I first heard of the village passion for nicknames from my mother who told me a tale about two good-looking footballer boys from Chitterne who regularly came to Warminster to play when she was a teenage football supporter. They were ‘Pont’ and ‘Pimp’ Bailey (this was the 1920s before ‘pimp’ had seedy connotations!) It wasn’t until I came to live in Chitterne that I found out that ‘Pont’ was short for ‘Ponton’ and ‘Pimp’ was short for ‘Pimple’ and that their real names were George (born 1896) and Frank (born 1904, killed in WW2). Frank was the youngest of the Bailey tribe hence the nickname ‘Pimple’ but I still have no clue where George Bailey’s nickname ‘Ponton’ came from.
The nicknames, for men only as far as I know, were so commonly used that sometimes the man’s original name was unknown, even by his children or his relatives, as in this story told to me by the late Raymond Poolman.
One day Ray was stopped by a stranger to the village who asked Ray if he knew where he might find Alfred Charles Poolman. Ray had no idea and replied: “Never heard of him.” But later discovered it was his own uncle, who, to all and sundry was known as ‘Bob’ and lived less than 100 yards away.
In another tale gleaned from the Poolman family, Anthony George Poolman (born 1925) always thought that his father was using a nickname when he called his wife ‘Minnie Matilda’. He said it was a shock when at her funeral the vicar intoned “Minnie Matilda Poolman” over her body, as he at last realised it was his mother’s real name. She was born Minnie Matilda Bachelor (1885-1968). Anthony’s father did have a nickname though, he was Harry ‘Gunner’ Poolman (1880-1971). I have no idea why ‘Gunner’, as he was a cowman, perhaps he was good shot.
This Anthony Poolman is not to be confused with another Anthony Poolman (1933-2000), who would ever be known as ‘Pip’ Poolman, thanks to a comment made by his grandmother. On seeing him for the first time she said: ” What a little Pip!”
The reason behind some of the nicknames is very clear, as in the case of Fred ‘Bammer’ Poolman, (1883-1969 below left), a good batsman; Ray ‘Tunnox’ Poolman (1933-2017), a well built chap; Burt ‘Chirpy’ Grant (1890-1966 below centre left), a cheerful character and George ‘Spriggy’ Dowdell (born 1899 below centre right), who was never still. Frank Maidment (1861-1952) had two nicknames depending on which hat he was wearing, ‘Crummy’ when a baker and ‘Daddy’ when a Baptist Preacher; Reg ‘Tippy’ Billet (1897-1965), the postman, wore large steel tips on his hobnailed boots and William ‘Tec’ Brown (1872-1941 below right) was a real Scotland Yard detective.
Some nicknames were almost cruel and you wonder if the men were actually called that to their face. Was Alfred ‘Crabby’ Burt (1885-1957 below centre), the blacksmith, really crabby? And Frederick ‘Duffy’ Paterson (1885-1952), the shepherd, a duffer? And what prompted Hubert ‘Starchy’ Burton’s (1908-1995 below right) nickname?
Other names echoed the surname, Walter Henry ‘Sugary’ Sweet (1878-1918), or John ‘Chippy’ Oakes (above left) for instance, but some didn’t, ‘Snowy’ wasn’t called White, he was Charles Gordon Goodenough!
If any blog-readers know of more Chitterne nicknames, I would be glad to hear of them. I can be contacted via ‘Contact’ on the menu in the top right corner of this page.