One of the traditional things to do at Easter, if you lived in Romsey in the middle of the twentieth century, was to visit the Merrie Gardens for afternoon tea.

The Merrie Gardens was the home of Miss Biddlecombe and she lived in Squabb Wood. Her father had been the foreman of the Berthon Boatworks before the First World War. Miss Biddlecombe’s house was deep in Squabb Wood and now the only signs of it are a heap of bricks away from the footpath through the woods. Its location can be identified early in spring by the presence of snowdrops.

Until the 1970s, access to Squabb Wood was across a bridge at the end of Mill Lane, which cut off a considerable trek through the meadows behind Sadler’s Mill. From the bridge it was a short walk across the meadows and into the wood, then up the slope to the Merrie Gardens. Incidentally, ‘merries’ are a form of cherry and references to them can be found across Hampshire.

Miss Biddlecombe’s café was open throughout each summer in the first half of the twentieth century and photos exist of children’s birthday parties being held there. It was in the open air, where chickens and goats mingled with the customers. Chickens would roam across the tables. Goats’ milk was used instead of cows’ milk in the tea.

Although ‘squobs’ are young pigeons, the ‘squabb’ of Squabb Wood has nothing to do with pigeons but probably derives from the old word ‘quabbe’ which means marshy place, a fitting description for Squabb Wood.

It is said that there was a drove road through Squabb Wood, though where the animals were being driven from is not part of the legend. There are accounts of a beer house in the woods where the drovers could refresh themselves. It is not certain what name it went under and four possible names have been suggested. They are the ‘Mallet and Chisel’, or ‘Ham and Sickle’, or ‘Lamb Chop’ or ‘Leg of Mutton’. This establishment was a thatched cottage with walls built of clunch which is basically mud and is said to have been some little distance east of Miss Biddlecombe’s Merrie Gardens.

Some sort of beer house certainly survived in Squabb Wood until late in the 19th century as the workmen from the Berthon Boatyard used to have an annual works outing there. The link between Mr Biddlecombe and Squabb Wood makes the outing to this location very likely.