Fontmell Poems – Grave and Gay



The Gossip Tree, established in 1994 and now in its 180th edition, has always been more than just a monthly village newsletter, as it also carries items of literary merit. There are now over 50 poems written by Fontmellians or about the village itself in the magazine.
A selection is given here. For reasons of space some have had to be curtailed – one poem is 172 lines long – the authors’ forbearance is appreciated.  Where curtailment has been done and for those who have kept their copies of the magazine, dates of publication are given so that, where appropriate the full poem can be read.

Olive Philpott (1891-1976) wrote over 120 poems, with about 50 published in the Dorset Yearbook and the Salisbury Journal.

I wandered upon Foretop at the ending of the day
When Fontmell bells were ringing, ringing sweet,
Their music echoing softly in the hollows of the hills,
From the village of the millponds at my feet.

Looking west towards the sunset I could see the Blackmore Vale
With Shaftesburys’ tree-clad height to guard it well,
To the green hills marching, marching toward the reddened west,
Rounded hills that hide the oceans boundless swell.

How sweet the lovely village clustered close about her stream,
How sweet the bells soft chiming echoing clear,
Rising up to meet my coming as my homeward way I took
The lovely way that led to Fontmell dear.

(Issue 11, 1995)

In April 1995, The Dorset Naturalists Trust (of all people!) bulldozed away a lovely old undulating path through Catswhisker Wood ‘in the interests of easier maintenance’. This upset local people, and evoked this poem from Judy Russell.

Last harvest time
Between the folding downs
A blaze of beech trees
Embraced the undulating meadow
Where red deer grazed
And bathed in the warmth
Of late September sun.
At night,
owls hoot
And by some arrangement of echoes
no mechanistic drone (of truck or car)
reaches the dark island
of the valley floor.
But oh! Today
the two arms hacked away,
only the throat remains.
Rain streams down
the grey toppled trunks
as yellow clawed machines
gouge roots out of the barren slopes.

On all sides in the pale sticky mud
tyre tracks and desolation.

But all was not gloom and doom. There are some clever and amusing little verses in the magazine. Here are two of them, the first one written by a Bedchester resident, I.Trimble in 1912….

After the ball is over
See her take out her glass eye
Stick her cork leg in the corner
Lock up her bottle of dye
Put her false teeth in the saucer
Hang up her wig on the wall
Then what is left goes to bye-byes
After the ball!

The second laconically describes the fate of Sapper H J Whiteman who was run over by a traction engine in 1898. (The author , ‘E.F.’, has apologised to the soldiers relatives.)

How on earth it happened
Must be considered weird
For carelessly he crossed the road
As the huge Steam Roller neared,
He did not see it coming
And he’s truly in a fix
Now he’s in the local hospital
In wards 4, 5 and 6!

 Sadly the poor man did not make it and he is buried by the big Yew tree in the village churchyard.

This clever poem by our resident pig expert John Gadd, won a poetry prize in 1992.

“How odd that God
should choose the Jews”

Despite the talents he them sent
The Jewish fork avoideth pork
A thing to cause much puzzlement.
The Muslims too, have their taboo
They too don’t dig the poor old pig.
Now have you ever wondered why
These racial prejudices apply?

The Middle East as I recall
Is not a farmers land at all.
Distinctly short of H2O
To drink it stock have far to go.
So farmers chose the nomads way –
Graze at night and move by day.
And the running skills possessed by dogs
Would soon outsmart the swiftest hogs.
Dogs and pork – now theres a thought –
For outside in the summer’s glow
A little worm may lay you low.
Perhaps all Israel, led by Moses
Caught endemic trichinosis?
So can you blame the ancient Jew

When faced with what on earth to do
Rewrote the scriptures so to ban
Fresh pork from desert frying pan.

Hazel Miller puts many a ladies viewpoint with this one…

I’ve lately been shopping for clothing
And my legs are beginning to hurt
Coz in most of the shops that I entered
I just couldn’t find me a skirt.

The rails were all stuffed full of trousers
Of every conceivable style
But of straightforward skirts there wasn’t a sign
Even though I walked many a mile.

It’s not that I’m asking for something
That is rare or expensive as gold
I just want a skirt for the winter
That fits OK now that I’m old.

It needs for the waist to be stretchy
Coz I stick out a bit fore and aft
And just long enough to cover my knees
So I’m quite well protected from draughts.

The assistant asked “Why don’t you try the Petite
As you only just reach five feet tall?”
I said “That’s OK in the height-ways direction
But width-ways its no good at all”.

At the end of the day I found two skirts to suit
Though my pleasure is tinted with pain
When I realize when warm weather arrives
Ill have to go through it again!

The younger generation has contributed many poems to The Gossip Tree. Here is one from the May 1998 number and was written and choreographed by the toddlers in Class 4 of the Village School.

Spring, Spring the wildest thing
You need a new start!
Spring, Spring the wildest thing
Winters gone and past!

Spring, Spring, the yummy thing,
Chocolate eggs and bunnies.
Spring, Spring the wonderful thing,
Life starts over again.

And one from Jack English, aged 9……..

Summer, summer hot and dry,
Everlasting hot, hot, hot
Birds cheeping, squirrels scurrying
Up and down a tree.

Children in the garden
Playing on the swings
Flowers growing, mowers mowing
Summer in the sun.

Listen to the tractors
In fields brown and neat,
Hedges trimmed and green trees tall
Are home to animals, big and small.

Summer summer comes again.
May we have a spot of rain
Now and then but not too much.
Make it sunny, hot and dry.

One of the courses at our Springhead successful resource and culture centre in 2000 was on writing poetry. Here is one from course student Jenny Poulsen which captures the magic of the place. The students were asked to submit poems on the theme……

Part 1 – From Springhead to Higher Mill

Far below ground clear water
trickles in chalk-white darkness
springs, from hillside, into village life;
Snatches a quick brook breath
and dives into lake.
A small, landscape gardened lake
flat as the millpond it used to be.
Lake with pretty shrubs, carefully placed,
with a twirly, pillared rotunda,
admiring itself among water-lilies.
Wrecked boathouse
fledging one last gift:
a sleek, silver canoe.

Downstream, this dreaming, lazy
falls off the edge of its bed,
into a roaring, rushing, gushing force;
it’s draught, for a thousand years,
Flick-flick-flicking a midstream

Fast water grumbles still
under the creaking Higher Mill
-as was, isn’t now….

Dr. Geoffrey Tapper, at one time our village doctor with his surgery in the Methodist Chapel, and has been an enthusiastic poet for many years.
In 2000, parishioners completed the magnificent Tapestry Map to celebrate the Millennium in a series of woven scenes of Fontmell and its activities. Geoffrey records the work as follows…


At Fontmell in the Village Hall,
The Parish map stands high. The field,
The Church, the bridle paths are all
Stitched in, painstakingly revealed.
Cartography, exquisite skills,
Describe fields, farms, surrounding hills,
Swift village streams, still ponds, and mills.

The parish councillors, as I write
Are radiating warmth and light.
Outside, the fields are thick with wheat,
And shimmer in the July heat.
While here our present parish clerk
Sits quietly, and makes her mark.