This is the first look at one of the ‘new’ old names discovered from the 1815 map of the parishes of Chitterne All Saints and Chitterne St Mary: Green Way or Clarken Lane.
Part of the 1815 map featured in my last blog showing the lane marked Green Way or Clarken Lane crossing diagonally from top left to bottom right. To orientate you, the slightly wider road below it is The Hollow, or the old Salisbury to Warminster coach road. Notice the adjacent field called Clarken Lane Field bounded on the eastern side by Imber Road. To the north also notice two smaller fields, Great Penning and Little Penning, a Dry Pond and a Well, these must mark the site of Penning Barn field barn settlement. The fact that there was a well in 1815 suggests perhaps that the settlement already existed.
A screen grab from Google Earth showing Clarken Lane crossing from top left to bottom right in a wavy line between field boundaries.
Green Way or Clarken Lane is no longer a designated right of way, but it is still possible to see where it once was and to walk the part of it nearest the village.
Here we are looking north away from the village, this is the bit that is most difficult to walk, but it is still marked by a line of bushes and a ditch.
This photo was taken from the same spot as the previous one but looking south towards the village. The path is clearly defined and still regularly used.
Clarken Lane Field, pretty featureless.
Approaching the village. The field to the left was called The Tining on the old map.
Here we have reached the end of Clarken Lane and we are looking back, away from the village. Clarken Lane ends where it meets Churches Path (the path between the two old parish churches) behind Chitterne Farm West Barns.
I don’t know the origin of the name Clarken Lane, but several generations of a family called Clarke lived in Chitterne in the 16th and 17th centuries.
As we start a new venture at the Round House I’ve been thinking about the ways we have used the old stable since we came here 45 years ago this month. Now I wish I had taken more photos of the building as it was, because the stable only appears in the background of a few early shots.
In 1976 the stable had a doorway, but no door, and three windows. Two downstairs and one in the gable-end, but no glass and no frames. Three of the sturdy stone walls were bricked outside and one was left as stone. The slate roof was good. Inside were three bays for horses and a cobbled flint floor with a hayloft high above of rotten elm boards. We first used it as storage space for our house renovating equipment.
An early photo taken summer 1976 showing the stable in the background. We were camping out at weekends in that very long, hot summer while renovating the house. My Dad, recently retired, in the foreground, was helping us. Kate was 4 and Jess 2.
A photo from 1981 and no change to the stable except for the beech hedge planting. This photo better shows the weak brickwork above the doorway, still no door! Jess and GT from the village enjoying the snow. Soon after this we started work to bring the building up to scratch.
My Dad’s health was deteriorating by 1982 so we briefly considered renovating the stable for him and my Mum to live in. Dave drew up plans but we didn’t follow it through. The space was very small for two people and on reflection it was a crazy idea to move two elderly people who had lived in a bungalow for 40 years into a two storey building. Dad died in 1985.
I love these old drawings in ink on drawing film.
In 1986 downstairs became a depository for some of my father’s engineering equipment, after my mother sold up and moved in with us later that year. We brought Dad’s huge bench, pillar drill and suchlike over from Westbury and installed it in the stable. Thank goodness his big metal-turning lathe was sold with the bungalow.
In 1988 Kate held her 16th birthday party upstairs in the stable. After the party I used the room for sewing for a few years and in 1990, when Dave gave up his day job and became self-employed, he used it for his drawing work. During the next 20 years drawing board and ink plotter gave way to computer and printer, until an accident in 2010 forced him to work downstairs in the house leaving the upstairs stable room empty.
In about 2012 Amy needed some space for silk screen printing and sewing. The upstairs room accommodated both, it became a studio for Christian to print and a sewing area for Amy to sew the printed items for sale.
In 2015 it was empty again. After several attempts to get planning permission for a conversion to accommodation for ourselves we finally succeeded in 2018, but with a much reduced extension. We were unsure whether the resulting conversion would be big enough for the two of us, but decided to go ahead with the project anyway. Building work started in June 2019 and was completed in January 2020. Fitting it out, with many interruptions due to the pandemic, took until September, by which time we had decided not to move in ourselves but to rent it out for holidays. The Nest at the Round House was born.
Before and after, the south facing end.
Before and after, east side.
Before the conversion the stable was a favourite nesting place for jackdaws and sparrows, hence the choice of name for the holiday cottage. Besides that, there was already a Stable Cottage and a Stables complex in the village so we had to choose something different!
A look back at how the village once was. We have seen many changes in the last 30 years, like the conversion of the old school to the new Village Hall and the loss of some village amenitites. Here are a few examples of how Chitterne once looked, caught on camera by DR in 1988.
Who remembers this wooden fence alongside the Cut from Bridge Cottage to the junction? It was replaced some years ago with the tubular metal rails and concrete posts of today.
The Sportsfield minus cricket pitch but fitted out for football and minimal children’s play equipment. Less trees back then too, but more moles! The Cricket Club was yet to be formed and to take charge of the upkeep.
The junction of Back Road with Pitts Lane. Back Road became Back Lane at the request of residents in the early 2000s. Some older village residents protested at the name change and pointed out that it had been called Back Road for generations.
