These memories of the Hurtwood come from people who lived and enjoyed it during the 20th century. Beattie Plaw’s memories were recorded for the Heathland Countryside Management Project with funding from WWF. Tales were also provided by Nin and Jinx Tickner and Alice and Gerald Madgwick.
“The people up above Gasson weren’t real gypsies, they called themselves Heath-ers – ‘the people who lived on the heath’ and they were always there from generation to generation. They were supposed to be descendants of the Danes who were defeated at the Battle of Ockley and took to the hills, but they weren’t fair-haired people, they were mostly dark, so that answer was open to doubt – but it’s a lovely story.” Beattie Plaw.
“The gypsies were lovely people on the common – the old gypsies – one was called Dark Liza. They made clothes pegs and they used to come down in the village and sell them quite cheaply and everybody in the village used to keep a cup and saucer specially for old Dark Liza when she called – she was never turned away.” Nin Tickner.
“They lived in tents – under the benders – that’s where ‘come under the benders’ comes from. You bend the branches over and then throw a bit of tarpaulin or somebody’s old mac over it, and then leaf it again (with the leafy parts of the branches) and then it gradually mouldied down – almost like thatching in a way. It was always safe as houses to go up where the gypsies were.” Jinx Tickner.
“When people used to cut the bracken all along the back of their boundaries – at the back of their gardens – they cut it for apple pies. No, not that sort of pie! For storage through the winter – apple pies and potato pies. They used to bury them. They’d dig a hole - because you can’t dig very deep up at Holmbury before you come into sandstone – so they’d just scrape away and dig down about a spit (that’s the depth of a shovel) and then pile it up round the side to make a ring. Then they would line the hold with bracken and put their potatoes or apples in and cover it up with lots more bracken and then put earth on top of it and that was their store for the winter. Even if they stored their apples in a shed, it was always stored in bracken ‘cause that was just as good as straw and straw was a job it get.” Gerald Madgwick
“The heather was very tall. They used to use it quite a lot for thatching the outhouses. The men used to split the tree-trunks down into lengths like planks and make log shed and thatched them with heather. It lasted for a good many years, because I can remember people renewing the thatch but it wasn’t a thing that happened very often.” Beattie Plaw