The W.I. Scrapbook
Editor’s note July 2007.
It has long been an ambition to bring this document back to life and share it with a wider audience. Originally written over 50 years ago from the memories of the then local residents it provides a window into our past. As you browse this page you will find some pictures to illustrate it taken in 2007. There is a plan to augment these with some earlier material as it becomes available. If you have any notes or pictures that you would like to contribute to this work please send them to the email@example.com
In the meantime enjoy this snapshot of life 50-100 years ago recorded by members of the local Womens Institute.
There is in existence so little written record of the Parish history that much of what is written here is hearsay handed down in local families.
We have endeavoured at accuracy as far as possible and, fragmentary though it is, we hope this little effort till stir up a wish to know and remember the history of our villages.
Acknowledgements and thanks are due to all those who have contributed and helped.
Compiled on behalf of
The Kennet Valley Women’s Institute.
October 30th. 1956.
The contents of this book have been reproduced in the exact form in which it was written in 1956 without editing.
THE VILLAGE HISTORY SCRAPBOOK
Four miles west along the Bath Road from Marlborough and one is at the summit of Overton Hill. Already the Parish of Overton-cum-Fyfield lies for the most part down valley of the Kennet.
But here call a halt at a point of vantage where, indeed ancient and modern are truly at the cross-roads in a Parish that boasts a history in depth and presents its evidence within a stone’s throw.
Here the Ridgeway or ‘green road’ of the Phoenicians steals across the busy highway, flanked by the round barrows, graveyard of a historic age. Upon the very brow of the hill itself one comes upon the ‘sanctuary’ a restoration work of a temple used by Britons of the pre-Roman era and which has its link with ancient Avebury, little more than a mile distant to the north-west.
Overton-cum-Fyfield Parish comprises four villages: East Kennet, West Overton, Lockeridge and Fyfield, the ‘cum’ bespeaking Saxon origin. The earliest written record of our villages is contained in the Domesday Book compiled in 1086 A.D. that very valuable survey book that William the Conqueror commanded should be made of all the lands in the Kingdom after his conquest.
The names of most of the hills, valleys and rivers in Wiltshire are of (Cymrie) Celtic origin. We find too in our own Parish that the village of East Kennet derives its name of Cynete, as does its river Kennet which has its source nearby. In the Domesday Book in 939 A.D. it was Cynete, afterwards Chenete and later spelt Kenete. The old Roman town of Mildenhall (Minall) was named Cunetio from it.
Along the north and western border of the Parish, the ancient Ridgeway or ‘green road’ runs along the Downs crossing the road on Overton Hill through East Kennett winding along the ridge of hills to Seaton on the Devon coast. This track was first used by the Pheonicians, the Eastern hordes who traversed this route from the shores of the Mediterranean about 400 BCC. To barter their merchandise with the Cornish men for tin. They followed this route on the hills as the valleys were marshy and thick with forests and wild animals. About one hundred and forty years ago it was not only an important highway for merchants and pilgrims, but also frequented by smugglers for conveying contraband goods from the sough coast into the interior of the country. In the days of the turnpikes too, drovers brought their flocks of sheep along this route to avoid the tolls of the highroads.
The Sanctuary of pre-historic Avebury stone circle lies along the western border of the Parish, the ‘serpent’s head’ as it is described touches the side of this ‘green road’.
To the south along by Shaw is to be found the old Wansdyke, earthworks thrown up by the Belgae about 800 BC.C Parts are obliterated but one is told traces can still be found in Savernake Forest and Tan Hill or St Anne’s Hill. Then to the north of the Parish on Overton Down, tracks of the old Roman Road to Bath can be found. In 1885 it is recorded that a part of it, a wall five feet in height and eighteen to twenty feet wide was found about a quarter of a mile from the main road. Much of the remains have been ploughed over in different parts but the road is reported to have run along by Mr Swanton’s garden wall of sarsen stone at Overton, then deviated in a straight course across the ploughed fields.
Barrows and Tumuli, the burial places of pre-historic people, are numerous in the district and one or two are within the Parish, though many have disappeared under the plough it is remarkable throughout the ages that some still remain, monuments of a past era as long ago as 1200 B.C.
There are two distinct types of barrows, the long shaped and the round, the latter usually crowning the heights. The long typed barrow were of the earlier race of men, of the Neolithic or Stone-Age before metal was known. They were men of small stature, with heads of a long or oval shape.
At West Kennett just over the border from East Kennett a long barrow was excavated and shown on Television in 1955. At East Kennett also is a barrow considered inferior to the other and is within a clump of trees concealing it from view.
On Overton Hill is a line of round barrows, burial places of a later race, and from excavations we learn they were people of taller stature and round headed. Implements were found of bronze, so they were called people of the Bronze Age.
At one time:- East Kennett belonged to the Priory of St Margarets, Marlborough. The Dedication of its Church is Christ Church and was built in 1864 on an old site. A picture of the old Church hangs in the present Church, copied from a collection of paintings of old Churches in Wiltshire, in the Devizes Museum, by John Buckler in 1810.
The Church Register dates from 1655. Memorandum on page one reads:-
William Hasland was sworn in as Registrar of the Parish of East Kennett, at the desire of the inhabitants, before William Blessett J.P. 9th. April, 1655.
It is a small Church in comparison with its neighbour churches, seating capacity being fifty. There are five bells hung in two tiers, tenor 4 cwt., treble 2 cwt.
The Day School was endowed by Maria Mathews in 1878, a school for the education and training of girls for Domestic Service. While for the boys the Lanfear Endowment Trust provided funds for apprenticeships.
Coal is also distributed at Christmas time.
The village was built on grounds called Upper Close and Lower Close which is near to the Church. There is Mill Mead which tells us there was once a mill for grinding corn. There is Gammons Ground and Curses Ground marked on an old map. The latter may mean ‘ground blasted by a curse’ or it may mean as Shakespeare used the word curst, as ‘crossed-grained’, sour, intractable or again it may be a corruption of ‘crossed roads’ as it is situated near a road junction.
Bordering East Kennett is West Kennett which was famed fifty years ago and more for its ale which was brewed from a soft water spring rising within the brewery owned by Mr. Butler. The brewery first commenced in the old coaching days and the house was called ‘The White Hart Inn’ and catered for the travellers on the coach route from London to Bath. Brewing ceased about 1930 and much of the old buildings were destroyed by fire in 1955.
Kennett Down running beside the Bath Road at Overton Hill was a favourite spot for picnic parties, but it was put down for cultivation during the second world war, about 1940.
Just beyond the Parish towards Devizes, at Beckhampton, the last highwayman is said to have been hung on a wayside tree for robbery of the mail. His nameless grave, with head and footstone, can still be seen near a turning in the road, left-hand side, at the first cross-roads leading to a belt of trees.
There are wells at intervals along the Bath Road, which were used by the coach horses running from London to Bath.
The most prominent house in East Kennett is Kennett Manor, the home of Captain and Mrs. Paget. It was once the shooting box of Sir Henry Meux in the 18th. Century. In the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1, 1580, one Frankland by name had a grant of a Manor at East Kennett. During the 1939/45 war Queen Mary once paid a visit to the Manor and stayed to tea.
East Kennett Farm is the home of Mr. J. Read who has farmed for some years; previously Mr. Arnold lived there.
There are a few old cottages left standing, some two or three hundred years old, thatched and stone built. One of the oldest houses is Orchard Farm, owned by Mr. and Mrs. Nelson Cook. Mrs. Cook’s father Mr. Ellis had lived there before her and he acquired the property about seventy years ago from the Earl of Pembroke. About one hundred years ago it was a bakery and small general shop owned by Mr. Merryfield.
Another important house was ‘The Dispensary’, along Kennett Drive towards Overton. It is built of an unusual design, half dwelling house, half hall. The latter part was for the use of the Marlborough Doctors and for the dispensing of medicines. Two hospital beds were always kept in readiness for emergencies. Miss Pocock and her niece were put in charge and twice a week one would lean out of the bedroom window and ring a bell to tell the villagers that Dr. Haydon had arrived from Marlborough. It was an admirable scheme and much appreciated in those days. The house was built and given by Mrs. Mathews in about 1880. When the foundations were laid a copy of ‘The Marlborough Times’ and some coins were also laid with it. The dispensary was closed down about forty years ago.
The only means of transport seventy to one hundred years ago was a wagonette to be hired from Mr. Jasper Pope of Marlborough. If one could not afford to hire then it was customary to walk. There were no buses in those days until the first bus which was run by the Great Western Railway a few years later, from Calne to Marlborough along the Bath Road, but was later taken off. Since then a horse and wagonette from Avebury travelled through the villages for a time and since the 1930’s a regular bus service has run throughout the villages.
