A dispute arose in Ropley about 100 years ago as to which farmer possessed the best team of waggon horses. The trial decided upon was this - whichever team could bring a stone from Bridestone Lane in the shortest time should be accounted the best. This was put to the test. The waggons started off early in the morning at the same moment. The best and second best brought their stones home in triumph to the music of the horses' bells. One was placed close to Hall Place on the Petersfield Road, and the other at the corner of Dunstan's Lane*. Both are still remaining. I have been told by some of the old people that these stones have grown in size since they were placed in these spots !
* Many of the villagers have always called it Dunsell's Lane.
There is, not far from here, a lane with overhanging woods on either side of it - a beautiful spot. It is called Bridestone Lane and is on the right hand side of the main road between Farringdon and Chawton as one comes into Ropley. The story concerning it is as follows :-
"Once upon a time" there was a wedding, and the terrible mistake (as it turned out) was made of not inviting the Fairies of the neighbourhood to the festivities. On the way home from church the whole wedding party was turned into stones !
These large blocks of conglomerate may still be seen by the lane side.
From Mr. Woodhouse's Note-Book.
A man was found in a dying state under a hedge in a blind lane not far from the Soke. He was put in a cart to be taken to the Union, but died on the way. The body was taken to William Barnard's of The Chequers. An inquest was held at which it was proved that the deceased had been known by sight to many people for some years past, but no one knew his name, his age or his history. He was buried the same afternoon, October 20th, 1872. His coffin bore no inscription of any kind. The coroner's warrant described him as a man to the jurors unknown. And I accordingly entered him in the Register as "A man unknown." He had often been seen in the village. One man said that he remembered him for 14 years but never knew even his name. When the body was examined for the inquest the surgeon's opinion was that death was caused by hunger and exposure. The weather was not cold for the season, but extremely wet and stormy. He had called at the public-house at Four Marks the day before, and had some bread and cheese and beer which were given him. It is said that when the landlady asked him what his parish was he evaded the question.
An old woman who died but a short time ago has frequently told me that a page from the New Testament eaten daily between a slice of bread and butter was an unfailing remedy for epileptic fits. She had herself, so she said, consumed nearly the whole Book in this way and was greatly benefited.
A mouse (the common house mouse) is, so I have been told, an excellent remedy for certain diseases, provided that the patient is not allowed to suspect its nature. It must be carefully disguised, "camouflaged," as we should now say, previous to being set before him. Should he discover the pious fraud, such a remedy will be unavailing.
It used to be said that some hairs cut off a donkey's back just where the cross appears, and sewn up in a bag, which was to be hung round the sick child's neck, would cure whooping cough.
The word "Street," as here used, and which we have in North Street, South Street, etc., is of much interest and of very ancient origin. It no doubt dates from Anglo Saxon times, when straet signified a track or way through a village or hamlet without there being of necessity more than a few scattered tenements on one or both sides of it. The term is chiefly used (as I believe) in Kent, Hampshire and Sussex.
I am often asked the meaning and origin of the word "Soke." There is a Soke also in Alresford and in Winchester as well as in Ropley. I am not absolutely clear as regards all the details. The word is derived from the Anglo-Saxon Soc - a liberty or freedom, and its origin must date from Saxon times.
The History of Hampshire gives us the following :-
"There were for all practical purposes two Winchesters, existing side by side, and one indeed partly containing the other. There was the municipal Winchester, the city properly so called, and there was the ecclesiastical Winchester, which was quite distinct from it, in civil, as well as ecclesiastical government. This was the Bishop's Soke. In London a similar example occurred, where the Bishop's Soke included the Ward of Cornhill. In the Soke the Bishop had his own court and his own civil officers."
The Railway line from Alton to Winchester was opened in 1865. Before that time Alton was the nearest station.
When the railway was being constructed, a small stone coffin of Saxon origin was found in a cutting just beyond the Soke. Some of the remaining pieces of the coffin were placed near the Font and the head portion was left in the Vestry.
In former years there was no postal delivery beyond Gilbert Street, the letters remaining in the window of Heath's (now Mr. Harding's) shop till called for - I have known them to stay there for over a week.
The C.E.T.S. was started here by the Rev. Thomas Woodhouse, who was himself the first to take the pledge of total abstinence, in 1877.
The Mothers' Union was started in 1888, when Mrs. Sumner gave the inaugural address.
This old barn, which only a few years ago was still standing on the Petersfield Road in a small enclosure exactly opposite the turning to Merryfield, was always said to be haunted, but it is only recently, when reading some notes made by the Rev. Thomas Woodhouse, that I have learned the reason for such a tradition.
He says : "Mr. Lillywhite" (himself an old man at that time) "tells me that in his father's time a party of tramps, consisting of a father, mother, and several children, asked leave to sleep in one of the buildings at the Red Barn. They were allowed to do so, but about two o'clock they came up to Lyewood in great consternation saying that they could neither sleep nor return to the barn, having been disturbed by unearthly noises and the clanking of chains.
"One of the Tolfrees hanged himself there some years before with a chain."
To introduce into these village anecdotes any subject so gruesome as the following may, perhaps, appear needless and out of place, nevertheless the fact that two such crimes were perpetrated, on almost the same spot, separated from each other by an interval of about 90 years, is too remarkable to be passed over.
Both of these occurred on the wooded hill close on the confines of Ropley Parish, which descends from Bramdean into the main Winchester road. The first was that of a letter-carrier who was shot for the sake of about three shillings which he was supposed to have about him. Several persons from Ropley who saw the man washing his hands in the pond at Parkside were conveyed in a farm wagon to the County Assizes at Winchester as witnesses in the case. I have been told that at the time of his execution many Ropley people were present. The outlines of a man depending from a gallows, roughly traced by some rustic hand, could, until recently, be seen upon a large beech-tree near the spot.
The second tragedy was that of a young girl who was found shot on the same spot about 90 years later.