The play of children has always held a special fascination for me. With my own childhood play experiences being so full, I guess in many ways this was inevitable. I was born in one of my grandfathers properties on the Ringwood Road in Newtown,Poole Dorset in the spring of 1945.Then because of family circumstances I was raised by my grand-parents
(Reg and Alice Rogers) from a very early age at the family small holding farm (The Mannings), situated on the edge of Lady Wimborne Estate at Canford Heath, Poole in Dorset. The Mannings House and grounds were situated in a basin surrounded by Canford estate with its wild flowers,tumbling heather downs, gorse bushes, and the bracken of the Mannings heath.The closest neighberhoods were just a mile away at Alderney and Newtown. High in the distance were the Lodge hills of the Canford Magna Estate with its panoramic views and tall pine trees. In recent years a great deal of the area has become better known as Tower Park, which took its name from the prominent water tower.Funnily enough the whole area is now a modern day multi-media activity and leisure park, very commercially based.(The actual tower itself and for many years a local landmark, originally based within the local Limmer and Trinidad road surfaces compound). The local council housing estate of Trinidad, situated close to Rossmore, was itself named after the works and had no connection with a foreign tropical country. As a small child, I attended the new Sylvan road infant school in lower Parkstone before going up the constitution hill to attend the Branksome Heath junior school situated near to seaview. When at home at the Mannings I spent my play times amongst our own farm animals, and with the many wild rabbits and amongst the numerous gypsies who frequented the area with their gayly decorated caravans. Which stretched from the Lodge Hills of Canford Magna to the local neighberhoods of Newtown and Alderney.
Apart from the many gypsy children who frequented the heath, the other few children I saw outside of school time hours usually were intruders from the three communities of the nearby and surrounding housing estates, at Alderney, West Howe and Trinidad/Rossmore.In my early childhood at the Mannings there was no street or house electric lighting and we had to rely on candles or (tilley) oil lamps,(made in the local factory at Newtown),This was until we eventually had gas lighting and finally electricity.In the very early years there was also no running water and the family (Grandfather,grandmother and their eight children) collected water from local natural springs in the banks on the heath. Occasionally, I would invite school friends home( such as the Suttons), along with my cousins (Brooms/Domineys)who lived at Newtown and (Colliers)from Wimborne. All of my school friends considered me to be extremely lucky to live on a farm and to have so many animals to play amongst. Animals ranging from dogs, cats, rabbits, ferrets, ducks, chickens, geese, birds, cows, pigs, ponies and goats. There were so many new experiences for the urban children to enjoy; many of which I took for granted. Like the collecting of chickens eggs, hot from under the wings of hens .The Feeding and scattering corn to the chickens, the mucking out of the pigs in their sties and taking the dogs and ferrets(which I carried in a pouch in my trouser pockets) out searching for rabbits. Laying fresh hay down in the cow shed as bedding, mixing meal and pigswill (which grandad bought monthly from the large Bournemouth hotels) and then cooked in the boiling hot copper house oven, mixed with meal and potatoes, ready for the pigs’ dinners. Then actually feeding the pigs, what a fabulous experience that was.
One of my earliest childhood memories is of observing the local artist, the eccentric Augustus John,who lived at Alderney Manor were he had his own studio in the woods,which is now manor road. As a small infant I would watch him in the setting up of his easel, to paint Heather View house with its delightfull brickwork,stable and roses around the door(the house belonged to Lady Wimbornes estate and was originally rented out to my grandfather). This was just a few yards away from our own house at Mannings Heath Road which was built by grandads cousin.. Augustus John had a wild and liberal reputation and was frowned on for his womanising.He caused quite a scandal when he had a local girl pose for him in the nude.Often Augustus Johns children visited and we played games in my families brickyard.The brickyard was opposte to the house and it was here,where my grandfather Reginald Rogers worked as a brick maker. Local children with whom I occasionally played with as I grew older, built underground dens in the sandy mounds on the heath, at the rear of the Trent companies car dump at ringwood road,Charlie Trents car dump displayed a large placard which stated it was the largest in Europe. These children's ingenious underground dens which we built were all padded out on the inside, with mattresses and carpets, then covered over the top with a roof made of galvanise tin sheeting at ground level.Then cleverly covered over with sods of grass; as camouflage, all well hidden from naked eyes. Trees that were suitable would be conquered and used for rope Tarzan swings, with their high branches to hang from; using disgraced or abandoned car tyres, or a stick as the seat. Such swings rotated in large circular movements with a high drop below,with us children falling onto sandy surfaces. This was often to be our only escape in a moment of danger.A short distance away towards waterloo, many older kids rode the new modern tor bikes and push bikes on the heath,using the area as an unofficial speedway track.This pastime is now illegal and the police monitor the local heaths with wasp helicopters,to protect the wildlife.Nearby and to the rear of the Alderney Hospital grounds was a large abandoned red sandy quarry area with a reservoir.This was often used by hordes of us children for playing games and adventurous pursuits.It was here we built special camps and dens similar to caves, into the sides of the quarrys sandy red banks. We would often swim naked in the wide, but safe pool of water, which in actual fact was a reservoir.Such places were my own personal adventure playgrounds. There was little housing then, no roads for miles and with only bird song, gypsy caravans and sand lizards for company a great deal of the time.
