Bramdean in the 1940’s

By Victoria Wakefield

My mother bought Bramdean House in 1944, while my father was involved with the war. The house was very cold and ramshackle, and there was white banding across the windows to prevent the glass from shattering should a bomb drop nearby. We had refugees from London who stayed for a short time in the stables and the back of the house. There were hordes of cockroaches in the kitchen and everything was painted a uniform brown colour. The garden was unattended, and the walled garden boasted four large yew clumps in the centre (which still exist) and nothing else except for a small chicken coop. The retaining wall below the first garden wall had fallen down so German prisoners of war were employed in reconstructing it. My sister and I thought we were helping the war effort by trying to run them down with our tricycles.

The village was infinitely smaller. Children went to the school which was a nice flint building near the present village hall. The Rector was Mr Barker who drove about in a very old black Austin 7 and appeared to be rather nervous of his parishioners. After he died it was revealed that he was an exceptionally gifted and well-educated man, far too gifted for looking after such an unappreciative flock. There was no Wood Lane Close, and two shops. One, Mrs Read’s, in Manchester House and Mrs Cammell’s in Jordan House. Very many of the village inhabitants worked on the land, or had retired from it. Mr Bucksey had been shepherd to the Dowling family for over sixty years and he was a familiar figure walking back to his cottage, which has since been replaced by Manor Lodge. Bill Petts was a terrific horseman who lived in Canterbury Cottage. He had originally trained Hackney ponies in London and was a proper Cockney. He kept his horse at the Fox Inn in the stables (since pulled down) and taught us to ride. I will never forget the shame of him seeing me riding my pony down Wood Lane and saying ‘Pull yerself together Victoria – you look like a monkey on a stick.’ Once, for a great treat, he drove us over to Alresford in his very old Austin car cross-country up what we then called Policemen’s Lane.

Mr Powell farmed West End Farm (Moodys Farm) and he was endlessly patient when we rode into his farmyard to tell him of the birth of new calves, or hung around watching the milking. The Coopers were very kind to us and allowed us to climb up to the top of the stairs at Kelseys Farm (Bramble Farm) and go down them on a tin tea tray at great speed. Mrs Dowling made wonderful flapjacks at Mariners Farm and we loved occasionally going there for tea. Our poor Nanny used to walk us up to Bramdean Common everyday, Mary in a pram and me on fat little legs. I can remember charcoal burners in the woods on Bramdean Common.

There were harvesters, and stooking and gleaning then, and we really enjoyed watching the machines finish cutting the central part of the field and people trying to catch rabbits. The Straw was piled into ricks, which were thatched. In the early days we had a donkey and cart. The donkey was extremely temperamental and bowled merrily along the main road until it came to Brockwood Dean, site of the prisoner of war camp. There it would lie down which provided a most welcome cabaret for the inmates. It took a great deal of persuasion from my mother to encourage it to continue and these expeditions were short lived.