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Up in the wind

Updated: Nov 26, 2023

" I could wring the old thing's neck that put it there! A public-house! It may be public for birds, Squirrels and suchlike, ghosts of charcoal-burners And highwaymen." The wild girl laughed. " But I Hate it since I came back from Kennington. I gave up a good place." Her cockney accent Made her and the house seem wilder by calling up — Only to be subdued at once by wildness — The idea of London there in that forest parlour, Low and small among those towering beeches And the one bulging butt that's like a font. Her eyes flashed up; she shook her hair away From eyes and mouth, as if to shriek again; Then sighed back to her scrubbing. While I drank I might have mused of coaches and highwaymen, Charcoal-burners and life that loves the wild. For who now used these roads except myself, A market waggon every other Wednesday, A solitary tramp, some very fresh one Ignorant of these eleven houseless miles, A motorist from a distance slowing down To taste whatever luxury he can In having North Downs clear behind, South clear before, And being midway between two railway lines Far out of sight or sound of them? There are Some houses — down the by-lanes; and a few Are visible — when their damsons are in bloom. But the land is wild, and there's a spirit of wildness Much older, crying when the stone-curlew yodels His sea and mountain cry, high up in Spring. He nests in fields where still the gorse is free as When all was open and common. Common 'tis named And calls itself, because the bracken and gorse Still hold the hedge where plough and scythe have chased them. Once on a time 'tis plain that 'The White Horse' Stood merely on the border of a waste Where horse or cart picked its own course afresh. On all sides then, as now, paths ran to the inn; And now a farm-track takes you from a gate. Two roads cross, and not a house in sight Except 'The White Horse' in this clump of beeches. It hides from either road, a field's breadth back; And it's the trees you see, and not the house, Both near and far, when the clump's the highest thing And homely, too, upon a far horizon To one who knows there is an inn within. " 'Twould have been different" the wild girl shrieked, " suppose That widow had married another blacksmith and Kept on the business. This parlour was the smithy. If she had done, there might never have been an inn: And I, in that case, might never have been born. Years ago, when this was all a wood And the smith had charcoal-burners for company, A man from a beech-country in the shires Came with an engine and a little boy (To feed the engine) to cut up timber here. It all happened years ago. The smith Had died, his widow had set up an alehouse — I could wring the old thing's neck for thinking of it. Well, I suppose they fell in love, the widow And my great-uncle that sawed up the timber: Leastways they married. The little boy stayed on. He was my father." She thought she'd scrub again, — "I draw the ale, and he grows fat" she muttered — But only studied the hollows in the bricks And chose among her thoughts in stirring silence. The clock ticked, and the big saucepan lid Heaved as the cabbage bubbled, and the girl Questioned the fire and spoke: "My father, he Took to the land. A mile of it is worth A guinea; for by that time all the trees Except those few about the house were gone: That's all that's left of the forest unless you count The bottoms of the charcoal-burners' fires — We plough one up at times. Did you ever see Our signboard?" No. The post and empty frame I knew. Without them I could not have guessed The low grey house and its one stack under trees Was a public-house and not a hermitage. "But can that empty frame be any use? Now I should like to see a good white horse Swing there, a really beautiful white horse, Galloping one side, being painted on the other." "But would you like to hear it swing all night And all day? All I ever had to thank The wind for was for blowing the sign down. Time after time it blew down and I could sleep. At last they fixed it, and it took a thief To move it, and we've never had another: It's lying at the bottom of our pond. But no one's moved the wood from off the hill There at the back, although it makes a noise When the wind blows, as if a train was running The other side, a train that never stops Or ends. And the linen crackles on the line Like a wood fire rising." "But if you had the sign You might draw company. What about Kennington?" She bent down to her scrubbing with "Not me. Not back to Kennington. Here I was born, And I've a notion on these windy nights Here I shall die. Perhaps I want to die here. I reckon I shall stay. But I do wish The road was nearer and the wind farther off, Or once now and then quite still, though when I die I'd have it blowing that I might go with it Somewhere distant, where there are trees no more And I could wake and not know where I was Nor even wonder if they would roar again. Look at those calves." Between the open door And the trees two calves were wading in the pond, Grazing the water here and there and thinking, Sipping and thinking, both happily, neither long. The water wrinkled, but they sipped and thought, As careless of the wind as it of us. " Look at those calves. Hark at the trees again."

Up in the Wind is Edward Thomas's first poem. Its subject is The White Horse, better known as The Pub With No Name, in Priors Dean, near Colemore, on the Froxfield plateau - a couple of miles from his study and a mile and a half further from his house in Steep. It was a pub he visited occasionally and from these visits he had become acquainted with the barmaid who's the main voice in the poem. She had left (either temporarily or permanently) and, according to a prose piece he wrote before the poem, he had only discovered the pub's history subsequently from her father, the landlord, on a more recent visit.

That meeting took place on October 22nd 1914, recorded on the last page of his field note book (FNB77). It includes other details of his visit that day which suggest why the subject gained the prominence that it did for Thomas - becoming first a descriptive prose piece, The White Horse, written in November and, subsequently, his first poem in December.

