In these pages the Upper Kennet News is bringing to a wider audience some of the history of the upper Kennet region. In both text and pictures we have republished information on the social history, archaeology and reminiscences of events and people which have formed the landscape we live in.
If you have any material to contribute to this please contact the email@example.com .
From the Meux auction of 1906 it would be great to have current pictures to match the sale lots described. Adding a new layer to the history of the area.
I hope you find the contents interesting.
Farming in the Upper Kennet Valley
The following articles feature pioneering farming practices practiced by the Swanton family.
Reproduced from articles in Farmers Weekly
October 3rd 1931. The Farmers Weekly
WON PRIZE FOR THE BEST FARM FOUR YEARS IN SUCCESSION
Started with £500 now pays £14,000 yearly for wages and feeds
Successful Farming Series
Former Draper’s 4,000 acres: Successful because he is a Bachelor
In the fertile valley of the Kennet, two mites from Marlborough, lies one of the show farms of a county noted for its standard of farming. Mr. Frank Swanton, with headquarters at North Farm, Overton, controls a group of farms which have won fame in many agricultural competitions.
Led by Mr. W. T. Price, the Agricultural Organiser, Wiltshire was the first county to start clean-milk competitions, and from that sprang the idea of the Roll of Accredited Milk Producers, which him been running in Wiltshire for several \Tars. Entering two dairies for the first county competition held in 1925, Mr. Swanton’. won the second and third prizes; and, In 1927 he took the first prize.
In three years he won the cup presented by the Devizes Agricultural Society for the best dairy herd over 50 in number, and in four years, including the present, was awarded the trophy for the best cultivated farm of ever 400 acres.
Competitions of this sort are often won by men who farm as a pleasant hobby, without too close an eye on the profit and loss account. They are frequently won by genuine farmers with medium-sized and more manageable holdings. They do not appeal to
the type of large farmer not very numerous, who counts his acres in thousands, whose methods are often rough and ready and whose land and roads are sometimes known for their untidy appearance.
It is, therefore, all the more to Mr. Swanton’s credit that his five farms, totalling 4,000. acres, should attain such a standard of efficiency.
Mr. Swanton in 1914 began his tenancy of North Farm, which then comprised 1.000 acres. Five years later the whole estate of 7,000 acres was bought by the late Lord Manton, and for four years Mr. Swanton helped to administer the farms as ” Farm Manager ” to the ” Olympia Agricultural Co.,” under which title the estate was run. In 1923, owing to the death of Lord Manton, the holdings were again let and Mr. Swanton rented three farms on his own account anti took a further one In partnership with Messr’s. George and Henry Wilson the Wiltshire sheep dealers. Two years Inter he purchased the farms anti now rails them as owner-occupier. Recently he took the fifth farm, and is assisted in the management by his nephew, Mr. Barnard Bush, a descendant of a well-known Somerset farming family. .
The farms are mainly devoted to cows, pigs, sheep and cereal crops. There arc 300 .dairy Shorthorns divided into live herds to suit the accommodation of the various farms in which they are kept. The reds and dark roans are separated front the whites and light roans and kept in different herds. During the course of25 years it has been my privilege to inspect many good herds of Short horns, but I have seldom seen a lot of cows which fill the eye better than the Overton ones. 131g, upstanding, roomy cattle, with deep bodies, wide backs and good udders and teals, they are a pleasure to look at, and the herd shows evidence of years of careful building up. In 1923Mr. Swanton began to grade up his herd for entry In Coates Short horn herd Book, and the time is now arriving when he will reap the fruits of his labours. The grading – up process is lengthy business, occupying some ten or twelve years. A cow of true Shorthorn type officially recorded and having given 800 gallons in one year, or 1,300 in two consecutive years, is inspected by a qualified judge. Passing the inspection test successfully, she becomes a ” Foundation Cow.” Sired by pedigree bulls, the fourth generation in the case of a heifer and the fifth in the case of a bull is eligible for entry into the Herd Book. – About 25 per cent of Mr, Swanton’s herd are foundation cows and a further 50 per cent, are grading-up cows that is, daughters and grand-daughters of foundation cows.
Milking is done by hand twice daily and the yields officially recorded. The average for the full-time cows of all the herds for the year is 750 gallons.
There are five pedigree dairy Shorthorn hulls, of which the chief is that gallant veteran Leam Peerless-12 years old and still in use. A descendant of that famous cow, Primrose Gift, which was for three yearn in succession Champion Cow at the Royal Show, Leam Peerless was bred by the late Lord Manton, and there is no doubt that Primrose Gift’s strain transmitted through Peerless la a factor In the milking qualities of the present herd.
Oilier hulls which have been used were purchased from such breeders as Captain Fitzroy, Mr. J. Pierpont Morgan, Mr. Eustace Abel Smith and Captain A. S. Wills. Yet another noteworthy sire was Preshute Salaam 111, which was bred by the late Mr. C. J. K. Maurice out of the noted cow Preshute Salaam.
Leant Peerless has the distinction of having sired two of the best cows In the herd. One gave over 1,200 gallons in one year with her first calf and the other yielded 79 lbs. per day this summer. .
All the cow calves are, of course, weaned and kept for replenishing the dairy herds, and the total head of cattle Is 651r, whirl’ Includes about 40 stirk heifers bought every year and sold as down-calvers.
As we entered the yard of one of the sets of buildings Mr. Swanton observed, “This used to be called Dirty Fyfield, but when the County Clean Milk Competition was won by this dairy we renamed it Brown’s Farm.” There is no sign of dirt in the yard and buildings of Brown’s Farm. Grade A TT milk is produced from four of the herds, and the milking sheds and dairies provide evidence of strict supervision and keen workmanship intelligence and conscientiousness are demanded of the present-day dairyman, who has to operate high-pressure boilers and maintain temperatures for sterilising plants, and these characteristics are found in the Overton men.
Folding pigs in movable pens is an innovation which is proving very successful. Titosows of which 110 Large Whites are kept farrow in the permanent buildings and are transferred with their families to the folding pens as soon as possible.
“The folding ‘system is the best possible way of keeping young pigs,” raid Mr. Swanton as we passed along the lines of pens. Being moved out to clean ground every day they are much healthier and avoid such troubles as scour, worms and anaemia. The benefit to the land Is enormous.”
The pens are very substantially built to Mr. Swanton’s design, and arc at present fitted with skids and moved by a horse, although experiments are now almost concluded for moving them on a pneumatic-tyred lifting device by man-power alone.
Danish Pig House
When the pigs are eight weeks old they are weaned and allowed to run for two months In half-acre grass plots provided with thatched shelter huts. They are then shut up in the excellent Danish pig house built at a cost of £500 under Mr. Swanton’s supervision by direct labour to accommodate 200 pigs. This fine brick building is a noteworthy feature of the farm, and greatly assists in fulfilling the contract with the factory of 100 bacon pigs per month.
Mr. Swanton records the progeny of all his sows. Preferring a pure breed, he uses Large White boars, and is thus enabled to sell the best of his young boars and gifts for breeding purposes.
Note the growth and development of the Overton herd under the influence of the Marketing Act. During the last 18 months the number of breeding sows has been trebled, adding some 1,400 extra -bacon pigs to the year’s output.
“We are endeavouring to do the job we were asked to do,” said Mr. Swanton, ” but the fact that imports are not regulated sufficiently to maintain a reasonable market price makes it difficult.”
As you expect on find which runs well over the Marlborough Downs and provides training gallops for the Manton race-horses, sheep form an important part of the life of the farm. The breeding ewes number about 1,400-400 registered Hampshire Downs, 600 registered Suffolk, and 400 Cheviots. Practically all the Hampshire Down lambs are fatted and sold early in the season, with the exception of a few ram lambs which are sold at the August Ram Sales.
The Suffolk flock, which from the point of view of numbers takes second place In the Suffolk Flock Book, Is kept expressly for breeding rent lambs. This year 190 promising young rams have been kept, and up to date about half have been disposed of, chiefly at sales in Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and Northants. The ewe lambs are kept for replenishing the flocks.
The Hampshires and Suffolks are hurdled every night on the arable land and graze on the downs In the day. The 400 Cheviots are crossed with Suffolk rants, and the lambs sold off.
Mr. Swanton has always been keenly interested in sheep and some few years ago, acting in conjunction with Mr. George Wilson and Mr. H. W. Tomlinson of the Wiltshire County Agricultural Staff, he assisted in starting the Marlborough Shepherds’ Supper, an annual event at which last year some 90 shepherds and 70 farmers sat down to supper in the Town Hall. The evening is devoted to pleasure and business lectures and discussion upon sheep and their treatment).
It is not surprising that the 1,000 acres of arable land, with such heavy blocks of sheep, should yield heavy crops of corn. This year Mr.. Swanton has grown 300 acres of wheat and 250 acres of barley and – oats, the rest being green crops. The wheat yield will be the best since 1921 With the exception of one piece, the average is working out at something like 15 sacks per acre and one exceptionally good piece of 39 acres of Garton’s Victor is turning out at nearly 19 sacks. Mr. Swanton makes a point of buying the best strains of wheat and the bulk of his crop is sold for seed.
With an annual wages bill of £8,000 paid to 79 employees and £6,000 paid out for foodstuffs a large’ return Is necessary, but Mr. Swanton enjoys a quiet confidence In the future of Agriculture, and has never, regretted the decision which made him forsake the drapery trade which his parents had thought fit to place him.
He comes of a line of Somerset-shire farmers and after forsaking the shop counter, at which he spent the first six years of his bulginess career, he wits given moo by his father with which to start farming. He attributes the success he has achieved to the fact that he has remained a bachelor and has made his farm his hobby and his partner.Farmers Weekly, August 15, 1969 (xv)
Farmer of two eras
A DRAPER’S assistant at the beginning of the century and a farmer with 4,000 acres by the 1930s, Mr. Frank Swanton is 85 and still working. He now manages 1,000 acres for his 21-year-old son Robin, who is just leaving Harper Adams.
FARMERS WEEKLY last ran a profile of Mr. Swanton in 1934. Before revisiting him I looked back through the faded pages. A picture of the launching of the Queen Mary was carried in the same issue
There among the columns of type stood Mr. Swanton clad in breeches and leggings with a broad-brimmed felt hat pressed down firmly on his head. The article made the farming of the 1930s seem more remote than ever and it was hard to believe that a man could actively bridge the gap between two such different worlds.
I called at what has been his home since 1914 North Farm, Overton, tour miles west of Marlborough on the A4�and waited in the yard. Exactly on time Mr. Swanton, at the wheel of his Land-Rover, swung round the corner. He had been checking his son’s 350-ewe flock on the downland grazing above the farm.
Families so often say of their aged but active grandparents that they do not look their age. Mr. Swanton looks what he is a vigorous octogenarian. He still keeps a tight rein on his farm and workers. Each day he is up before breakfast to brief his foreman and throughout the day I spent at Overton I watched him making sure that the farm was run as he wanted it to be. He still goes shooting and still sits on Wiltshire County Council he is the longest-serving member.Mr. Swanton was born in 1884 of farming parents. He wanted to go on the land, but his father, who rented 200 acres, did not feel he could take him on as agriculture was in the grip of a severe depression in the late 1890s. 1,000-acre North Farm, Overton. Instead, he was persuaded to go into the drapery trade. He must have viewed the future gloomily when he took up his apprenticeship behind the counter of a shop in Frome
Iii his sixth year as a draper, in1906, Mr. Swanton’s parents came to the rescue. They gave £500 to each of their children – Frank, his brother and sister. With this back they joined forces and took the tenancy of a farm at Highworth Three years later Frank broke away on his own and rented a farm at Chiseldon, but in 1914 this was taken over by the army to serve as a camp It was then that the tenancy of fell vacant and Mr. Swanton, keen to expand, took it on. Subsequently he bought not only North Farm, but four others, until he owned 4,000 acres
Mr. Swanton became not only one of the largest farmers in the county but also one of the most progressive. He built his dairy enterprise up to 300 pedigree Shorthorns divided into rive herds. The average milk yield was around 750 gallons in 1934.
A pig enterprise was developed and 200 baconers a month were being produced by 1938. After farrowing sows and their litters were put in movable pens. At eight weeks the weaners were moved to a Danish-type fattening house which Mr. Swanton put up for £500 in the early 1930s, to be followed by two more with a capacity of 1,300 pigs.
He also had 1,400 breeding ewes registered Hampshire Downs, Suffolks and Cheviots. About 1,000 acres were down to arable crops.
Since the war the Swanton family has sold 2,000 acres. Apart from North Farm, which has been made over to the youngest son who will shortly be taking over, the remaining acres are owned and farmed by Mr. Swanton’s two elder sons, one of whom also runs a garage at Marlborough.
