Beach Landing (1944). Original footage showing British troops landing in Normandy. British Pathe War Archives. Uploaded to You Tube 21.12.11.
D-DAY HEROES- IN THEIR OWN WORDS
This is the opportunity which we have long-awaited and which must be seized and pursued with relentless determination. Let no one underestimate the magnitude of the task. I count on every man to do his utmost to ensure the success of the great enterprise which is the climax of the European War.
(Special Order of The Day issued to each Officer and man, June 1944 by B.H. Ramsay, Admiral Allied Naval Commander-in-Chief Expeditionary Force)
To all soldiers, sailors and airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force. You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed Peoples of Europe and security for ourselves in a free world. The free men of the world are marching together for victory.
(Special Order of The Day issued to each Officer and man, June 1944 by General Eisenhower)
There were five assault beaches involved in the Normandy landings. Utah, Omaha (American) and Gold, Juno and Sword (British and Canadian). Juno beach was original to be called ‘Jelly’ but it was thought inappropriate to send any man to die on a beach called ‘Jelly’.
Conditions aboard LCTs were appalling. A heavy weather swell on the ten-mile Channel crossing to Normandy resulted in men suffering from dreadful seasickness. The anti-sickness tablets issued were not really that effective. Cold, wet, tired, dizzy with nausea and weighed down with heavy kit, men descended into four feet deep water.
In several oral history testimonies by D-Day veterans, men describe being hit by an overwhelming stench of cordite, fuel fumes and smoke upon embarkation in Normandy. Many state the moment you stepped off of the landing craft into the water, it was a fight for your life, the hardest ten yards you will ever have to travel. Survivors were also left with terrible deafness from the continuous artillery bombardments.
On landing, each man was handed two anti-seasickness tablets, a small collapsible cooker with methylated spirit blocks and forty-eight hours worth of dehydrated food…As each LCT was fully loaded it took up its position in the armada and then as D-Day was postponed for twenty-four hours we rode-out the storm off of the Isle of Wight. The two tablets did not work.
(Mr R.R. Ridley, Royal Artillery, Sword Beach. Oral history transcript held in the D-Day Museum Archive)
Naval personnel were shouting ‘Get ashore’… over the ship’s side, still dizzy from seasickness, and into water 4ft deep, each one let out a gasp as the water swirled around, and we struggled for sure. It was the hardest ten yards I ever did, but we all got ashore.
(Eric Broadhead, Durham Light Infantry, Landing on Gold Beach. Oral history transcript held in the D-Day Museum Archive)
Being only 5ft 7, I was in water up to my chest…I stepped into a crater and went under. My buddy next to me grabbed my pack straps and just dragged me along until my feet found bottom again…I was carrying 40lbs of special equipment that would have kept me anchored to the bottom.. Hitting the beach was an experience I would never want to repeat. I was just nineteen years old, very scared and seasick again. My only clear thought was to get on solid land as quick as possible.
(Mr T. C. Campbell, US 1st Engineer Special Brigade, Utah Beach. Oral history transcript held in the D-Day Museum Archive)
Instead of our regular packs we had been issued assault jackets, a sort of vest-like garment…In the various pockets we stored K-rations, a quarter pound of dynamite with fuses, hand grenades, smoke grenades, medical kit (a syringe, morphine)…We had two slings of ammo belts slung across our shoulders. On our backs we carried an entrenching tool, a bayonet and poncho…As assistant to the flame thrower, I carried his rifle and pack…Altogether, our equipment weighed about 70lbs.
(John Barnes, US 116th Infantry Regiment, Omaha Beach. Oral history transcript held in the D-Day Museum Archive)
On approaching the beach there was a craft going in right alongside of us, LCVPs (Landing Craft, Vehicle and Personnel) which is a smaller craft which holds thirty troops, and some them hit floating landmines and so forth, and you know, they exploded and you would see a guy flying through the air with his rifle and everything, but there’s nothing you can do about that. You can’t stop and help those people.
(Henry Martin USN, on board LCT 586, Omaha Beach. Oral history transcript held in the D-Day Museum Archive)
By midnight on the 6th June, all initial assault forces, with the exception of those on OMAHA beach, had gained a majority of their objectives. One hundred and thirty thousand men had landed from the sea and twenty-three thousand troops had landed from the air. Eleven thousand Allied troops were either killed, injured or missing. The Allies met with mixed resistance from the Germans but the 21st Panzer Division did manage to initially keep hold of Caen and its neighbouring airfields.
