Ronald Walter Sibley [1912-1990] gives his personal recollections of Portesham and its inhabitants

1912  -  1952

This transcript was written by Ron in the early 1980's and to help bring it to life I have added some appropriate photographs of the village taken at the time he writes about  -  Keith Brignell

Reproduced with kind permission from Ron's nephew John Sibley

Ron lived in Portesham all his life, except for a period away in HM Forces. He was, for many years, Controller of Licences and thus head of the Motor Taxation Department at County Hall and the Clerk for Portesham Parish Council.

He was married to Ada Mary Sibley, they now rest in peace, alongside each other, in Portesham cemetery.

"Now that the "New Comers" to Portesham (those who have arrived during the last eight to ten years) must surely exceed the "Locals" (those born in Portesham), I think now is the time to write about the village as I knew it.

My name is Ron Sibley and I was born in Portesham in 1912. I was away during 1939 - 1946 serving in the Army, so I will talk about the twenty years between the two World Wars and about twenty years after the last war. During all those years Portesham did not alter very much, there was a lot of poverty just after World War 1, no unemployment money, no family allowance, no family supplement, no National Health money, you had to pay the doctor, also hospital treatment. Wages were very Low.

I shall not talk about the areas already covered by the magazine as in those days many of them did not exist. My areas will be Pond, Rats Castle, Smokey Hole, Victoria Terrace, Rocky Buildings, Too-Rak, Miscombe (sic), Blind Lane, Cox's Close, Uncle Bill, Farmer Fred and Turkey Stickland.

I enter the village by the Weymouth road and at the top of Brick Hill (just past Clover turning) there on the right hand side, was a tumble down red brick house, tramps used to go there at night and sleep. They would light fires using the wood from the doors and windows. The house gradually disappeared. At the top of Station Nap a little further on, on the left hand side, on the high ground behind Marsh Dairy, was a clump of fir trees, known as Folly, stretching 100 yards by 20 yards. Early in May (usually on John Duck's birthday, 12th May) about a dozen men with shotguns went rook shooting, killing about 100 rooks. Next day we all ate well on rook pie. (Please see Addendum)

On the right hand side, coming down the hill, is the approach road to Portesham Station. On the left is a triangular field with willow trees to one side. This field was the home of Mansfield's donkey and as kids we would have a few rides in the field until we got caught. The site is now Mr Northover's swimming pool and changing rooms.

The railway station was the busiest area in the Village. At least six passenger trains a day, a busy milk train at 5,30pm when about a dozen horse drawn carts would arrive with their milk churns. At 1.00pm Monday to Friday, there was a goods train, one small engine and two trucks and, if you were lucky, a guards van. At the station was a large crane and a goods shed and at one period a camping coach.

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It was also the "packer's HQ" (permanent waymen of whom my father was one), they kept their four wheel trolley and three wheel velocipede in two sheds plus their food hut, all on the site of what is now Mr Northover's bungalow.

Continuing on down this hill under the railway bridge, there was no building until you get to the corner where you turn to Abbotsbury except a "carpenter's shop" a two story building with a stone staircase on the outside. On the site of this now stands the King's Arms car park. The road had willow trees on both sides. The first buildings to come to that road were the Village Hall, Duck's Garage and bungalow which were built about 1928.

In October each year the bottom half of King's Arms lawn and car park area would be occupied for seven to ten days by Townsend's Outdoor Fair, roundabouts, chair planes, hoopla, coconut shies etc, plus a very big steam engine and beautiful caravans. People came from all around the area every night, music was played by the fairground organ until 11pm every night.

Up to about the early 1930's there was no phone box on the Village Green, but if there were any road repairs being done in the area, the steamroller driver's hut would be parked on the green, the driver living and sleeping in it all week. The steamroller would also be parked there at night. As kids we loved to go and talk to the driver. I remember one was called George Notley. I wonder what happened to him? He always called his steamroller "Blossom".

 

On the top of Portesham Hill I came across a large four-wheeled stationary wagon with ladders up and heavily loaded with sheaves of corn. There were two horses attached, one in string harness and one in the shafts, in breaching harness. The carter, either Walter or Fred (Boss) Hodder were busy fixing a chain around the spokes of one of the back wheels, unhooking the iron dragshoe and putting it on the road just in front of the chained back wheel. The cart was eased forward with the iron bonded wheel fitting into the dragshoe, which dragged on the road surface and so acted as a brake which helped the horse in shafts when the cart went down the hill.

