At Whitsun in June 1878 Maria went home to see her family in Chitterne and Imber. In Chitterne in those days Whitsun was the big summer festival of the year and everyone would be on holiday from work for a day to celebrate with music, dancing and other amusements. No doubt Maria’s son Jimmy would have been playing in the Chitterne Brass Band.
A week later Maria is aboard the Hamilton family’s favourite Yacht Diana. She writes to Jimmy on the 16th June 1878 from aboard the yacht anchored in Portland Bay, Dorset:
Here we are in the midst of the Channel Fleet. They left Spithead on Friday last. We left Portsmouth Harbour about ½ past 12 on Saturday and anchored at ½ past 9 in the evening, a splendid run of 60 miles. It has been a lovely day here and we hope to leave tomorrow morning, if all is well for Guernsey, on our way to Jersey.
You would be much interested if you were here, as there are 9 ships of the line and four or five turret shipsand some Gun Boats and a training ship. I should think such a fleet of heavy armour was never seen in Portland before.
I suppose all your Whitsuntiding is over now and you are settling down to work in good earnest.
She writes to Jimmy again on the 20th June from the yacht anchored in St Malo Bay, France:
We left Guernsey last Monday and went to Jersey, but the heat! I never felt any thing like it, not even in Italy. We had a splendid sail across and lay in the Harbour close to the Pier, which was not at all pleasant, there being so many Steamboats constantly loading with the produce of Jersey, one going every day to Covent Garden in London.
I am so glad you have got your Pig and hope it will do well and that you will always be able to get one. I am glad you go to see poor George Feltham (died aged 22 years in June 1878), and what a comfort he is ready to go. May we all be ready when the time shall come.
Many villagers at the time kept a pig or two to provide them with bacon and pork. Jimmy was no exception. He was a member of the Pig Club from 1891 until 1928 when it folded. For more on this see my blog Chitterne Pig Club.
Maria describes Guernsey to her mother in a letter dated 21st June:
We left Portland last Monday and were rolling about all night in a dead calm and a heavy swell, but a little breeze sprung up and we arrived quite safe on Tuesday afternoon. This is the most lovely place I have seen out of Italy, a sort of half French half English place. They have a different coinage to ours, a penny is called 8 doubles and they call the Queen the Duchess of Guernsey. But such Fruit, Flowers and Vegetables! Geraniums grow like Nettles and Fuchsias every where and such Roses! Mrs Hamilton hired a Carriage and Pair and took the Captain and I a beautiful drive yesterday. I do like seeing new places. The sky and water are intensely blue, and there is plenty of Fish. The town itself (St Peter Port) reminds me of Dieppe in France.
Maria wrote again to her mother from Yacht Diana anchored at Portsmouth on 11th July 1878. Meantime the yacht had sailed the party to France as Maria explains:
I have enjoyed my trip to France very much. We went to Cherbourg from St Malo, had a splendid sail. At Cherbourg we were most hospitably entertained at the English Consulate. Very nice people, distant relations of the Lapgary (?) Hamiltons. On Monday we left Cherbourg about 20 minutes past ten and anchored in Portsmouth harbour at quarter past 6. The dear little “Diana” just flew over the waves, sometimes going 12 knots or 12 miles an hour. It was glorious, although the decks were one sheet of water, as going so swiftly made her throw the spray proudly over her. We passed closer to the “Eurydice” than I have ever been before, and I must confess, going at such speed at such a place made me feel a little nervous. I fear here is not much hope of her ever being raised.
HMS Eurydice was a 26-gun Royal Navy corvette, the victim of one of Britain’s worst peacetime naval disasters when she sank on 24th March 1878 off the Isle of Wight. The wreck was refloated later that same year but had been so badly damaged during her submersion that she was then subsequently broken up. So it appears that Maria saw the ship during the short time after it had been raised but before it was salvaged and broken up that same year. This enabled us to accurately date the year of these letters of Maria’s to 1878. As usual she hadn’t bothered to add a year.
Maria goes on:
I wish you could see how quaint and funny the people dress in the part of France where we have been. The maidens about 14 wear close fitting muslin caps and the married women thick muslin caps without Borders, the crowns about a foot high. I should think they must be starched and then dried in a shape. And short petticoats of course. No Bonnets either to Church or Market, and all wear wooden shoes, the toes pointed and curled up, but very clean looking. So you see, they are not like us, change the dress with every Breath of Fashion.
