100 years ago, in 1921 Chitterne’s first Village Hall was erected, and 50 years ago in 1971 the second Village Hall was opened. For those of you new to the village: the present village hall is the third.
After the end of the Great War the village community felt they lacked a social centre where all the family could go and enjoy themselves. There were two pubs of course but they were strictly for adults, and the school was available after lessons had finished for the day, and yet they didn’t quite fit the bill. Consequently various villagers put up the cost of purchasing an ex-military wooden hut to be erected and used as a village hall.
The Hut, as it came to be known, stood on a piece of ground in Bidden Lane owned by Jimmy Feltham. The Hut committee paid him £5 a year rent for the ground, but Jimmy donated £5 a year to the Hut funds in return, so in effect it was free. After his death the site became the property of the parish council as per his will.
For fifty years the hut was used by the village as the social hub, and representatives from each village organisation were on the committee. In the second world war the hut was requisitioned as a billet for soldiers for a time, and later used as a centre for many soldiers in the area. The frequent wartime dances held there took a toll on the furniture and fittings, and by 1948 urgent repairs were needed.
The Chairman of the Hut Committee, Ernest Moores, sent a leaflet to every house outlining the desperate need, pleading for funds. Funds of course were forthcoming and the hut carried on being the social hub for many more years until the village school closed and a new opportunity arose for a different venue. The site of the old hut was sold by the parish council in 1976 and now forms the part of Well Cottage garden that fronts Bidden Lane.
More on the second village hall in the next blog. With grateful thanks to AK.
DF carries on his memories of moving to Cotsmere, Townsend, Chitterne in 1944:
“Second Saga: Water supply to Cotsmere.
Having sought and given permission by the MOD to connect into the MOD Water supply that supplied the Stables in the back lane area, a farm building then that formed part of Mr Long’s farm, my father had to plan and decide the proposed route and of course what it would cost. It was decided to hand excavate a trench 75cm deep and 30cm wide from the rear area of the stables to the Cut (Chitterne Brook), then along the Cut to an area adjacent to Percy Churchill’s garden area, where a bungalow is now sited (Fieldview), across this area and the road to Cotsmere.
Having decided on this and then taken in consideration that the work would have to be carried out when the Cut was dry, the job was put on hold temporarily. In the meantime property holders along the route were approached to either help or pay towards the costs so that they could then connect to it. My dad needed to know who was interested as this would have determined the size of the pipe that he planned to install. Needless to say no-one was interested not even Percy Churchill!!!!!
Finally with the help of me, my Uncles Billy Collier and Harry Aston, the job was completed. On completion, believe it or not there were some householders who felt that as the supply was connected to the MOD service they had a right to connect to the new supply, unfortunately for them, this was just wishful thinking. They had no legal right.”
So, in the 1940s Cotsmere was one of the first houses in the village to have a piped water supply. Other properties relied on well water, or if they were lucky a piped farm supply. There were 6 wells in Townsend, which often ran dry in Summer, forcing the residents affected to use the deep well by Lodge gates, or fill their allocation of two buckets a day from the Chitterne Farm supply.
The water supply at Chitterne Farm (The Stables were part of Chitterne Farm at that time, as DF says) had been installed by the John Wallis Titt Company in the 1930s. The firm were contracted by the MOD to sink a borehole 300 feet deep in 1934 to carry out a pumping test and if successful install a pumped water supply.
Mains water came to the village before we came in 1976, although we were still using Glebe Farm supply at that time and for many years after. The Wessex Water Pumping Station on the Tilshead road was built in the 1980s and opened in 1988.
The people DF mentions are Mr Long the farmer: Robert William Long (1878-1953) was the farm manager for R J Farquharson at the Chitterne Farm Estate from 1906 to 1937, and carried on the same role from 1937 to 1955 as tenant of the MOD.
Percy Richard William Churchill (1909-1966) lived at 10 Townsend and was the father of the late Timothy Churchill.
I went to see 1917 the film the other evening. I was interested to see how the film-making activity we all witnessed hereabouts last spring and summer translated to the big screen. So was my daughter who lives near another of the locations on the Plain. But at the cinema, as the film unfolded, all my initial intentions went by the board as I was grabbed and completely mesmerised by the sheer force and brilliance of the story-telling.