On D-Day and during the Battle for Normandy, more than forty thousand Allied soldiers and over two hundred thousand Axis soldiers died.
Normandy veteran and life-long Portsmouth resident John Jenkins, who served in the Pioneer Corps, recalls his experiences of D-Day. Filmed at the D-Day Museum, Portsmouth. Uploaded to You Tube by the D-Day Museum 4.2.2014.
Brown, Mike, A Child’s War: Growing-Up On The Home Front 1939-45, Sutton Publishing, (2001)
Burton, Lesley, D-Day: Our Great Enterprise, Gosport Society, (1984)
Christie RN (Retd.), Lt. G. History of Fort Southwick: 1942-1974 (c.1970s)
Davies, Ken, New Forest Airfields, A Niche Publication (1992)
Doughty, Martin, (Ed.) Hampshire and D-Day, Southgate Publishers Ltd (1994
Fleming, Pat, (Ed.) D-Day: 50th Anniversary of The Normandy Landings. The Official Guide to Anniversary Events, Southern Newspapers PLC, (1993)
Frankland, Claire et al, Southampton Blitz: The Unofficial Story, Oral History Team, Southampton City Council (1990)
Leete, John In Time of War: Hampshire, Sutton Publishing, (2006)
Middleton, D. H., Airspeed: The Company and Its Aeroplanes, Terence Dalton Ltd (1982)
Peckham, Ingrid, et al (Eds.) Southampton and D-Day, Southampton City Council (1994)
Pomeroy, Stephen (Ed.) Women At War, Portsmouth WEA Local History Group (2010)
Podcast – Stagg’s Diaries and Reports. Copies of weather forecasts for Operation Neptune and Overlord, including the diary of Group Captain J. M. Stagg, RAF, and his report are available to view at the D-Day Museum Archive. Index Key: PORMG: 1990.745. Originals are held in The National Archives (AIR 37.1124A).
D-Day Museum Archive. Numerous documents consulted. Most of the extracts used in the above article include an Index Key reference as part of their citation. If you wish to consult a particular oral history I have mentioned, it would be helpful to the Archive if you could include the Index Key when making your enquiry.
Further Resources & Special Thanks
D-Day Museum & D-Day Museum Archive. A special thank-you to Andrew Whitmarsh from the D-Day Museum for advising me so thoroughly during my research for this article. The quality of material kept in the D-Day Museum Archive is exceptional. After an initial consultation, Andrew prepared for me a comprehensive bundle of papers which I found invaluable. I would urge anyone researching this topic to consult the D-Day Museum’s Archivefirst. For details on how to access the collection, Click Here;
Southwick House, Southwick Park, Hampshire (Defence School of Policing and Guarding (DSPG). I would like to thank the DSPG staff at Southwick House for hosting such a successful filming day and also for sharing their extensive knowledge of the location’s historic connections with D-Day. In particular, Col(Retd) Jeremy T. Green OBE, Regimental Secretary at RHQ RMP. Public visits to the house and its famous Map Room are strictly by appointment only. However, please do not let this put you off as it is fairly easy to organise a visit. There is also a Royal Military Police Museum adjacent to the main house as well as a Royal Navy Police Museum and a Royal Air Force Police Museum. For further information about the site and details of how to arrange a visit, Click Here.Please note that you will be required to bring Photo ID along with you on your visit as the site is still an operational military base;
Portsmouth History Centre, Portsmouth Central Library. I would like to thank the extremely helpful and knowledgeable staff who work at the Portsmouth History Centre. The Centre is an excellent resource for local history of both the Portsmouth area and also Southern Hampshire. For access details and opening times please, Click Here. Please note that you will be required to bring with you Photo ID as well as something with your name and address on, such as a utility bill. You can also use the collection if you have a CARN card.