I hope you will be able to read this, but I am writing on deck and the wind seems very much inclined to toss it to the waves for a plaything.
I don’t know where we are bound to next, but I think towards Scotland, calling at most of the ports on our way. I expect we shall be here for some days.
Maria spends winters in London as usual. From Christmas 1870 to Easter 1871 she is with the Hamilton family who have taken a house at 7 Queen’s Gate, Kensington. She spends Summer 1871 and 1872 in Scotland at Armadale, Row.
Summer 1872 turns out to be terrible as Maria says to Jimmy on 11th July:
…a great many people ill here…it’s the wet cold summer. It pours with rain nearly every day. There has not been such a wet summer known in this part of Scotland for thirty years.
During Summer 1873 Maria goes sailing around the western coast of England, Wales and Scotland aboard the Yacht “Julia”, from Gosport on the south coast. I’ll let Maria tell the story of the trip with extracts from her letters written between late June and November:
I am sure Jimmy and you will be glad to get a line from me now that I have been a week at sea. In the first place, tell Mrs George she was quite right about my being bilious, for I do not think I ever had it worse. It began Friday night and lasted me till Sunday morning. The worst of it was we were in a heavy sea a great part of the time. We got to Southampton Saturday night and I went on shore to Church twice on Sunday. Monday morning we left for Torquay but did not reach it till Wednesday morning. We were lying off Portland, where they send the transports, for a day and a night in a heavy swell without a breath of wind so we saw plenty of it; more than I hope to see again or any one that belongs to me*.
*Was Maria thinking of James Feltham, her wayward husband, here? Although the transport of convicts had been reduced since the passing of the Penal Servitude Act of 1857, the last transports reached Australia in 1868.
I saw a good bit of the Isle of Wight and now I have seen a good many miles of our own sea girt isle, and the more I see, the more I love her.
Torquay was delightful. I went ashore both days we were there and called on some old friends and as usual was much warmly received. I went over some of the walks and went to see the house where I had lived*, and I could not help feeling very thankful for the mercies of the past six years.
*The house Maria had lived in with Lady Bisshopp and Walter Long.
We went from Torquay to Dartmouth, a very pretty place where there is an old church, 5 hundred years old, also some very old buildings, so I spent a very pleasant day in Dartmouth. From thence we went to Plymouth, where we spent Sunday. A very large place, full of Soldiers and Sailors, and very strong fortifications. They seem to be building very strong fortifications all round the coast, but I trust they will not be used in real combat in our day.
This is what the Sailors call a dirty day, raining and blowing hard, so I am very glad we are anchored here. We are taking in water and provisions to going round the Lands End, as we are now very near it in Cornwall.
I was able to keep on deck till we passed the Lizard, but I did not see the Lands End as I was too sea sick. When the wind is against us, instead of keeping straight on, we are obliged to tack about like a horse with a heavy load behind him would do going to Ansty (Chitterne Ansty – a reference to the hill on the B390 there).
I am very well and very comfortable and have got every thing into my own way again, and every one is very kind. The Captain is a Baptist and I believe every one of the crew are Dissenters. It must cost a pretty penny as there are twenty of us altogether. The lowest sailor gets 25/- (shillings) per week and two suits of clothes, and the Mate, Captain and Steward much more.
Wales is very pretty. I went to Church in the morning and Chapel in the evening at Milford and went into several shops. The women’s high hats looked very funny. When we arrived at Holyhead on Wednesday morning, there was not a single vessel in the harbour, but it soon began to blow a gale, so that by Thursday middday there were more than 50 ships had put in for shelter. It was very grand and it shows what traffic there is on the sea.
There is a beautiful breakwater 2 miles long, which makes it very snug, for as soon as the vessels get inside, the water is comparatively smooth. It abated a little on Friday and at 4 o’clock in the afternoon we left for Scotland and before ten at night I could just discern the Irish coast on the one hand and the Isle of Man on the other. It was a nice night and we had a fair wind and kept on and dropped anchor at half past 1 on Saturday at Stranraer.
Then I packed, took the train at 5 o’clock and came through quite a new part of Scotland, to us very wild and mountainous. We got off the train at 9 at night and then had 9 miles to drive. So you may think we were all very tired. We expect to remain here till Thursday and then join the yacht and go back to Armadale, which we hope to reach by next Sunday.
