top of page

Winifred Johnson - Life in Sutton Mandeville before WW1

Updated: May 18, 2022

Winifred Johnson was born in 1901 at the Homestead, Sutton Mandeville as Winifred Green. Her family owned the Homestead, The Cottage and The Stables and the land surrounding these cottages opposite the Church in Sutton Mandeville. Her father was the local butcher in the village and Wyn spent her life in Sutton Mandeville, at one time being a parish councillor. She lived at the Homestead until the 1980's, when she did a house swap with her son who lived in the Stables. Here she remained until the early 1990's when she moved to a home in Dinton. She was afeisty lady; when I was in my teens, we'd call round to hers for tea after riding and she was hilarious. You'd go into her house (now our house) in the winter and she would be there, with her feet in the Rayburn to keep warm. Winifred died in 1991, aged 90 years. She was probably one of the last remaining inhabitants of the village who would have remembered the WW1 army camps and the village as it was in the early 20th century. The following memories (unedited) were most likely dictated to Pam Coles, former Shepherdess at Larkhams Farm throughout the 1970's until her death in 2014.

Pam's son, Lawrence, still lives at Larkhams Farm.

Emma Firth of The Stables, May 2022

Life in the Village Before 1914

The village has changed greatly since I was a child. There were no lorries, tractors, or cars on the roads, just the steady clop clop of the horses going to and fro on their journeys to the farm buildings and farm lands.

There were many more children in the village; the church school had between thirty five and forty pupils, with a head mistress and junior teacher. Our childish fun was made for ourselves. There were four ponds in the village which froze over in the winter. These were our skating rinks. Now, alas they have all been filled in. One was on the left up Sutton Hill; another was at Pit Close, just below the school house. Then there was one where Thick's barn now is, and another opposite Farm Orchard.

In the summer we spent a great deal of time up on the downs, especially by the Ring of Firs. We paddled in the two dew ponds and saw lots of newts. These ponds have now gone, also the many wild flowers which were peculiar to the chalk downland. Wild strawberries and raspberries grew in profusion, in fact, we could pick enough of both fruits to make preserves for the winter; but now the top of the downs has been cultivated for wheat and barley. As we walked through the water meadows to swim in the Nadder we could count on finding plovers nests on the ground. If the eggs were all pointing towards the middle of the next, we knew that the chicks would soon be hatched.

From the river we could hear the trains comping from the direction of Salisbury, so we hurried to the railway bridge below Panters to be under the bridge when the train went over. The steam locomotives sometimes stopped near the bridge to refill their water tanks. Huge pipes were used, and the water was sucked up with a terrific swoosh and gurgle which simply delighted us, especially when the fireman or engine driver waved to us.

The Homestead, around 1910

Three bellringers rang the church bells on Sundays, two of the young ringers paid the supreme sacrifice in the first world war as did so many young men from the valley. Our house, The Homestead, was on the side of the road near the church.

When there was a funeral all the blinds were drawn, and the children had to stay in the house until the service was over and all the mourners dispersed. One bell in the tower was rung denoting a death and if you counted the number of times the bell tolled, you would know the age of the deceased. If a person living by the road was seriously ill, straw would be strewn thickly outside the house to dull the noise of the horse's hooves and waggon wheels going by.

Some people were very superstitious. A man was killed on Sutton Hill when a thrashing machine, moving from one farm to another, frightened his pony and he was thrown from his cart. The road men who cleared all the banks and hedges, dug a cross in the bank to mark where the man had died. The cross was tended for may years, but lots of people would not venture past this place after nightfall. They said the old man's ghost could be seen. Two people have told me on different occasions that they have seen a ghost at the top of Mill Lane.

On a happier note, much of pocket money was earned by the boys of the family, who put down traps to catch moles. They were skinned, and the skins stretched and nailed to a board to dry. Eventually a parcel of skins was sent away to a firm who bought them. When the postal order came it was quite a gala day with the money to spend on sweets. An old lady sold sweets to us at one of the cottages at Jays Folly. She had squares of newspaper meticulously cut out and twisted into pokes. For one penny we got about fourteen sweets taken from a big glass jar. I think the old lady must have had rather bad eyesight as she always wore two pairs of glasses. At this time rabbits were very plentiful, and stoats, weasels, foxes and badgers were much more common than nowadays. The rabbits and hares were skinned, and an old man with a donkey cart called on Saturdays and bought the skins. That was another gala day.

Fovant pond was a great place for breeding frogs and I can visualise them even now, with their heads above water croaking away while dragon flies flew above, their beautiful wings shimmering in the sunlight. Raves nested across the valley, and it was said when they came and circled over Sutton Mandeville, there would be a death in the village.

Testimony of Winifred Johnson


bottom of page