Maria Cockrell – Part 2: the turbulent years

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.

Rood Ashton House

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.

compton enford map 1810
1810 map showing the hamlet of Compton, near Enford. In the late 1700s and the early 1800s Compton hamlet comprised a few dwellings which clustered in Water Dean Bottom between Compton Farm and the main Salisbury road. By the 1880s just the farm-house remained.

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:

swan inn enford
The Swan Inn, Enford still exists

“…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.”

feltham, james devizes & wilts gazette 5 Dec 1861
From the Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette 5th December 1861

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:

woodbridge inn pewsey
Woodbridge Inn, Pewsey still exists

“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.”

red lion chisenbury
The Red Lion, Chisenbury, still exists

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:

chitt-church-01
Chitterne Church

“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….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Maria Cockrell – Part 2: the turbulent years

Maria Cockrell – Part 1: a life of extremes

This story follows on from a blog entitled A Bit More on the Felthams which left us with unanswered questions. To recap, Maria was the late Raymond Feltham’s great grandmother, married to James Feltham, and the mother of a single child, Jimmy Feltham who was Raymond’s grandfather.  At first glance it appears that Maria was a lowly nurse and yet her single grave sports a striking tombstone erected in Chitterne by persons other than her family, with no mention of her husband on the inscription. We were intrigued, to say the least.

Since Maria’s letters were discovered by the Feltham family at 98 Codford Road after Raymond’s death, we now know much more about her life. She was born on 1st February 1837, the eldest child of William Cockrell of Chitterne St Mary and Susan Jemima Euphemia Daniels of Imber, known as Euphemia. The Cockrells lived at Chitterne St Mary where William was a carrier and Euphemia a laundress.

Maria letter
part of a letter from Maria

Maria was clearly able to read and write so would probably have been one of the first children in Chitterne to attend the Elementary School opened in 1840 on the site of the present Village Hall. Her interest in education lasted all her life as she constantly sought to improve her own efforts and later, in her letters to her son, encouraged him to improve his writing and spelling by attending night-school. Her words to young Jimmy must have struck home since later Jimmy’s own daughters and his great grandson became teachers, either at Sunday School or in main stream education.

school
Chitterne School early 1900s

Sadly, Maria’s life took a downturn at age four in 1841, when her father William died aged 32 years. By 1851 Maria was working as a servant, and probably nurse, to elderly widower Thomas Hayter, a retired grocer and former Parish Clerk of Chitterne All Saints. In 1856 Maria was 19, and unmarried, when she became pregnant, not an unusual occurrence, but most pregnant women in those days married before the birth, not so Maria.  With interesting timing, her employer Thomas died and was buried just two days before Maria gave birth to her son Jimmy on the 23rd January 1857.

Maria’s mother Euphemia, who had remarried two years earlier to widower Isaac Windsor, took Maria and the baby in. From the letters we can tell that Maria was very close to her mother. Five years later she writes to Euphemia remembering Thomas Hayter’s passing and the birth of Jimmy, always connected in her mind:

“if you had shut the door of your house and your heart, then I might have been outcast on the wide world now”.

Later that year Maria married James Feltham, a coal hawker son of William and Elizabeth Feltham of Chitterne St Mary, who we must assume was Jimmy’s father. But Maria’s luck had not yet turned. The most harrowing of Maria’s letters to her mother concern the trials and tribulations she suffered at the hands of James Fetham, who turned out to be a drunk, often in trouble with the law and treated her very badly.

But Maria was a resourceful woman. To be continued….

 

Maria Cockrell – Part 1: a life of extremes

Kelly’s Chitterne 1915

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.

Kellys 1915-1
Entry for Chitterne page 1
Kellys 1915-2
page 2

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.

Kelly’s Chitterne 1915

Hercules, the Iron Man

I wrote the first part of this in November 2017, after the Repair Shop episode featuring Hercules was filmed at Westbury, but I have held it back until after the broadcast.

