Almost 40 years ago the village bought an area of ground in the centre of Chitterne from the Ministry of Defence (MoD), which they called the Sportsfield. Over the years the decision to buy has been proved a very wise one. Today the large area of beautifully kept greensward, plus the trees, benches and sports equipment, is a great village asset.
The village had been using the sportsfield site for village gatherings such as Whitsuntide from at least 1850, and possibly since the area was cleared of the debris from the demolished mansion house in the 1820s. From the late 1930s the village rented the ground from the MoD, but in the 1970s the MoD upped the rent and this led to the idea of buying the land for the village.
The parish council looked into the possibility of buying the land in Spring 1977. Subsequently a committee was formed by JW to raise money for the purchase of the field as part of the forthcoming Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations. Other committee members were: EB; DW; CS and Kathleen Babey. The members of the Youth Club, some of whom were on the committee, raised the magnificent sum of £500. TSB of St Mary’s Lodge had negotiated a reduced purchase price of £800 with the MoD, but it was taking too long to raise the rest. At a village meeting Ron Williams of 61 Bidden Lane suggested raising it through the rates, which was agreed, and in January 1978 the parish council raised a 3p rate for one year to cover the rest of the purchase price.
Money raising continued after the purchase, and when Wiltshire County Council were offering grants of 70%, if the village raised 30%, this offer was taken up. The grant enabled the village to start buying new play equipment to add to the swings and slide already there. The old swings were kept but the slide was condemned by a maintenance company and taken away. Someone in the village donated the see-saw and a new slide was purchased.
In 1978, upon taking over the ownership of the Sportsfield, the Parish Council banned dogs from the site, and trees were planted in memory of Lt Col Peter Wellesley Sykes, formerly of Chitterne House, who had died in 1975. In 1981 a removeable metal post donated by AS was installed at the St Mary’s Close end to replace the two old wooden entrance gates.
The public footpath ouside the Sportsfield wall, the ‘Walk’, was cleared in 1983 by the boys of Ashton Gifford School, Codford. The part of the Sportsfield boundary wall nearest the church was rebuilt in 1996, mostly funded by West Wilts Distric Council. Safety surfaces were installed under the play equipment in 1997. The Cricket Club was awarded the tender for cutting the grass in 2002 and is responsible for the beautiful condition of the Sportsfield grass today. In 2010, thanks to the efforts of AF, a good selection of new play equipment including a zip wire was installed. As a result the Sportsfield has become popular to visitors from further afield than Chitterne.
Today the village no longer celebrates Whitsuntide but there are plenty of other activities going on throughout the year. Such as cricket matches; fetes, jubilees and other celebrations, parties; village picnics; summer holiday fun and games for children; bonfire night, and the Boxing Day meeting of the RA hunt.
The Parish Council took over ownership of the Sportsfield in 1978, not 1950 as stated in the Chitterne book. I discovered this new bit of information from the old village newsletters, which are now archived and stored under a pew at the back of the church. Anyone may browse through them, but please don’t remove any copies as some are the only ones we have.
Thanks to the late Ernie George for the drawing, also to JW, whose brain I have picked, and AS, whose photo album I have raided.