Maria Cockrell Part 9: Maria in Italy

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:

hotel de genes genoa
Grand Hotel de Genes, Genoa on left

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.

 

St_Catherine_of_Genoa
St Catherine of Genoa wearing a mantilla

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.

Florence_vue_depuis_Fiesole
This is probably the view of Florence that Maria saw from Fiesole.

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 band c1880
Chitterne Band about 1880. Jimmy Feltham is standing 4th from right.

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 Cockrell Part 7: Sailing around this ‘sea girt’ isle

7 queens gate
Queen’s Gate, Kensington

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.

The Malthouse and Clump Farm

Some old photographs of Chitterne have arrived from Wylye Valley Post Cards so I’m taking a break from the Maria Cockrell letters for a while. I was searching for an old photo of the bottom of Bidden Lane showing Maria’s mother’s home when I came across a site selling copies of photos I hadn’t seen. Sadly not what I was looking for, but worth sharing with you.

Here is the first, a view of Chitterne from the top of the hill behind the Old Malthouse. It dates from the early years of the 20th century when malting was still happening there.

malthouse view
View of Chitterne with Pine Cottage (Old Malthouse) and the malthouse buildings alongside

How I wish I’d had this photo when I wrote the blog on malting last year Malting Barley in Chitterne, early 1900s because it shows clearly the separate malthouse building alongside the house we know now as Old Malthouse, which was then called Pine Cottage. The malthouse building was probably demolished before 1938 and the site is now Old Malthouse driveway and garage complex.

Clump Farmhouse is just visible between the trees on the right. The first photo also shows, centre left, the extent of the Clump Farm buildings at that time on the opposite side of the road to the farmhouse. Clump House still exists but the farm buildings have been replaced by St Mary’s Close. Which leads nicely onto the second photo of the back of Clump Farmhouse.

clump stable view
View of Clump Farmhouse and stable from the back

Half of Clump farmhouse is visible on the left and the stable building, with an open door, is to the right of it. Depending on when the photo was taken either Charles Bazell was the tenant farmer or, after 1913, Clump Farm had been bought by William Robinson, father of the WW1 victim Harold Robinson.

The twin-roofed house just visible behind the stable is 96 Chitterne. 96 sits on a site known historically as Clear Spring and may have been built to house the bailiff of Clump Farm. The house was known as Bailiff’s Cottage in 1911 when James Churchill lived there. From 1916 to 1935 it was named Laurel Cottage by new owners Edward Polden and his wife Edith Mary Burgess. Since then it has had various names. It was 96 Chitterne under Evelyn and Marabini Feltham, Clear Spring House next, then Pear Tree Cottage.

Beyond 96 is the thatched White Hart Inn, dating from 1651. George Henry Livings was the tenant beer retailer from the early 1900s to 1928. Several landlords came and went until Charlie and Florence Mould took over in 1941 and stayed until 1955. The Moulds were the last innkeeper tenants. The Withers and Newton families who followed were carriers and ran a coach business from White Hart House until the 1970s when the house became a private residence.

Ironically Maria’s mother’s house is probably hidden behind those two trees on the right…

It’s thanks to Julian Frost of Wylye Valley Postcards, who collected and preserved these interesting old photos, that we are able to see them today.

 

 

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

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

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

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

British Legion Event Mystery

British Legion Event 1950s?

This photograph turned up recently from my late mother-in-law’s and I am trying to identify the place and time of the event pictured. The only person we know in the photo is my husband’s grandfather George Burgess (1887-1964), who is standing to the right of the standard pole. He is the tall man with a moustache wearing a trilby.

Judging by the dress code and George’s age we think it happened on Armistice Day sometime in the 1950s, but we don’t recognise the church. George was living at Bratton at that time, but this is not Bratton Church. He had served in the Coldstream Guards for many years in his youth, and was a member of the British Legion thereafter.

If you are able to identify anyone, or recognise the church, please contact me using the form on the blog menu. I would love to be able to solve this mystery.

