Maria Cockrell – Part 1: a life of extremes

This story follows on from a blog entitled A Bit More on the Felthams which left us with unanswered questions. To recap, Maria was the late Raymond Feltham’s great grandmother, married to James Feltham, and the mother of a single child, Jimmy Feltham who was Raymond’s grandfather.  At first glance it appears that Maria was a lowly nurse and yet her single grave sports a striking tombstone erected in Chitterne by persons other than her family, with no mention of her husband on the inscription. We were intrigued, to say the least.

Since Maria’s letters were discovered by the Feltham family at 98 Codford Road after Raymond’s death, we now know much more about her life. She was born on 1st February 1837, the eldest child of William Cockrell of Chitterne St Mary and Susan Jemima Euphemia Daniels of Imber, known as Euphemia. The Cockrells lived at Chitterne St Mary where William was a carrier and Euphemia a laundress.

Maria letter
part of a letter from Maria

Maria was clearly able to read and write so would probably have been one of the first children in Chitterne to attend the Elementary School opened in 1840 on the site of the present Village Hall. Her interest in education lasted all her life as she constantly sought to improve her own efforts and later, in her letters to her son, encouraged him to improve his writing and spelling by attending night-school. Her words to young Jimmy must have struck home since later Jimmy’s own daughters and his great grandson became teachers, either at Sunday School or in main stream education.

school
Chitterne School early 1900s

Sadly, Maria’s life took a downturn at age four in 1841, when her father William died aged 32 years. By 1851 Maria was working as a servant, and probably nurse, to elderly widower Thomas Hayter, a retired grocer and former Parish Clerk of Chitterne All Saints. In 1856 Maria was 19, and unmarried, when she became pregnant, not an unusual occurrence, but most pregnant women in those days married before the birth, not so Maria.  With interesting timing, her employer Thomas died and was buried just two days before Maria gave birth to her son Jimmy on the 23rd January 1857.

Maria’s mother Euphemia, who had remarried two years earlier to widower Isaac Windsor, took Maria and the baby in. From the letters we can tell that Maria was very close to her mother. Five years later she writes to Euphemia remembering Thomas Hayter’s passing and the birth of Jimmy, always connected in her mind:

“if you had shut the door of your house and your heart, then I might have been outcast on the wide world now”.

Later that year Maria married James Feltham, a coal hawker son of William and Elizabeth Feltham of Chitterne St Mary, who we must assume was Jimmy’s father. But Maria’s luck had not yet turned. The most harrowing of Maria’s letters to her mother concern the trials and tribulations she suffered at the hands of James Fetham, who turned out to be a drunk, often in trouble with the law and treated her very badly.

But Maria was a resourceful woman. To be continued….

 

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Maria Cockrell – Part 1: a life of extremes

Kelly’s Chitterne 1915

The entry for Chitterne in ‘Kelly’s Directory of Hampshire, Wiltshire and Dorsetshire 1915’ 14th edition is below with grateful thanks to AS.

Kelly’s directories are useful to historians as they provide a snapshot of a particular place in a particular time. The books were heavy tomes, this particular one had almost 2000 pages, including maps of each county, topographical accounts of each town, parish or village, descriptions of the principal buildings and objects of interest. Plus information on councils, courts, religious institutions, landowners, hospitals, charities, acreage, markets and fairs and transport.

Kellys 1915-1
Entry for Chitterne page 1
Kellys 1915-2
page 2

Note on page 1 that William James C Feltham was the parish clerk in 1915. More on his mother Maria Cockrell Feltham soon I hope, when I have read all her 200-odd letters, which tell of an unusual life for a Chitterne woman in the 19th century.

Kelly’s Chitterne 1915

Hercules, the Iron Man

I wrote the first part of this in November 2017, after the Repair Shop episode featuring Hercules was filmed at Westbury, but I have held it back until after the broadcast.

Hercules, the iron man in the title, resided in our shed in Chitterne for 6 years from 1986 until 1992 when my mother and I donated him to the Westbury Heritage Society. In 2017 I had an out-of-the-blue phone call about Hercules from an old neighbour, putting me in touch with LA of the Heritage Society. This led eventually to Hercules appearing on TV, as part of the Repair Shop series, in a story that took me way back to my roots.

