General Notes related to Flora Thompson

Memories from those who knew her in Liphook
Joe LeggettEileen HobsonBessie MossLouie Woods

Notes from Patrick Joseph ("Joe") Leggett

Joe Leggett lived at Grove House, a small-holding in Griggs Green near to Liphook, during the time the Thompsons were there. In 1926 they became next-door neighbours when the Thompsons bought a new house 'Woolmer Gate' which was built next to the Leggett's property.

For more information on Joe's life there, see Growing Up in Griggs Green

Joe Leggett supplied the following information in 1995 and 1996:—

Mr Thompson

At the age of eight in 1916, I was interested to see what our new Postmaster looked like and found an excuse to enter the Post Office to get a glimpse of him. It was some kind of poor excuse when I was asked what I wanted. I learned very quickly from Mr Thompson that the Post Office was not for little lads to spend their time.

He was a medium sized, neatly dressed man who appeared to have a sharp, authoritative voice and a finger on every pulse that made the postal service run smoothly.

I recall how in later years, I made my first withdrawal from my savings book, and with the patience of a schoolmaster, he handed me form after form until at last I made it out correctly and received the two shillings I'd applied for. Everything with him had to be correct and on time. That withdrawal was a lesson to me, and whenever I went to the Post Office to renew Vehicle Licences, I made sure the forms were properly made out and signed.

As Postmaster, he spent a lot of time in the office making certain that the incoming and outgoing mail was received and dispatched on time. His observation and supervision was somewhat irksome to the postal staff, but they had great respect for his fairness towards them and his devotion to the post office.

The only time I ever saw him out of the office would be on his bicycle to or from Forest Mere, where he spent his leisure time with rod and line hooking perch and tench from the lake. I and other boys used to swim in that lake, and many of us experienced the rough edge of his tongue if we happened to swim near to where he was patiently watching for his float to be jerked by perch or to be drawn under by tench. Nevertheless, as village lads, we had no hate campaign against him.

Mrs Thompson

I did not know or see Mrs Thompson until after the 1st World War had ended. It would have been about 1919 when she came to my notice in many very remote areas such as Waggoners Wells, Forest Mere, the lower slopes of Weavers Down and in Woolmer Forest; the forest by then had been felled to help the war effort. She always appeared to be deep in thought and studying. She would give me a friendly smile as I passed, but never speak to me. I was there in those places doing a regular round of visiting the birds nests that I had discovered.

One day, on the common near Foley Gate, I was in dense shrubbery gazing into a nest to see if fledglings had hatched, when out of the blue Mrs Thompson came upon me. She thought that I was one of those boys that deliberately destroyed the nests. I had to assure her that I knew of many nests which I observed but never disturbed. That was the first time I had heard her speak, and was fascinated by the quality of her voice and her easy flow of converse. I never had the chance to talk to her again on my subsequent roaming, but still saw her in many places.

I lived with my parents at Grove House, Griggs Green. It was a smallholding and milking parlour for our cows from our farm on Weavers Down. A new house was built next to it on the western side, and the Thompson family came to live there in about 1926. By then I had possibly grown beyond recognition to Mrs Thompson as the lad she had once talked to about birdnesting. She became a regular customer at our door for dairy produce.

Although she came to our door every day, there was little conversation apart from the usual pleasantries and comment about the weather. She was neatly dressed in good quality clothing appropriate to the time of year and suitable for her walks in the wildest parts of the surrounding district. I can recall how in inclement weather she would appear in a very smart blue Burberry raincoat, a waterproof hat of the same material and button-up footwear that reached well above the ankles. In better weather she usually wore skirt and blouse; nothing gaudy, but always in good taste and neat.

There came a time when she asked my father if she could look over our farm. She had often walked around the perimeter and was curious to explore the farmhouse, two cottages and farm-buildings that had been evacuated during the war because of their proximity to the military training at Longmoor being extended. After the war, these dwellings were far beyond economic repair except for one cottage that was made habitable for an aged, ex Southdown shepherd to live out his retirement.

Those old buildings, a haven for owls, attracted the attention of Mrs Thompson like a metal to a magnet, and the old shepherd simply fascinated her with his fantastic stories about his imaginary herd of sheep on Weavers Down.

His name was Wishard, and he came from Froxfield way, and Rogate before that. He lived in Bower's Cottage before the owls frightened him out.