Still in Back Road, Chitterne Farm building MoD number 15 was on the corner where Back Road meets Farm Hill and Linches Path. It has since been sold and converted to a dwelling.
The Racing Stables before the 1990s conversion to eight dwellings around a courtyard.
Not a great deal of change in Townsend at first glance. The biggest change is the loss of Chitterne Post Office Stores (the white building to the left of Honeysuckle Cottage) the last village shop, which closed in 2000. It’s now a private dwelling. On the right Arch Cottages before renovation.
Bridge Cottage opposite the Codford Road junction with the kiosk building still in place on the left where you paid for your petrol or bought sweets once upon a time. The petrol pumps stood to the left of the kiosk alongside the pavement, but had been removed by 1988.
The petrol pumps, kiosk, Bridge Cottage and Bridge Garage were all under the same ownership in 1988. Bridge Garage was the place for your car repairs and servicing back then, now another lost amenity. Bridge Cottage was sold in 1996 and the garage closed when the proprietor retired in 1999, the building is now part of Hengistbury Cottage.
St Mary’s Chancel is all that’s left of Chitterne’s two old 15th century parish churches, making it one of the oldest buildings in the village. The nave of St Mary’s Church was demolished about 1861, leaving the chancel for use as a mortuary chapel. Nowadays it’s just used for occasional church services.
Ivy covers the end wall in this photo dating from the early 1900s. Note the old thatched barn on the right where Birch Cottage is now. The barn belonged to the church when the vicar of St Marys parish received part of his pay from the tithes raised on the crops grown on church land. Typically a tenth of the value went to the vicar. ‘Glebe’ land was church land, so Glebe Farm was the church farm, and the barn stood in Glebe Farm’s stockyard.
In this photo taken a little later the ivy has been removed and the site of the old nave has started to be used for burials. Note behind the chancel, in both photos, the old cob wall that once formed the boundary of the graveyard. The wall was knocked down and replaced by a fence in 1928 when Ushers Brewery, owners of the King’s Head Inn, gave a part of the inn’s land to enlarge the graveyard.
Recently, when a house the other side of that fence was sold, it was unclear who was responsible for maintaining the fence. A trip to the History Centre in Chippenham to see the original 1928 deed provided the answer: the fence is the responsibility of the Parochial Church Council.
I admire the medieval builders of this church, they had the good sense to site it far enough away from the Chitterne Brook for the dead to be buried in dry ground.
An exhibition of bygones was staged in the old village hall in the 1970s. It was held after 1971 and since this was written a blog reader has suggested 1975. The village school had been converted to a village hall and opened in 1971, it was replaced in 1999 by the present village hall.
The following photos of the 1970s exhibition are a recent addition to the archive collection thanks to AS, who tells me that many of the items on display came from 98 Chitterne, the home of the Feltham family.
Villagers and visitors at the exhibition in the main hall. The two gentlemen may be Philip Purle (leaning over) from the Village Shop and Brian Gorry (hands in pockets) of 29 Robin’s Rest. CB has identified more of the group studying the exhibits at the back, from the left: Christine Sprack (wearing green top); Maureen Sprack; possibly Bert Bailey; possibly Marilyn Wood; Philip Purle; Phyllis Stevenson. Could the lady in the bottom right corner be Joan Robertson of Glebe House? Winnie Spratt of 70 Bidden Lane by the window also appears in the next photo.
Here she is on the right running the raffle with Nora Feltham of 98 Codford Road.
Various old costumes were on display.
Containers and implements of all sorts.
A sale of the Chitterne estate poster of 1815 and various editions of newspapers, photographs and journals.
AS tells me that some of the items were so precious that he slept in the hall overnight to protect them. I came to the village in 1976 and I don’t remember this exhibition being staged so it may have been between 1971 and 1976 when colour photography was in its infancy. The photos have that kind of hue from those days, compared with the first photo of the hall which was taken a lot later.
If you recognise anyone else on these please let me know, and if anyone can date the exhibition exactly it would be good to know. I can be contacted via the menu in the top right corner or on facebook.
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.
On 25th August 1877 we find Maria staying in hospital with the eldest of her charges, 13 year old Eva Hamilton. She writes to Jimmy from The Hospital, Helensburgh, Dumbartonshire, Scotland explaining why she hasn’t written for so long:
It is a very long time since I have written to or heard from you but now there is no fear of infection from the fever which Miss Eva has had and which she is better of now.
At the hospital, which opened in 1876 as Helensburgh Hospital and was renamed Victoria Infirmary in 1897, Maria finds herself in a very different situation from her earlier tour around the continent, and she is missing out on the Summer yatching:
This has been a very dreary time in the Hospital. I have been here 5 weeks today, but thank God I am very well. We had fearful storms here the beginning of last week, washed the potatoes out of the ground and flooded the Railways and did great damage. But it is fine now. The yacht and our people are away at Ardtornish in the north of Scotland. The dear child has not seen one belonging to her but me since she took ill, but I think now she will soon get up her strength.
