Joyce Mitchell (neé Pollard)’s Memories of Steep from the late 1920s to 1950s
Fran Box interviewed Joyce Mitchell neé Pollard on 3 May 2013. Blake and Diana Parker were also present and made additional contributions. The following is based mostly on Joyce’s account:
Something that I always remember about my Steep School days in the 1930s is the large flip chart type book of coloured religious oil paintings. It would be put on the easel. We were shown one picture and the children really looked forward to the next one being turned over. I often wonder what happened to those pictures and if they are still at the school. I think they might be worth quite a lot of money now and they could be sold to make money for the school. At Steep in my day, there were only two classes and two teachers: Miss Eames took the tiddlers and Mr Giddings took the older class, where you could have heard a pin drop. Mind you, he always carried a ruler and he would have come round and rapped your knuckles. We stayed at Steep School for secondary education as well, but the older girls went one day a week for domestic science lessons to a classroom in Petersfield, near the present museum. They were taught cookery and also went to a nearby house where they were taught how to do chores such as cleaning out a grate and cleaning shoes. Confirmation lessons for Steep children were held across at the church, but these lessons stopped during World War II. The church was the equivalent of our school hall. Dr Livingstone, was the vicar. He liked to go to the back door of the Harrow for a pint of beer.
I was the eldest of eight children in our family; we also had two half brothers so there were ten of us in all. We had no electricity or running water at our house. Water came from a well. It was heated in a large copper and poured into a tin bath in the outhouse, which was lit with candles and there was an oil heater. Looking back, I enjoyed it. My mother made butter by putting cream into a treacle tin. We rolled the tin backwards and forwards to each other across the room and eventually the butter formed inside. My mother was very good at making do and mending. Sometimes, as a small child, I was sent on an errand to the Harrow to buy a pint mug of beer and ten Woodbines for my dad. We grew vegetables in our kitchen garden on a piece of land opposite the present common. At night, we warmed our beds by heating a house brick in the kitchen range and then wrapped it in a towel.
As a child, my happiest memories are of wandering everywhere we liked, unaccompanied by adults. We climbed trees, made dens in banks of ferns and rambled sometimes as far as Wheatham. We went everywhere on foot and ran like deer.
Steep village shop was at the house in Church Road which is now called ‘The Old Post Office’. Behind the shop was a bakery run by Mr Elson, where you could buy buns for a penny. At the house next to the Cricketers, previously known as Malva, up the stairs there was a sweet shop run by a lady we called Ma Green, where you could buy penny sweets. Mr Grimshaw was the licensee of the Cricketers. He had two daughters whom he took to school in a pony and trap. On the site of the present Owens Cycles was Tommy Moss the blacksmith. He was lovely and had a motor bike and sidecar. He used to come to Steep Farm and shoe the big shire horses.
My parents came to Steep Farm from Froxfield. Win & Frank are my half brothers, then I am the eldest of eight. There was me, Grace, Nellie, Alf, Joan, Stella, Roy and David. Alf is now at Droxford, Nellie is at Waterlooville, David is in Petersfield and Stella is in Princes Road,
When we first moved to Steep Farm, Mr Adams who lived down by the Petersfield golf course, was in charge of the farm. He came in a pony and trap every day. After him it was Mr Bridger, then Mr Whittle, then Mr Brown, then Mr Levy and Sir Bernard Burrows. The Macbeths (Bruce and Daisy) later rented the farmhouse only.
Steep Farm was an old fashioned farm with everything going on. My brother Roy worked at the farm and David??, my half brother was killed in an accident there when his tractor overturned. The old Mr Crocker was the cowman at Steep Farm and he later lived in one of the Yew Tree Cottages next to the shop in Church Road. I remember there were Mr Hall, Mr Crocker and Fred Osborne.
There was a World War I war horse who had been retired to Steep Farm and with whom my father worked. I think he was called Jewel. He had a number tattooed on his rear. The horses with whom my father worked were Damsel, Prince, Jewel, Punch and Duke. Duke was born during the war and dad trained him. I loved these horses. Dad was a carter and had two cart horses. When they went up Stoner Hill they always stopped and refused to go further than the last bend before the top. We wondered if there was a ghost there that spooked them. Dad had to put sacks over their heads to get them to move round the last corner. Dad used to make us laugh about this.
