I was passing through Sonning Common in January 2017 on the way to visit the graves of my parents, Stanley and Mary Pound, in the graveyard beside what used to be the Peppard Congregational Chapel in Blounts Court Road. On the way I stopped at the Herb Farm in Peppard Road Sonning Common and there found the book In Common Memory by Sue Nickson.
The little book proved a fascinating read and brought back many memories and it was inevitable that more details should come to mind; some to elaborate on what Sue had written, others mentioning stuff that she probably didn’t have room for. What follows are my memories of Peppard and Kingwood in the two decades immediately after the Second World War.
The Congregational Chapel.
My mother was a devout member of the chapel’s congregation and for many years cleaned the chapel and laid the pot belly stove that heated the meeting room next door. My earliest memories are of walking with my mother from our home in Green Road, Sonning Common, down Sedgewell Road and up through ˜The Furze”, the narrow footpath that runs from the base of Gravel Hill up to Blounts Court Road. While mum attended to her duties I played outside and sometimes tried out the organ, pumping the handle furiously then dashing to the key board to strike a few chords before the air ran out!
The rector at the time was the Rev Thomas Wilson, a fire and brimstone preacher of the old school. He was assisted by his two daughters; all three are now buried in the churchyard. Mr Wilson also taught Sunday school in the Village Hall in Sonning Common and had us youngsters all a tremble as he thundered out lessons from the Old Testament.
Fortunately he compensated by arranging entertainment and in my mind’s eye I can still see him, dressed in khaki with puttees at one end and a solar topee at the other delivering a stirring rendition of “Soldiers of the Queen”.
The greatest occasion by far was the annual “Sunday School Outing”; the bus/coach, charabanc would come down from Peppard to where we Sonning Commoners were waiting outside the post office and bear us away to exotic, Southsea, Bognor or Hayling Island. The south coast had only just been opened up after the war and traces of the defences were still in evidence. I must have been about seven before I saw the sea for the first time and come-what-may I took a dip. I can still see my mother slumped shivering in a deckchair on a pebbly beach while I dabbled in the briny!
The other really big event was the chapel Christmas Party, held in the meeting room just before Christmas.Â We kids played games, were entertained by Cartoons – Micky Mouse and the like – and treated to jelly and cakes; a real treat in those days of strict rationing.
In the years immediately following the end of the Second World War a major event was the August Bank Holiday Monday fete at Blounts Court. The fete comprised simple side shows and rides that would probably be scorned by children today but which were exciting for us kids in those austere years.
Many people would probably pronounce “Blounts” with an “ow” sound while to us it was always “Blunts”. I subsequently learned that the locals pronunciation was indeed the correct one. Though I have never figured out whether or not “Blounts” should include an apostrophe!
The only mention I could find of the Peppard village hall in In Common Memory was on page 77 where it mentions that the WI used the hall for their early meetings. The hall had many other uses.
The 1st Peppard Troop of the boy scouts met in the village hall each week and from there many games were played and “schemes” undertaken on the common. A winter favourite entailed “Skipper” Harris placing a lamp on a pole somewhere on the common with one patrol protecting it; the other patrols – there were four in all – were tasked with capturing the lamp. Many physical encounters occurred in the darkness and the combatants returned to the hall scratched, bruised and with woggles all awry!
For some time in the fifties the Peppard Youth Club also met in the hall. Run by Fred Richens – Ann Thiam’s father – and by a “committee” of members, who ensured civilised behaviour, it provided a place where local teenagers could meet, play games and enjoy their sort of music. It also fielded an ad hoc football team that used the Rotherfield School ground for matches. Members also participated in events run by the County; typical was the County youth cross country, won in 1957 by the Peppard Youth Club
In the same year the club came second out of 34 teams in a public speaking contest organised by the Oxfordshire Education Committee’s County Youth Service.
The village hall also enclosed a small bore indoor rifle range.
War Memorial Hall
To us village lads in the 1940s and early 50s the War memorial hall was most notable for the pictures shown there every Monday evening. A chap with a 16mm projector gave shows in a number of halls in the county, including Kidmore War memorial Hall in Reades Lane where the screenings happened on Thursdays.
