Jill Taylor on her memories of Bentley, Hampshire
PUBLISHED: 10:18 22 August 2011 | UPDATED: 19:52 20 February 2013
Jill Taylor has such fond memories of growing up in Hampshire, here she paints a picture of her life in Bentley...
Memories of Bentley
Jill Taylor has such fond memories of growing up in Hampshire, here she paints a picture of her life in Bentley
My three brothers and I, the Sparrows, had the privilege of growing up in the charming village of Bentley (meaning grass clearing in a forest), nestled on the outskirts of Alice Holt Forest, which became our own special playground, more of which later.
My first memory is when my Grandfather, who worked at Hill Farm, part of the Marsh House Estate in Bentley, had the task of taking the hop-pickers back to Tadley at the end of the picking session. Grandad would harness up his beloved shire-horse, Bess, to the cart in readiness for the long trip there and back. With pockets full of hard earned money, the hop-pickers would ask my grandfather to stop his horse and cart at the public houses en-route, so they could spend some of their pennies. Since they also bought Grandad drinks, he was pretty much over the drink-driving limit by the time he dropped his final passengers off, but he still had the long journey back to Hill Farm. He would nod-off on the way out of Tadley and he would tell us, be fully asleep by the time he got to Basingstoke. His trusted, and much loved Bess, would safely bring him home and even stable herself in the barn. Grandad would wake up, un-harness Bess, feed and water her, then make his way down the hill to the cottage he shared with my Grandmother and finally to bed.
Bentley was a popular place come September when the hops were due to be picked. A special train ran from Portsmouth to Bentley for the hop-pickers, and coaches were put on to bring pickers from London and as far away as Kent. The farmers erected temporary huts for their pickers to cook and sleep in, and one block still remains on the main A31 road running through Bentley. As children, we were expected to work in the hop fields and pick the hops but thankfully we could walk the mile and a half back home to our beds.
Our home was in Station Road, the south side of the Village and as I mentioned, on the edge of Alice Holt Forest. One of the regular chores my brothers and I had to undertake was to collect firewood from the forest, something you were allowed to do in those days. We would head off for the forest armed with sacks and rope. My job was to collect the smaller branches to go in the sacks for kindling, whereas my brothers had the much more important role of collecting the large branches fallen from the trees and tying them up into bundles, so they could easily be dragged down the hill, over the level crossing at the station and into the woodshed to stock up the wood pile. Alice Holt was very important to us leading up to Bonfire Night. A friendly rivalry existed between the children up in the village, and those in Station Road, known as the Pickle Street Gang, to see who could build the biggest and best Bonfire. We always won - we had an advantage over them, all the wood we wanted was on our doorstep. We would start collecting in September and the local garage donated old tyres for the base and to get the wood started. We didnt have much money but there was always a good supply of fireworks, especially rockets, so the kids up in the village would know we had won again.
As well as Alice Holt Forest, which now boasts an Activity Centre for children, together with walks and rides for cyclists, we also had another forest to the west, which we fondly called Red Caps. In the spring my friends and I would cross the fields, being careful not to damage any of the farmers crops, and cross over the Bordon Bullet railway line, which wasnt electrified in those days as the Bordon Bullet was a stream train, used to transport soldiers to and from Bentley Station to their Camp in Bordon. Once over the railway line we would navigate the steep hill in the Forest to the top where we would be met with a splendid display of wild red orchids, hence our name for it, Red Caps. Further along the top of the ridge, we would come to our second much loved part of the forest, named Bluebell Dell. Having very carefully picked small bunches of the orchids; we would then pick some bluebells to add to the bouquet to take home to our Mums.
Not only did we have the Forest as a playground but also we had our own private swimming pool, known >> as the Sheep Dip. This was a deep part of the River Wey (the source of which is in nearby Alton) where years ago farmers would drive sheep through the deep water possibly to cleanse them once they had been treated. We would play for hours in the river, always trying to tickle the trout to try and catch them. Sadly we never did.
My brothers and I eventually grew up, in turn got married, and left the village to go our own separate ways, but always referring to Bentley as home. My oldest brother Richard joined the Royal Navy, got married and moved to Southsea, but at every opportunity he would come home to Bentley. Fred, my second oldest brother, joined the Army and he too then got married and moved to Alton, which was very close to home. My youngest brother Don never did marry, neither did he join the forces. He went into butchery, which was also our Fathers trade. Don remained living in the house in Station Road, alone after Mum died, and he remained there until his untimely death in 2009. I married and moved out of the village venturing a little further from home, to Canada. I was so homesick and came home every year to visit my Mum. I still remember the thrill I used to get as I saw the signs for Bentley as we got nearer to home. Eventually the pull was too great and I also returned home, to buy a house in Alton.
Our family are all buried in Bentley Churchyard so we visit regularly. Bentley has changed little since our childhood the one village shop and post office are still there, and the narrow lanes leading off the main road are still very narrow. I have never lost the thrill of going home to Bentley, and to go to the station and take the footpath up through Alice Holt conjures up such wonderful memories for me, transporting me back to my childhood.
There is also a footpath from the station with takes you over the River Wey to the heart of the village. This was my route to school in the summer as it was quicker than going up the roads. When I look at the River Wey I always think of junior school, as it was there I learnt a new word and how to spell it, Meander. The teacher explained the River Wey meanders through the countryside and indeed it does. You can walk for miles along the banks of the river and marvel at the scenes and wildlife that greet you along the way. It is not uncommon to see deer in the fields when they have emerged from Alice Holt to feast on the lush green grass of the fields.
If I were asked to describe growing up in Bentley, I would say one word Idyllic. I feel so lucky to have such beautiful memories of our little village and I am so pleased that it has remained unspoilt for many more families to enjoy today.