Kennett Handbell Ringers formed many years ago went round the Parish at Christmas time playing Carols and old tunes, that custom has now died out. They were last heard about 25 years ago when they gave a demonstration at the Women’s Institute Christmas Party. One particular favourite old piece was:-
The leave are green
The nuts are brown
The boughs are high
They won’t come down
Ding Dong, Ding Dong,
Ding Dong Bell.
The Leader of the hand-bell ringers then was Mrs. A. Sawyer. He was also the Secretary of ‘The Wiltshire Working Mens’ Conservative Benefit Society’ for a great many years.
The Council houses were built about 1950 and the Bus Shelter erected in 1955.
Leaving East Kennett and travelling along Kennett Drive towards Overton we pass ‘Six Trees’, on the left, and its ghost! Reputed to take many forms it was last seen by the District Nurse some forty years ago, who was on her way home one dark night. A form suddenly jumped over the hedge and startled here. It proved to be a young deer which had strayed from Savernake Forest. As Nurse in her capacity of midwife was accustomed to ‘little dears’ she only went on her way.
West Overton in 949 A.D. was Ofertune ‘enclosure on the shore’ of the River Kennet and was Overtone in the Domesday Book. Of Anglo-Saxon origin, West Overton was so called to distinguish it from its tything Fyfield and which was sometimes called East Overton.
An extract from the Domesday Book reads The Church (i.e. The Abbey of Wilton) itself holds Overton. In the time of King Edward (The Confessor) it paid tax on 10 hides. There is land for 4 ploughs. Of this estate 7 hides and a fraction are demesne land, and there is land for 2 ploughs on it, and there are 2 serfs. There are also 3 villeins and 8 cottagers with land for 2 ploughs. A Mill there pays 10 shillings (a year). There are too, 5 acres of meadow, 20 acres of grazing, and 20 acres of woodland. It is worth 100 shillings (a year).
This is an income tax assessment. The hide was about 120 acres, so the Farm was assessed as worth altogether 1200 acres of averagely good land.
If tax was at 2/- a hide (a usual figure) it would have to pay 20/-. Tax was not paid every year. The demesne was a sort of ‘home farm’ of which the profits went to the holder, in this case the Abbess of Wilton.
An Ox-plough was supposed to plough 120 acres each season, so there would be about 480 acres of arable; wheat, barley and oats were grown on this. The meadow was land on which hay could be grown, and the grazing, probably down-land. The remains of the mill pool are still to be seen. No doubt bigger mills were built in later times. 100 shillings a year was quite a usual rent for a medium sized farm.
The village is predominately agricultural up to this day. It was built on land called ‘Knights Close’ from the Saxon work ‘Cnight’, meaning servant, indicating estates held on the feudal system of knightly tenure.
Kings Close being the piece of meadow land near the Church.
The Church of St. Michael was built in 1878 to replace an old church on the same site. The Tower was finished in 1883. The Church was celebrated locally for its copper roof, and the late Verger, Mr. John Waite remembered the earlier church which had a balcony inside. He with other small boys used to drop bits of paper on to the heads of the congregation below. The Register dates from 1682 and contains entries belonging to both Overton and Fyfield Churches, which was the custom until 1732 when each church had its own register. Seating capacity is 255, which 60 years ago, report goes, was accommodating that number regularly with a full Choir of men and boys voices. It has six bells, Tenor 11 cwt., Treble 4 cwt.
The Churchyard was extended in 1880.
In the Church Magazine of March 1930 is an extract from a letter from Mr. W. Welburn whose father was Vicar when the present Overton Church was built. He writes; I have always regretted that the old Church was entirely destroyed though it certainly was very dilapidated. Mr. Ponting the Architect has told me that the south wall of the Nave ought never to have been taken down, being very solid, but he was young at the time and my father over-ruled him. I fancy the Duke of Marlborough, who was a big land-owner in the district and who was their patron had urged him to rouse the Parish up, and so he was anxious to have everything new. His predecessor Angel, had been an invalid and left everything to his Curates, who seem to have held services just how and when they felt inclined. Angel was a great gardener and made all the gardens on the north side of the Vicarage (now called Overton House). There were five or six glasshouses, stabling for thirteen horses and coach houses, cow byres, poultry runs and buildings of all sorts. He built four rooms at the east end of the house, the one story part at right angles was put up by Hoyle, his predecessor, so that the original 18th. Century house must have been very small. There was no road to the Church, it stood in a field and there were double white gates between the yews. I well remember the new Churchyard being consecrated by the Bishop of the Diocese, Moberley, 5th. October 1877 and William Keenus, Vicar of East Kennett, a stout plethoric man, arriving late and being helped into his surplice in a high wind, very much out of breath, when the procession was halfway round.
You went down three steps into the Church and it had galleries round three sides, reached by an outside stair, the choir and harmonium were in the west part. The body of the Church was filled with square deal pews; there was an old ‘Three decker’ ornamented with tattered red cloth. Great patches of damp on the Chancel walls, and vaults under the whole of the Nave, some of them divided from the open air only by floor boards; the atmosphere in hot weather being consequently unpleasant!
There were some bits of coloured glass in the tracery of the east window, now behind the organ. The space under the tower was screened off and used jointly for vestry and ringing chamber. The galleries were much favoured by the youth of the parish who used to take nuts up with them and spit the shells on those beneath. I feel that my father, who in those days was an athletic and rather quick tempered man sadly interfered with these delights.
All the north side of the Church has been considerably raised; if one was to dig by those dwarf railings in the north west corner one would find they went down four or five feet. I don’t know why this was done. Pontings original design provided much more battlements and pinnacles for the tower, but Sir Henry Meux objected that it would not stand the frost in such an exposed position. However, you still have some relics of the old Church viz; the windows on the south side of the Nave and I think the sough window of the 13th. Century Chancel Arch and entrance doorway to Nave, the old east window, the font, three of the bells, and I believe the Alter table, the rood left door, the wall talblet in the chancel and the lectern and doors are made from wood out of the old beams which were covered with whitewash. The outside walls were of sarcen boulders strapped with iron.
When Ann Waite, whose name was then Church, married secondly William Waite, recently of the Army, a big truculent sort of man, he was made Sexton and told to keep order. I well remember one Sunday hearing smothered laughter and immediately the sound of William’s footsteps hoing noisily in that direction, followed by a sound like two planks falling on each other; he had smacked the faces of a couple of young men1 It seems funny to think of it in these days.
The organ, a very fine one, the pipes being of hammered or beaten tin was a gift from the Rt. Hon. Earl of Pembroke. The fencing enclosing the whole Churchyard was at the cost of the Parishioners at that time. The gift of the Restoration of the Church and land surrounding the Church was given by the Trustees of Sir Henry Meux, a big land and property owner in the district. It has a sundial on the south side of the Tower and the clock was placed in the Tower during Reverend Workman’s time, a gift from parishioners in the 1930’s.
Mr. and Mrs. John Waite, he was nephew of the previous Verger, William, were appointed Verger and Caretakers and were so for forty odd years when they were presented with armchairs by the parishioners on their retirement.
The old Church key still hangs on the same nail in Mrs. Waite’s living room where it has been for seventy odd years. She is now aged ninety, her husband pre-deceased her by fifteen years. She is still active and cheerful.
The Vergers house is by the east entrance to the Churchyard and has the date 1746 high up over the front and small stone fact built in the back wall.
A new Vicarage was built in the 1930’s in the new road, a road which was made about one hundred years ago.
The present Vicar the Reverend V.E.B. Norton, to whom we are indebted for much information of the Churches, was the first Vicar to live in the new Vicarage.
Prior to the making of the new road the only way to and from Lockeridge was by cutting across the meadow opposite the Church, on the south side. One entered opposite the two old thatched cottages at the corner. One can still follow the old track, though grass covered. There are still stray hawthorns bordering it and banked sides. It led to a gate coming out on top of the hill at the road junction.
A great deal of Overton was rebuilt in the 1870’s and these gabled cottages bear the same hall-mark of the design of Mr. Ponting, a well-know Architect, who lived at Lockeridge.
One can still find traces of the older cottage homes, box hedges were a great favourite and the box remains inter-mingling amongst the hawthorne. Groups of sarcen stones can still be found in odd corners, pointing to the past uses they were put to in building village walls, making solid field gate posts and above all the stone built cottages. Many have been used to fill in the old cottage wells. Quite a few of these old cottages were built close to the river bed. One can only think that at times when the river rose they were flooded, which often happened after heavy falls of snow. As the thaw set in, the water flowed down from the surrounding hills into the river bed. When this happened the village was quite cut off from the main Bath Road.
Nurse Pincott, the district nurse, about forty-five years ago, was involved in the following incident when the Kennet overflowed:-
Bellringers practising hymns one night
Heard cries of distress in the moonlight.
Who is this maiden in sorry plight?
What brings me here and why do I roam?
The floods are up and I can’t get home.
Oh, help me to cross this raging foam
Swift as the charge of the Light Brigade
Those valiant ringers, the call obeyed.