A soldier writing a letter in a World War One military hospital. (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
During World War One, temporary military hospitals were set-up at key locations throughout Britain with a vast number established near to coastal ports. Their strategic positioning, ensured that journey times to and from the Western Front, for injured as well as rehabilitated soldiers, were kept to a minimum. Heritage properties, civic buildings, hotels, country estates and boarding houses were requisitioned by the War Office and transformed into fully equipped medical facilities for treating wounded service personnel. Some of the larger, private residences, served as convalescent homes.
c.1915: Patients in the garden at Mr and Mrs Martin Ranger’s hospital for wounded servicemen. Unknown location but likely to be a private residence in Britain. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
When war broke-out in 1914, the tiny village of Brockenhurst in the New Forest, with its two thousand inhabitants, became an important hospital centre. This village location was chosen due to an abundance of country houses and large dwellings in the surrounding area. These properties provided suitable accommodation to be converted into medical centres. Brockenhurst railway station also offered excellent links to the Port of Southampton which, in August 1914, had been designated No.1 Military Embarkation Port. Wounded soldiers wheeled on luggage trolleys from Brockenhurst station to the local hospital(s) was a common sight throughout the war.
Interior view of an ambulance train ward car with three tiers of bunk beds. Ambulance trains were used during World War One in France and Belgium to transport wounded or sick soldiers to hospital. This train was on display in several stations in Lancashire and Yorkshire before being taken to the Western Front. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
Another interior view of the same train. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
In World War One, both Balmer Lawn and Forest Park hotelswere fitted out as military hospitals. Initially, these buildings were part of The Lady Hardinge Hospital for Wounded Indian Soldiers but later became sections of the No.1 New Zealand General Hospital. When the latter was operational, Balmer Lawn was used for Officers only. In 1915, Brockenhurst was officially designated by the War Office as a key hospital centre. Both King George V (1865-1836) and Queen Mary (1867-1953) visited Brockenhurst during the war. They were the first monarchs to have visited the New Forest since George III (1738-1820).
Lady Hardinge (1868-1914) was the wife of the then Viceroy of India, Charles Hardinge (1858-1944). Lady Hardinge had died suddenly of shock in a London nursing home, July 1914, a week after an operation to remove a malignant tumour. Further tragedy struck Lord Hardinge when in December 1914 his eldest son, Edd, died of wounds received whilst fighting in France.
21st August, 1933: L to R: Lord Hardinge of Penshurst, his son Major the Hon A Hardinge and Viscount Hardinge watching a cricket match held at Penshurst Castle, Kent. (Photo by H. F. Davis/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
The Order of St. John of Jerusalem gave £10,000 to The Lady Hardinge hospital towards the cost of purchasing specialist equipment. In addition to the main hospital buildings, there were also a series of huts erected in the hotel grounds. Some of these temporary structures were used as Officers Quarters. Both Balmer Lawn and Forest Park sections combined, could accommodate two thousand five hundred Indian soldiers when it first opened.
The land on which Balmer Lawn and Forest Park stand, was donated to the war effort by Mrs Morant of Brockenhurst Park. Brockenhurst Manor Golf Club, on Sway Road, which opened in September 1915, was also created on land owned by the Morant Trustees. The Club and grounds were used in the war by military and convalescing officers. In March 1918, a large parcel of land from the golf course was donated by the Trustees for use by the Canadian Forestry Corps so that they could grow their own vegetables. A majority of this land was turned-over to soil to help the war effort and support food rationing.
Who were the Morant family? The Morants moved to Brockenhurst from Jamaica in 1759 and Edward Morant (1730-91) purchased a number of parcels of land in the village. In 1769, he brought Brockenhurst Park for the sum of £6,400. Edward continued to purchase more local land as well as property and in 1771 he brought the nearby Roydon Manor which still exists today.
Each successive generation of the Morant family acquired more and more land, by the time World War One began they owned nearly all of the parish. The family’s income came via ownership of a number of West Indian Estates including one of Jamaica’s largest sugar plantations. Port Morant, Morant Bay and Morant Lighthouse, in Jamaica, are all named after the family.
The town of Morant, Morant Bay, Jamaica, c1880. (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
Brockenhurst Park and Morant Manor, the adjoining country house, were close to St. Nicholas Church and not far from Brockenhurst station. The grounds were stunning thanks to extensive landscaping which began in 1865 when ornamental lakes and topiary gardens were created. In 1898, a fish pond, fishing house, rookery, pheasantry, dairy, menagerie, dog kennels, boat and engine houses were added. In 1910, an aviary was installed. The gardens were well-known and written about in Country Life, Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932) visited the estate on several occasions.
When the third John Morant (1825-99) remodelled the main house in 1857, he did so to designs by Thomas Henry Wyatt (1807-1880) which were in the French Chateau style. A few years before World War One, the 1911 Census shows a substantial number of staff were employed to look after the Morant family and their estate. It was a grand Edwardian country house of Downton Abbey proportions. During World War One soldiers were allowed into the grounds and the house was used as a convalescent home, probably for Officers only.
