Cotsmere 2

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.

Townsend c1930. Percy Churchill’s garden was behind the hedge on right.

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.


Townsend early 20th century

Cotsmere was the name given to a house at Townsend when Charlie Bland built it in the 1920s to house his family. Charlie’s widow Elizabeth sold the house to DF’s parents in 1944.

DF has been reminiscing about the time he spent here before moving away in the 1960s. He recalls the house had few services at first, just a well, an earth closet and a bath you filled by hand, and how this was remedied by his father. First to deal with the sewage:

“When my father purchased Cotsmere, the garden area was limited and obviously this was where the Septic tank possibly needed to be constructed.

Taking this on board, my father approached the MOD about the possibility of purchasing the land area to the West of the Cotsmere boundary to the Eastern Boundary of No 1 Abdon Close. His request was considered by the MOD and approved, that’s the good news, unfortunately the MOD had one problem, their action to put the wheels in motion and get the deal done was dead slow and stop to say the least.

After what seemed ages, my father took it on his shoulders to go in person to Whitehall to get it resolved and this worked. From memory I believe he paid about £60 plus costs for the land.

At the same time he was given permission to connect to the water supply at the stables, however this is another story.

When the time came to start the Sewage disposal project, it was summer holidays for me, so I was given the task to excavate the hole by hand, approximately 4 metres long 2 metres wide and 2 metres deep with pick axe & shovel and a wheel barrow.   

My father would not hire an Excavator with operator as the price then was about £2.50 an hour and he thought that was extortionate.

So the next move, was to dispose of the spoil removed. To this end, my father was aware that there was a disused well by the side of the road only a short distance from our property so he said, right we will fill it in it’s dangerous !!!! And that is exactly what I did, wheel barrow after wheel barrow, the well was dry at the time and was approx 7m deep x 1m wide, believe it or not, sufficient to accommodate all of the spoil that I removed. 

When I started, there was a frog at the bottom of the well and as the well was filled in the frog gradually came up to the surface and when the spoil reached almost to the top, it hopped out and away.

Opposite the well lived Gladys Grant and when I started, she came out swearing.  She claimed that when the spring waters came back, as the well could not fill up, all of that water would flood her cottage!!! What rubbish.”

To be continued…

William Fred ‘Farmer’ Brown MBE

William Fred Brown was born at the right time and to the right parents. At the time of his birth, on 25th August 1872, Victorian Britain was in the midst of a drive to educate every child in the land. The 1870 Education Act made primary education compulsory and schools were being built in every community where no school already existed, for both boys and girls.

Chitterne had a school already, built in 1840 by the villagers themselves on land granted by Lord Long, owner of the Chitterne estate. In 1867 William’s father, William Frederick Brown, became headmaster at the school and also held night classes. In fact both William’s parents were committed to the new drive to educate. His mother, Sarah nee Woodman, worked alongside her husband as assistant mistress for many years.

With parents like these and a “good” school, according to the school inspectors of the time, you could say that William had a lucky start in life. The working life choices in Chitterne for most school leavers were farming for the boys and domestic work for the girls, but William chose differently, he chose the police. As his father had perhaps predicted when he’d said: “No young fellow of energy will stay in Chitterne.” (Note the ‘fellow’ reference, girls were still not expected to fly the coop!)

I don’t know what William did after leaving Chitterne School, he wasn’t with his parents at 53 Bidden Lane in the 1891 census. But I do know that he joined the Metropolitan Police in London on 5th February 1894 as PC 172 of M Division (Lambeth), warrant number 79304, a London copper. He married Mary Ann Roach in the Shadwell (Tower Hamlets) district of East London on the 18th January 1904 at St Marys Church Stratford le Bow when he was 31, Mary was 21. The couple had one child in 1911, a daughter named Lilian Woodman Brown who died aged 23 months and was buried in Chitterne St Mary graveyard. Later they adopted their nephew Maurice William Brown Jones after the death of his mother Ellen, Mary’s sister.

In police circles and later in the press William was known by the nickname ‘Farmer Brown’ thanks to his broad Wiltshire accent. He rose through the ranks reaching the rank of Inspector, Detective Superintendent and then Detective Chief Superintendent in charge of CID headquarters at Scotland Yard.

William Brown third from left and colleagues possibly outside Scotland Yard

The newspapers of the 1920s, such as the Daily Sketch and Daily Mail avidly followed the investigations of crimes in the capital and came up with the nickname ‘Big Five’ to describe the 4 Chief Superintendents in charge of the four Metropolitan London districts plus their colleague in charge of CID HQ. William was in the news when he arrested Ronald True for the murder of a woman in a London flat in 1922.

In 1931 he was awarded an MBE in King George V’s birthday honours. He retired in 1932 and he and his wife Mary came back to Chitterne to live in the house where he was born, after some alterations. The couple bought the entire row of 6 cottages and their gardens, demolished most of the row but kept and extended number 53, creating Syringa Cottage. William died there in 1941, which brings us back full circle to my last blog and to the letter his wife Mary wrote on her husband’s death to the other Mr Brown. Mary died in 1972, aged 89 and is buried here in Chitterne too.

