From the 1987 heritage exhibition
Twenty years ago Overton had lost its way. “The slum village of Wiltshire”, “Wiltshire’s problem village” were the polite terms used by inhabitants to describe their own village. Against this all too recent background it is indeed refreshing to find the valley looking for its heritage. Even more encouraging is that the lead has come from Overton itself.
Let us then look back over many decades in the Kennet valley. We find in the early 19th century an allegiance of West Overton, East Overton, Lockeridge and Fyfield within the same Parish. Surprisingly at that time the two Kennetts were not included, which may explain why to this day there exists a gulf just west of Overton.
It is most interesting to examine the road system of those days and the location of houses.
East Overton settlement (between the Old Manor and South Farm dairy today) had already disappeared. There were houses opposite the Post Office with Frog Lane extending northwards across the river, presumably to serve the houses which ran from west of the Bell Inn to George Bridge. There was a mill (water-powered) just to the north-west of West Farm.
Lockeridge appears not far different from the area it occupies today but a road extended directly from Castle Cottage to Fyfield Church with houses on both sides and also opposite Longmead.
The latter half of the century brought the Meux Estate and Sir Henry Meux, a London brewer. His land extended from Bayardo to Broad Hinton and even now it is possible to find sauare sarsen stones inscribed H.M. marking the boundaries of the estate.
During the same period a more sophisticated method of cutting sarsen stones into square blocks was brought from High Wycombe by the Free family (still delivering coal in the area from Marlborough until a year ago). This family’s activities were centred on Fyfield and in the old graveyard of St. Nicholas Church can be found their graves, together with many of the stonecutters.
The training of racehorses also arrived in Fyfield with the Taylor family, who later built Manton Down stables and became known as “The Wizards of Manton” after their successes. Indeed, many of the family returned for their last resting place just north-west of the church tower.
This racing connection also brought the churchyard gates, which were erected in memory of an apprentice jockey, Eli Drew, who died from a racing fall at Brighton Racecourse.
Many buildings and houses remain which were built by the Meux Estate, some marked, as Fyfield Farmyard (H.M.1872), and others distinguished by their chimneys. The architect employed, a Mr. Ponting, specialised in ornate chimneys. Many of these structures are built incorporating the local sarsen stone cut into small blocks. Most have bricks with H.M. stamped into the frogs and are thought to have been baked near Glory Ann Barn on the Downs.
At the turn of the century the Meux Estate was sold. Tenants appeared on the farms around the villages. Frank Swanton at North Farm Overton in 1914. Towards the end of the first World War in 1918 some 9,000 acres in the locality were purchased by the Olympia Agricultural Company, set up by the Hon. Joseph Watson, a soap magnate from Warrington. This organisation was sold up in 1924 after Watson, by then Lord Manton, had fallen off his horse behind Boreham Wood and died. Not much development was appears to have taken place in that era. Much of Westwoods was felled by a Mr. Hosier and later replanted by the Forestry Commission.
During the 1920s and 30s, the Depression years, the villages appear to have quietly existed and weathered the economic storm. The village hall was built in the early 1930s opposite Holly Lodge in Overton. The Rev. Workman persuaded the Church authorities to build him a new vicarage and moved to the present site. Overton Vicarage became Overton House.
Col. Giffard, who had lived at Lockeridge House, died and his daughters Polly and Maud built Longmead at Fyfield. Wiltshire County Council widened the A.4 in the early 1930s, in so doing demolishing an old row of cottages at George Bridge Overton. Also flattened were a number of cottages in Fyfield, together with the local pub, ‘The Fighting Cocks’. Lockeridge already had one pub ‘The Mason’s Arms’, now a private house. When the landlady heard that another was to be built next to Meux Cottage she remarked “Well, who’d a’ thought it”. The name stuck. Council houses first appeared in the 1930s. Land could not be purchased in the villages for local people did not want them next door. 10 were built at Priest’s Acre, Fyfield, 6 at Rhyles Lane, Lockeridge, and 4 near Lockeridge Dene. Typically for the period just outside the villages.
Overton had its blacksmith’s shop on the site of Mary Hunt’s new house. Reg Hancock was the local plumber, with his waxed handlebar moustache. Joe Ashley, the village carpenter, operated from Holly Lodge yard. Arthur Bartlett delivered the bread (and much else) from the bakery behind the Post Office. The village was largely self-sufficient through its shop (plus two in Lockeridge) and made its own entertainment, with fetes, the flower show, the Kennet Vale Band etc.
After the War change started again, heralded by the arrival of a large council estate at Knights Close and main water. Four more council houses were built at Priest’s Acre, Fyfield and Old Meadow Cottages appeared in Lockeridge. Rationing of building materials prevented much private development. Indeed, it also explained some council house design. Bricks were in shorter supply than tiles and timber when Old Meadow Cottages were built. Take a look to understand this statement. Lockeridge and Fyfield weathered this council house storm rather better than Overton, where the estate became so large as to require its own sewage disposal plant. The village was swamped.
Frank Swanton, as Rural District Councillor, had helped make these developments possible but he was ageing. No longer was there a firm hand on the tiller. Overton drifted rudderless, arriving where this piece started in the late 1960s.
In Overton, Lockeridge and Fyfield some small houses had been built by local people on land purchased from Frank Swanton at agricultural values, not development site values, but it was not enough. The day was perhaps saved with the arrival of main sewerage in the early 1970s. The Rural District Council had completed many schemes in areas where housing was less than that of the Kennet Valley but denser. By now father and son were fighting together for the valley – the sewerage scheme appeared.
Peacock Cottages had burned down with their thatched roofs. Peacock Farm buildings were falling down. The site was the first to benefit from the sewer and resultant slightly more lax planning policies. It was a start but still the planners could not see the problems. After a fight development was allowed on the site of South Farm buildings. This range constructed largely of timber and thatch had become derelict and an eyesore. Peacock houses were relatively expensive. The resulting Southfields Estate were relatively cheaper and helped the village back to a more balanced community. Gradually every nook and cranny in Overton sprouted a new house, or two, or more.
Slowly but surely tidiness returned. Pride was regained until, now, the lead in a search for the heritage of the valley comes from Overton. Hopefully this search will enable those who have lived in the area for a long time to demonstrate some of the local history and folklore. Even they will learn from the avid research being undertaken by the more recent arrivals. Together we should discover a great fund of knowledge and enjoy doing so.
The history of Agricultural development and improvements in Transport techniques have always been linked. In the 100 years before Sir Henry Meux arrived in the locality the country’s population had multiplied five or six times. Food had not only to be provided for these people but also for the animals then used to operate the transport system itself. Agriculture had to change to meet these demands. New techniques spread slowly. For example, Jethro Tull developed the seed drill and horse hoe for root crops at Shalbourne in the 1730s. It was well into the nineteenth century before the seed drill was widely used for sowing cereals. In the Kennet Valley the coming of the canal through Woodborough would have cheapened transport to the consumers, but only for non-perishable goods such as wheat. By the same token coal would have also become more freely available. Meat in the shape of sheep, cattle or even pigs had four legs. It could walk to market along droves such as the Ridgeway.
Farming in the area would have been mainly sheep, beef and cereals. The Agricultural Revolution would have been reaching its peak as Sir Henry arrived. He must have already been wealthy to have bought such a large estate but he did not attempt to milk funds from his new estate. He evidently invested heavily in his property for today we find in the valley many farm buildings and agricultural cottages he and his agent, Mr. Ponting, erected. Including, of course, Overton church. The Estate had its own brickworks at Glory Ann on the downs. The buildings erected were from these bricks, the sarsen stones split by the then new methods and local timber, which was sawn up in Sir Henry’s own Estate Yard at Lockeridge.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century the grain growing areas of the colonies were opened up. Ships became larger and more economic, thus reducing the cost of transport of this grain to Great Britain. Manufactured goods were exported and food imported as payment. Between 1800 and 1895 the value of wheat halved. It had already fallen considerably from 1855. Sir Henry having purchased in the 1860s must have rued his purchase and subsequent investment for agriculture fell on hard times. In 1906 Sir Henry’s successors sold up the Estate, the local portion being purchased by Alexander Taylor of Manton Down. Evidently horse training was more lucrative than farming for it seems that the then tenants were unable to purchase their farms.
Farming systems would have continued much the same but with more emphasis on meat production, for these prices fell less than cereals. Dairy cows would have become more evident for the development of railways and dairy hygiene made possible economic transport of fresh milk to London. This milk displaced the “town dairies” in and around London where cows had been kept and fed on food transported from the country areas.
Frank Swanton’s first cousin, Sir Reginald Butler, was a pioneer in this field and the company he helped form based on Devizes, Melksham and Trowbridge (Wilts United Dairies) has now grown into a large multi-national concern, Unigate. Arthur Hosier developed the portable milking bail to meet this development. The cows were milked in the fields by machine rather than by hand, a then revolutionary concept.
In the Kennet Valley hand milking persisted until 1942, for the accent was on clean (Grade A) Tuberculin Tested milk which pre-1933 commanded a premium price. This premium diminished after the founding of the Milk Marketing Board, but I move too fast. With the arrival of The Hon. Joseph Watson and his Olympia Agricultural Company in 1919 came more mechanisation. Cars, tractors and light lorries started to take over from the horses on heavier tasks. This would have resulted in fewer horses to feed so more land for food production. During the First World War politicians had discovered how vulnerable the country was to its food transport links being blockaded. A Corn Production Act was introduced which, together with shortage, doubled the price of wheat. Agriculture had a short period of prosperity during the Olympia regime but this rapidly faded in 1922. Politicians have short memories!