I did not go ashore till Sunday morning as the dear Children were in bed and asleep before we got in sight of Armadale. We were only there 8 nights after being away so long, and 1 day I was in Glasgow and 2 days in Helensburgh, so there is no rest for me.
Yesterday was a pouring wet day and heavy squalls of wind, but in spite of this we left home and were just driven to Rothesay, where we anchored for the night. And this morning we came on to Lamlash. We had a dreadful sea this morning, her bows under water at times and 3 or 4 times a big wave dashed right over her stern completely, drenching us as we sat on deck.
There were grand doings at Oban, Highland Games, of which you would not understand, but the dancing was very nice. Gentlemen dancing for prizes, the Sword Dance, Scotch Reels and Highland, all dressed in Kilts and no music but the Bagpipes, and no Ladies allowed to compete. All the yachts in harbour were dressed from stem to stern. The “Julia” looked beautiful. And, a grand display of fireworks from the yachts, answered by those on shore at night. It was really very pretty.
Maria has at last found her safe haven. She remains with the Dennistoun-Hamilton family for the rest of her working life, bringing up the two girls until they are of marriageable age, treated almost as one of the family.
For the first few years when Eva and Beryl are small Maria stays with them almost continuously. The Hamilton family usually spend summer holidays sailing and the winter in London, where they take a fine house for the season in Kensington. Addresses such as Princes Gate, Queen’s Gate and Queensberry Place all appear at the top of Maria’s letters over the years. Maria shepherds the two young girls on the train from Scotland to London as she describes in one brief undated letter to her mother from 43 Princes Gate:
I am sure you will feel thankful to know that we arrived here quite safe last night at a quarter to eleven. We left Golf Hill (the home of Alexander Dennistoun near Glasgow) at 9 in the morning, so we had a long day in the train, but the children were very good and we had a very pleasant journey. Baby is just asking who I am writing to and I told her, so she has sent 5 kisses and 5 loves to my Mother and a thousand kisses and a thousand loves to my little boy.
I have no time to say more, as I am busy unpacking and very tired, but very thankful that providence has brought me to my native land once more in peace and safety.
By January 1868 Maria hasn’t seen her son or mother for 9 months. She is writing from 64 Princes Gate to Jimmy on the 22nd for his 11th birthday the following day:
I trust this will find you in good health on your eleventh birthday. 11 years old, only think, you will soon grow up I do hope a good boy and, if you do, you will no doubt grow up a good man. I have sent you a British (illegible) again this year, as I believe from what I hear, you are trying to improve yourself and I hope you will like it and try and imitate the good men you read about, and be kind to animals, for they are God’s creatures as much as we. And I do hope you ask God to help you every day. Remember you are God’s servant as much as the King on his throne, and if you serve him faithfully here, you will wear a crown of Glory in eternity hereafter. And let me beg you to go to school as much as you can, both night and Sunday school and Church too. And if you try to do right, God will help you and bless you. And be careful not to tell a lie, nor be saucy to any one. Never mind about being laughed at if you are trying to do what is right. And be kind to your dear Grandmother and Isaac, and think of what they have done for you. And if you can do any thing to help them, do it cheerfully. You will then show at least that you love them and are willing to do all that lies in your power to repay them and it will comfort me very much if you do so.
I have not seen you now, nor your dear Grandmother, for 9 long months and I fear it will be a long time before I shall see you again, so that it will be a great comfort to know that you are trying to be good.
Maria sees some sights and goes to concerts in London. She writes this from Queensberry Place in the 1870s:
I went out in the Carriage yesterday morning and saw the procession beautifully. We left at quarter past nine in the morning and did not get back till two, but met with no accident, thank God, and did not take cold. The children enjoyed it very much, although it was snowing. The royal party were in open carriages drawn by six horses each. The streets were lined with Soldiers. The Queen (Victoria) was looking very well and the Duchess pleasant but tired.
In the 1880s Maria sees Adelina Patti at the Royal Albert Hall:
I enjoyed myself very much at the Albert Hall. It was an Oratorio, “Israel in Egypt” (Handel). There was the great organ and a band of musicians with string and brass instruments and 3 drums and 400 singers, yet in that vast hall it was not a bit too much. It began with the words, “there arose another king in Egypt which knew not Joseph” and ended with the song of Miriam. The horse and his rider had (to) be thrown into the sea. Madame Patti (Adelina Patti, who was in her prime in the 1870s and 1880s) sang the solo “their land brought forth frogs even in their king’s chambers”, but what I thought most fine was the bass and tenor, singing “the Lord is a man of war, the Lord of Hosts is his name and he gave them hailstones for rain and flames of fire in their lands”. One tenor sang “the enemy said I will prevail, I will divide the spoils”. It was very beautiful and I enjoyed it very much. It lasted 2 hours and a half.