With thanks to PB for his initial enquiry, the extra photos and info, and for sparking my interest and quest to discover more about William Fred Brown of the Metropolitan Police.

Is This The Same Man?

The two policemen in question, unknown on the left and ‘Farmer’ Brown on the right in retirement

That was the question posed by PB in an email recently. Searching for the answer led to new discoveries about one of Chitterne’s most famous sons.

As often happens, ‘clearing out’ or ‘tidying’ started this voyage of discovery. PB received a bundle of documents from his sister, which had originally belonged to their grandfather Ernest Brown 1878-1953.

Back of photo on the left above

One particularly fascinating photograph was of a policeman, collar number 172, sitting on a chair and a lady standing at his side. On the back of the photo was a note saying: “Gertie Isaacs, Dear Dad and Mother.”

Also in the bundle was a letter dated 13 February 1941 from a Mary A Brown of Syringa Cottage, Chitterne, addressed to “Dear Mr Brown,” advising him of the death of “poor Will” who would be buried at Chitterne on Saturday at 2pm. Presumably ‘Mr Brown’ is Ernest Brown, the grandfather.

Letter from Mary A Brown to Ernest Brown

PB found the piece on Chitterne’s famous detective Farmer Brown on Chitterne history pages and noticed that his collar number had also been 172. He then tried to find a link between his grandfather and our Farmer Brown without success. Hence his query about the two policemen with the same collar number: Are they the same man or is this just a coincidence?

I sent PB my notes on the Chitterne Brown family and he was able to discern the connection between the families. Ernest Brown’s father, Stephen, and Farmer Brown’s father, William Frederick were brothers, and sons of Frederick Brown and Mary Dunford. This meant that Ernest and Farmer were cousins.

“Farmer” Brown collar number 172

But the mystery of the photograph and the matching collar numbers remained. I suggested seeking help from the blog-reading community by posting a query. PB agreed and sent me copies of the photo and letter to include in the blog. At first I thought our two photos were of the same man, the men were very similar in appearance apart from the unknown policeman’s moustache, but I noticed that their helmet badges were different. A quick google on police badges and it became obvious, one was Metropolitan Police and the other Wiltshire Constabulary.

So I changed my mind about the match, but who was the mystery policeman? And why was a letter from Farmer Brown’s widow in the same bundle of papers? The answer lay in the female side of PB’s family. His grandfather, Ernest Brown had married Laura Gertrude Isaacs 1885-1951. Her father William John Isaacs 1852-1907 was also a policeman in various Wiltshire locations, and that is who I now believe is in the photograph with his wife, Laura Gertrude’s mother.

So the man sitting on the chair in the photo above is William John Isaacs who was in the Wiltshire Constabulary from c1881 to 1907. This has been confirmed in a reply from the History Centre to PB: “William Isaac  Police number 172 born 1851 at West Cholderton entered the force in 1874 and served to 1902.” In the censuses he was at Ludgershall 1881, Tinhead 1891, and Edington 1901. Coincidentally he shared the same police collar number as William Fred ‘Farmer’ Brown of the Metropolitan Police and Chitterne.

More about the new findings on Farmer Brown in a forthcoming blog.

Church Organ

The Willis Organ in Chitterne Church

The Willis organ in Chitterne Church has recently been tuned, cleaned and updated by an organ-builder who was trained by the original designer of the instrument.

Our organ was built in 1968 for Laleham Abbey Convent, Middlesex. The secondhand organ was offered to Chitterne Church in 1993, installed, and dedicated on 26 February 1995 by the then Bishop of Ramsbury, the Rt Rev Peter Vaughan.

This Willis Junior Development Plan Organ was designed by Henry Willis 4, the fourth Henry of the Willis family of organ builders.  I know very little about organs so here I will quote AC who carried out the recent work and let him explain what the name means:

” “Junior” because they (the organs) were designed by Henry Willis, 4, who was then Junior to his father who was running the firm up until 1968.  “Development Plan” because they were a series of models which started as a one manual organ with two stops and no pedals, and could be developed in stages to a two manual organ, a little larger than the Chitterne instrument, as and when funds became available. The Willis nameplate on the console IV-LVII denotes Henry Willis, 4, then the Opus Number. Opus 57 started as a one manual and pedal instrument.  It gained the Swell organ, which I worked on in the early 1980s. “

Members of the Willis family of organ builders

The Chitterne Willis organ has been updated with a computer that enables recordings to be made. The recordings can be used at future services when no organist is available. I have heard a recording of AC playing the instrument and it sounded beautiful.

War Memorial 100

Field Marshall Viscount Allenby

On Sunday 28th August 1920 Field Marshall Viscount Allenby unveiled the Chitterne War Memorial to the fallen, and servicemen who had served, in the First World War. Field Marshall Allenby, who had taken command of the British Forces in Palestine in the war, was seen as a great hero at the time.

Edmund Allenby’s connection to Chitterne was through his sister Faith who lived at Chitterne House with her husband Vice-Admiral Charles Lionel Napier.

