West Overton from the WI Scrapbook of 1956
West Overton in 949 A.D. was Ofertune ‘enclosure on the shore’ of the River Kennet and was Overtone in the Domesday Book. Of Anglo-Saxon origin, West Overton was so called to distinguish it from its tything Fyfield and which was sometimes called East Overton.
An extract from the Domesday Book reads ‘The Church (i.e. The Abbey of Wilton) itself holds Overton. In the time of King Edward (The Confessor) it paid tax on 10 hides. There is land for 4 ploughs. Of this estate 7 hides and a fraction are demesne land, and there is land for 2 ploughs on it, and there are 2 serfs. There are also 3 villeins and 8 cottagers with land for 2 ploughs. A Mill there pays 10 shillings (a year). There are too, 5 acres of meadow, 20 acres of grazing, and 20 acres of woodland. It is worth 100 shillings (a year)’.
‘This is an income tax assessment. The hide was about 120 acres, so the Farm was assessed as worth altogether 1200 acres of averagely good land.
If tax was at 2/- a hide (a usual figure) it would have to pay 20/-. Tax was not paid every year. The demesne was a sort of ‘home farm’ of which the profits went to the holder, in this case the Abbess of Wilton.
An Ox-plough was supposed to plough 120 acres each season, so there would be about 480 acres of arable; wheat, barley and oats were grown on this. The meadow was land on which hay could be grown, and the grazing, probably down-land. The remains of the mill pool are still to be seen. No doubt bigger mills were built in later times. 100 shillings a year was quite a usual rent for a medium sized farm’.
The village is predominately agricultural up to this day. It was built on land called ‘Knights Close’ from the Saxon work ‘Cnight’, meaning servant, indicating estates held on the feudal system of knightly tenure.
Kings Close being the piece of meadow land near the Church.
The Church of St. Michael was built in 1878 to replace an old church on the same site. The Tower was finished in 1883. The Church was celebrated locally for its copper roof, and the late Verger, Mr. John Waite remembered the earlier church which had a balcony inside. He with other small boys used to drop bits of paper on to the heads of the congregation below. The Register dates from 1682 and contains entries belonging to both Overton and Fyfield Churches, which was the custom until 1732 when each church had its own register. Seating capacity is 255, which 60 years ago, report goes, was accommodating that number regularly with a full Choir of men and boys voices. It has six bells, Tenor 11 cwt., Treble 4 cwt.
The Churchyard was extended in 1880.
In the Church Magazine of March 1930 is an extract from a letter from Mr. W. Welburn whose father was Vicar when the present Overton Church was built. He writes ‘I have always regretted that the old Church was entirely destroyed though it certainly was very dilapidated. Mr. Ponting the Architect has told me that the south wall of the Nave ought never to have been taken down, being very solid, but he was young at the time and my father over-ruled him. I fancy the Duke of Marlborough, who was a big land-owner in the district and who was their patron had urged him to rouse the Parish up, and so he was anxious to have everything new. His predecessor Angel, had been an invalid and left everything to his Curates, who seem to have held services just how and when they felt inclined. Angel was a great gardener and made all the gardens on the north side of the Vicarage (now called Overton House). There were five or six glasshouses, stabling for thirteen horses and coach houses, cow byres, poultry runs and buildings of all sorts. He built four rooms at the east end of the house, the one story part at right angles was put up by Hoyle, his predecessor, so that the original 18th. Century house must have been very small. There was no road to the Church, it stood in a field and there were double white gates between the yews. I well remember the new Churchyard being consecrated by the Bishop of the Diocese, Moberley, 5th. October 1877 and William Keenus, Vicar of East Kennett, a stout plethoric man, arriving late and being helped into his surplice in a high wind, very much out of breath, when the procession was halfway round.
You went down three steps into the Church and it had galleries round three sides, reached by an outside stair, the choir and harmonium were in the west part. The body of the Church was filled with square deal pews; there was an old ‘Three decker’ ornamented with tattered red cloth. Great patches of damp on the Chancel walls, and vaults under the whole of the Nave, some of them divided from the open air only by floor boards; the atmosphere in hot weather being consequently unpleasant!
There were some bits of coloured glass in the tracery of the east window, now behind the organ. The space under the tower was screened off and used jointly for vestry and ringing chamber. The galleries were much favoured by the youth of the parish who used to take nuts up with them and spit the shells on those beneath. I feel that my father, who in those days was an athletic and rather quick tempered man sadly interfered with these delights.
All the north side of the Church has been considerably raised; if one was to dig by those dwarf railings in the north west corner one would find they went down four or five feet. I don’t know why this was done. Pontings original design provided much more battlements and pinnacles for the tower, but Sir Henry Meux objected that it would not stand the frost in such an exposed position. However, you still have some relics of the old Church viz; the windows on the south side of the Nave and I think the sough window of the 13th. Century Chancel Arch and entrance doorway to Nave, the old east window, the font, three of the bells, and I believe the Alter table, the rood left door, the wall talblet in the chancel and the lectern and doors are made from wood out of the old beams which were covered with whitewash. The outside walls were of sarcen boulders strapped with iron.