Dashed down to he side, quickly to aid
‘Twas a life at stake, they all held dear.
It bolstered their courage, banished fear.
Across the waters, voices rang clear
‘Hold on Nurse’.
One by one like merchant ships asail,
Hand over hand, crossing by field rail,
Foot over foot, in the teeth of the gale
‘Hold on Nurse’.
Harken! What was that ominous crash!
Oh, what was that significant splash!
Nurse and wooden rails gone like a flash
Into the raging foam!
Strode forth a gallant of four feet stature
As chivalry called to this silent watcher.
Stout of heart he had vouched to catch her
If Nurse slipped.
Now hold on sixfoot Oh, hold on Nurse,
Struggling and floundering to be the first
to win their laurels and rescue Nurse
And claim her smile.
Honour is mine, they argue and fret
To who carried Nurse safe over the wet.
They say to this day, they argue yet
‘Who saved Nurse’.
Bell Road and George Lane, the link roads were inundated and the meadows in between looked like a vast lake. The last time this happened was about 1945 and quite a few of the fair sex remember being carried ‘piggy back’ by a gallant cavalier over the rushing waters, while the more cautious were conveyed by lorry. The waters always subsided within two or three days. It is generally considered that the flow of the river is smaller of late years owing to demands made upon the water system in the district, though it is recorded that the river was once dry downstream one hundred years ago as far as Marlborough.
Trout at one time abounded in the river and one can remember in the early 1930’s many fine dead trout laying along the banks near to George Bridge, when the stream was for a time just stagnant pools.
A pair of swans nested in the withy bed in 1938 and reared a family of cygnets, but the war following, all the swans were rounded up and they have not come back. In 1947 a strange bird was seen on the stream, later identified as the Slavonian Grebe. It stayed some weeks but was eventually killed by boys who ruthlessly stoned it.
On Overton Down is ‘Grey Wethers’, grey sarsen stones, so called as they resemble in the distance flocks of sheep of the same name. Some of these stones follow a winding track believed to be a glacier of the Ice-age. In distant ages it is believed these Downs were once under the sea and a stratum of sand containing these stones once covered the chalk of these districts and when the softer portions were carried away by the action of the waters, the solid blocks were left behind on the surface. Some of the old people will tell you ‘the stones grow’, the probability is that the soil surrounding them is in time washed away.
One hundred years ago and more, the Downs were the natural feeding ground for flocks of sheep. There are less sheep grazing now. At some time dewponds were constructed for watering the sheep and a few are still to be found.
Temple on Overton Down is a site of a Preceptory of the Kights Templars, a religious and military order founded in 1119. It was extinguished in 1307 to 1314 in one of the darkest tragedies in history.
Glory Ann is another place name which lies on the British Trackway, the origin of which is obscure.
On theory is that being a commanding spot, it may have been a British camp in Roman times. Later a cattleyard and cottages with gardens were placed here and on an old map in the British Museum it is disclosed as ‘Port Lorien’ cottages. A paragraph in ‘The Times’ 1881 reads ‘Oldest Officer in Marines, Lieutenant Smethwick of H.M. Northumberland severe action near Lorient Harbour in 1812 in which a French Frigate and a Brig were destroyed. For this action he received a medal and a clasp. Cottages named ‘Lorien’ could easily be corrupted by the countryman to ‘Glory Ann’.
The Delling is another picturesque name given to a cottage on the Downs where many a luncheon was served to a shooting party of Sir Henry Meux.
On other interesting field name leading to it is ‘Mumsall’, origin unknown. Nearby is Down Barn where a cottage stands in a veritable valley with an interesting ban kside running along in grassy steps as though sheep had grazed throughout the ages and formed these tracks. It lies in the old glacier bed and if we follow it, will bring us round to Piggledene Farm buildings, now unoccupied. Sarsen stones are dotted along the way in a winding track until the modern Bath Road calls a halt.
The name Piggledene derives from Pig-all, old Wiltshire term for the berry of the whitethorns which abound here, and ‘Dene’ meaning valley. It is now the property of the National Trust.
Maids Acre is a name given to a piece of land running up beside the second belt of trees towards Fyfield where a girl is said to have cut and tied an acre of corn in a day. One is glad to know her gallant effort is so perpetuated, as the story goes it cost her life.
Totterdown on the Downs is from the Saxon ‘Raised on high’ to totter, for after the Romans, came the Saxons in the sixth century who settled here and gave their names to our villages and fields. They built their hamlets and farms on the river banks and rough roads began to appear following the course of the stream from village to village as they do today. The bases of principal parts of names is almost entirely Saxon, as goes the couplet:-
In ford, ham, ley, in tun
The most of English surnames run
Lammas meadow is the old name given to the meadow directly in front of Overton House, which was the old Vicarage, and is the only piece of land now left belonging to the Church. It probably derives from Lammas Day the 1st. August, from ‘Loaf mass’ a custom of the Saxons to offer up an oblation of new loaves of bread as first fruits of their new corn.
Other field names in the Parish are:-
Hollow Snap ,sunken road on the hill, now called Allahs End.
Larks Lears or Lerkeley Hill , poor barren land, ‘ler’ meaning empty or as the Wiltshireman would say ‘lear’.
Bethem Barrow Field adjoining Whiteway Hill, the barrow having disappeared under the plough some two hundred years ago, it is recorded.
Cotton Barrow Field another vanished barrow ‘coid or coiten, ‘dwelling by the wood’ is next to Piggledene.
Saddle-back Field (opposite Stanley Copse).
George Mead adjoining Bath Road from the Old George Inn cottages.
Lacket Meadow frin ‘Lacca’ a pit or well, also ‘lac’ (Saxon word) meaning sport and sacrifice, maybe village game of ancient days.
Gallop Piece ‘gal or geal’ Saxon meaning roomy or spacious.
Windmill Road where on top of the hill was once a windmill.
Whiteway : chalky road.
Stanley Copse or Stonelegh or Stonywood.
Gamen Anglo-Saxon word meaning pleasure and games.
Pennings defined as a site of some yard or fold distant from the farm, usually marked by a clump of trees originally planted to shelter it.
Mead is an ancient word betokens pasture land of village whereby every free villager had the right of turning into it his cattle or swine. It was only when the grass began to grow afresh that the common meadow was fenced off into grass fields one for each household in the village, and when hay harvest was over, fence and division was a an end again.
Chick Changles Wood a corruption of scythangra, meaning ‘sloping hangar’ a wood on the declivity of a hill. There is an old right-of-way leading from Ov erton village across the Kennet by stone and iron bridges through the with bed, much overgrown in the summer. It crosses the meadow and out by the field gate next to the two cottages 88 and 89 Bath Road, crossing the road and following an old track called ‘Snail Creep’ beside the Police Constable’s house, finally bringing one up on the down. Unused now but forty or fifty years ago a short cut from the village.
Overton still retains a strong farming interest, though farmed in a different way. Previous to the 1914-1918 war the three farms in the village were separately owned, North, South and West Farms. Following the end of the war the Olympia Agricultural Company with Lord Manton at its head acquired most of the surrounding farms. They held the property for about four years, and after the death of Lord Manton the farms gradually passed into the hands of Mr. F. Swanton who has lived at North Farm since, and who has successfully farmed over the years to which his many winning cups and trophies testify. He is the largest property owner and employer of labour in the parish.
The house, North Farm or Manor Farm and buildings were built one hundred and sixty or one hundred and seventy years ago.
The barns still show the wooden pegs holding it together, before the coming of steel nails and screws. Mr. Neate was the first occupant and incidentally planted the trees that surround it.
A story goes that Mr. Neate, who previously lived at the house adjoining the Church (later called the Old Manor) complained to the Duke of Marlborough at that time that his house was not good enough, being told. Well, build yourself a house and I will pay for it Neate. This he proceeded to do but the Dike later sold the property and Mr. Neate was never paid.
After Mr. Neate, the house came into the possession of Mr. Long, then later to Mr. Parsons. The Olympia Agricultural Company next acquired it, until Mr. Swanton bought it in the 1920’s.
Mr. Swanton is the owner of one or two valuable and rare books. One is ‘Extracts from History of Agriculture and Prices in England’ by Professor J.E. Thorold M.P. It contains farm prices and phenomenon observed in the British Isles from the 9th. Century, and embraces a period from 1259 to 1582.
Local colour is lent by a collection of these same records published in 1911 and compiled by T.H. Baker F.M.S., whose nephew was Mr. Alec Taylor’s secretary and who lived at one time at Ivy House, Fyfield.
To quote a few items:-
In 1774 Bullocks were £6.00 each
Sheep were 12/- each
Lambs were 8/- each
Turkeys were 3/6 each
Geese were 2/6 each
Chickens were 9d. each
Pigeons were 2d. each
Pork was 3d. per lb.
A labourers daily wage was 1/-.
