Rosemary and Rue.
Recollections of a Forest of Dean Childhood
The Old Homesteads
"This was one of my prayers: for a parcel of land not so very large, which should have a garden and a spring of ever-flowing water near the house, and a bit of woodland as well as these." - Horace. 65 BC
The Farm was old. Much older than Grandad John; much, much older even than Webley's Row. It had probably sat on the top of its hill and watched our town grow up around its feet. That it had an intriguing history I was not to find out for many years - sadly, much too late to go back and look for visible signs of its past.
Of course, we learnt History in school. We knew that it was King Alfred who burnt the cakes and King John who lost his crown in the Wash. We knew about William the Conqueror and 1066. We knew all about the "heroes" who had founded the great British Empire. After all, we had a huge map on the classroom wall with great continents coloured red - our wonderful Empire "on which the sun never sets." But, of course, it did. However, nobody thought it necessary to teach us the history of the Forest in which we lived - a history just as fascinating as it turns out.
So we wandered in Abbotswood with never a thought that the monks of Flaxley Abbey once frequented those paths; felling its trees to fuel their charcoal hearths and iron-works. On summer days we ventured down the sunken track to the ruins of the Old Grange, unaware that we trod a path which was an ancient hollow way, almost as old as time itself; and the ruins which we so daringly explored were of a house built by the Tudors, fourhundred years before. And even St. Whites itself - we knew about Saint John and Saint Stephen of course, because their churches were in the town, but who Saint White was we never questioned and certainly no ghosts of hermits, saints or weary travellers ever manifested themselves to us as we played around the old house and barns.
The Farm was ninety-nine acres - "another few perches and it would have been a hundred" Grandad John used to say. It lay along the crest of the hill, looking east to the Severn and west to the distant blue hills of Wales. An ancient road followed most of its boundaries on the west and north - a roadway which, it is claimed, existed in Roman times. The farmhouse itself was long and narrow with thick walls built of the local red sandstone, and windows deep set into those walls. Probably dating from the 18th century it was not, however, the first dwelling on that site.