Group’s celebration remembers Sturt

This article appeared in the Farnham Herald of 27th October 2022

The Herald carried a report last month about the 20th anniversary of the Bourne Conservation Group (BCG). It was celebrated on 29th September at a social gathering with pictorial displays of the Group’s work, and a welcome from the Chairman, Noel Moss. The event attracted about 75 people, which was gratifying as the audience included not only BCG’s members and friends but many more people from The Bourne and Farnham generally. There is little doubt they were attracted by the guest speaker, Bishop Chris Herbert.

The speaker’s subject was ‘Change in the Village: Life in The Bourne around 1900’, based on the writings of George Sturt, who wrote under the name George Bourne. His many books drew on his life in Farnham, the second half of which was spent in The Bourne – the source for ‘Change in the Village’. Dr Herbert was able to compare what Sturt wrote with the Parish Magazines of that period, and other sources. The first Vicar of The Bourne, the Revd Thomas Sidebotham, was still in office at the time; he appears often in the book, not always in a good light. The parish magazines show the work of the church to help the poor in a more positive way; perhaps Sturt came later to understand that.

Sturt was writing at a time of great social change; there were wealthy incomers with large houses, brought about by the railway, the Aldershot Garrison and a clean water supply. Their lives contrasted with those of the older inhabitants often living in squalid conditions, leaving behind what he described as a ‘peasant life’. The speaker requested more research into the parish nurse, so important to the lives of the poor at a time when no doctors or hospitals were available: who were they, how were they trained and how were they paid for?  

It is not the purpose of this article to summarise the fascinating talk, for which the speaker had researched extensively. Dr Herbert had investigated several aspects of the lives of the many labourers and their families living in the area and raised questions that need further research. George Sturt should be celebrated both for the quality of his writing and for his contribution to the history of Farnham.

Revd Sidebotham is buried in the Old Churchyard, Vicarage Hill, which is today looked after by BCG to retain its peaceful character and encourage biodiversity. Among the 800 parishioners buried there are the unmarked graves of Fred Grover, Sturt’s gardener, and his wife Lucy. Both were written about in Sturt’s books, as described in information signs placed by BCG.

The Group is very grateful to Chris Herbert for his contribution to a memorable occasion.

George Sturt
Old Church Lane, where Sturt lived in Vine Cottage
Recent BCG working party after hedge cutting, by the Lychgate, Old Churchyard. The lychgate was a gift from the first Vicar’s sister, Miss Annie Sidebotham, paid for with proceeds from her Children’s Hymnal.