There were two sittings, one around six, the other about eight. Westerns were favourites; there was a cartoon or two and the mandatory serial. We younger kids attended the first sitting and, on summer evenings, re-enacted some of the action among the undergrowth on the common or in Old Copse on the way home.
There were also tennis courts behind the hall and later, I believe a bowling green.
Peppard Post Office.
There’s a charming picture of the post office on page 88 of In Common Memory but we in Sonning Common had our own post office in Wood Lane. To us the attraction of the Peppard PO was that it was where we could get our films developed and printed; or at least where we could leave them to be sent away to be processed and returned.
Many times, anxious to see the photographs of some notable occasion I would ride my bike up to Peppard to see if he photos were ready. They always seemed to take forever!
Tobogganing on Peppard Common.
That description really brought back memories, like Wendy Taylor (pp65) to wake up on a snowy morning meant getting dressed in haste, breakfasting quickly, dragging the sledge out of the shed and heading up Woodlands Road, through the wood, up the steps by the hall and out on to the snow covered common, full of excited anticipation.
The sledge I used was one that my dad had used in the past to deliver milk; only about four inches high it was hopeless in deeper snow but once the snow had been compressed, as it quickly was on the Peppard Common slope, my sledges narrow steel runners made it very fast.
We lads also rode our toboggans face down, steering by dragging a toe on the snow behind, a procedure that gave us good control, others simply consigned themselves to the slope letting gravity take have its way. Sue mentions that Dr Hemphill was ‘called up there quite a lot!’ (pp65). The good doctor had a large, high four seater sledge and I recall one occasion when, with four children on board, it got out of control and slammed in to the legs of a young lady walking backwards up the hill. I believe that she was an au pair (and possibly German) to a Peppard family.
From a purely tobogganing point of view some of the most memorable times were the nights we went moonlight tobogganing! In the chill of a moonlit winter’s night the packed snow of the toboggan run turned to ice down which our sledges simply flew. The slope is convex, steeper in the middle than at the start and the end, and flying down the hill with one’s nose only inches from the ice was really most exhilarating.
Sue’s book deals quite extensively with Kingwood and the common; my direct connection was far less comprehensive. That said the family of a boyhood pal of mine at Sonning Common School, Ray Sherwood, lived for a time in one of the huts on the common and I visited him quite frequently.
Another boy, Michael Brown, was also in my class at school, his father was the farm manager at Borocourt Hospital which in those less PC days was known to us village youths as a ‘loony bin’. The patients comprised mainly those with disabilities and, regrettably, were viewed with derision as those that were able occasionally ventured away from the hospital grounds. According to reports I have read the treatment they received from the health care professionals was hardly sympathetic, barbaric almost. After the place closed it reverted to its original and less tainted name of Wyfold Court and is now largely built up.
Page 6 of In Common Memory describes how materiel discarded by the Americans at Kingwood was often put to good uses by locals deprived of useful stuff by the war! Much of the rubbish’ from the US Army hospital was deposited in a tip in Reades Lane, Gallowstree Common, just along from the Kidmore Memorial Hall. Of particular interest were the large wooden crates discarded after their contents, shipped from America, had been removed. Timber of that quality was a rarity and precious to the locals who seized and carried away every plank.
An item that attracted we youngsters was the hollow rubber tubing, known to us as ‘blood transfusion elastic!’ Rubber, of course, was very scarce and having some in comparative abundance gave the opportunity to put it to all sorts of uses. Catapults became ubiquitous but more ingenious were the ‘nail guns’, the ‘ammunition’ for which was 1″nails purchased at so many for a penny from the cobblers in Sonning Common. Nowadays nail guns would be considered an offensive weapon and how none of us was ever impaled or otherwise injured is a mystery.
Had the tubing actually been used for blood transfusions? Certainly there was no trace as far as we could see and I our happy ignorance we had no fear of hepatitis or other blood borne diseases and AIDS was yet to come.
The foregoing represents the ramblings of a septuagenarian whose memory has been stimulated to the point where he just had to delve in to the past, if for no other reason than to enjoy the recollections.
If those recollections should prove of any interest at all then I’m glad; if not then sobeit.
Lymington February 2016
See also “In Common Memory” by Sue Nickson