Tuesday 24 April

My daughter has identified the church as Edington Priory. Well spotted Amy!

Edington Priory

Sale of Chitterne Properties 1896: Part 3

The third part of the sale brochure for the 1896 auction.

Lot 7: 105 and 106 Chitterne, Vicarage Cottages or Glebe Farm Cottages

105 and 106 Chitterne, known in the past as Vicarage Cottages and Glebe Farm Cottages, are now one house called Dolphin House

The site of these cottages had been part of the Chitterne estate owned by the Lord of the Manor since before 1826. The sale particulars of 1896 mention that one cottage is of recent erection. Before 1965 the two cottages were known as Vicarage Cottages, and after as Glebe Farm Cottages. In the past, when The Manor farm and Glebe Farm were run in tandem by the Wallis family, number 106 housed a farm worker at The Manor and number 105 a Glebe Farm man. In 1953 Glebe Farm and both cottages were purchased by Charles Giles of Teffont for his daughter and son-in-law. The Giles family still own Glebe Farm, but sold the cottages in 2000 after building Glebe Farm House next door. The two cottages were converted into one house by the new owners and re-named Dolphin House. The paddock mentioned above on the west side is now the site of Sunnydene bungalow.

105 and 106 Chitterne are on the left in this photograph taken about 1950s.

In 1896 number 105 was occupied by George and Ann Furnell (nee Mead), and after by Richard and Harriet Feltham (nee Windsor). Francis and Julia Crossman (nee Giles) lived there from the mid 1950s until they moved to Home Farm, Teffont in 1965. After they left the cottage was occupied by the manager of Glebe Farm until 1981, when the Crossman’s nephew and his wife took over the running of the farm and moved in.

Number 106 was occupied in 1896 by Mark and Elizabeth Titt (nee Poolman) and then by their son Edwin Titt. Thomas and Doris George (nee Boulter) and family lived there in the 1960s.

Both lot number 7 and the lot number 8 were withdrawn from the auction.

Lot number 8: 104 Chitterne, Ivy Cottage

104 Chitterne, also known as Ivy Cottage.

Ivy Cottage was a very ancient structure. The upper floor was reached by ladder according to an evacuee who lived there with his mother, Lilian John, in the second World War. The cottage was knocked down in the early 1960s and a new house built on the site by Robert Potter and given the name Arlington by its new owners. It has since been renamed Woodlea. The paddock mentioned above is now the site of Glebe Farm House.

104 Chitterne, Ivy Cottage, Louisa and Mary Poolman about 1900.

Alfred and Maria Stokes (nee Wadhams) lived at Ivy Cottage in 1896, they were followed before 1901 by Mark and Mary Poolman (nee Sosia). Mark served in the Royal Artillery for 25 years and met Mary when he was stationed for 12 years in Malta. They had six children, the three eldest were born in Malta. After his army servce in the mid 1880s Mark brought Mary back home to Chitterne and worked as a cattle drover, Mary worked as a laundress. Mary was always known as Maltese Mary in the village. Mark died in 1915 and Mary in 1936. Mary Poolman and her daughter Louisa are pictured outside Ivy Cottage.

Lot number 9: 98 Chitterne

98 Chitterne

98 Chitterne was the home of the Feltham family for at least 120 years. It had been rented by the family from Walter Hume Long since before 1881. At the auction William James Feltham purchased the house for £100. The house is listed grade 2 and is thought to have been built in the early years of the 19th century, under the ownership of the Methuen family. I have no photograph of the house in its heyday, but the feltham family were avid collectors of village memorabilia, which is still being sifted through by relatives, so I hope that one will turn up in the future.

William James and Alma Charlesanna Feltham (nee Polden) brought up their five children in the house. After their deaths their three unmarried daughters, Beryl, Esme and Nora, stayed on and lived out their lives at number 98. Their nephew Raymond joined them after a while, and he remained living in the house until he fell ill and died in 2015. The house was auctioned in 2016, 120 years since the previous auction, and now has a new owner.

