Clay Pipes

An extraordinary deposit of “the best clay in England for the making of clay pipes” is to be found above the chalk on Chitterne St Mary Down between the Codford and Shrewton roads. The hill is known as Clay Pit Hill. The almost pure white clay is mixed with round pebbles varying from small to about 5 inches across.

Clay Pit Hill the clump of trees covering the clay pits

On a windy Wednesday in January 2007 I accompanied Rod and Dyana Fripp, from Perth, Western Australia, to Clay Pit Hill where, over 350 years ago, Rod’s ancestor, Edward Fripp, held a licence to dig clay for the manufacture of clay pipes.

Edward Fripp, Rod’s 12 x great grandfather, was born in Chitterne about 1616. He married Mary Merewether around 1650. Edward, and Mary’s brother, Christopher Merewether, were in business supplying clay from Chitterne to the Gauntlet family of tobacco pipe manufacturers in Amesbury.

The site of the old clay pits are on private land and covered in trees that shelter pheasant rearing pens. Before venturing out we had gained permission to visit the site.

At Clay Pit Hill the pits are deep craters, some with steep sides, some shallow, one filled with water, but all very obvious despite the undergrowth. I was astonished, as we had been led to believe that there wasn’t much to see, but we found the white clay and pebbles exposed near the wet pit, where the leaf mold had been washed away. Unfortunately the conditions for photography were poor.

Clay pit filled with water

Some years ago I came across a document at the Record Office (Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre) that mentioned the licence granted in 1651 to Edward Fripp and Christopher Merewether by Henry Paulet, Lord of the Manor. As part of their agreement they were licenced to dig for one year and permitted to remove 30 loads of clay and cart them to Amesbury. But it is obvious that many more than 30 loads of the clay have been dug from the pits, as some of them are deeper than a man is tall, even after 350 years of erosion and filling by leaf mulch. So presumably the clay pits were in use long before tobacco was ever brought to England. The clay is said to have been used in the building of Chitterne St Mary Manor, and the round pebbles decorate many a Chitterne garden, but it would be interesting to know who thought of using the clay to make tobacco pipes.

Fripp and Merewether also agreed to pay Henry Paulet £10 for the licence and give him 8 gross of pipes. That makes 1,152 pipes if my reckoning is correct. Lord Paulet must have been a heavy smoker.

Fragments of clay pipes

The fragments of clay pipes in this photograph were dug up in the Round House garden. None of them have the Gauntlet identification mark so I suspect they are of later manufacture, but I like to think that they are made of Chitterne clay. Traditionally clay tobacco pipes are associated with curates and one Joseph Brown Morris, curate of Imber 1808-1815, lived at the Round House so perhaps he smoked these pipes.

Village Hall 2 – 50 years

The old village hall records have me wondering where Chitterne villagers celebrated in large numbers before we had the first hall in 1921. There was the reading room, but that was tiny, or the school was handy, but inconvenient with two classrooms and tiered seating, so where? My guess is that they gathered in one of the huge barns at the two manor farms, as below.

Celebration supper in a village barn

But I digress, where were we, oh yes, the second village hall, converted from the old village school that closed in 1967. I don’t want to repeat myself again, like the last blog, so here is the link to my earlier hall history:

Now, for the extra detail I’ve recently discovered on what went on behind the scenes at the second hall.

Village School 1840-1967

After its closure, the school was in the hands of Wiltshire County Council who planned to sell the site, but it did not belong to them. The site was still owned by the heirs of Lord Long who had originally offered it to the villagers for the school building. But the village wanted the school for a new village hall, and the Long family agreed, but before this could happen the parish council and Lord Long needed to negotiate with the County Council. The negotiations took some time but happily led to the transfer of ownership from Richard Gerard 4th Viscount Long to the parish council in December 1970.

In the meantime the old school was standing empty and deteriorating. Urgent repairs were needed to the roof, gutters, walls and windows. Building costs were rising fast in the 1970s, and the price of houses booming. This meant that monies already raised in the village for the new hall were now inadequate. Eventually the hall was repaired and after more fund-raising was converted into a village hall, opened in December 1971 by Viscount Long and Rev. H T Yeomans.

Chitterne’s second village hall 1971-1998

As part of the agreement with the County Council a charitable trust for the hall was arranged at the same time as the transfer of ownership. This proved to be a bit of a problem in 1978 when two prominent members of the village hall committee were forced to resign because of the trust rules. Bill Windsor and Evelyn Potter were very valuable and committed members of the committee, but the problem was that both were paid from hall funds for the work they did. Bill for repairs to the hall and Evelyn for keeping it so clean. The trust rules stated that they could not be members of the committee that paid them. Committee secretary, T S-B, wrote to the Charity Commission begging for the two to be allowed to remain on the committee, but the reply was a definite No.

The site of the old village hall, the Hut in Bidden Lane, was finally sold by the parish council in 1976. Presumably it was purchased by the owner of the Well House (since renamed Well Cottage), Aubrey Miller, to enlarge his garden. Proceeds from the sale were distributed among the various organisations that used the hall for their meetings. Amongst the records there is a thank you note from the Chitterne W I for a donation received from the parish council after the sale.

The final piece of icing on the cake for future social gatherings in Chitterne came in 1977 when, as part of the Royal Jubilee celebrations, the parish council purchased the field opposite the new hall from the MoD for £800. To read more about the Sportsfield click below

Thank you AK for the records of the two old halls and LM for pointing out my repetition!

Village Hall 100 Years

100 years ago, in 1921 Chitterne’s first Village Hall was erected, and 50 years ago in 1971 the second Village Hall was opened. For those of you new to the village: the present village hall is the third.

After the end of the Great War the village community felt they lacked a social centre where all the family could go and enjoy themselves. There were two pubs of course but they were strictly for adults, and the school was available after lessons had finished for the day, and yet they didn’t quite fit the bill. Consequently various villagers put up the cost of purchasing an ex-military wooden hut to be erected and used as a village hall.

Sketch of the Village Hut in Bidden Lane by Ernie George

The Hut, as it came to be known, stood on a piece of ground in Bidden Lane owned by Jimmy Feltham. The Hut committee paid him £5 a year rent for the ground, but Jimmy donated £5 a year to the Hut funds in return, so in effect it was free. After his death the site became the property of the parish council as per his will.

Children’s Christmas Party in the Hut 1966

For fifty years the hut was used by the village as the social hub, and representatives from each village organisation were on the committee. In the second world war the hut was requisitioned as a billet for soldiers for a time, and later used as a centre for many soldiers in the area. The frequent wartime dances held there took a toll on the furniture and fittings, and by 1948 urgent repairs were needed.

1948 leaflet

The Chairman of the Hut Committee, Ernest Moores, sent a leaflet to every house outlining the desperate need, pleading for funds. Funds of course were forthcoming and the hut carried on being the social hub for many more years until the village school closed and a new opportunity arose for a different venue. The site of the old hut was sold by the parish council in 1976 and now forms the part of Well Cottage garden that fronts Bidden Lane.

More on the second village hall in the next blog. With grateful thanks to AK.

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…

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