In 1652 is a record by John Evelyn that on 29th. April was that celebrated eclipse of the sun, when hardly anyone would work nor stir out of their homes.
It also contains the description of the disastrous snowstorm of 1881 which reads; On the 17th. January a rough easterly wind arose to a gale in the night and about 7am. On the 18th. It began to snow which continued the whole day, drifting frightfully. It was so cold and the wind so rough one could not look up against it. A cessation about midnight for two or three house then came on thicker than before and did not cease till the 19th. No man living remembered two days of such weather in succession. Great loss of life of both men and beast. Roads blocked and all business at a standstill.
There are still one or two of the older generation who can recall hearing their parents speak of the local tragedy of the Fyfield man Farr.
Another book of great interest owned by Mrs. Swanton contains survey maps and information covering the lands of the farm estate compiled over one hundred years ago.
Mr. Cecil Orchard also owns an interesting old family diary and account book over one hundred years old. One entry reads:-
Five weeks and two days work at 1/8d. a day making hurdles,
Eleven dozen hurdles at 2/9d. per dozen.
Two cord of wood = 12/-.
One pair of boots = 8/6d.
Opposite North Farm was once a row of four white-washed, thatched cottages, two of which were the old George Inn of coaching days. The stabling and cottages were demolished in the 1920’s to make way for the new road widening scheme. Now only the site remains with a cherry and apple tree marking the spot, behind the grass verge and fence. George Lane, nearby, leads towards the village, where two more old and picturesque cottages, near the Church, frequently draw the artists brush. Two more old cottages of 16th. Century vintage stand at the corner turning of the village. Another interesting old house The Old Manor, by the Church was once Church Farm, where Mr. W. Rawlings, a smallholder lived. In a severe thunderstorm the lightening unfortunately killed his few cows which ruined him. Previous to this it was occupied by a saddler and harness make, one hundred years ago, name unknown. The old cottage at Church Ill has been said to have been the village blacksmith’s of that time.
The Old Manor has been considerably altered and rebuilt, and one wonders if the underground passage which lies beneath the house though sealed up and running beneath the roadway, south, was made in the saddlery days, or even of an earlier date, perhaps the Civil War period of 1643. A part of the house was built on and contained a large down-stair room, called the Reading Room. The gift of the use of the room to the parishioners was made in 1890, free of rent as long as Lady Meux was owner of the estate. Later when the estate was sold, the room passed into the possession of Mr. William Russ.
Passing the corner cottages one comes to Holly Lodge. This was an old cottage with thatched workshops and frontage yard attached but let independently. The workshop was for many years the village carpenter, wheelright and undertaker. The business belonged to Mr. Huntley of Honeystreet and was managed by Mr. Joe Ashley, who was also Verger for some years. The house, about 1950, was reconditioned and much of the interior brought back to its original construction. Old fireplaces and beams were brought to the surface. Amongst the latter was found a wall beam with the lettering E.M.P. 1691 marked on it. This tends to suggest that it could have been the property of the Earl of Montgomery and Pembroke of that time as the estates extended that far from Wilton. Many things point to the possibility of its being an old farmhouse originally, or even an inn. From time to time pieces of old pottery and churchwarden pipes have been dug up in the garden. There is also to be found within the back premises a large wall of considerable depth. Opposite stands a derelict building which was probably stabling accommodation or a blacksmith’s forge, although no-one can remember its being put to such use.
A few feet away is the Kennet Valley Hall which was built for the use of the Parishioners and opened in September 1931. The opening ceremony was performed by the Right Honourable J.H. Whitely, a former speaker of the House of Commons and Vice-president of the National Council of Social Service. Fourteen organisations banded themselves together as sponsors and a Committee of Management comprises a representative nominated by each of these organisations. Erection of the building was carried out by Messrs. G. Sprules and Son, of Lockeridge, and a loan debit on the project was finally cleared as a result of a fete held in 1934. The Hall is the centre of social activities and is put to regular use each winter by the local indoor games club. The Mothers’ Union, inaugurated back in the ‘thirties, is another organisation to make the Hall its headquarters; likewise the Women’s Institute which, since its formation in 1924, has always met alternately at Lockeridge and Overton.
Mr. Swanton gave the site for the hall.
Another old house of 16th or 17th century stands next to the Hall at the cross-roads. It is the home of Mr. and Mrs. Pearce, daughter of the previous owner Mr. Henry Sprules popularly known as Snooty, being the local chimney sweep over many years. He was in his 90th year when he died, an independent sturdy old Wiltshire man around whom many a story is told. He kept a small general shop, also a brougham for carrier work to and from Marlborough. On rainy days he was often to be found sitting inside with his passengers. Many passers-by viewed with alarm this driverless equipage bounding along, but the old horse knew its master and its way to town. When he retired from his hiring business, his horses were sold to a man at Devizes, ten miles away, but he did not reckon on one of his horses, a young colt, trotting back early one morning to his old master. The Duchess of Portland, an animal lover, wrote to Mr. Sprules on reading a newspaper account, an appreciative letter of thanks for his undoubted kindness to his horses.
One other story is told of his exploits at tree lopping in the village, when he was seen to fall suddenly to the ground. To his anxious rescuers who ran up to help he remarked dryly, I was sitting the wrong side of the saw!
The cottage is cream washed and standing at the corner, still known locally as Snooty’s Corner, and was one hundred years ago the village Sunday School.
Opposite are two more old thatched cottages surrounded by an old stone wall which again suggests it may once have been a farmhouse. Two or three old stavel stones ornament the flower garden in the lane which helps to preserve the old world atmosphere of the village. Further down the lane which is known locally as Frog Lane are other old thatched and stone built cottages, one chimney being date-stamped I.S. 1697.
Along the street standing next are four Tudor style built cottages called The Grange but at one time was called The Barracks but no-one knows the origin.
We then come to The Cottage, home of Mr. and Mrs. A Peck. Mrs. Peck is Assistant Postmistress. Thirty-five years ago it was the village blacksmith’s, R. Nicklen, and the garage, as it is now, was at that time the blacksmith’s forge. Stavel stones again are an attractive feature of the front garden.
Next is an interesting old house called The Yews. In 1859 it was purchased by Mr. and Mirs. Bailey who established a bakery and General Stores. Later, the daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, opened what was probably the first Post Office in the village which they held for many years.
Close by is the telephone kiosk, and bus shelter which was built by local voluntary labour. The roof is of Cotswold tiles and the material was given by Mr. Swanton. The shelter was opened 2nd. June, 1953 to commemorate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
Next is the new modern blacksmith and wheelwrights belonging to Mr. Huntley of Honeystreet, a little out of keeping with the old world cottages.
Opposite are three more reconditioned old cottages known as Peacock which was originally a farmhouse. One hundred or so years ago it was the home of Mr. Pumphries of Pumphries Woods. It derived its name from a hedge or tree growing in the front garden cut and shaped like a peacock, but alas is no more. This was cut down in the 1930’s when reconstruction took place. Inside one of the cottages at the time was revealed an old beam, inside a cupboard, with the lettering E.P. 1552 which again tells us it was the Earl of Pembroke’s property.
An old couple Mr. and Mrs. Abraham Waite, whose descendants still live in the parish, lived there for many years. Many a dozen clothes pegs were made by the late Verger, Mr. John Waite, who also lived here, for the use of the village people, and very good pegs too.
At the back of the adjoining barns was the Village Pound which was used about two hundred years ago for impounding strayed cattle, and a levy charged when they were claimed.
The old cottage at the back of Peacock, the last occupant being Mr. H. Rogers, is now in a state of demolition. It was used as a Dame School one hundred years ago.
Two old granaries, 16th. Century, once used for storing grain and raised from the ground on stavel stones, so called to stave off the rats and mice, were pulled down for safety sake in 1955. They stood in the field next to the modern blacksmith’s shop.
Opposite is the General Store and Off License held by Mrs. Bartlett, widow of Mr. E. Bartlett, who opened up in addition a bakery in 1928. The bakery terminated in 1954. The Sub-Post Office next door is held by Mrs. Bartlett assisted by her daughter Mrs. Peck. An amusing story is told of these two ladies efforts at bread baking in the early days of the 1914/1918 war. Mr. Bartlett was called to the forces, leaving his wife, seventeen year old son and fifteen year old daughter, with little experience, to cope with the bread baking. Whilst delivering, the son, Arthur, realised he was short of bread so telephoned his sister, giving her instructions to make a quick dough. Mrs. Bartlett made the dough taking great care not to have the water too hot as this would kill the yeast. Too much care apparently, for the water was not warm enough which had the opposite effect. The result was a large cold stone-like dough, which was useless. The son made another batch but the problem was what to do with the large cold lump, as it was a grave offence to waste foodstuffs. It was eventually decided to dig a hole in the garden and bury it. A week later on arising one fine morning and looking out, was to be seen a moving mass of white foaming dough! The warmth of the ground had caused the yeast to work. The dough was a great worry and was repeatedly buried. Each time it appeared, came with it the fear of the Food Officer discovering the unpardonable offence. One is glad to learn that awful secret was finally buried beneath the obituary R.I.P.