Maria explores Scotland too, as Constance Hamilton, who is fond of Maria and good to her, pays for her to go on excursions, as in this letter to her mother from 16th July 1868:
They (the adults in the family) went last Tuesday for a tour in the Highlands, and in the meantime I and the dear Children are with their Grandmama (the old Lady that engaged me at Torquay), (Frances Onslow Dennistoun) and of course she cannot be kind enough, since I have turned out so satisfactory. I expect them to be away a fortnight.
I am going on an excursion next week if all is well, to see some of the most beautiful scenery in Scotland, the Mountain called Ben Lomond and its Loch or Water called Loch Lomond. It’s at my mistress’s expense. She very kindly paid me my wages before she went away, so please tell me in your next what my boy wants, and I will send the money.
Maria writes to her mother once or twice a month and once or twice a year to Jimmy himself. To her mother she sends money for Jimmy’s keep, unwanted clothes that have been passed on by the family to be altered for him, and words of advice or remedies, such as this one for her step-father Isaac:
If Isaac should be troubled with rheumatics again, wrap it up in Archangel Tar*, that they use for sheep, when he goes to bed. Our cook had been treated for months with it and the Doctor could do nothing for her, and an old woman advised her to do it and the second night she did it, she was completely cured. Just spread it on with a knife like Treacle and wrap it up in an old gown tail or something to keep it from the sheets.
This remedy evidently worked as Maria says to her mother some months later on 19th October 1868:
I am truly glad to hear Isaac’s arm is better and could persuade him to persevere in the Tar.
Next blog we will see what happens when Maria goes sailing.
*Pinewood tar, called Stockholm or Archangel tar has a long history as a wood preservative, as a wood sealant for maritime use, in roofing construction and maintenance, in soaps and in the treatment of carbuncles and skin diseases, such as psoriasis, eczema, and rosacea.
We left Maria in November 1857 recently married to James Feltham, with their 10 month old son, William James Cockrell Feltham, known as Jimmy. Two more mis-matched people it would be hard to find, but I will let Maria tell you her story in her own words mostly, so you may need to sit down, it will take some time.
Putting a date to Maria’s letters has been tricky as she rarely gives us the year, but they appear to start in late 1860 or early 1861. From comments in these letters we know that Maria obtained a position working for Walter Long’s wife Lady Bisshopp until 1860. On 11th April 1862 Maria wrote:
“Just two years ago today I parted with kind Lady B to go to my birthplace and thence to this place of trial.”
Walter Long owned much of Chitterne and lived at Rood Ashton House, near Trowbridge. Lady Bisshopp turned out to be a very good friend to Maria and wrote to her often. We don’t know what happened to James from 1857 to 1860. He does not appear to be with Maria, perhaps he was back in Chitterne with his parents. In later letters Maria mentions having left him once before, maybe it was during this time. Maria’s mother Euphemia looked after Jimmy while Maria was at Rood Ashton.
However, by early 1861 Maria, James and Jimmy are living together as a family at Compton, near Enford, Wiltshire, 10 miles east across the Salisbury Plain from Chitterne. James has a coal hauling business, they have two horses, a cart, some pigs and chickens and grow cereal crops. James is illiterate and relies on Maria to keep the business accounts. Maria is also a needlewoman and nurses the elderly.
Maria’s early letters are all addressed to her mother back in Chitterne. At first all appears to go well:
“I am happy to say our business is steadily on the increase and sometimes I seem to have more than I can do, for I have no one to put a helping hand or go on an errand or anything.”
Her troubles start in April 1861 after she has been home to Chitterne for her brother William’s wedding to Maria Coles on the 4th April:
“James has such a very bad place on his thigh and really his temper is like that, that I am almost at my wit’s end. He almost gnaws me to death.”
In May 1861 we get an inkling of earlier trouble:
“James has two more boils coming on his behind. I am happy to say he has not given me the least trouble since he last took money.”
