Ever since the beginning of this century, the eyes of Fred Goddard have watched over the village of Wherwell. Now in his 85th year, Fred has been a strand of living history as the village has developed and changed from an introverted dusty but happy community to the diverse place it has become today. Through all that, except for his two years of war service at the end of the 1914-18 war, Fred has remained a part of the com· munity, giving much to it and taking much enjoyment from it. In that time he has been a player, then captain, secretary and treasurer of the village cricket team. He has been Clerk of the Parish Council. He has been sec· retary of the Parochial Church Council. He has served the church as unpaid verger, then represented the church at ruri-decanal and diocesan conferences. That's without working a strenuous life outdoors at The Priory, tending his own enviable garden, and making his name as a beekeeper.
Oh, and he used to be the village's unofficial doctor as well. But we'll come to that.
Perhaps Fred's proudest moment came during the 1939-45 war when Mrs. Jenkins, the mother of Marjorie, Countess of Brecknock, introduced Fred to Lady Louis Mountbatten. "Here, Louis," she said. "Meet Goddard. He helps me run the village." Fred is suitably modest about that. But, he explains about the taking on of yet another voluntary position, that of secretary to the local Conservative Association: "Nobody else would do it." So over the years, the rollcall of posts held by the genial Fred has grown longer and longer. Not, he admits, that he was successful in all his endeavours.
"In the old days we worked for practically a starvation wage. We never had a union, so we started one. It ended up with just me and my father," he chickles. Fred was born at Dublin Farm Cottage on Boxing Day, 1899. His mother was born in the cottage he now lives in, a stone's throw from the church.
His first recollection is of his sister tipping him out of a pram as he rolled downhill when he was two.
One of four boys and three girls, he went to school at the old Church of England school which was demolished in the Thirties to make way for the present school. He left at 14, and went to work at Fullerton Grange as an undergardener. "The wage was just seven shillings a week," he recalls. "You worked six days a week and they let you off at four o'clock on Saturday. Of course, there was no television or radio, so we used to amuse ourselves with football, cricket and tennis." And though he claims tennis was always his favourite sport, Fred managed to notch up 50 years with the cricket club in the decades to come
"There was a tin hut where the village hall now stands, and there used to be the Sixpenny Hop with a small band - just a piano, violin and so on. It wasn't a regular thing but it was fun."
Fred joined up just before his 18th birthday, and went with the Devonshire Regiment as part of the army occupation to Germany. For two years he served in Schlossburg outside Cologne, but any ideas he may have had about spreading his wings after this eye-opening period were shattered when he came home again, after finishing up in charge of his company's signals.
"My mother suffered badly from rheumatism and I had an invalid sister. My father was taken bad, so I really had to keep the home going. I had a younger brother but he said that if I didn't stay then he'd leave too. So I didn't have a choice." Work wasn't easy to find and months drifted past before he was invited to help with haymaking at The Priory. He found himself with a permanent job soon after.
"I went out into the fields with the horses. You'd go to the stable at half-past five in the morning, mucking out and cleaning the horses. You'd get back in the stables about half-past three in the afternoon, then clean up and finish at five." Despite the gruelling work, and the responsibility of looking after his family, Fred says he still managed to have a good time. Even though the agricultural wage was twenty-seven shillings and the hol idays were restricted to just two days a year - Good Friday and Christmas Day. "You just accepted it," he says. And in case there is any doubt, he adds: "It was a very good life. I was happy."
In 1931 Fred's father died, and he continued to look after his crippled sister. He never married, and he moved to his present home - the house where his mother had been born - in 1940.
It was during the Second World War that Fred became, as he puts it, "the unofficial doctor of Wherwell". Already active as a member of the St. John Ambulance Brigade, he helped out with numerous duties when doctors from Andover, restricted in their movement by lack of petrol, were unable to make calls. He administered morphine injections to a patient, as well as coping with a variety of other distressing cases which war always brings.
In a life that spans the complete change of Wherwell from an enclosed country community where many families were related to each other, to the present diverse community the village has become, you might suppose Fred is happier with the old-style Wherwell. Not a bit of it.
He enjoys the prosperity which the village now has.
"Where we had pence, you now get pounds," he says. And he recalls the poverty of the church at one stage. "At morning service on a Sunday, there was myself, Colonel Jenkins, the organist and the parson. We were lucky if we got five bob in the collection box, unless the ladies from Fullerton Grange came and they'd drop in ten bob. We used to pray for them to come!" he jokes.
There is some regret that many of the old families in the village have dispersed, and he points out that of the names on the war memorial, fewer than half-a-dozen there still have families in the village. Jobs were scarce, houses became too expensive, he explains.
Fred Goddard is famous in the village for many things, among them his bees. At one stage he had twenty hives on the go, often giving his honey to older people who perhaps couldn't afford to buy it. "( packed it up a bit ago," he said. "I reckoned I'd had enough." But after all Fred had given Wherwell, were the bees about to give up on him? Not likely.
"A swarm came down and found an empty hive," he says. "Went straight in to the blinkin' place and made themselves at home again."
Such is the charm of Fred Goddard, the bees - like everyone else - are not prepared to forget him.
(By the way, he's 85 on Boxing Day!)
Wherwell Anthology XI - First published August 1984