The entry reads:

"White Horse (insert highest pub in Hants) once a smithy (one Mr White - a good smith): then a f(ar)m held by a widow whom Brown’s uncle (insert from Buckinghamshire) married. Then outdoor license: then full. Uncle had 2 cylinder engine to cut up beech for chairs etc: much beech here formerly - in ploughing you find remains of charcoal burning (used for hops). Ground worth guinea a mile. B(rown) used to pick up beech chips to feed the engine (no coal used?) a portable 2 cylinder, for cutting up beech for Windsor chairs etc. Beech & ash outside: remember cockney girl’s anger w(ith) old woman who built it."

From the 1911 census the father, the landlord, was probably Richard Brown in his mid-forties and his daughter, the barmaid, Violet Brown (called Minnie when she was younger) who was in her mid-twenties. There is some uncertainty about the identity of the old woman, the “old thing” whose neck the wild girl wanted to wring. It could have been Charlotte Brown who was a widow of 81 and head of the household and the innkeeper in the 1911 census. However she had been born in Wendover, Bucks, and had been married to Job Brown, also from Buckinghamshire, from the 1850s. The Browns’ predecessors as innkeepers were the Saunders. Joseph Saunders, also from Buckinghamshire, had married Elizabeth, born in Froxfield in 1821. So Elizabeth was probably the local widow who held the farm, and then married the uncle from Bucks who was skilled in woodworking. If correct, as a result of the family connection with Joseph Saunders, the family of Browns, came south to Hampshire, first as wood sawyers and subsequently working the farm and taking over as innkeepers at Priors Dean.

On the day of his visit in late October, a Thursday, ET spent time in his study at the top of Ashford Hangers. It was a mainly rainy morning and he noted as usual how the view and the visibility of the South Downs from his eyrie changed moment by moment. He then walked over to the White Horse, about 2 miles, noting the damsons being eaten by thrushes and starlings in the hedgerows “before the sign” (presumably the famous empty frame where the White Horse sign had been, before being dumped in the pond).

He also noted on the way along the main road across the Froxfield plateau,

“Harebell by gorse & rdside leading to White Horse; also crabs on ground & pale large scabious.”

At the White Horse, he noted a “Merry England mixture” of ales, including not only an Old English Ale but also Xmas ales already being sold in October.

The local hunt was meeting at the inn, with the hounds in fine voice - almost certainly the Hambledon Hunt (their successors, the Hursley Hambledon still meet there). We don’t know whether this was chance or, more likely, the reason for his visit in the middle of the day. He wrote:

“Hounds meet musical, but few foxes says huntsman: others see plenty.”

Clearly the huntsman was attempting to manage the hunt followers’ expectations!

Intriguingly the next entry makes some reference to gossip about one of the great local houses - Up Park - presumably picked up by ET at the meet:

“Scandal about Featherstonhaugh & butler in laurels at Up Park & some “images” ?(ET’s)”

Because of a lack of direct male heirs, the name Fetherstonhaugh (pronounced Fanshaw) had been taken first by the sister of the childless chatelaine, Mary Ann Fetherstonhaugh, Miss Fanny (Frances) Bullock, who adopted the name Fetherstonhaugh. On her death in 1895 the estate had passed on to two of her close friends in turn. The first was The Hon. Keith Turnour, who also assumed the name Fetherstonhaugh. He was a second son and a Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Rifle Corp, married but childless. He was master of Up Park from 1895 to 1931.

The final entry on the FNB’s last page is almost word for word what he drew on for the ending of the poem:

“Calves drinking - grazing the water here & there at intervals & thinking, & at last going out & standing still on bank thinking.”

At the top of the page above the final October 22nd entry is


Used to want to invent tales worthy. Now I want to hear wh(at) actually happened there.”

This was very much related to this visit. In his prose piece on The White Horse he concluded: “it is one of the pleasantest rooms in Hampshire, well deserving the footpaths which lead men to it from all directions over ploughland and meadows, and deserving as good a story as man could write.” So in the prose piece and the poem, he managed to combine both what actually happened there with a tale worthy of the place.

Besides the entries for 22nd October, ET used other entries in his next field note book (FNB 79) for incidental detail in the poem. Some of these relate directly to the White Horse and the road that passes it by; others he used, magpie-like, from other contemporary entries. So the reference to the market waggon that passed every other Wednesday came from a lift he’d been given by a farmer going to market early on November 25th (a Wednesday), further along the same road that passes the White Horse towards Alton (and the first leg of his journey to visit the Frosts in Gloucestershire for the fifth time that year). A few days earlier he had also met a solitary tramp, likely to be benighted, going up Stoner Hill heading towards Alton along the same road, the inspiration for the poem, Man and Dog. The man was certainly not fresh and seems to have known the country well, but may have put ET in mind of tramps with less experience crossing the plateau.