At the rear of the General Shop and Post Office are two more old houses, in one of which lived old Jimmy. He used to make string potato nets to be popped into the cooking pot with the bacon and greens, a real old time Wiltshire dish.
Opposite The Cottage is Forge Lane, so called after the old blacksmith’s forge, a lane leading to a new Council building site Knights Close. Some two dozen houses and two bungalows having been built since the end of the war in 1945.
Two more new houses belonging to Mr. Swanton are about to be built in the same lane. One hundred years ago the village carpenter and undertaker, named Mr. Walker, lived at the corner of Overton turning for East Kennett. A relative, Mr. Pearce living in the village, recalls being told of his funeral and what an impressive sight it was. Two black horses bedecked with black hoods and mantles which covered their bodies, and black feather plumes nodding on their heads as they conveyed him to his last resting place.
The Methodist Chapel near the same turning leading off to Kennett Drove was built in 1901. Mr. John Glass who owned West Farm gave the site. The present Sunday School Superintendant is Mr. W. Deacon of Overton who has been so for over twenty years, and to well-attended classes. Previous to 1901 services were held in a nearby cottage.
South Farm House, in the centre of the village, was once occupied by Mr. Butler, but for the last thirty years has been the home of Mr. Robert Buxton and his niece Miss Clark. He is an artist of considerable merit, and has show at the Royal Academy and is famed for his water colours of the Tedworth Hunt.
A large drying plant at the back of the village, belonging to Mr. Swanton, was erected in 1953, and marks the progress of time in the farming world.
Oxen were used last in the fields about fifty-five years ago, and an old inhabitant Mr. George Philpott who had driven them behind the plough has said they kept pace with the ‘osses, they had to. A green track or land at the back of the village is still called The Hitchen, where the oxen were hitched to the harness. There are still a few very fine carthorses to be seen in the meadows but the herds of pedigree shorthorns far outnumber them.
Potato growing and picking up in the fields is an occupation on a large scale, chiefly run by women. Sixty to seventy years ago a few women living in the village pursued another task, stone picking up on the Downs for the making of roads, to augment the weekly income. For in those days wages were low and families of nine and ten had to be supported on as many shillings weekly.
The smocked frocks of the men and cotton sun-bonnets of the women were last seen about forty to fifty years ago.
The gathering-in of the harvest was rounded off with the merrymaking of the Harvest Home, the last being held about forty eight years ago at the Bell Inn. Many of the older generation recall Mr. Glass, the genial host of these gatherings where concertina, singing, dancing and feasting were the order of the evening.
The mills which ground the corn one hundred odd years ago have all disappeared. One mill stood on the river at the back of West Farm, a favourite spot for children’s bathing, but a danger spot as the water covers a deep hole where presumably the mill stood. Some children once were enjoying the water when one, Rosie Waite, almost drowned, but for the timely plunge of thirteen year old Rodney Farley of Fyfield who very pluckily dragged her to the bank.
The with bed by the river at one time extended to the George Lane Bridge the sedge which abundantly grew there was dried and used for thatching purposes whilst the withy canes were used for hurdle making.
The Parish is generally considered a healthy spot to live in, conducive to longevity. Within the last thirty years a few nonagenarians can be named:-
Mr. & Mrs. H. Cook of East Kennett
Mr. G. Middleton of West Overton
Mrs. John Waite of West Overton
Mr. Henry Sprules of West Overton
Mr. & Mrs. John Waters of West Overton
Of the latter, a grand-daughter Mrs. Amy Truman aged seventy, who recently visited the village after forty years tells a few stories of her grandparents. At their Diamond Wedding the village people presented them with a clock to mark the occasion. She remembers when her Grandmother passed away, a neighbour went into her garden and knocked on the bee-hive telling the bees that their mistress had died, an old custom. She also stopped the clock saying Time and tide wait for no man but it will for you. Another story she remembers of her Grandfather’s father, how he was taking his horses and wagon to a mill with corn when the Press Gang intervened and seized him. He was taken from his horses and wagon at Thatcham and conveyed to London with many others, put on a barge to sail up the Thames and forced to enlist to fight in the Battle of Waterloo. Incidentally Mrs. Truman enquired if the old Walnut trees still stood near the West Farm garden wall!
One must not leave out one personality the district nurse, one of the old school of nurses, Nurse Pincott who acted in this capacity for 38 years. She lived at Holly Lodge for most of those years, and helped to bring 750 babies into the world and never lost a mother. After 25 years, in 1935, the parishioners gathered at the Kennet Valley Hall to pay tribute to her years of service. Bouquets and a purse of money were handed to her. On her retirement in 1948, after 38 years of nursing, the parishioners once again demonstrated their esteem and value of her services in a similar way. Extracts from verses dedicated to her were recited at the gathering:-
Summers heat, winters cold
Cycling the village street
Nurse’s brown clad figure
In uniform so neat.
And now the time has come
‘Tis met with courage high
The day we all regret
To Nurse we say ‘Goodbye’.
One other heart is sad
As hov’ring o’er her porch
Nightly he seeks in vain
The flash of Nurse’s torch.
‘The old order changeth’
He sighs o’er hill and dell
Lost! Bemused, poor old bird
The Stork, she knew so well!
To Nurse we say Farewell,
Her years of service run
None more fitting words than these
Well done, Nurse , Well done.
The district nurse is still with us, No.11 Knights Close, is the official residence. How much easier it is in these modern times for the Nurse to carry out her duties with nice motor car instead of a bicycle, which over so many years was the only means of travelling to her patients.
Even the school children are conveyed to and from their schools by bus. Not for them are wet sodden shoes and clothes, as was often the plight of the children of 30 odd years ago, they now arrive fresh, dry and rested. Juniors up to 11 years of age only are now taught at Kennett and Lockeridge Schools, after that they all go to Marlborough schools.
All farm cottages in Overton have been reconditioned since the Town and Country Planning Act after the war. A piped water supply laid on, bathrooms and flushes, airing cupboards and electric light. Rayburn cooking stoves have been installed ensuring a constant supply of hot water to hand which is a further boon, and with the definite higher standard of living enjoyed is very far removed from village life as lived even 30 years ago.
To go back 70 years when the average farm workers wage was 9/- weekly, cottage rent at 1/- or 1/6d., 1 cwt. of coal 1/-, bread 1/- a gallon, beer at 2d. a pint, shag tobacco 3d. an ounce, a packet of five cigarettes 1d., one did indeed step into another world. Most cottagers endeavoured to keep a pig or two in the sty which ensured a little meat for the household for it was not easy or cheap to purchase butcher’s meat. When pig killing time came round they invariably sought out Mr. John Waite for the job. His charge to kill and cut up a pig was the princely sum of one shilling.
During and since the last war a Pig Club for Mr. Swanton’s employees was formed. It has been the means of providing bacon practically all the year round at a very reasonable cost, and was much appreciated by the harassed housewife during war rationing days.
One cheap dish enjoyed in the old days was a rabbit pie, now denied to all since the myxamatosis scourge killed off all the rabbits in 1954.
Many workmen on Mr. Swanton’s farms have been in his employ for some 30 or 40 years:- Mr. V. Angell, Mr. T. Dobson, Mr. J. Harris, Mr. Hurcott, Mr. Chas. Waite, Mr. A. Wise and Mr. C. Orchard.
Many old customs have died out within the last 20 years. The tolling of the Church bells at funerals is heard no more, or the playing of hymn tunes on the Church bells in Lent, which was often a feature in the evenings.
There is still a band of bell ringers within the parish who can be mustered together for special occasions.
One memorable event in the village was when Mr. Swanton returned with his bridge in 1935. As his car turned in the drive entrance under a caption Welcome Home the bells rang out merrily. All his workmen and their families, in number about 150, had gathered to greet them. Ropes were fastened to the car and drawn up the drive, where on the steps of the gateway an address of welcome was read and two small children handed up a bouquet and a buttonhole. At the same time the Kennet Vale Silver Band who had assembled on the lawn suddenly struck up For hes a jolly good fellow.
A silver salver suitably inscribed was presented to Mr. Swanton on the occasion of his marriage from all his workmen. A week or so later the barn at Fyfield was the scene of a celebration supper party to his workmen, and tea parties for their wives and families a few days after.
The old custom of home-made wine making is now being revived after being suspended during the war through sugar rationing. All the root wines, potato, beet, carrot and parsnip and the popular dandelion now find a place on the pantry shelf.
