Dewponds and red flags

Continuing to share John Sainsbury’s oral history memories, we will focus this time on his memories of Salisbury Plain. This is a large expanse of chalk upland, part of which is found in the parishes of Market Lavington and Easterton. There were remote hill farms up there in both our parishes, until the army took over the area for military training. This acquisition of land began in the late 1890s. (Now the army training area on Salisbury Plain is the same size as the whole of the Isle of Wight.)

The postcard of Pond Farm, on the plain above Easterton, dates from 1905, when the farm buildings were still in existence.

It gives an idea of the terrain. Of course, there were no natural ponds on permeable chalk, so the farms were reliant on dewponds. (See Mr Stowe on pond making, Sybil Perry on pond digging and How to make a dewpond.)

John Sainsbury’s boyhood spanned the 1930s and 1940s, when the farms on the plain were no more. However, he recollected going up there to collect newts and frogspawn from the dewponds.

To this day, there is some limited access on tracks on the plain, but not when the red flags are flying. John said that, on one occasion, he went over the hill at Easterton to a wood where there had been a cottage and dewpond. The red flag was flying and he and his friends were soon spotted. Someone drove over to them on a motor bike and made them run back to the look out tower at Lavington.

For further information about the plain above Market Lavington and Easterton see Cultivating Salisbury Plain, MEMORIES OF SALISBURY PLAIN, Pond Farm – then and now, Pond Farm and Joshua Hampton’s farm records.

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