Hercules, the iron man in the title, resided in our shed in Chitterne for 6 years from 1986 until 1992 when my mother and I donated him to the Westbury Heritage Society. In 2017 I had an out-of-the-blue phone call about Hercules from an old neighbour, putting me in touch with LA of the Heritage Society. This led eventually to Hercules appearing on TV, as part of the Repair Shop series, in a story that took me way back to my roots.

November 8th 2017

hercules mended
Hercules, the Iron Man mended

Hercules is a Victorian statue made of cast iron which once stood on the magnificent beam engine at Bitham Mill, one of the two Westbury cloth mills owned by Abraham Laverton. My father, Jack Ingram, was the maintenance engineer at Bitham Mill from 1936 until A. Laverton & Co ceased to exist in 1969.  He loved everything about machines and especially that beautiful engine. It was the biggest steam engine in the area and could produce the power of 60 horses to drive the machines at the mill.

dad
My Dad walking to work in Westbury 1930s

For generations my Dad’s ancestors were weavers in Westbury, but both his parents worked in gloving. Before taking over the maintenance job at Laverton’s in 1936 my father was a carpenter building staircases on the new housing estates going up in Ashford Middlesex. He had always dreamed of being an engineer, but that dream was shattered by the death of his father in 1921, when, aged 11, and the eldest of three, he had to help support the family, and his mother apprenticed him to Parson’s as a carpenter, engineering being deemed too expensive. He completed his apprenticeship in 1930 and worked for Butchers of Warminster until 1933 when he was laid off.

The 1930s were a cruel time, there were no jobs for carpenters around Westbury and Warminster, hence, as an about to be married man, his move to find work near London. After their marriage my mother never really settled in London so when he heard from his brother Les that their uncle Charlie was retiring as the Laverton’s maintenance man, my Dad jumped at the chance work with machinery and be near ‘that’ engine. Motorbikes and cars were already his passion, he loved figuring out how they worked by taking things apart and putting them together again. What he didn’t know about engineering he taught himself, from books mostly. He had an extensive collection of books on steam engines and engineering generally.

beam engine
The enormous beam engine in situ at Laverton’s mill, Westbury. Picture given to my father and drawn by Alan Andrew

I can’t imagine how he must have felt when, three years later it was decided to scrap the beam engine and replace it with a more modern method of powering the machinery. But he was involved with dismantling the engine and so was able to save the iron man from being scrapped; I don’t know how, this was way before I was born. What I do remember is my father bringing the statue home after Laverton’s closed in 1969, and mounting it on a purpose made iron bracket on the back wall of our bungalow at Station Road, Westbury.

This was typical of my Dad.  He loved everything about Westbury and its history, so he saved what he called “the iron man” for posterity. He was also a very driven, impatient, and intense man, very clever with a fearsome temper and he didn’t suffer fools gladly. However, he was always helping people out by making new metal parts on his lathe for machines thought to be beyond repair.

My father died in 1985 and a year later my mother came to live in Chitterne with us, along with the iron man and quite a bit of my Dad’s engineering stuff, which was deemed to be ‘useful’. The iron man lay in store and occasionally I fretted that he should be in a museum, until in 1992 an article appeared in the local press about the newly formed Westbury Heritage Society, with a plea for donations. Just the place for the iron man I thought. I contacted the society and offered them the iron man. It was at this point that the iron man became Hercules, I can’t remember exactly how, perhaps I described him as a ‘Herculean type of figure’ on the telephone or perhaps it was someone from the society when we handed him over to them. Later on, my mother and I went along to see Hercules on display at the opening of the Society’s first museum at the Angel Mill.

Hercules has been in the Westbury Heritage Society’s care for the last 25 years. He now resides at the Westbury Visitor Centre in the High Street. Sadly, about 10 years ago whilst being moved he fell over and the club he holds broke off. The last time I saw the statue it was still broken.

I heard recently that Hercules had been repaired as part of the society’s 25th Anniversary celebrations, and he was to be unveiled on Thursday 8th November 2017 at the Visitor Centre. I was invited along to watch the unveiling, which would be filmed for a BBC 2 programme called The Repair Shop.