The television and radio influence in the home, the merging of town and country children in the town schools all tend to weaken the local dialect, except among the older generation. Town surrounding too with its varied occupations open up a wider vista to the imagination of the growing child mind. One wonders if the same interest will survive future generations of school children at the sight of a growing cornfield, as was embodied in a small village boy’s remark, just prior to the war Alackey! Whit in yero a ready s’no!.
A story is told of one old inhabitant, typical of village life of 70 years ago of the Cottager and his pig. So much in common had they. Did they not indeed sustain each other?
He had spent many anxious hours watching over his pig, soon anticipating a happy event. Then deciding all was well went to church. Tired out he was soon fast asleep, when the congregation’s loud AMEN woke him with a start. What he cried out, TEN!. Thar wer on’y two on ’em when I left w’ hoam!
As we leave Overton and climb Church Hill to the top of the Bowling Green, one has a splendid view of the surrounding downs and fields. No-one remembers the bowling, but the name has lingered and relates to a piece of land near to the belt of trees by the pig fattening house which will recall memories of the Fly Plague in 1936, when many ceilings and walls of cottages in the village were moving black masses of flies! Newspaper reporters from London came down to investigate and tell the story of the Fly Plague which emanated from the pig-house and surrounding trees, a veritable harbour for them.
Progressing along the Lockeridge Road, on the left, next to The Kennels, a one-time game keeper’s cottage, is the old recreation ground. Here many a fine game of village cricket is recalled by players of forty years ago. Football and tennis too have been played, remembering also Mrs. Swanton’s women’s cricket team and an occasional women’s football march!
Adjoining the old recreational field is Gypsy Furlong, meaning Gypsum-white lime or plaster, the original meaning is chalk. Furlong is short for furrow long. It is the home of Mr. and Mrs. Giffard. The Giffard family has been long associated with Lockeridge and its activities. Throughout the war years 1939-1945 Mr. Giffard was Battalion Commander of the Home Guard Unit, and Mrs. Giffard was the President of the Women’s Institute and Enrolling Member of the Mother’s Union over a number of years. Mrs. F. Swanton is the present Enroller. The house, known as Gypsy Furlong, was the residence many years ago of the late Mr. Ponting, the well-known architect.
Just below it stands West Close, once the shooting box of Sir Henry Meux.
Further down the avenue of trees, we approach the village of:-
Lockeridge. This was Lock rigi in the Domesday Book, from the Anglo-Saxon hyrog a ridge, and Lok, an ancient Deity who gave his name to the Saxon tribe, the sons of Lok. Later it was Lockerugge, described as another tything of Overton. The latter part of the wsord meant rough, the former being from the Anglo-Saxon loca an enclosure of a rough sheep fold.
On the right is the Scout Hut, centre of social activities in the village. It was erected just after the 1914-18 war and bought by the late Mr. H. R. Giffard, of Lockeridge House, from a military establishment. In order to ensure the longevity of the building, a concrete foundation was laid. Voluntary subscriptions and donations were received towards its development and subsequently the building was handed over to the Boy Scout and Girl Guide Association. Miss Giffard, of Lockeridge House, and later of Long Mead Lower Fyfield, was the first Scoutmaster, whilst Miss P. Clarke, of Overton, has been Guide Captain for many years. Unfortunately, the Scout troop is at present in suspended animation. Whist Drives, dances, Church bazaars and flower shows have all met under its roof. The long established Lockeridge Flower Shows, dating back to the turn of the century, were held each year until about 1950 when the Committee, under the Chairmanship of Miss Giffard were obliged to abandon the event for lack of interest and support. The Kennet Valley Women’s Institute hold meetings here each alternate month with Overton.
The present President of the Kennett Valley Women’s Institute is Miss Giffard. It was first formed in the Lockeridge Schoolroom 25th. April 1924. The first W.I. Meeting was held at Overton 16th. May, 1924. 35 members were present. Miss Maud E. Giffard was Honorary Secretary of the County Executive Committee throughout the arduous war years, 1939-1945, and for five years following was elected County Chairman. On her retirement from the Chair, she was presented with a handsome Scrapbook subscribed to by all the Institutes within the County as a token of regard for her valuable services.
During the late war years there were many war-time activities as the following verses show:-
The Country’s Call 1941
To our work-party each Wednesday noon
We wend our way to knit,
To sew, and talk in a cosy room.
For each must do her bit.
Stitch, Stitch, Stitch,
Threading needles, snipping cottons,
Sister Susies all,
Gussets and plackets, shirts and jackets
And a million is the goal.
(North Farm and South Farm, Overton)
Little tales to you I would unfold
of battles lost and won,
Of sleeves put in the wrong way round
Stiches to be undone.
Knit, Knit, Knit,
Questions popping, stitches dropping,
Scrambling after a ball,
Comforts for men of the Air and Fleet
And a million marching feet.
Many of us will remember well
It was the month of May,
Of sitting at night, in pale lamplight
Until the dawn of day.
Sit, Sit, Sit.
Ears are listening, nerves are bristling,
Shrieks from Pretty Poll,
The clock strikes four, hushed is the talk
When a million geese starts a squark!
(Gypsy Furlong, Home Guard Watch Women)
And then out next adventure so gay
Hunting fro jamjars bright,
Of stirring the pans, braving the wasps,
Challenging them to a fight.
Stir, Stir, Stir,
Stirring it well, not it will jell,
Sticky Susies all,
Tying the covers, sticking the labels,
A million pots put on the tables.
Now its potato planting time,
Sew onions by the score,
Of aching backs, hitching up slacks,
Gum boots that Father wore.
Dig, Dig, Dig.
Then dig and plant, don’t say you can’t,
We must win this war,
Just think it all depends on you
The million things that women do.
The children too are doing their share,
Rousing trolley parades,
Of knocking at doors, raising a roar
‘Any salvage today’?
Tramp. Tramp, Tramp.
The wardens feet are on their beat,
Put out that light, they roar,
Just when you’re thinking Well, what nerve
Up comes the Special Police Reserve.
And now a word for the home-front men,
Who fought the home-front war,
Of tilling the land, sacks of dry sand
Ready at every door.
Work, Work, Work.
Calm and steady, at the ready,
Home Guard on patrol,
And ready to spring to all our aid
The gallant local Fire Brigade.
The Fyfield, Lockeridge and Overton work parties made for the Daily Sketch War Relief Fund 1,383 garments such as pullovers, jerseys, scarves, mittens, helmets, socks, sea-boot stockings, gloves, pyjamas and frocks. They worked for Evacuees, Royal Naval Depot, Home Guard, Red Cross Society and the Wiltshire Regiment. The work was carried out under the supervision of Lady Isobel Gathorne Hardy, of Lockeridge House, whose late husband was formerly G.C.C., Southern Command.
The new bus shelter was erected in the early 1950’s to celebrate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
To the rear stands Glebe Farm, now the property of Mr. A. C. Carter, but was for many years previously the home of Mr. & Mrs. W. Rebbeck. As the name Glebe suggests it was once Church property.
Opposite is the School and School House. This was built by public subscription raised in part by rate and part by donation. It was under the Managers appointed as provided in the Deed of Conveyance 1872. Today it is a part aided and part controlled School by the County.
The Craft Club in the School grounds was partly built by voluntary efforts of two or three members of the Men’s Club. It is shared by the latter and for a time by the craft scholars at the School. Prior to the building of the School, children went to a Dame School, a thatched cottage at the rear of the present School and incidentally, now the home of the retired Schoolmistress, Mrs. Goode.
Some of the children walked to Avebury School, a distance of four miles. The late Mr. John Waite, of Overton, has recalled how he trudged that distance to school and how he was often refreshed at West Kennett Brewery as a boy, with a pint of ale in exchange for any news he could bring of the villages!
One must not forget a well-known and respected Lockeridge Schoolmaster, the late Mr. F. Telling, who taught there for upwards of 25 years until his retirement when presentations were made to him and Mrs. Telling.
Turning right, one comes to Lockeridge Dene where many sarcen stones are to be seen. Dene is the Saxon word for valley and maybe a continuation of the old glacier bed at Piggledene. Gypsies often encamped here, many years ago, and fees were collected for the privilege by the Parish Clerk. There are a few old thatched and stone built cottages, some 300 years old, still standing in the Dene.
In one lived Mr. Jobie Waite who was a well-known hurdle-maker and thatcher some 60 years ago
The one in the far corner is called The Lacket and has particular interest. It is a delightful old world cottage with roof of thatch and for years was partially hidden by thick surrounding box hedge. This and the house was almost destroyed by fire in 1955, but has since been restored.