Watson’s money came from soap manufactured from imported oilseeds with the residue being fed to animals as a high protein concentrate. Inevitably, pigs also became more common in the Kennet Valley and the system of movable arks in the fields for sows and litters was developed in Overton. An interesting aside is that Watson’s company eventually became part of British Oil and Cake Mills, a division of Unilever. To this day B.C.C.M. use the prefix “Olympia” for their pedigree animals.
The repeal of the Corn Production Act in 1921 forced agriculture into another recession. Land purchased in the mid-192os was worth half its purchase price by the early 1930s. Wheat in 1934 was worth only a quarter of its 1920 price. Farming was faced with a survival option. Some did by hard work and attention to detail and finance. Others fell by the wayside and gave up the struggle. Overton did not see much change. Frank Swanton merely consolidated. The mixture of dairy cows, cereals, folded pigs and sheep coupled with an enthusiastic labour force weathered the test.
The sheep were kept on the then common downland system. Folded on root crops or grass during the night, in wattle hurdle folds, they were grazed on the open downland during the day by the shepherd and his dog. The theory was that the fertility from the down was brought back onto the cultivated land to benefit a following wheat crop. No one talked of the opposite effect on the downland!
At lambing time a four-sided yard was constructed of straw and hurdles with individual pens. The shepherd would literally live with his sheep for 5-6 weeks in a corrugated iron ‘shepherd’s hut’ built on a four-iron wheeled chassis. His only comfort was a solid fuel stove. All provisions were taken out to him; and this in late winter/early spring. During the 1930s the pig herds multiplied. Dry sows were kept at Peacock Yard with sows and litters moved to the mobile folding units immediately after farrowing by horse and cart. After weaning the piglets were taken to fattening houses. The first for 200 pigs was built just behind North Farm and is still used for pigs over 50 years later. This prototype was followed by two more on North Farm Hill and under the belt at South Farm above the Bowling Green. (Today most would recognise above the Vicarage more readily).
Both these latter fattening houses were placed on hilltops for it was realised that a horse could cart the dung downhill more easily and efficiently, returning empty uphill. All dungcart was by manpower and horsepower in those days, with the dung raked out of the tipping carts by hand for spreading. The dairy cows were all hand milked and kept out in the fields all year. Land was relatively cheap and dungcart would have had to be done largely by hand.
Root crops (Swedes, turnips and mangels) were used by the cows and sheep. These were drilled in rows and inter-row hoeing done by horse hoe. Singling, and hoeing in the rows when necessary, were both hand tasks. Very different from today’s application of a herbicide sprayed on. All cereal crops were cut with a binder which dropped the sheaves on the ground. Manpower was then required to make the stooks, where the ripening process continued. Again manpower to load the sheaves onto a horse-drawn wagon and build the ricks, which then had to be thatched against the weather. Threshing again required much manpower, the thrashing machine being driven by steam engine, and later tractor, by unguarded belts. The straw was either built into ricks loose for ‘elming’ into thatching straw or baled into large wire tied bales. Stacking these bales or carting the grain in 2¼cwt (113 kg) sacks for wheat was back breaking work. Tending the ‘calvings’ (chaff) was a filthy task. Gradually mechanisation took over as the depression years of the 20s and 30s moved into wartime. The demands of the forces took manpower and helped precipitate the change.
Milking machines appeared, followed by the combine harvester. The first of these in Overton arrived in about 1943, or rather the crates containing the parts did. The machine was assembled in the pighouse behind North Farm. Inevitably a wall had to be demolished to extricate it! Hay sweeps had appeared, pushed not by tractors but by old, large, American cars. These swept up a pile of hay which was pushed along the ground to a primitive loader, which lifted the pile onto the stack where it had to be placed by hand. The alternative was hand loading onto an elevator, which also served for sheaves.
Post war the mechanisation process speeded up. Developments in artificial fertilizers, agrochemicals and plant breeding transformed agriculture’s productivity in manpower terms. Today’s capital intensive, as opposed to labour intensive, industry evolved. People often suggest the return to the past ‘dog and stick’ methods, but in reality this would not be possible. Oft also one hears the 30s referred to by older folk as “the good old days”. I suspect the arduous work has been quietly forgotton but remembered is the camaraderie of working, albeit hard, in a gang at hoeing, haymaking, harvesting, thrashing etc. Everyone worked together to a common, satisfying end, though the shepherds, carters and dairymen always found something to collectively disagree over. Village life was much the same. Everyone was inter-dependent and helped each other as a team with what we would today call a community spirit. Today there are so many varied interests living in the valley, this common interest has retreated. No longer does agriculture provide the link between people that it did 50 years and more ago.
The Prehistoric and early Historic background of the Parishes of Fyfield, Overton and East Kennet
The landscape around us in the product of some 6,000 years of man’s activities. The further back in time we go, the more difficult it is to reconstruct the past, but with the evidence from archaeological excavations and old documents we are able to piece together some of the story of the inhabitants of these parishes since the last Ice Age.
During the Ice Age, the glaciers did not reach this far south, but the area would have been frozen for much of the year and little vegetation grew. As the Ice Age drew to an end, animals began to spread northward, and man hunted them, always on the move following the herds. These were the people of the Upper Paleolithic – the end of the Old Stone Age. As the climate grew increasingly warmer vegetation increased, and man had to adapt his weapons and hunting techniques to operating in dense forest. The flint tools being made in this Mesolithic (middle Stone Age) period were very different from those used by Paleolithic man, being in general much smaller and often set in composite form, for example in a harpoon. These people were essentially ‘hunter-gatherers’, following herds as their Paleolithic ancestors had done, but able to supplement their diet with fruits, leaves and roots from the forests. Their camps were semi-permanent in that they did not stay in them for long at a time, but did return to them seasonally to carry out certain tasks. The only domesticated animal at this time was the dog, presumably to assist in hunting; it is also possible that man was beginning to clear patches of forest to concentrate game and make life easier for himself.
Sometime before 4,000 B.C. a new form of economy was introduced into Britain – farming. Men cleared areas of forest and cultivated the ground, growing early forms of wheat and barley, and herding domesticated animals. We have very little evidence of the types of houses these early farmers – Neolithic or New Stone Age people – lived in, but there are many examples of their religious and funerary monuments remaining in the area: the Causewayed enclosures of Knap Hill and Windmill Hill; the Long Barrows of Clatford Bottom (Devil’s Den), Adam’s Grave and East and West Kennet; Silbury Hill; Avebury Henge and Avenues and the Sanctuary all bear witness to the constructional ability and resourcefulness of Neolithic people. The stones for the ring at Avebury probably came from the downs north of the A4: there is one stone lying near Green Street which may well have been selected for a monument and then abandoned while on its journey.
Metal was first introduces into Britain about 2,300 B.C. At first copper was used – it is soft and easy to work – and the earliest items were beads and ornaments. Weapons – daggers – followed, and these are sometimes found accompanying a new form of burial, together with another introduction, beakers. This distinctive and attractive form of pottery may have been used for drinking mead. The new form of burial was the inhumation of a single individual beneath a mound – a complete contrast to the Neolithic practice of communal burial in Long Barrows. These innovations – individual burial, use of metal and the new ceramic style may indicate changes in belief and in social and economic organisation.
The introduction of Bronze technology led to tools and weapons of metal replacing some of those which had previously been made in stone and flint. As skills improved, metal workers were able to make axes, daggers and ornaments, and later rapiers and swords.
The best-known monuments of the Early Bronze Age are Round Barrows, many of which can still be seen in the local landscape. They continue the practice begun in the Beaker period of an individual buried beneath a mound, sometimes with other burials placed at the same time, sometimes some added later. We do not know how any one person qualified for the distinction of barrow burial, nor do we know what happened to the rest of the population – the majority. The grave goods accompanying the burials often appear to be specialised items, possibly manufactured specifically for funerary purposes. The skeleton of a young person recently excavated at North Farm was buried beneath a round barrow, and was accompanied by two beads, one of ivory, the other of jet; any organic materials which may have also been present disappeared long ago.
As the Bronze Age progressed various social and economic changes were evidently taking place. Whereas previously a group had shown its identity by its flambouyant burial mounds and ceremonial centres, by the Late Bronze Age possession of land and its delineation were apparently more important. Little fields with definite boundaries closely linked to permanent settlements were probably scattered all over the landscape even though few remain to be studied today. The practice of burial beneath barrows went out of fashion, although in these later times burials were still inserted into barrow mounds, and also now in the partially filled-in ditches. The Barrow being excavated at North Farm has a Middle Bronze Age cremation cemetery in the ditch. Whether the site was still regarded as sacred, or whether it was a convenient place to position a cemetery in a time of land shortage we do not know, but the continued use of early barrows as foci for later burials is quite common, so it seems likely that the sites were still held in respect.
