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The Fernhurst Society

Memories of Fernhurst: well-remembered personalities

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Mr James Hill is well remembered and spoken of warmly by the older residents of Fernhurst. He was a carpenter by trade and lived in a cottage by the cross, where now the banks show their heraldic signs. Hr workshop has been taken over by the Co-operative stores and Mr Cole’s paper shop, which have been built on the site.

James Hill was a true craftsman and was a church warden and secretary of the AOF (Ancient Order of Foresters) for a number of years. He is remembered too for his willingness to advise and help those who appealed to him. He died in 1925. One resident recalls with pride his fun and cheerfulness and that he once told the story that Wilfred Pickles told this year (1958) when at Thursley. Mrs Whiting says that James Hill asked her ‘What do they do in South America when it rains?’ She pondered but did not know the answer. But Mr Tudor did, he said ‘Why, they just let it, of course.’ One can hear in imagination the rhythm of the saw, the hammer and chisel as the conversation was passing from one to another.

Mrs Pearsall Smith lived at Friday’s Hill House and invited people to her house to listen to famous singers and speakers. One special concert was given by Antonette Stirling. A special tea was provided. The story is told of one old lady who scorned the invitation, was then very cross to learn that she had missed such a splendid tea and declared she would answer ‘yes’ next time. We do not know whether there was another invitation. A speaker who once went to Friday’s Hill House was Lady Henry Somerset, who spoke on temperance.

Lord Davey, one of the Six Lords of Appeal in the country, lived at one period at Verdley. He was a very interesting personality and the first chairman of the Parish Council. Lord Davey is remembered too for his unusually thin, very pointed handwriting. He went to church by brougham drawn by beautiful horses, which waited outside the church during the service, the coachman sitting in the front. Naturally the horses could not be left unattended. Other carriages were also waiting, which formed a very pleasant picture remembered by many.

A very interesting story comes from Blackdown in the time of Lord Tennyson. A postman from Fernhurst named Nobby Aplin met Tennyson when he was delivering his post. The two walked together and became quite friendly in a quiet way, as Tennyson did not talk much, but seemed to enjoy the walks as he went with Nobby on his round. When Lord Tennyson died in 1892, Nobby Aplin received an invitation to Westminster Abbey.

At Hawksfold were the Salvin sisters, who were very accomplished and gave plays in the village school. These were very well performed and gave much pleasure in the village. Mr James Hill seems to have enjoyed giving his services in putting up the platform and helping with the properties generally.

Another well known and very well beloved gentleman was Mr Ohlenschlager. This gentleman lived at Ashurst and lent money to people who wished to purchase their own homes. He was also kind and supplemented the vicar’s income. Mr Ohlenschlager helped very generously with all the activities of Fernhurst and was instrumental in bringing electricity, water and drainage to the village in 1939, and as one would surmise, was a generous contributor to the cost. At the death of this good friend, the debts of the people to whom he had lent money were cancelled. Many Fernhurst residents are very grateful to him and remember him with pride.

Dr Duke lived at Fernhurst Rise. He must have been a very busy doctor in his time as his patients were spread far and wide, and before the arrival of motor cars he rode a horse and was a very familiar figure around the countryside. One wonders how he managed to successful tether his horse on many occasions. Many people in Fernhurst believe that Dr Duke had the first motor car in the village. This good doctor seems to have combined medicine with dentistry and pulled out the aching tooth for the sum of one shilling. How very convenient for the people who lived in the village. He was a church warden and made the rule that he must not be called to attend a patient on Sundays.

Handed down with pride is the name of Mr Willcock, who was in charge of the Henley Mission from 1884 until he retired in 1912. In the twenty-eight years he was in charge he was never absent from a service. Mr Willcock lived in a tiny thatched cottage close by the mission, and had a most beautiful garden, which he tended most lovingly and in season had a wonderful crop of apples, which he sold. He was a clever musician, wrote songs and set them to music, also his short plays were acted with delight and charm by the boys and girls of his choir and Sunday school. Sometimes these plays were produced in the mission room and sometimes in the cottages near. What a truly delightful idea and what fun and real social activity for the village. We must record that the evening services in the darkest winter months were only held when it was moonlight.

A subscription list was opened when Mr Willcock retired and he received a token of £21 from his many friends.

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The Fernhurst Oral History Project was supported by the Local Heritage Initiative. The Local Heritage Initiative was developed by the Countryside Agency and was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Nationwide Building Society.