Hampton Barn at the top of the hill was a busy outpost of Hazel Stickland's Manor Farm. It was a hive of activity with the comings and goings of all the horse drawn wagons and machinery. Most traffic went in the gate on the left before you get to the steep part of the hill. this helped the horses, but the opening has not been used for years. In 1928 Hazel Stickland bought a Fordson tractor, but it was not very satisfactory. It would keep backfiring and this would set fire to the hay and straw.

On down the hill is a slight bend (sidelands corner) and we come to the allotments known as "Six Acres" or "Klondyke". Why the second name I do not know as no one to my knowledge ever dug up any gold. The patch consisted of about twelve strips which were cultivated by the villagers, my father had the strip just inside the gate. The allotments closed just after the war, about 1946/7. The field on both sides of the road were always full of sheep but when Ralph Swaffield died no more sheep were kept on Manor Farm.

We are now in the Mystecombe area and my book says "in a valley formed by Hampton and Ridge Hills is the area known as Mystecombe". The first house was Fred (Turkey) Stickland's house, Hill House. I have been told he borrowed £200 to build it just before the war. In 1936 he built the bungalow for himself which I now live in (next one down) and in the late 1930's Hill House was the home of the local doctor. Next comes George Barnes' house (now Eric Guppy's) which I think is called "Mystecombe".

The track on the left leads to Rocky Buildings, a row of four cottages. These were thatched but the nearest one was roofed by galvanise and an old lady kept pigeons in it. On down the road is Sheps Cottage and two houses known as The Willows.

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There were no houses or buildings all the way up the hill on the other side except 'Turkey' Stickland's carpenter shop in the large galvanised shed in the corner. This again was a very busy corner as all repairs to the wooden wagons were made here as well as new ones to be made. He worked very closely with the blacksmith who operated at the Half Moon in Front Street.

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Turkey loved to get us boys to help him in the carpenter's shop and our payment was a pocketful of apples.

n.b. I'm reliably informed Mr Stickland was given the nickname as he was renowned to always ask if Turkey was on the pub's menu.

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Up on the high ground above Springhead is a row of brick houses which were occupied by workers from Manor Farm. I remember on the left lived the Hodder family - Walt, Fred (Boss), Charlie and their sister Edith who kept house for them. In the middle lived Jim Buckler (foreman at Manor Farm) and in the right cottage was "Shep Christopher".

Next time we will start to come down Front Street. These roads were not named until about 1967.

Sadly the Front Street details are missing

On the top end of New Road there's no more buildings on the left except a small stone shed which was used to house carts and later a car. On the right a house in which Farmer Saunder's groom lived and later Tom Cooper lived there. On the right corner the stables of Manor House where the farmer kept his chestnut horse.

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We are now at the beginning of "Smokey Hole". How it got this name I do not know. To me this was an important area of the village, one of the focal points. A sort of village square with four roads branching out, New Road, Church Lane, Back Street and Cemetery Road. Also it was an area of activity with the Chapel, Chapel Schoolroom, Temperance Hall, Vicarage, Manor House and Jimmy Hodder's rag, bone and rabbit skin store. At the end of New Road, on the left, was a large garden. None of the houses in this area had any drains or running water. All dirty water was just thrown across the road under the wall. Fresh water had to be fetched in a bucket from a tap outside Saunder's stables.

Still in the Smokey Hole area I journey up Cemetery Road. The first house as you turn in from Back Street was a thatched house and Old Charlie Bussell lived there with his sister Gusta (Augusta). They were a couple of queer articles and I really don't know what they lived on. The next building was Jimmy Hodder's rag & bone store, then two slate roofed houses with iron railings outside. My family (Dad, Mum, brother and me) moved into the second of these small houses in 1921. They were very spartan type houses (two up and one down & small scullery) bucket toilet at the top of the garden, no piped water or drains. There was then a thatched house where the Connollys lived and the next small house was occupied by George Pittman and his wife (Aunt Emm). All these houses disappeared when the present type house was produced by a Miss Halford.