Mr. Swanton changed from Shorthorns to Friesians in 1961. “It was my biggest mistake not changing over earlier,” he said. But soon after he went out of milk altogether. He has also abandoned his registered sheep in favour of cross-breds.
Indeed, he has moved with the times at North Farm and of the livestock enterprises developed before the war only the pig enterprise remains relatively unchanged. The Danish building is still in use, the only addition being an insulated roof. The outdoor pens look much the same as they do in the FARMERS WEEKLY pictures taken in 1934.
When interviewed on that occasion he was asked to what he attributed his success. ‘ ‘To remaining a bachelor and making my farm my hobby as well as my partner,” he replied.
Perhaps he answered this impossible question with his tongue in his cheek for within a year, at the age of 51 , he married and had three sons. I reminded him of his comment on marriage. All lie would permit himself by way of a reply was a slight smile.
Mr. Swanton has the air of someone who has done exactly what he wanted with his life. He admits he has been fortunate. Could a young man with today’s equivalent of :C500 he was given do what he had done? “No, I don’t think so,” he replied, and then added, after looking critically at me “But we had to work, you know .
He may talk nostalgically about the past driving his T-model Ford down the then narrow and dusty A4, his great days of expansion, the arrival of his first combine during the war and with pride of receiving his OBE tor services to agriculture, but he is still vitally interested in the present.
After leaving Mr. Swanton, his son, Gillie, took me to see his dairy unit at Fyfield Farm. There had been some trouble with the milking equipment. Within minutes Mr. Swanton drove up to see if he could help. David Campbell.
MORE THAN £1,000 WORTH OF BACON
England’s First Farm Pig Club
Celebrates its First Birthday
From a Special Correspondent
Reproduced from articles in Farmers Weekly May 1942
DURING the last week in April, the workers on a group of Wiltshire farms celebrated the first birthday of their pig club. It was the first farm pig club to be formed, and the other day I went down to the rolling country outside Marlborough to see how the men felt about their venture, and whether they proposed to carry on for another year.
There seemed no doubt about the answer to that. In these first twelve months the men have produced enough bacon—after selling half of it to the Ministry of Food—to provide each of the 69 households with something like 3 lbs. of bacon a week. And this has been produced largely on kitchen and garden waste, together with a small allowance ‘of meal from the Small Pig Keepers’ Council.
Principal motive force behind his movement is the men’s employer, Mr. Frank Swanton, whose five farms in Overton and Fyfield cover about 4,000 acres of down and valley. Mr. Swanton milks 300 cows and is a well-known pig and sheep breeder, but what is more to the point, he understands that a man cannot work without a good solid meal under his belt.
Food Going Begging
” It’s like this,” he said to. me, ” your farmworker never goes near a restaurant or canteen, where town workers can get an unrationed dinner of meat. All he has is his weekly household ration of meat—shortly to go down to Is. a head—plus a little extra cheese. But his work is as hard as anyone’s, especially with a larger arable acreage and fewer men to work it. Then there was a lot of good swill going begging in these villages. So we put the two together and formed a pig club.”
Mr. Swanton gave his men a good start by allowing them the use of one of his pighouses, empty because of a reduction in his own herd. Then he let them fix up an outside boiling tank connected with the dairy steamer. Every week the men fill eight old 17-gallon churns with swill collected in the villages, and this is scalded, mixed with the meal allowance and fed to the pigs under the supervision of Will Smith, Mr. Swanton’s own pig-man and a committee member.
The pigs are all bought as stores—mostly Large White X Saddleback—from Mr. Swanton, who lets them go at a little under the market rate.
The club is run on co-operative lines, i.e., the pigs are owned by the club. Although 80 people are working on the farms there are only 69 ” members,” for a household cannot have more than one member.
An excellent system of distribution has been arranged. A killing takes place every six weeks and members draw a quarter as and when they are entitled to it. Arthur Wise, who is Mr. Swanton’s mechanic, and is the member of the pig club committee who superintends the collecting of swill and the transport of pigs to the bacon factory. explained to me that if a man had his whole pig at once, it would be a full year before some of it was used, and it might very well go a little off colour in that time.
But by their scheme, a man having two pigs would have eight quarters at intervals of about 6 weeks, thus ensuring that the meat is eaten up quickly and full use is made of every pound. To even things out members take a hindquarter and a forequarter alternately.
In addition to a payment of a subscription of £1 per pig, members ” pay ” a flat rate of 9d. a lb. for their bacon, and in the first twelve months they have ” bought ” 10,1861/2 lbs. at a
total cost of £381 19s. 10d. In fact, of course, no ” sale ” takes place except to the Ministry of Food, since the pigs belong to the club and members cannot sell to themselves. The arrangement is one of convenience to ensure equity. 79 pigs sold to the Ministry of Food—one pig must be so disposed of for every one eaten—have realised £629. All these figures were given me by Miss H. Radmore, who, as secretary of the club, looks after the books and accounts.
Several farmers have mentioned to me their fear that if their workers started pig keeping they might be tempted to help themselves to feeding stuffs. I asked Mr. Swanton about this and he said : ” That’s one of the reasons why a co-operative club is preferable to a pig owners’ club, where the pigs are owned and kept separately. When the pigs are shared in common there is no incentive to take meal for one’s own private gain.”
Only one young pig has been lost in the year, and some excellent carcases have been turned out, All the members I spoke to were highly enthusiastic and hoped that it would be possible to carry on indefinitely. If they had one small complaint it was that the bacon factory had latterly decided to retain the offals, charging 15s. a carcase instead of £1 for curing. As the members pointed out, the offals were worth much more than 5s. to them as food.
The Minister of Agriculture has expressed a desire for many more farm workers’ pig clubs. To form a club is not difficult. Members are expected to be active participants in club affairs, as privileges of membership are in the nature of a reward for work done.
Most farm workers’ clubs are run on a co-operative basis ; but if a number of individuals wish to keep a pig on their own premises, a “Pig Owners’ ” club may be formed.
Information, registration forms and advice may be obtained from :
THE SMALL PIG KEEPERS’ COUNCIL,
THE BARN, TURVILLE HEATH, HENLEY-ON-THAMES, OXON
Henry lived in one of the two cottages at the bottom of Frog Lane, Overton. He was one of the old style Wiltshire shepherds. At lambing time he would literally live in a wheeled hut of about 8′ x 10′ 12.4m x 3m1 constructed of corrugated iron. All his meals would be brought to him.
In this 1935 photograph he is carrying four wattle hurdles which were used to construct the sheep folds and the posts to support them.
Henry’s sister worked ‘downstairs’ in a large Paddington House in the 1920s. Only having been as far as Marlborough twice before he arranged to travel to London by train to meet her. He caught the train at Marlborough Station, changed at Savernake and after Reading saw so many houses on both sides of the line that he felt he had gone too far. He got off at Ealing Broadway station but found the locals could not understand his very broad Wiltshire accent. He took the next train home and returned with the comment, “01 cum back wum, they bid all a laughing at or.
Later, during the second world war, Henry’s extra rations for the month were delivered whilst he was\still with his sheep. When he arrived home he thought someone had left his supper out and scoffed the lot. Henry never married.
Walter lived in one of the two cottages at Fyfield Hill. He was one of the old style Wiltshire shepherds. At lambing time he would literally live in a wheeled hut of about 8′ x 10′ [2.4m x 3m] constructed of corrugated iron. All his meals would be brought to him.
In this 1935 photograph his flock can be seen in the background.
Tuesday 31st July 1906 was an important day in fashioning the life in these villages. On that day, Giddy and Giddy held an auction to sell off to private bidders the second portion of the vast Meux estate. What follows here are the documents forming the auction catalogue including the hand written notes of Mr Swanton who owned the original document. You will find in here many of the addresses and names still associated with these villages along with the descriptions of the properties sold, at what seem today, to be very low prices.
The full catalogue for the auction can be downloaded from here
Sample pages from a wage book showing the workers names and wages can be seen here
The auctioneers remarks gives a first insight into the business at hand.
Introductory Remarks and Stipulations
THE EXTENSIVE FREEHOLD PROPERTIES described in the following Particulars comprise the Downs Portion of the Meux Estates, of which Lady Meux is absolute owner, and are offered for the purposes of this sale in various Lots, the principal comprising one of the finest
Sporting Manors in the South-est of England, and the whole representing a number of unusually sound investments in land and house property, suitable for the purposes of Trust Funds as well as large or small investors. During the last few years this Estate has been divided for Sporting Purposes into two portions, respectively North and South of the Bath Road. The game bag over the former in 1904 was as follows:- Partridges 331, Hares 525, Rabbits 5,030, Pigeons 123. The Partridges were very lightly
shot, as the shooting tenant did not understand the method of shooting on the Wiltshire Downs, and tried walking-up the birds instead of driving them. No reliable records of the game bag were made last year, but a good breeding stock was left, and with favourable conditions there is no reason why 400 or 500 brace of partridges should not be obtained on this portion of the Shooting. The bag obtained from the West Woods and other lands South of the Bath Road in 1905 was as follows:- Pheasants 3,849, Partridges 94, Hares 327, Rabbits 167 (besides several hundreds killed by the keepers), Pigeons 27, Woodcock 4. During last season the Woods were only shot eight days, owing to the Elections as compared with fourteen days in other years.
The Estates include a wide extent of the famous Marlborough Downs, on which there are several first class Training Gallops, many famous Racehorses having been trained there. Amongst those who use these gallops, or others close by, are the following well-known Trainers: Mr. Alec Taylor of Manton House, Mr. T.Leader of Wroughton, Major Edwardes of Ogbourne St. Andrew, Mr. Sam Darling of Beckhampton, Mr. Charles Randall of Avebury, Mr. W. T. Robinson of Wadborough,
The Estates are situate in a district rich in historical interest. The fine old Town of Marlborough, with its well-known College and other social and educational advantages, with stations on the Great Western, Midland and South Western Railways, is about two miles from the nearest point on the Estate, and there are an unusual number of Roman and Druidical remains on various parts of the property. The hunting in the neighbourhood, with the Badminton, Craven, Tedworth and V. W. H. Hounds, is excellent.
VILLAGE HERITAGE 1987
Written over 30 years ago this year this booklet describes the history of this area as seen at the time. What was then a near memory is in danger of becoming lost as the demography of the area changes from close knit farming communities to more mobile residents with little to no farming context. In this document you will find the rapid changes that shaped this valley and see how much has changed in the last 20 years. This is a live document again and can be updated with new stories and information. Enjoy this window into the past and look to the future.
Shortcuts to sections:
About This Booklet
Heritage – What Heritage
Agriculture and the Kennet Valley
Pre-History of these villages
The Kennet Sarsen Industry
The sarsen workers toolsA vicars writings
New church for Overton (St Michael)
Bells in our churches
The Good Old Days
The Church (St Nicholas)
East Kennett, The Matthews family
The Swanton Family
Kennet Valley Hall
Development since the 18th Century
The Great Flood of Lockeridge
Famous people in Lockeridge
ABOUT THIS BOOKLET
This booklet is an attempt by enthusiastic volunteers to record some of the history and past life of the villages before it is too late; change occurs so rapidly. It is not claimed to be comprehensive nor even totally consistent or accurate, though of course we have done our best to check for accuracy whenever possible. There is some repetition no doubt, as many people did their own research. Some people will have different memories of the same event; perhaps this will be a forerunner of a fuller booklet in time!
HERITAGE – WHAT HERITAGE?
Twenty years ago Overton had lost its way. “The slum village of Wiltshire”, “Wiltshire’s problem village” were the polite terms used by inhabitants to describe their own village. Against this all too recent background it is indeed refreshing to find the valley looking for its heritage. Even more encouraging is that the lead has come from Overton itself.
Let us then look back over many decades in the Kennet valley We find in the early 19th century an allegiance of West Overton, East Overton, Lockeridge and Fyfield within the same Parish. Surprisingly at that time the two Kennetts were not included, which may explain why to this day there exists a gulf just west of Overton.
It is most interesting to examine the road system of those days and the location of houses.
East Overton settlement (between the Old Manor and South Farm dairy today) had already disappeared. There were houses opposite the Post Office with Frog Lane extending northwards across the river, presumably to serve the houses which ran from west of the Bell Inn to George Bridge. There was a mill (water-powered) just to the north-west of West Farm.
Lockeridge appears not far different from the area it occupies today but a road extended directly from Castle Cottage to Fyfield Church with houses on both sides and also opposite Longmead.
The latter half of the century brought the Meux Estate and Sir Henry Meux, a London brewer. His land extended from Bayardo to Broad Hinton and even now it is possible to find sauare sarsen stones inscribed H.M. marking the boundaries of the estate.
During the same period a more sophisticated method of cutting sarsen stones into square blocks was brought from High Wycombe by the Free family (still delivering coal in the area from Marlborough until a year ago). This family’s activities were centred on Fyfield and in the old graveyard of St. Nicholas Church can be found their graves, together with many of the stonecutters.
