Saturday, 1 February 2014

Jekyll's Old West Surrey snippets

Jekyll's Old West Surrey (Longman, Green & Co., London, 1904) is a fascinating book of the seemingly mundane objects and memories of the countryside around a hundred years ago.  As a small diversion from any connections with the Haslemere Peasant Arts movement, like in my recent post, I feel compelled to share some of the gems in Jekyll's book.  Whilst I had briefly looked at the book in the Haslemere Library, I found it a much better read to flick through online.

'Some of the old sort in white corduroy'
Old West Surrey
Her attention to detail is quite extraordinary, for instance on page 29:

“…how pleasant, both in use and appearance are the hand hunting-gates, and the oak stiles, with the convenient foot-board and the massive rounded rail, that by the end of the summer shows a bright polish from the friction of the labourers’ corduroys.

An' oak stile' from
Old West Surrey

"It is sad to see, in place of these sympathetic homely things, made in the place and suiting it to perfection, miles of dull and ugly iron-work from a distant manufacturer’s pattern-book.

"It is scarcely too much to say, that it is the almost culpable insensibility to the true value and rightness of these locally-made things, on the part of landowners and their agents, that is robbing rural England of so much of her priceless heritage of simple beauty.

"There is no need for anything to be ugly, not even the sewage-pump.  Although its name does not suggest visions of beauty, yet it may be a quite comely object.  Here is its portrait: just a common leaden pump, with the elm weather-boarded covering of local tradition, and with a wooden handle instead of an iron one, for the better grasp of a man’s hand, and for greater comfort of winter use."

'A sewage pump' from
Old West Surrey

Other unusual objects included two "dead-fall mouse traps", "killing instantly by the fall of a heavy wooden block".

'Two dead-fall mouse traps' from
Old West Surrey

A few further snippets of local interest, on page 228:

“The villagers like to make out what their church bells say, and to poke fun at each other on the subject.

“Dunsfold has three bells.  They bang out a challenge to the neighbouring villages: ‘WHO BEATS WE?’ Hascombe, next door to the east, has only two, but found she could answer quite to her own satisfaction: ‘WE DO.’  Both say that Hambledon, who has only one, dolefully bewails herself: ‘A-OH’.

“Truculent Dunsfold says of Chiddingfold, which has six bells, that they say ‘POOR CHIDD’N FOLD, HUN GRY’AN COLD.’  But this is pure envy for Chiddingfold is a fine large place, quite as well-to-do as any of them.”

On the locals exertion of justice, on page 230:
“An old custom that I remember in my young days, as a strong expression of pubic opinion, was the performance of ‘Rough music.’

"If a man was known to beat his wife, he was first warned.  The warning was a quiet one enough – not a word was spoken: but some one went at night with a bag of chaff, and laid a train of it from the roadway up to the cottage door.  It meant: ‘We know that thrashing is going on here.’  If the man took the hint and treated his wife better, nothing more happened.  But if the ill-treatment went on, a number of men and boys came some other night with kettles and pans and fire-irons, and anything they could lay their hands on to make a noise with, and gave him ‘Rough music.’  The din was something dreadful, but the effect was said to be salutary.  My home was half a mile from the village, but every now and then on summer nights we used to hear the discordant strains of this orchestra of public protest and indignation. "

'The sun bonnet'
from Old West Surrey

And on page 240:
"Neither men nor women spared themselves as to labour or long hours.  I know of a carpenter with his two sons, Godalming men, who finished a fencing job at Portsmouth one evening at half-past five, and walked all night the thirty-seven miles back to Godalming to be ready at the master’s place at six the next morning to see about the next job.  They not only walked but trundled a hand-cart with their tools, including spades and iron bars.  They thought nothing of walking to jobs at Putney, Wimbledon, or Wandsworth."

And on page 243:
"Godalming fair-day (February 13) is credited with a mysterious influence on the weather during the next few weeks.  The local saying has it that ‘If the sun shines before noon on Godalming fair-day, the winter isn’t half over.’"

Jekyll shows her feelings towards the 'peasants' on page 264:
"Every sort of folly or absurdity is committed by these poor people in this insane striving to be what they think is ‘fashionable.’  A lamentable example was shown me lately.  It was a photograph of a wedding party of the labouring class.  The bride had a veil and orange blossoms, a shower bouquet, and pages!  The bridegroom wore one of the cheap suits aforesaid, and had a billycock hat pushed back from his poor, anxious, excited face that glistened with sweat.  In his buttonhole was a large bouquet, and on his hands white cotton gloves!  No more pitiful exhibition could well be imagined.

"Have these poor people so utterly lost the sense of the dignity of their own position that they can derive gratification from the performance of such an absurd burlesque?  Such wedding parties do not walk to church: the bride’s party, at least, hires the closed village fly, which for the occasion is called ‘the brougham’.

"A wise old woman remarked, ‘When I was married we walked to church: and then walked home, and I cooked two chops.  And then we changed our clothes and went to our work!’"

'The cottage porch'
from Old West Surrey

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