5 April 2017
The crumbled and broken gatepost we’d found once belonged to Lake House. This was one of three houses built on the edge of the wood in Victorian times, named after the lake in its grounds. Sadly, the house is long gone but the lake remains as Westwood’s main pond, along with some of the plants that once graced the gardens. Just beyond the fallen gatepost, I could see the whateveritis we’d come to look at. Perhaps CJ would have some useful ideas about what it might be?
From a distance the little brick arch does have the look of an icehouse about it, so I can understand why people might have thought this was what it was. When you get closer though, it’s obvious the thing is far too small to have been the door to an icehouse and the back is solid, leading nowhere except, perhaps, downwards. While I took photos, CJ walked around it, hmming and scratching his head.
The back of the whateveritis is half buried under the earth and I get the feeling the front probably once was too. The brickwork is obviously old, maybe older than the house that once stood here, maybe not. It has a double layer of bricks, beautifully put together to form an arch with a champhered edge and a rounded, igloo like back. In front of it is a dip, filled with soft earth and leaves.
CJ, who could come up with nothing regarding what it might be, kindly knelt in front of it so I could get a sense of scale in my photos. He’s six foot two or three and could probably just about sit under the arch. If it was a shelter of some kind it must have been for a child or a dwarf.
We found a thick stick and poked around at the leaves to see if we could find a base. We couldn’t. The brickwork seemed to go down a long way and, short of getting a shovel and digging, there was no way to find the bottom. As I didn’t want to damage the whateveritis, I stuck to poking with the stick. There were a good six inches of dried leaves, under which was soft, damp soil.
“My best guess is that it’s some kind of conduit or drain,” I said once we’d stopped poking around. “These woods were once part of Netley Abbey grounds and there are four conduits in them somewhere, basically large banked ditches, to carry water for the fish ponds, wells and toilets of the Abbey. I can’t help thinking this might be some kind of conduit too, perhaps diverting excess water to the shore or even part of an old sewerage system?”
“Do you think it might be medieval?” He asked, his eyes wide.
“I shouldn’t think so. It’s here in plain sight right by the road so I’d think it would have been listed and documented by now if it was. It might still be connected with the Abbey, maybe a more modern addition to the aqueduct, or it could be connected to the house or the lake.”
Whatever the whateveritis is, no amount of suggestions, guesswork or supposition was going to give us any answers, so, with one last look at it, we headed off into the woods. As we walked we talked about where the house might once have been. The old maps I’d looked at before we set off didn’t really tell me much but I had an idea that a big house would not be all that near the road.
Westwood has a network of trails running through it in all directions and it’s easy to get lost there. It goes without saying I’ve been lost there more than once but even Commando, who played there as a child, has been known to lose his way there. The wisdom of wandering off into the woods may have been questionable but I had GPS maps on my phone so I was confident of finding my way out sooner or later.
We hadn’t gone very far before CJ wandered off to look at one of the odd teepee things we keep stumbling across in woods everywhere lately. Then we spotted a deep crater and he was off again scrambling down the sides in a shower of dry leaves.
“I wonder if this is a bomb crater?” he said, sounding quite excited at the idea.
“It’s possible,” I said. “The blitz map doesn’t extend this far so I couldn’t say if any bombs were dropped in the woods here but I wouldn’t be surprised. There were anti aircraft rocket launchers here for sure.”
Being old enough to remember bomb craters very well I wasn’t quite as excited and stayed at the top while he explored. While I waited for him to climb his way back out I took some photos of fungi growing on an old rotting log.
A little while after this I noticed some old bricks half buried on the edge of the trail. We stopped to look at them, thinking they might be evidence of the house. We looked around us trying to imagine a house but it was impossible.
We were still looking about for evidence of the house a little further on when CJ spotted something extremely interesting. At first we thought it was just more bricks but, when we looked more closely, it was a small circular structure, far more like the whateveritis than part of the old house.
The second whateveritis was completely sunken in the ground but, from the little we could see, it had the same double bricks and slightly champhered arch. Short of actually digging around we couldn’t find out much more but we were both convinced it was part of the same thing as the first whateveritis. My money was still on a drain or conduit of some kind. We were still none the wiser but now we had more to work with.
Our next discovery was a single brick just sitting in the middle of a patch of ivy. It was a dark grey brick and, although it looked old, it was in perfect condition. We went for a closer look and discovered it had a makers mark. Later research told me this brick had been made by Mark Henry Blanchard who had a very famous business making bricks and other architectural features between 1840 and 1892. In 1882 Blanchard moved his production to Bishops Waltham in Hampshire. Whether this brick was connected with the whateveritis’ or with the house we couldn’t tell but I would hazard a guess it was most likely the latter.
Soon after this there seemed to be bricks everywhere we looked. Every inch of ground was littered with them and I was pretty sure we had now found the site of Lake House. One mystery at least looked like it had been solved.
Eventually we stopped seeing more bricks and went back to the more usual fungi and wild flowers. In this case this meant some slightly dried out turkey tails and a whole lot of bluebells.
By now we’d gone quite some way into the woods and, as far as I could tell, the trail we were following was leading us back in the direction of the shore. We were now a long way from Lake House, although possibly still in its grounds, looking for bluebells rather than bricks. Ahead we could see a crossroads in the trail and, as we approached it, I was trying to decide which path to take. There were still surprises left for us though. Right beside the trail CJ spotted a circular hole. It was about the same size as the two whateveritis’ we’d already seen so we stopped and peered at it. This one didn’t have any bricks as far as we could see but, with no handy sticks, we had no chance to poke around so they might have been there somewhere. This could well have been another whateveritis. Then again it could have been something else altogether.
We walked on more puzzled than we had been when we started out.
“Maybe the whole woods are filled with these odd brick things,” I said as we reached the crossroads.
“I wish we could find out exactly what they are,” CJ said. “Surely someone somewhere must know.”
“I’ve done countless searches using everything I can think of and have found precisely nothing,” I told him. “The problem is, it’s a bit like the boundary stones, unless you know what they are you have very little chance of finding out anything about them.”
“You did find out though, in the end,” he pointed out.
“It was more luck than judgement though.”
“Maybe this will be the same. Perhaps someone who knowns what they are will read your blog and tell you.”
In the end we took the trail I thought would lead us back to the road. We stopped along the way to photograph a pretty iridescent beetle on the hinge of an old gatepost. Unbelieveably, the trail led me exactly where I’d thought it would. This must be a first for a walk in Westwood but I wasn’t complaining.
So that was that. Our adventure was over and it was back to the shore path and the long walk home. At least we had plenty to talk about as we walked.
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