Recollections of John Pounds: A Ramble to Portsdown Hill by Reverend Henry Hawkes

On the Tuesday morning after the Saturday that John Pounds had arranged to take his scholars a ramble to Portsdown, I wished to speak to him, and went to his shop; but to my surprise I found the door shut. The little tumble-down window was open, and his cat was sitting at it, keeping watch. But there was no sound of children’s voices, and the old man was not there.

View of The Solent from Portsdown Hill
View of The Solent from Portsdown Hill

A woman, with a child in one arm, and leading another by the hand, came over from the other side of the street, and said respectfully; “Mr. Pounds, Sir, is gone over the Hill with his scholars for the day, and won’t be back till evening; if I can take any message for him ” I thanked her, but said I need not trouble her; and went on to Mr. Lemmon’s, to know more about it.

As I began my inquiry, “Oh yes!” exclaimed one of the little grand­children, running to me; – “such a lot of em! And we went to see ’em off! Didn’t we, Lizzy? All so merry!” Lizzy smiled, but did not speak.

She looked sad. “I thought Saturday was the day for the excursion.” “So it was;” Mr. Lemmon said; “but the day looked dull, and likely for rain; so Johnny put it off. Last night he said to a neighbour, that we should have a fine day today, and he meant to go to the Hill, and take his little vagabonds with him; as he expressed it;” and Mr. Lemmon smiled.

“And it is a fine day!” “Yes;” Mr. Lemmon said; “Johnny seems to be weather-wise. He often tells us what sort of weather we are going to have; and I never knew him wrong. So last night before he went to bed, he packed provisions sufficient for them all to have plenty during the day’s ramble. The very little ones could not go; for he often takes them sixteen or eighteen miles, or more, before they get back.

It’s about six miles to the top of the Hill; and that makes it twelve – back again; and they go a good deal farther, rambling about, just where their fancy leads them. Sometimes he takes them into Havant Thicket; sometimes, as far as Nelson’s monument, over against Wickham.


Havant Thicket Reservoir modern day Portsmouth
Havant Thicket Reservoir modern day Portsmouth


“This morning, Johnny was up and stirring by five o’clock: getting a good breakfast ready for the children. And he went to two of his strongest and most active lads, and told them he meant to go to the Hill today; and bid them run and tell the rest; and say, that all who wished to go with him, might come to his shop as soon as they liked; and breakfast would be ready for them all at six; and he meant to start at seven.

They soon came running in; and before the time breakfast was ready, all were there that meant to go. And some of the very little ones, too young to go, came to see them off! The breakfast which he had prepared for them was a good substantial one; that they might start in good condition for the day’s ramble.

At six, he began helping them all bountifully. ‘Now, are ye all served?’ he said, looking round upon them. ‘Yes. Mr. Pounds!’ they all replied. The old man gently raised his hand: – and all were still. And he said, solemnly; ‘Bless the Lord for his goodness!’ After a little pause; – they began; and all were at work in right good earnest.

“The provisions which they were to take with them for the day, he had packed up in several bags. These bags, when first he began these excursions for the children, had a long string fastened to them; so that the boys might sling them over their shoulders, and have their hands and arms at liberty. But he soon improved upon this; and instead of string, he fitted a leather strap to each bag, with a buckle at one end, and long enough for the boys to adapt it comfortably to their own height; and the flat strap was pleasanter to their shoulders.

One bag is always much the largest. This he carries himself. And very often, in such rambles, when any of the younger ones begin to get tired, and can’t well keep up with the rest, he takes them up on his back, first one, and then another, and carries them miles together. One wonders how he can do it; so lame as he is, and so deformed.


Tipner lake from Portsdown Hill
Tipner lake from Portsdown Hill, modern day Portsmouth


But the hearts the thing! And as they go rambling about, quite at their ease, he’s on the look-out in all directions, and shows them all sorts of things; any thing that he thinks will interest them; and stops and explain things in his pleasant way, at any moment, whenever any one comes running to him, with any thing to show him, or ask any questions; or he turns aside with them, whenever they want him to go and look at any thing they can’t bring to him.

What-ever interests them, interests him; and they can’t help seeing that he is interested in it, and that he takes pleasure in telling them all about it. And this keeps up their life and spirits. His kindness and patience among those poor children seem inexhaustible. Nothing seems to weary him, while he is doing all he can for them.

And his strong hazel stick has a hook at the end; and with this he pulls down branches of trees, and shows them any thing upon them; flowers, or fruits, oak-apples, or caterpillars; and sometimes, other plants growing upon them.