1896 Sale of Chitterne Properties: part 1

Following on from my last blog here are the details of the properties that were offered for sale by Walter Hume Long in 1896 from a copy of the auction particulars found at 98 Chitterne. Most of the properties were in St Mary’s parish, apart from a couple in All  Saints. Some were sold, some were not, and some were withdrawn from the sale.

Lot number 1: The White Hart Inn.

white hart inn sale 1896
The inn is now White Hart House

The tenant at the time was William Poolman, a member of the very large Poolman family that had lived in Chitterne since at least 1737. He is usually known as William Meade Poolman to distinguish him from other Williams in the family. In 1865 he married Sarah George, niece of Thomas George previous tenant of the inn, and ran the White Hart Inn from then until Sarah died in 1906. He was a carrier and landlord of cottages as well as an innkeeper and owned quite a few cottages scattered around the village. He has appeared in my blogs before as landlord of 8 cottages in Bidden Lane. As the village carrier he ran a regular service to the local towns and markets.

whitehart2
The White Hart Inn under William Poolman’s tenancy, note his name above the door

The inn was purchased at auction for £2000 by Margant Bladworth (or Margan & Bladworth, it is not clear) according to the pencilled note on the excerpt above. I have not been able to find out who that was. It may have been an agent for a brewery as the same person/s also purchased the King’s Head Inn.

Lot number 2: The King’s Head Inn.

kings head sale 1896
Part of the King’s Head’s ground is a part of the St Mary’s graveyard and 101 Chiiterne

The tenant of the King’s Head in 1896 was George Brown. I have very little idea who he was. His name appears in the Pig Club ledger for providing a Pig Club supper in 1895, 1896 and 1897, but not in any parish records, neither does he appear to be related to the Browns who taught at the school at that time.

kings head thatch
The King’s Head at the turn of the century

The King’s Head was purchased for £1350 at auction by the same person/s who bought the White Hart Inn, Margant Bladworth or Margan & Bladworth, possibly agents for a brewery.

Lot number 3: Bridge Cottage.

bridge cottage sale 1896

The sitting tenant, Miss Annie Compton, purchased Bridge Cottage for £55 at auction. She had been living there since before 1891, and stayed until her death in 1931. She was one of the first women in the country to be elected to serve on a council. In 1894 she was elected to the Rural District Council representing Chitterne, and remained so for almost 40 years. She was also a member of the Board of Guardians of Warminster Workhouse until she was 90 years old.

Comptons-at-King's-Head1
Bridge Cottage is centre behind the horse and cart

Bridge Cottage is named for the bridge over the Chitterne Brook, which it fronts. The bridge was always known as Compton’s Bridge by the locals in those days. It was hump-backed until the second World War, when it was flattened to allow for easier movement of military transport. American troops who were billeted in Chitterne made use of the Bridge Café run by Henry Slater and Lily Poolman at Bridge Cottage during the war.

 

 

Breakheart Hill

Breakheart Hill lies northwest of Chitterne and divides the village from the Imber Range live firing area. There are two public ways up the hill from the village. Via Imber Road or via The Hollow, otherwise known as the old Salisbury to Warminster coach road.

breakheart imber road (2)
The old road to Imber heading up Breakheart Hill

Imber Road starts from the Tilshead Road in the village, crosses Chitterne Brook, passes between Manor Farm and old All Saints churchyard, through Chitterne Farm West farm buildings and continues on up the hill. It is a hard surfaced road until the crest of the hill, where it suddenly stops as you reach the firing range danger area. At this point, looking ahead, you can see Breakheart Bottom, a dry valley within the danger area. (Incidentally, E M Forster mentions walking through Breakheart Bottom on page 171 of his book called “The Creator as Critic and other Writings”).

breakheart bottom
Looking towards Breakheart Bottom from the by-way

Before the land was taken for military training the road to Imber crossed the valley and passed the site of yet another Field Barn settlement called Penning Barn. A reminiscence of Penning Barn from a 1992 copy of Chitterne Chat, edited by Jeanne George says:

“A stable of 10 carthorses used to graze the large paddock on Penning bank behind the barn …and pigs, saddlebacks and large whites, were bred there and free-ranged in the paddock.”

breakheart byway (2)
The gravelled by-way on Breakheart Hill looking west. Breakheart bottom is to the right.