Around 1,000B.C. yet another change in prehistoric society took place – the introduction of iron. Sharper and longer-lasting tools and weapons were now available, though bronze continued in use for ornaments and decorative purposes. The population was still agricultural, and as time passed and pressures on land became even higher there emerged a warrior-chieftan class which controlled society, land and trade. The most obvious monuments left by these people are the hillforts, which became more complex and heavily defended as the period progressed. Local hillforts include early enclosurers on Pewsey Down and Martinsell, and more heavily defended examples are Rybury, Oldbury and Barbury. Some hillforts contained thriving villages, and the countryside was in general quite heavily populated, with the people living in circular houses with accompanying buildings used for industrial purposes such as weaving, metal-working and storage. Grain was stored in above-ground granaries and in large underground pits, which when no longer used for this purpose were receptacles for ritual deposits and rubbish. Communities grew flax and beans in addition to cereals, and kept sheep, pigs and cattle. The latter were used to pull ploughs as well as provide meat, milk and hides. By the last century B.C. amongst items being exported to the Roman Empire were grain, slaves and hunting dogs, while in return wine was being imported. By now the people also had an identity we can trace: they were referred to in classical works as ‘Celts’, and the picture we get is of a lively society, adventurous and colourful.
The advent of Roman rule brought a different regime to the countryside. Large villa estates were created, though the rural population continued to live much as it had before. There are remains of three villas in the area – one in each parish – and also of several groups of farmsteads amongst the ‘celtic’ field remains on Overton and Field Downs, and further examples can be seen along the Kennet valley in the right light. The presence of the Roman villa in each parish concurs with similar evidence from elsewhere – the indication is that parish boundaries were based on already existing administrative units such as the villa estates. In some cases the estates were split up to form smaller areas; this is possible that this is what happened in Overton. By the Anglo-Saxon period there were two villages, East and West Overton. The boundary runs very close to a probable villa site. If the villa site had comprised roughly the whole of the current parish of Overton, or even that part of it north of the river, the villa buildings would have been set somewhere near the middle of the east-west axis of the property. It would be a little odd to have the administrative centre of the estate right on one side of the area, although of course this is not impossible. One theory is that the estate was divided in two, the boundary running close to the old buildings. It is interesting to note that the route followed by the old parish boundary appears to be based on the edges of old ‘celtic’ fields which have thus accidently become frozen into later landscapes.
The villages of East Overton and West Overton were in existence in Anglo-Saxon times, the former, together with Fyfield and Alton Priors, was in the hands of the Bishop of Winchester. West Overton was held by the Abbess of Wilton, the estate which became Lockeridge was independent, and land in Kennett, together with land in Overton was held by Wulfswyth in 939 and by Alfeld in 972. We are fortunate to have Anglo-Saxon documents – Charters – relating to the parishes, but the record is not entirely complete, and in some cases it is uncertain which parish is involved. Such an example is found in King Edgar’s charter of 972; this document deals with lands in both Kennett and Overton, and mention is made of a ‘churchstead’, but we cannot be sure to which village this refers.
The Domesday Book, completed in 1086 tells us that before the Norman Conquest land in Kennett was held by Hunwine and by Leofday. The property of the former was in 1086 in the hands of Hugh Donkey, and was held from him by St Mary’s Church, Winchester for his daughter. It was valued at 20 shillings. In 1086 Leofday’s lands were held by Waleran Hunter, and a man called Richard held it from him; this property was also valued at 20 shillings.
A much larger area of Kennett was held by Alfred of Marlborough. Valued at £8.10s in 1086, it had five tenants, three of whom had also held some of this land before the Conquest. The property included a mill and woodland.
Before the Conquest, a monk named Alfsi held Fyfield from the Bishop of Winchester. In 1086 it was held by Edward, and still provided supplies to the monks. East Overton was also the property of the Bishop, before and after the conquest.
In 1086 Durand of Gloucester held Lockeridge; it was valued at 30 shillings. Before the Conquest it had been held by Aelmer, and at that time had been worth 40 shillings.
West Overton continued to be held by the Church of Wilton. It contained a mill, and was valued in 1086 at 100 shillings.
The documentary evidence for the parishes now becomes more abundant, and the best summary available can be found in the Victoria County History of Wiltshire Volumes XI and XII.
The inhumation of a young person aged about 15½was found beneath a severely ploughed-out round barrow. The skull and rib cage were damaged, probably due to pressure from above, initially from the weight of the overlaying mound, and more recently from the passage of vehicles over the site.
The body lay in a crouched position, facing east, and was accompanied by two beads, one of jet, the other of ivory.
Sketch of Early Bronze Age skeleton excavated at North Farm, West Overton. 1987
The names Kennet Valley and Sarsen are inseparable. These hard sand stones were deposited in Tertiary times above the chalk. The very name sarsen is local in origin. In this region they have always been known by this name or an earlier version such as sarsden. In the Marlborough district their form is grey internally – a composition of sand and silicone and cement forming a hard durable rock. Other forms containing flint and pebbles occur – but are not common in this area. Sarsen is a very heavy, dense stone weighting 154lbs to the cubic foot or 14½cubic feet to the ton.
The abundance of stone not normally associated with chalk districts where durable material is usually at a premium has been of great use to man from prehistoric times onwards. The Sarsen industry of the late 19th century to early 20th century is merely the latest chapter in their exploitation.
In the Paleolithic period had axes of sarsen were shaped by the flaking technique used for flint, and in Mesolithic times sarsen pebbles were perforated by a process of pecking and drilling. Evidence from Neolithic sites in the Kennet area suggests that sarsen provided the main source of raw material for objects such as quorns, rubbers, and pounders. In this immediate area the chambered long barrows and circles of standing stones were constructed of unworked momoliths, but at Stonehenge the carefully shaped and dressed uprights and lintels show a greater degree of craftsmanship. Their skill continued developing into Roman times as shown by a fine pair of 4th century querns found on Overton Down. However there is little evidence of for the use of these refined techniques from the time of the Saxon settlement until the middle of the 19th century. Aubrey (d. 1697) describes the breaking up of the stones at Avebury. This involved heating the stones in pits filled with burning straw, then adding cold water and using sledgehammers. This was refined later in the 19th century. Light strips of wood were placed across the Sarsen boulders, then cold water was placed on the heated lines and again sledgehammers completed the task. A more expensive method in the 18th century saw the use of gunpowder.
Sarsen came into use during the Middle Ages for house building though in Roman Britain times it was used merely for foundations. The character of Kennet villages like Fyfield, Lockeridge, West Overton, East and West Kennett derives from their thatched cottages with walls made of roughly broken blocks of sarsen fitted together in a jigsaw pattern. A diary of the Civil War period refers to the inhabitants of Fyfield building their houses of Saracen Stones and laying moss between them.
In 1850 Edward Free, a young man working the sarsen stones at Hughenden in Buckinghamshire heard of the great quantity of sarsen in the Kennet Valley. He moved to Fyfield and set himself up in business as a stone-mason. He introduced new techniques developed over the years in the High Wycombe area (his brother also settled in Fyfield – but as landlord of ‘The Fighting Cocks’.
In 1920 two partners by the names of Thacker and Johnson established a stone crushing plant at Hursley Bottom in West Woods – by arrangement with the Olympic Farming Company who then owned West Woods. The concrete base of this crusher still remains to this day. The sarsen stones were first broken up by explosive and the fragments used for road metalling when the Bath Road was widened and repaired. Edward Free died at the early age of 40 years (an occupational hazard!) and was succeeded by his son William Edward Free. The Cartwright firm also began operating in the sarsen industry.
Both Free’s and Cartwright’s developed another side to their businesses in the sale of coal. Carts carried stones to Honey Street on the Avon and Kennett canal for shipment and returned with loads of coal brought by barge from Bristol. This was then sold locally. In 1890 the Free family moved from Fyfield to Marlborough. Edward Free and his wife were buried at Fyfield, Mrs Free having lived to the age of 104. (She had worked before her marriage in the household of Benjamin Disraeli). At this time the industry reached its height of activity owing to demands for tram setts and pavement curbing. Then, in the 2nd and 3rd decades of the present century, the trade gradually declined with the introduction of concrete, a cheap and practical alternative. 1915 saw the death of Walter Bristow (father of the late Clem who lived on the Bath road). As Walter had been Cartwright’s experienced stonemason and sarsen cutter they gave up the business and moved away. Free’s continued to cut stone until the closure of the industry in 1939. The sarsen crushing business too became unprofitable and the firm went bankrupt, though not before they had cleared about a quarter of a mile of sarsen in Hursley Bottom.
The industry’s output went for house building, walling, and road mending. The more accurate method of stone cutting gave a more structured character to the buildings. Houses built in the Kennet Valley since 1850 show standardised blocks, and this is a useful guide to dating housing in the district. Just before the industry finished in 1939 Cecil Waite, who was the last stone mason, executed an order for four wagon loads of sarsen blocks for the repair of Windsor Castle. The original stone of the Castle had come from the High Wycombe area but Kennet Valley was the only area left which had a sarsen source and could supply repair material.
In 1930 the average earnings of a skilled mason were about 45/- per week; extra money could be earned by clearing sarsens from arable fields for the local farmers. Working hours were from 6.30 a.m. until 4 p.m. Together with this could be a three or four mile walk each way according to which area was being worked. The Kimmers of Lockeridge and Waites of Fyfield worked for the Frees and the Bristows of Fyfield for the Cartwrights. The Waite family’s connection with sarsen goes back to Charles Waite who was almost certainly one of the first masons to work for Frees. Henry, who died in 1925, and his brothers Frederick and Thomas were also masons. Their skills were passed on to Cecil who was the last person to cut sarsens for the industry. He died in 1976 – but had enjoyed a much longer life than that of his father or grandfather. In 1907 the National Trust, Marlborough College Natural History Society and the Wiltshire Archeological Society raised £612 with which they purchased Piggledene and Lockeridge Dene in order to conserve their remaining sarsens.