50 odd years ago it was the home of Mr. Victor Rebbeck, the Parish Clerk. In 1895 he was, indeed, the first to be appointed, a post which he held for about 30 years. His son, Mr. John Rebbeck, is now the Parish Clerk and has been for about 20 years, whilst Miss Giffard is Chairman of the 1956 Council. Unfortunately, the records of the first Minutes Book have been lost whilst house moving. One near disaster of his juvenile days is recalled by Mr. Rebbeck, when fire once again threatened The Lacket. The chimney had been quietly burning for 2 days un-noticed when a neighbour, Mr. Jobie Waite, saw flames shooting upward. Not for nothing Had he been climbing roos to thatch nobly he rose to the occasion and with buckets of water pured down the chimney a steady stream. History does not record the size of the black sea that finally settled around the kitchen hearth.
Later, The Lacket became the residence of Sir Hilton Young, who afterwards became Lord Kennett and who married the widow of the famous explorer, Captain Robert Falcon Scott, of the Antarctic. Bertrand Russell, the famous philosopher was also a visitor. Mrs. Lawrence, Mother of Lawrence of Arabia, lived there for some time with her son. It is now the home of Mr. Wayland Hilton Young, son of Lord Kennett.
Along the back road of Lockeridge are groups of Council Houses built in about the 1920’s.
Coming back through the village, we find, next to the School, the Post Office held by Mrs. Hunt since 1917. Her son, Wing Commander Theodore Mosely Hunt, of the Royal Air Force was awarded posthumously the D.F.C. in the 1939-1945 war. The Post Office was opened some 50 odd years ago, one former postmistress being Miss Scaplehorne, one of the oldest names in the village.
Village names associated with the Crimean War are Sprules, Dobson and Waite. Other old village names are Shipway, Townsend and Smith.
Mr. and Mrs. George Sprules, now in their eighties, have lived in the village practically all their lives and recall much of its history. Mr. Sprules was estate carpenter, as was his father before him, on Sir Henry Meux’s estate. Mrs. Sprules clearly recalls the old four-horse coaching days of the 1870�s and the Toll-gate in the Bath Road by Plough Cottage. It was usually considered an eleven hour journey from London to Bath.
Looking back to the games played in their youth of 70 years ago, Mr. George Sprules recalls a favourite was Duck Stone, throwing at a small stone placed on a sarsen. Girls played Dibs with small stones or pebbles. Later wooden hoops were trolled along the road by girls while boys trolled iron hoops. The coming of the motor car prohibited this little pastime. Tipcat was another boys game, a small stick sharpened both ends laid on the ground and hit with a long stick, until too many broken windows made it unpopular.
Mrs. Sprules also vouches for a certain cure for boils given her by a gypsy. It is one tablespoon of barm before breakfast!
Mr. and Mrs. H. Watts and family is another name connected with Lockeridge activities, particularly with the Kennett Vale Band.
Mr. Stephen Hilliard’s family and his father before him have been long associated with thatching and hurdle-making and were skilled hedgemakers.
The modern village shop was built on the site of the old village pound in the 1920’s. Mr. Fred Sprules was the first owner and was also for many years the Bandmaster of the Kennett Vale Silver Band. It amalgamated with the Overton Chapel Band later, and played first in public in the meadow opposite Lockeridge House on the occasion of King Edward VII’s Coronation. This is a very successful band, having entered many contests and gained Awards in the Wessex Brass Band Association.
The Gospel Hall was erected about 30 years ago and worthy of mention is Mrs. H. Watts who until recently was organist and taught in the Sunday School for upwards of 30 years.
Another well-known name and perhaps one of the oldest families in the village is Rebbeck, who can trace back two or three generations. The father of the present generation was Mr. Edmund Rebbeck. He farmed for some years and owned most of the cottages in Lockeridge, purchased at the Sir Henry Meux sale in 1906. The Meux estate was very extensive, comprising land and many cottages in Overton, Lockeridge and Fyfield. The Inn called The Who’d a Thought It is closely associated with the Rebbeck family and has an amusing story of the origin of it’s name.
A beer-house in the village called The New Found Out and whose Landlord was Mr. Gale, decided to have a bakery in competition with the established bakery owned by Mr. Rebbeck who was also Grocer, Corn Chandler and sold Hardware. Mr. Rebbeck then said If you sell bread, we too will sell beer, where-upon the New Found Out people replied They will never grant you a licence. However, Rebbecks were granted one and the New Found Out Landlord so taken aback said Well, who’d a thought it! Rebbecks decided to name their Inn the Who’d a Thought It and the sign was hung out in 1911. The New Found Out people changed the name later to The Masons Arms which ceased being an Inn when the Licensee, Mrs. Morris, died in 1956.
Opposite the Who’d a Thought It is an old thatched house, Hillside Farm standing back from the road, for many years it was the home of members of the ebbeck family, and at one time Mr. Osborne, the stonemason who erected Overton Church tower, lived there.
Nearby are to be seen new Council Houses, built post-war.
Almost opposite is an interesting old stone built, thatched cottage, called Castle Cottage, with a history. As far back as one can remember the property comprised a pair of cottages. On reconstruction, about 25 years ago, it was discovered after walls and beams had been removed that it was once a Chapel. Latin inscriptions on the wall left much to the imagination. Amongst the debris removed was a small stone-like pinnacle which was thought by some to be part of an old castle, by others to be the steeple of an old Catholic Chapel. The meadow on which it is placed, report says, is called Garcon. As the Roman Castle usually stood where the Manor House now is we will leave it to future historians to delve deeper.
Crossing the bridge at the corner, where one finds a track to Lower Fyfield, is the old Georgian Lockeridge House. It bears a date stamp of 1730. It was once the shooting box of the Duke of Marlborough and it is highly probable he stayed there at times as he was a considerable landowner in the district. Later it was part of Sir Henry Meux Estate.
In 1886 Mr. H. R. Giffard came to Lockeridge House and lived there with his family a great many years. The family have been conspicuous for their deep and abiding interest in the village and its activities over the years and the family can probably lay claim to being one of the few able to trace their ancestry on one, Walter Gifford, son of Osborne de Belbee, a Norman who came over with William the Conqueror and who later halped to compile the Domesday Book of 1087.
On an old map is marked Mall House situated close to Lockeridge House. Mall meaning a level shaded walk, a walk for playing in with malls or mallets and balls. The origin would be a mansion where the mallet and bell game was played in land attached as Pall Mall, London, where Charles II and his courtiers played the same game. Was Lockeridge House built on the site of Mall House?
At the back of Lockeridge towards the West Woods lies Boreham Wood. It derives its name from the hunting of the wild boar, which in medieval times had the distinction of being an animal of the first class chase and which ran in these woods. Close by is Glasse’s Woods, once the property of Mr. Glass of West Farm, Overton.
Sir Henry Meux sporting precincts north of the Bath Road produced fine game bags as follows:-
In 1905 Partridges 331 Hares 528 Rabbits 5,030
The Game Bag obtained from West Woods and other lands south of the Bath Road was:-
In 1905 Pheasants 3,849 Partridges 94 Hares 327
Rabbits 167 Pigeons 27
There is no record of the ones that got away!
West Woods was once part of Savernake Forest. It is now the property of the Forestry Commission. Bluebells, daffodils and primroses abound in the woods in spring. The old Wansdyke runs along the southern border just beyond Shaw.
Hadleigh Down derives from the Saxon Auld or Old Legh Down or Farm.
On old maps are marked field names Saviours Meadow, Coney-bury, The Breach and Rylands.
Shaw There was once an old Church here behind the present house, now only the site remains. In 1946 while ploughing nearby, the tractor sunk in and disclosed an underground passage which it was thought might have run to Pit House. The name Shaw originates from the Saxon shade suggesting many trees, a dense woodland. Sir William Sutton, a staunch Royalist resided here in the 17th. Century.
One of the outstanding events of Lockeridge village were the Jubilee Celebrations of King George V and Queen Mary. All the parishioners met at the Scout Hut where relays of meat teas were served, followed by a full programme of sports and tea for children in the school. The Kennett Vale Silver Band marched to Overton, climbed to the top of the Church tower, where they played the National Anthem facing four ways, north, south, east and west. They looked like toy bandsmen away up there, and it was an unforgettable sight as the strains of the National Anthem ebbed and flowed with the breeze.
Similar festivities took place at King George VI and Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation, this time at Overton.
When Queen Elizabeth II was crowned, Lockeridge and Fyfield celebrated together while Overton and Kennett festivities were held separately.
The band did not climb the Church Tower to play at these later celebrations. Maybe the climb up those 112 steps was just a little too much! One of the young bandsmen was to remember the climb as he was presented with a wedding present up there, from his fellow bandsmen, and in later years was to climb up 42 of those steps every week to wind up the Church clock. He is Mr. Bill Waite, youngest son of Mr. and Mrs. John Waite, late Vergers of the Church.
In the early part of the 1939-1945 war Lockeridge was honoured by a visit, though private, of their Majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. They were accompanied by the two little Princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret. It was first intended they should picnic in Savernake Forest but plans were changed, and they came on to Lockeridge House for tea with Lady Isobel Gathorne Hardy (Lord Derby’s sister) and Sir Frances, her husband. The little Princesses walked the length of the village admiring the pretty little front flower gardens.