The training of racehorses also arrived in Fyfield with the Taylor family, who later built Manton Down stables and became known as “The Wizards of Manton” after their successes. Indeed, many of the family returned for their last resting place just north-west of the church tower.
This racing connection also brought the churchyard gates, which were erected in memory of an apprentice jockey, Eli Drew, who died from a racing fall at Brighton Racecourse.
Many buildings and houses remain which were built by the Meux Estate, some marked, as Fyfield Farmyard (H.M.1872), and others distinguished by their chimneys. The architect employed, a Mr. Ponting, specialised in ornate chimneys. Many of these structures are built incorporating the local sarsen stone cut into small blocks. Most have bricks with H.M. stamped into the frogs and are thought to have been baked near Glory Ann Barn on the Downs.
At the turn of the century the Meux Estate was sold. Tenants appeared on the farms around the villages. Frank Swanton at North Farm Overton in 1914. Towards the end of the first World War in 1918 some 9,000 acres in the locality were purchased by the Olympia Agricultural Company, set up by the Hon. Joseph Watson, a soap magnate from Warrington. This organisation was sold up in 1924 after Watson, by then Lord Manton, had fallen off his horse behind Boreham Wood and died. Not much development was appears to have taken place in that era. Much of Westwoods was felled by a Mr. Hosier and later replanted by the Forestry Commission.
During the 1920s and 30s, the Depression years, the villages appear to have quietly existed and weathered the economic storm. The village hall was built in the early 1930s opposite Holly Lodge in Overton. The Rev. Workman persuaded the Church authorities to build him a new vicarage and moved to the present site. Overton Vicarage became Overton House.
Col. Giffard, who had lived at Lockeridge House, died and his daughters Polly and Maud built Longmead at Fyfield. Wiltshire County Council widened the A.4 in the early 1930s, in so doing demolishing an old row of cottages at George Bridge Overton. Also flattened were a number of cottages in Fyfield, together with the local pub, ‘The Fighting Cocks’. Lockeridge already had one pub ‘The Mason’s Arms’, now a private house. When the landlady heard that another was to be built next to Meux Cottage she remarked “Well, who’d a’ thought it”. The name stuck. Council houses first appeared in the 1930s. Land could not be purchased in the villages for local people did not want them next door. 10 were built at Priest’s Acre, Fyfield, 6 at Rhyles Lane, Lockeridge, and 4 near Lockeridge Dene. Typically for the period just outside the villages.
Overton had its blacksmith’s shop on the site of Mary Hunt’s new house. Reg Hancock was the local plumber, with his waxed handlebar moustache. Joe Ashley, the village carpenter, operated from Holly Lodge yard. Arthur Bartlett delivered the bread (and much else) from the bakery behind the Post Office. The village was largely self-sufficient through its shop (plus two in Lockeridge) and made its own entertainment, with fetes, the flower show, the Kennet Vale Band etc.
After the War change started again, heralded by the arrival of a large council estate at Knights Close and main water. Four more council houses were built at Priest’s Acre, Fyfield and Old Meadow Cottages appeared in Lockeridge. Rationing of building materials prevented much private development. Indeed, it also explained some council house design. Bricks were in shorter supply then tiles and timber when Old Meadow Cottages were built. Take a look to understand this statement. Lockeridge and Fyfield weathered this council house storm rather better than Overton, where the estate became so large as to require its own sewage disposal plant. The village was swamped.
Frank Swanton, as Rural District Councillor, had helped make these developments possible but he was ageing. No longer was there a firm hand on the tiller. Overton drifted rudderless, arriving where this piece started in the late 1960s.
In Overton, Lockeridge and Fyfield some small houses had been built by local people on land purchased from Frank Swanton at agricultural values, not development site values, but it was not enough. The day was perhaps saved with the arrival of main sewerage in the early 1970s. The Rural District Council had completed many schemes in areas where housing was less than that of the Kennet Valley but denser. By now father and son were fighting together for the valley – the sewerage scheme appeared.
Peacock Cottages had burned down with their thatched roofs. Peacock Farm buildings were falling down. The site was the first to benefit from the sewer and resultant slightly more lax planning policies. It was a start but still the planners could not see the problems. After a fight development was allowed on the site of South Farm buildings. This range constructed largely of timber and thatch had become derelict and an eyesore. Peacock houses were relatively expensive. The resulting Southfields Estate were relatively cheaper and helped the village back to a more balanced community. Gradually every nook and cranny in Overton sprouted a new house, or two, or more.
Slowly but surely tidiness returned. Pride was regained until, now, the lead in a search for the heritage of the valley comes from Overton. Hopefully this search will enable those who have lived in the area for a long time to demonstrate some of the local history and folklore. Even they will learn from the avid research being undertaken by the more recent arrivals. Together we should discover a great fund of knowledge and enjoy doing so.
AGRICULTURE and the KENNET VALLEY
The history of Agricultural development and improvements in Transport techniques have always been linked. In the 100 years before Sir Henry Meux arrived in the locality the country’s population had multiplied five or six times. Food had not only to be provided for these people but also for the animals then used to operate the transport system itself. Agriculture had to change to meet these demands. New techniques spread slowly. For example, Jethro Tull developed the seed drill and horse hoe for root crops at Shalbourne in the 1730s. It was well into the nineteenth century before the seed drill was widely used for sowing cereals. In the Kennet Valley the coming of the canal through Woodborough would have cheapened transport to the consumers, but only for non-perishable goods such as wheat. By the same token coal would have also become more freely available. Meat in the shape of sheep, cattle or even pigs had four legs. It could walk to market along droves such as the Ridgeway.
Farming in the area would have been mainly sheep, beef and cereals. The Agricultural Revolution would have been reaching its peak as Sir Henry arrived. He must have already been wealthy to have bought such a large estate but he did not attempt to milk funds from his new estate. He evidently invested heavily in his property for today we find in the valley many farm buildings and agricultural cottages he and his agent, Mr. Ponting, erected. Including, of course, Overton church. The Estate had its own brickworks at Glory Ann on the downs. The buildings erected were from these bricks, the sarsen stones split by the then new methods and local timber, which was sawn up in Sir Henry’s own Estate Yard at Lockeridge.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century the grain growing areas of the colonies were opened up. Ships became larger and more economic, thus reducing the cost of transport of this grain to Great Britain. Manufactured goods were exported and food imported as payment. Between 1800 and 1895 the value of wheat halved. It had already fallen considerably from 1855. Sir Henry having purchased in the 1860s must have rued his purchase and subsequent investment for agriculture fell on hard times. In 1906 Sir Henry’s successors sold up the Estate, the local portion being purchased by Alexander Taylor of Manton Down. Evidently horse training was more lucrative than farming for it seems that the then tenants were unable to purchase their farms.
Farming systems would have continued much the same but with more emphasis on meat production, for these prices fell less than cereals. Dairy cows would have become more evident for the development of railways and dairy hygiene made possible economic transport of fresh milk to London. This milk displaced the “town dairies” in and around London where cows had been kept and fed on food transported from the country areas.
Frank Swanton’s first cousin, Sir Reginald Butler, was a pioneer in this field and the company he helped form based on Devizes, Melksham and Trowbridge (Wilts United Dairies) has now grown into a large multi-national concern, Unigate. Arthur Hosier developed the portable milking bail to meet this development. The cows were milked in the fields by machine rather than by hand, a then revolutionary concept.
In the Kennet Valley hand milking persisted until 1942, for the accent was on clean (Grade A) Tuberculin Tested milk which pre-1933 commanded a premium price. This premium diminished after the founding of the Milk Marketing Board, but I move too fast. With the arrival of The Hon. Joseph Watson and his Olympia Agricultural Company in 1919 came more mechanisation. Cars, tractors and light lorries started to take over from the horses on heavier tasks. This would have resulted in less horses to feed so more land for food production. During the First World War politicians had discovered how vulnerable the country was to its food transport links being blockaded. A Corn Production Act was introduced which, together with shortage, doubled the price of wheat. Agriculture had a short period of prosperity during the Olympia regime but this rapidly faded in 1922. Politicians have short memories!
Watson’s money came from soap manufactured from imported oilseeds with the residue being fed to animals as a high protein concentrate. Inevitably, pigs also became more common in the Kennet Valley and the system of movable arks in the fields for sows and litters was developed in Overton. An interesting aside is that Watson’s company eventually became part of British Oil and Cake Mills, a division of Unilever. To this day B.C.C.M. use the prefix “Olympia” for their pedigree animals.
The repeal of the Corn Production Act in 1921 forced agriculture into another recession. Land purchased in the mid-192os was worth half its purchase price by the early 1930s. Wheat in 1934 was worth only a quarter of its 1920 price. Farming was faced with a survival option. Some did by hard work and attention to detail and finance. Others fell by the wayside and gave up the struggle. Overton did not see much change. Frank Swanton merely consolidated. The miuxture of dairy cows, cereals, folded pigs and sheep coupled with an enthusiastic labour force weathered the test.
The sheep were kept on the then common downland system. Folded on root crops or grass during the night, in wattle hurdle folds, they were grazed on the open downland during the day by the shepherd and his dog. The theory was that the fertility from the down was brought back onto the cultivated land to benefit a following wheat crop. No one talked of the opposite effect on the downland!
At lambing time a four-sided yard was constructed of straw and hurdles with individual pens. The shepherd would literally live with his sheep for 5-6 weeks in a corrugated iron ‘shepherd’s hut’ built on a four-iron wheeled chassis. His only comfort was a solid fuel stove. All provisions were taken out to him; and this in late winter/early spring. During the 1930s the pig herds multiplied. Dry sows were kept at Peacock Yard with sows and litters moved to the mobile folding units immediately after farrowing by horse and cart. After weaning the piglets were taken to fattening houses. The first for 200 pigs was built just behind North Farm and is still used for pigs over 50 years later. This prototype was followed by two more on North Farm Hill and under the belt at South Farm above the Bowling Green. (Today most would recognise above the Vicarage more readily).
Both these latter fattening houses were placed on hilltops for it was realised that a horse could cart the dung downhill more easily and efficiently, returning empty uphill. All dungcart was by manpower and horsepower in those days, with the dung raked out of the tipping carts by hand for spreading. The dairy cows were all hand milked and kept out in the fields all year. Land was relatively cheap and dungcart would have had to be done largely by hand.
Root crops (Swedes, turnips and mangels) were used by the cows and sheep. These were drilled in rows and inter-row hoeing done by horse hoe. Singling, and hoeing in the rows when necessary, were both hand tasks. Very different from today’s application of a herbicide sprayed on. All cereal crops were cut with a binder which dropped the sheaves on the ground. Manpower was then required to make the stooks, where the ripening process continued. Again manpower to load the sheaves onto a horse-drawn wagon and build the ricks, which then had to be thatched against the weather. Threshing again required much manpower, the thrashing machine being driven by steam engine, and later tractor, by unguarded belts. The straw was either built into ricks loose for ‘elming’ into thatching straw or baled into large wire tied bales. Stacking these bales or carting the grain in 2¼cwt (113 kg) sacks for wheat was back breaking work. Tending the ‘calvings’ (chaff) was a filthy task. Gradually mechanisation took over as the depression years of the 20s and 30s moved into wartime. The demands of the forces took manpower and helped precipitate the change.
Milking machines appeared, followed by the combine harvester. The first of these in Overton arrived in about 1943, or rather the crates containing the parts did. The machine was assembled in the pighouse behind North Farm. Inevitably a wall had to be demolished to extricate it! Hay sweeps had appeared, pushed not by tractors but by old, large, American cars. These swept up a pile of hay which was pushed along the ground to a primitive loader, which lifted the pile onto the stack where it had to be placed by hand. The alternative was hand loading onto an elevator, which also served for sheaves.
Post war the mechanisation process speeded up. Developments in articial fertilizers, agrochemicals and plant breeding transformed agriculture’s productivity in manpower terms. Today’s capital intensive, as opposed to labour intensive, industry evolved. People often suggest the return to the past ‘dog and stick’ methods, but in reality this would not be possible. Oft also one hears the 30s referred to by older folk as “the good old days”. I suspect the arduous work has been quietly forgotton but remembered is the camaraderie of working, albeit hard, in a gang at hoeing, haymaking, harvesting, thrashing etc. Everyone worked together to a common, satisfying end, though the shepherds, carters and dairymen always found something to collectively disagree over. Village life was much the same. Everyone was inter-dependent and helped each other as a team with what we would today call a community spirit. Today there are so many varied interests living in the valley, this common interest has retreated. No longer does agriculture provide the link between people that it did 50 years and more ago.
The Prehistoric and early Historic background of the Parishes of Fyfield, Overton and East Kennet
The landscape around us in the product of some 6,000 years of man’s activities. The further back in time we go, the more difficult it is to reconstruct the past, but with the evidence from archaeological excavations and old documents we are able to piece together some of the story of the inhabitants of these parishes since the last Ice Age.