The death of James’s father is the catalyst for yet more trouble, on 3rd September 1861, Maria writes:
“James has been so very rough lately. He served me worse since his fathers’ death than he did before, and last Tuesday, a week ago today, he went out drinking in the morning and returned home at 11 o’clock and went to mowing and I got the dinner ready and went and called him, and he sent the child in to tell me to bring it up to him. I did so and spread it out before him, when he began throwing the knives and forks about and ordered me indoors with it. And then he began throwing it at me and broke everything there was on the table, 2 dishes, 3 plates, vinegar bottle and salt cellar. Fortunately only one piece of one of the dishes caught me and that did not hurt me, as my stays prevented it. The child went up to Mr Martin’s (farmer at Compton Farm) and told them and I ran and hid in a garden. Jane (servant friend at Compton Farm) came down and shamed him and told him she would give me any money I like to name to leave him and go in and help me pack my traps. He said he would help too but it would be a job to part us. Mr Martin and the Reverend have both given the policeman orders to be about there, and the next time he is found ill using me, to take him up. He will be at Chitterne next Saturday but pray don’t say that I have written to you as you value my life.”
Following this episode Maria’s cousin Dorcas came to Compton as live-in help, and Maria received a letter from Lady Bisshopp dated 23rd September 1861 saying she was deeply grieved to hear that Maria had been ill-used again. Lady B offered Maria the situation of 3rd housemaid at Rood Ashton, which was vacant if Maria would like it, and send Jimmy back to her parents again. Maria read the letter to James and told him if he did not continue to be good to her she would take up the offer.
Over the next year, as his behaviour worsens, Maria is frequently torn between staying with James, or leaving him. On 19th October 1861 she tells her mother:
“…a week ago last Monday he went to Honeystreet and afterwards to the Swan (Swan Inn, a mile from Compton) as usual and after the turn out, got up to a fight with another man and some say James kicked, but James denies it. However, the other man’s ankle bone is completely smashed and it is in such a state that it can’t be set yet, and they are taking him to the Infirmary this morning. He has 4 children and is unable to work. James was also very abusive to Mr Baden, Lord of the manor at Enford, that was passing at the time and told him to go home. So how it will be settled, God only knows, but it is generally thought here the parish will county court James and make him pay all expenses, and if they do, I don’t know what will become of us.”
Maria took up an offer to go and stay with Lady Bisshopp for a week in November with young Jimmy, a favourite of the Rood Ashton servants. But on returning home she found:
“…two summonses, one for fighting at Upavon a week ago last Saturday and the other for allowing the horse to stand exposed to the severity of the weather so many hours. James came home a week ago with two black eyes, as the men of Upavon served him dreadfully. Lady Bisshopp begged me if I found at any time it was more than I could bear, to come and take it as a home, as she could always find me employment. It seems good to know that even in this world there is someone caring for me, and I feel that I have not driven my husband from his home, but he is a slave to drink.”
Maria’s letters are full of thankfulness despite her troubles, which she blames on herself for much of the time:
“The Lord has given me friends and mercies. May he give me a thankful heart, that I may be kept from despairing at my lot, for I know full well that the path of sorrow and that path alone, leads to that land where sorrow is unknown.”
But no peace yet for Maria. On 11th April 1862 she reports her latest trouble to her mother:
“And now my dear Mother, I must tell you of events of last Thursday. I went up in the morning to go for coals, and I did my washing, and as I was coming in about 3 o’clock I saw the house was cracking opposite the wall and something seemed to tell me I would make a late job of it if I started towards Upavon, thinking I would meet him with his load. But I soon heard he had been drinking at Upavon all the morning, and was just started on, so I overtook him about halfway to Honeystreet with the empty cart stopped at the Woodbridge Inn. The landlord and him had been quarreling and James attempted to kick the landlord’s behind, and the landlord threw James down but did not hurt him much. I called him out and told him what I thought of the house and begged him to turn around and come back with me, but he would not, but began fisting at the window and at last smashed it with his fist.
I could not get him away. It was about 5 o’clock and then took the empty cart and horse home and left him there. It was the kicking one so I got William Eyre to unharness it and then put the poor child to bed, and Dorcas and me got all the things out of our bedroom, except the bedstead and chest, but we did not take anything downstairs. Then we sat up till a little past 12 listening to the whitewash dropping, in horrible suspense, when James came in, one eye quite closed, his clothes torn and covered with blood. After I left him he came back to Upavon and insulted the landlord there, till it provoked him to take the law into his own hands and serve him as he did.”
