St Mary Bourne Revisited

Dr Joseph Stevens

Born.14th April 1818 in Stanmore Berks, Son of a yeoman farmer, he inherited a small legacy from an uncle which was used for his education. He trained as a chemist and later trained at the Middlesex Hospital in London and qualified as a surgeon, became the Village Doctor in St. Mary Bourne from 1844 until he retired in 1879, at which time he moved to Reading and was instrumental in creating the free museum there which opened in 1884. After his arrival in St. Mary Bourne he met and married Mary Laura Longman (1822-1874), daughter of William Longman (1784-1852) of Abbess Manor farm Lechford. William was married to Ann Dowling (1794-1841) the doctor and Mary married on 23-2-1854. The doctor died on April 7th 1899 in Reading, Berks, and chose to be buried beside his wife in St. Mary Bourne. He was a member of the Royal College of Physicians London, local member of council for Berkshire, and later for Hampshire, member of the British Archaeological Association, Hon. Curator of Reading and Andover Museums. Also a respected geologist and antiquary and wrote the history of the parish. He first published a book titled "St. Mary Bourne Past and Present” in 1863, finding No.17A03 which is a shortened version of his later book "A Parochial History of St. Mary Bourne with an account of Hurstbourne Priors Hants.” There are two of these later editions which I have seen, one is dated 1888 and is in the Hampshire records office in Winchester Hants. Finding No. 17A03/1, along with 17A03.and a later edition is in the Newbury Berkshire library dated 1895, book No.942.271 STMA Local history. (Kevin Holdway)


It is related that he would visit a patient in a stuffy room and remarking "That's what you need" would put his stick through the window then put down 1 shilling to have the window repaired.

"The doctors a queer gentleman, he has queer ideas but after he broke u'n, he put down a shilling to have u'n mended" (Conversation with a patient).

Another tale still current in the village is that when he was anxious to go coursing with his dogs, kept in a neighbouring cottage, he was very impatient if anyone came to his morning surgery. In such a crisis he would, it is said, tell his groom to mix a bucket full of Epson salts in water and fill all bottles with that in rapid succession.

After his wife’s death he had a house keeper, whom it is said he would occasionally leave in charge for a day or two, with two kinds of pills, "Starters and Stoppers, "to be administered at her discretion. No dire consequences of the diagnoses are on record, so perhaps her discretion was worthy of his trust. (Kathleen Innes)

In one of his obituaries this is written....But we fancy we can hear some of the old Bourne folk say " That maybe, but the doctor was rather rough on us at times and no wonder, for as he often told us when some rustic was describing the "terrr-able rheumatics”, or eloquent upon the size and colour of a great toe, his mind was far away in pre-historic fields, and we well can imagine how difficult it must have been for such a man to listen with any degree of interest to the trifling ailments of some of these poor old people. He was described as the last of the Yeoman breed.

The doctor was warm hearted and much beloved for his genuine interest in the place and people of St. Mary Bourne.

In the preface of his book this is the first paragraph, in which he says,

“In the following pages which have been compiled from various sources, it has been my endeavour to place before the reader some account of the different peoples who have lived in and around St. Mary Bourne. Whatever may be its shortcomings, the work is more immediately intended for the old friends and fellow villagers among whom were passed the best years of my life, and in whom I am sure to find an indulgent audience. It is in respect of these that familiarity of expression has been used at intervals throughout the book."

Quotes from Dr. Stevens

Among the retired villages of north Hampshire, St. Mary Bourne may be considered as possessing picturesque and pleasing features, for which it is mainly indebted to the rude and scattered character of its habitations. The homes like the people have undergone but little change, or rather the change has been so slow as to be scarcely appreciable. The same may be said to characterise the hamlets of North Hampshire generally, thereby contrasting somewhat remarkably with the up-growth which has been so apparent in many of the manufacturing districts. The consequence is that these old agricultural centres have obtained the reputation of maintaining the simplicity of former times.

About forty-five years ago, when I first settled in the village, a friend enquired,” What kind of folk live in Bourne?” whereupon I replied, “The people generally live in thatched houses, and keep old Christmas”. Mr. Dawson who just previous to that time had been vicar of the parish, is stated to have affirmed from the pulpit that the village was half a century behind; meaning, I suppose, that in a progressive sense it was fifty years in arrears of other places. This must have been somewhat of a libel on the old place. At all events, the introduction of modern villas along the hill sides, and particularly the adoption of a board school, which was one of the earliest of the kind in North Hampshire, must have some time since removed any stigma that might have appertained to it on that head.