During the Ice Age, the glaciers did not reach this far south, but the area would have been frozen for much of the year and little vegetation grew. As the Ice Age drew to an end, animals began to spread northward, and man hunted them, always on the move following the herds. These were the people of the Upper Paleolithic – the end of the Old Stone Age. As the climate grew increasingly warmer vegetation increased, and man had to adapt his weapons and hunting techniques to operating in dense forest. The flint tools being made in this Mesolithic (middle Stone Age) period were very different from those used by Paleolithic man, being in general much smaller and often set in composite form, for example in a harpoon. These people were essentially ‘hunter-gatherers’, following herds as their Paleolithic ancestors had done, but able to supplement their diet with fruits, leaves and roots from the forests. Their camps were semi-permanent in that they did not stay in them for long at a time, but did return to them seasonally to carry out certain tasks. The only domesticated animal at this time was the dog, presumably to assist in hunting; it is also possible that man was beginning to clear patches of forest to concentrate game and make life easier for himself.
Some time before 4,000 B.C. a new form of economy was introduced into Britain – farming. Men cleared areas of forest and cultivated the ground, growing early forms of wheat and barley, and herding domesticated animals. We have very little evidence of the types of houses these early farmers – Neolithic or New Stone Age people – lived in, but there are many examples of their religious and funerary monuments remaining in the area: the Causewayed enclosures of Knap Hill and Windmill Hill; the Long Barrows of Clatford Bottom (Devil’s Den), Adam’s Grave and East and West Kennet; Silbury Hill; Avebury Henge and Avenues and the Sanctuary all bear witness to the constructional ability and resourcefulness of Neolithic people. The stones for the ring at Avebury probably came from the downs north of the A4: there is one stone lying near Green Street which may well have been selected for a monument and then abandoned while on its journey.
Metal was first introduces into Britain about 2,300 B.C. At first copper was used – it is soft and easy to work – and the earliest items were beads and ornaments. Weapons – daggers – followed, and these are sometimes found accompanying a new form of burial, together with another introduction, beakers. This distinctive and attractive form of pottery may have been used for drinking mead. The new form of burial was the inhumation of a single individual beneath a mound – a complete contrast to the Neolithic practice of communal burial in Long Barrows. These innovations – individual burial, use of metal and the new ceramic style may indicate changes in belief and in social and economic organisation.
The introduction of Bronze technology led to tools and weapons of metal replacing some of those which had previously been made in stone and flint. As skills improved, metal workers were able to make axes, daggers and ornaments, and later rapiers and swords.
The best-known monuments of the Early Bronze Age are Round Barrows, many of which can still be seen in the local landscape. They continue the practice begun in the Beaker period of an individual buried beneath a mound, sometimes with other burials placed at the same time, sometimes some added later. We do not know how any one person qualified for the distinction of barrow burial, nor do we know what happened to the rest of the population – the majority. The grave goods accompanying the burials often appear to be specialised items, possibly manufactured specifically for funerary purposes. The skeleton of a young person recently excavated at North Farm was buried beneath a round barrow, and was accompanied by two beads, one of ivory, the other of jet; any organic materials which may have also been present disappeared long ago.
As the Bronze Age progressed various social and economic changes were evidently taking place. Whereas previously a group had shown its identity by its flambouyant burial mounds and ceremonial centres, by the Late Bronze Age possession of land and its delineation were apparently more important. Little fields with definite boundaries closely linked to permanent settlements were probably scattered all over the landscape even though few remain to be studied today. The practice of burial beneath barrows went out of fashion, although in these later times burials were still inserted into barrow mounds, and also now in the partially filled-in ditches. The Barrow being excavated at North Farm has a Middle Bronze Age cremation cemetery in the ditch. Whether the site was still regarded as sacred, or whether it was a convenient place to position a cemetery in a time of land shortage we do not know, but the continued use of early barrows as foci for later burials is quite common, so it seems likely that the sites were still held in respect.
Around 1,000B.C. yet another change in prehistoric society took place – the introduction of iron. Sharper and longer-lasting tools and weapons were now available, though bronze continued in use for ornaments and decorative purposes. The population was still agricultural, and as time passed and pressures on land became even higher there emerged a warrior-chieftan class which controlled society, land and trade. The most obvious monuments left by these people are the hillforts, which became more complex and heavily defended as the period progressed. Local hillforts include early enclosurers on Pewsey Down and Martinsell, and more heavily defended examples are Rybury, Oldbury and Barbury. Some hillforts contained thriving villages, and the countryside was in general quite heavily populated, with the people living in circular houses with accompanying buildings used for industrial purposes such as weaving, metal-working and storage. Grain was stored in above-ground granaries and in large underground pits, which when no longer used for this purpose were receptacles for ritual deposits and rubbish. Communities grew flax and beans in addition to cereals, and kept sheep, pigs and cattle. The latter were used to pull ploughs as well as provide meat, milk and hides. By the last century B.C. amongst items being exported to the Roman Empire were grain, slaves and hunting dogs, while in return wine was being imported. By now the people also had an identity we can trace: they were referred to in classical works as ‘Celts’, and the picture we get is of a lively society, adventurous and colourful.
The advent of Roman rule brought a different regime to the countryside. Large villa estates were created, though the rural population continued to live much as it had before. There are remains of three villas in the area – one in each parish – and also of several groups of farmsteads amongst the ‘celtic’ field remains on Overton and Field Downs, and further examples can be seen along the Kennet valley in the right light. The presence of the Roman villa in each parish concurs with similar evidence from elsewhere – the indication is that parish boundaries were based on already existing administrative units such as the villa estates. In some cases the estates were split up to form smaller areas; this is possible that this is what happened in Overton. By the Anglo-Saxon period there were two villages, East and West Overton. The boundary runs very close to a probable villa site. If the villa site had comprised roughly the whole of the current parish of Overton, or even that part of it north of the river, the villa buildings would have been set somewhere near the middle of the east-west axis of the property. It would be a little odd to have the administrative centre of the estate right on one side of the area, although of course this is not impossible. One theory is that the estate was divided in two, the boundary running close to the old buildings. It is interesting to note that the route followed by the old parish boundary appears to be based on the edges of old ‘celtic’ fields which have thus accidently become frozen into later landscapes.
The villages of East Overton and West Overton were in existence in Anglo-Saxon times, the former, together with Fyfield and Alton Priors, was in the hands of the Bishop of Winchester. West Overton was held by the Abbess of Wilton, the estate which became Lockeridge was independent, and land in Kennett, together with land in Overton was held by Wulfswyth in 939 and by Alfeld in 972. We are fortunate to have Anglo-Saxon documents – Charters – relating to the parishes, but the record is not entirely complete, and in some cases it is uncertain which parish is involved. Such an example is found in King Edgar’s charter of 972; this document deals with lands in both Kennett and Overton, and mention is made of a ‘churchstead’, but we cannot be sure to which village this refers.
The Domesday Book, completed in 1086 tells us that before the Norman Conquest land in Kennett was held by Hunwine and by Leofday. The property of the former was in 1086 in the hands of Hugh Donkey, and was held from him by St Mary’s Church, Winchester for his daughter. It was valued at 20 shillings. In 1086 Leofday’s lands were held by Waleran Hunter, and a man called Richard held it from him; this property was also valued at 20 shillings.
A much larger area of Kennett was held by Alfred of Marlborough. Valued at £8.10s in 1086, it had five tenants, three of whom had also held some of this land before the Conquest. The property included a mill and woodland.
Before the Conquest, a monk named Alfsi held Fyfield from the Bishop of Winchester. In 1086 it was held by Edward, and still provided supplies to the monks. East Overton was also the property of the Bishop, before and after the conquest.
In 1086 Durand of Gloucester held Lockeridge; it was valued at 30 shillings. Before the Conquest it had been held by Aelmer, and at that time had been worth 40 shillings.
West Overton continued to be held by the Church of Wilton. It contained a mill, and was valued in 1086 at 100 shillings.
The documentary evidence for the parishes now becomes more abundant, and the best summary available can be found in the Victoria County History of Wiltshire Volumes XI and XII.
Sketch of Early Bronze Age skeleton excavated at North Farm, West Overton. 1987
The inhumation of a young person aged about 15½was found beneath a severely ploughed-out round barrow. The skull and rib cage were damaged, probably due to pressure from above, initially from the weight of the overlaying mound, and more recently from the passage of vehicles over the site.
The body lay in a crouched position, facing east, and was accompanied by two beads, one of jet, the other of ivory.
THE KENNET SARSEN INDUSTRY
The names Kennet Valley and Sarsen are inseparable. These hard sand stones were deposited in Tertiary times above the chalk. The very name sarsen is local in origin. In this region they have always been known by this name or an earlier version such as sarsden. In the Marlborough district their form is grey internally – a composition of sand and silicone and cement forming a hard durable rock. Other forms containing flint and pebbles occur – but are not common in this area. Sarsen is a very heavy, dense stone weighting 154lbs to the cubic foot or 14½cubic feet to the ton.
The abundance of stone not normally associated with chalk districts where durable material is usually at a premium has been of great use to man from prehistoric times onwards. The Sarsen industry of the late 19th century to early 20th century is merely the latest chapter in their exploitation.
In the Paleolithic period had axes of sarsen were shaped by the flaking technique used for flint, and in Mesolithic times sarsen pebbles were perforated by a process of pecking and drilling. Evidence from Neolithic sites in the Kennet area suggests that sarsen provided the main source of raw material for objects such as quorns, rubbers, and pounders. In this immediate area the chambered long barrows and circles of standing stones were constructed of unworked momoliths, but at Stonehenge the carefully shaped and dressed uprights and lintels show a greater degree of craftsmanship. Their skill continued developing into Roman times as shown by a fine pair of 4th century querns found on Overton Down. However there is little evidence of for the use of these refined techniques from the time of the Saxon settlement until the middle of the 19th century. Aubrey (d. 1697) describes the breaking up of the stones at Avebury. This involved heating the stones in pits filled with burning straw, then adding cold water and using sledgehammers. This was refined later in the 19th century. Light strips of wood were placed across the Sarsen boulders, then cold water was placed on the heated lines and again sledgehammers completed the task. A more expensive method in the 18th century saw the use of gunpowder.
Sarsen came into use during the Middle Ages for house building though in Roman Britain times it was used merely for foundations. The character of Kennet villages like Fyfield, Lockeridge, West Overton, East and West Kennett derives from their thatched cottages with walls made of roughly broken blocks of sarsen fitted together in a jigsaw pattern. A diary of the Civil War period refers to the inhabitants of Fyfield building their houses of Saracen Stones and laying moss between them.
In 1850 Edward Free, a young man working the sarsen stones at Hughenden in Buckinghamshire heard of the great quantity of sarsen in the Kennet Valley. He moved to Fyfield and set himself up in business as a stone-mason. He introduced new techniques developed over the years in the High Wycombe area (his brother also settled in Fyfield – but as landlord of ‘The Fighting Cocks’.
In 1920 two partners by the names of Thacker and Johnson established a stone crushing plant at Hursley Bottom in West Woods – by arrangement with the Olympic Farming Company who then owned West Woods. The concrete base of this crusher still remains to this day. The sarsen stones were first broken up by explosive and the fragments used for road metalling when the Bath Road was widened and repaired. Edward Free died at the early age of 40 years (an occupational hazard!) and was succeeded by his son William Edward Free. The Cartwright firm also began operating in the sarsen industry.
Both Free’s and Cartwright’s developed another side to their businesses in the sale of coal. Carts carried stones to Honey Street on the Avon and Kennett canal for shipment and returned with loads of coal brought by barge from Bristol. This was then sold locally. In 1890 the Free family moved from Fyfield to Marlborough. Edward Free and his wife were buried at Fyfield, Mrs Free having lived to the age of 104. (She had worked before her marriage in the household of Benjamin Disraeli). At this time the industry reached its height of activity owing to demands for tram setts and pavement curbing. Then, in the 2nd and 3rd decades of the present century, the trade gradually declined with the introduction of concrete, a cheap and practical alternative. 1915 saw the death of Walter Bristow (father of the late Clem who lived on the Bath road). As Walter had been Cartwright’s experienced stonemason and sarsen cutter they gave up the business and moved away. Free’s continued to cut stone until the closure of the industry in 1939. The sarsen crushing business too became unprofitable and the firm went bankrupt, though not before they had cleared about a quarter of a mile of sarsen in Hursley Bottom.
The industry’s output went for house building, walling, and road mending. The more accurate method of stone cutting gave a more structured character to the buildings. Houses built in the Kennet Valley since 1850 show standardised blocks, and this is a useful guide to dating housing in the district. Just before the industry finished in 1939 Cecil Waite, who was the last stone mason, evecuted an order for four wagin loads of sarsen blocks for the repair of Windsor Castle. The original stone of the Castle had come from the High Wycombe area but Kennet Valley was the only area left which had a sarsen source and could supply repair material.
