Fritham is a strange place. It is surrounded on all sides by open heath or ancient woodland, and yet when you are in the village, you can only see green fields and cows. You could be almost anywhere in southern England.
Approaching the village by road from the north, the first thing you see is an extraordinary tower.
This does nothing to dispel the impression of a place that is slightly eccentric.
Walking along one of the tracks that borders the village, I was suddenly aware of what it must have felt like to live in feudal times, when the Forest was first created. Then villages were small islands of civilisation fenced in against the untamed wilderness, and people rarely travelled from one village to another.
A little further along the track I came across some pigs exercising the ancient right of 'Pannage' as they have done from earliest times, and a pile of timber no doubt collected by one of the commoners under their 'Common of Fuelwood'.
These days the Forestry Commission tells the commoners where they can collect the off cuts from the Commission's commercial activities rather than letting them gather wood for themselves, but the principle still applies.
With the exception of the farms, most of the village buildings seem to date from the nineteenth century or later, including Fritham Free Church United (something of an oxymoron in my experience), which is dated 1904.
The Black Postbox
Up in Fritham, at the entrance to the main car park, there is an old black postbox dating from nineteenth century and the days of penny postage.
According to the plaque, it was erected by the Schultze Gunpowder Factory to save the postman, the long trip to the gunpowder factory each day.
One also suspects that, then as now, posties were not keen on risking being blown up.
The preponderance of Victorian houses presumably reflects the importance to the village of the nearby Schultze Gunpowder Factory, which operated for about fifty years. The factory was based at Eyeworth Lodge, just down the hill from Fritham, which was originally a royal hunting lodge, and later a Forest Keeper's house before being taken over by the factory
Although gunpowder for sporting guns had been made at Eyeworth from 1859. It wasn't until Edward Schultze, an artillery captain in the Prussian Army,
took over the factory in 1869 and made the first successful smokeless powder that large scale production commenced. At its height the complex comprised some 60 to 70 buildings and employed around a hundred people.
The most substantial relic of the factory is Eyeworth Pond, created in 1871 to provide water for the works. The factory required large volumes of water and the sulphuric and nitric acid discharges contaminated the river, killing fish and eels.
Things are very different now and the pond is home to many ducks, including the brightly coloured mandarin ducks which, although introduced, now breed in the Forest using holes in trees.
Running north from Eyeworth Pond car park is the unmade Powder Mill Road, the start of my Eyeworth Pond Walk. This was once used to transport gunpowder up to the main road, thus avoiding Fritham village.
Other than the pond, the only other remains of the factory are a few brick-built gunpowder storage houses in the field at the southern end of the Eyeworth Lodge estate, and the factory foreman's house at its entrance.
Just off Powder Mill Road is a chalybeate spring called Irons Well that feeds into Eyeworth Pond, along with another small stream. The spring was once valued for its healing qualities, but unfortunately has had to been fenced off giving it a rather unnatural appearance.
What with that, the iron-coloured water and the all-pervading smell of rust, this can be a slightly depressing spot.
Whilst you're in the village, don't forget to visit the Royal Oak pub. The pub itself is tiny and has a good selection of real ales and ciders. However, in the summer, there is usually a large marquee and barbecue in the garden, and there are plenty of places to sit out.