The house was finally demolished in 1958 and a new building erected on the same site, designed by Harry Gordon. Some of the Park’s features still remain, for example, an avenue of trees, the Italianate lake, topiary, some statuary and a very elaborate French-style gatehouse. The estate is no longer owned by the family and is now in private ownership. Old photographs of the original estate and house can be found here.
There are a number of photographs in existence showing the grounds of Morant Manor during the war. These were taken by Sir Rex de Charembac Nan Kivell (1843-1977), a New Zealand born art collector, who was on staff at the No.1. New Zealand General Hospital from 1916-1919. Kivell enlisted, under the name ‘Reginald Nankivell’, into the New Zealand Expeditionary Force on 31st May, 1916 and was underage when he joined-up. He never saw action, although his collection does include many images of overseas military campaigns.
Nan Kivell’s extensive collection features many photographs of wartime Brockenhurst including portraits of local villagers as well as a snapshot of life in the military hospitals and convalescent homes there. His collection is now owned by the National Library of Australia (Nan Kivell Collection) and you can browse selected images, here. There is a rather splendid photograph of the Italianate lake at Morant gardens in Brockenhurst Park.
c.1916: British nurses making surgical dressings, filling them with pine dust, during World War One. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
On the Lyndhurst Road, which is the main artery into the village, there once stood Morant Hall also called New Forest Hall. During the war it was transformed into yet another medical facility. Whilst the Indian soldiers were being treated in Brockenhurst, Morant Hall was known as Meerut Indian General Hospital. When the New Zealand troops arrived, in 1916, the Hall became a British Red Cross Auxiliary facility (also known as a Convalescent Depot) called Morant War Hospital.
The Hall was managed by a committee of local citizens and could provide accommodation for up to one hundred and twenty patients. Local children also got involved and were sent to collect sphagnum moss and cotton grass for wound dressings, natural materials that could be found in the forest.
In the 1920s, the grounds and tennis courts behind Morant Hall, became the site of prestigious tournaments, warm-ups for Wimbledon. Brockenhurst Tennis Week was an important fixture in society’s social calendar. There is a rather stunning set of images, taken in the 1920s, of one of these Tennis Weeks and it can be viewed here.
c.1915: Injured Indian soldiers of the British Army at the Brighton Pavilion, converted into a military hospital. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
In its early years, The Lady Hardinge Hospital in Brockenhurst treated soldiers from the Indian Army Corps (3rd Lahore and 7th Meerut). During this time, the short road that linked Balmer Lawn and Forest Park hotels, was renamed Meerut Road in honour of the Corps and is still called thus today. By November 11, 1914, the hospital had treated more than a thousand Indian Soldiers. Protocol dictated that British nurses were not normally allowed to attend Indian Soldiers in any military hospital either at home or abroad. However, because The Lady Hardinge Hospital was funded by a private charity, an exception was made.
In 1915, the hospital’s Matron was Miss Edith McCall Anderson R.R.C, she was aided by nurses Miss I. Frodsham, Miss Ryland-Smith, her assistants and seventeen Sisters who all spoke Hindustani. One Sister looked after two wards and there were twenty-four patients to a ward along with two English orderlies and native servants. The Sisters’ quarters were spacious and comfortable. Matron had her own sitting-room.
In early March of the same year, a contingent of male and female dignitaries arrived to tour and inspect The Lady Hardinge Hospital. The party included the Duchess of Bedford, Duchess of Somerset, Earl and Countess of Clarenden amongst many other philanthropic aristocrats. Everyone was met at Brockenhurst railway station by a number of motor cars provided by Dr Child, then President of the Automobile Association, to transport VIPs a short distance to the hospital complex.
A report of the visit appeared in The British Journal of Nursing (BJN), March 6th, 1915, an extract of which is printed below:
..There are twenty wards in all, of twenty-four beds, with the usual annexes, and single wards for native officers, who looked very smart as well as warm in the beautiful dressing-gowns sent by Lady Rothschild, of dark blue cloth with red facings, and one noticed a new use for the knitted scarves, which were ingeniously worn in more than one instance as turbans…beds had quilts of Turkey twill.