Maria is concerned for her son Jimmy’s future after he finishes his apprenticeship with Mr Exton the wheelwright, and for the welfare of her newly widowed mother, who may move to Townsend from the bottom of Bidden Lane:
And your grandmother, has she thought any more about going to Townsend yet? I do not like to ask her and she has not said but the time is getting on. I do feel very worried and anxious but I trust, my dearest Boy, you will be kept in the right way.
The following month, on the 18th September 1877, Maria writes to Jimmy from 18 Bath Street, Largs, Ayrshire, Scotland:
I heard from your Grandmother that she is in hopes of getting Dick Parker’s House. I hope she will like it if she does go up there. (I have not been able to trace Dick Parker as a resident of Chitterne, so he may have been a landlord living elsewhere).
Our people have not returned from the North yet but we hope they will now very soon. Be sure and tell me when you hear of any situation. I do hope for my dear Mother’s sake you will be at home this winter at least. I should feel so much happier about her, but I feel you will do your very best and we must leave the rest in the hands of god. We don’t know what a day will bring forth.
Maria is back at Armadale on 7th October 1877 and writes to Jimmy:
The Yacht left for England yesterday the 6th. I hope they will have a safe and pleasant passage to England. We brought dear Miss Eva home to Armadale last Saturday the 29th. She is quite well and getting strong. It is so nice to feel at home again. Mr James (Dennistoun) is to sail for Australia on the 25th of this month. He has made me a very handsome present of a silk umbrella with a lovely Handle surmounted with Silver and my Monogram on it, and I got a china cup and saucer from the sister of Mercy, a handsome hand bag from the Captain and a necktie from the Mate, so I have had some handsome presents this last week.
I suppose your dear Grandmother will have to remain in the old house. It does not seem as if Dick Parker’s wife is going to move.
I am getting very anxious now about you. I hope all will turn out for the best but don’t throw yourself out of work, what ever you do.
The 22nd October 1877, in another lettter to Jimmy:
I have been looking over my memorandums and I find your time is up on the 21st of Nov. I do hope you will not go farther from home than Warminster, not this winter at least. Do write as soon as you have decided.
25th November 1877, Jimmy has finished his apprentice training as a wheelwright:
I am glad that we have been spared to see the accomplishment of your apprenticeship and hope now you will, by the blessing of God, be able to earn your living in a respectable manner. I am very glad you parted friendly and now I must ask you to be as careful as you can try and put some money away every week, if it’s only a little. You are in Warminster and it’s no trouble as I suppose you hope to take a wife some day, but I do most earnestly hope it will not be until you have saved up money enough to make a good home, so that you may begin the world free of debt, and if she is a sensible Girl, as I think she is, she will not mind waiting.
Jimmy has found the girl who he will eventually marry. Alma Charlesanna Polden was the eldest daughter of Abdon Polden 1835-1924 and Jane Hinton (1835-1919). Abdon was the builder who oversaw the building of the new Chitterne Church in 1861/62 and had a hand in building and repairing many more Chitterne houses. He built a house for his family at number 1 Townsend in 1856 and named it Alma Cottage after his first child who was born in 1855. He and his large family were influential in many areas of village life. He was a freeholder of Chitterne, bandmaster (Jimmy was a member of the band), organist at the church for over 50 years and he and Jane his wife were lifelong members of the choir. He is remembered for all time in the name Abdon Close, Chitterne, which was built on land he once owned.
The influence of this man and his family on Jimmy Feltham should not be underestimated. I am sure Abdon provided the father-figure so sadly missing in Jimmy’s life and from the many mentions of him in Maria’s letters, I believe she knew it too. Jimmy and Abdon’s eldest son Clement Polden (1857-1929) would later form a business together called Polden and Feltham, but that’s in the future and another story.
Back to Maria’s 25th November letter:
And another thing I should like is for you to attend some classes for improving your education. You don’t know what an incalculable benefit it may be some day and in a town like Warminster there must be many advantages you could not have in the country. It would be money well laid out, even if you had to pay some little for it.
I shall be very anxious to get your next letter to hear how you like your new work, and what wages you will get, and how you like your lodgings.
In her last letter of the year, written on New Year’s Eve 1877, Jimmy is working with his uncle, presumably William Cockrell, Maria’s brother, who lived at Portway in Warminster. I am not sure what work Jimmy and William were engaged in but Maria says this to Jimmy:
You must write as soon as you can. I like to hear of you going to work with your Uncle and I am glad you like your work. I hope you will get on well.
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.
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.
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.
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….
The entry for Chitterne in ‘Kelly’s Directory of Hampshire, Wiltshire and Dorsetshire 1915’ 14th edition is below with grateful thanks to AS.
Kelly’s directories are useful to historians as they provide a snapshot of a particular place in a particular time. The books were heavy tomes, this particular one had almost 2000 pages, including maps of each county, topographical accounts of each town, parish or village, descriptions of the principal buildings and objects of interest. Plus information on councils, courts, religious institutions, landowners, hospitals, charities, acreage, markets and fairs and transport.
Note on page 1 that William James C Feltham was the parish clerk in 1915. More on his mother Maria Cockrell Feltham soon I hope, when I have read all her 200-odd letters, which tell of an unusual life for a Chitterne woman in the 19th century.