Marjorie T Johnson
In my early childhood before the 1914-18 war, my elder sister and I spent much of our time in Colwick woodland, and it was not until many years later that it was opened to the public. To us, it was a veritable wonderland, and we were privileged to play there because we knew the children who lived at Colwick Park Farm (long since demolished), which stood on the top of the hill and was part of the Colwick Hall Estate. To reach it, we used to go through a wide farm-gate nearly opposite Jarvis Avenue — where we lived in a house surrounded by allotment gardens — at the “— lower end of what is now Oakdale Road on the Bakersfield Housing Estate, and we’d climb up a rough, grass-verged track which became the present Ashdale Road. Parallel to this, on the right-hand side, there was at that time a leafy lane called ‘Gypsy Lane’, which curved ‘round to join the top part of the woods, and in it we children found remnants of stone columns and ironwork, and also an ancient type of white rose-bush. On following the old woodland path we found further traces of stone and ironwork, all indicating that long ‘before the Colwick Hall Estate was cut in two by Colwick Road and the railway line, this had been a carriage-way leading through the woods and down to Colwick Hall. The farmhouse and stockyards extended along the top end of what is now Ripon Road, at the side of the present Jesse Boot School. It was once a grassy lane leading straight from the farm to the woodland, and in June its right-hand hedgerow was tangled with pink and white bindweed, wild roses, and fragrant meadowsweet. One of the farmworkers lived with his wife in the heart of the woodland in a building which used to be the Musters’ deer-house. Conditions there were very primitive, and the couple had to manage with the light of a candle at night. All the water had to be fetched from a nearby spring, and when my sister asked how they managed for bath-water in the freezing weather, she received the prompt retort: “Folks don’t have baths in winter!”
In those days before some of the beautiful, friendly old trees were cut down and the blackberry and elder bushes were thinned, there were foxes, rabbits and partridges. The bird song was glorious, and we would lie on our backs to watch the skylarks soaring into the blue. Ringdoves and pigeons haunted the woodland, and every year we would listen for the first call of the cuckoo. The place was a paradise for bees, butterflies and grasshoppers, and in the Spring the valley would be white with daisies, and festive with the blossom of crab-apple, wild cherry and pink and white may. Snowdrops, violets, wood-anemones and primroses grew in what we called the “Bluebell Wood’, and in the top clover- field buttercups, cowslips and many other varieties of wild flowers could be found. There were several types of grasses, our favourite being the delicate ‘quaking- grass’; and looking dark and mysterious under the shade of the trees was a small watercress pond, fringed with reeds. Clad in our oldest clothes, we would climb and roll to our hearts’ content. We had to use our creative imagination to provide us with entertainment, for we knew nothing, then, of television, transistor radios, or computers. Our pocket-money did not allow for many sweets, so for refreshment we would each take along with us a carrot or an apple. Every season brought its fresh delights, and we were never bored. During one of our explorations we discovered a large brick venison-cave set in one of the hillsides, its entrance concealed by thick, overgrown bushes. On three occasions we were chased by bulls, but that only added spice to our adventures. In a corner of the woodland was Saville Spinney, where William Saville cut the throats of his wife and three children, in 1844. It was an eerie place, and among the trees was an old pump, which we viewed with trepidation because the murderer was said to have washed his hands there after. committing the crime During the first world war there were soldiers camping in one of the farm fields. The searchlight was erected on a hill in the woodland and one night it was damaged by enemy action, though for security reasons few people were told of it and many wondered why its beam was not searching the sky for the zeppelins. The next morning we rushed to see whether the inhabitants of the old deer-house were safe There was a huge crater nearby, and the ground was littered with shrapnel, some of which had gone through the cottage roof Fortunately the couple bad come to no harm, and when someone remarked, “You must have been terrified when the bomb fell,” the man answered calmly: “Nay, I weren’t frightened, but my old gel was”. We got on very well with the soldiers there They borrowed our piano for their concerts, and in the winter we would have exciting rides down the slopes, in the captain’s large sledge. One day we nearly gave our parents heart failure when they caught us riding on the ammunition wagon. When some of the Belgium refugees arrived in Nottingham we became friendly with two of the families and used to take them for walks in the woods and surrounding fields. Between the first and second world wars Colwick woodland, though scarred. regained some of its former tranquility. but my sister and I cherish memories of those early days, when it seemed to have a special, magical charm. When one loves a place deeply, it takes one to its heart and reveals its secrets. To us, as children, this was such a place.