It was very kind of Mrs Thompson to lend an ear to the old shepherd's imagination, and village folk were amazed that she could be seen talking to him. They could not understand either why a gypsy girl could call at her house and be invited to enter. It is quite easy to see now, that she was gathering material and studying characters for her books and the monthly Peverel Papers. I doubt if anyone in the village even guessed that Flora Thompson, the author of The Peverel Paper, was the Mrs Thompson who lived in our midst, or that Peverel Down was Weavers Down.

Village gossip was something she cleverly avoided, even though it gave the impression she was unsociable, but when one really got to know her, like I did, she was knowledgeable, kind and extremely understanding. Some writers have implied that she and her husband were not ideally suited to each other. That could not be further from the truth. I have witnessed them working together in their garden, setting out a pattern of floral display in what appeared to me perfect harmony. They were just two people with a purpose in life, and it was their employment in the post office that brought them together.

When they came to live at Griggs Green, Mrs Thompson was in a fairly sad frame of mind owing to the recent departure of her son Basil to Australia. In those days Australia was a lot more than a 24 hour flight away, and the long weeks at sea could be at times quite perilous. She had good reason to look sad. However, as time passed and news of his safe arrival reached her, she began to look more cheerful.

Peter Thompson (at the age of 8)

I was harnessing our ex-army war veteran mule in the grounds of Grove House being watched by Peter from his side of the fence. When I hitched the mule to the cart, Peter asked me where I was going. "Up to the farm on Weavers Down," I replies. He asked me if he could come with me and I suggested that he should ask his mother. He went indoors, but did not return. As I left our premises, he and his mother were at their gate and he was trusted into my care. His mother asked me to let him see all the interesting things about the farm and remarked, "Now I can get on with the work in my study."

It was good company for me to have him with me, and I found him to be very well-behaved, intelligent, cheerful and well spoken. He was about 4 feet tall, plump in build, a clear complexion and was wearing a grey schoolboy uniform of a local private school. During his school holidays he spent quite a lot of time with me. Like his mother, he was keen to look up in the rafters of derelict buildings for owls' nests. He was devoted equally to his mother, father, sister and his brother who was then in Australia. I was puzzled sometimes when he said his mother and sister were going up to Peverel. I had no idea where Peverel was until many years later, but his words stayed on my mind to ring a bell many years later. Like his brother and sister, their mother's features were strongly reflected by him.

Peter came into this world when his mother was forty during the hardest year of the war. He had an elder sister and brother to guide him through those early days of his life, with lots of genuine brotherly and sisterly love, plus that of his mother and father. He in turn returned that love to them. To me, he appeared to be sadly missing the company of his brother, Basil, and was very sympathetic to his sister because her fiancé had gone to Australia along with Basil.

During his trips to the farm with me, he did often tell me quite voluntarily certain things about his family that I knew his mother would not want him to tell anybody. I had the good sense to keep that to myself.

At about that period, the character Just William was appearing in a magazine. Apart from William's round shoulders and untidy hair and his devilment, Peter in my opinion somewhat resembled that particular character.

Winifred Thompson

Winifred was about 22 years of age when the Thompsons came to Griggs Green. I don't think I knew of her until then. She was referred to by her family as Diana. She was a well-dressed young lady who I never had the pleasure of speaking to. She had been educated at a private school in Haslemere and was then working in the post office in Liphook.

Mrs Thompson was often seen out for a walk with Winifred. They were so much alike that people felt sure they were sisters, not because she looked older, but because the senior carried her age so well. My sister worked in the post office with Winifred and found her to be a very nice person in general. She shared her mother's anxiety over her brother being so far away from home, and was saddened that the young man she was engaged to had gone off to Australia with him.

That then is about as much as I can remember of the girl who we knew as Diana. I would say she was about 5' 9" tall, well built, but not grotesque or flabby, a fresh complexion and walked upright and natural. Like Peter, she resembled her mother.

Basil Thompson

If I remember correctly, Basil was educated at Churchers College at Petersfield. Therefore I saw very little of him except during school holidays, bathing at Forest Mere with other boys from the village. He never came to live at Griggs Green.

I remember seeing him in the village just prior to his departure to Australia. By then he was every inch of 6 feet tall, extremely handsome and obviously eager to get on the voyage. I never knew him to speak to, but did know about him. He was dressed on that occasion in long trousers and wearing a sports jersey with evenly spaced blue and red horizontal stripes, the colours of Churchers College.