There was a gap and then the present four stone houses which have not altered for as long as I can remember. They were occupied by 'Butch' Hayne, Roy Dawe (railway porter), Farmer Fred and George Hodder and family. All these buildings were on the right hand side of the road and no more came until Reg Bartlett built the bungalow when he married Doris Stokes in the late 1930's. The next buildings to come were the Council houses on the left hand side of the road in 1953 and they were originally called Queens Row.

As the name of the road indicates, it leads to the Cemetery and in the 20's, 30's & 40's all the deaths were followed by burials and the coffin was carried either in a lovely glass hearse pulled by a black horse, or on a four wheeled iron tyred bier pushed by four bearers. All mourners would be walking and the Vicar would wear a black mortar board hat.

At the bottom of the road, just past the Cemetery was a sheep dip which was situated in part of the stream which runs along the top of Walnut Orchard (now Fry's Close). This meant that at certain times of the year, lasting about seven days, several flocks of sheep were driven down the road for dipping. The flocks came from Abbotsbury, Portesham and the surrounding district and involved about 400 sheep per flock plus a number of men and the local policeman because of the poison element in the sheep dip.

Another activity carried out by the women in their houses was braiding. Every week a man, (Tommy O'Neill) came up from Gundry's, the net makers at Bridport, and would bring large quantities of twine which had to be made into a fishing trawl. The tally or plan of the article to be made was usually left with my Mother and then several other women would make parts of the trawl and bring them to mother to be joined together. You could often see a "Swift" outside any house with a hank of twine on it and someone filling the needles. It was my job to fill up all my Mother's needles before I could go out to play.

The surface of the road was very bad, no tarmac on those days, only gravel and after the last house on the right, it was only cart track leading to the cemetery.

Up Back Street and the first building on the right is Temperance Hall. In 1882 a meeting of the Temperance Society was held at Portesham and it was decided a subscription should be started to raise the £250 needed to build the existing hall, which has now been altered to living accommodation.

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In my younger days (between the two world wars) this hall was used for most things if of a "Temperance nature". The Schoolroom in Front Street was used for dancing and rowdier forms of entertainment until the Village Hall came about in 1928. I can remember going to the Temperance Hall for a number of weeks in 1924 to see a series of slide shows on "Pilgrims Progress". The building had a stage and a small back kitchen.

Up on the right is the Chapel and Sunday Schoolroom which has not changed on outward appearance, also the row of four houses have not altered.

In the corner where the outside wall of the house met the Chapel wall there was a water tap with a large stone slab on top. As kids we would get snails out of the stone walls and made the slab wet and encourage the snails to crawl to see which one would win.

Just right on the bend is the same stone house in which Dick Dawe and family lived. His youngest son George was my pal. He worked for the local baker until he moved to Fovant near Salisbury, where he was killed on a motorcycle in 1929. There were no buildings on the left side of the road until Charlie Wallace (ex Fleet Street) built a bungalow which was demolished in 1983. Next came the Tidby's two houses up on the high ground which were there before I was born. Then came the two cottages on the left where "Old Fred" Samways lived. On the opposite side was a grass plot where the farmer would put the odd animal which was perhaps not well.

Manor Farm itself was always a hive of industry. There was 6 and sometimes eight cart horses housed in the stables, and in the outbuildings were all kinds of wagons, dung pots, binders, racks, ploughs and lots of other horse drawn machinery. It was the headquarters of some ten to twelve men. Traffic in and out via the lane by Manor Close was always heavy but it was a soft purry type of noise, not like modern day machinery. The tractor, combine harvester etc had not been invented.

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The barn through late summer became full of sheaves of corn and then at the appropriate time "White's" steam engine and thresher from Abbotsbury would trundle down the lane and position itself by the barn. Soon the gentle hum of the steam engine and machinery could be heard for a number of days. One horse would walk around in a circle driving the elevator and us kids would be busy trying to catch the rats.