November 8th 2017

hercules mended
Hercules, the Iron Man mended

Hercules is a Victorian statue made of cast iron which once stood on the magnificent beam engine at Bitham Mill, one of the two Westbury cloth mills owned by Abraham Laverton. My father, Jack Ingram, was the maintenance engineer at Bitham Mill from 1936 until A. Laverton & Co ceased to exist in 1969.  He loved everything about machines and especially that beautiful engine. It was the biggest steam engine in the area and could produce the power of 60 horses to drive the machines at the mill.

dad
My Dad walking to work in Westbury 1930s

For generations my Dad’s ancestors were weavers in Westbury, but both his parents worked in gloving. Before taking over the maintenance job at Laverton’s in 1936 my father was a carpenter building staircases on the new housing estates going up in Ashford Middlesex. He had always dreamed of being an engineer, but that dream was shattered by the death of his father in 1921, when, aged 11, and the eldest of three, he had to help support the family, and his mother apprenticed him to Parson’s as a carpenter, engineering being deemed too expensive. He completed his apprenticeship in 1930 and worked for Butchers of Warminster until 1933 when he was laid off.

The 1930s were a cruel time, there were no jobs for carpenters around Westbury and Warminster, hence, as an about to be married man, his move to find work near London. After their marriage my mother never really settled in London so when he heard from his brother Les that their uncle Charlie was retiring as the Laverton’s maintenance man, my Dad jumped at the chance work with machinery and be near ‘that’ engine. Motorbikes and cars were already his passion, he loved figuring out how they worked by taking things apart and putting them together again. What he didn’t know about engineering he taught himself, from books mostly. He had an extensive collection of books on steam engines and engineering generally.

beam engine
The enormous beam engine in situ at Laverton’s mill, Westbury. Picture given to my father and drawn by Alan Andrew

I can’t imagine how he must have felt when, three years later it was decided to scrap the beam engine and replace it with a more modern method of powering the machinery. But he was involved with dismantling the engine and so was able to save the iron man from being scrapped; I don’t know how, this was way before I was born. What I do remember is my father bringing the statue home after Laverton’s closed in 1969, and mounting it on a purpose made iron bracket on the back wall of our bungalow at Station Road, Westbury.

This was typical of my Dad.  He loved everything about Westbury and its history, so he saved what he called “the iron man” for posterity. He was also a very driven, impatient, and intense man, very clever with a fearsome temper and he didn’t suffer fools gladly. However, he was always helping people out by making new metal parts on his lathe for machines thought to be beyond repair.

My father died in 1985 and a year later my mother came to live in Chitterne with us, along with the iron man and quite a bit of my Dad’s engineering stuff, which was deemed to be ‘useful’. The iron man lay in store and occasionally I fretted that he should be in a museum, until in 1992 an article appeared in the local press about the newly formed Westbury Heritage Society, with a plea for donations. Just the place for the iron man I thought. I contacted the society and offered them the iron man. It was at this point that the iron man became Hercules, I can’t remember exactly how, perhaps I described him as a ‘Herculean type of figure’ on the telephone or perhaps it was someone from the society when we handed him over to them. Later on, my mother and I went along to see Hercules on display at the opening of the Society’s first museum at the Angel Mill.

Hercules has been in the Westbury Heritage Society’s care for the last 25 years. He now resides at the Westbury Visitor Centre in the High Street. Sadly, about 10 years ago whilst being moved he fell over and the club he holds broke off. The last time I saw the statue it was still broken.

I heard recently that Hercules had been repaired as part of the society’s 25th Anniversary celebrations, and he was to be unveiled on Thursday 8th November 2017 at the Visitor Centre. I was invited along to watch the unveiling, which would be filmed for a BBC 2 programme called The Repair Shop.