In 1930 the average earnings of a skilled mason were about 45/- per week; extra money could be earned by clearing sarsens from arable fields for the local farmers. Working hours were from 6.30 a.m. until 4 p.m. Together with this could be a three or four mile walk each way according to which area was being worked. The Kimmers of Lockeridge and Waites of Fyfield worked for the Frees and the Bristows of Fyfield for the Cartwrights. The Waite family’s connection with sarsen goes back to Charles Waite who was almost certainly one of the first masons to work for Frees. Henry, who died in 1925, and his brothers Frederick and Thomas were also masons. Their skills were passed on to Cecil who was the last person to cut sarsens for the industry. He died in 1976 – but had enjoyed a much longer life than that of his father or grandfather. In 1907 the National Turst, Marlborough College Natural History Society and the Wiltshire Archeological Society raised £612 with which they purchased Piggledene and Lockeridge Dene in order to conserve their remaining sarsens.
THE SARSEN MASON’S TOOLS
A tracing hammer, pecking hammer, a pecker splitting wedge, punch, and slicing chisel with hazel haft – these are on display during the Heritage Week in Overton Church. They are the property of the late Cecil Waite and have been kindly loaned to us by his son, Mr A. Waite of West Manton.
Other tools included a two edged hammer (pecker) for the initial cutting, a punch to finish off the holes made by the pecker, splitting wedges and a 14 lb hammer for driving them in, a slicing chisel to make the initial cut and a sharp chisel to complete it, a tracing hammer and a pecking hammer used for dressing the setts. Once the sarsen had been split into workable pieces the process of cutting these into square setts and lengths took place. This work required greater skill than the original splitting of the stones. The masons worked under hazel thatch shelters as protection against bad weather.
Gleanings from former Vicars writings
On account of failing health and age the Rev H. Tootel resigned the living of Overton cum Fyfield on Nov 9th 1959 after being Vicar for 17 years. The new Incumbent the Rev T.G. Morris of Chadington, Dorset was presented to the living by the Patron Alec Taylor. The retiring incumbent took a pension out of the living of £130.
Rev Workman, Vicar of St Paul’s Southsea, was presented to the living by the patrons The Olympia Agricultural Co of Selby Yorks and was instituted in 19213 when Mr Morris resigned the living on his appointment to Chittoe.
When he arrived he found people still very poorly dressed, the children never had holidays and the young people had not even learnt to dance! He also found a selfish feudal spirit in the village. The schools were at the top of the black list for the County and the managers were alleged not to be prepared to spend 6d to save their church schools. It was soon after his arrival that East Kennett was assigned to join Overton. East Kennett Vicarage which was in a bad state of repair was sold for £800. To avoid the closure of East Kennet school it was decreed that the senior children should go to Lockeridge to be ‘under a man’. This was strongly opposed by the parents but within a year they were all apparently thanking him and said that their childrens health had much improved through the daily walk to and from school! The schools improved greatly and gradually had money spent on them, especially East Kennett school through the Maria Matthews Trust. Lockeridge school was taken over by the V.S.A. and according to Mr Workman became one of the show schools of England! Mrs Workman started a branch of the W.I. and efforts were made to start a Mens Club; about 40 men joined and the need for a village hall became obvious. Within two years of this decision the new hall was built for £600. In 1936 a branch of the Mothers Union was formed to try to improve the ‘spirituality’ of the parish. The freewill offering scheme was introduced and £45 per annum financed all that was needed! Overton Vicarage was sold in 1936 for £1250 and there seems to have been considerable disputes about the new site. Finally in February 1938 the Bishop of Salisbury came and selected the new site above the Church and close to the “pig palace” there. Evidentally he liked the smell of pigs and expected his clergy to do so too. “The final purchase of the site took place the day before Mr Workman resigned. He moved to Braemore in Hampshire and the Rev Norton arrived from Iwerne Courtenay.
Mr Norton was a bachelor, the first to live in the new Vicarage, he had two maiden sisters who helped him in the parish. When he arrived he found that he had inherited a £500 debt on the Vicarage. After paying off £100 parishioners heard about it and generously found the balance. The Architects design left much to be desired and he omitted wiring the house for electricity but it was well constructed by Messrs Rudman & Bent of Chippenham. He found the parish very welcoming both to himself and evacuees from Walthamstow who with two of their teachers were received by Lockeridge school. Two Home Guard units were set up in the War, one for Overton & East Kennett,under Mr Wyball and the other for Lockeridge and Fyfield under Mr Ross, both of whom were Masters of the City of London School who had been evacuated to Marlborough Collegte. Electricity was brought to all the churches, the Schools and the Vicarage. Churchyard walls at both Fyfield and Overton were rebuilt at Frank Swantons own expense. During the whole of his 18 years the churches each had but one organist. He found the parish loyal and co-operative. One wish he had was that children should be taught to worship with the whole family of God from an early age. He left in 1956 to retire to Odiham in Hampshire.
The Rev Frank Smedley came in 1957 after a 10 month interregnum. He was from a High Church tradition and from urban parishes in Sheffield. Here he found a sharper distinction between the ‘higher income’ group and the ‘lower income’ group than he had experienced before. Although he found the ‘higher group’ rather conservative in their views and worship he also found them very generous. Indeed in 1960 they arranged for him a gift of a mini minor when his old car had broken down! He saw the family communion – still in its infancy – as being the way forward. Despite his High Church background he found that no-one had ever complained about “my coloured vestments, ceremonial or “bowing and scraping”. The only comment made by one lady was “Why did I not wear the nice clothes I wore for Communion at Evensong?” He introduced the Christmas midnight communion which became the best attended service with up to 60 communicants. He found the schoolmistress at East Kennett, Mrs Freeman ‘an excellent and enthusiastic teacher’. The major improvements at East Kennet school took place during his incumbency at a cost of almost £10,000, bringing a new classroom, water toilets etc. By this time the numbers at the school had risen to the 30 mark. To many people the outstanding contribution made by Mr Smedley was the starting of the Stewardship scheme. Prior to 1962 collections in all 3 churches amounted to about £4.00 a week. By the end of the Stewardship campaign in late 1961 pledges of £8520 over three years had been received. This enabled a great number of things to be done both in the Missionary activities of the Church and in improvements within the parish. The ‘tortoise’ stoves were taken out and the new heating systems installed. In 1963 it was agreed that the churchyards in all 3 churches should be levelled and no more kerbstone graves allowed. This meant it was much easier to maintain the churchyards in a decent state. In 1958 he had restarted cubs and scouts but the guides and brownies seem to have gone into a state of abeyance. There was an active Young Wives group, and the Over 60’s had made a successful appearance. The Mothers Union and Sunday School were run by Mrs Smedley. He moved from here to Holy Trinity Trowbridge having enjoyed his stay in the country very much. He had found the people helpful and friendly. His chief regret was that ‘the family idea of the church has so far been grasped only by the few. The rest seem to think of worship largely as a matter of individual taste. If only they could grasp the idea of family worship as well as they have grasped the stewardship of money!
Post 1964 is too recent for analysis! Norris Scadding came in 1965 but stayed for only three years before handing on to Frank Morley who had been an accountant before. He must have been grateful to Mr Smedley for his financial acumen. In 1974 Peter Harrison came and the Team was formed. To bring us right up to date Graham Force-Jones arrived in 1980 and is here for a while yet!
To take us back a complete century it should be noted that before the Rev Tootell who was a ‘very little’ man and father-in-law to the Rev Workman having married Tootell’s daughter, Grace, the Vicar had been the Rev. Frederick Welburn who had been appointed in 1875 and died in office in 1899, aged 55. An Evangelical he was much beloved and respected in his parish which in those days consisted of Overton-cum-Fyfield with Alton Priors.
Perhaps in years to come a summary of post-1968 clergy would make interesting reading!
A NEW CHURCH FOR OVERTON
From Mr W. Welburn, whose father was Vicar here when the present Church was rebuilt we learn the following about the old church. “There was no road to the old church, it stood in the field with double white gates between the yews. The church had galleries around three sides and the body of the church was filled with deal pews. There was a three decker pulpit ornamented with tattered red cloth, great patches of damp on the walls and vaults under the whole of the Nave. The galleries were much favoured by the youths of the parish who used to take nuts up with them and spit the shells on those underneath. I fear that my father who was in those days an athletic and rather quick tempered man, sadly interfered with these delights”. From other sources we learn that the Nave was 15th century, the chancel of early 14th century architecture, a western tower bearing the date 1697 opened into the nave by a poor archway. There was a fine early 13th century chancel arch. The whole structure was very unsound, the walls being of sarcen boulders strapped with iron and propped with buttresses of brickwork. The roof of the chancel was very crumbling, whilst that of the nave owed its watertight condition to the thin covering of copper for which the church was locally famous. An indication of the lamentable condition is shown by mention of the sexton very ‘busily endeavouring to hide the frogs under the floorboards’. The Rev Welburn set about the daunting task of raising the money for the rebui8lding. This was considerably helped when Lord Bruce M.P., a trustee for Sir Henry Meux paid a visit and reported back to Sir Henry the condition.
The new church was begun in 1877 with a handsome sum contributed by the Meux Trustees of £3,000. ‘The whole of the bricks used in the construction of the new church are being hauled from Totterdown by means of a Steam engine by a Mr. Washbourn of Wroughton, 3000 bricks being taken at every journey!’ The size of the workforce can be estimated by the speed at which the edifice was built, the opening taking place in September 1878, although the tower was not by then finished. The architect was Charles E. Ponting, the Agent and Architect of the Meux Estate who lived in the house next to the Estate Yard in Lockeridge. He was also the Architect for Avebury Church Lych Gate. He employed mostly men from the Estate and the sarcen, flint and bricks were all locally made.
September 1878 saw the re-opening “Wednesday was a day of unmitigated wet and gloom, but the highly esteemed Vicar had taken such precautions in the way of publicity that a failure was impossible. Morning Service was a bright and beautiful one, nearly every seat (293) was occupied, all classes in the Parish joined in the celebration. The labourers and their boys, the farmers and their families, the neighbouring clergy and gentry….. Luncheon was provided in a tent near the church. The repast was most creditable, served by Mrs Bailey of Overton, everybody expressed surprise that such a capital lunch could be provided in a small village like Overton…subsequently Mr Walton Mus.B. of Savernake gave an organ recital. At 4O’clock the whole parish met and partook of tea in three batches. About 400 were present, the farmers not only giving their labourers a holiday but tickets for the tea… again the church was crowded at a harvest thanksgiving service at 6 O’clock”.For a fuller description of the building of the new church please see the pages Churches of the Upper Kennet
In the restoration the nave was rebuilt on the old foundations. The perpendicular windows in the nave and chancel, with the tracery that had been cut away restored, retain their former places in the south; the entrance door is still approached through a porch on the site of the old one; while the chancel arch and window occupy the same relative positions towards each other, but not being considered of sufficient for the enlarged chancel, they have been transferred to the chancel aisle or organ chamber. The small window that was formerly in the same part of the south aisle wall which is now occupied by the vestry was removed to the west end of the side aisle of the nave. During the work of demolition there was found in the centre of the walls fragments of worked stone coeval with the early features preserved, including two early English Consecration Crosses, which are now inserted under the East window in the external wall of the chancel, and a portion of the stoup or piscine, now placed over the inside entrance doorway. The foundations of the staircase to the rood loft of the early English church, which must have occupied the same site, were clearly traceable two feet above the floor level of the later structure, showing that only the upper part of the former had been rebuilt. The interesting rood-loft doorway, which had been replaced at the time of this partial re-building (although not for use) is now preserved and retained in the position in which it was found. The new tower was finished in 1883. Mr Pontings original design provided for battlements and pinnacles in more profusion than in the final form. These were objected to on the grounds that they might not stand the frost in such and exposed position.
The nave, vestry, and rood doors, the memorial lectern, and the panels of the pulpit were made from the oak beams from the roof of the old nave.
East Kennett. The five bells at East Kennet in 1960 were unringable but the Rev Smedley turned to Captain Mansfield-Robinson for help as he had re-started the ringing at West Overton. The Captain saw the possibility of the Navy helping to restore them under a “Venturer’s” scheme. The upshot was that H.M.S. Ariel volunteered to do the repairs under an Office and Shipwright. The ratings stayed in local homes and successfully restored the bells to a ringable condition. All this was done at a nominal charge.
