Taking a nostalgic trip back in time to the 17th century

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Stepping inside the thatched cottage, it takes a while for your eyes to adjust to the flickering candlelight.

There’s a woman stooped near a wood fire, making a warming vegetable broth (it’s Lent so no meat). In the corner, a man sips ale from a tankard.

Villagers in the ale house at Little Woodham. ''Picture: Allan Hutchings (13694-280)

Villagers in the ale house at Little Woodham. ''Picture: Allan Hutchings (13694-280)

The 21st century is left outside. Because this is Little Woodham, the village experience tucked away in the middle of Gosport where everybody lives in 1642.

First constructed by the English Civil War Society in 1982, the village had two buildings and was used as a temporary exhibition. Two years later, and fearing the village would be lost, some of the local people formed the Gosport Living History Society to look after it.

More than 30 years on and the GLHS is now a registered charity with all members of the village acting as volunteers. It’s in the historical parish of Rowner and allied to the nearby Grange Farm, which existed in the 17th century.

One volunteer is 61-year-old Roger Towner, the chairman of the society, who has been involved for more than 20 years.

Working with the Marine Coastguard Agency and living in Southampton, Roger is at the village as much as he can and plays the character of the local barber surgeon, who would have cut hair, pulled teeth and performed surgery on the village residents in the 1600s.

He says: ‘When the new society was formed they set the date of the village experience in 1642, which is right at the start of England’s Civil War. I first visited it in the early 1990s and I just loved it from the start. It seemed like such a good thing to do. It’s a lot of fun dressing up and feeling like you’re part of history.’

With authentic 17th century cottages and buildings, Little Woodham is home to a range of volunteers who play different roles in the community. When visitors explore the buildings they will bump into different characters who will talk about their lives.

Andrew Figgins, who’s 59 and lives in Portchester, has been involved with the society and village for the past 23 years and volunteers as the secretary. Little Woodham is full of different trades to discover and learn about, he explains.

‘There are lots of jobs that people wouldn’t know today. There’s a cordwainer, which is a shoemaker, a wheelwright, which is a man that makes the wheels, and a blacksmith.

‘There’s also a scribe because a lot of people couldn’t read and write back then, and we also have a basketmaker.’

There’s a real anvil and a real loom so it’s as authentic as possible for anyone who visits.

Andrew adds: ‘We also have a carpenter, a weaver, a seamstress, a spinner and a dyer. There’s a potter, a washerwoman and a sawyer, which is me. I cut the wood for the village.’

Volunteers are even building a replica 17th century kiln for the pottery, which will be one of the few in Europe. They’ve already had interest in it from Holland.

Roger adds: ‘It’s all basically a first person presentation about the past and it adds to the atmosphere this way. You can watch something on TV but we prefer it in the first person, as you’re more involved.

‘You forget when you walk through the gates that you’re in the 21st century and that’s the point.’

He adds: ‘We rely heavily on the visitors’ participation. The more they ask us, the more they will know.’

The Gosport Living History Society is a registered charity and relies on the funds raised from the door entry to continue. But every day is different, as Roger explains.

‘As volunteers we come in when we can, and it can vary between eight and 30 people. Some children also take part as characters during the school holidays, and we have members from four to 85 years old.’

The society believes Little Woodham is important for the local community because it shows people about their history. For Andrew, it’s all about bringing history to life so people sit up and listen.

‘A lot of people think that others from the past were stupid, but if I’ve learned anything it is that they were far from stupid. They were very intelligent to make do with what they had.

‘It’s always important to appreciate the past and understand our heritage and where we come from.

‘In the 17th century, they were probably better than us at a lot of things, as well as being very green because nothing was wasted.’

Little Woodham is even celebrating May Day on Monday May 6 with a May Day pole, a story teller and Morris dancers – all similar to the way the day would have been celebrated back in the 17th century.

Roger says: ‘History 
will teach us about tomorrow, and we look at history to learn lessons from it.

‘It gives us a sense of place too and it reminds us what has happened before.’

KEN GREENWOOD

Ken Greenwood, who lives in Alverstoke, volunteers as the carpenter for Little Woodham. At 85, he’s the oldest member of the village and he helped to build most of the buildings on site.

He says: ‘I’ve been here for 12 years now and I came when most of the buildings had been burnt down. My profession had been in building so I thought I would do something to help them.’

Little Woodham was perfect for Ken as it combined his love of creating things and his love of history.

‘It seemed like such a good idea, and normally I’m down here every day doing something. I love that I’ve been so involved with building here, and creating is the best thing in life for me.

‘I’m glad I can do it here and it’s a lot of fun. There’s always something to do.’

PORTSMOUTH IN 1642

In September 1642, Portsmouth briefly became the centre of the Civil War that was taking place across the country – and that is the year in which Little Woodham, the 17th century village experience in Gosport, is set.

There was a war 
between the King and Parliament and most of the people in Portsmouth, including the Mayor at the time, supported Parliament. The navy also supported Parliament.

But the military governor of the town supported the King, and he was in charge of all the soldiers in the area. They were known as the Royalists, while the locals were Parliamentarians.

In August and September, Portsmouth was blockaded by sea and Parliament sent men to try to get into Portsmouth by land. Southsea Castle was taken over and the guns were used to fire into the town.

On the other side of Portsmouth in Gosport, where the village is set, the locals had joined the Parliament side and also began firing guns at the town. The military 
governor ended up surrendering and was allowed to escape.

This was the only time in the Civil War that Portsmouth saw any real action.

INFORMATION

Little Woodham, the 17th century village experience in Gosport, is now holding open days until October.

Today and tomorrow, the village is open from 10.30am until 4.30pm, although last admission is at 3.30pm. Free car parking is available.

Tickets cost £3.50 for children, £4.50 for adults and £15.50 for a family (two adults and up to three children under 16).

For more information about Little Woodham call (07407) 425241, email@littlewoodham.org.uk or go to littlewoodham.org.uk.