Hard act to follow

Stories of village life and a glimpse inside perfectly preserved cottages provide a vivid history lesson for students visiting a town in Hampshire. Sarah Scally reports

Standing in Buckler's Hard village in Hampshire, you could be forgiven for thinking you have been transported back 300 years. Cars are parked out of view and, on the face of it, there is no real evidence of 21st-century living.

Tour guides Mike Lees and Pam Ansell meet me and the group from Derwent Lodge School for Girls, in Kent. They are wearing period costumes from the early 1700s and introduce themselves as Edward Adams, the son of Henry the master shipbuilder, and his wife Mary.

"I begin in the 18th century," says Edward Adams. "Ships were finding new places and new things to trade. The first Duke of Montagu died and although he left his huge estate to his son John, there was no actual money. John did, however, have ownership of the river, so he decided to build a port and a town."

John had an idea to import sugar from St Lucia and St Vincent, but having set sail he returned empty-handed, having arrived after the French had already seized control. "John had borrowed a lot of money to start building, but no sugar meant no more building and what you see today is all that was built." Edward sweeps his hand around to highlight the two lines of cottages. "This represents just a sixteenth of the total that John had planned."

The history lesson continues as we walk past the cottages to the river.

Agamemnon, Euryalus and Swiftsure were famous ships built in here by Edward, his father and brothers, and were used during the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Agamemnon was said to be Nelson's favourite ship.

During the Second World War, the area became a hive of activity. Parts of the Mulberry Harbour were built nearby, and men and landing craft gathered here for D-Day. The girls happily follow Edward around. Although he explains that he's acting and isn't really 200 years old, you do get drawn into the stories - it's a history lesson without realising it.

Inside the museum there are models of boats and the village throughout time. "You can see tools here used for boat-building during my time," says Edward. "People can still buy these types of tools."

He explains about the daily life of people working at Buckler's Hard - working waist-high in water, sawing logs for six days a week to earn the equivalent of 45p a month. There are artefacts from the Adams family, copybooks and sketches. Records were kept so well that they chart the history of the area in great detail; in fact most of the models of people are based on real residents.

Back outside, Mary conducts a tour of the cottages to show us the differences between the two sides of the street. One side has three-storey buildings which were "where the posh people lived". The two-storey cottages on the right-hand side were for the workers and their families.

As we enter the cottage of the shipwright and his family, Mary explains that his wife Arabella was a bit of a snob. "Her daughter Martha was the only child in the village who went to school and Arabella would leave the bible by the window so that everyone who passed would realise she could read."

Mary explains that, unlike across the street, where dwellings had mud floors, Arabella's house had expensive flagstone flooring. "It was highly prized and if someone died it wasn't uncommon for them to leave their house to the first son and the flagstones to the second. The second son would then come and dig it up to take back to his own house."

Fortunately, that hasn't been allowed at Buckler's Hard, where the cottages are perfectly preserved for us to step back in time.


Buckler's Hard




SO42 7XB

Tel: 01590 614645


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