Church Cottage - Arthur Smith
(left with hat)
|My favourite holiday place was Froyle, in
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
tenants who had not attended. The parish was divided into Lower and
Upper Froyle, the ‘Big House’ and all the larger houses being in
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
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
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
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
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.