The wards had wooden floors, perhaps not the most hygienic. Upon arrival at a military hospital, all patients would have their clothes removed and disinfected, many soldiers were riddled with lice and other parasites. The patients’ clothing was then stored in the Pack Stores until, and if, the patient was discharged.
Medical facilities at The Lady Hardinge Hospital complex included a theatre block, two operating theatres, sterilizing room, preparation room, anaesthetic room and an x-ray room. Convalescing patients could relax in the recreation room which was carpeted and had divans with bright green velvet bolsters and low tables which the men could prepare their tobacco, play cards or chess on.
Following an escalation in hostilities, overcrowding soon became a problem at The Lady Hardinge with many patients forced to sleep on mattresses on the floor. Conditions were uncomfortable, many soldiers reported that there was a lack of food and inadequate heating. The Indian soldiers also found it difficult to adjust to the cold, damp British climate. Patient Sepoy Ranga Singh, wrote a letter from the hospital complaining about conditions there:
There is no fireplace. We are not given milk…It is very cold. We have to call the nurses “mother” and the European soldiers “Orderly Sahib” – if we do not we are reported. The five Brighton hospitals are good. The others are not good. We are not given soup. We get nothing.
(Reprinted in Mark Harrison, Disease, Discipline and Dissent: The Indian Army in France and England, 1914-1915. in: Roger Cooter, Harrison Mark, Sturdy Steve, eds Medicine and Modern Warfare (Rodopi B.V., Amsterdam, 1999) p. 192)
Despite patient Sepoy Singh’s unhappy experience at the Lady Hardinge, clearly efforts were made to cater for the various dietary requirements of both Hindu, Sikh and Muslim patients. According to the BJN‘s 1915 report, beside every bed there was a locker. Muslim patients were given a ‘lotah’ (drinking vessel) made out of aluminium and Hindus a ‘lotah’ in brass.
Muslim patients were served their meals on white china with a dark blue surround and Hindu patients had white china with a blue border. There were two kitchens one catering for Sikhs and Muslims, the other for Hindus. Their complex dietary requirements meant that a system of coloured discs were hung over each bed to help the servers at mealtimes. The numbered system operated as follows:
Chicken soup/mutton soup and milk;
Non-meat, sugar instead of meat;
Rice diet and meat;
Chapatis, unleavened cakes, made of unadulterated wheat flour, with meat.
It is likely that some housekeeping standards did slip from time-to-time. The overstretched staff would have struggled to keep-up with increased numbers of wounded soldiers being admitted. In 1915, in an attempt to alleviate the problem of overcrowding, a combination of tented and galvanised accommodation units were erected to the south of Brockenhurst, at Tile Barn, a ridge overlooking both village and forest, a short distance from the station. Tile Barn’s complex of temporary, metal structures was nicknamed “Tin Town” by locals and provided five hundred extra beds. The site at Tile Barn is now an outdoor adventure centre for adults and children. The Indian Army Corps finally left Brockenhurst, for Egypt, in November, 1915.
A wounded soldier in a London hospital reads a magazine with a Red Cross nurse by his bedside. 20th July 1918. (Photo by A. R. Coster/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
In 1916, the New Zealand authorities took over administration of The Lady Hardinge Hospital from the War Office. The site at Brockenhurst became the No.1 New Zealand General Hospital incorporating a specialist centre for orthopaedic injuries. Tin Town remained but expanded with the addition of further huts for staff and stores. Balmer Lawn and Forest Park became minor medical sections.
By August 1917, the site also had a specialist neurological section under the supervision of Captain Marshall MacDonald. This department treated patients with neurasthenia (a non-somatic illness) and shell shock. Below is a letter written in May, 1917, by a New Zealand serviceman at No.1 New Zealand General Hospital:
You will have read in the papers that the New Zealanders were in the thick of the fighting on the Somme in the middle of September, and since that time we have been exceedingly busy. Prior to that thirty-six of our orderlies had been sent over to France; one has since been killed and several wounded. Our admissions have been heavier even than they were in Cairo, and a very large number of the cases were serious. The operating theatre at each section deals with as many as half a dozen —and even more— cases each day. We are badly understaffed in nearly all departments, and patients -when well enough – are occasionally attached temporarily. Just now the orderlies we have, seem to be quite a good lot of men, and include a few parsons and men who held good positions in civilian life.
