50 years ago Elm Farm was still a working farm, rented by the Lovell family from the MOD and run by a manager. Recently some photographs by the family managing the farm for the Lovells in the 1960s have come to light.
They were the Valdes-Scott family who had been living in Chile until 1961. Javier Valdes, a Chilean and Gwendoline Scott, an Englishwoman, and their four children: Anthony, Michael, David and Roselle. Roselle was 10 when they came to England. After living for a while in Steeple Ashton, they moved to Elm Farm, Chitterne in 1961/2 and stayed until 1967.
Keen horsemen, the Valdes-Scotts had two horses at Chitterne, Paddy and another whose name I can’t decipher. The dog was called Pip.
With grateful thanks to Paul Clarke who acquired the albums and uploaded the photos to flickr.
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.
Chitterne is surrounded by the gentle rolling hills of Salisbury Plain. To leave the village and strike out across the countryside you have to climb a hill, except if you take the road to Codford following the course of the Chitterne Brook.
Breach Hill is the hill you encounter if you leave the village via Townsend and head towards Tilshead. The road up the hill starts and ends with a set of double bends and, in the old days, with two field barn settlements, (outlying groups of farm buildings and dwellings for farm workers). The double bends mark the passage of the old London road at the bottom of the hill and the old Bath to Sarum road at the top. Middle Barn settlement at the bottom of the hill still exists but Breach Hill Farmstead is no longer at the top.
Strictly speaking Breach Hill Farmstead was just a few yards inside the Tilshead parish boundary, where it stood on the left of the road immediately after the second of the double bends at the top of the hill, but Chitterne was nearer than Tilshead.
In broad Wiltshire dialect the farmstead was pronounced ‘Braitchill’. It comprised a barn, cartshed, stable, and cottages. Frank Ashley and family lived in the cottages in 1915 when their four-year-old son Norman was lost on the downs overnight and died from exposure. The Ashley children all attended Chitterne School, but the only time Breach Hill cottage appears on any census for Chitterne All Saints is in 1881. That may have been a mistake or because the Ashleys were originally from Chitterne. By 1921 they had moved to 11 Townsend and Herbert Coleman and William Nash lived at Breach Hill.
The entire settlement was demolished sometime after 1937 and the War Department (MOD) erected Vedette Post number 4 in its place. This remained until the army’s Copehill Down training village and range road were constructed in 1988 and 2000, and the Vedette Post was moved a few hundred yards nearer to Tilshead.
As part of the World War 1 centenary the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) have been erecting new signs and replacing old WW1 headstones around the country as well as encouraging communities to write up the stories of their war dead.
GD has written up and spoken about our WW1 War Dead in Chitterne, including one, Walter Henry Sweet, who is not buried here in the village, nor on the battlefields abroad, he is buried in a Welsh village called Bryngwyn in Monmouthshire.
The Parish Council of Bryngwyn has also been trying to piece together Walter Sweet’s story. It has not proved to be an easy task for either our parish or theirs, as Walter is quite an elusive character. The entry in the Bryngwyn burial register states that he was a soldier who died ‘on the road’ and was buried on Sunday August 25th 1918.
There are questions that immediately arise from this entry: What was Walter doing in Wales, how exactly did he die and why was his body not brought back to Chitterne?
Walter was a farrier by trade who worked shoeing horses at Chitterne Racing Stables in 1911, and in WW1 as a driver in the 2nd Reserve Horse Transport (RHT) section of the Army Service Corps based at Woolwich. Sadly his army records appear to have been lost, at least, they have not come to light, but presumably as a serving soldier he was in Wales on a mission. H of Bryngwyn PC has suggested that he was acquiring horses for the army, which sounds a reasonable assumption especially as he was staying at Little Cross Farm in Bryngwyn.
As to how he actually died, again H has asked around her community and says that:
CWGC could not help in the circumstances of his death but one of the Grand Dames of the village recalls from her youth (which would have been 20/30 years after his death) that he had been walking along the road and had been hit by a car which killed him (I knew there was a car accident but not how it caused his death). I can only presume he was in the area on war business (obtaining horses).
The third question of why his body was not brought back is probably a question of economics and the time of year when his death occurred. He and his second wife Emma, whom he married in 1911, lived at 10 Townsend, with Emma’s two children, Harry and Gladys, by her first husband Henry Grant. Emma lived for another 20 years, she passed away in 1938. Walter was survived by his two sons John Harold and Walter Henry Sweet from his first marriage in 1899 to Alice Elizabeth Prince in Bromley, they remained in Kent. Walter’s local nickname was ‘Sugary’ for obvious reasons. It was the fashion in Chitterne in those days for the men of the village to be nicknamed, but that’s another story.
The good news is that CWGC are to replace Walter’s old headstone in Bryngwyn, which wrongly named him as W A Sweet, with a brand new one in the next 9 to 12 months.
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.
A very good new local history book was published recently about Sutton Veny, a village not too far from Chitterne, in the Wylye Valley. I have just finished reading it and it has some excellent chapters including some on the early history of the area, as well as useful maps of the village. I am envious of these. They were lacking in the Chitterne book!
The book is a joint effort by the members of the Sutton Veny History Group and is for sale on the village website. I found the link on the blog page. I recommend it if you enjoy reading local history, or if you have a friend who does, it would make a great present. It is already being reprinted. I had one of the last of the first imprint.
I’m sure there are many more connections with our village, but one I spotted straight away was Gay Donald, the racehorse who won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1955. He was owned by a Sutton Veny farmer named Philip Burt and trained by Jim Ford, who in 1957 came to live and train horses in Chitterne, bringing Gay Donald with him.
Jeanne George told me that everyone loved Gay Donald, he was such a friendly horse. One of his huge iron shoes hung for many years outside the King’s Head, where Jeanne’s parents had been landlords.
Can you help pinpoint the year this aerial photo was taken? The pumping station is there and so is the old Village Hall, so sometime between 1988 and 1998. Glebe Farmhouse appears to be newly constructed, but I don’t know when that was built, and St Mary’s House doesn’t exist. Any ideas anyone?