That said, in calmer moments we were both able to spot the locations we knew. First came the location for the French farmhouse scene which was built about a kilometer outside the Chitterne parish boundary near Maddington Down.
Near the end of the film the location my daughter had seen and photographed at Pear Tree Hill between Erlestoke and little Cheverell appeared.
There were many other locations around the Plain last summer but I don’t have photos of those. So if you go and see the film, which I recommend, look out for the Salisbury Plain in all its glory.
A blast from the past, taken from the church tower by AS, some time before Clockhouse, Hawthorn and Merlin Cottages were built, as they are missing, but when we still had the red telephone box on the Green and the Jubilee Tree.
Clockhouse Cottages were built in 1998/9, Hawthorn and Merlin in 2001. Here the land behind White Hart House and Elm Farm has yet to be developed. The sheds used by the MoD’s property services agency are still in situ on the old Elm Farmyard.
A For Sale notice is just about visible on The Poplars railings, so that could point to around 1989 or 1998 when the Poplars changed owners.
Note the Cut is full of vegetation and the Sportsfield rather rough, so this was before the Parish Council took the Cut clearing in hand and the Cricket Club kept the field well-mown. The hardstanding under the swings in the Sportsfield is just about visible in this photo. The swings were already there when the Sportsfield was purchased by the village from the MoD in 1977/78 for £800.
Not too many clues there, so I’m guessing this photo was taken in the late 1980s.
Recently JM shared with the village a transcription of a newspaper article from 2010 written by Ferdinand Mount, former resident of Chitterne. I am sure ex-Chitternites would like to see it too so I am sharing the transcription and the original newspaper article here.
Ferdinand Mount is currently our most famous past resident. He is a writer, journalist and political commentator, writing for The Times and Daily Telegraph, former editor of the Times Literary Supplement, author of several novels and “Cold Cream” an autobiography.
Cold Cream has wonderfully evocative passages describing Mount’s childhood in Chitterne. He lived here from birth in 1939 to adulthood. His parents had bought the small two-up-two-down cottage adjacent to the former malt house in 1938. Before that in 1925 the cottage was known as Pine Cottage and the malt house still stood next door. The malt house was later demolished and the cottage took on the name Malt House. The Mounts added an extra wing with a sitting room and two bedrooms, and planted the yew hedge at the front.
Going back to the article. Mount describes his first brush with politics as a young boy attending the Conservative Party fete held at Chitterne Lodge “by kind permission of Mrs Payne”. Mrs Payne was Gwen Payne, wife of Lt Col. L H H Payne R A, resident of the War Department’s Chitterne Lodge. The War Dept. had purchased the Chitterne Lodge estate in 1937, which included Chitterne Farm east and the Racing Stables. The Paynes lived at the Lodge from about 1940 to 1949.
Here is the transcription:
The Conservative party fête was held at Chitterne Lodge by kind permission of Mrs Payne. As our MP, Mr Grimston, got up to speak, he put down his bowler hat, not on the table beside him which was draped with the union flag but on the chair behind him. He spoke about the need to support Mr Churchill in the struggle that lay ahead. Mr Grimston had been our MP since 1931. He had a thin moustache and a general air of severity. As he warmed to his theme, I noticed a small boy, smaller than I was myself, about four years old perhaps, crawling through the flowerbeds immediately behind Mr Grimston’s chair, which was right at the edge of the sunlit lawn. The small boy took hold of the bowler hat with one hand, then got a firmer grip on it with both hands and rather slowly, almost ceremoniously, put it on his head so that it came down over his ears. It was impossible for any adult to reach him without crashing through Mrs Payne’s flowerbeds. I do not know in what direction Mr Grimston’s remarks were now turning, possibly the perils of socialism, but like the rest of his audience, I was gripped by what the small boy would do next. To our vast disappointment, at that moment a woman in a flowery dress risked her high heels on the rosebed and dragged the small boy away, snatching the hat from his head and replacing it on the chair. This is my earliest political memory: the sun-dappled lawn, the small boy and the bowler hat. It is my only memory of Mr, later Sir Robert, Grimston, who continued to represent Westbury until 1964, rising to become deputy speaker and later Lord Grimston of Westbury.