James had been home about 20 minutes when the whole side wall of the house fell down filling the well, which meant they had to use the river water. Thanks to Maria’s earlier actions no furniture was damaged.
“We have no place to be in. James sleeps in the straw. I and Dorcas and child sleep at Chisenbury. Our things are in the barn. Pray for us.”
Next is a letter from Maria’s friend Jane Hobbs of Compton Farm to Maria’s mother who had just paid a visit to Maria’s home. Jane wrote on 7th May 1862:
“Dear Friend, I take the liberty to write to you. I am very sorry to tell you the sad accident of your dear daughter Maria for she come tonight and drink tea with me and very much wished me to write and tell you of her husband’s ill treatment to her Sunday night. Before you was gone out of sight, he began abusing her most awfully and on Monday morning he held the gun to her head and swore he would shoot her and she fainted from the fright and today he has been fighting and has got his face cut open dreadfully and what the end of it will be we can’t tell. We hope the almighty will be with her and preserve her from such a brute of a husband, for we feel very much for the dear innocent creature. Poor Maria I think she is very bad and you need not be surprised to see her at any time.”
James calms down again for a bit and on 22nd May 1862 Maria tells her mother she is much better than when Jane Hobbs wrote her letter, but also adds:
“People seem to blame me very much for staying here, but what am I to do? I have a friend in Lady B as she offered to get me a situation now in London and receive me into her own family again in July. But what am I to do with my dear boy? He is not near well and if I was to leave him with you, it is uncertain how long they (presumably James’ family in Chitterne) would let him stay with you, so I must stay as long as please God.
Maria’s respite from trouble is not long, for in June 1862 James is summoned to Pewsey for driving and whipping his two horses whilst riding on the shafts in a drunken state. Maria writes the following day of what happened to her when he returned home:
“As soon as he came home and I went out to him, he horsewhipped me with a large whalebone whip and almost fetched the blood on the fleshy part of my arm. It is all colours now, as well as my shoulders and back.
In the same letter dated 14th June 1862 she tells her mother what happened at the court:
“At Pewsey yesterday he was fined £10 or one month’s imprisonment and he told the bench he should not pay the money. He should go to prison for he had been before and he knew where to hang his hat. So he was locked up with the prisoners about 2 hours, till the business of the day was settled and then I went and paid the magistrates the fine, and had him released.
For what could I do? A month here at this time of year with the two horses and haymaking all about, and I know he could earn that over and over again if he liked, but instead of being any better for it, he began spending again and got drunk before he got home. I got him as far as Chisenbury (The Red Lion) and then left him and went home and cried myself to sleep.”
Maria soon regrets she had paid James’ fine when James takes exception to her new things. Little Jimmy, now 5 years old, had been to stay with his grandmother. As Maria writes on 8th July 1862:
“We have been as rough as possible since we went to Pewsey. I have regretted ever since that he was not sent to prison. I only had my clothes off one night, and I had a new bonnet and cap, trimmed with white, and he burnt the lot, box and all. He was mad drunk and came home about 7 o’clock in the evening, and locked himself in and took the key out of the door and burnt it. And we were outside, we smelled it, and Dorcas saw the blaze, but we did not know what it was.
He then the same night stuffed all his clothes into a sack and put it into the cart and swore he would go to London, and off he went. This was before the dear boy got home, and he went off somewhere till about 9 o’clock in the morning, and then he came back and tried the door, and we were afraid to come down, so he climbed up the trigger that supported the roof and flew through the room where we were standing, and downstairs and took the loaded gun off the nail and shot it up the chimney. I thought it was at the boards as it shook the place so, but I found when I came downstairs that the soot was all over the place.
He then came upstairs and began talking to the child and asking him what you did say about him. The child said nothing that I can mind.
Last week it was rather better, but Tuesday he threw a butter tub at me and knocked me down under the white horse, but the poor thing looked at me and never moved. Had it been the black one, I might not now be in the land of the living. It bruised my hip, thigh and arm on the left side, but not of much consequence, and he has begun this week the same, for he went for a load of faggots yesterday, Monday, and returned this morning after daylight, without horse or wagon, and we went up the field and left him in bed, and now when we came down he is fled. When he will come again I know not for I am out of patience with him. But I shall try and rub it (put up with it) till Christmas and I don’t think we shall hold out much longer.”