Newly erected Chitterne War Memorial (sorry about the quality of the photo)

Ashley Returns, Alan’s Farewell, Time Passes

A bizarre juxtaposition of events happened yesterday.

Back at the very beginning of the history pages on I was contacted by Peter Ashley of Trowbridge who was researching, not his Ashley forbears, but his Feltham ones. He had done a lot of research and had a website of his own to put his findings on public display. It was through him that I started adding links to other researcher’s websites on the Chitterne history pages.

Peter also wrote articles about his interesting finds, such as Isaac Feltham’s Family Bible, which I was pleased to be able to add to my list of links on the Chitterne People page. It all helped get Chitterne History off the ground.

Yesterday his son turned up from Canada and told me Peter had died two weeks ago. It was a sharp reminder of time passing and the first time I have had a visit from a second generation history researcher, who was here investigating the Ashley side of his family.

I looked up Peter in my files to see exactly how long ago we met and exchanged emails, but it was so long ago that I hadn’t even started keeping a file. However, I do know he wrote Isaac Feltham’s Bible in 2002, as he added the date to his article, linked here in memory of Peter:

All this happened before villager Alan Sprack’s funeral. Another good friend and history help gone, another sharp reminder of time passing.

Alan’s collection of old Chitterne postcards and memorabilia were crucial to me in the early days, and on until his death. He was always fascinating to talk to. He had such a wealth of knowledge about the old days in the village, not just farming, but the whole of life here. He will be missed.

We were not able to be in the church due to the current restrictions, but I’m almost glad in a way because we were able to witness Alan’s last ride to church on a trailer pulled by a tractor. He was taken at walking pace from Brook Cottage to the church in a willow casket topped by flag and flowers, led by a gentleman dressed smartly in black top hat, caped coat and toting a black cane. What a sight that was, and what a fitting end to such a prominent member of our little community.

Alan working with metal in his workshop 2016

Abdon Close Centenary

A hundred years ago this month a plan by Warminster Urban Council to build new houses at Chitterne was celebrated with an official ceremony. We know those houses as Abdon Close, but that name was not adopted until 40 years later. At first the houses were known as Council Houses or Council Cottages.

1950s postcard of Council Houses showing footpath in front of the houses

In 1920 Housing Schemes were a modern idea that came about as a result of a statement made by David Lloyd George, leader of the parliamentary coalition, in a speech the day after Armistice Day. He said the government would facilitate the building of: “Habitations fit for heroes who have won the war.” Later interpreted by the media as the more famous: “Houses fit for heroes.” Thus Council houses were born out of the need to house troops returning from foreign battlefields.

1950s photo showing the access footpath from Townsend

The first few houses in Chitterne were built on a spare patch of land on the opposite side of the Cut from Chitterne Lodge. They were approached by a footpath from Townsend and had long front gardens. Building started 1923/4 and by 1925 all eight houses were occupied.

1928 photo of number 7. Ellen Burnett and her son Reg in the doorway.

The first residents of Number 1 were teachers, not returning servicemen at all. Mary Watson and Maud New taught at the village school.

Doris Poolman with Kenneth and Richard Brown, two evacuees in world war 2 outside number 7. Her mother-in-law Bertha and sister-in-law Kathleen stand behind.

After the second world war another pair of semi-detached houses were built, and in 1962/3 Warminster & Westbury Rural District Council added the eight flats. At the same time the footpath was widened into a road for vehicles and the new name Abdon Close was adopted after local builder, Abdon Polden, who had once owned the land.

Scots pipers on the road in Abdon Close September 1987

How We Were in 1988

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.

1988 railings

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.

1988 sportsfield

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.

1988 pitts cottage

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.

1988 back road

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.

1988 stables

The Racing Stables before the 1990s conversion to eight dwellings around a courtyard.

1988 arch cottages

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.

1988 bridge cottage

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.

1988 garage

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.


Gassing in the Church

I thought you might like to see this fascinating article from January 1887 in the Warminster & Westbury Journal. Discovered recently when friends were looking for an old newspaper article about the village 1887 Jubilee Celebrations.


church gassing Warminster Petty Sessions Warminster & Westbury Journal 8 January 1887

The church was only 25 years old in 1887, someone had been neglecting to service the coke stove!

church pre war memorial
All Saints with St Marys Church Chitterne taken from Great House (now Coach House) gardens before the War Memorial was erected

The father of the gassed boy, Joseph Dean 1846-1927, one of the Imber Deans, farmed at Chitterne Farm (now known as Chitterne Farm East). His wife was Louise Chisman from Stockton 1846-1932. There’s a field known as Chisman’s Field alongside the B390 to Warminster.

Joseph and Louise had three sons, any one of them could have been the victim. Edgar Wilfred born in 1878, George Leslie in 1880 and Joseph Percy in 1881. I have written in detail about Joseph Percy re the Scout Motor Company for an entry in the Chitterne history timeline here: Percy Dean

Wilfred who went on to have a long life died in 1958. He lived in Chitterne until at least 1903 and inherited some cottages in Bidden Lane in 1895.

George Leslie however died quite young, aged 47 years in January 1928, so perhaps he suffered the worst of the gassing as a young lad.