Recreation Ground and War Memorial Centenary

On the 26th of September 1920 the War Memorial was unveiled and the Recreation Ground given to the people of Milton Parish. It is of interest to look at the history of the area and find out how the ‘Rec’ and the war Memorial came into existence.

The land we now know as ‘The Rec’ was part of the Fernhill Manor estate and is mentioned in the Domesday book. Eventually it came into the possession of John Fromond who on his death in 1420 bequeathed it to Winchester College. He was a steward of the college and looked after their many estates and possessions.

Courtesy of the Hampshire Records Office. The 1841 Tithe Map showing Whitfield Farm. The Station Road Cross Roads are to the right of the farm.

‘The Rec’ area was farmland and was known as Whitefield Farm on the 1841 Tithe Map. The farm covered an area which today is roughly from south of the railway line, north of Old Milton Road, west of Station Road and east of Vincent Road. It comprised of a number of small fields the largest of which was five acres in size. The farm house and associated buildings were at the corner of what is now Old Milton Road and Station Road. Today, this area is covered by Kimber’s Carpet Shop, Mitchells Estate Agents and Charlotte Court.

The farm land was owned by Winchester College until July 24th 1914 when it was put up for auction along with other valuable pieces of land and houses. To put this into broader historical context this was at a time when war clouds were looming in Europe and was known as the ‘July Crisis’. Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria had been assassinated in Sarajevo on 28th of June 1914 and the Europe was mobilizing its armies to fight in what became World War One.

The farm land owned by Winchester College was rented out to tenants. The 1911 census tells us that the tenant of Farm was William Hayward and his family. It was now called Hayward’s farm.  William was born in Milton Village where his father had been the owner of Manor Farm. The 1901 census tells us that Mr Hayward was the tenant at Oakfield Farm New Milton. This may have been the name used for the farm after it had been Whitefield and before becoming Hayward’s.  

At the auction William Hayward successfully bid for his farm house and a sizable piece of the farm land. The north end of the farm had been used for the building of the railway line and the construction of part of what is now Whitefield Road at the junction of Station Road.

World War One had a devastating impact on the people of Milton Parish as it did for the rest of the country and abroad. There were 83 men of Milton Parish who lost their lives in the war. In a close knit rural largely farming community these men were mourned not only by their families but by those they went to school with, by sports team mates and work colleagues. There was a collective wish of the people of Milton to remember these men.

Reverend John Edward Kelsall. The Milton Heritage Society Collection.

The Rector of New Milton at the time was the Reverend John Edward Kelsall. He had been the vicar at Boldre until 1897 when he moved to Milton. He was a really good man who was passionate about wild life and conservation. He wrote a book about the types of birds found in Hampshire. From about 1914 onwards he arranged for the planting of trees along Barton Court Road and Barton Court Avenue. Some, he planted at his own expense. Others were donated by local residents. Some of these trees were planted by Indian soldiers who were posted to the convalescent depot at Barton on Sea. We know that at least one tree was planted by a Belgian refugee in 1914 outside ‘Bykanor House’ in Barton Court Avenue. Reverend Kelsall started to refer to the two streets as ‘International Avenue’ because of the foreign visitors who had left their arboreal mark on our town.

The Reverend Kelsall picked up on the need to commemorate the names of the Miltonians who had been lost in the war. He started a public collection to buy a plot of land and erect a war memorial in honour of the Milton fallen. £850 was raised by public subscription. William Hayward agreed to sell virtually all of his farm land consisting of fields known as ‘The Garden Plot’, ‘Whitefield Plot’, ‘Meadow Plot’, ‘Whitefield Meadow’ and ‘Shaves Corner Ground’ which is located at the junction of Whitfield Road, Gore Road and Old Milton Road.

 The money raised was not quite enough to buy all of the land and a local chemist a Mr Matterson, who was chairman of the committee to create a war memorial, bought the rest of the land from the Rec Ground up to Whitefield Road. He had the land transformed into tennis courts and a bowling green and gave it to the people of Milton.

The dedication of the New Milton War Memorial 26th October 1920.
Milton Heritage Society Collection.

On Sunday 26th of September 1920 the war memorial was unveiled to a congregation consisting of local residents, boy scouts, girl guides and local school children.  It is a rather ornate Celtic cross with the names of the fallen inscribed on the base. At the ceremony the Reverend Kelsall announced that the ground would be given to the people of Milton parish ‘free of debt, for the use of the parish forever’.

South Hants Chronicle Article dated 30.09.20 reporting the dedication of the New Milton War Memorial. Milton Heritage Society Collection.

Close study of the photo taken on 26th of September 1920 reveals that only the area around the memorial cross appears to have been developed. The rest is still very much a farmer’s field. Later the ground was turned into a football pitch in the winter and a cricket pitch in the summer. Today it is still used by the public with celebratory events put on for the residents and visitors, such as May Day fairs, live music in the performance pavilion and classic car events. Part of the ground is now used as a skateboard park and another section is used as a children’s play park.

Hayward’s Farm in use as a builders merchants. Milton Heritage Society Collection

William Hayward died in 1920 and the farmhouse and half an acre of land was sold by his executors in October 1920. It was bought by a firm of builders merchants who operated out of the farm house and stored bricks, timbers, tiles and other materials in the farm yard. Later this became known as Robert Adlards Builders Merchants.

The Reverend John Edward Kelsall memorial bench. Milton Heritage Society Collection

The Reverend John Edward Kelsall passed away in 1924 at the age of 60. He is commemorated with a stone bench that was for years located at the north end of ‘The Rec’ ground near the children’s play park. In the last couple of years it has been relocated to near the war memorial cross at the southern end.

In the mid 1980s a developer offered to buy the land and build a supermarket and shopping complex on it. They intended to build a new recreation ground on the outskirts of the town. There was a public outcry and a campaign started to save ‘The Rec’. This became news in a national paper when Daily Mail reporter Ian Wooldridge wrote an article in which he made an impassioned plea to keep the Recreation Ground as a space for public use. He wrote of his fond memories of playing cricket on the ground. Ian had lived in New Milton for many years and started his career in journalism on the New Milton Advertiser and Times. 

Fortunately, the campaign to save ‘The Rec’ was successful as it was proven that this open space belonged to the people of Milton Parish.

We owe a great deal to people such as the Reverend Kelsall whose forethought has enabled many generations of residents and visitors to benefit from this open space and as a place to remember the Miltonians who lost their lives in both World Wars.

This article was written by Nick Saunders, Chairman of the Milton Heritage Society It was first published in an abridged form in the Milton Mail and Barton Bugle magazines in September 2020.