That was just about 70 years ago, and I dare not venture to say more about him except to say he resembled his mother, sister and brother.

My friend, Ron Chappell once came 'under the wrath' of John Thompson for damaging Basil's school blazer. According to Ron, there was always rivalry between boys from Bramshott School and those from Churchers. He and a friend had met Basil and a friend in Tower Road once and thrown a blackbird's egg at him - it hit him on the chin and dripped down his uniform. Basil ran home crying, and his father came to see Ron's father about it. The fathers 'laughed it off.'

Notes from Eileen Hobson (née Leggett)

Eileen Hobson was Joe Leggett's sister, and also lived at Grove House, the small-holding in Griggs Green near to Liphook, during the time the Thompsons were there. In 1926 they became next-door neighbours when the Thompsons bought a new house 'Woolmer Gate' which was built next to the Leggett's property.

Eileen Hobson supplied the following information in 1995 and 1996:—

I first met Flora Thompson when she came to live next door to my family at Griggs Green (1926). Woolmer Gate was newly built; they were the first to occupy it - it has since been enlarged. It was a great joy for them after the Post Office, although it had no gas, electricity or mains water. We had a small farm at Grove House next door, and a larger one nearby so there was much movement of livestock, which was of great interest to Mrs Thompson. We knew nothing of her being a writer, but my mother, a keen judge of character, soon decided that Mrs Thompson was a 'lady' but her husband 'no gentleman.' People think she was intimidated by him but (at least by the time I knew them) in her gentle way she managed him nicely. For instance, she decided there was no future for me working on the farm; yet there were few other openings in a little village like Liphook. She suggested that I should apply for the post of part-time operator at the Liphook telephone exchange (in those days, long before dialling started, all calls had to be put through the operator, even for Liphook numbers). I know I would not have been Mr Thompson's choice - but he arranged for me to get the appointment. So started two years or more of close association with Flora Thompson and her daughter, whom the village knew as Diana, though articles on the family call her Winifred.

Before they moved to Griggs Green, I believe Mrs Thompson used to roam the countryside accompanied by her dog, but when I knew her Diana frequently went with her, and her little boy Peter (born 1918). Mother and daughter were very close, rather like two sisters in their affection. Diana worked a permanent 'split-duty' at the exchange - 9am to 1pm and 4.30pm to 8pm - so she was always free for afternoon walks. I worked part-time at first, helping Diana 9am to 12.30, progressing to full-time later. Liphook had about 100 subscribers then and we knew most of them. It was a friendly little exchange; people would say, "give me the Green Dragon," or whatever - if the number was engaged we would ring them back when it was free. Mrs Thompson was no longer helping in the Post Office; I think she gave this up when the war ended.

I can't remember her ever complaining of our farm activities, though we must have been very noisy neighbours with the necessary work among the animals etc. in the early hours. She was a lovely neighbour; she was unobtrusive, yet one could turn to her for advice, as I often did. I used to visit her every Thursday afternoon for a cosy chat and to listen to their 'wireless', which they had just acquired and were very enthusiastic about. I always left before 4 o'clock, so that Mrs Thompson could listen to Choral Evensong, which she loved - though I don't remember her being a churchgoer; she might have been without our knowing, because we were Roman Catholics. She was very interested in the Catholic Church, but felt that we ought not to have been so much in awe of our priest, who used to look us up and want explanations if we missed church or Sunday School. This was Father Atherton, a kindly old man who used to get his housekeeper to cook breakfast for us all after early Mass on Sundays (there were only a few Catholics here then).

Mr Thompson was very aloof and not popular among the Postal staff; he was fair but very strict. As well as being postmaster he was what they called 'caretaker operator' at the exchange; that was why they lived in the house attached to the Post Office. He had to deal with any night calls, but as they were few in those days he could switch the night bell on and go to bed. Eventually the Post Office decided to employ a full-time 'caretaker-operator' and the Thompsons were able to move to Griggs Green. But until the 'caretaker' could be recruited Mr Thompson still had to leave the cottage every evening and take over night duty from Diana until the early morning when the sorters arrived and combined the exchange duty with their sorting. I think this arrangement suited Mrs Thompson very well. When Mr Thompson was moved to Dartmouth on promotion in 1927, Mrs Thompson and Diana were quite happy to stay on at Griggs Green for however long it took to sell the house. When they did leave they were sad to go, and Diana's first letters to me showed that they felt the wrench and didn't immediately like the change. But they soon began to enjoy it there.

