On this dull dank day I took yesterday’s walk in reverse. In Minstead village there is field containing two ponies which are often seen by the gate, at this time fetlock-deep in water-filled well-drilled hoofprints. Nearby buckets perhaps contain some kind of food supplement for these animals leaving the slightly drier centre field to watch the world go by. The wooden stile has a signpost alongside it indicating a public footpath across the land. I doubt anyone has trodden it for some months. Yesterday afternoon a couple were strewing sawdust over the pools. I asked if they were ‘trying to make that passable’. ‘For the horses’, the man replied. Hoping he didn’t think I was daft enough to venture onto the footpath, I made it clear I knew it was for the horses. Mind you, this did remind me of soggy cricketing afternoons when sawdust was called for to give the bowlers a bit of purchase, as we wiped the red surface from the ball onto damp rags instead of the thighs of our flannels. Today, the brown horse was looking over the gate, its black companion preferring to remain in the field.
On my way through London Minstead I stopped and chatted to Geoff Brown who was mending his fence. This very friendly man invited me to knock on his door any time I was passing, when he would be happy to give me coffee. He did not know the origin of Seamans Lane, but he, too, directed me to Nick on the brow of the hill. I knocked on Nick’s door. He was out, but his wife, Jeanie Mellersh, was very welcoming and we had a long talk. Geoff had told me she was an artist, so she really should know the truth of the most startling information she gave me. She thought Nick would not know a great deal about Seamans, but they knew a man who would. This was Steve Cattell who lives opposite the village shop. He runs the local history group which she recommended to me. She didn’t know the truth of the press gang story. She had heard another tale the veracity of which she could not vouch for either. This was that Seamans Lodge was a home for old sailors. There is in fact a Seamans Lodge, not visible from the road, behind Seamans Cottages.
The information she gave me that did ring true, however, concerned Grinling Gibbons. This seventeenth century Englishman, born and educated in Holland, who settled in England and became what many people consider the greatest woodcarver of all time is known for his realistic and intricate representation of flowers, fruit, and birds. These are often bas relief in a vertical format, much like the carved mantelpiece above the fireplace in the communal entrance hall of our wing of Castle Malwood Lodge. When I told her where I lived, Jeanie asked me if there was still a grand entrance hall with a white painted mantelpiece. This, she told me, was by Grinling Gibbons. We certainly agreed that Sir W. Harcourt, for whom the house was built, would have been rich enough to have imported the carving from an earlier source. Whatever the fabric under the many layers of paint on this piece, it is certainly reminiscent of Gibbons.
I may be no wiser about the origin of Seamans, but the search for it is already proving fruitful. Jackie Googled the word this evening and discovered it to be a surname of Anglo-Saxon origin mentioned in the Doomsday Book. Given the inland nature of the New Forest this makes sense to me. But we still have to verify this as pertinent to our Lane.
This afternoon we visited The Firs and partook of Danni’s succulent sausage casserole followed by Elizabeth’s excellent apple and plum crumble. Various red wines, Hoegaarden and Coke were drunk by the assembled company.