A tracing hammer, pecking hammer, a pecker splitting wedge, punch, and slicing chisel with hazel haft – these are on display during the Heritage Week in Overton Church. They are the property of the late Cecil Waite and have been kindly loaned to us by his son, Mr A. Waite of West Manton.
Other tools included a two edged hammer (pecker) for the initial cutting, a punch to finish off the holes made by the pecker, splitting wedges and a 14 lb hammer for driving them in, a slicing chisel to make the initial cut and a sharp chisel to complete it, a tracing hammer and a pecking hammer used for dressing the setts. Once the sarsen had been split into workable pieces the process of cutting these into square setts and lengths took place. This work required greater skill than the original splitting of the stones. The masons worked under hazel thatch shelters as protection against bad weather.
On account of failing health and age the Rev H. Tootel resigned the living of Overton cum Fyfield on Nov 9th 1959 after being Vicar for 17 years. The new Incumbent the Rev T.G. Morris of Chadington, Dorset was presented to the living by the Patron Alec Taylor. The retiring incumbent took a pension out of the living of £130.
Rev Workman, Vicar of St Paul’s Southsea, was presented to the living by the patrons The Olympia Agricultural Co of Selby Yorks and was instituted in 1921 when Mr Morris resigned the living on his appointment to Chittoe.
When he arrived he found people still very poorly dressed, the children never had holidays and the young people had not even learnt to dance! He also found a selfish feudal spirit in the village. The schools were at the top of the black list for the County and the managers were alleged not to be prepared to spend 6d to save their church schools. It was soon after his arrival that East Kennett was assigned to join Overton. East Kennett Vicarage which was in a bad state of repair was sold for £800. To avoid the closure of East Kennet School it was decreed that the senior children should go to Lockeridge to be ‘under a man’. This was strongly opposed by the parents but within a year they were all apparently thanking him and said that their children’s health had much improved through the daily walk to and from school! The schools improved greatly and gradually had money spent on them, especially East Kennett School through the Maria Matthews Trust. Lockeridge School was taken over by the V.S.A. and according to Mr Workman became one of the show schools of England! Mrs Workman started a branch of the W.I. and efforts were made to start a Mens Club; about 40 men joined and the need for a village hall became obvious. Within two years of this decision the new hall was built for £600. In 1936 a branch of the Mothers Union was formed to try to improve the ‘spirituality’ of the parish. The freewill offering scheme was introduced and £45 per annum financed all that was needed! Overton Vicarage was sold in 1936 for £1250 and there seems to have been considerable disputes about the new site. Finally in February 1938 the Bishop of Salisbury came and selected the new site above the Church and close to the “pig palace” there. Evidently he liked the smell of pigs and expected his clergy to do so too. “The final purchase of the site took place the day before Mr Workman resigned. He moved to Braemore in Hampshire and the Rev Norton arrived from Iwerne Courtenay.
The Rev Frank Smedley came in 1957 after a 10 month interregnum. He was from a High Church tradition and from urban parishes in Sheffield. Here he found a sharper distinction between the ‘higher income’ group and the ‘lower income’ group than he had experienced before. Although he found the ‘higher group’ rather conservative in their views and worship he also found them very generous. Indeed in 1960 they arranged for him a gift of a mini minor when his old car had broken down! He saw the family communion – still in its infancy – as being the way forward. Despite his High Church background he found that no-one had ever complained about “my coloured vestments, ceremonial or “bowing and scraping”. The only comment made by one lady was “Why did I not wear the nice clothes I wore for Communion at Evensong?” He introduced the Christmas midnight communion which became the best attended service with up to 60 communicants. He found the schoolmistress at East Kennett, Mrs Freeman ‘an excellent and enthusiastic teacher’. The major improvements at East Kennet school took place during his incumbency at a cost of almost £10,000, bringing a new classroom, water toilets etc. By this time the numbers at the school had risen to the 30 mark. To many people the outstanding contribution made by Mr Smedley was the starting of the Stewardship scheme. Prior to 1962 collections in all 3 churches amounted to about £4.00 a week. By the end of the Stewardship campaign in late 1961 pledges of £8520 over three years had been received. This enabled a great number of things to be done both in the Missionary activities of the Church and in improvements within the parish. The ‘tortoise’ stoves were taken out and the new heating systems installed. In 1963 it was agreed that the churchyards in all 3 churches should be levelled and no more kerbstone graves allowed. This meant it was much easier to maintain the churchyards in a decent state. In 1958 he had restarted cubs and scouts but the guides and brownies seem to have gone into a state of abeyance. There was an active Young Wives group, and the Over 60’s had made a successful appearance. The Mothers Union and Sunday School were run by Mrs Smedley. He moved from here to Holy Trinity Trowbridge having enjoyed his stay in the country very much. He had found the people helpful and friendly. His chief regret was that ‘the family idea of the church has so far been grasped only by the few. The rest seem to think of worship largely as a matter of individual taste. If only they could grasp the idea of family worship as well as they have grasped the stewardship of money!
Post 1964 is too recent for analysis! Norris Scadding came in 1965 but stayed for only three years before handing on to Frank Morley who had been an accountant before. He must have been grateful to Mr Smedley for his financial acumen. In 1974 Peter Harrison came and the Team was formed. To bring us right up to date Graham Force-Jones arrived in 1980 and is here for a while yet!
To take us back a complete century it should be noted that before the Rev Tootell who was a ‘very little’ man and father-in-law to the Rev Workman having married Tootell’s daughter, Grace, the Vicar had been the Rev. Frederick Welburn who had been appointed in 1875 and died in office in 1899, aged 55. An Evangelical he was much beloved and respected in his parish which in those days consisted of Overton-cum-Fyfield with Alton Priors.
Perhaps in years to come a summary of post-1968 clergy would make interesting reading!
From Mr W. Welburn, whose father was Vicar here when the present Church was rebuilt we learn the following about the old church. “There was no road to the old church, it stood in the field with double white gates between the yews. The church had galleries around three sides and the body of the church was filled with deal pews. There was a three decker pulpit ornamented with tattered red cloth, great patches of damp on the walls and vaults under the whole of the Nave. The galleries were much favoured by the youths of the parish who used to take nuts up with them and spit the shells on those underneath. I fear that my father who was in those days an athletic and rather quick tempered man, sadly interfered with these delights”. From other sources we learn that the Nave was 15th century, the chancel of early 14th century architecture, a western tower bearing the date 1697 opened into the nave by a poor archway. There was a fine early 13th century chancel arch. The whole structure was very unsound, the walls being of sarcen boulders strapped with iron and propped with buttresses of brickwork. The roof of the chancel was very crumbling, whilst that of the nave owed its watertight condition to the thin covering of copper for which the church was locally famous. An indication of the lamentable condition is shown by mention of the sexton very ‘busily endeavouring to hide the frogs under the floorboards’. The Rev Welburn set about the daunting task of raising the money for the rebuilding. This was considerably helped when Lord Bruce M.P., a trustee for Sir Henry Meux paid a visit and reported back to Sir Henry the condition.
The new church was begun in 1877 with a handsome sum contributed by the Meux Trustees of £3,000. ‘The whole of the bricks used in the construction of the new church are being hauled from Totterdown by means of a Steam engine by a Mr. Washbourn of Wroughton, 3000 bricks being taken at every journey!’ The size of the workforce can be estimated by the speed at which the edifice was built, the opening taking place in September 1878, although the tower was not by then finished. The architect was Charles E. Ponting, the Agent and Architect of the Meux Estate who lived in the house next to the Estate Yard in Lockeridge. He was also the Architect for Avebury Church Lych Gate. He employed mostly men from the Estate and the sarcen, flint and bricks were all locally made.
September 1878 saw the re-opening “Wednesday was a day of unmitigated wet and gloom, but the highly esteemed Vicar had taken such precautions in the way of publicity that a failure was impossible. Morning Service was a bright and beautiful one, nearly every seat (293) was occupied, all classes in the Parish joined in the celebration. The labourers and their boys, the farmers and their families, the neighbouring clergy and gentry….. Luncheon was provided in a tent near the church. The repast was most creditable, served by Mrs Bailey of Overton, everybody expressed surprise that such a capital lunch could be provided in a small village like Overton…subsequently Mr Walton Mus.B. of Savernake gave an organ recital. At 4O’clock the whole parish met and partook of tea in three batches. About 400 were present, the farmers not only giving their labourers a holiday but tickets for the tea… again the church was crowded at a harvest thanksgiving service at 6 O’clock”.
