Such a pronounced community spirit

So proud to possess such a pronounced community spirit


IT’S definitely not Ow-slebury and its certainly not Ussle-bury. It’s Uzzlebury… with a “zzz”.


Some villages will tell you, that’s the proper “Ampshire way to pronounce the name of the remote hilltop village that runs higgledy-piggledy along a lofty chalk ridge south-east of Winchester.


There are few places in Hampshire so secluded. It may only be a few miles from Eastleigh and 5 miles from Winchester, but it feels much further as the lanes twist through numerous wooded blind corners.

That isolation helps explain why the local pronunciation clings on, but also why homes in the village are now so highly sought. The many incomers of recent years prize not only the seclusion, but also the proximity to the M3 and M27 and the fast rail link to London.


Like every country village, the last 50 years have seen the immense changes, but there have been none greater than in Owslebury. Such basics as running water, flushing toilets and electricity only came to the village after World War II as the older villagers remember.


The modern day complaint is that many villages are simply dormitories. But many Owslebury residents battled to keep the fires of community spirit burning. It would be impossible in the early 21st century for the village to have retained the close-knit spirit that saw the annual pantomime full of raucous laughter at the in jokes that everyone in the village understood because everyone in the village knew everyone else’s business.


In those days, almost all locals worked on the farms or on the estates of the 2 large mansions Marwell Hall and Longwood house.


But, for a place of only some 800 people, and an estimated 1,100 horses, there is a lot going on. Yes, the Scouts, Guides, Brownies and drama group have all gone, but much remains.


Sport, such as the cricket club, is thriving and the new youth club, only set up last month, meet on Thursday evenings, and already has 11 members. The keep fit club is 25 years old, while there’s a weekly table tennis club, too. The toddler group meets on Monday morning and is fundraising to improve the playpark.


The community spirit still exists, but people have to work harder to nurture it. They are in Owslebury, helped by the fact that the village has managed to support a pub, The Ship, and a village hall, as will as St Andrews Church. Sadly, the last shop in the main road closed around 20 years ago.


Catherine Fox, chairman of Owslebury and Morestead Community Association, said: “Communities have changed, people are more mobile now; they work longer hours and further away. To get community spirit going needs work. People say we used to have a WI, Brownies and a village show.


“Villagers changed and evolved. But Owslebury is fighting back against the apathy. It is a fantastic place to live. It is a little sleepy, but it is beautiful with such a mixture of people.”


OMCA has been pivotal to starting things are. It organises regular trips for older villagers, in collaboration with Age Concern, and other social events. The village Hall is a key place; it recently hosted a near sell-out show by Iestyn Edwards under the Hog the Limelight programme to bring high class entertainment to the village. Every 2 years, the association organises and art and craft exhibition.


Mrs Fox added: “it is hard work, but it can be done. I feel quite passionate about the community. A community is not just the people, it is also the facilities. We have a church, a school, a pub and a village hall.”


OMCA has helped set up the youth club for youngsters from year 7 to 15 years.


“We are not recreating things from the past. We are updating things that are needed in the community. What I like is that if you help to start something, it takes off, like the toddler group that has raised a lot of money for better facilities,” said Mrs Fox.


Anthony Manship, chairman of the parish council, said, “it was helping to boost village life through its website: “it works well to help pull the village together. I am very pleased with the way it has taken off.”


The newsletter editor Miranda Sprot and Siobhan Hand, also helps fill the gap left by the lack of a shop acting as a noticeboard for the village.


A key function in any village is that the local historian, someone with a passion for the past. Betty Hartfield fills the role in Owslebury, often helping people, some from Australia and New Zealand to trace their roots.


Her passion stems from finding a box full of cuttings collected by her mother in law. A resident since the early 1950s, her family are part of the continuity of the village; her son, Richard, is the 3rd generation of Harfields to look after the village recreation ground.


“People come and go so quickly these days. Hardly anyone stops and speaks,” she said.


Mrs Harfield laughs about the recent, Hampshire Chronicle story recounting how Owslebury residents until the mid 20th century had something of a reputation of being inbred idiots.


“Owslebury or so remote, until the car and electricity arrived, that nobody wanted to come and live here. It was so remote that it had to be self sufficient. That’s where the “village of idiots” idea came from.”


Owslebury still has a whiff of workplace to it; not all the village has been gentrified. There is a forge Owslebury Bottom, run by David Povey. Sue Tull has a stall in the main road, selling flowers growing by her husband, Gerry, on five acres behind their home.


She said: “All villages have changed. I have been here about 20 years. A lot of people don’t get involved. A lot of things have faded; but people are trying to get things going.” Her husband said it was said that the village had changed, so no longer were cocks heard crowing at 5 AM or cows moving: “but I like it. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else; All other places are worse!”

Article written by Andrew Napier, photograph taken by Paul Collins and published by the Hampshire Chronicle

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