Where the farm track crosses the road, was the present large house where the Johnston family lived. They named it "Too-Rak" a name with a Far Eastern connection. I remember going there for Sunday school and they had a fender around the fire with two ends like the bottom of elephant legs. The Johnstons left there in the late 1930's and had Postmead built. On down to the pond and the last two houses have been there all my lifetime. The last one was a bakehouse where the Bartlett family lived who also ran a small dairy farm from the outbuilding by the side of the stream. Their youngest daughter "Girlie" Bartlett was the junior teacher at Portesham School in 1924. The pond or Springhead was not as beautiful as it is now, it was just a very wide river with lots of large stones in it. We would lift the stones and catch minnows and occasionally fresh water eels. It was one of our play areas.

Back Street was always a busy area, it had lots of traffic to and from the farm, people going back to the Chapel and also the Temperance Hall. It was all horse drawn or on foot, not quite as noisy as the present day traffic. When I look quickly along Back Street now it seems as though someone has given it some shock treatment. What with the Manor Farm complex and the high piggly wall along the farm orchard and the Westfield complex, it would be enough to send the Tidbys, Dawes, Samways and Johnstons on the.....

Continuity disrupted here

As I pass Elworth turning I meet up with Joe Foster who is on his way to the King's Arms for his daily lubrication. He comes from New Barn where he works on the farm. His poacher's coat has large pocket and when asked how many rabbits he can put in it, his reply is "Well, depends, if they are hot, a dozen".

As we reach the brow of the hill looking up towards the high ground where Hampton and Westfield meet, that's where the well known spot - Tom Parker's Hole is, a patch of scrubland, bushes and blackthorn trees, are all long gone. Goosehill cottages on the right hand side still remain the same as I have always known them, but on the left hand side, my goodness, Millmead during the past few years it has more than doubled in size, with a large car park under the railway bank. My thoughts wander back to about twenty years ago when the widow who lived there wanted to build a bungalow in the garden. The planning committee said "No, a traffic entrance would be dangerous on such a busy road". The road at that spot is somewhat busier now and I fancy it being made more narrow.

Under the railway bank is still what used to be the blacksmith's shop, worked by Ted Thorne, now used as a garage. He moved up to the Half Moon blacksmith's shop in the early 1930's after Tom Cooper moved up to New Road.

Under the railway bridge (removed in 1954) and towards Weymouth corner on the left hand side were two houses, Malthouse cottages. "Tippy" Hodder and "Old Saul" lived in one. Percy Clapton, the roadman, and his mother lived in the one now covered in ivy. Miss Roper, the junior schoolteacher lodged in one of them. At school, if you were due for the cane and you put your hands in your trouser pockets, Miss Roper would take the wooden ruler and use it end on to rap your knuckles.

In the field opposite Malthouse were three cider apple trees. The apples were rather nice and as kids we would pinch a few and if we were caught we had a good dressing down at Manor House by farmer's wife Mrs Ernie Saunders, followed by a good hiding from Mother.

In Walnut Orchard there were Walnut trees and Chestnut trees and we would gather conkers by permission from Hardy Mansfield at Portesham House. The orchard no longer exists. In its place has sprung up a new suburb of Portesham, some thirty houses plus a possible twenty more. Some of the old locals in the cemetery must be turning in their graves. On the right by the big wall of the big thatch house was a tumbledown stone house which used to be used by the Home Guard during the war. I do not remember anyone living there.

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Over the front porch of Portesham House there are two stone lions, which I think are still there. I was always told that when the lions heard the church clock strike twelve they went up the river to drink. I never used to believe it, but now I know it is perfectly true. On the opposite corner was a large lawn and flower garden known as The Pleasurance (sic).

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The grass was cut by a large mower pulled by Mr Mansfield's donkey. Jack Cooper led the donkey and Bill Vine held the handles of the mower. The big stone thatched house was built about fifteen years ago by a Naval officer (Rear Admiral Gwyn Pritchard? The Prince of Wales, whilst serving at Portland Naval Base, often visited there. The stream at the far end was turned into a large pond and stacked with trout.

In actual fact, the building, Possum House (now with tiled roof) which was built in 1967 by a Lieutenant Ryan, was indeed visited regularly by HRH Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales.

Front Street missing....

Before leaving Front Street, I must recall one interesting item. During the late 1920's and through the 30's every Friday night at about 6 pm a lovely chauffeur driven Rolls Royce containing Sir David Milne-Watson (who was then chairman of the London Gas Light and Coke Company) would travel through Portesham en route to his mansion at the top of Abbotsbury Hill - Ashley Chase. The return journey took place on Monday mornings.