The hospital here is divided into three sections. The first is headquarters, which used to be occupied by the Lady Hardinge Hospital for wounded Indians. Here over six hundred patients are accommodated. It is built of hutments, and it is possible to reach all parts without going out-of-doors. There is additional accommodation for the staff and for stores. This section is known as “Tin Town,” and its occupants as “Tin Hats.”
The other two sections are hotels, one at either end of the village of Brockenhurst, and on the edge of the New Forest. Each accommodates between two hundred and three hundred patients. Both are very fine buildings, and are as well equipped in every way as the central section. Besides these three, there are five auxiliary hospitals, each taking from twenty to sixty patients. They are sent there as soon as they are well enough to require light dressings. The names of these five are: Morant War Hospital, at Brockenhurst; ‘Home Mead,’ at Lymington; ‘Hill House,’ at Lyndhurst; ‘Thorney Hill,’ at Bransgore; and Lady Normanton’s, at Ringwood. “There has recently been added a convalescent home for officers at “Avon Tyrrell,” Lady Manners’ House. At all of these places New Zealanders receive the best of attention, and all those mentioned are within a radius of fifteen miles, from Brockenhurst.
New Zealand soldiers aiding the war effort during their convalescence in Britain World War One. (Press Illustrating Service/FPG/Archive Photos/Getty Images)
One Australian nurse that worked at the Hospital was Staff Nurse Blanche (Alice) Atkinson. Blanche had trained in Adelaide and was a member of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNSR). She arrived in London on 22nd July, 1915 and soon found herself stationed at Brockenhurst. The following year, she was so overworked that she caught double-pneumonia and had a breakdown. Unfortunately, this led to her being invalided out of QAIMNSR and sent back to Adelaide to convalesce. She also caught Tuberculosis and died on the 9th December, 1916, aged thirty-eight. She was awarded the Royal Red Cross Medal for her ‘devotion to service’ by King George V.
Below is an extract from a letter written in November, 1916, by a New Zealand serviceman, Corporal Oswald de Witt Vaughan, who served in the Wellington Infantry, 3rd Regiment Battalion and was injured at the Somme. He is writing to his father, Reverend Charles Vaughan in Kingston, Tasmania. Corporal Vaughan’s words provide a first-hand account of a wounded soldier’s journey from the battlefield to Brockenhurst. Corporal Vaughan did recover from his initial injuries and returned to the Western Front only to be tragically killed in action less than a year later, on 4th October, 1917, at Ypres, Belgium.
Short (silent) film clip of ‘trench cooking’ in World Ward One, British Pathé .
The cooks had orders to have breakfast ready early, and turning out betimes myself on account of the cold. I found a good fire going and tea and porridge on the boil. A few of us were standing round the fire, which they had built on the side of the trench, when, without warning, the whole business blew-up and the dixies [cooking pots] and their valuable contents were scattered far and wide. The cook got a bad hit in the leg, and I felt a heavy smack in the left side, about the lower ribs, which threw me to the ground for a time.
I picked myself up, and found I was smothered in porridge, a gruesome spectacle. I thought at first it was only a severe blow from something blunt, but as I began to turn a bit faint, and found difficulty in breathing, some of my mates turned their attention to me, and found a small wound just above the lower midribs.
They had me up, and helped me down to the first-aid station, and from there I progressed to the advanced dressing station…I finally reached the [36th] Casualty Clearing Station at Heilly, about ten miles back from Albert…I stayed there till Sunday morning, the 17th….they put us on an ambulance train….we travelled all day, very slowly for a good part of the journey on account of the heavy traffic, finally reaching the coast, early in the morning of the 18th. Leaving here again on the 20th we motored to Havre, about eighteen miles, and embarked on a hospital ship, leaving that night, about 10.3opm.
Reached Southampton early next morning after a good trip, and went by train to Brockenhurst, only about thirty minutes’ run on the L.P.S.W railway. The No. 1 New Zealand General Hospital is established here, and staffed entirely by New Zealand doctors and nurses, with a few Australian nurses attached. There are three sections, Forest Park, Balmer Lawn and Tin Town. I was in the first named, which is just outside the village; it was very comfortable and the food excellent. They shifted me from that placeto this place [Thorney Hill Auxiliary Hospital, Bransgore] on the 26th to make room for cases coming in.
April 1915: Playing a record on the gramophone to while away the time whilst recuperating in hospital. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
Short (silent) film clip showing Australian and New Zealand soldiers return back home country in 1919, British Pathé.