Political enthusiasm was not much in evidence in Chitterne. When Churchill finally got back in, in 1951, the group captain who lived at the Grange stuck a union flag pennant on the bonnet of his car and drove through the village honking his horn. This was thought to be going too far. It was Groupie, too, who, during the fuel shortages of 1947, complained to my father about “the damned miners starving us of coal”. But his was, I like to think, a minority voice.
The Westbury division began then and still begins in our village. As you come over Salisbury Plain from Stonehenge and down Shrewton Hill, you cross the constituency boundary. Samuel Pepys rode down the hill with his wife and family on the evening of 11 June 1668, having lost his way on the downs, and “with great difficulty come about 10 at night to a little inn, where we were fain to go into a room where a pedlar was in bed, and made him rise; and there wife and I lay, and in a truckle-bed Betty Turner and Willet”. The servant here referred to only by her surname was the delectable Deb Willet, whom Pepys was later that year to be caught fondling by Mrs Pepys in a manner so intimate that he recorded it in the diary in the cod-Italian which he used for sexual encounters. The diary does not record how the commercial traveller felt about being turfed out. But Pepys was so grateful for his rescue from this trackless wilderness that he roared with laughter at the landlord’s jokes about the henpecked sailors at Bristol. The next morning the Pepyses discovered that the beds they had thought good were in fact lousy. The great diarist was still so nervous about the wild country that he was relieved when the landlord of the White Hart volunteered to lead them the whole way across the constituency into Somerset.
Yet Pepys referred to this remote, almost inaccessible place as a “town”. Nor was he misled in the darkness. Chitterne, like other downland villages, had once been much larger. As late as the mid-19th century the population had been 800, as opposed to no more than 250 in my childhood. Yet even in the 1950s, the village possessed a primary school, a racing stable, two firms of builders, a blacksmith, two shops, a village policeman in his tied police cottage on the Green, Mr Withers’s fleet of two elderly buses, Graham Dean’s garage, which he diversified into a mink farm during the Suez petrol shortage, not to mention the White Hart where the Pepyses stayed, and a post office next to the Baptist chapel. The last two were both operated by the amazing Frank Maidment, the “Bishop of Salisbury Plain”, who preached the gospel and delivered the bread to even remoter villages for 75 years.
All gone now of course. I remember the White Hart closing after 300 years when I was in my teens, leaving only the King’s Head in business next to where the garage/mink farm had been. There used to be six dairy farms, none now, though the milkman still calls. The number of farmworkers has gone down from 29 to four. The population has recovered a little after a couple of the abandoned farmyards were turned into pleasant little housing estates for commuters to Warminster and Salisbury. The bells of All Saints church may still ring on Sundays, but, like so many other villages, Chitterne is a quieter place than it used to be, just as pretty as it always was, but a little frozen. I am sure there are plenty of homeworkers tapping away on their Macs. But the hum of the keyboard does not quite have the same resonance as the clang of Alf Burt’s hammer shoeing the steeplechasers of my youth.
As far back as 1893, the village schoolmaster Mr Brown recorded that “all the brightest boys look forward to getting away to the towns at the very first opportunity”. How ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm after they’ve seen Trowbridge? The four smallish towns that dominate the constituency – Warminster, Westbury, Bradford-on-Avon (now ceded under boundary changes to the new Chippenham seat) and Trowbridge, surprisingly the county town rather than Salisbury, all have delectable old centres – tall churches built on wool money, flint-and-brick cottages and superb classical mansions in Bath stone. The sheep still share the downland with the tanks (the army has been training on the plain since before the Great War), but the fine big mills are all converted into heritage centres or Poundstretchers.