In the restoration the nave was rebuilt on the old foundations. The perpendicular windows in the nave and chancel, with the tracery that had been cut away restored, retain their former places in the south; the entrance door is still approached through a porch on the site of the old one; while the chancel arch and window occupy the same relative positions towards each other, but not being considered of sufficient for the enlarged chancel, they have been transferred to the chancel aisle or organ chamber. The small window that was formerly in the same part of the south aisle wall which is now occupied by the vestry was removed to the west end of the side aisle of the nave. During the work of demolition there was found in the centre of the walls fragments of worked stone coeval with the early features preserved, including two early English Consecration Crosses, which are now inserted under the East window in the external wall of the chancel, and a portion of the stoup or piscine, now placed over the inside entrance doorway. The foundations of the staircase to the rood loft of the early English church, which must have occupied the same site, were clearly traceable two feet above the floor level of the later structure, showing that only the upper part of the former had been rebuilt. The interesting rood-loft doorway, which had been replaced at the time of this partial re-building (although not for use) is now preserved and retained in the position in which it was found. The new tower was finished in 1883. Mr Pontings original design provided for battlements and pinnacles in more profusion than in the final form. These were objected to on the grounds that they might not stand the frost in such and exposed position.
The nave, vestry, and rood doors, the memorial lectern, and the panels of the pulpit were made from the oak beams from the roof of the old nave.
East Kennett. The five bells at East Kennet in 1960 were unringable but the Rev Smedley turned to Captain Mansfield-Robinson for help as he had re-started the ringing at West Overton. The Captain saw the possibility of the Navy helping to restore them under a “Venturer’s” scheme. The upshot was that H.M.S. Ariel volunteered to do the repairs under an Office and Shipwright. The ratings stayed in local homes and successfully restored the bells to a ringable condition. All this was done at a nominal charge.
West Overton. Once again Captain Mansfield-Robinson has played a crucial role in ensuring the ringing of Overton Bells for the years ahead. Not many years ago it became clear that the bells were in danger of becoming unringable soon if nothing was done. All quotes that we had ranged from £7,000 to £13,000 depending on the degree of rehanging. It was decided that under the guidance of the Captain a D.I.Y. job was possible, although there was a degree of opposition to the idea from outside! The task involved re-hanging the bells in ball-bearings, repairs to the 100 year old wheels, and renewal of some of the iron bolts and fittings which had deteriorated. The most severe aspect of this project was the engineering work involved in the design, construction and fitting of new gudgeon assemblies to fit the ball bearings as well as much hard work in fitting these and other fittings to the three new headstocks which were found to be in such bad condition as to need renewing. All this work was undertaken by the late John Hunt in his capacity as a professional mechanical engineer. The entire project was ultimately completed at a cost of approximately £600. We were indebted in the end to Brice Chivers who stepped in after the death of John Hunt to provide the final gudgeon assemblies. All of this work was carried out by a few men of the village – apart from the provision of the parts. We were indebted to Peter Killow, Peter East, Derek Barber and Lewis Currell who worked many hours to achieve the objective under Captain Mansfield-Robinson’s fatherly guidance. Ken Eaton, John Rumsey and members of the Youth Club also gave assistance when needed. An excellent example of Christian Stewardship. At the end of the venture the Captain wrote “I would like to address to all who worked on or supported this most important and successful project the old much coveted Naval Signal made by the Admiral to any ship that did particularly well at manoeuvres or general drill:
N J = Manoeuvre Well Executed!
1 D. 23in. H. 19in. F.W. 2cwt. 3qr. 9lb.
2 D. 24¾in. H. 19½in. F.W. 3cwt. 0qr. 8lb.
3 D. 26in. H. 21in. F.W. 3cwt. 1qr. 22lb.
4 D. 27½in. H. 22½in. F.W. 4cwt. 0qr. 10lb.
5 D. 30in. H. 23½in. F.W. 4cwt. 2qr. 18lb. N.C.
1 D. 27½in. H. 21in. F.W. 4cwt. 0qr. 2lb.
2 D. 29½in. H.22½in. F.W. 4cwt. 3qr. 21lb.
3 D. 31¼in. H.24in. F.W. 6cwt. 0qr. 51lb.
4 D.33½in. H. 25in. F.W. 7cwt. 1qr. 7lb.
5 D. 35in. H. 26in. F.W. 7cwt. 3qr. 21lb.
6 D. 39¼in. H.33in. F.W. 11cwt. 2qr.0lb. N.G.
1 D.32½in. H.26in. W.6cwt. 3qr. 14lb.
2 D.35½in. H.29in. W.8cwt. 2qr. 0lb. N. A sharp.
WE REMEMBER: The pre-war dairy at South Farm where all Overton villagers collected their mild – 2d a pint for employees, 4d for the rest. Over 100 cows were hand milked here by 12 men. The milk was carried on old yokes in 6 (or possibly 4) gallon cans, and stored in heavy conical churns holding 17 gallons (later these had only 10 gallon capacity).
The old piggery at ‘Peacock’ where Jack Light was head pigman. The pigs were kept in huts in the fields. Between two of the original cottages there was a sidepath with a hawthorn shaped like a peacock which has given the area its name. Before the piggery there was a farm using 7 horses on this site.
The bakery behind Gilda’s shop – firstly run by the Baileys, then the Bartletts. Arthur operated it with his brother-in-law, Bert Peck (Roger’s father).
The Forge – shoeing was done by Bill, then Alec Huntley, ‘they were always in trouble with motor bikes), Alec wrote off a car – driving into a land rover driven by the farm manager.
The Rabbits – “Up on Down Barn we used old binders and had to stook the corn. We were up there one evening and when we had almost finished the corn, I bonked down twenty four rabbits myself and left the rest in field. In the summer with the whippet I would get as many rabbits as I could carry My mother, she skinned and fried them and made rabbit pies and stews. Lovely! Down Barn was all of a crawl with rabbits”. In the war we never went short of food. Rabbits were 1/- each. Harry Rogers used to take them to London to sell. Two full time keepers were kept to catch them during and after the war.
The Pig Club started by Mr Frank Swanton in the War. Every three months we used to get bacon which had been sent away for salting. He would bring potatoes to be cooked and fed to the pigs.
‘Sooty’ Sprules, a staunch Liberal who lived at 69 West Overton. A tall man with a white beard; he sold sweets and ‘baccy’ (Woodbines 2d a packet) from the stable door. He used to sit and watch his orchard grow – he used to tell people his apple trees were grown from pips. His Sweep’s brushes were carried around in a Bath Chair. After his son’s death in W W 1 he wanted a clock put on the church tower in his memory, rather than having his name on the War Memorial.
The frozen water meadows below the Old Rectory used for skating and sliding.
The cattle pounds – stray cattle were gathered on the site where Lockeridge shop now stands. There was also a pound just south of the sewerage works (the western wall of this still remains).
The Chapels. In Lockeridge the chapel was opposite the flats, and a camp meeting was held once a year at Lockeridge Dene attended by 200 to 300 people. The ladies used to walk to chapel in long frocks and bonnets. The Overton chapel was a red painted corrugated iron structure on the site of Chapel Bungalows. It’s Mission Band used to also go to Lockeridge. The Sunday School in the Gospel Hall was run by Mr Ayres, a forester.
The Dog Field Trials. A.B.Simpson (who operated the local shooting enterprise) was a pump manufacturer who lived in Lockeridge Down, (then called West Close). He used to employ five keepers and bred champion black Labradors. Between the wars there were dog trials and big lunches provided for those who attended. His gamekeeper, Mr Garner, lived at Stanley Wood.
‘Money’s Cottages’ – on the edge of Overton Churchyard. There was a Well in the front; Billy Waite used to live here, and also his father John, and Mrs Hallat (?). Later in the 1950’s shepherd Delicate moved in.
The Carpenters. Joe Ashley and Reg Stagg worked for Mr Huntley of Honey Street, the carpenters shop was in the thatched area of Holly Lodge, Overton. Natty Waite worked here making coffins as did Joe Ashley. The “new” Hall built in 1934 was built by George, a carpenter from Manton, and Fred Sprules, who had the shop built at Lockeridge. He had also been bandmaster, and organist at Fyfield Church.
Edmund Rebbeck (Jack’s father) who died on March 14th 1904 aged 49 was buried in a coffin 7’ 7” long, 2’ 4” deep, and 2’ 8” in breadth. He weighed 31 stone l lb and was reputed to be the heaviest man in England. He had been landlord of the now demolished Fighting Cocks at Fyfield, later he purchased the Old Bakery and General Stores in Lockeridge. He obtained a Public House licence and the Who’d-A-Thought-It came into being.
The coming of vehicle licences. Jack Rebbeck, now 89, was the first man in Lockeridge to have a licence to drive a lorry and a tractor (1922).
Phyllis Clarke (who died in 1986). In World War 2 Phyl who lived with her Mother and Uncle in South Farm trained Land Army girls; these came from Liverpool, Yorkshire etc. They were billeted in ‘railway carriages’ on the Lockeridge road. Before the War she used to help with the lambing. Later she moved to Yardacre which had been the Meux Estate Yard, where trees were sawn up using steam power, and converted it. Her aged Uncle Robert Buxton R.A. was a noted artist. Many of his paintings were sold in South America where they had relatives.
Mr Frank Swanton was a ‘cute’ man – very strict and meticulous. He enjoyed a friendly argument and was fair in his dealings. At one time he employed 84 people (82 when he married in 1935). He was a partner of Mr Wilson at Temple, Rockley way.