And when they come to water; as a running stream, or a pond, or a watery ditch; and there are water-lilies, or other plants growing, – floating on the surface, or growing deep down in the water; – he draws them to him with his hooked stick, and shows them to the children. The other end of his stick has a lump of iron fixed to it, narrowed like a wedge.

With this he digs up roots for them; and they bring them home; and he gives them flower-pots, or makes them wooden boxes, to grow them in. Any thing that will please them, and do them good. Nothing’s a trouble to him, that will give them pleasure, and help to store their hearts and minds with happy thoughts, and good feelings.

“And in the midst of all these kindnesses to others, dear old Johnny has his own deep, sacred delights. October is a favourite month with Johnny. He likes to go over the Hill in October, to enjoy the rich autumnal tints in the trees. You may perhaps know, that from the top of the Hill, looking inland, there is a good deal of beautiful woodland scenery?”

“Yes; I have repeatedly walked there to enjoy the fine views we have, in all directions, from the top of Portsdown; and from the first I have been delighted with that view you speak of, looking northward,”

“Johnny always delights in woodland scenery. He rejoices in the bright fresh growing colours of spring; but the solemn richness of autumn seems peculiarly to impress him: – deeply; – delightfully. And he delights to take children with him, and let them feel the same pure, elevating joy.”

“They’ll see the autumnal scenery in it’s glory – this brilliant day!”

“They will. When this crowd of happy scholars had done their breakfast, and were chattering and laughing all together; Johnny takes out his watch, and sees that it is nearly seven; the time he told them he meant to start. Johnny’s very exact; when he says a thing he means it. When he told them seven – to start, they knew he meant to start at seven.

‘Now, have you all had enough?’ he said. ‘Yes, Mr. Pounds! And thank you!’ they all answered. ‘Then get ready to start; it’s nearly seven.’ And he gave a bag each to several of the stronger boys, to carry; and while they were joyfully slinging them over their shoulders, and buckling them to their right length; he adjusted the largest bag to his own back; and put his large broad-brimmed hat on, and got his strong hazel stick: – ‘And now, are ye all ready?’ he said, looking round on them all with loving eye.

‘Yes, Mr. Pounds!’ all exclaimed with glee. ‘Then we’ll start.’ He kissed the little ones that could not go with them; and promised to bring them home some nice flowers and nuts, and some acorns, with their pretty cups, and horse-chestnuts, to play marbles with. Lizzy looked up, and smiled; but still looked sorrowful, that she could not go with them.

“Oh, to see the neighbours round, as they started! All along St. Mary’s Street, as they went, and at the ends of Crown Street and Warblington Street, young and old came clustering out to greet them! – Mothers, with their babes in their arms; fathers, and grown-up brothers and sisters, came from their work to see them off; all with kind words, and looking so glad and happy! Johnny seemed to stride along in triumph, as he went along with his merry host about him, and turned into Warblington Street, and was soon out of sight at the other end of the street.

“Warblington Street, you may perhaps know, is the direct road out of St. Mary’s Street to Landport Gate?” “Yes.” “If indeed, any road,” Mr. Lemmon added, with a significant smile, “can properly be called direct, from any street to any principle outlet, in this fortified place; where all the skill seems to be to prevent the enemy having any direct way in.


The Old Landport Gate


“Passing through Landport Gate, and crossing the moat, and going through the ravelin, they were out on the London Road.

“My daughter here had told him not to trouble himself about breakfast leavings: – (there’s no waste with Johnny;) – for that she would come and clear them away after they were gone. So there was nothing of that sort to delay them.

Modern Portsdown Hill
Modern Portsdown Hill

“In the evening, as they return from these long rambles, they come loaded with flowers and ferns, and other interesting things that they have gathered, according to the time of year. And then, when they get back, they’re ready for something!

And Johnny brings them all with him into his little shop; where there’s a good substantial tea ready for them! – plenty of good thick bread-and-butter, – all ready cut: – for them to begin at once; – for they’re ravenously hungry! – And the tea’s ready made, and only wants pouring out; and kettles boiling, ready to go on making more.

That’s one of his kettles there; that big one beside the fire; which he brought to us, to have it boiling by the time they come back; and another he’s taken to another neighbour’s; and it’s sure to be boiling in right time. And my daughter here will go and have everything nice and ready for them. And we’re as happy at home – helping to have every thing nice and pleasant for them when they return, as they are to come and enjoy it!

And dear old Johnny’s the happiest amongst them! – No signs of weariness with him; till they’re all well fed and refreshed; and gone to their homes. And then, he sits down in his arm-chair, and goes to sleep!”