Warminster, our nearest town, looks on the surface much as it did 50 years ago. The Old Bell and the Bath Arms still stare across the Market Place at each other, and the stationers Coates and Parker still publishes the Warminster Journal , which was the first place I scraped into print, with a rather over-dramatic account of the Mendip farmers point-to-point. Down the hill below the golf course still stands the imposing Portway House where I used to go to have electric shocks for my flat feet. Yet, as in all town centres nowadays, there are charity shops where there used to be grocers and greengrocers, and most places need a lick of paint. Half the premises in these towns seem to be given over to raising money for Alzheimer’s sufferers and half the suburbs given over to homes for them. You begin to wonder whether short-term memory is somehow a casualty of modernity.
Politically, you might think that nothing much had changed in these parts. Ever since 1945, the Tory MP’s majority has usually hovered somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000. The present incumbent, Andrew Murrison, is a former surgeon-commander in the navy who served in the first Gulf war and then, remarkably, after being elected went out to serve again as a Territorial in the Iraq war – no lounging by moat or duck-house for him.
Yet there is a significant underlying change here, as elsewhere in Wiltshire and much of southern England. Where once the runner-up was always Labour, today he or she is invariably Liberal (or now Lib Dem). In many ways, the revival of the Liberals is a return to an older tradition in Wessex, where nonconformist chapels abound. In the lowland parts of Wiltshire and Berkshire, where weaving has been the staple industry since the middle ages, you can trace the dissenting streak back to the Lollards.
But the immediate cause is the fading of Labour in the southern county constituencies of England. It is not so hard to explain. South-West Wiltshire, as the new constituency is called, is largely post-industrial, but Labour still is not quite. For the past half century, the party has been vainly struggling to extricate itself from the dominance of the trade unions – from Hugh Gaitskell’s struggle to junk clause IV, through Harold Wilson’s failure with In Place of Strife, to Tony Blair’s efforts to free the party of financial dependence on the unions. Now after the scandal of the millionaire donors, Labour is back where it started, reliant on the unions and knee-deep in sleaze as well. Pepys, whose later career was dogged by accusations of “cash for influence”, would have sympathised.
Amazing what you can find on the internet. GS spotted this photo and passed it on to his uncle in Chitterne who passed it to me saying, ‘I’m sure that’s Brook Cottage in the background.’
The photo was described as: ‘Chitterne Home Guard going through their paces on the 2 pounder Anti-Tank gun’, which looks like a publicity shot, but who are the men?
Here’s a photo of the Chitterne Home Guard outside Manor Farm, right next door to where the other photo might have been taken. Let’s give them names, left to right:
Top row: H Burton; Geoff Helps; John Patterson; Bert Bailey; Bert Diaper; Leslie Sheppard; George Gagen; Ernie Polden.
Second from top row: Les Mundy; Walt Herrington; Walt Ledbury; George Dowdell; John Lecocq; unknown; Don Wallis; Will Ashley; Alban Polden; Len Moore; Herbie Feltham; Bert Lush (not in uniform); Mr Fagg.
Third row: Fred Bowden (in flat cap); Rowland Pearce; Jack Beaumont; Douglas Piercy; George Diaper; Dickie Bailey; George Macey; ‘Pat’ Patterson; Burt Grant; Willie Ashley; William Poolman; Fred Feltham; Stan Waite; Frank Helps; Lewis Feltham; Frank Ashley.
Fourth row: Len Searchfield (seated on chair); Harry Sheppard; Percy Churchill; Cecil Windsor; Lewis Daniels; Sgt Blatch; unknown; William Limbrick (leader); Tom Limbrick; Mr Snelgrove; Ev Feltham; Jack Poolman; unknown; Bill Bartlett.
Front row: Cecil Saxby; Laurie Wallis; John George; Tony Bailey; Gerald Feltham; George Feltham; Billy Windsor; John Oakes; Gerald Polden; Bobby Gorry.
Could the man standing with arm outstretched behind the gun be William Limbrick, and the man squatting to the right of the case be his son Tom Limbrick?
On the 3rd of May 1919 a sale in aid of the Peace Celebration Fund was held in Chitterne. A little book recording the sale was amongst the treasures discovered in Raymond Feltham’s house after his death. It gives a fascinating insight to village life 100 years ago.