The Church and its Clergy. For children there was Sunday School in the morning, they were marched to Church in the afternoons, went to Mrs Spooner’s (she lived in West Close) who read to them, and at night they could sing in Overton Choir. There were 6 or 7 boys and 4 men in the Choir. In the 1930’s the Vicar insisted that a new Vicarage should be built. This was considered untimely by some in view of the hardships being endured by many parishioners at the time. Mr Workman also introduced ‘spiritualism’ which caused some dissension. When the new Vicarage site was allocated Charlie Hale and Mervyn Durston planted trees all around it (some remain today). It seems that Mr Workmans successor was the first to live in it. He was a ‘very nice man!’ Mr Waite was his churchwarden, verger, sexton etc. The bells were never rung in Lent – except to play hymn tunes.
Unemployment and wages. Mr Philpott received 15/- a week unemployment benefit. ‘Dan Smarts army used to go and collect unemployment pay every other day in Marlborough. Mr Burton earned 6d a day to keep birds off the corn, cut thistles and pull docks out; then at age 14 – 2/6 a week – going on to ploughing at 16 using horses. He won prizes in the Avebury Ploughing matches.
The District Nurse – Nurse Pincott, who lived at Nathaniel Waite’s (on the corner in Overton where the Strongs used to live). She served the whole area from Avebury down to these villages – her transport was an old ‘bike’ and she used to carry her case on the back. She delivered more than one generation of children in some families (home deliveries1). There was no doctor resident in the villages and she attended to evrything herself, only calling in help in a real emergency.
Cooking – On open grates early on – the pans used to get really dirty bases. Then ‘we asked Mr Swanton about having a range put in and he agreed. This was in the late 1930’s and cooking was much cleaner then. Even in the 1930’s though, some of the bigger houses which had housekeepers had a ‘proper’ cooker and the kitchens ‘weren’t much different from today’.
Heating and Lighting – The open grates used mostly coal for cooking and heating. There was no electric – just paraffin lamps for lighting.
Water supplies – All had to be drawn from a well. Bathing was in a big tin bath in front of the fire and there were outside ‘bucket toilets’.
The School – There were three teachers, Mr Townlee, who lived in the school house, and two who came from Marlborough. The infants used slates but the older ones used paper and pencil. The floors were wooden and kept ‘scrubbed clean’. There were bucket toilets for the children – but no sinks for washing their hands. The one school took children right through their school life.
Out of School – Children played with spinning tops, or if they could find an old bicycle wheel they would hit it along the lane like a hoop. They played in the farmyards and on the bales as there wasn’t all the dangerous machinery about then. They played hopscotch and hide and seek – generally making their own entertainment.
Transport – Very few people had cars but there was a more ‘convenient’ bus service. Some of the men drove lorries, for example taking grain from the farm down to Avonmouth.
Before the flats were built in Lockeridge – ‘Normen Ball’s farm stretched down to the road and an old man named Joe Beasant lived in a caravan in one corner of the field. The flats ‘Old Beasants’ take their name from him.
Other memories – Having no family allowance for the first child; Mr Philpott in the War having only four days off in four years – that being Christmas Day each year!; the guides and scouts, run by Miss Giffard who had a meeting hut where Anne Humbert’s bungalow now stands; the Masons Arms – when it was still a pub….. and many families whose names are no longer found in the villages – for example the Glass family of West or Manor Farm and the Pontings (Miss Martha died in 1960 leaving £200 for the ‘sick and needy’).
These reminiscences have been contributed by:-
Mr Radbourne, Mr Burton, Mr Philpott, Mrs Rebbeck, Mr W. Waite, Mr M. Durston, Mrs M Farley and Mrs Lockey Sen. We are very grateful for the time they all gave in helping to answer many questions.
Fyfield is listed in the Domesday Book as being in the ‘hundred’ of Selksbury – a mutation, perhaps, of Silbury. The entry tells us that Fyfield (or ‘Fif-hide’ as it was then known) was composed of five ‘hides’ (hence the name). A ‘hide’ was the amount of land required to support one free family and its dependants. Four of the five hides in Fyfield were owned by one Alured of Marlborough, and it was managed by Rudolph in his absence (according to the survey). To work the land there were three slaves and fifteen villeins (workers attached to the land, but not actually owned in the same way that a slave was). The land itself was then made up of two acres of meadow eighty acres of pasture, and twenty acres of woodland. At the time of the survey – about 1090 – these four hides were work 100 shillings.
The remaining hide was owned by a man named Ulmar. No mention is made of the land save its value – 10 shillings. There was also a forge in the village, this had to pay a tax of twelve pence per annum.
A later spelling of Fyfield sees it spelt Fyfelde before it took on the spelling by which it is known today.
The Church which dates from the 14th Century has possible Saxon remains beneath the present foundations. The Church which is dedicated to St. Nicholas, began its life as a chapellry linked to West Overton. In 1608 it is recorded that the Church owned 16 acres to the North side of the Church (where the Vicarage stood) and 3 acres on the South side of Fyfield. At the end of 1704 Fyfield necame a parish in its own right; it wasno longer to be ‘merely’ a chappellry to Overton.
A detailed description of the Church was included in an article in a local paper in 1888:
“The Church consists of an Early English Chancel, Perpendicular Tower and modern North Aisle and Porch. It possesses several points of interest: The work of the chancel roof is of a very characteristic type….and the nave retaining its original roof of oak, with richly tracked spendrels and cornices, and the date 1634 cut on the beam probably indicates the date of some repairs. Unfortunately modern windows have been inserted in the South wall….the floor of the tower was evidently some feet above that of the nave: the space is now used as a vestry. The most interesting of all, however are the four panels of carved oak now in the gallery front at the West end but which have been taken, it is believed, from the old pulpit. These are, apparently, of the same date as the nave roof. The Church was restored some forty years ago (i.e. 1848) by the Vicar, when the North Aisle and the Porch were added, the chancel reroofed and partially rebuilt”.
Subsequently to this, as was discovered by a piece of wood found during the latest work to the roof timbers in 1986, the roof seems to have been leaded or re-leaded during the Great War. In the last few years the whole of the appearance of the Church interior has been enhanced by rubbing down some very flaky paintwork and repainting in the correct material for churches. Quite extensive work on the timbers has hopefully arrested decay due to work and death watch beetle. The Churchyard is kept in an excellent state by a willing band of helpers.
Originally Fyfield Church had had three bells but when the Parish of Alton Priors was formed that church had no bell and so one of the Fyfield bells was given to them.
A Lych-gate, no longer there, was built in 1938 dedicated to Edwin Drew. He was one of Alec Taylor’s jockeys at his racing stable and was tragically killed at Brighton Racecourse. Only the base of the lych-gate now remains.
The whole shape of Fyfield has changed greatly over the years, the church once being far more central to the village. In the early 1030’s a road widening scheme on the A.4 took away a Congregational chapel, an inn and quite a number of cottages. When the inn – The Fighting Cocks – was demolished it was discovered that it had (as the name suggests) been used for cock fighting.
There are a few of the old cottages remaining in the village, all converted and altered in some ways, built of Sarsen stone and with thatched roofs. These date back to the 1700’s if not earlier. There is Spring Cottage, where the Fosters now live, Pheasants, the home of the Eatons, and on the A.4 the cottage where Clem Bristow used to live and where Elsie Vaughan lived until her death recently. In that cottage was an old baking oven, heated with wood faggots, that had a special white stone at the back of the oven which would change colour to indicate the heat and the readiness for baking bread. Pheasants has a feature in the old roof, it has a cruck – quite a rare object – it is an old tree trunk with fork branches forming an upturned V which gives the support for the thatching of the roof cover. The Council houses at Priestacre were mostly built in the 1930’s, though four were added after the War; they and the bungalows comman fine views over the Kennet as does Fyfield House built of red brick. It is late Georgian and early Victorian; the foundations reveal an earlier building mentioned by Pevsner. A number of the other houses in Fyfield are of the 1850 period as can be seen by the dressed sarsen stone used. These were mostly occupied by farm workers.
Developments at present planned or under way in Fyfield will re-establish the bulk of the village lying on the Bath Road and will mean an increase in population of up to 25%.
‘And so to Bath’ – C Roberts.
In about 1700 a writer by the name of Cecil Roberts passed through Fyfield on the Bath Road. These are the remarks he has to make on the journey from Marlborough to West Overton.
“….As soon as one leaves Marlborough the nature of the country undergoes a complete change. The wooded landscape changes to the lonely spaces of the rolling downs. Here are no trees, lush meadows and streams. The great bald hills rise up in the wide sky, and the eye rests nowhere until the horizon fades away. Here is the home and burial ground of pre-historic man…”
And so he passed Fyfield; there must have been less to make it remarkable than there is now!
In 1803 the Manor estate was bought by Richard and Elizabeth Matthews. Here they brought up their large family of 2 sons and 8 daughters in the recently rebuilt Manor House. In the course of the next 80 years, spanning the nineteenth century and the Victorian age, their children were to prove great benefactors to the village community.
In 1864 Christ Church was rebuilt in ashlar and flint by Gane & Co. of Trowbridge entirely at the expense of the Matthews family. John, the second and only surviving son, died in 1879 and left two charities in his will; one for the upkeep of the church and churchyard and the other to provide the needy of the parish with fuel, food and clothes at Christmastime. In common with so many of these old charities the amount they contribute today can in no way provide for their original intentions.
Meanwhile his married sister. Mary Lanfear of Ramsbury, who died in 1871, willed the annual income of £600 to be spent on apprenticeships for the boys of East Kennett when they left school.