West Overton. Once again Captain Mansfield-Robinson has played a crucial role in ensuring the ringing of Overton Bells for the years ahead. Not many years ago it became clear that the bells were in danger of becoming unringable soon if nothing was done. All quotes that we had ranged from £7,000 to £13,000 depending on the degree of rehanging. It was decided that under the guidance of the Captain a D.I.Y. job was possible, although there was a degree of opposition to the idea from outside! The task involved re-hanging the bells in ball-bearings, repairs to the 100 year old wheels, and renewal of some of the iron bolts and fittings which had deteriorated. The most severe aspect of this project was the engineering work involved in the design, construction and fitting of new gudgeon assemblies to fit the ball bearings as well as much hard work in fitting these and other fittings to the three new headstocks which were found to be in such bad condition as to need renewing. All this work was undertaken by the late John Hunt in his capacity as a professional mechanical engineer. The entire project was ultimately completed at a cost of approximately £600. We were indebted in the end to Brice Chivers who stepped in after the death of John Hunt to provide the final gudgeon assemblies. All of this work was carried out by a few men of the village – apart from the provision of the parts. We were indebted to Peter Killow, Peter East, Derek Barber and Lewis Currell who worked many hours to achieve the objective under Captain Mansfield-Robinson’s fatherly guidance. Ken Eaton, John Rumsey and members of the Youth Club also gave assistance when needed. An excellent example of Christian Stewardship. At the end of the venture the Captain wrote “I would like to address to all who worked on or supported this most important and successful project the old much coveted Naval Signal made by the Admiral to any ship that did particularly well at manoeuvres or general drill:
N J = Manoeuvre Well Executed!
1 D. 23in. H. 19in. F.W. 2cwt. 3qr. 9lb.
I. Mears & Stainbank, Founders, London, 1878.
The gift of T. Matthews, Esq., A.D. 1878.
2 D. 24¾in. H. 19½in. F.W. 3cwt. 0qr. 8lb.
I. Mears & Stainbank, Founders, London, 1878.
The gift of T. Matthews, Esq., A.D. 1878
3 D. 26in. H. 21in. F.W. 3cwt. 1qr. 22lb.
I. G. Mears & Co., Founders, London (on shoulder).
The Gift of Ann & Martha Matthews on the Re-erection of the Church, A.D. 1864, (on waist).
Jno. Matthews, Patron. Revd. W.C. Badger, Perpetual Curate.
Wm. Spearing, Jno. Coleman, Churchwardens.
4 D. 27½in. H. 22½in. F.W. 4cwt. 0qr. 10lb.
I. G. Mears & Co., Founders, London (on shoulder).
The Gift of Ann & Martha Matthews on the Re-erection of the Church, A.D. 1864, (on waist).
Jno. Matthews, Patron. Revd. W.C. Badger, Perpetual Curate.
Wm. Spearing, Jno. Coleman, Churchwardens.
5 D. 30in. H. 23½in. F.W. 4cwt. 2qr. 18lb. N.C.
I. Mears & Stainbank, Founders, London, 1878.
The gift of T. Matthews, Esq., A.D. 1878.
Bells hung in two tiers 0 1, 2, 3 above; 4, 5 below. Good frames, oak.
Good headstocks, but wheels loose and shaky. All windows wired.
Canons on all bells.
1 D. 27½in. H. 21in. F.W. 4cwt. 0qr. 2lb.
I.Cast by Gillett & Co., Croydon.
This Bell was presented by Lady Meux, 1883.
2 D. 29½in. H.22½in. F.W. 4cwt. 3qr. 21lb.
I. Cast by Gillett & Co., Croydon.
God save the Queen, 1883.
3 D. 31¼in. H.24in. F.W. 6cwt. 0qr. 51lb.
I. Cast by Gillett & Co., Croydon.
God save the Queen, 1883.
4 D.33½in. H. 25in. F.W. 7cwt. 1qr. 7lb.
I. SANCTA MARIA ORA (n.i.).
5 D. 35in. H. 26in. F.W. 7cwt. 3qr. 21lb.
I. (a bell) R.P (a bell) THOMAS HALL, GEORGE BROWNE, Churchwardens, 1683.
Recast by Gillett & Co., Croydon (on shoulder).
This Bell was recast at the expense of Sir Henry Bruce Meux, Baronet, 1888 (on waist).
6 D. 39¼in. H.33in. F.W. 11cwt. 2qr.0lb. N.G.
I. I.W. 1606 PRAYSE GOD (John Wallis).
N.B. – Oak frames, fittings &c, all in good order. Founder of fifth bell probably Roger Purdue, Salisbury. Founder of sixth bell probably John Wallis, Salisbury.
1 D.32½in. H.26in. W.6cwt. 3qr. 14lb.
I. ORA PR ON OBIS SANCTA.
2 D.35½in. H.29in. W.8cwt. 2qr. 0lb. N. A sharp.
I. ANNO DOMINI 1629 R.D.
Probably Danton Salisbury.
N.B. – Frame and fittings very old and rotten. Large wheels very bad.
THE GOOD OLD DAYS!
WE REMEMBER: The pre-war dairy at South Farm where all Overton villagers collected their mild – 2d a pint for employees, 4d for the rest. Over 100 cows were hand milked here by 12 men. The milk was carried on old yokes in 6 (or possibly 4) gallon cans, and stored in heavy conical churns holding 17 gallons (later these had only 10 gallon capacity).
– The old piggery at ‘Peacock’ where Jack Light was head pigman. The pigs were kept in huts in the fields. Between two of the original cottages there was a sidepath with a hawthorn shaped like a peacock which has given the area its name. Before the piggery there was a farm using 7 horses on this site.
– The bakery behind Gilda’s shop – firstly run by the Baileys, then the Bartletts. Arthur operated it with his brother-in-law, Bert Peck (Roger’s father).
– The Forge – shoeing was done by Bill, then Alec Huntley, ‘they were always in trouble with motor bikes), Alec wrote off a car – driving into a land rover driven by the farm manager.
– The Rabbits – “Up on Down Barn we used old binders and had to stook the corn. We were up there one evening and when we had almost finished the corn, I bonked down twenty four rabbits myself and left the rest in field. In the summer with the whippet I would get as many rabbits as I could carry My mother, she skinned and fried them and made rabbit pies and stews. Lovely! Down Barn was all of a crawl with rabbits”. In the war we never went short of food. Rabbits were 1/- each. Harry Rogers used to take them to London to sell. Two full time keepers were kept tp catch them during and after the war.
– The Pig Club started by Mr Frank Swanton in the War. Every three months we used to get bacon which had been sent away for salting. He would bring potatoes to be cooked and fed to the pigs.
– ‘Sooty’ Sprules, a staunch Liberal who lived at 69 West Overton. A tall man with a white beard; he sold sweets and ‘baccy’ (Woodbines 2d a packet) from the stable door. He used to sit and watch his orchard grow – he used to tell people his apple trees were grown from pips. His Sweep’s brushes were carried around in a Bath Chair. After his son’s death in W W 1 he wanted a clock put on the church tower in his memory, rather that having his name on the War Memorial.
– The frozen water meadows below the Old Rectory used for skating and sliding.
– The cattle pounds – stray cattle were gathered on the site where Lockeridge shop now stands. There was also a pound just south of the sewerage works (the western wall of this still remains).
– The Chapels. In Lockeridge the chapel was opposite the flats, and a camp meeting was held once a year at Lockeridge Dene attended by 200 to 300 people. The ladies used to walk to chapel in long frocks and bonnets. The Overton chapel was a red painted corrugated iron structure on the site of Chapel Bungalows. It’s Mission Band used to also go to Lockeridge. The Sunday School in the Gospel Hall was run by Mr Ayres, a forester.
– The Dog Field Trials. A.B.Simpson (who operated the local shooting enterprise) was a pump manufacturer who lived in Lockeridge Down, (then called West Close). He used to employ five keepers and bred champion black Labradors. Between the wars there were dog trials and big lunches provided for those who attended. His gamekeeper, Mr Garner, lived at Stanley Wood.
– ‘Money’s Cottages’ – on the edge of Overton Churchyard. There was a Well in the front; Billy Waite used to live here, and also his father John, and Mrs Hallat (?). Later in the 1950’s shepherd Delicate moved in.
– The Carpenters. Joe Ashley and Reg Stagg worked for Mr Huntley of Honey Street, the carpenters shop was in the thatched area of Holly Lodge, Overton. Natty Waite worked here making coffins as did Joe Ashley. The “new” Hall built in 1934 was built by George, a carpenter from Manton, and Fred Sprules, who had the shop built at Lockeridge. He had also been bandmaster, and organist at Fyfield Church.
– Edmund Rebbeck (Jack’s father) who died on March 14th 1904 aged 49 was buried in a coffin 7’ 7” long, 2’ 4” deep, and 2’ 8” in breadth. He weighed 31 stone l lb and was reputed to be the heaviest man in England. He had been landlord of the now demolished Fighting Cocks at Fyfield, later he purchased the Old Bakery and General Stores in Lockeridge. He obtained a Public House licence and the Who’d-A-Thought-It came into being.
– The coming of vehicle licences. Jack Rebbeck, now 89, was the first man in Lockeridge to have a licence to drive a lorry and a tractor (1922).
– Phyllis Clarke (who died in 1986). In World War 2 Phyl who lived with her Mother and Unclein South Farm trained Land Army girls; these came from Liverpool, Yorkshire etc. They were billeted in ‘railway carriages’ on the Lockeridge road. Before the War she used to help with the lambing. Later she moved to Yardacre which had been the Meux Estate Yard, where trees were sawn up using steam power, and coverted it. Her aged Uncloe Robert Buxton R.A. was a noted artist. Many of his paintings were sold in South America where they had relatives.
– Mr Frank Swanton was a ‘cute’ man – very strict and meticulous. He enjoyed a friendly argument and was fair in his dealings. At one time he employed 84 people (82 when he married in 1935). He was a partner of Mr Wilson at Temple, Rockley way.
– The Church and its Clergy. For children there was Sunday School in the morning, they were marched to Church in the afternoons, went to Mrs Spooners (she lived in West Close) who read to them, and at night they could sing in Overton Choir. There were 6 or 7 boys and 4 men in the Choir. In the 1930’s the Vicar insisted that a new Vicarage should be built. This was considered untimely by some in view of the hardships being endured by many parishioners at the time. Mr Workman also introduced ‘spiritualism’ which caused some dissension. When the new Vicarage site was allocated Charlie Hale and Mervyn Durston planted trees all around it (some remain today). It seems that Mr Workmans successor was the first to live in it. He was a ‘very nice man!’ Mr Waite was his churchwarden, verger, sexton etc. The bells were never rung in Lent – except to play hymn tunes.
– Unemployment and wages. Mr Philpott received 15/- a week unemployment benefit. ‘Dan Smarts army used to go and collect unemployment pay every other day in Marlborough. Mr Burton earned 6d a day to keep birds off the corn, cut thistles and pull docks out; then at age 14 – 2/6 a week – going on to ploughing at 16 using horses. He won prizes in the Avebury Ploughing matches.
– The District Nurse – Nurse Pincott, who lived at Nathaniel Waite’s (on the corner in Overton where the Strongs used to live). She served the whole area from Avebury down to these villages – her transport was an old ‘bike’ and she used to carry her case on the back. She delivered more than one generation of children in some families (home deliveries1). There was no doctor resident in the villages and she attended to evrything herself, only calling in help in a real emergency.
– Cooking – On open grates early on – the pans used to get really dirty bases. Then ‘we asked Mr Swanton about having a range put in and he agreed This was in the late 1930’s and cooking was much cleaner then. Even in the 1930’s though, some of the bigger houses which had housekeepers had a ‘proper’ cooker and the kitchens ‘weren’t much different from today’.
– Heating and Lighting – The open grates used mostly coal for cooking and heating. There was no electric – just paraffin lamps for lighting.
– Water supplies – All had to be drawn from a well. Bathing was in a big tin bath in front of the fire and there were outside ‘bucket toilets’.
– The School – There were three teachers, Mr Townlee, who lived in the school house, and two who came from Marlborough. The infants used slates but the older ones used paper and pencil. The floors were wooden and kept ‘scrubbed clean’. There were bucket toilets for the children – but no sinks for washing their hands. The one school took children right through their school life.
– Out of School – Children played with spinning tops, or if they could find an old bicycle wheel they would hit it along the lane like a hoop. They played in the farmyards and on the bales as there wasn’t all the dangerous machinery about then. They played hopscotch and hide and seek – generally making their own entertainment.
– Transport – Very few people had cars but there was a more ‘convenient’ bus service. Some of the men drove lorries, for example taking grain from the farm down to Avonmouth.
-Before the flats were built in Lockeridge – ‘Normen Ball’s farm stretched down to the road and an old man named Joe Beasant lived in a caravan in one corner of the field. The flats ‘Old Beasants’ take their name from him.