Each of the 101 items donated for the sale is listed, alongside every buyer and what they paid. We would recognise many of the sale items such as the cakes, preserves, eggs, vegetables and books. But rabbits, cockrells, barley meal, fowl’s corn, wings and tips and a boudoir cap? (The wings and tips went to Mr Hinton for 1s.6d and the cap went to Waddington and Dunn for 7s.)
Sidney Smith paid the most, £3 for a wagonette. Other items that caught my eye were: a flock mattress bought by Frank Polden for 6s, a model engine by Mr Brown for 12s, a pair of puttees by F Ashley for 1s.6d, a milk churn by Farmer Wallis for 17s, a wheelbarrow wheel by Farmer Collins for 5s.6d, a dog trough bought by Mr Daniels for 3s, a pony carriage by Mark Wallis for 12s.6d and a tricycle bought by Mr Shipham for £2.7s.6d. Altogether the sale raised £37.12s. for the Peace Fund.
Added to this total were subscriptions collected by the ladies of the village. Mrs Wallis and Miss Canner raised £22.15s.11d; Mrs Long and Miss Collins £33.6s.6d; Mrs H J Smith and Miss Feltham £14.13s.4d; Mrs S G Polden and Miss Robberts £1.9s; Miss Robberts also raised 6s.1d with a mystery box. Altogether £111.4s.4d was secured and signed off by chairman Frederick Wallis and treasurer Charles Collins on the 9th of May 1919.
The little book makes no mention of how the money was to be used for the Peace Celebration. The pages beyond the details of the sale are blank, but between them are two receipts pinned together concerning the War Memorial dated 1920. So perhaps that’s where the money was spent.
Another possibility is the purchase of peace mugs and beakers for the village children. There is a photograph which shows the children after the presentation in 1919. At least one of the beakers has survived, and was kindly brought back to the village by DS some years ago.
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.
We left Maria in Paris at the beginning of October 1876. In the next week she travels across France by train to Marseilles. From the Hotel de Paix, Marseilles, on the 8th October she describes the journey to her mother:
Well, we travelled 12 hours by rail through hundreds of miles of vineyards and olive yards, laden with fruit in some places. Men and women were gathering it. It is called the valley of the Rhone, and Mulberry trees, on the leaves of which the silk worm is fed. The trellised verandahs of the houses’ gardens, palings, railway embankments, wherever there was any mould, a vine was stuck in them.
We rested a night at Lyons, a splendid city where the great silk manufactorys are, the next day came on through the same kind of country here. Today we have had a carriage and been driving about among the Docks all day, which extend for miles and is crowded with the shipping and produce of all nations. The sea and sky is of the most lovely blue you can imagine, but Oh the heat. All the works of God on land and sea are beautiful and wonderful, only Man is vile. We had a good view yesterday for many miles of the Swiss Alps, wonderful mountains with Mont Blanc the highest of all, clad in everlasting snow.
The following day she writes from the Hotel Grand le Bretagne, Nice:
We left Marseilles yesterday morning and came the whole day through vineyards and olive yards, Pomegranates, Cactus much taller than myself but Oh the heat! It seems to take all my strength away. Last night I slept for the first time under Mosquitoes Curtains. They are made of white net and you just lift them up and get under them. They are dreadful.
All the Hotels in France are very grand, more like Palaces than any thing I have seen in England, of course very expensive. They charge 7/- (shillings) per day for me and nearly double that for each of the other 4. Now we are in a city of Palm trees. The streets are bordered with stately Palms and prickly Cactus, but it’s very fatiguing travelling in this heat, and I shall be glad when we get to Italy and get settled.
The Mediterranean sea is something wonderfully blue and I cannot help wishing the yacht was anchored out here, it would be so much cooler on sea than on land.
On the 15th October from the Grand Hotel de Genes, Genoa:
We had a dreadful journey from Nice to Genoa, owing to the heat and Mosquitoes, but the country and fruits are something wonderful. Oranges and Lemons in abundance. The trees seem weighed down with them, and the Gardens full of Salad and green vegetables. We arrived here last Wednesday and have been driving about seeing Palaces, Churches, Cathedral, Cemeteries, which are very grand indeed. This is called a city of palaces, and they are rich and rare. It is a place that has been famed for hundreds of years for the manufacture of Velvet.
