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Then and Now

Exhibition of East Meon’s history and present, 1973

From article in ‘Hampshire’ magazine by Joan Grigsby

The idea of an exhibition was the brain child of Mrs Lettice Ross, the wife of a retired Naval Officer, Captain T.D.Ross who, since he is the Hampshire hon. secretary of CPRE, is quite obviously in full sympathy with his wife’s activities. But her real helpers were the people of East Meon itself who took up the idea with such enthusiasm and pleasure that when I visited it on a golden day in September I found that many of the treasures to be exhibited for two days in November were already collected together and the whole operation was taking form not only as a plan but in tangible fact.

Mr Witt, who until recently ran the main grocer’s and provision shop in the middle of the village, was Mrs Ross’ right-hand man. He has recently given up his business, owing to ill health, and the shop itself, which stands temporarily empty, proved a splendidly central assembly point for many of the larger exhibits. It was here that I met the six East Meon ‘olds and bolds’, all of whom had been brought up in the village and were to provide the team for the Talk In which, presided over by Mr Brian Blackett, will provide the highlight of the two day exhibition. Their talk will consist of entirely unscripted memories of East Meon of the pre-war (or wars) days, but since it is all to be recorded, the memories will be preserved.

They were all there in Mr Witt’s shop, turning over fading photographs, all of which revived stories and the basis of cheerful argument. Village bands and cricket teams, village fetes and flower shows, the triumphant return of a VC from the next parish driven in a splendid pre-war Morris by a friend from East Meon.

There was Mrs Lambert and Mrs Clara Fisher and Miss Luff (who herself had lent almost enough material for a whole exhibition). There was Mr Herbert Goddard, the Chairman of the Parish Council, and Mr Ted Whitear and Mr Macdonald, whose baby clothes and binder I had seen carefully laid out in Mrs Ross’s house, together with Mrs Lambert’s beautifully embroidered christening robes. And with the Olds and Bolds, ready to give active help in the whole enterprise, where Mrs Julie Canning and Mrs Mary Crockford of a far younger generation but both brought up in the village and with children at the village school.

Together we examined the treasures they had produced, sometimes debating about the use to which they had been put. There was no doubt however about a lamb’s tailing stall or bench with a trailing iron since it is still in use on a farm in East Meon today. There was a set of sheep’s bells in graded tones, a sheep’s boot for an injured foot, a milking stool and churn and a farm worker’s stone drinking bottle, and a number of crooks and smocks all telling of the village’s (and indeed the valley’s) preoccupation with agriculture. There were sets of cobbler’s and wheelwright’s tools(the latter lent by the Curtis Museum in Alton) and a splendid collection of old bicycle lamps.

Commerce was represented by some beautiful brass scales, a set of wooden grain measures, government stamped, and a sovereign till with three compartments so that there could be no mistaking the half and the whole sovereigns. And there was an iron hoop and hook lent by the boy who trundled it daily to school some 60 years ago, to the envy, I feel sure, of all the little girls who had to put up with wooden ones. Surely, a very early form of sex discrimination.

Later in Mrs Ross’s house I was to see a Kelly’s Directory lent by Mrs Clara Fisher which showed that the East Meon of 1855 was (like many of the neighbouring villages) entirely self-supporting with its grocer, draper, butcher, baker, miller, wheelwright, blacksmith, harness-maker, carrier, postman, surgeon and beer retailer: everyone you can remember from Happy Families – and more. And here, too, I saw the bill for the funeral of Mr William Smith who, in 1911, was provided with a Canadian Elm coffin with top and bottom mouldings and Brass Furniture, finished inside with swansdown underlining and mattress and pillow, with linings frillings, face curtains and robe. And all for £4.19.6d.

