I’ve just taken a walk up the newly surfaced Hollow. What bliss to walk on the flat without fear of breaking ankles. It has been many years since I have been able to do that. The by-way had even lost its status as part of the Imber Range Perimeter Path as a result of its parlous state. So, well done the council and thank you!
For those of you who may not know its local name, I am referring to part of the old Sarum to Warminster coach road, which leaves the B390 on the western edge of the village and meanders up Breakheart Hill towards Warminster.
The resurfacing ends at another junction with farm tracks almost at the top of Breakheart Hill, but the by-way carries on straight ahead towards an old British settlement north of Quebec Farm and Knook Barrow, and eventually reaches Sack Hill, Warminster. Here I turned around and headed back the way I had come.
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.
At the end of July 1870 Maria accompanies her two charges, Eva aged 6 and Beryl aged 5, and the rest of the Hamilton family on a six-week sailing holiday around the Hebridean islands off north-west Scotland. First traveling by steamship for 8 hours from the river Clyde to Fort William before joining the Yacht ‘Columbine’. Maria has her first taste of sailing in bad weather during the following weeks, as she writes to her mother on 25 August 1870 from the yacht anchored off Isleornsay (village on the Isle of Skye overlooking the Isle of Ornsay):
You will be thankful to hear that I and all on board are quite well, but we have had fearful weather. Tuesday we left Tobermory in the Island of Mull, but the wind was against us. I never expected I should see such waves. I went on deck about nine and before tea we were every female on board, 7 in number, stretched on the decks in sea sickness. We did indeed feed the fishes. We wanted to get to Skye. Before we had got far, we heard a tremendous crash, and looking up, found the wind had torn our top sail, so we were obliged to reef our mainsail, which caused the vessel to toss very much.
We then put into the first shelter we came to, which was a natural harbour in the Isle of Rum, and rum enough. I thought it was only one house on the Island, belonging to the chief called McLeod, dressed in Highland Kilts. There were a few servant’s huts but no shop of any kind, nor Carpenter. But he was very kind and sent a large basket of Vegetables, fish, Grouse and Venison. We stayed one day just to recover from our sicknesses and yesterday morning weighed anchor to come to this place.
It was blowing hard when we started, but when we got into the open sea, it was a tempest, the sea at times washing clean over the decks, and as we could not get up, we just stopped in our berths the whole day, and the steward had as much as he could do to empty the basins, but we are all well today and it does seem good to be in a calm again.
We are to remain here today to get the sail repaired, and as there are a few houses and a post office, I thought I would embrace the opportunity.
The dear Children love this life and are so good and uncomplaining. I think I have seen the best and worst sides of yachting. It certainly is lovely in fine weather, such wild grand Mountains, and at every turn they seem to break out into fresh beauty. And in stormy weather it is grand in its terrible majesty. The wind comes rolling down the sides of the Mountains and the Yacht, like a thing of life, just mounts up on the crest of the waves and dashes down again into the trough of the sea, and you feel that if it would stop for one moment, you would be quite well.
By the end of September Maria tells her mother:
I have enjoyed it so much and feel so much at home here now that I don’t care to go and live on land again.
Meanwhile back in Chitterne Maria’s son, 13-year-old Jimmy, is about to start a seven-year apprenticeship with Mr Exton of Boreham, Warminster, as a wheelwright. She has some words of advice for her son on 9 December 1870:
I need not tell you how glad and thankful I was to get your welcome letter and to hear that you think you shall like your place. I hope you will and get on well in every sense of the word. It is very good of you to give your Grandmother something regularly. By doing so, you are helping her and me and it is a great comfort to us both, and you may depend upon it, it will not lose its reward.
It’s a great mistake to think a young person will be any the worse off for what they do for their parents. As well may you say that a Father would be ruined by providing food for his helpless children. If all would do it, there would be much more happiness and greater prosperity in households, and in the country at large, but apart from all this, what a pleasure and comfort it is to oneself to know that we are adding but one crumb of comfort to those who have done so much for us, especially when we do it in a spirit of thankfulness to the giver of the health and strength and kind friends.
I am sorry to hear the water is so high (a reference to Chitterne’s problem with the winterbourne that runs through the village). I do hope you will be able to go home nearly every week, as you are all the comfort dear Mother has got, as Walter (Walter Isaac Windsor 1854-1921 youngest son of Issac Windsor) is only a trouble to her, who does your washing. I am glad to hear you have such good wages and I am sure you will be as careful as you can. You don’t know what is before you, but whether it is prosperity or adversity, you will find that it’s a good thing to know where to lay your hand on a pound, and if you don’t begin to lay by now, you will find it more difficult bye and bye.
I was very much interested in reading that account of the Riflesupper (Jimmy became a keen member of the Wiltshire Volunteer Rifle Corps) in the paper, and trust that whenever your name appears in print, it will always be in connection with something honourable.
The last two paragraphs show Maria’s concern that her son should not turn out like his father James Feltham, who spent his earnings on alcohol and as a result was often in court and in the newspaper. At this point in Maria’s story we have no idea where James Feltham is. He does not appear in the 1871 census as far as we can see and Maria makes no mention of him, but he is due to turn up in Chitterne again in the 1880s.