Fyfield This village in the Domesday Book was Fif-hide, a variable distance, and afterwards Fyfelde, a tything in the Parish of Overton, its derivation (Saxon) meaning an estate containing five fields or hides.
It has a very old church, transitional Norman, the tower being the oldest part and may date back to Saxon times. The Dedication is St. Nicholas. It has two bells, originally there were three, but when Alton Priors formed a part of Overton Parish, the bell was taken from Fyfield and sent to Alton Priors as it had no bell. The seating capacity is for 158.
The Register dat4es from 1732, and there is a small book of accounts of money in the safe, raised in 1881 for Farr who perished in the snowstorm of January 1881.
The story is that Eli Farr, a carter in the employ of Mr. Lavington of Fyfield Farm made a journey with horses and wagon to Devizes market. He was accompanied by a second man and a young lad, named Lockwood, who incidentally was on a visit to friends in the village but thought a trip to Devizes would be a nice day’s outing. On their return journey they were overtaken by the terrible snowstorm and freezing wind. Reaching West Kennett they were almost persuaded by Mr. Butler to stay the night, but Mr. Farr was anxious to get home with the horses and proceeded on his way. They did not get far; in the deep snow they lost their bearings and in the blinding snow could not see but a yard or so in front of them. Hours later Farr was discovered half buried and frozen to death, near to his horses which were alive. The lad was found with the other man frozen to death beneath a poplar tree at Kennett. Mr. George Sprules, of Lockeridge, recalls his father telling him the story as he was one of those who helped to bring Farr to the Bell Inn where efforts were made to revive him.
The description of the storm is under the heading of Overton history, recounted in a weather book of Mr. Swanton’s.
The Lychgate at the Church was erected in memory of Edwin Drew, Alec Taylor’s jockey who met his death on Brighton racecourse. Fyfield Down was a well-known training ground for Alec Taylor’s racehorses and in 1851 he sent out the Derby winner ‘Teddington’. His stables were part of the present farm buildings on the main road. Later they were moved to Manton Down.
The business of stone-cutting was carried on throughout the ages on Fyfield Down and most of the old cottages were built of sarcen stone. One business was founded by Mr. Edward Free, of Fyfield; another by Mr. Cartwright. Local men were employed, the family of Waite, Messrs. Fred and Harry and the latter’s son Cecil; Mr. Kimmer of Lockeridge and his two sons, Hedley and Ronald, were also stone-cutters. Sarcen stones were barged from Honeystreet to Windsor Castle in 1937 and Mr. Cecil Waite, of Fyfield, who cut the stones, holds the measurement order as a souvenir as it is the last of the sarcen stones to be cut.
In 1956 Fyfield Down was declared the property of the National Trust and as such is preserved.
Mr. Edward Free was also a Coal Merchant and the wharf and canal at Honeystreet was a convenient transport depot for both commodities, coal and sarcens.
The following is an extract from a treatise by Mr. Douglas Free, grandson of the founder of the stone-cutting business, on sarcen stones and their origin:-
The method of splitting the stone without shattering it, is an ancient and similar to that used in the quarries of the Isle of Portland.
A wedgehole is first worked into the stone, and then a wedge with feathers of hoop iron to prevent the wedge bottoming is inserted. A blow from a 14lb. sledge will then split the stone. Most sarcens have brown cracks, faults which go right through the stone. The slightest tap with a wedge on such a crack will open it, which explains why stones are sometimes found which have split without man’s assistance. White crack faults are also found on interior surfaces, but these are probably due to stresses caused in the splitting.
It is interesting to record the different methods employed as set down by John Aubrey, 1663.
They make a fire on the line of the stone where they would have it to crack. After the stone is well heated, draw over a line of cold water and immediately give a smart knock with a smiths’ sledge, and it will break like the collets of a glass-house.
The name sarsen or sarcens stone is a name also given to the Greywethers of Cornwall, but which was named first, the Greywethers sheep or stones, is a small matter of argument.
Over 100 years ago there was a brick kiln on the Downs owned by Sir Henry Meux but no-one can recall when the business closed down.
The old original Fyfield cottages, were standing near to the banks of the River Kennett. As at Overton they must have been menaced from time to time by the heavy flow of the river. Since then, the later Fyfield cottages were built each side of the road.
Looking at the village today it would be difficult to recognise it even from 30 years ago.
There was then a Congregational Chapel and an Inn called The Fighting Cocks, which backed onto the river side. The latter with many of the other cottages was the property of Mr. E. Rebbeck of Lockeridge.
The landlord of the Inn was 50 years ago Mr. Caswell, a blacksmith, and the last landlord was Mr. E. Pile who held the licence about 20 years ago. When the road widening scheme came into operation about the late 1930’s the Inn, Chapel and many cottages were demolished.
A popular sport in the county and the neighbouring county of Berkshire was cock fighting. This would be about 150 years ago when later an Act was passed prohibiting it.
When the old Fighting Cocks Inn was pulled down, the structure of the building suggests cock fighting could have been held there. The house was built on pillars or stilts which was unusual and the cellar reached the whole length of the house. The old sign too when once it was repainted disclosed a faded cup which could have been a Challenge Cup.
There apparently is no written record of the sport being held, but at that time in Newbury and at Bishops Cannings these fights were recorded. Shove-tide was a popular occasion for the sport, and the old Bear Inn of Newbury Broadway, had a very famous cock-pit.
Today houses are still being pulled down to make way for a petrol filling station and pull-in, only three houses are now left standing.
Perhaps the oldest and most interesting is the attractive old world cottage at the bottom of the hill, the home of Mr. Bristow. At one end relics of an old Chapel are to be seen and a beam is clearly stamped with the date 1735.
Climbing Fyfield Hill to the right and left are cottages belonging to Mr. Swanton. There is Fyfield House too, at one time the home of Mr. Crees a farmer, and previous to this Mr. Lavington, also a farmer, lived there. A daughter, Miss Evelyn Rossell Lavington, became a hospital nurse who had a brilliant nursing career. For 40 years she was nursing, 27 of those years she was the much loved Matron of Savernake Hospital serving in a voluntary capacity. On retirement in 1939 she lived at Datchet. A photograph in he Marlborough Times of herself and contemporary Marlborough Doctors appeared in 1956, with a fine tribute to her personality and her career. She might well indeed be called Matron Saint. She was decorated with the Florence Nightingale Medal, Royal Red Cross Medal, made a Serving Sister of St. John of Jerusalem and finally made a Member of the British Empire (M.B.E.).
Turning to the left half-way up the hill brings one to Lower Fyfield and Browns Farm, the old name derived apparently from a former owner.
A little beyond is Long Mead, a modern built house, the home of the Misses Giffard. At the end of the lane is another cottage and close by is the Old Pound, still recognisable, where cattle were impounded but no-one remembers the use of it.
Reaching the top of Fyfield Hill is the turning for Lockeridge and Priest Acrewhere a number of Council Houses were built about 1930 to accommodate the people from the old Fyfield. The name Priest Acre brings to one’s mind a religious association. It is sometimes thought to be connected with the Knights Templars on Overton Down; another theory is, it may be connected with the old Chapel now called Castle Cottage at Lockeridge.
At Priest Acre is the home of Mr. John Harris, still hale and hearty at 83, who can lay claim to 65 years of farm work. In 1954 he was presented, at Windsor Great Park, with two Certificates and Bronze Medal from the Royal Agricultural Society of England. He recalls the old days of long hours and less money, 11 shillings per week, but nevertheless also the merrymaking at the Harvest Homes held in Mr. Cree’s barn at Fyfield.
Of the field names shewing on an old map are Millers Close, Long Mead, Home Close and Priests Croft. It is also recorded that the old Roman Road from Bath crosses the Kennett at Fyfield making a slight detour opposite Lockeridge House in order to keep north of the stream, straight up to Folly Farm and then on to Minall (Cunetio), the old name for the famous old Roman Military Camp.
The old Roman road tracks were made by digging the earth each side and throwing up in the middle causing a ridge.
In dry summers it has been observed that on these tracks the corn will ripen quicker.
Before we leave Fyfield one more story must be re-counted of the redoubtable Mr. Henry Sprules of Overton. The keeping of bees was more prevalent in those days than now and Mr. Sprules was often asked to Take the honey. He was doing so at Fyfield one day as the Fyfield children were on their way to Lockeridge School, taking a short cut through the old right-of-way by Fyfield Churchyard. Viewing the procedure of honey taking which was fascinating to watch, especially as an occasional handful of honey found its way to the eager drooling lips of the children. A quick rinse in the nearby river, and they hurried on their way to school. Honey is sticky stuff and much of it ran up their sleeves. In fact they blotted their copy-books well and truly as papers and books stuck to their sleeves. Many were spanked for coming to school so messed up, but history relates no one split.