by Elsie Simpson (nee West)
In the beginning
I was born in 1918 at 32 West Street, which is still my home. My earliest memory is of my Grandmother, Mrs Elizabeth Monger of Burney Bit, Pamber Heath just before she died. She had been to Basingstoke market with her pony cart, as a carrier. This was a weekly event. Much to my surprise she had brought me a doll, a wonderful gift in those days. I well recall her funeral, my Grandmother being pulled on a bier to Tadley Old Meeting with the mourners walking behind in pairs, no hearse in those days, and not many cars.
What is now called The Treacle Mine pub was our nearest shop run by Mr Lowe. I remember being taken there by my sister sometimes, to have a pennyworth of sweets. These would be put in a piece of paper, which Mr Lowe would shape like an ice cream cone. In retirement he sold the shop, which became a private house. Then Mr Lowe's son bought the shop at Mulford's Hill, which was later sold to Whatmores and then to Budgens. Like his father he sold almost everything in the shop.
Most men worked on the land, coppicing or broom making. The wages were small, but people grew most of their own vegetables, in their gardens, or on allotments - no allotments were down to grass in those days.
Stripping willow rods was another industry in Tadley. They were not grown here, but at Woolhampton by the Bath Road. My uncle rented rod beds there. These were cut in the winter, put in water and stripped in the spring, by a gadget known as a brake (steel bands attached to a piece of wood); some retained their skins so were known as brown rods, the stripped ones as white rods. Rod stripping was an annual event. A lot of women went to Brown's Rod Yard at Heath End where the stripping was done. They were paid 3d (1.5p) for a 'bolt' of rods. Hard work! The area around what is now known as the Rowan Road Estate was always known to us as the Withey Beds, although I can never recall rods being grown there. The demand for English rods died out, as they could be bought cheaper from abroad (Belgium).
Money was scarce so we certainly did not have the toys we would have liked. We made our own, such as a cricket set - three sticks and a piece of board for a bat. Yes we did have a ball! Another toy was Slippery Cap, a stick, split down about six inches from the top with one half of the split length cut away. This half was the cap. The stick was set in the ground, the cap replaced loosely and the stick was then hit with another stick to knock the cap off. The winner was the one who hit it farthest. Hoops, marbles, skipping ropes, and spinning tops, all had their season. Many a day I have run with a hoop down Tadley Hill from school.
We always had, as many people did, a pig reared at home every year to kill for Christmas. We children were well taught in dissection, watching Mr Nash cut the pig up. The liver, and something not heard of today - the crow - made a lovely meal.
Christmas was the time we liked best, to go carol singing round the houses, often to be told, 'Come a little nearer Christmas'. No electric torches for us in those days, we had half a candle in a jam jar, secured in the jar by half of a 'tater'. No one called them potatoes in those days. With a piece of string round the top for a handle we had a lantern. We had no fear in those days of walking the roads, after all we knew all of the children and the grown-ups we met. We were often told, 'Time you children should be getting home'.
I well remember May Day at Tadley School. We all took part in the dances, often performed on the rectory lawn at St Saviours, and included the crowning of the May Queen. For our efforts we were rewarded by a tea party at Christmas.
We used to break up from school at the end of August. The reason, nearly everybody in Tadley and the surrounding villages went hop picking. There were several farms in the Bentley area near Alton. I went to Coldrey, which was in a beautiful setting. We children thought of going there as our holiday.
The mission men used to come from London for the hop picking season with scripture texts and first aid. Best of all were the 'magic lantern shows'. Of course these were out of doors, so they would fix a white sheet up anywhere they could tie it. At Coldrey it was to the branches of an oak tree. To this day it is known to us as the 'magic lantern tree'. A friend and myself recently had our photograph taken under this tree.
Mr Lowe from Tadley used to come to these hop farms with a van full of groceries once or twice a week. Mr Kelsey, a Tadley man, was not a very good hop picker so he was the baker, buying the bread from the bakery to sell to us. We were well catered for with a fish & chips man calling several nights a week.
At the end of hop picking, on being paid, every member of the family was given a large oval fruit bun known as the 'Hopping Bun'. Those were happy days.
My aunt and uncle Mr and Mrs L Ford kept a small-holding in West Street - Brookhurst Farm. It is now a private house. I went there during my teenage years to work making butter, feeding the chickens and separating the milk. I will always remember the big oven, heated by burning wood in it. After the ashes were raked out and the oven wiped clean with a damp cloth, it was then ready for baking. As well as baking her own meat, cakes and pies my aunt would also bake for her neighbours.
My uncle was also a rod grower and I helped with the rod stripping, but the work I liked best was cutting up the hay in the chaff cutter and the mangolds in the mangold cutter. These came out like chips and were mixed with the chaff for the cow's evening meal.
My childhood over, I remember Mr Miller the Headmaster of Tadley School saying to us who were leaving school, 'There is a big wide world out there, go and see what you can make of it'. Little did we know that in a few years the boys would be fighting a war, we girls doing war work, and Tadley would be becoming a completely different village from that we had grown up in.
Page updated: Monday 23 January 2017.
Review date: 31 December 2017.