At the top of Imber Road a gravelled restricted by-way extends to the left and right, almost following the crest of Breakheart Hill. Turning left the by-way brings you eventually to the top of the Hollow and from it you can see for miles across the Imber Range in one direction and back towards the village in the other direction.

 

breakheart hollow (2)

The Hollow starts at the western end of the village in a part of Chitterne once known as Gunville. Although the by-way was originally the stone-paved coach road to Warminster it is now a muddy uneven track much loved by 4 x 4 drivers and trail bikers. It is now in such a poor state for walkers that it has almost lost its status as part of the Imber Range Perimeter path. Walkers following that route are warned and directed toward the easier path via Imber Road.

breakheart hollow (1)

However, if you brave the series of puddly dips and rises and climb up the western end of Breakheart Hill, at the top you will be rewarded with a view across the Wylye Valley towards the hills beyond. On the way up if you look carefully on your left you may even spot one of the original coach road milestones hiding in the bank behind a small tree: Warminster 8 Sarum 14.

It must have been a sight 250 years ago to see a laden coach and horses struggling up out of the village via this route, perhaps after a night spent at the White Hart Inn. No wonder it was known as Breakheart Hill.

 

 

 

 

 

Breach Hill

Chitterne is surrounded by the gentle rolling hills of Salisbury Plain. To leave the village and strike out across the countryside you have to climb a hill, except if you take the road to Codford following the course of the Chitterne Brook.

breach hill
Breach Hill with Middle Barn on the right

Breach Hill is the hill you encounter if you leave the village via Townsend and head towards Tilshead. The road up the hill starts and ends with a set of double bends and, in the old days, with two field barn settlements, (outlying groups of farm buildings and dwellings for farm workers). The double bends mark the passage of the old London road at the bottom of the hill and the old Bath to Sarum road at the top. Middle Barn settlement at the bottom of the hill still exists but Breach Hill Farmstead is no longer at the top.

Strictly speaking Breach Hill Farmstead was just a few yards inside the Tilshead parish boundary, where it stood on the left of the road immediately after the second of the double bends at the top of the hill, but Chitterne was nearer than Tilshead.

breach hill farm 1921
Sketch by the late ErnieGeorge

In broad Wiltshire dialect the farmstead was pronounced ‘Braitchill’. It comprised a barn, cartshed, stable, and cottages. Frank Ashley and family lived in the cottages in 1915 when their four-year-old son Norman was lost on the downs overnight and died from exposure. The Ashley children all attended Chitterne School, but the only time Breach Hill cottage appears on any census for Chitterne All Saints is in 1881. That may have been a mistake or because the Ashleys were originally from Chitterne. By 1921 they had moved to 11 Townsend and Herbert Coleman and William Nash lived at Breach Hill.

breach hill famiy 1925
A family at Breach Hill farm in 1925, sadly I don’t know who they are.

The entire settlement was demolished sometime after 1937 and the War Department (MOD) erected Vedette Post number 4 in its place. This remained until the army’s Copehill Down training village and range road were constructed in 1988 and 2000, and the Vedette Post was moved a few hundred yards nearer to Tilshead.

 

Walter Sweet’s WW1 Grave

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.

bryngwyn church
Bryngwyn St Peter church and graveyard

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.

Sweet, Walter Henry burial 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.

White, Edith; Smith, Elsie; Sweet, Emma; Smith, Isabel & Pearce, Sophia 1927
Emma Sweet, Walter’s widow is the woman in the centre of this photo taken in Townsend in 1927. The others are L to R: Edith White, Elsie Smith (on the horse), Emma Sweet, Isabel Smith and Sophia Pearce.

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.