– Other memories – Having no family allowance for the first child; Mr Philpott in the War having only four days off in four years – that being Christmas Day each year!; the guides and scouts, run by Miss Giffard who had a meeting hut where Anne Humbert’s bungalow now stands; the Masons Arms – when it was still a pub….. and many families whose names are no longer found in the villages – for example the Glass family of West or Manor Farm and the Pontings (Miss Martha died in 1960 leaving £200 for the ‘sick and needy’).
These reminiscences have been contributed by:-
Mr Radbourne, Mr Burton, Mr Philpott, Mrs Rebbeck, Mr W. Waite, Mr M. Durston, Mrs M Farley and Mrs Lockey Sen. We are very grateful for the time they all gave in helping to answer many questions.
FYFIELD IN THE DOMESDAY BOOK
Fyfield is listed in the Domesday Book as being in the ‘hundred’ of Selksbury – a mutation, perhaps, of Silbury. The entry tells us that Fyfield (or ‘Fif-hide’ as it was then known) was composed of five ‘hides’ (hence the name). A ‘hide’ was the amount of land required to support one free family and its dependants. Four of the five hides in Fyfield were owned by one Alured of Marlborough, and it was managed by Rudolph in his absence (according to the survey). To work the land there were three slaves and fifteen villeins (workers attached to the land, but not actually owned in the same way that a slave was). The land itself was then made up of two acres of meadow eighty acres of pasture, and twenty acres of woodland. At the time of the survey – about 1090 – these four hides were work 100 shillings.
The remaining hide was owned by a man named Ulmar. No mention is made of the land save its value – 10 shillings. There was also a forge in the village, this had to pay a tax of twelve pence per annum.
A later spelling of Fyfield sees it spelt Fyfelde before it took on the spelling by which it is known today.
The Church which dates from the 14th Century has possible Saxon remains beneath the present foundations. The Church which is dedicated to St. Nicholas, began its life as a chapellry linked to West Overton. In 1608 it is recorded that the Church owned 16 acres to the North side of the Church (where the Vicarage stood) and 3 acres on the South side of Fyfield. At the end of 1704 Fyfield necame a parish in its own right; it wasno longer to be ‘merely’ a chappellry to Overton.
A detailed description of the Church was included in an article in a local paper in 1888:
“The Church consists of an Early English Chancel, Perpendicular Tower and modern North Aisle and Porch. It possesses several points of interest: The work of the chancel roof is of a very characteristic type….and the nave retaining its original roof of oak, with richly tracked spendrels and cornices, and the date 1634 cut on the beam probably indicates the date of some repairs. Unfortunately modern windows have been inserted in the South wall….the floor of the tower was evidently some feet above that of the nave: the space is now used as a vestry. The most interesting of all, however are the four panels of carved oak now in the gallery front at the West end but which have been taken, it is believed, from the old pulpit. These are, apparently, of the same date as the nave roof. The Church was restored some forty years ago (i.e. 1848) by the Vicar, when the North Aisle and the Porch were added, the chancel reroofed and partially rebuilt”.Subsequently to this, as was discovered by a piece of wood found during the latest work to the roof timbers in 1986, the roof seems to have been leaded or re-leaded during the Great War. In the last few years the whole of the appearance of the Church interior has been enhanced by rubbing down some very flaky paintwork and repainting in the correct material for churches. Quite extensive work on the timbers has hopefully arrested decay due to work and death watch beetle. The Churchyard is kept in an excellent state by a willing band of helpers.
Originally Fyfield Church had had three bells but when the Parish of Alton Priors was formed that church had no bell and so one of the Fyfield bells was given to them.
A Lych-gate, no longer there, was built in 1938 dedicated to Edwin Drew. He was one of Alec Taylor’s jockeys at his racing stable and was tragically killed at Brighton Racecourse. Only the base of the lych-gate now remains.
The whole shape of Fyfield has changed greatly over the years, the church once being far more central to the village. In the early 1030’s a road widening scheme on the A.4 took away a Congregational chapel, an inn and quite a number of cottages. When the inn – The Fighting Cocks – was demolished it was discovered that it had (as the name suggests) been used for cock fighting.
There are a few of the old cottages remaining in the village, all converted and altered in some ways, built of Sarsen stone and with thatched roofs. These date back to the 1700’s if not earlier. There is Spring Cottage, where the Fosters now live, Pheasants, the home of the Eatons, and on the A.4 the cottage where Clem Bristow used to live and where Elsie Vaughan lived until her death recently. In that cottage was an old baking oven, heated with wood faggots, that had a special white stone at the back of the oven which would change colour to indicate the heat and the readiness for baking bread. Pheasants has a feature in the old roof, it has a cruck – quite a rare object – it is an old tree trunk with fork branches forming an upturned V which gives the support for the thatching of the roof cover. The Council houses at Priestacre were mostly built in the 1930’s, though four were added after the War; they and the bungalows comman fine views over the Kennet as does Fyfield House built of red brick. It is late Georgian and early Victorian; the foundations reveal an earlier building mentioned by Pevsner. A number of the other houses in Fyfield are of the 1850 period as can be seen by the dressed sarsen stone used. These were mostly occupied by farm workers.
Developments at present planned or under way in Fyfield will re-establish the bulk of the village lying on the Bath Road and will mean an increase in population of up to 25%.
‘And so to Bath’ – C Roberts.
In about 1700 a writer by the name of Cecil Roberts passed through Fyfield on the Bath Road. These are the remarks he has to make on the journey from Marlborough to West Overton.
“….As soon as one leaves Marlborough the nature of the country undergoes a complete change. The wooded landscape changes to the lonely spaces of the rolling downs. Here are no trees, lush meadows and streams. The great bald hills rise up in the wide sky, and the eye rests nowhere until the horizon fades away. Here is the home and burial ground of pre-historic man…”
And so he passed Fyfield; there must have been less to make it remarkable than there is now!
EAST KENNETT AND THE MATTHEWS FAMILY
In 1803 the Manor estate was bought by Richard and Elizabeth Matthews. Here they brought up their large family of 2 sons and 8 daughters in the recently rebuilt Manor House. In the course of the next 80 years, spanning the nineteenth century and the Victorian age, their children were to prove great benefactors to the village community.
In 1864 Christ Church was rebuilt in ashlar and flint by Gane & Co. of Trowbridge entirely at the expense of the Matthews family. John, the second and only surviving son, died in 1879 and left two charities in his will; one for the upkeep of the church and churchyard and the other to provide the needy of the parish with fuel, food and clothes at Christmastime. In common with so many of these old charities the amount they contribute today can in no way provide for their original intentions.
Meanwhile his married sistger. Mary Lanfear of Ramsbury, who died in 1871, willed the annual income of £600 to be spent on apprenticeships for the boys of East Kennett when they left school.
This school, the first in the village, wasestablished in 1857 by the youngest Matthews daughter, Maria, and her sister Ann. The old school house and schoolroom still stand, though the house is now privately occupied. It was known in those days as Miss Matthews School and was intended partly to provide a basic education for East Kennett children and partly to train girls for domestic service. Before her death in 1882, aged 72 years, Maria endowed her school with the very large sum for those days of £2,300 and the Maria Matthew Trust is still used for the benefits of the pupils, its purpose having been adapted as far as is possible for modern needs.
In addition Maria bequeathed money for a bell ringers fund and for the building of a dispensary and reading room for the use of parishioners. The plaque which was once fixed to the exterior casts some doubt as to who it was who bequeathed the money for the dispensary as it read “given to the poor of the village by Sarah Matthews 1884”. There was obviously a reversion clause in the Trust Deed and the building was repossessed in 1917 and sold to a private owner. It is the first house on the left as you enter East Kennett from West Overton.
From the church memorial tablets it appears that only two of the Matthews children married, Elizabeth Fisher and Mary Lanfear. The descendants of the former eventually sold the dispensary and reading room when they inherited the property as they lived elsewhere. Thus ended a long and beneficial connection between East Kennett and the Matthews family.
The five bells in East Kennett Church were all gifts of the Matthews family – Ann, Martha, John, T. Matthews, three are dated 1878 and the two earlier ones 1864.
THE SWANTON FAMILY
The family were farmers at West Pennard, Somerset, over two hundred years ago. By the 1850’s they had moved a little eastwards, a move which slowly continued.
Frank Swanton was born at Vobster (just west of Mells) on May 11th 1884 the youngest of a family of four. His father Robert Swanton, again a farmer, moved to Branch Farm, Mells, a few years later. Both farms were tenanted from the Ammerdown Estate.
The estate owner had interests in quarrying and coal mining in that area. On the other side of the village in Mells House (now demolished) lived the Horner family of the nursery rhyme “Little Jack Horner sat in a corner” fame.
Frank had always hoped to farm himself. With the Victorian transport developments in ships and railways colonial agricultural produce flooded onto the British market. The price of wheat had fallen 20% in consequence and other produce too. Times were hard for British agriculture.
Leonard, the oldest son, and Frank were told by their father that there was only room for one of them on the family farm. Leonard as the oldest was given the choice and dithered for a week before deciding. Frank, in the meantime, hoping that he would decline the opportunity.
Eventually Leonard decided to join his father. Frank spent one more year at school, which was as much as funds would allow, and was then apprenticed into the drapery trade with Mr. Gradidge in Frome.
Evidently Mr. Gradidge thought quite a lot of his young apprentice. After 3-4 years he decided to leave Frank in charge of the shop when he visited his other branch, much to the previous manager’s disgust.
On completion of his apprenticeship in 1905 Frank moved to Bath and worked for Evans & Owen. In 1906 came the opportunity to start farming.
Leonard, Frank and their sister Blanche tood the tenancy of a farm in Sevenhamption (near Highworth), pooling their resources of £500 each. Their other sister Edith stayed in Somerset to help her mother.
Two years later Frank had the chance of a tenancy of his own at South Farm Chiseldon on the Calley estate. He took that in addition to his partnership with his brother and sister.
These were the days when an outgoing tenant recommended his successor, for which service he expected a fee. Frank and his father travelled from Sevenhampton to Chiseldon by pony and trap to meet Tom Blanchard, the sitting tenant.
Discussions took place over a suitable introduction fee but agreement could not be reached.
Frank and his father took their leave and asked the shortest way home. Tom sent them the longer route hoping that Frank’s agreement would be forthcoming as he left. He had under-estimated his adversary.
Tom saddled his horse, took the shortest route and overhauled the trap. “You shall have the farm Mr Swanton” he said. Tom moved that Michaelmas to Manor Farm Burbage, which is now farmed by his grandson Peter Blanchard.
In 1914 South Farm Chiseldon was selected as the site for an army camp. Frank moved to North Farm Overton, where he took a tenancy on 1,000 acres.
Five years later in 1919 the Hon. Joseph Watson purchased 7,000 acres including North Farm Overton. Frank stayed on as farm manager to the ‘Olympia Agricultural Company’, which also invested in similar estates at Leamington and Selby. The Watson money originated from soap manufacture in Warrington.
In 1923 Joseph Watson, by now Lord Manton, fell off his horse behind Boreham Wood. He was found to have died. His executors let the farms again. Frank took North Farm back plus South Farm and Fyfield together with Temple Farm, the last in partnership with the Shefford (Newbury) sheep dealers George and Henry Wilson.
By 1925 Manton’s executors decided to sell the farms. Frank bought 1800 acres himself and 1500 in partnership with the Wilsons. Manton’s executors agreed to a mortgage as farms were not easy to sell in those days. £1,000,000 had been invested in the Olympia. The executors felt they were lucky to recover £750,000.
In 1932 Percy Wookey, who had been renting West Farm from the Poole family (now the nearest successors are the Stibbards of Ogbourne) moved to Rushall. Frank took that tenancy too. He was now farming over 4,000 acres through the agricultural depression.
Already serving on the Rural District Council and the County Council, Frank decided he needed an assistant. Short-listed were John Cherrington (now the agricultural journalist and farmer at Tangley near Andover) and his nephew, Edith’s son Barnard Bush. Barnard won.
In 1934 Frank attributed his success to “the fact that he had remained a bachelor and made his farm his hobby and his partner”.
Great amusement was caused when in 1935 Frank married a Devon clergyman’s daughter. He was presented with a salver by his 82 employees, who insisted on welcoming him back from Honeymoon by pulling his car up North Farm drive on a rope.
1944 came and with it the sale of West Farm. No, Frank did not purchase it, his wife Hester did!
In 1948 English Farms Lte. Was started under the auspices of Schroeders Merchant Bank. The directors Clyde Higgs (of Higgs Electric Motors) and Anthony Hurd (latger Lord Hurd and son of the previous Devizes M.P. Percy Hurd)purchased Temple Farms on behalf of the company.
Barnard Bush had left to take over his father’s tenancy at Norton St. Philip. Frank continued with a succession of two farm managers but eventually decided that he and his loyal foreman, ecil Orchard (no relation to Alfie), could cope adequately.