This school, the first in the village, wasestablished in 1857 by the youngest Matthews daughter, Maria, and her sister Ann. The old school house and schoolroom still stand, though the house is now privately occupied. It was known in those days as Miss Matthews School and was intended partly to provide a basic education for East Kennett children and partly to train girls for domestic service. Before her death in 1882, aged 72 years, Maria endowed her school with the very large sum for those days of £2,300 and the Maria Matthew Trust is still used for the benefits of the pupils, its purpose having been adapted as far as is possible for modern needs.
In addition Maria bequeathed money for a bell ringers fund and for the building of a dispensary and reading room for the use of parishioners. The plaque which was once fixed to the exterior casts some doubt as to who it was who bequeathed the money for the dispensary as it read “given to the poor of the village by Sarah Matthews 1884”. There was obviously a reversion clause in the Trust Deed and the building was repossessed in 1917 and sold to a private owner. It is the first house on the left as you enter East Kennett from West Overton.
From the church memorial tablets it appears that only two of the Matthews children married, Elizabeth Fisher and Mary Lanfear. The descendants of the former eventually sold the dispensary and reading room when they inherited the property as they lived elsewhere. Thus ended a long and beneficial connection between East Kennett and the Matthews family.
The five bells in East Kennett Church were all gifts of the Matthews family – Ann, Martha, John, T. Matthews, three are dated 1878 and the two earlier ones 1864.
The family were farmers at West Pennard, Somerset, over two hundred years ago. By the 1850’s they had moved a little eastwards, a move which slowly continued.
Frank Swanton was born at Vobster (just west of Mells) on May 11th 1884 the youngest of a family of four. His father Robert Swanton, again a farmer, moved to Branch Farm, Mells, a few years later. Both farms were tenanted from the Ammerdown Estate.
The estate owner had interests in quarrying and coal mining in that area. On the other side of the village in Mells House (now demolished) lived the Horner family of the nursery rhyme “Little Jack Horner sat in a corner” fame.
Frank had always hoped to farm himself. With the Victorian transport developments in ships and railways colonial agricultural produce flooded onto the British market. The price of wheat had fallen 20% in consequence and other produce too. Times were hard for British agriculture.
Leonard, the oldest son, and Frank were told by their father that there was only room for one of them on the family farm. Leonard as the oldest was given the choice and dithered for a week before deciding. Frank, in the meantime, hoping that he would decline the opportunity.
Eventually Leonard decided to join his father. Frank spent one more year at school, which was as much as funds would allow, and was then apprenticed into the drapery trade with Mr. Gradidge in Frome.
Evidently Mr. Gradidge thought quite a lot of his young apprentice. After 3-4 years he decided to leave Frank in charge of the shop when he visited his other branch, much to the previous manager’s disgust.
On completion of his apprenticeship in 1905 Frank moved to Bath and worked for Evans & Owen. In 1906 came the opportunity to start farming.
Leonard, Frank and their sister Blanche took the tenancy of a farm in Sevenhamption (near Highworth), pooling their resources of £500 each. Their other sister Edith stayed in Somerset to help her mother.
Two years later Frank had the chance of a tenancy of his own at South Farm Chiseldon on the Calley estate. He took that in addition to his partnership with his brother and sister.
These were the days when an outgoing tenant recommended his successor, for which service he expected a fee. Frank and his father travelled from Sevenhampton to Chiseldon by pony and trap to meet Tom Blanchard, the sitting tenant.
Discussions took place over a suitable introduction fee but agreement could not be reached.
Frank and his father took their leave and asked the shortest way home. Tom sent them the longer route hoping that Frank’s agreement would be forthcoming as he left. He had under-estimated his adversary.
Tom saddled his horse, took the shortest route and overhauled the trap. “You shall have the farm Mr Swanton” he said. Tom moved that Michaelmas to Manor Farm Burbage, which is now farmed by his grandson Peter Blanchard.
In 1914 South Farm Chiseldon was selected as the site for an army camp. Frank moved to North Farm Overton, where he took a tenancy on 1,000 acres.
Five years later in 1919 the Hon. Joseph Watson purchased 7,000 acres including North Farm Overton. Frank stayed on as farm manager to the ‘Olympia Agricultural Company’, which also invested in similar estates at Leamington and Selby. The Watson money originated from soap manufacture in Warrington.
In 1923 Joseph Watson, by now Lord Manton, fell off his horse behind Boreham Wood. He was found to have died. His executors let the farms again. Frank took North Farm back plus South Farm and Fyfield together with Temple Farm, the last in partnership with the Shefford (Newbury) sheep dealers George and Henry Wilson.
By 1925 Manton’s executors decided to sell the farms. Frank bought 1800 acres himself and 1500 in partnership with the Wilsons. Manton’s executors agreed to a mortgage as farms were not easy to sell in those days. £1,000,000 had been invested in the Olympia. The executors felt they were lucky to recover £750,000.
In 1932 Percy Wookey, who had been renting West Farm from the Poole family (now the nearest successors are the Stibbards of Ogbourne) moved to Rushall. Frank took that tenancy too. He was now farming over 4,000 acres through the agricultural depression.
Already serving on the Rural District Council and the County Council, Frank decided he needed an assistant. Short-listed were John Cherrington (now the agricultural journalist and farmer at Tangley near Andover) and his nephew, Edith’s son Barnard Bush. Barnard won.
In 1934 Frank attributed his success to “the fact that he had remained a bachelor and made his farm his hobby and his partner”.
Great amusement was caused when in 1935 Frank married a Devon clergyman’s daughter. He was presented with a salver by his 82 employees, who insisted on welcoming him back from Honeymoon by pulling his car up North Farm drive on a rope.
1944 came and with it the sale of West Farm. No, Frank did not purchase it, his wife Hester did!
In 1948 English Farms Ltd. Was started under the auspices of Schroeders Merchant Bank. The directors Clyde Higgs (of Higgs Electric Motors) and Anthony Hurd (later Lord Hurd and son of the previous Devizes M.P. Percy Hurd) purchased Temple Farms on behalf of the company.
Barnard Bush had left to take over his father’s tenancy at Norton St. Philip. Frank continued with a succession of two farm managers but eventually decided that he and his loyal foreman, Cecil Orchard (no relation to Alfie), could cope adequately.
In 1962 West Farm was sold to English Farms. Frank died on 9th September 1971 after 87 years mainly in agriculture. He had been awarded the O.B.E. for services to agriculture in 1958. These included service on the War Agricultural Executive Committee and chairman of the governors of Lackham College of Agriculture for 21 years.
He had been a County Council member for 40 years and Rural District Councillor for more.
Today Frank’s sons farm North Farm, South Farm Overton, Fyfield, Hillside Farm Lockeridge and the ex-Forestry Commission land at Westwoods.
East Kennett School was established in 1857, well before the Education Act of 1870. It was never envisaged that it would be for large numbers of children and was initially founded largely for training for Domestic service. Overton cum Fyfield, in contrast was built for 150 children, difficult though that may be to believe seeing that it was never any bigger than it is now in floor space or grounds! The architect for Lockeridge was Mr Ponting who had been the church architect. It was completed in 1876.
East Kennett: 1891 Principal: Miss Marion Hedges, appointed 1861. 20 slates 1 desk 8’ long.
1893: Minnie Culley, having passed her 13th birthday has left school for service April 25th 1982: Miss Elizabeth Strong Spreadbury appointed principal teacher. May 29th 1893: “The new mistress has effected quite a revolution in the character of the school”.
July 6th 1894: Still a poor attendance owing to haymaking.
May 3rd 1895: Walter Marks and Percy Culley having passed Standard 4 satisfactorily have left for labour.
17th: paid a surprise visit and because he found the children good gave them 1/- worth of sweets (Rev J.E. Wilson)
1896: Diocesan Inspector – “Hymns, Colelcts, Catechism – good”.
25th Feb 1916 Owing to a snowstorm during the night of Wed, Thurs morning school could not be held.
24th March 1916. On Wednesday the river flooded the roads and children from W.Kennet could not come.
June 15th 1917: School closed today for haymaking until July 2nd.
Jan 30th 1925: Attention of Doctor called to average temperature of room which has been under 50F for all January and is normally 38 – 42 at 9 a.m.
Dec 11th 1925: The temperature on several mornings lately has been 31F – 33F. It is impossible for children to do proper work in such a temperature and the handwriting in all classes has suffered owing to cold hands.
Jan 18th 1926: Snow still on ground. 13 present. Usual work as far as possible. Temperature at 9 a.m. 31F.
June 16th 1930: During holiday G. Butcher fell into a grass cutter and badly wounded both hands – now in hospital.
Overton cum Fyfield School: 1870 Nov 4th. Vestry meeting at Overton Church resolved, if possible, to erect a school for the parishes of Overton cum Fyfield.
1871 July 14th Committee elected:
Rev J.B. Angell Vicar, Overton
Rev R.A. Gent, Curate, Lockeridge and Correspondent
1873 April 23rd Builder appointed – B.E. Nightingale, London, £1008.
1876 School in being.
On Tuesday November 11th 1931 a meeting took place at Overton Vicarage inaugurating the new Village Hall Management Committee. Captain Vigors was elected Chairman, and Rev. Workman as Secretary and Treasurer. Money to build the Hall was raised from public subscriptions, Church Collections, the Carnegie Trust and a government loan which was guaranteed by local people.