Mrs Thompson has referred to herself as being 'rather plain.' That is not as I remember her; she had lovely eyes and good features, and always a ready smile. She kept a neat home and garden. She took her domestic duties very seriously, but it was obvious that she would rather be in her garden than doing housework. She loved the birds and always saw that they were fed through the winter.

I am glad that we knew her when she was not famous, nor did we dream that she was likely to be. So we liked her for what she was, a very considerate and charming lady.

The text above also appears in 'Liphook Remembers' published by the Bramshott & Liphook Preservation Society.

Other information given by Eileen included:—

The other farm of ours is now under the Old Thorns golf course. We had a pig food contract, and Flora took the story of another farmer stealing grain from our bin, and put it in Lark Rise to Candleford. [See eighth paragraph of the chapter 'Such is Life' in Candleford Green]

I think the bit in Heatherley about Mr Hertford going to Australia has similarities to Cecil Cluer's experience. [He was Diana's fiancé, who went to Australia with Basil and never came back]

Diana didn't talk to me about her engagement, but I noticed she wore an opal ring. When Basil came back without Cecil, just before their move to Dartmouth, the ring was taken off and she seemed distressed.

Flora had once taken a photograph of me - it had been quite a good one as I remember, sitting on a horse. Her camera took glass plates, and she gave me the negative - but I didn't keep it!

Notes from Bessie Moss

Our garden at No. 17 Haslemere Road ran up to the back fence of the old Post Office where Flora Thompson the author lived. She used to work in a summer-house in the garden; my mother told me not to look over the fence - "the lady may be writing and won't like it."

The text above also appears in 'Liphook Remembers' published by the Bramshott & Liphook Preservation Society.

Notes from 'Louie' Woods

Clara Louise Hooker (née Woods) worked for John Thompson in Liphook post office during the First World War. These memories from her were recorded in 1977.

Louise remembers postmaster John Thompson as a small, portly, well-dressed man with brown, wavy hair. He expected everyone to be as immaculately dressed as himself, with clean, neatly pressed uniforms and shining brass buttons. He had a domineering personality and strong views, with the bearing and manner of a Sergeant major. Everyone was over-awed by him.
Miss Louise Woods, as she was then, was one of a staff of nine, which included the Chief Clerk, Harold Baker and Jess West, a fellow postman, from whom she bought her bicycle for a mere thirty shillings, as they had to provide their own conveyance for deliveries, for which she received the sum of three shillings, each week.

Louie, as she was affectionately known among her colleagues, like all women of her day, was very proud of her dark blue uniform which consisted of a three-quarter length jacket and skirt to match with red piping. The finishing touches were a boater with a gold-coloured GPO badge and the number five, displayed on the lapels of her coat.

The little post office in Liphook was kept busy, especially during the war, for there were two army camps in the neighbourhood. The English soldiers were stationed at Bordon Camp, whilst the Canadian soldiers were based at Bramshott - this camp was known locally as 'Tin Town' because of the hundreds of tin shacks. These were built in a circle, around a public house. Louise used to be friendly with some of the Canadian soldiers - one she remembers in particular, a Sergeant John Mumford. The Canadian soldiers gave Louise the endearing name of "Postie."

Her day began at a quarter to six, when she arrived at the post office to find her letters for the morning delivery sorted ready for her by Flora Thompson, who had been sorting the mail since four o'clock in the morning, replacing the man who had been called up for service.

Whenever Louise received a letter from a soldier, Flora whilst sorting the letters would put Louise's personal mail very kindly at the top of the pile for her.

After Louise had collected the letters, she would start her round of approximately twenty miles, which took her through the beautiful country lanes of Hampshire and Sussex to the picturesque villages of Milland, Iping, Conford and Waggoners Wells.
Spring was an enchanting time, the sun slanting through the pale green of the trees and in the woods and hedgerows the primroses springing up as if by magic and the bluebells colouring the woods a vivid blue and green, echoing to the songs of birds.

At Woodman's Green, Linch, in a cottage garden, a woman welcomed Louise every day with a refreshing cup of tea. She was not to enter the cottage, for the rules were strict, and she was forbidden to remove the heavy post bag from off her weary back.

