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Royal Oak-History


By the time William and Martha took over the inn their two oldest sons had already left home, to be followed later by their two youngest sons. This still left the five young Woods girls in residence: Caroline, Agnes, Emma, Martha (the surviving triplet) and Ethel. Their presence was an undoubted added attraction to the local young bucks, among them no doubt, the four Hounsome brothers from East Marden. One of them was my father Owen.

Even then, however, rural life was already changing. Economic turndown and increasing farm mechanisation meant fewer jobs in agriculture. At the same time the extension of literacy and numeracy opened the way to new opportunities and the coming of the railway and the steamship offered a glimpse of new horizons.

William Woods died in 1903 aged 61 and Martha, forced to retire, moved to Oak Cottage, Nyewood. But by then all the Woods children had left home as had all but one member of the two large related Hounsome families at East Marden. They moved to the towns, went to work on the railway or joined the fighting services. Three Hounsome brothers even emigrated to Canada, two of them as early as the 1870s.

As for the girls, they were mostly packed off into domestic service in strange towns where they met their husbands and settled down. Thus it happened with my parents, who met again by chance one Sunday on the seafront in Brighton, where my mother was a housemaid and my father, an erstwhile shepherd boy, had joined a furniture removal firm. They were married in the town in 1902 and raised their four children there.

As for Martha, misfortune had not yet done with her for her eldest son, James, who had moved to Portsmouth to work on the railway, lost a leg in a shunting accident, while another son, William, was wounded fighting with the 21st Lancers at Khartoum and, although he survived to become a "gentleman's valet", died at the early age of 43.

One Woods girl, who did remain in the locality was the youngest, Ethel, who married Arthur "Punch" Glue, a formidable village cricketer in his day, and settled in East Harting. Living there with them was "Uncle Jim", his amputated limb replaced by what looked remarkably like one of the legs from our scullery table. A kindly, philosophical man, he worked and slept in a large shed in the garden, mending clocks and watches.

It was from Aunt Ethel's cottage one autumn morning in 1936 when I was just 17, that I climbed up through the mist over the shoulder of the downs for my first visit to the Royal Oak, bearing a string of "Punch" Glue's home-grown onions as a gift to the legendary, long-serving, licensee of the day, Alf Ainger.

There, in the tap-room, little changed since my grandparents' time, while my overcoat steamed dry before a roaring fire, I talked about the old days with Alf over a pint of ale and a doorstep of bread and cheese. It was a somewhat staccato conversation since, by then, Alf was as deaf as the proverbial post.I have returned to the Royal Oak at various times since to rediscover my roots. They are nostalgic occasions. And unfailingly, as I sit in the taproom, I fancy I hear again the echo of the Woods girls' laughter as they flirt with the Hounsome boys, unaware that in those dying years of the Victorian age, their world was already collapsing and that the century ahead would bring changes beyond their comprehension.
Postcript: The local connection continues today through the progeny of "Aunt Ethel" Glue. Her great-grandson is the South Harting postman and his wife the postmistress.

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Robert Hounsome, Poole, Dorset
June, 1999

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