The visitor centre was displaying many items from the days of the cloth mills, paintings of workers at the factory, photographs, lengths of Laverton’s woollen and worsted cloth, wooden shuttles and so on. In the middle of it all on a table lay Hercules swathed in many layers of bubble wrap and parcel tape. We gathered around the table as the bubble wrap was slowly peeled off, and bit by bit Hercules was revealed in all his glory. He looked superb.

bitham mill
Bitham Mill, Westbury, my father’s workshop was to the right of the car parked in the yard

I was swept back on a tide of nostalgia to many years ago when my father was alive and working in his workshop at Bitham Mill. I could picture his hands covered in black grimy oil working away at some piece of metal and I could smell the oily scent of the workshop floor. I remembered my Dad’s passion for anything to do with Westbury’s history and I thought he would have welcomed this moment. Although I am sure he would have longed to have a go at the repair himself. Then I wished that I had been around when the beam engine was in operation to see Hercules in his rightful place.

August 29th 2018

The programme has been broadcast so I am free to post my blog, but before I do I must add new information that has turned up at the Visitor Centre since the programme was made, and I am grateful to LA at the Visitor Centre for sharing this document with me.

It is an article about the beam engine at Bitham Mill by Alan Andrew. The article provided a lot more information about the history of the Bitham beam engine based on interviews by Alan of George Watkins MSC and my father.

George Watkins was one of the country’s leading authorities on industrial steam power. He had visited Bitham Mill by bicycle from his home in Bristol in 1932, and he thought the 1835 engine at Bitham might have been made by Musgraves of Bolton, although he had been unable to find any record of the engine builder. The Hercules figure arrived about 20 years later when the original cylinder was replaced, probably supplied by Cole Marchent & Company of Bradford, Yorkshire.

As with many early beam engines the Bitham engine was modified around 1872 to take advantage of improving boiler technology making higher steam pressures possible. This involved fitting a new high-pressure cylinder forward of the beam trunnion. A new beam was also required to provide anchorage for the new piston rod and to cope with increased stresses. The old cylinder was retained and fed with the exhaust steam from the new high-pressure cylinder, a process known as McNaught compounding, after its inventor.

One of the maintenance requirements was the removal of the cylinder ends, the checking of the bores and the packing and adjustment of the compression rings. At Bitham this was always done at Christmas, in those days only a two-day holiday, except for the engine man.

Being an engine man could be a hazardous job. One day my father was about to leave the factory for home when he noticed that the engine was not running down as it usually did each day at 5.30pm. He returned to the engine house and found the engine still running at normal speed but no sign of Bill Jackson, the engine man. He called out, no reply. He climbed to the upper cylinder platform and found poor Bill slumped unconscious with a neat round hole in the top of his head. It seems while he was oiling he had been caught by a bolt-end on the descending valve gear. Luckily he survived non the worse for the experience.

Several problems had occurred during the engine’s last years. The keys retaining the flywheel to the crankshaft kept working loose and had to be driven back in place. It may have been one of these that fell into the gearing of the primary drive, wrecking the pinion one time. As a result production at the mill ceased for 8 weeks, until a new pinion made by Stothert and Pitt of Bath was fitted. One of George Watkins photographs taken in 1932 showed a plated repair to the support casting of the high pressure cylinder, which was held in place by 15 bolts of about an inch in diameter. This repair was caused by the crankpin coming adrift and smashing a large chunk out of the casting. Perhaps its not so surprising that the old engine was replaced in 1939.

The repair of Hercules forms part of episode 13 in Series 3 of The Repair Shop on BBC2.

 

 

 

 

Hercules, the Iron Man

Don’s Inspirational Scarecrows

scarecrows by robert westall
Photo of Don Poolman’s three scarecrows on his allotment in Chitterne taken by Robert Westall in the 1960s

You may remember an earlier blog about Gallybagger Corner from April 2016: Old Chitterne Names 11: Gallybagger Corner and how the scarecrows made by Don Poolman were included in a book on Salisbury Plain. Now it appears that the scarecrows also inspired an author of children’s books to write a story for young adults called The Scarecrows.

scarecrows book
Puffin Plus edition of the book. The cover artist has based his three scarecrows on those in Westall’s photograph

Robert Westall, a very successful medal-winning author of books for young adults, was passing through Chitterne in the late 1960s when he spotted Don Poolman’s scarecrows on the corner at the western end of the village. He was so impressed by them that he turned around and went back to get a good look and take a photograph.