The exhibition is to be held in the village CofE Primary School at half term so that two days will be free for it. This is a modern school built on Princes Meadow, bordering Chapel Street, which was opened in 1964. But the School’s history goes back to 1816 when the young scholars of East Meon assembled daily in the North transept of the church. Later in 1844 a separate school was built on Park Down for about 180 children. Over the years the numbers have varied, falling to 78 in 1939, but boosted back up in the same year by 21 evacuees. Today, the number is 75. Fifty per cent of these come from the village itself, but 28 come by taxi from the great world outside the village – extending as far as Droxford and HMS Mercury, and invasion of which the Headmaster Mr Lewis thoroughly approves since he feels that an infusion of ideas from outside can only add interest and variety to the whole establishment, both groups having something to offer the other.

And the School as it is now is very different from the Victorian building to which the children transferred in 1844.

It consists of three large airy classrooms and an entrance hall which serves for various activities including a dining hall, while a large playing area surrounds it. Here, together with that provided by their elders, the children will have their own exhibition – the contribution of East Meon Now. But the exhibitions will be complementary to each other, for this insight into the past is giving the children, in the upper form at any rate, a good deal to think about. It is something they can share and to which they contribute, for several of them live in houses or cottages that were built long before the memories of even the most senior of the Old and Bold, and they ave drawn pictures of their houses for everyone to see.

Wendy lives in a thatched cottage which was once the village butcher’s shop. “And what is the thatch made of?” asked Mr Lewis. “Norfolk reeds” said Wendy promptly, for Mr Lewis’s pupils are taught to take an interst in such details. martin’s home is a 95-year-old bakery by the side of the river and there it was depicted in crayons, mounted on the wall with the other. The old grinder is still there and his classmates are to be taken to see it. Glyn, near, slim and self-possessed, told me about his farm which is made of two cottages. “We have” he announced concisely “7 horses, 17 calves, ducks, gees and pigs.”

Meanwhile, for fear you should think that East Meon Primary is becoming over-occupied with the past during these weeks before the exhibition, I can allay your fears. The children have their own News Books, intended for the entry of their personal everyday happenings. One entry on the day I visited them read “We had hymn practise in the morning. Trevor brought a Beaver Cap from Butlins”.

“East Meon must be one of the few villages where the thistles grow higher than the church” said Mr Witt with a chuckle as we approached All Saints which, standing on the lower slope of Park Down, which rises sharply behind it, dominates the houses in the village below. This, surely the largest and most distinguished of all Hampshire churches, was as fortunate in its beginnings as it was in its final restoration. The fact that the manor was seized by William I and remained in the possession of the crown until the 12th century is doubtless the reason why it was build on such an imposing scale and finally, when it became necessary to restore it at the beginning of our own century (and some of the Old and Bolds may remember this), the task fell to the able and discriminating hands of Sir Ninian Comper under whose direction the interior of the church was re-modelled in 1906.

What happened in between those years will surely provide one of the most interesting sections of the exhibition, since it must be so closely linked with the story of the village itself. Even if you miss the exhibition, you must visit this church and see its many treasures. I was fortunate enough to be taken round by the present Vicar, the Rev R Smith, but you can obtain for the modest sum of 4d an excellent leaflet written by the late Canon Thomas Heywood Masters who was Vicar from 1902-1921, and later provost of Portsmouth Cathedral. He lies buried in East Meon churchyard.

“East Meon then and Now” may be over by the time you read this, since it takes place on the first Friday and Saturday in November. Any money it makes on entrance fees or on the sale of the short history of the village prepared by Mrs Ross will go to the fund for the new Village Hall. But although this will be most welcome, it seems to me, as a complete outsider, that the real value of the enterprise lies in the tremendous interest it has aroused in the village itself. It is an operation that might well be undertaken by other Hampshire villages who are interested in the past, but I feel that if you were to ask the organisers they would tell you that it demands a tremendous amount of work on a number of fronts, both for those whose task it is to gather the the exhibits and the information, and those who are ready and willing to supply it. If you can be sure of this, combined with the ever-welcome help given by the County Museum Service at Winchester and other knowledgeable bodies, it is an experience that is well worth while. At least one hopes that it is how East Meon looks upon it – and I feel sure they do.