My Winters Lane trip must start at the Pumping Station at the bottom of Goulds Hill because the boundary of Portesham starts just there at Friar Waddon, that little cluster of about four houses in which labourers lived, also the farmhouse amongst the trees. I remember Farmer Mayo, Fred I think it was, living there. I have known my mother, in carrying out her various duties, having to walk to Friar Waddon twice a day for about a fortnight attending to a woman and a new born baby.

On up to Corton turn, on the left was a sentry box at the top of the road (it may be there still) and just after the 1914-18 war a sentry was often on duty. It was to do with German prisoners of war working in the shale oil fields down by the railway line. Oh, by the way, there used to be about fourteen gates across the road from Friar Waddon to Portesham. All along the road nothing much has changed except the removal of the gates, but you can still see some of the posts.

At the top of Winters Lane, just by Rocket is the turning to a farm up past the old quarries - two families lived there in two bungalows on the right hand side adjoining the farm buildings. every morning regularly at a few minutes to seven (except Sundays) Farmer Saunders would ride a lovely chestnut horse, always at trotting pace, down Church Lane, up Front Street and on to Winters Lane to Rocket. There were no buildings on the left hand side except Nethergrove House where Dr March lived. His son, Dr Coley March, lived in the house opposite the King's Arms. The house at the bottom where the present farmer Jack Jolliffe lives, his grandad used to live in. Just past Nethergrove there was a lovely little lane - it was called Blind Lane - it had overhanging bushes and trees, a haven for birds but alas progress has destroyed it.

On the right hand side just past Rocket old Farmer Jolliffe had a large, practically tumbledown shed, and as boys we would pinch a plank from the shed and take it up to Rocket. Three or four of us would sit on the board and slide down. From his shed all the way down Winters Lane there were no houses until Postmead which was built around the early 1930's (I'm not sure of the date). The land was all allotments and my Dad had a strip where Mrs William's bungalow now stands. All down that side of the road was a trickle of running water in which watercress grew and which we used to pick for eating. There were not so many dogs in Portesham as there are now.

Alas I am now at the end of my tour of Old Portesham (1912 - 1952). No one wanted to come and live here then - we had no main drainage and only a local water supply. In 1956 came the present water supply soon to be followed by proper sewerage and flush toilets. Development has now taken over and my Portesham is fast becoming just a memory, but I am sure to people who lived with me, in my age, they are happy memories."

ADDENDUM

 

MEMORIES OF RON  -   ROOKS & JACKDAWS.  

Back in April, someone said to me, "I think there are Jackdaws and Rooks nests in all the chimney pots down Front Street" and then a few days ago someone said, "I have never seen so many Jackdaws and Rooks in Portesham before.

This sent my mind back to when I was a boy. There was a clump of fir trees, about 50 in number, on the high ground behind Don Doble's Farm (they are all gone now) and it was called Folly. It was always full of rooks - a complete rookery. During the first week in May, every year, the local farmers would organise a shooting party of about a dozen guns and off they would go, after tea on the appointed day with a few of us boys. We would all go up to the clump of trees and as the rooks could not count, if one person came back, that was good enough for the rooks. Through their look out, they would signal all was clear to return to the rookery. The guns would then open fire and us boys collected up the dead rooks and put them in heaps of about 8 birds. At the end of the shoot these bundles of dead birds were shared out or given away in the village. They were skinned - not plucked - and the flesh from the breast and legs was used to make rook-pies. They were lovely - a delicacy of the past.

Similar shoots were carried out at Teddy Neals at Cheese Lane Farm and also at Waddon.

The Jackdaws always built their nests in the old quarry on the way up to the Farm behind Rocket - it was farmed by Ernie Saunders. As boys we would have a tablespoon, tied on a long stick and spoon the eggs out of the nests which were in between the large stones. The farmers would pay us some money depending on how many eggs we produced. The eggs were then destroyed. All this kept the Rook and Jackdaw population under control. I think the quarry has now practically disappeared also the Rookeries are no longer in existence, here the Rooks and Jackdaws invade the village and live on food they can forage from black plastic bags or people's back doors and gardens. Also they build in chimneys - especially those which never have a fire in them.

Ron Sibley