The visitor centre was displaying many items from the days of the cloth mills, paintings of workers at the factory, photographs, lengths of Laverton’s woollen and worsted cloth, wooden shuttles and so on. In the middle of it all on a table lay Hercules swathed in many layers of bubble wrap and parcel tape. We gathered around the table as the bubble wrap was slowly peeled off, and bit by bit Hercules was revealed in all his glory. He looked superb.

bitham mill
Bitham Mill, Westbury, my father’s workshop was to the right of the car parked in the yard

I was swept back on a tide of nostalgia to many years ago when my father was alive and working in his workshop at Bitham Mill. I could picture his hands covered in black grimy oil working away at some piece of metal and I could smell the oily scent of the workshop floor. I remembered my Dad’s passion for anything to do with Westbury’s history and I thought he would have welcomed this moment. Although I am sure he would have longed to have a go at the repair himself. Then I wished that I had been around when the beam engine was in operation to see Hercules in his rightful place.

August 29th 2018

The programme has been broadcast so I am free to post my blog, but before I do I must add new information that has turned up at the Visitor Centre since the programme was made, and I am grateful to LA at the Visitor Centre for sharing this document with me.

It is an article about the beam engine at Bitham Mill by Alan Andrew. The article provided a lot more information about the history of the Bitham beam engine based on interviews by Alan of George Watkins MSC and my father.

George Watkins was one of the country’s leading authorities on industrial steam power. He had visited Bitham Mill by bicycle from his home in Bristol in 1932, and he thought the 1835 engine at Bitham might have been made by Musgraves of Bolton, although he had been unable to find any record of the engine builder. The Hercules figure arrived about 20 years later when the original cylinder was replaced, probably supplied by Cole Marchent & Company of Bradford, Yorkshire.

As with many early beam engines the Bitham engine was modified around 1872 to take advantage of improving boiler technology making higher steam pressures possible. This involved fitting a new high-pressure cylinder forward of the beam trunnion. A new beam was also required to provide anchorage for the new piston rod and to cope with increased stresses. The old cylinder was retained and fed with the exhaust steam from the new high-pressure cylinder, a process known as McNaught compounding, after its inventor.

One of the maintenance requirements was the removal of the cylinder ends, the checking of the bores and the packing and adjustment of the compression rings. At Bitham this was always done at Christmas, in those days only a two-day holiday, except for the engine man.

Being an engine man could be a hazardous job. One day my father was about to leave the factory for home when he noticed that the engine was not running down as it usually did each day at 5.30pm. He returned to the engine house and found the engine still running at normal speed but no sign of Bill Jackson, the engine man. He called out, no reply. He climbed to the upper cylinder platform and found poor Bill slumped unconscious with a neat round hole in the top of his head. It seems while he was oiling he had been caught by a bolt-end on the descending valve gear. Luckily he survived non the worse for the experience.

Several problems had occurred during the engine’s last years. The keys retaining the flywheel to the crankshaft kept working loose and had to be driven back in place. It may have been one of these that fell into the gearing of the primary drive, wrecking the pinion one time. As a result production at the mill ceased for 8 weeks, until a new pinion made by Stothert and Pitt of Bath was fitted. One of George Watkins photographs taken in 1932 showed a plated repair to the support casting of the high pressure cylinder, which was held in place by 15 bolts of about an inch in diameter. This repair was caused by the crankpin coming adrift and smashing a large chunk out of the casting. Perhaps its not so surprising that the old engine was replaced in 1939.

The repair of Hercules forms part of episode 13 in Series 3 of The Repair Shop on BBC2.

 

 

 

 

Hercules, the Iron Man

Don’s Inspirational Scarecrows

scarecrows by robert westall
Photo of Don Poolman’s three scarecrows on his allotment in Chitterne taken by Robert Westall in the 1960s

You may remember an earlier blog about Gallybagger Corner from April 2016: Old Chitterne Names 11: Gallybagger Corner and how the scarecrows made by Don Poolman were included in a book on Salisbury Plain. Now it appears that the scarecrows also inspired an author of children’s books to write a story for young adults called The Scarecrows.

scarecrows book
Puffin Plus edition of the book. The cover artist has based his three scarecrows on those in Westall’s photograph

Robert Westall, a very successful medal-winning author of books for young adults, was passing through Chitterne in the late 1960s when he spotted Don Poolman’s scarecrows on the corner at the western end of the village. He was so impressed by them that he turned around and went back to get a good look and take a photograph.