Poolman, Donald from Westall, Robert 9 Apr 1979
Letter from Robert Westall to Don Poolman

Westall, an art teacher by profession, treasured that photograph for years and eventually the scarecrow picture inspired him to write a novel. We know this from a letter he wrote to Don Poolman in 1979 praising the scarecrows and asking many questions about them.

The novel, published in 1981 by Chatto & Windus, won the Carnegie Medal. The edition in our picture was published by Puffin in 1983. The book is still in print today.

With grateful thanks to MP for this.

Don’s Inspirational Scarecrows

Fire at Chitterne St Mary 1831

An early 1900s view of the area of Chitterne St Mary affected by the fire. The Manor is top centre, Glebe House can just be seen far left centre. The church farm buildings are to the left of the King’s Head, fronted by a wall.

A newspaper report of a fire in a Chitterne St Mary farmyard describes in great detail just how easily fire can spread once it takes hold. The farmyard belonged to the lord of the manor and was leased from him by William Wallis, who lived at The Manor, while his widowed mother, Mary Buckeridge Wallis, lived in what is now Glebe House.  When the fire was first spotted it was no more than a small blaze in a rick. The date was 26th February 1831.

Report of the fire from the Evening Mail of 1st March 1831

Some explanations seem necessary. The ricks of wheat and barley were kept in an enclosed yard known as a rick-barton. The house and cottage that were burned on the other side of the road would have been in the vicinity of present day St Mary’s Lodge, number 104 and Glebe Farmhouse. The farm mentioned “to the leeward” of the fire was George Parham’s Clump Farm, a site now occupied by St Mary’s Close. Other farm buildings owned by the church stood on the site of present day Birch Cottage.

The “late disturbances” refer to the Swing Riots of 1830. When groups of farm workers worried for their livelihoods travelled around the neighbourhood wrecking the new threshing machines. There had been no wrecking in Chitterne, unlike in Heytesbury, Upton Lovell, Knook and Corton where several machines were wrecked and as a consequence 20 men transported to Australia for terms of seven years.

Thanks to the eagle eyed J & R for this, who spotted it when looking for something else!

Fire at Chitterne St Mary 1831

Calling all Salisbury Plain villagers past and present – Where is this house?

Two persons have asked me if this Police House of 1918 is in Chitterne. It is not, but I’m wondering if we can solve the mystery by sharing this post around the Plain villages.

The photo postcard is marked ‘Police House 1918’ on the back and inscribed ‘I was born here’ on the front. The notices on the side of the house show the Salisbury Rifle and Artillery Range  Bye-Laws and a reference to Wild Bird Protection Act.

The History Centre at Chippenham has been tried but no luck there. Please share this post if you have access to other Plain village facebook pages. If you can identify this location please contact me using the menu contact form, or by posting a reply on facebook.

Calling all Salisbury Plain villagers past and present – Where is this house?

Ela of Salisbury’s Convent Church at Lacock

At Lacock Abbey the National Trust currently have an installation to mark the site of the 13th century convent church founded by Ela (pronounced eelah) of Salisbury.

The glass panels on the site of Ela’s convent church

Chitterne was part of the large area of southern England inherited by Ela following the death of her father William Longespee in 1226. Soon after this she donated her Chitterne lands and farm to her newly founded abbey at Lacock, and the thousands of sheep kept at Chitterne became the Lacock nuns’ main source of revenue.

The installation consists of three panes of glass depicting a stone arch, scenes of abbey life in medieval times and Ela’s seal. These are positioned on the grass that now covers the convent church site.

The second glass panel depicting scenes of convent life
The last panel with Ela’s personal seal

I was expecting a little more than these when I visited, but all inside the abbey was as usual, there were no new items concerning Ela on display.

Ela of Salisbury’s Convent Church at Lacock