I lived in the house at Steep Farm for the last two years before I went in the ATS. One day I came to Steep Farm and found that the army had commandeered the house for their manoeuvres. They had put a brigadier in one room. On the exercise, the commandoes raided the house and captured the brigadier. This was not supposed to happen. I was turned out of my bedroom and a young officer escorted me down the lane past the bridge. “I don’t think you will be safe with all these troops about,” he said.
During WWII a Spitfire crashed near the Harrow. It crashed near the brick wall in Harrow Lane. Dad raced across the field but sadly the New Zealand pilot broke his neck and was killed. I came on leave the day after it crashed and as I approached in the dark somebody shouted, “Halt, who goes there! This is the RAF regiment.” During WWII there were French sailors at Steep House (now a nursing home). They came there when they were on leave and they went to the Harrow. They were quiet and kept themselves to themselves. It was thought that Annie Dodd’s baby John stuttered when he first talked because his language was confused by hearing both French and English.
My mother’s youngest brother, my uncle worked as a carpenter at Dunhurst, the Bedales Junior School. He taught the children carpentry and married one of the teachers. His name was Mr Messingham.
The Bedales houses (formerly Barnfield Cottages 94 – 100 Church Road, between the church and the recently built newer houses) were not there when we were at school. They must have been built after WWII.
Joyce also lived at another house called The Nook with her family.
Dr Livingstone was the Steep vicar from 1930 to 1955.
Miss Lemon, who worked with me in the kitchen at Steep Farm doing the meals was terrified of Dr Livingstone because he always used to pinch her bum. Dr Livingstone would go round to visit his parishioners and say, “Have you got a cup of tea and a piece of cake? If not, i won’t come in.” He was a character on his own, but all that’s gone. The vicar after Dr Livingstone was Mr Heathcock. He lived at the vicarage with his sister. He would only do christenings on a Saturday.
Joyce was in the ATS for three years during the war and when she returned to Steep, she was confirmed with the Steep schoolchildren, as confirmations had been suspended during WWII.
I worked as a cook/housekeeper for 50 years for Sir Bernard Burrows. I walked each morning from my house in Petersfield pushing my two babies in the pram. Blake and Diana Parker saw her pass their house (Whytton) at about 8.30 am each day in time to cook Sir Bernard’s breakfast. Some of the visitors to Steep Farm were the Turkish Prime Minister, Sir Hugh Casson, Roland Penrose, John Furness, Larry Durrell and Sir Dick White (Head of MI5). There was no television at Steep Farm so on one occasion when Sir Dick White particularly wanted to watch a certain programme the Parkers were contacted. He came to watch it on the Parker’s small black and white TV at Whytton House. While he was there, police were stationed in the garden and Blake and Diana had to make themselves scarce.
Sir Bernard was interested in the occult so a ouidja board was sometimes used when his visitors came. After there had been visitors at the weekend, when I arrived on Monday morning I would find squares of paper on the kitchen floor, also bits of paper and a glass on the round library table. They did a bit of delving I can tell you.
In Steep marsh, there was a brick kiln. They cut the clay bricks and then took them to be baked on the other side of the road near Taylors Copse. They also put potatoes to bake on their shovels in the kiln with the bricks.
Lord Horder’s driver was called Tony Gregory, but we all called him Wyatt Earp, although I don’t know why. He and others came to my house to drink my home made dandelion wine. They were all right sitting and drinking but then they sometimes fell off their bikes on the way home. I used to make all sorts of homemade wine. I still see him sometimes. The last time I saw him he said, “Those were the good old days.” He may have some memories to talk about too.
I remember Jock Mackenzie who worked at the Bedales sand quarry and the lorries going in and out.
I have now have eight grandchildren and eleven great grandchildren.. My grandson said the other day, “Nan, you are wearing well.” Until a few years ago, I used to play football with my grandchildren.
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