On one occasion, a Mrs Casson of Conford Park House asked Louise to take a parcel. Louise politely explained she was on her outward journey and already had a full load, so was therefore unable to manage the parcel for sixteen miles to the post office. Mrs Casson at once put in a report to the postmaster John Thompson. On arriving back, she found a report waiting for her on the sorting desk, with the words, "Kindly state why you refused to take Mrs Casson's parcel." Louise had no alternative than to write an apology on the bottom of the report for John Thompson. He always took great delight in handing a report to his employees and gave him a feeling of superiority.

Luckily Flora was there to console Louise by making her a cup of coffee, not knowing Louise did not drink coffee and when the opportunity arose, being young and shy, she would pour it into the pot plants so as not to offend Flora. No wonder Flora was surprised when her plants withered and died.

Despite her husband's overbearing personality, this did not deter Flora from her writings. She would shut herself away in her own sparsely furnished room, which consisted only of a writing desk, two chairs and a waste paper basket, writing her essays and poetry. Her husband seldom entered her study and the children were forbidden to interrupt her whilst writing. Louise frequently visited Flora in her study and was presented, one day, with a copy of her poetry entitled, "Bog Myrtle and Peat." Later [it was] published in 1921, but Louise was not sufficiently interested in its contents and consequently passed it on to her mother for her to enjoy.

Winifred, Flora's eldest child, worked at the post office as a telephone operator - there she met and became close friends with a local telegraph boy, Cecil Cluer. Winifred took after her mother, but was noted for her independent character. She detested her Christian name and insisted on being called Diana, though her mother called her Di for short.

Basil, the eldest son, was determined like his father - even at the early age of eight, he already had the inclination to emigrate to Australia - his friend, Cecil Cluer, was equally determined to go with him.

The morning Peter, "the unexpected late-comer" was born in 1918, Louise remembers as a joyous occasion. John Thompson allowed her to see the baby and congratulate Flora. Peter became increasingly dear to both parents.

After morning deliveries, the postmen, including Louise, would spend their break in the Green Dragon, the proprietor of which was Mr Ritchins. This old inn was conveniently situated adjacent to the post office.

The second delivery began at a quarter to four - this proved the hardest, especially in the winter when snow covered the tracks, several of which were uphill and winding to isolated farms and through dark mysterious woods. Louise was always in fear of what might be lurking in the depths of the shadows.

One dark night, Louise was riding her bicycle along a footpath through a lonely stretch of wood when she heard heavy footsteps coming towards her. Remembering a recent murder at Blackmoor of a girl by an English soldier who was stationed at Bordon Camp, she pedalled furiously on, only to be stopped by two Canadian soldiers, one who introduced himself as a Captain Gilson. He was surprised to see a young girl alone in such a desolate place and asked her if she was afraid, but Louise said it was her duty to deliver the mail and not to worry of what might happen.

One of her lonelier calls was up a long wooded drive to Hollycombe House, the residence of Sir John Hawkeshore at that time. The grounds which are now open to the public with a wonderful display of steam traction engines and Victorian merry-go-rounds. Another call was down a steep hill in Milland to a large house owned by the Hon Viscountess Masareene and Farrad.
Frequently whilst travelling through the woods she would suffer a puncture, riding over rough ground. She would then take the heavy postbag off her back, turn the bicycle over and mend the puncture. Attempting to make up the precious time she had lost, this failing, arriving late back at the post office, she would be met with a barrage of questions as to where she had been. Seldom would they believe her.

In the evening when Louise returned with the letters and was stamping them by hand in the sorting office, she would talk to Harry Envis, a postman, but as soon as they heard footsteps approaching from the postmaster's office adjoining, the door of which was always left open so he could overhear any forbidden conversations, they would hastily part company, Harry pretending to hang up his coat or mail bag, Louise busying herself stamping letters.

Finishing at eight o'clock, after a hard day's work, Louise would happily cycle back along the main London-Portsmouth road to her parent's home at Wheatsheaf Cottages, Forest Mere.

Louise's remembrance of Flora is of a quiet, inoffensive and lonely person. When in the company of her husband, her words were few, fearing his scalding tongue.

Her love and dedication for nature reflects in the long afternoons she spent walking her little brown dog, Prince, in and around the lovely countryside of Forest Mere. The walks enabled her to gather thoughts about her writings without interruptions from her disapproving husband.

[Interesting that this negative view of Flora's relationship with her husband is not entirely shared by the Leggetts — JOS]

Contact: John Owen Smith for further information.

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