On 25th October 1862 their house is still in a damaged state as the landlord has refused to rebuild the wall. Since the wall fell down Maria sleeps at the house of an elderly couple, and helps them until about 10 o’clock in the morning, before going to Compton. Dorcas and Jimmy sleep at Mr Eyre’s house. Maria supposes they will winter at Chitterne. Mr Martin, the farmer at Compton Farm, helps by looking after Maria’a hens and little chickens, and by offering to ask a lawyer if James will be sent to prison again or not. He has also recommended Maria for a situation at Lake Farm near Salisbury where they need a trustworthy person to supervise the other servants in the morning and do needlework in the afternoon. Mr Martin is very keen for Maria to take it in preference to a situation at Chitterne:
“as he thinks I should always be an eyesore to James’ family, and no doubt that they would do all in their power to annoy one.”
Maria has also heard from Lady B who would be pleased to take Maria as a laundry maid in July, but advises her to take another situation for the present.
“I hope I shall be able to come home for a week and I should be so glad if Isaac (Maria’s stepfather) would consent for the child to stay with you. If not, I must try to place him somewhere else, as I should have so much better opportunity of supporting him.”
Maria also writes to her aunt and uncle, Dorcas’ parents, on the 25th October 1862 and this letter seems to herald the end Maria’s time at Compton as she speaks of items being sold. We get no inkling of what has happened to James, is he in prison? Maria says:
“I don’t know how long I may be here but I do hope not more than another week, and I am much obliged to you for letting Dorcas stay with me. I shall come to Chitterne, and Dorcas with me. (Maria planned to attend the opening of the new Church, Chitterne All Saints with St Mary’s, on 4th November 1862).
I expect it will all be sold off by auction. I will write again when I know how it’s going to be.”
That is the last letter we have of Maria’s sent from Compton, ‘this place of trial’ as she once described it. Soon her fortunes will change, as we shall see in the next blog….
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 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.
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….
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the early 1900s Frederick Wallis (1858-1941), the farmer at The Manor, Chitterne St Mary, grew barley and malted it in Chitterne. He leased the 10 quarter malthouse in Chitterne St Mary from Sir Walter Hume Long for this, as we know from the brochure for the 1896 sale of the Chitterne estate. Recently I have been looking at Frederick Wallis’ farm account book and in particular at his record of malt sales from 1906 to 1914, when it appears he gave up malting altogether.
His main customers for the malt he produced were Joseph Lewis at the Dragon Brewery, Barford St Martin and Charles Price of West Street Brewery behind The Cock Inn, Warminster. The two establishments still exist, although The Dragon at Barford is now called The Barford Inn.
Joseph Lewis at Barford bought up to 280 bushels of Chitterne malt per year, between 1906 and 1914, in lots of 100 or 80 bushels at an average of 5 shillings (25p) per bushel. Part of his payment to Frederick Wallis was in beer, presumably made using Chitterne malt. (A bushel is a measure of capacity equal to 8 gallons or 36.4 litres).
Charles Price at West Street, Warminster bought upwards of 800 bushels each year between 1907 and 1912 at 4 shillings and 9 pence per bushel to start with, rising to 5 shillings in 1908. Charles Price died in 1912 but Frederick Wallis was still selling malt to the executors of his estate after his death. The Cock Inn was my maternal grandfather’s local, so he must have known Charles Price and supped beer brewed with Chitterne malt. Charles and my grandfather, Albert Frank Reynolds, may even have been related as Albert’s mother was Louisa Price.
When I started looking into malting I was unsure what the process involved, so in case you are equally baffled, malting is done by immersing the barley in water to encourage the grains to sprout, then drying the barley to halt the progress when the sprouting begins.
I am grateful to CJW for the loan of her great grandfather’s Farm Accounts Book.
Clay Pit Hill is the highest hill in Chitterne parish at 178 metres. It lies south of the village between Chitterne and Codford and from the top you can see the hills beyond the Wylye Valley. The hill is named for the place where clay was dug in the 17th century and carted to Amesbury to be made into clay tobacco pipes. More about this here: Clay Pits
There are two public paths to reach Clay Pit Hill from the village: via a bridleway off Shrewton Hill and via the old Warminster to Sarum road at the top of Shrewton Hill. Both of these eventually join in with the old cart track between Maddington (Shrewton) and Codford that forms the southern part of the Chitterne Parish boundary.