Poolman, Donald from Westall, Robert 9 Apr 1979
Letter from Robert Westall to Don Poolman

Westall, an art teacher by profession, treasured that photograph for years and eventually the scarecrow picture inspired him to write a novel. We know this from a letter he wrote to Don Poolman in 1979 praising the scarecrows and asking many questions about them.

The novel, published in 1981 by Chatto & Windus, won the Carnegie Medal. The edition in our picture was published by Puffin in 1983. The book is still in print today.

With grateful thanks to MP for this.

Don’s Inspirational Scarecrows

Ela of Salisbury’s Convent Church at Lacock

At Lacock Abbey the National Trust currently have an installation to mark the site of the 13th century convent church founded by Ela (pronounced eelah) of Salisbury.

The glass panels on the site of Ela’s convent church

Chitterne was part of the large area of southern England inherited by Ela following the death of her father William Longespee in 1226. Soon after this she donated her Chitterne lands and farm to her newly founded abbey at Lacock, and the thousands of sheep kept at Chitterne became the Lacock nuns’ main source of revenue.

The installation consists of three panes of glass depicting a stone arch, scenes of abbey life in medieval times and Ela’s seal. These are positioned on the grass that now covers the convent church site.

The second glass panel depicting scenes of convent life
The last panel with Ela’s personal seal

I was expecting a little more than these when I visited, but all inside the abbey was as usual, there were no new items concerning Ela on display.

Ela of Salisbury’s Convent Church at Lacock

Malting Barley in Chitterne, early 1900s

Early 1900s photo of a flood in Chitterne shows the malt house to the left of the house now known as the Old Malt House. The bridge centre left is Clump Farm bridge, which now leads to St Mary’s Close and the Sportsfield.

In the early 1900s Frederick Wallis (1858-1941), the farmer at The Manor, Chitterne St Mary, grew barley and malted it in Chitterne. He leased the 10 quarter malthouse in Chitterne St Mary from Sir Walter Hume Long for this, as we know from the brochure for the 1896 sale of the Chitterne estate. Recently I have been looking at Frederick Wallis’ farm account book and in particular at his record of malt sales from 1906 to 1914, when it appears he gave up malting altogether.

His main customers for the malt he produced were Joseph Lewis at the Dragon Brewery, Barford St Martin and Charles Price of West Street Brewery behind The Cock Inn, Warminster. The two establishments still exist, although The Dragon at Barford is now called The Barford Inn.

The Barford Inn, Barford St Martin, formerly The Green Dragon, and before that The Dragon.

Joseph Lewis at Barford bought up to 280 bushels of Chitterne malt per year, between 1906 and 1914, in lots of 100 or 80 bushels at an average of 5 shillings (25p) per bushel. Part of his payment to Frederick Wallis was in beer, presumably made using Chitterne malt. (A bushel is  a measure of capacity equal to 8 gallons or 36.4 litres).

The Cock Inn, West Street, Warminster

Charles Price at West Street, Warminster bought upwards of 800 bushels each year between 1907 and 1912 at 4 shillings and 9 pence per bushel to start with, rising to 5 shillings in 1908. Charles Price died in 1912 but Frederick Wallis was still selling malt to the executors of his estate after his death. The Cock Inn was my maternal grandfather’s local, so he must have known Charles Price and supped beer brewed with Chitterne malt. Charles and my grandfather, Albert Frank Reynolds, may even have been related as Albert’s mother was Louisa Price.

When I started looking into malting I was unsure what the process involved, so in case you are equally baffled, malting is done by immersing the barley in water to encourage the grains to sprout, then drying the barley to halt the progress when the sprouting begins.

I am grateful to CJW for the loan of her great grandfather’s Farm Accounts Book.

 

 

 

 

 

Malting Barley in Chitterne, early 1900s