In 1962 West Farm was sold to English Farms. Frank died on 9th September 1971 after 87 years mainly in agriculture. He had been awarded the O.B.E. for services to agriculture in 1958. These included service on the War Agricultural Executive Committee and chairman of the governors of Lackham College of Agriculture for 21 years.
He had been a County Council member for 40 years and Rural District Councillor for more.
Today Frank’s sons farm North Farm, South Farm Overton, Fyfield, Hillside Farm Lockeridge and the ex-Forestry Commission land at Westwoods.
East Kennett School was established in 1857, well before the Education Act of 1870. It was never envisaged that it would be for large numbers of children and was initially founded largely for training for Domestic service. Overton cum Fyfield, in contrast was built for 150 children, difficult though that may be to believe seeing that it was never any bigger than it is now in floor space or grounds! The architect for Lockeridge was Mr Ponting who had been the church architect. It was completed in 1876.
SOME SCHOOL LOG BOOK JOTTINGS
East Kennett: 1891 Principal: Miss Marion Hedges, appointed 1861. 20 slates 1 desk 8’ long.
1893: Minnie Culley, having passed her 13th birthday has left school for service April 25th 1982: Miss Elizabeth Strong Spreadbury appointed principal teacher. May 29th 1893: “The new mistress has effected quite a revolution in the character of the school”.
July 6th 1894: Still a poor attendance owing to haymaking.
May 3rd 1895: Walter Marks and Percy Culley having passed Standard 4 satisfactorily have left for labour.
17th: paid a surprise visit and because he found the children good gave them 1/- worth of sweets (Rev J.E. Wilson)
1896: Diocesan Inspector – “Hymns, Colelcts, Catechism – good”.
25th Feb 1916 Owing to a snowstorm during the night of Wed, Thurs morning school could not be held.
24th March 1916. On Wednesday the river flooded the roads and children from W.Kennet could not come.
June 15th 1917: School closed today for haymaking until July 2nd.
Jan 30th 1925: Attention of Doctor called to average temperature of room which has been under 50F for all January and is normally 38 – 42 at 9 a.m.
Dec 11th 1925: The temperature on several mornings lately has been 31F – 33F. It is impossible for children to do proper work in such a temperature and the handwriting in all classes has suffered owing to cold hands.
Jan 18th 1926: Snow still on ground. 13 present. Usual work as far as possible. Temperature at 9 a.m. 31F.
June 16th 1930: During holiday G. Butcher fell into a grass cutter and badly wounded both hands – now in hospital.
Overton cum Fyfield School: 1870 Nov 4th. Vestry meeting at Overton Church resolved, if possible, to erect a school for the parishes of Overton cum Fyfield.
1871 July 14th Committee elected:
Rev J.B. Angell Vicar, Overton
Rev R.A. Gent, Curate, Lockeridge and Correspondent
1873 April 23rd Builder appointed – B.E. Nightingale, London, £1008.
1876 School in being.
THE KENNET VALLEY HALL
On Tuesday November 11th 1931 a meeting took place at Overton Vicarage inaugurating the new Village Hall Management Committee. Captain Vigors was elected Chairman, and Rev. Workman as Secretary and Treasurer. Money to build the Hall was raised from public subscriptions, Church Collections, the Carnegie Trust and a government loan which was guaranteed by local people.
By the end of November a site had been secured in Overton, given by Mr Frank Swanton. During the earlier part of 1931, a Trust Deed was drawn up – this document still forms the basis upon which the current Kennet Valley Hall is run. The job of building the Hall was put out to tender, and six applications were received. The Committee accepted Mr Sprules’ tender for £465.10s. with brown tiles £9.10s. extra.
The date for opening the Hall was September 1st 1931, and it was proposed that Mr Alec Taylor should be invited to perform the ceremony.
In the early 1970’s it was decided that a new Village Hall was needed, and earliest proposals were for a Hall incorporated with a new school at Overton, the complex to serve the whole population from Fyfield to East Kennett. The plans for the new school fell through, and the Hall Committee began searching for a new site.
By August 1973 Mr Roger Swanton had offered the present site to the Hall Committee. A fund-raising Committee was set up. This proved to be all too necessary, as the project cost in excess of “32,000. The Committee was able to raise £24,000 in local and central government grants, and it was one of the largest village hall projects funded in this way in Wiltshire. Further funds were raised from the sale of the old site, and the remainder cam from fund-raising events held over the years – gymkhanas, fetes, barbecues, dances ect. The most ambitious project was a three-day event held in 1976 – on one of the very few wet weekends in that hot summer! The highlight of the outdoor activities was a parachute drop by the Red Devils in the presence of Group Captain Sir Douglas Bader.
The new building was opened on Saturday September 4th 1976 by Mrs Frank Swanton. The inaugural dance in the evening was distinguished by the fact that “The Autocrats” band specially reformed to come and play, and provided superb music.
The new Kennet Valley Hall has now been open for just over ten years, and is used by many different groups as well as for private parties and dances; it is about to enter another chapter of its history as plans for as extension to increase storage capacity are being drawn up.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF WEST OVERTON, LOCKERIDGE AND FYFIELD SINCE THE LATE 18th CENTURY
(East Kennet follows a different tradition and is not described here)
The first Ordnance Survey of this part of Wiltshire was carried out in 1886, but well before that date many other maps had been commissioned for various reasons – tythe maps, enclosure maps etc. some more accurate than others in these early days.
From these maps we can see the gradual development – not always at the same rate – of our three villages. Shown here are copies (from the Wiltshire County Record Office, Trowbridge) of
1. Map by Andrews and Dury 1773
2. Ordnance Survey 1900
3. Ordnance Survey 1983
These maps have been chosen particularly to show the ‘rise’ of Lockeridge and the sad ‘fall’ of Fyfield….
1. Map of 1773
Note the extent of housing in West Overton and Fyfield, compared to that of Lockerdige; the latter has no housing at all, for instance, to the East of it’s ‘High Street’. The cottages in Lockeridge Dene, now National Trust, can be seen, also Dene Farm (originally Glebe Farm and owned by the church) otherwise we can see little of today’s village. What is now Meux Cottage, Pipers Plot and Breach House can be identified, and perhaps a few others. In West Overton and Fyfield, however, there seems to be plenty of village housing already. Note all the buildings between Lockeridge House and what is now the A.4. (This site was frequently flooded and was later abandoned in the 19th century).
2. Map of 1900
In 1872, the Meux family bought ‘Overton’, including all 3 villages, and a lot more, from the Duke of Marlborough. They installed their Estate Architect, Charles Ponting, in Lockeridge Cottage. They themselves did not live here. Lockeridge House continued to be let as a ‘Gent’s Res’. Ponting proceeded to build the school, enlarge the pub, and to build several houses in Lockeridge, including Gypsy Furlong as the Estate Office. He did some work in Fyfield, but very little general building in West Overton which remained very much an agricultural community, depending on North, South and West Farms for its livelihood.
Looking at the 1900 O.S. therefore we can see that Lockeridge has taken its place as an equal: it has two pubs, (one of which contained the shop, and was perhaps more of an ‘off-licence’), a Post Office, a school and a growing housing stock. The Rebbecks farmed Dene Farm and Hillside Farm for many years and ran the shop. Fyfield still houses the local policeman, and of course has the church, which Lockeridge lacks; it also, together with Lockeridge is very much involved in the sarsen stone cutting trade.
3. Map of 1983
In 1906 the Meux family sold Overton – the original detailed sales brochure (Giddy and Giddy) can still be seen at Trowbridge – and our villages began to stand on their own feet.
Lockeridge House was bought by the Giffards (who had already rented it for several years) and they continued to do great good to the village, providing much employment within house and garden, and involving themselves very much in village affairs – running the scouts etc. An annual cricket match was held against Marlborough College – their 2nd XI: Frank Swanton bought most of the farming land around the villages (see elsewhere for the Swanton story) and his sons are still here.
By 1931 West Woods had been bought by the Forestry Commission, and they planted a new plantation of beech in 1936, Coronation year.
Slowly but steadily, between the Wars and since, private and council housing has enlarged both West Overton and Lockeridge (although the population figure has not gorwn substantially because so many of the terraced cottages have been ‘modernised’ into single units).
But what of Fyfield? With the invention of concrete, the sarsen stone cutting industry gradually fell away, and the widening of the A.4 in 1931 literally tore the heart out of the village. Fyfield House, a handful of cottages and some farm buildings are all that remain.
The old road of Marlborough, Preshute, Manton, Fyfield, E Overton and West has become the back route of Preshute, Manton, Lockeridge and West Overton, and visitors often ask “Why is there a Church at little Fyfield and not at the larger village up the road?”
(Prepared by a Lockeridge newcomer with grateful thanks to the Over 60’s, particularly Mr Stanley Philpott, who have been so kind, friendly and informative).
THE GREAT FLOOD IN LOCKERIDGE
– An account by Mrs. Lawrence, mother of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, in a letter to the present Lord Kennet’s father.
T.E. Lawrence, ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, was a friend of Lord Kennet’s mother and stayed at the ‘Lacket’, which is how hos mother came to know it and to occupy it as a tenant during the 2nd World War. She and another of her sons, Dr. Lawrence, were there by the winter of 1939 – 40, when she wrote the following account of the Great Flood in a letter to the present Lord Kennet’s father.
“The second flood has come and gone, and it was a very big one. No-one in Lockeridge has ever seen anything like it. It started on Saturday night and flowed down past the valley past the back of the house. It came through the small gate over the dry stone wall and half way up the hill, swirled around the house, coming in by the back door, pouring through the coal cellar spreading through to the summer house. Fortunately it only wet the inside a few inches. It washed out the two ground floors of the double cottage. Their furniture was floating. It flowed down the street like a mill stream. The house where Mr. Caswell lives, opposite the Glebe Farm, got the full force of it. They found the house full when they got down in the morning and were bailing out water from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. without any rest for meals.
A small steady stream of clear water came out under the stairs here, which stopped about 3 p.m. on Sunday. It must have come through the stone wall. The hall, bathroom and scullery, and part of the kitchen, had about an inch or more of water when I got down in the morning. I could not get outside the back door until late in the afternoon, and then only as far as the safe. It really was a deluge….. There was 31 degrees of frost. A lady in the train told Bob (Dr. Lawrence) that her son had weighed a twig with ice on it. It was 27 oz. After the ice had melted it was only 1 oz! I hope we shall never have the like again”.
The Annual Report for 1940 of the Marlborough College Natural History Society noticed that ‘Umbrellas could not be shut and mackintoshes took the form of their wearers and retained it when they were removed ….Many skated in Court’.
The Great Flood was caused by heavy rain falling after a prolonged frost while the chalk was still frozen solid.
FAMOUS PEOPLE IN LOCKERIDGE
As you come into Lockeridge from the A.4., Lockeridge House stands on the right surrounded by beautiful gardens bordering on the River Kennet. It is a Queen Anne house originally built by John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, as a Hunting Lodge. In more recent years Queen Mary, widow of King George V stayed there as a frequent guest of her Lady-in-Waiting, Lady Gaythorn-Hardy. During that time, our present Queen as Princess Elizabeth, with her sister Princess Margaret visited the house. Mrs Philpott, who was then living in the cottage opposite the School, remembers two fair-haired little girls, accompanied by their Governess, peeping over the wall and a young voice saying “How wonderful! Look – a well!”
Moving on through the village on to the Overton Road, is Lockeridge Down, a white house surrounded by pretty gardens. Before the 2nd World War it was known as ‘West Close’ and it was here that Douglas Jardine, the famous cricketer used to stay with the then owner A.B.Simpson.
At the far end of the village lies ‘The Lacket’, the home of the present Lord Kennet, – a pretty thatched cottage nestling amongst the sarsen stones and trees. It was in 1912 that the writer Lytton Strachey first stayed at the Lacket and it was there that he wrote his ‘Eminent Victorians’. Other visitors included Virginia and Leonard Woolf and various other members of the Bloomsbury Group, who came down to talk and enjoy the splendid walking on the nearby Downs. Later Sir Peter Scott, Lord Kennet’s half-brother, spent many school holidays there, and perhaps it was here that he first gained his love of nature.
In 1910. Professor A.N.Whitehead, the philosopher and mathematician, came to live in a thatched house nearby, which he extended at about that time and which is now known as ‘Pipers Plot’. He was Bertrand Russell’s mentor at Cambridge and it was here in Lockeridge that they collaborated in writing ‘Principia Mathematica’. The Whiteheads entertained many of the Bloomsbury Group, amongst them Gertrude Stein, who came for the weekend and stayed for two months just before the First World War.
These are just a few of the many well-known and interesting people who have lived in and visited Lockeridge.
Our grateful thanks to all those who worked hard to produce this booklet, both in research and compilation:
Mabs and Dick Coward
Cover Design by Dick Coward
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.