The Genoese women all wear their hair dressed in a peculiar fashion and no bonnets, but black Lace Mantillas pinned on the top and hanging gracefully down the back. There is a great deal of gold and silver filigree work made here. But I shall be very glad to get to Florence and get settled, although Mrs Hamilton is very kind and never goes for a drive or to see any thing without me.
The 9th of November 1876 Maria writes to Jimmy from The Hotel di Milan, Florence:
We have had nothing but bright sunshine ever since we have been here, and cloudless blue sky till yesterday when it became grey, and today it’s raining just a very little. The sun is still very hot but the wind is cold, but there is no coal here to make big fires with, and there is no smoke, which keeps the city so clean.
Last Wednesday, the first, was full moon and Mrs Grey and Miss Laurie, two Ladies who are staying here with Mrs Hamilton, took me a drive some miles round to see Florence by moonlight. It was a sight I shall never forget whilst memory lasts. It was so light one could see to read, and the sky so blue. We went out of the gate of the city and drove up a hill. There lay the city, clear and distinct as possible, no smoke hovering over it, with its Marble Palaces, its Towers and Cathedral, and the great broad river Arno with its many beautiful bridges across it and lighted up on either side with lamps, which were reflected in its clear bosom. Then, the slopes of the hills, covered with terraces full of Vines, Olives and fig trees. Sometimes the vines climb up the fig tree and almost every branch, so that you could literally sit under your own vine and fig tree.
There are a great many wonderful things here, one of which I think is an American, a Millionaire. That is one who is worth a Million of Money. And he drives 12 in hand every day. Some days he drives 14, but he has had 12 when I have seen him. Beautiful fat bay horses, well matched, and he turns the corners beautifully. I see he has 6 different coloured reins, so I suppose he knows which pair to pull.
The Empress of the French (Empress Eugenie, widow of Napoleon III) and Prince Imperial (Prince Napoleon Eugene, her son) drive out very often, but I have never seen them, in the same carriage like our Queen’s. She is always in black.
Prince Napoleon Eugene insisted on joining British forces in fighting the Anglo-Zulu wars and was killed in 1879.
I like this Hotel very much. It’s very comfortable. There was a very nice French Maid here last week who could speak a little English and now there is a Scotch and also a German Maid here, so it’s not so dull.
Maria stays at the same hotel in Florence until the middle of January 1877. Whilst there she suffers with an eye problem during November and writes this to Jimmy on 4th December 1876:
You will be glad to hear that I am better and going about my work again, although I feel I shall have to be very careful for a long time to come. I have not begun to do any Needlework by Candle light yet, but I think my eyes will soon get quite strong again.
I went to Church yesterday for the first time for 5 Sundays, both the English and Scotch Churches are very close here, as we are in the very heart of the city. I can hardly fancy we are here in December as it’s very warm. I am sitting writing in my room with both my windows open. The rainy season has commenced and we have had a good few heavy showers, and as the streets are paved all over, they look as if they had just been scrubbed down. I pity the poor horses though, as the pavements so soon wear smooth that the horses frequently slip and fall. Instead of seeing men putting down stones to mend the streets, you see them sitting down and chipping little bits out with a hand chisel.
On the 18th December 1876, thinking about home and Christmas, she writes again to Jimmy:
I do not expect any thing here to remind me of Christmas in dear old England, but I will write after and tell you how I get on.
I am glad to tell you I am pretty well now, but not very strong, and I am afraid I never shall be again, but I am able to keep about and do my work, which is a great mercy.
I am sorry to hear the springs are so high at Chitterne. It must be dreadful for your dear Grandmother and Isaac. You must write me a long letter and tell me exactly how you have spent the Christmas and if you played in the band and where.
Chitterne Brass Band existed for decades under the leadership of Abdon Polden, who would later become Jimmy’s father-in-law.
Maria goes on to Rome and Naples in 1877, but that will have to wait for next time.
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.