On November 23rd he described what he could hear from his study “All day the Hangers sound as if an endless train were passing the other side of the hill”. Other details came from further away “the bulging butt that’s like a font” he’d actually seen outside the “Horse shoe” Inn at Broom Green, Dymock in Gloucestershire while staying with the Frosts on 27th November and he’d drawn it in his notebook. The same day at Ryton, the village where he was staying in Gloucestershire, he’d described:“the line (of linen) violently blowing in wind crackle like a rising wood fire.”

At the back of FNB 79 he jotted down some of his early ideas for poems including some draft ideas for Up in the Wind:

“I cd wring the old girls neck

that put it here

A public house! (Charcoal burners)

(Insert) But she’s dead long ago

by buying up & quite subduing

The idea of London

Two pths crossed & never a rd in sight

(& 2 others)

Trees roaring like a train

without an end

Only a motorist from far away

or marketers in carts once a fortnight

Or a few fresh tramps ignorant

of the houselessness “

Besides the poetic ideas and the observations of the natural world, weather and scenery, these last field note books are full of observations of the impact of the war on England. During the autumn, many entries in the Field Note Book 79 were about visits to local places - Winchester, Liss, the West Meon Hut, Selborne, Guildford - meeting soldiers in pubs, overhearing war news, rumour and gossip; bemoaning of the restrictions on alcohol sales and pub opening times; and hearing of English soldiers misbehaving at home and the barbarism of the Germans at war.

As a leading poetry critic and an incipient poet, the war as a topic for poetry was very much in ET’s mind in those early days of the war. He had already written pieces about the impact of war - This England published in The Nation and Tipperary and It's a Long, Long Way for the English Review, based on trips to the North of England and Wales in September. As a poet he was never to write overtly about his experience of war. He justified the avoidance of it as a subject of poetry in an argument he rehearsed on the page opposite the embryonic draft of Up in the Wind in FNB 79:

“The war national but as yet dark & chaotic in brain - eg no good poems early in Nap(oleanic) wars. Some writers can’t go on w(ith) old work but no reason why they sh(oul)d at once be able to admit war into subject matter. Poetry except of cheapest kind shows this dark chaotic character.

“People expressing all sorts of views & trumping up old canting catchwords, but not yet the compact essential real truth true to this occasion alone.

“Statesmen may say “No price too high when honour & freedom are at stake” etc. But it can’t be translated into poetry.”

His visit to The White Horse must have been a welcome reminder of a pre-war, unchanged England. For a time he could forget about the war, drink Merry England beer at a hunt meet, gossip about a local landowner, while satisfying his curiosity about the history of a family and an inn he had known for a number of years. The Pub with No Name’s position and story was a true tale, worthy of the telling, a fitting subject for his first poem.

A walk

Edward Thomas would have used the road to walk between his study and The Pub with No Name that October day. As he described it in the poem, the road was quite empty with little traffic. Sadly that is no longer a good option as cars now speed along its length.

A better, though longer route is to walk up Cockshott Lane, away from the road and take the right along Old Litten Lane, which is embowered with oaks, and has an occasional glimpse over the lip of Oakshott hangers to the east and north.

Reaching its junction with Honeycritch Lane where the old Methodist Chapel was, you take a right and then an immediate left on to a path over fields towards Warren Corner. At Warren Corner you go right along road and then left along a footpath opposite the fork down Warren Lane. This footpath takes you up eventually to The Pub With No Name.

As you progress up the path the view to the North and East, up towards Guildford, widens and extends. The path has an absence of trees or other cover and being on the top ridge of the plateau has a feeling of space and light especially on a sunny day with the land falling imperceptibly away and the large hills of the south country in the far distance on the horizon. It's a world where the sky proves its dominance over the earth (cf another early ET poem, November which was inspired by the countryside close by).

The clump of beech trees, all that was left of the original forest in ET's day, still looms over the pub and is a landmark that can be seen distinctly from different approaches. There is still a flurry of paths meeting at the pub but less so than on the old maps. The pub is the highest in Hampshire with extensive views. Its surrounding area has still some of the wildness and remoteness that ET describes, lots of bracken, but no gorse. The pond where the calves waded is now choked with bullrushes, but the wind remains a constant presence in the trees, even on a calm autumn day.

On the way back you follow the lane at the end of the pub's drive. Here you get far views west and south to the South Downs. Crossing the main road on to Barnet side you follow it down to the cross roads with Claypit Lane, turning left up past Ragmore Farm and then along the Green Lane, the inspiration for ET's penultimate poem The Lane' (see previous post) which describes his blackberrying there with Helen, his wife, nearly a year after this. At the end of the Lane you cross over the main road and go down Warren Lane to Warren Corner and then follow the path on the right back to your starting point in Cockshott Lane.

Maps and Acknowledgements

The OS map for Froxfield and Priors Dean OS Explorer OL33 Haslemere & Petersfield

Field Note Books copyright Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection, New York

The Pub with No Name or The White Horse has recently been reopened (November 2023) and is recommended for lunch, drink or supper. More detail can be found here:

My thanks as ever to Ben Mackay for editorial support.

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