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
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.
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.
Robert Hounsome, Poole, Dorset