(The Mercury, 21.11.1916)
Between 1914 and the end of January 1919, when the No.1 New Zealand General Hospital closed, three thousand Indian soldiers and twenty-one thousand and four New Zealand soldiers had been treated at the various medical facilities across the village. Any Indian soldiers that died whilst at Brockenhurst were of course cremated in-line with their religious beliefs. However, cremation was a relatively new practice in Britain at that time and had only been legal since 1902. A suitable site to perform the cremations was found nearby, Perry Wood.
Ninety-three New Zealand soldiers died whilst receiving treatment in Brockenhurst. The cause of death of a majority of these New Zealand soldiers was either battle wounds or sickness. The soldiers are buried in the cemetery adjacent to St. Nicholas Church, close to the former site of Tin Town at Tile Barn. Every head-stone tells its own story.
Short film about Private Potene Tuhuro, one of the New Zealand soldiers buried at St. Nicholas Church cemetery, Brockenhurst, New Forest. Video published by Hampshire Museums 30.10.13
The imposing memorial cross, at the back of the plot, was erected in 1927. Every year, on the nearest Sunday to Anzac Day, representatives of the New Zealand High Commission and members of the New Zealand Forces attend a service at the cemetery.
There are additional head-stones of servicemen from other countries in the Commonwealth including South Africa. During World War One, South Africa was still part of the Commonwealth until apartheid came into force in 1948. The country did not re-enter the Union until 1994. Here is a summary of, both military and civilian, burials at the cemetery, all from World War One:
93 New Zealand soldiers;
1 Australian soldier (Australian Infantry, 22nd Battalion);
1 Canadian soldier (Canadian Forestry Corps);
3 unknown Belgian civilians (who worked nearby at Sopley Forestry camp);
3 members of the Indian Expeditionary Forces;
3 British soldiers;
1 South African (Royal Flying Corps).
When war broke-out in 1914, Brockenhurst was a tiny village of two thousand inhabitants. In 1918, the village had lost seventy-eight of its own men. Private Leonard Baden House, whose parents lived at Carey’s Cottages in the village, died on 24th November, 1918, aged eighteen. He had been a member of the Hampshire Regiment.
Another well-established local family, the Bowden-Smiths, who lived at Careys Manor in the village (now a luxury hotel), lost their youngest son, Lieutenant Commander Victor James Bowden-Smith RN (1887-1918). Victor was killed by an accidental explosion whilst recovering a German Torpedo which had gone adrift in the North Sea near Runswick on 22nd August, 1918, he was aged thirty-one.
The Bowden-Smiths had lived in the village since the eighteenth century. Victor’s father was Reverend Frederick Hermann Bowden-Smith and died less than a year after his son on 7th February, 1919. Reverend Bowden-Smith had been the Rector of Weston Patrick near Basingstoke, Hampshire.
The nearby town of Lyndhurst lost sixty-eight men and the hamlet of East Boldre lost seventeen. No village in the New Forest escaped without tragedy.
A Contemporary Conversation looks at the period 1914 to 1918 and also considers the urgent subject of war today. World War One inflicted suffering on all sides, and while our account of this is non-partisan, the focus is on New Zealanders’ experience of the war. This is told through diaries, letters, and other documents drawn from the collections of the Alexander Turnbull Library and Archives New Zealand. These often poignant first-hand accounts provide a sense of what it was like to endure the vicissitudes of war.
Peter wrote to say that he was working on a case content refresh for the exhibition. One of the items on display is a register belonging to Archives New Zealand that records the deaths of New Zealand servicemen in England, some of whom are buried at The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) Cemetery, St. Nicholas Church, Brockenhurst.
Peter came across this article and contacted me asking whether I would grant permission to the Library for them to include a selection of my photographs, featured here, alongside the register. I am delighted to confirm that I have now sent the photographs to Peter and these will indeed be on display in the exhibition very soon.
In the meantime, Peter has kindly provided me with a selection of images featuring this exhibition which I am thrilled to share with you here.
More information about ‘World War One: A Contemporary Conversation’ can be found here.
More information about the National Library of New Zealand can be found here.
The National Library of New Zealand have also produced a series of guides for anyone wishing to research aspects of World War One using their Library as well as The Alexander Turnbull Library. Both institutions have significant collections relating to all aspects of New Zealand and New Zealanders during World War One. For more information on this click here.
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For The Fallen
By Laurence Binyon (1917)
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.
Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.
But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,