The bridleway starts from the B390 to Shrewton, just outside the 30 mph limit, and cuts south across a field. Usually the path is cleared by the farmer if a crop is being grown, but when I walked it recently the path was unmarked.
Set off across the field heading toward the left end of a line of trees and come to the first bend of the bridleway dog leg, a left then a right.
At the line of trees the bridleway turns left and becomes a well-defined gravel track for some way before taking a right turn. Follow the bends of the track until you see a finger post on your left marking Codfod Drove.
The track bears right but in fact you are leaving the bridleway and joining Codford Drove.
The Codford Drove marks the boundary between Codford Parish on your left and Chitterne Parish on your right. Before you get to Clay Pit Clump you will come across the trig point on the right of the track.
I carried on from the trig point toward Clay Pit Clump. This patch of trees covers the old clay pits and is private land. If you wish to see the clay pits you will need the permission of the farmer at East Farm, Codford.
Turn left at Clay Pit Clump and you are entering Codford Parish. Straight on follows the parish boundary and takes you across fields in Codford parish to emerge eventually on the Codford Road. I turned around at this point and retraced my steps.
The other way to get to Clay Pit Hill starts at the top of Shrewton Hill almost opposite the water tower, where the old Warminster to Sarum road heads off toward Yarnbury Castle. Follow this track for several hundred metres until you reach a finger post on your right. This point is known as Oram’s Grave. It marks a junction of two parish boundaries, between Chitterne, Maddington and Codford. In the old days suicides were buried where the parish boundaries met in order to confuse the spirits of the dead. More about Oram here: Oram’s Grave
If you head from here toward Clay Pit Hill on Codford Drove you will eventually come to the same junction with the bridleway that I mentioned earlier, and so to the top of Clay Pit Hill. This track is most probably the track taken by the carters who carted the clay from the clay pits to Amesbury.
As part of the World War 1 centenary the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) have been erecting new signs and replacing old WW1 headstones around the country as well as encouraging communities to write up the stories of their war dead.
GD has written up and spoken about our WW1 War Dead in Chitterne, including one, Walter Henry Sweet, who is not buried here in the village, nor on the battlefields abroad, he is buried in a Welsh village called Bryngwyn in Monmouthshire.
The Parish Council of Bryngwyn has also been trying to piece together Walter Sweet’s story. It has not proved to be an easy task for either our parish or theirs, as Walter is quite an elusive character. The entry in the Bryngwyn burial register states that he was a soldier who died ‘on the road’ and was buried on Sunday August 25th 1918.
There are questions that immediately arise from this entry: What was Walter doing in Wales, how exactly did he die and why was his body not brought back to Chitterne?
Walter was a farrier by trade who worked shoeing horses at Chitterne Racing Stables in 1911, and in WW1 as a driver in the 2nd Reserve Horse Transport (RHT) section of the Army Service Corps based at Woolwich. Sadly his army records appear to have been lost, at least, they have not come to light, but presumably as a serving soldier he was in Wales on a mission. H of Bryngwyn PC has suggested that he was acquiring horses for the army, which sounds a reasonable assumption especially as he was staying at Little Cross Farm in Bryngwyn.
As to how he actually died, again H has asked around her community and says that:
CWGC could not help in the circumstances of his death but one of the Grand Dames of the village recalls from her youth (which would have been 20/30 years after his death) that he had been walking along the road and had been hit by a car which killed him (I knew there was a car accident but not how it caused his death). I can only presume he was in the area on war business (obtaining horses).
The third question of why his body was not brought back is probably a question of economics and the time of year when his death occurred. He and his second wife Emma, whom he married in 1911, lived at 10 Townsend, with Emma’s two children, Harry and Gladys, by her first husband Henry Grant. Emma lived for another 20 years, she passed away in 1938. Walter was survived by his two sons John Harold and Walter Henry Sweet from his first marriage in 1899 to Alice Elizabeth Prince in Bromley, they remained in Kent. Walter’s local nickname was ‘Sugary’ for obvious reasons. It was the fashion in Chitterne in those days for the men of the village to be nicknamed, but that’s another story.
The good news is that CWGC are to replace Walter’s old headstone in Bryngwyn, which wrongly named him as W A Sweet, with a brand new one in the next 9 to 12 months.