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.

 

 

 

 

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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

Chitterne Lending Library

60 years ago you could borrow books from The Stores in Townsend, Chitterne for 3d. per week. If you kept the book for longer it would cost you an extra 1d. per day.

The P.O. stores at Townsend in 2000

This village facility was offered by John Brown and his wife Eileen, who ran the shop for 20 years from about 1954. In those days the village Post Office was at 65 Bidden Lane and the Browns shop at 17 Townsend mainly sold groceries and lent out books. So you could pick up a western with your Weetabix, or take home a romance with your root veg. I guess it’s not such a strange idea as the same could happen today at some supermarkets, except you’d have to buy the book outright of course.

We don’t know how well used the Chitterne lending library was, but at least one western book has survived called “Night Riders” by Abel Short: “The tale of special officer big Joe Gannon who rode into Maddox and into a living death.” It retailed for 5 shillings (25 pence). Some things do change!

Thank you AS for keeping this copy and passing it on to me.

Chitterne Lending Library

1896 Sale of Properties: Part 4

This is the last part of the 1896 Sale Brochure. Lots 10, Meadow Cottage, 11 the Malthouse, and 12 Well Cottage. Meadow Cottage at first appeared in error in the last part of this series, but is now in its correct place here.

Lot number 10: 99 Chitterne, Meadow Cottage

99 Chitterne, Meadow Cottage

Three cottages stood on this site in 1826. Presumably two of them are the “building” mentioned in the particulars above, but no longer inhabited by 1896. This lot was withdrawn from the auction.

99 Chitterne, Meadow Cottage from the rear about 1916

George and Elizabeth Poolman (nee Ashley) lived here in 1896. The same George Poolman who bought the Round House in 1917. Frederick and Doll White (nee Meaden) occupied Meadow Cottage in the 1930s, and Ernest and Leonettie Moores next until the early 1960s. They were followed by Stephen and Lilian Adkins. Lilian died in 1968 and Stephen married Hilda, they both died in the late 1970s.

Lot number 11: The Malthouse

The Malthouse

This is a listed building, built in the 18th century. The house adjoining the malthouse has had several names over the years. In 1891 it was known as Chestnut Villa, from 1901 to 1925 it was Pine Cottage, and now as the Old Malthouse. The house and malthouse were withdrawn from sale at the auction, but at some stage the house was purchased by a Miss Woodley, who sold it for £900 to Robin and Julia Mount in 1938. I have not been able to discover who Miss Woodley was. The Mounts expanded the size of the house, planted the yew hedge in front, and in the 1960s, sold the house for £4000 to Francis and Hester Gyngell. I am not sure when the malthouse building was demolished, I am told a building once stood near the road, to the left of the present drive, but I am not sure if that was the malthouse, nor am I sure when the house became known as the Old Malthouse.

The Malthouse 1938 (from ‘Cold Cream’ by Ferdinand Mount)

Looking back further into the history we see that in 1826 Charles Baker leased the malthouse, house and garden, and Hand’s Close (site of Inholmes next door) from the Methuen family. Later in the 1800s, under the Longs ownership, the Wallis family of The Manor leased the malthouse for many years when they were growing and malting their own barley, and running the King’s Head. This ceased when it became uneconomic in the early years of the 20th century, although Frederick Wallis still described himself as a maltster in 1911. In 1903 he had offered the malthouse to the Baptists for their meetings after their chapel was destroyed by fire.

So, back in 1896 the house (Chestnut Villa) was occupied by Mrs George (possibly Ann George nee Whittaker, widow of Thomas George), while Frederick Wallis kept the malthouse. By 1901 Mary Bartlett, a relative of Frederick’s wife Ann, lived in the house (Pine Cottage) with her nephew William Mark Wallis. In 1911 the house was unoccupied. Tom Wilkins lived there in 1925, perhaps he was the dairyman at Clump Farm who I have been told lived in the house in those days. There were still cattle-milking sheds behind the house in the 1970s. After purchasing the house in 1938 Robin and Julia Mount raised their two children there. Their son has written affectionately of his time growing up in Chitterne in his autobiographical book ‘Cold Cream’, which is well worth reading to get the feel of the village in those days.

Lot number 12: 94 Chitterne, Well Cottage

94 Chiiterne, Well Cottage

This is another ancient house, listed grade two, which may have its origins in the 16th century, although the listing details say late 18th century. It was purchased at the auction by Frank Polden for £38, when it was known as Clematis Cottages, so it may have housed more than one family. The Polden family and their descendants, the Downs, lived there until 1950. It was purchased by Mr Shippam, of Shippams paste fame, in the 1950s according to Bill Windsor, but Lily Poolman gave number 94 as her address on the Church Electoral Roll of 1955. Incidentally, Lily’s parents were Mark and Maltese Mary Poolman of Ivy Cottage in part 3. Under the ownership of Aubrey and Barbara Miller in the 1970s it was a single dwelling known as Well House. After the Millers died it was sold in 2002 and re-named Well Cottage. Sadly, I have no old photograph of this property.

Cover of the 1896 auction sale brochure

The Edward Fry (see below for more on this) mentioned in the particulars above is a bit of a mystery. He may have been the son of a Martha Fry who was a schoolmistress in Chitterne in 1841, and he was probably only living in a part of the house in 1896, because according to the 1891 records it was Augustus Polden’s home.  Augustus Polden was Frank Polden’s uncle, he was married to Ann, nee Lucas, and they appear to have lived at the cottage for many years, perhaps since they married in 1859. Both Augustus and Frank were masons/bricklayers and part of the Polden building family. Augustus and Ann’s eldest daughter, Frances married James Down, but was widowed early when James died of smallpox in 1894, consequently Augustus and Ann took in Frances’s three youngest sons, Leslie, Douglas and Bertie, which is why the Downs were still living at Clematis Cottage until 1950.

That concludes our look at the properties put up for sale in 1896 by Walter Hume Long. The sale started the final break-up of his estate and the the end of an era. This estate had been owned since the 17th century by a succession of wealthy and titled families, the Paulets, the Methuens and the Longs. By the beginning of the 20th century much had changed. There were no big estate owners in Chitterne St Mary, and soon the War Department would acquire the other large estate in Chitterne All saints.

Whizz researchers J & R have looked into Edward Fry and discovered that he was not the same person as I thought but somehow connected to Augustus Polden.The connection between Edward and Augustus is tentative. Edward (1832-1910) was a shepherd from Pitton, Wiltshire. Augustus’ father, James Polden (Parish Clerk), was the witness at the marriage of a William James Fry (1825-1881) and Ann Grant in Chitterne in 1852. We have yet to find a connection bewteen Edward and William James, but they both hailed from south Wiltshire. William James never lived in Chitterne but Edward Fry lived at Clematis Cottage from 1893 to 1900 and ended his days at a cottage in Pitt’s Lane, attached to Pitt’s House, where his daughter Ellen and her husband Frank Sheppard lived.

1896 Sale of Properties: Part 4

Sale of Chitterne Properties 1896: Part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lot number 8: 104 Chitterne, Ivy Cottage

104 Chitterne, also known as Ivy Cottage.

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

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

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

Lot number 9: 98 Chitterne

98 Chitterne

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

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

Sale of Chitterne Properties 1896: Part 3