By the end of November a site had been secured in Overton, given by Mr Frank Swanton. During the earlier part of 1931, a Trust Deed was drawn up – this document still forms the basis upon which the current Kennet Valley Hall is run. The job of building the Hall was put out to tender, and six applications were received. The Committee accepted Mr Sprules’ tender for £465.10s. with brown tiles £9.10s. extra.
The date for opening the Hall was September 1st 1931, and it was proposed that Mr Alec Taylor should be invited to perform the ceremony.
In the early 1970’s it was decided that a new Village Hall was needed, and earliest proposals were for a Hall incorporated with a new school at Overton, the complex to serve the whole population from Fyfield to East Kennett. The plans for the new school fell through, and the Hall Committee began searching for a new site.
By August 1973 Mr Roger Swanton had offered the present site to the Hall Committee. A fund-raising Committee was set up. This proved to be all too necessary, as the project cost in excess of £32,000. The Committee was able to raise £24,000 in local and central government grants, and it was one of the largest village hall projects funded in this way in Wiltshire. Further funds were raised from the sale of the old site, and the remainder came from fund-raising events held over the years – gymkhanas, fetes, barbecues, dances etc. The most ambitious project was a three-day event held in 1976 – on one of the very few wet weekends in that hot summer! The highlight of the outdoor activities was a parachute drop by the Red Devils in the presence of Group Captain Sir Douglas Bader.
The new building was opened on Saturday September 4th 1976 by Mrs Frank Swanton. The inaugural dance in the evening was distinguished by the fact that “The Autocrats” band specially reformed to come and play, and provided superb music.
The new Kennet Valley Hall has now been open for just over ten years, and is used by many different groups as well as for private parties and dances; it is about to enter another chapter of its history as plans for as extension to increase storage capacity are being drawn up.
(East Kennet follows a different tradition and is not described here)
The first Ordnance Survey of this part of Wiltshire was carried out in 1886, but well before that date many other maps had been commissioned for various reasons – tythe maps, enclosure maps etc. some more accurate than others in these early days.
From these maps we can see the gradual development – not always at the same rate – of our three villages. Shown here are copies (from the Wiltshire County Record Office, Trowbridge) of
1.Map by Andrews and Dury 1773
2.2. Ordnance Survey 1900
3.3. Ordnance Survey 1983
These maps have been chosen particularly to show the ‘rise’ of Lockeridge and the sad ‘fall’ of Fyfield….
1.Map of 1773
Note the extent of housing in West Overton and Fyfield, compared to that of Lockerdige; the latter has no housing at all, for instance, to the East of it’s ‘High Street’. The cottages in Lockeridge Dene, now National Trust, can be seen, also Dene Farm (originally Glebe Farm and owned by the church) otherwise we can see little of today’s village. What is now Meux Cottage, Pipers Plot and Breach House can be identified, and perhaps a few others. In West Overton and Fyfield, however, there seems to be plenty of village housing already. Note all the buildings between Lockeridge House and what is now the A.4. (This site was frequently flooded and was later abandoned in the 19th century).
2.Map of 1900
In 1872, the Meux family bought ‘Overton’, including all 3 villages, and a lot more, from the Duke of Marlborough. They installed their Estate Architect, Charles Ponting, in Lockeridge Cottage. They themselves did not live here. Lockeridge House continued to be let as a ‘Gent’s Res’. Ponting proceeded to build the school, enlarge the pub, and to build several houses in Lockeridge, including Gypsy Furlong as the Estate Office. He did some work in Fyfield, but very little general building in West Overton which remained very much an agricultural community, depending on North, South and West Farms for its livelihood.
Looking at the 1900 O.S. therefore we can see that Lockeridge has taken its place as an equal: it has two pubs, (one of which contained the shop, and was perhaps more of an ‘off-licence’), a Post Office, a school and a growing housing stock. The Rebbecks farmed Dene Farm and Hillside Farm for many years and ran the shop. Fyfield still houses the local policeman, and of course has the church, which Lockeridge lacks; it also, together with Lockeridge is very much involved in the sarsen stone cutting trade.
3.Map of 1983
In 1906 the Meux family sold Overton – the original detailed sales brochure (Giddy and Giddy) can still be seen at Trowbridge – and our villages began to stand on their own feet.
Lockeridge House was bought by the Giffards (who had already rented it for several years) and they continued to do great good to the village, providing much employment within house and garden, and involving themselves very much in village affairs – running the scouts etc. An annual cricket match was held against Marlborough College – their 2nd XI: Frank Swanton bought most of the farming land around the villages (see elsewhere for the Swanton story) and his sons are still here.
By 1931 West Woods had been bought by the Forestry Commission, and they planted a new plantation of beech in 1936, Coronation year.
Slowly but steadily, between the Wars and since, private and council housing has enlarged both West Overton and Lockeridge (although the population figure has not grown substantially because so many of the terraced cottages have been ‘modernised’ into single units).
But what of Fyfield? With the invention of concrete, the sarsen stone cutting industry gradually fell away, and the widening of the A.4 in 1931 literally tore the heart out of the village. Fyfield House, a handful of cottages and some farm buildings are all that remain.
The old road of Marlborough, Preshute, Manton, Fyfield, E Overton and West has become the back route of Preshute, Manton, Lockeridge and West Overton, and visitors often ask “Why is there a Church at little Fyfield and not at the larger village up the road?”
(Prepared by a Lockeridge newcomer with grateful thanks to the Over 60’s, particularly Mr Stanley Philpott, who have been so kind, friendly and informative).
An account by Mrs. Lawrence, mother of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, in a letter to the present Lord Kennet’s father.
T.E. Lawrence, ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, was a friend of Lord Kennet’s mother and stayed at the ‘Lacket’, which is how his mother came to know it and to occupy it as a tenant during the 2nd World War. She and another of her sons, Dr. Lawrence, were there by the winter of 1939 – 40, when she wrote the following account of the Great Flood in a letter to the present Lord Kennet’s father.
“The second flood has come and gone, and it was a very big one. No-one in Lockeridge has ever seen anything like it. It started on Saturday night and flowed down past the valley past the back of the house. It came through the small gate over the dry stone wall and half way up the hill, swirled around the house, coming in by the back door, pouring through the coal cellar spreading through to the summer house. Fortunately it only wet the inside a few inches. It washed out the two ground floors of the double cottage. Their furniture was floating. It flowed down the street like a mill stream. The house where Mr. Caswell lives, opposite the Glebe Farm, got the full force of it. They found the house full when they got down in the morning and were bailing out water from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. without any rest for meals.
A small steady stream of clear water came out under the stairs here, which stopped about 3 p.m. on Sunday. It must have come through the stone wall. The hall, bathroom and scullery, and part of the kitchen, had about an inch or more of water when I got down in the morning. I could not get outside the back door until late in the afternoon, and then only as far as the safe. It really was a deluge….. There was 31 degrees of frost. A lady in the train told Bob (Dr. Lawrence) that her son had weighed a twig with ice on it. It was 27 oz. After the ice had melted it was only 1 oz! I hope we shall never have the like again”.
The Annual Report for 1940 of the Marlborough College Natural History Society noticed that ‘Umbrellas could not be shut and mackintoshes took the form of their wearers and retained it when they were removed ….Many skated in Court’.
The Great Flood was caused by heavy rain falling after a prolonged frost while the chalk was still frozen solid.
As you come into Lockeridge from the A.4., Lockeridge House stands on the right surrounded by beautiful gardens bordering on the River Kennet. It is a Queen Anne house originally built by John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, as a Hunting Lodge. In more recent years Queen Mary, widow of King George V stayed there as a frequent guest of her Lady-in-Waiting, Lady Gaythorn-Hardy. During that time, our present Queen as Princess Elizabeth, with her sister Princess Margaret visited the house. Mrs Philpott, who was then living in the cottage opposite the School, remembers two fair-haired little girls, accompanied by their Governess, peeping over the wall and a young voice saying “How wonderful! Look – a well!”
Moving on through the village on to the Overton Road, is Lockeridge Down, a white house surrounded by pretty gardens. Before the 2nd World War it was known as ‘West Close’ and it was here that Douglas Jardine, the famous cricketer used to stay with the then owner A.B.Simpson.
At the far end of the village lies ‘The Lacket’, the home of the present Lord Kennet, - a pretty thatched cottage nestling amongst the sarsen stones and trees. It was in 1912 that the writer Lytton Strachey first stayed at the Lacket and it was there that he wrote his ‘Eminent Victorians’. Other visitors included Virginia and Leonard Woolf and various other members of the Bloomsbury Group, who came down to talk and enjoy the splendid walking on the nearby Downs. Later Sir Peter Scott, Lord Kennet’s half-brother, spent many school holidays there, and perhaps it was here that he first gained his love of nature.
In 1910. Professor A.N.Whitehead, the philosopher and mathematician, came to live in a thatched house nearby, which he extended at about that time and which is now known as ‘Pipers Plot’. He was Bertrand Russell’s mentor at Cambridge and it was here in Lockeridge that they collaborated in writing ‘Principia Mathematica’. The Whiteheads entertained many of the Bloomsbury Group, amongst them Gertrude Stein, who came for the weekend and stayed for two months just before the First World War.
These are just a few of the many well-known and interesting people who have lived in and visited Lockeridge.
Our grateful thanks to all those who worked hard to produce this booklet, both in research and compilation:
Mabs and Dick Coward