The area of heathlands were renowned for splendid pine trees, which were originally brought into the country by Captain and Lady Tregonwell. The sweet smelling scent of the pines was seen as a cure for tuberculosis and consequently, many sanatoriums were built locally(including the present Alderney Hospital). The writer and invalid Robert Louis Stevenson resided at his villa, in nearby Westbourne,where there is a plaque. It was here where he wrote the children’s classics of ‘Kidnapped’ and ‘Treasure Island’, inspired and influenced no doubt by the views of Poole harbour and Brownsea Island as his inspiration. It was at Brownsea Island where Lord Robert Baden Powell based his very first Scout camp in 1907, thus founding and establishing ‘The Scout Association’. The wife of Baden-Powell was herself a local lady; her maiden name was Olivia Soames. She originally lived with her family at Grey Riggs in Parkstone (Poole). Baden-Powell and Olivia were married in 1908 at St Peter’s church in Poole which was the largest in the town.
My childhood play world was a great deal safer then than the present 2Ist Century environment, with its dangerous highways, heavy traffic, and crime, including that of a stranger’s danger. A child was able to roam miles in complete safety, parents were not so concerned then as now, and even our front door would often remain unlocked at night. Grandad would be more concerned with the foxes, which occasionally came to the Mannings during the early hours, to drag off chickens to their lairs high up in the banks of lodge hills at Canford Magna.He housed a twelve bore shotgun in the hall. However, there were other hidden dangers, as I discovered on one occasion when my young sister Julie visited, and I took her for a stroll across an abandoned clay pit, at the rear of the family brickyard. My sister Julie who was only a toddler then, found that she had trapped herself in an area of quicksand. I tried to reach her, but found myself slipping in, fortunately I had called for help and the local brickyard watchman, appeared with a strong length of rope and fortunately managed to haul my sister free. We went home with our skins baked in red clay and quick sand. My sister rushed directly to the deep stone kitchen sink, and was lifted into it and scrubbed by my mother. We were constantly warned of such hidden dangers, such as a store of hidden ammunition, abandoned on the boggy heath during the war years, containing grenades and mines embedded in the heathland mossy blanket; another serious danger to the roaming children of the heathland. As an older boy I would be taken to watch the local football league team play at Boscombe (Bournemouth), with my grandfather and Uncle Bill in our family car. The ‘Boscombe, Cherries’ football matches would always be an occasion, I would sport the red scarf and berry, along with the popular noisy wooden rattle. In school holidays uncle Bill would take me for days out in his 'British Road Services' lorry, to collect coal from railway sidings at Southampton Docks, or else drive through the beautiful New Forest countryside to deliver large water pipes. Oten we would drop in at Uncle Sid Rogers, at his large local transport companies’ lorry yard (Rogers Tansport)at fancy road(which was named after my great grandmother Emily Fancy)We would also visit Uncle Charlie Rogers at his large pigsties at Wool Road (Newtown). The Rogers families operated numerous enterprises over the years which all originated from my great grandmothers’ first pig and the growth of the original smallholding farm. Culminating in the family brickyard on the Mannings Heath.which was a focal point in the landscape and could be seen from the trains carriage windows at nearby Poole railway station. The activities of the family at the Mannings house often took precedent over every other consideration. I would be expected to assist with the wheel barrowing of pig manure, which was used to fill in trenches at the allotment garden. The planting of seeds, gardening work, or the collection of fruit, from the trees in the two vast orchards, were all essential tasks, which I was expected to participate in. Along with similar duties, like assisting my Grandfather with the brick building of the front garden wall or the new pig stys. All of such activities kept me very busy indeed. I created my own hide outs, such as in an abandoned pig sty shed, furnishing it throughout with carpets, curtains and chairs, or in a chick run, using hardboard and carpeting. During these play activities, I was actually involved in what later came to be known as junk play. Funny things happened which brightened up my childhood days, on one occasion I dressed my Airedale dog, Rusty, up in a dress and red Indian head-dress, and played football with her, on the large grassed area at the rear of the house. My uncles would take their prize pigeons to Exeter, when we visited our relations there,( Aunt Ivy, Uncle Tom and cousins Maureen and Tommy Thorpe) each year. The pigeons would be set free as we left, arriving back at the Mannings pigeon and dove lofts well before our return home.
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