The Royal Oak
PO18 9JZ
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Royal Oak-History

This West Sussex pub just off the Petersfield-Chichester road at Hooksway is now a smart watering hole but I remember it in the 1960s when it was a run-down ale house owned by Alfie Angier. The pub is the only remaining building of a small village which existed on this site but was wiped out by plague - as were several other small villages in this area, I was told, and this corner of West Sussex remains relatively under-populated to this day. Everybody knew about the Royal Oak but nobody quite knew how to get there - but eventually I struck lucky and managed to visit the place. This was the late 1960s and the pub served no wines or spirits, only beer some of which was brewed on the premises. There was no counter, only a serving hatch in the single bar and no electricity either - lighting was by oil lamps (Heaven help you if you needed to go outside to the Gents on a dark night). The huge wooden table and seating looked as if it had been there since the time of the Tudors, but there was one chair nobody dare sit down on. This was the seat of the landlord, Alfie Angier, who would sit there most evenings regaling his customers with the oft told story of the day in the early 1930s when the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) called in there on the way to or from the racing at Goodwood. I hope somebody photographed the place for posterity prior to its 'renovation' and the arrival of mains water and electricty.

Life at the Royal Oak in the 1890's

Martha Woods Martha Woods In retirement. She died in 1925 aged 85. No photograph exists of William Woods.

Life at the Royal Oak, Hooksway, a century ago, when my maternal grandparents were in charge, was hugely different from what it is today.

It was an old-style ale house, a villagers' meeting place, little changed since it was built in the 1400s. There were oil lamps to be lit, brick and stone-flagged floors to be swept, deal tables to be scrubbed, water to be drawn from a well and a primitive wash-house for laundering.

But judging from my mother's memories it had its lighter moments, and from her parents she learned the resourcefulness and skills which would help her survive her own hard times.

Like many working class families of their day, William Woods and his wife Martha knew tragedy and misfortune and it was one such setback which led them to the Royal Oak.

The couple were married at Stoughton in 1866 and settled in Forestside. By 1875 they already had five children. Then William succeeded his father as gamekeeper on the Stansted Estate, then owned by the Wilder family but now the seat of the Earls of Bessborough.

The appointment meant a move to Woodberry Lane at Racton on the road from Rowlands Castle to Westbourne. There Martha gave birth to six more children including, in 1880, my mother Emma. She was followed three years later by triplets - two girls and a boy. This brought the first family misfortune for within 16 months the boy and one girl had died; they are now buried together in Forestside churchyard.

William and Martha's last child, Ethel Louise, was born in 1885.

Three years later misfortune struck again when William was attacked by poachers he surprised one night. His injuries ended his career as a gamekeeper and led to the move to the Royal Oak in November 1889. Officially William was the licensee but it was the indomitable Martha who, besides bringing up her large brood, ruled over the business.

For his part William was consigned to looking after the seven acres of pasture and woodlands which went with the inn along with an assortment of stables, pig pens, fowl houses, barns and outhouses. Here he kept a range of animals, grew the produce which kept the family self-nourished and made hurdles, chestnut fencing and the like.

Martha meanwhile pursued an "open-all-hours" policy, ignoring the prevailing licensing laws with impunity by the simple expedient of regaling the local bobby with a constant supply of free beer, eggs, wild rabbits and other produce.