The letters of Rose Ponting of Dorking, 1915-1919

SHC ref 9496_3_4

Title: SHC ref 9496 3 4
Description: Photograph of Rose Ponting (1889-1961), nd [1910s] by-nc

Rose Ethel Ponting was the daughter of Henry Edmund Ponting, local councillor, Evangelist and Prudential Assurance agent, and Martha (née Norton). By 1891, the Pontings were living in Dorking at 4 Wathen Road, and ten years later they had moved to 2 Rothes Road, on the junction with London Road. Rose’s parents came from Wiltshire: Martha was born in Bushton, while Henry was born in Brinkworth which explains the name of their house ‘Bushbrink’ in Rothes Road. In the 1911 census, Rose was described as a ‘mother’s help’ while her older sister, Annie Louisa (“Louie”) was an ‘assurance collector’.

During the First World War, Rose was courting William (Will) Chapman, a master baker, who ran a business with his sister in Southsea, near Portsmouth. They first met when Will was working at a baker’s shop in Dorking High Street and Rose was a customer. Will was also a friend of Rose’s cousin, Frank Webb, another Prudential Assurance agent, who lived in Sevenoaks. As the owner of a bakery, Will was in a reserved occupation, securing exemption from military service in January 1916. The collection (SHC ref 9496) includes letters from Rose to Will dating from 1915 to 1919; they married in Dorking on 21 July 1919, when Rose moved to Southsea to help run the bakery.

SHC ref 9496_3_3

Title: SHC ref 9496 3 3
Description: Photograph of Will Chapman, nd [1910s]; by-nc

Rose’s letters to Will are chatty, intimate and often flirtatious. There are frequent references to family, friends and acquaintances, including the kindly, middle-aged ”Mr Renouf” and ”Madame” (possibly a boarder) of whom Rose seems fond, although she sometimes gently mocks her eccentricities: ”poor old soul she is worried about this food rations, she will starve and I don’t know what… Sat eve she got in such a wax, she wouldn’t be compelled to do anything. If compulsory rationing came in she wouldn’t have anything to do with it. We asked what she would do then, she said she’d sooner starve than be forced to present a card at each shop.” Rose’s cousin Frank Webb is often mentioned, with respect to his family and army life.

Early on, life in Dorking seems unaffected by wartime shortages. ”Madame is with us once more, trying to fatten me up on Devonshire cream made in Dorking”, and ”I’m thinking you ought to have come along today. Madame is treating us all to strawberries & clotted cream as it was Mr Renoufs birthday yesterday and I’m to have a Dover sole all to myself tonight”. This is in stark contrast to hardships endured later on in the war: ”Last Tues: they passed 200 for the shelters, never seen Dorking so crowded, everybody’s house full up seems a job to buy food, can’t get tea, butter, bacon, lucky if one can get hold of a bit, some of the bakers have got special permission to sell new bread, so much wanted, couldn’t cope with it.”

Like many households, the Ponting home provided a billet for soldiers. In September 1915, Rose writes, ”The soldiers we have are young ladies if you can make that out… they are staying with us for a few days came yesterday.” Two months later, she writes, ”We have again been lucky with soldiers, very nice chaps, came over from USA enlisted in Liverpool, spend their evenings in doors so far.”. There are also wry comments on the prevailing situation: “but it’s wartime … we must save paper for the Government to waste.”

9496_1 23 Aug 1918

Title: 9496 1 23 Aug 1918
Description: Letter from Rose Ponting to Will Chapman, 23 Aug 1918 by-nc

Later, Rose writes of the devastating effect of the influenza epidemic of 1918: ”The Flue [sic]: is very bad here I never remember so many deaths in Dorking before”, and then gives details of those she knows to have passed away. More optimistically, a year later, Rose discusses her future with Will, her involvement in the business and their life together in Southsea: ”….you will be pleased to know that I am rather pleased with our future home, more room than where you are now, I trust we shall be very happy & comfy there”

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