Memories of Froyle
Church Cottage
Church Cottage - Arthur Smith (left with hat)
My favourite holiday place was Froyle, in Hampshire.

My grandfather died in 1927 the year before I was born, and my grandmother's sister’s husband died following a motor cycle accident in 1929. It therefore followed quite naturally for my grandmother to go and live with her sister, who then lived in Wrecclesham. There she met and married a widower, Arthur Smith, who lived in a rented thatched Tudor cottage, Church Cottage, in Lower Froyle. Thus from the age of two and a bit I spent regular long periods with my grandmother in the country, and once I had started school this included all my Easter and Summer holidays.

It is difficult to convey the magic that Froyle held for me. Froyle is in Hampshire almost exactly halfway between Alton and Farnham in a stretch of countryside described by Cobbett in his “Rural Rides” as the most beautiful ten miles in the country. And I for one would hesitate to contradict him.

When I first became aware of Froyle it was barely out of benevolent serfdom. People still spoke of the late squire of the village Sir Hubert Miller who would ride on his horse through the village after Sunday service to enquire the reason of any of his tenants who had not attended. The parish was divided into Lower and Upper Froyle, the ‘Big House’ and all the larger houses being in Upper Froyle. The church, of Saxon origin, was in Upper Froyle but to make it easier for his tenants to attend church Sir Hubert had built the “tin church”, as it was always called, in Lower Froyle and the two Sunday services were alternated between the two churches. Needless to say the memorial to those who didn’t return to this haven from the First World War was erected exactly halfway between Lower and Upper Froyle.

The one thing that Upper Froyle had that Lower Froyle didn’t was the presence of the saints. Nearly every cottage or house in Upper Froyle had a statue of a Saint set high on the front wall under the eaves. These were said to have been brought back from Italy by Sir Hubert and gave rise to the title “The Village of the Saints” in one newspaper feature.

When I first began to comprehend such things, just before the war, there were still some of the older people who had never been on a bus or a train and men who would think nothing of walking four or five miles to work in the morning and back again at night. The many foot paths that existed, often straight across the middle of a crop field from one corner to the other were used for that purpose. It was only during World War 2 that it was considered antisocial to damage a crop by walking through it that people began to walk round the edges of fields thus destroying their short cutting purpose.

By the time I started to go to Froyle the invasion from the outside world had already begun albeit in a very small way. Girls who had gone away into service, as working as a servant in someone else’s house was called, would get married and then bring their families for a visit to the country.

There was also the annual visit of the hop-pickers from London, though to, tell the truth once the days picking was done their social life was centred round their unbelievably squalid “hop pickers huts” or the pub.

Nevertheless Froyle was a very closed community where nearly everybody was related in some way or other. Those that weren’t were outsiders and whilst, in conversation in a pub, someone might run down another villager in his absence without an eyebrow being raised woe betide an outsider trying it. He would soon find that he was surrounded by the brothers-in-law, nephews, uncles and what-have-you of his verbal victim. And though only a minute before they had been presenting him as the Devil’s closest companion they would now spring to his defence in a unnecessarily belligerent manner.

Fortunately for me, possibly because I had been there continuously since a very young child, more like one of their own but away at boarding school and only home for holidays, I was accepted, if not as one of the village, as very close relative who could be tolerated and only very occasionally had to be reminded he was a townie. For my part though Froyle was where I always wanted to be and I was certainly known by name by everyone in the lower village.

The thing about Froyle was the apparent freedom to wander wherever one wanted. Through the woods, around the fields, into the old disused chalk pit, into the old gravel pit or along the sheep drove.

When I was very small the women of the village would regularly form a party, each with their own form of barrow made from an old soap box or pram, to go “wooding” in the woods at the top of Well Lane to collect firewood. Every cottage had a woodshed, always brick built though the original roof might now be replaced with corrugated iron. Inside, always down a step, on the dirt floor would be an upright trunk of a small tree to serve as a chopping block. The top worn into a rounded dome from the continuous chopping. The choppers were always long hook-ended affairs quite unlike the square headed hatchets of the town.

There is nothing like the smell of burning kindling collected in the woods but an even more memory-provoking smell is that of rainwater being boiled. As every drop of water we used had to be drawn from a well, all the rainwater that could be collected was collected. Because the well water came from the chalk not only was it bright and sparkling and good to drink, it was hard. On the other hand the rain water was beautifully soft. It was used for washing giving a wonderful lather especially with the little metal cage device into which were put the soap dog ends so that they would not be wasted. There was of course no baths in the cottages, washing down was done standing in a galvanised bath in front of the fire. En suite in those days meant that you had a painted table in the bedroom on which stood a large jug in a large china basin for washing and a chamber pot under the bed to save you having to walk down the garden in the middle of the night.

Bill Elstow 1999