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