Maria’s mother Euphemia and her second husband Isaac Windsor were living on the St Mary’s side of Bidden Lane at this time, next door to the shop run by Thomas and Lydia George. This shop appears to have been directly behind The White Hart Inn and no longer exists. Maria frequently asks about the George family in her letters to her mother.
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.
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).
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.
Breakheart Hill lies northwest of Chitterne and divides the village from the Imber Range live firing area. There are two public ways up the hill from the village. Via Imber Road or via The Hollow, otherwise known as the old Salisbury to Warminster coach road.
Imber Road starts from the Tilshead Road in the village, crosses Chitterne Brook, passes between Manor Farm and old All Saints churchyard, through Chitterne Farm West farm buildings and continues on up the hill. It is a hard surfaced road until the crest of the hill, where it suddenly stops as you reach the firing range danger area. At this point, looking ahead, you can see Breakheart Bottom, a dry valley within the danger area. (Incidentally, E M Forster mentions walking through Breakheart Bottom on page 171 of his book called “The Creator as Critic and other Writings”).
Before the land was taken for military training the road to Imber crossed the valley and passed the site of yet another Field Barn settlement called Penning Barn. A reminiscence of Penning Barn from a 1992 copy of Chitterne Chat, edited by Jeanne George says:
“A stable of 10 carthorses used to graze the large paddock on Penning bank behind the barn …and pigs, saddlebacks and large whites, were bred there and free-ranged in the paddock.”
At the top of Imber Road a gravelled restricted by-way extends to the left and right, almost following the crest of Breakheart Hill. Turning left the by-way brings you eventually to the top of the Hollow and from it you can see for miles across the Imber Range in one direction and back towards the village in the other direction.
The Hollow starts at the western end of the village in a part of Chitterne once known as Gunville. Although the by-way was originally the stone-paved coach road to Warminster it is now a muddy uneven track much loved by 4 x 4 drivers and trail bikers. It is now in such a poor state for walkers that it has almost lost its status as part of the Imber Range Perimeter path. Walkers following that route are warned and directed toward the easier path via Imber Road.
However, if you brave the series of puddly dips and rises and climb up the western end of Breakheart Hill, at the top you will be rewarded with a view across the Wylye Valley towards the hills beyond. On the way up if you look carefully on your left you may even spot one of the original coach road milestones hiding in the bank behind a small tree: Warminster 8 Sarum 14.
It must have been a sight 250 years ago to see a laden coach and horses struggling up out of the village via this route, perhaps after a night spent at the White Hart Inn. No wonder it was known as Breakheart Hill.
This fob belonged to my grandmother May, she wore it after she was widowed in 1921. So I never knew my grandfather Sid. He died of kidney failure when he was only 34 years old. I never knew my grandmother either, she died aged 53, three years before I was born. I have just a few of their things, left me by my father, but no memories.
I can only imagine what they were like as people from looking at photographs and handling their possessions. I like to think we would have got along fine. They were both small. According to his army records Sid was the same height as me and my father, 5 feet 3½ inches. May looks to be even smaller. We probably would have had interests in common and agreed on a lot of things. Both lived and worked in the gloving trade in Westbury. Sid was a glove cutter and May a glove machinist at home. Sid was a trade unionist who recruited members from other local glove factories.
My mother was convinced she had met Sid when he came recruiting to her glove factory in Warminster, but the numbers don’t add up. If my mother started work aged 14 in 1922 and Sid died in 1921, how could that have happened? Perhaps she started working earlier. I don’t think my mother would have joined a union anyway, coming from her conservative family.
That’s the other thing, Sid and May might have provided a counter-balance to my other stricter grandparents in Warminster. My grandmother Sarah was bedridden by the time I knew her, but ruled the house from her bed in the living room with a rod of iron. Or rather a walking stick which she whacked me across the back of my legs with, for what misdemeanour I fail to remember. No love lost there.
No, Sid and May’s was a love match. May wore the photo of Sid on a chain around her neck because she loved and missed him. I just wish I could have known her.
My mother, who was a Warminster girl, once told me of a couple of lads from Chitterne that she knew in her youth. She knew them as Pont and Pimp Bailey. Pont was short for Ponton and Pimp was short for Pimple. How word fashions change!
These lads were footballers, as were my mother’s brothers, so they came to Warminster to play football and that’s how my mother knew them. Reading between the lines I get the impression that she idolised these handsome Chitterne boys, because she also mentioned cycling over to the village with a friend. This was back in the 1920s, before television, when Chitterne Football Team had won the Warminster Hospital Cup three times in succession and were local football heroes.
Fast forward to today when I am looking at the Marriage Banns Register for Chitterne and come across the banns for a marriage in 1929 between Frank Bailey and Amy Gilbert. Frank was the youngest and smallest of the Bailey boys hence his nickname ‘Pimple’. Amy Gilbert was a Warminster girl, the same age as my mother and distantly related to her. I wonder if they were friends and rivals who went cycling together?
The Bailey boys were the sons of Tom and Amy Bailey, who lived at 2 Middle Barn Cottages. There were nine children in the family, two girls and seven boys. Sadly, Frank Bailey lost his life in the second World War and is remembered on our village War Memorial.