I remember being informed by an old inhabitant a miss Stair, who had reached the advanced age of ninety three, that she could bear in memory having walked from Hurstbourne Tarrant to the neighbouring village of Stoke to see a sash cord window, the first introduction of its kind in the district ; and she further remarked, that so little had the people of St. Mary Bourne mingled with the great outside world in her early days that the passing of a post-chaise along the street was sufficient to secure half a holiday for the school children.

Mr William Cobbett in one of his "Rural Rides” relates a conversation he had with an inhabitant of Tangley, which bears out the view which has just been stated regarding the retired and primitive habits of north Hampshire people. He say's "I rode up to the garden-wicket of a cottage, and asked the woman, who had two children, and who seemed to be about thirty years old, which was the way to Ludgershall, which I Knew could not be about four miles off. She did not know! A very neat, smart, and pretty woman; but she did not know the way to this rotten borough, which was I was sure, only about four miles off! Well my dear, good woman, I, but you have been at Ludgershall? --"No" Nor at Andover, (six miles another way).--"No"."No" Nor at Marlborough? (Nine miles another way)--"No" Pray were you born in this house --"Yes" And how far have you been from this house --Oh! I have been up in the parish and over to Chute. That is to say, the utmost extent of her voyages had been about two-a-half miles!" (Dr.Joseph Stevens)

The Hampshire Advertiser Wednesday April 23 1873

Fatal Boiler Accident.

On Saturday, afternoon the boiler of a portable thrashing machine burst at Mr. William Day’s farm, Upper Wick, near Andover, causing the death of two men and a woman, and severely injuring six others, beside setting fire to three wheat ricks, an oat rick, a pea rick, some straw and hay ricks, and the whole of the farm buildings, including three large barns, the whole of which were totally destroyed. It appears that the labourers of the farm were engaged in thrashing the wheat ricks, and were using a portable engine belonging to Mr. Day. The tenant of the farm, which is the property of Lord Portsmouth. The work went on all well through the morning. The men on returning to work after dinner proceeded to start the engine, when the explosion occurred. The crown of the boiler, weighing 1 cwt. was thrown into a field 150 yards from the spot where the engine had been working and several smaller pieces were carried a considerable distance further. The rick yard was quickly on fire, and the flames spread so rapidly that the buildings were soon burnt to the ground. It was found that two men were quite dead, and a woman was so much hurt that she died soon after. Dr. Stevens, of St. Mary Bourne, first attended to the wounded. He was afterwards assisted by Drs. Barnes, Elliott, and Lathem, who arrived from Andover. The names of the two men who were killed on the spot are Charles Rolfe and Lloyd Goodyear, both of whom were married; one leaves a wife and six children. The woman was a widow named Maria White, who lost her husband about a fortnight since. The Andover Volunteer Fire Brigade arrived on the scene soon after 3 o’clock. They got to work seven minutes after their arrival, and succeeded in keeping the flames from spreading to a granary which stood near the road. The man who was the least hurt was standing between the shafts of the engine when the explosion occurred, he being nearer than the others who were killed. This man says he was asked by the engine driver to fit a new glass on the water gauge, the steam gauge at that time only showing 50 lb. Of steam, but he cannot say whether this steam gauge registered correctly. He walked in between the shafts to get the glass out of a box which is fitted to the engine when he was knocked down by the explosion and stunned. He remembers nothing that happened until he found that he had been picked up and carried to one of the cottages. He was severely scalded, but no bones were broken. It appears that the man who was driving the engine was only a labourer, who did not know enough of the business to be able to put in a fresh gauge glass. The engine was a very old one. During the evening Lord and Lady Portsmouth and Lord Lymington visited the scene of the explosion. The fire continued to rage all night, and was not put out entirely all day Sunday, when some thousands of people visited the place. An inquest was held on Monday before Mr. Spencer Clarke, coroner for North Hants. The above facts having been given in evidence, a verdict of “Accidental Death” was returned.