When Ann Waite, whose name was then Church, married secondly William Waite, recently of the Army, a big truculent sort of man, he was made Sexton and told to keep order. I well remember one Sunday hearing smothered laughter and immediately the sound of William’s footsteps hoing noisily in that direction, followed by a sound like two planks falling on each other; he had smacked the faces of a couple of young men1 It seems funny to think of it in these days’.
The organ, a very fine one, the pipes being of hammered or beaten tin was a gift from the Rt. Hon. Earl of Pembroke.
The fencing enclosing the whole Churchyard was at the cost of the Parishioners at that time.
The gift of the Restoration of the Church and land surrounding the Church was given by the Trustees of Sir Henry Meux, a big land and property owner in the district.
It has a sundial on the south side of the Tower and the clock was placed in the Tower during Reverend Workman’s time, a gift from parishioners in the 1930’s.
Mr. and Mrs. John Waite, he was nephew of the previous Verger, William, were appointed Verger and Caretakers and were so for forty odd years when they were presented with armchairs by the parishioners on their retirement.
The old Church key still hangs on the same nail in Mrs. Waite’s living room where it has been for seventy odd years. She is now aged ninety, her husband pre-deceased her by fifteen years. She is still active and cheerful.
The Vergers house is by the east entrance to the Churchyard and has the date 1746 high up over the front and small stone fact built in the back wall.
A new Vicarage was built in the 1930’s in the new road, a road which was made about one hundred years ago.
The present Vicar the Reverend V.E.B. Norton, to whom we are indebted for much information of the Churches, was the first Vicar to live in the new Vicarage.
Prior to the making of the new road the only way to and from Lockeridge was by cutting across the meadow opposite the Church, on the south side. One entered opposite the two old thatched cottages at the corner. One can still follow the old track, though grass covered. There are still stray hawthorns bordering it and banked sides. It led to a gate coming out on top of the hill at the road junction.
A great deal of Overton was rebuilt in the 1870’s and these gabled cottages bear the same hall-mark of the design of Mr. Ponting, a well-know Architect, who lived at Lockeridge.
One can still find traces of the older cottage homes, box hedges were a great favourite and the box remains inter-mingling amongst the hawthorne. Groups of sarcen stones can still be found in odd corners, pointing to the past uses they were put to in building village walls, making solid field gate posts and above all the stone built cottages. Many have been used to fill in the old cottage wells. Quite a few of these old cottages were built close to the river bed. One can only think that at times when the river rose they were flooded, which often happened after heavy falls of snow. As the thaw set in, the water flowed down from the surrounding hills into the river bed. When this happened the village was quite cut off from the main Bath Road.
Nurse Pincott, the district nurse, about forty-five years ago, was involved in the following incident when the Kennet overflowed:-
Bellringers practising hymns one night
Heard cries of distress in the moonlight.
Who is this maiden in sorry plight?
What brings me here and why do I roam?
The floods are up and I can’t get home.
Oh, help me to cross this raging foam
Swift as the charge of the Light Brigade
Those valiant ringers, the call obeyed.
Dashed down to he side, quickly to aid
‘Twas a life at stake, they all held dear.
It bolstered their courage, banished fear.
Across the waters, voices rang clear
‘Hold on Nurse’.
One by one like merchant ships asail,
Hand over hand, crossing by field rail,
Foot over foot, in the teeth of the gale
‘Hold on Nurse’.
Harken! What was that ominous crash!
Oh, what was that significant splash!
Nurse and wooden rails gone like a flash
Into the raging foam!
Strode forth a gallant of four feet stature Water meadows flooded in 2005
As chivalry called to this silent watcher.
Stout of heart he had vouched to catch her
If Nurse slipped.
‘Now hold on ‘sixfoot’ – Oh, hold on Nurse’,
Struggling and floundering to be the first
to win their laurels and rescue Nurse
And claim her smile.
‘Honour is mine’, they argue and fret
To who carried Nurse safe over the wet.
They say to this day, they argue yet
‘Who saved Nurse’.
Bell Road and George Lane, the link roads were inundated and the meadows in between looked like a vast lake. The last time this happened was about 1945 and quite a few of the fair sex remember being carried ‘piggy back’ by a gallant cavalier over the rushing waters, while the more cautious were conveyed by lorry. The waters always subsided within two or three days. It is generally considered that the flow of the river is smaller of late years owing to demands made upon the water system in the district, though it is recorded that the river was once dry downstream one hundred years ago as far as Marlborough.
Trout at one time abounded in the river and one can remember in the early 1930’s many fine dead trout laying along the banks near to George Bridge, when the stream was for a time just stagnant pools.
A pair of swans nested in the withy bed in 1938 and reared a family of cygnets, but the war following, all the swans were rounded up and they have not come back. In 1947 a strange bird was seen on the stream, later identified as the Slavonian Grebe. It stayed some weeks but was eventually killed by boys who ruthlessly stoned it.
On Overton Down is ‘Grey Wethers’, grey sarsen stones, so called as they resemble in the distance flocks of sheep of the same name. Some of these stones follow a winding track believed to be a glacier of the Ice-age. In distant ages it is believed these Downs were once under the sea and a stratum of sand containing these stones once covered the chalk of these districts and when the softer portions were carried away by the action of the waters, the solid blocks were left behind on the surface. Some of the old people will tell you ‘the stones grow’, the probability is that the soil surrounding them is in time washed away.
One hundred years ago and more, the Downs were the natural feeding ground for flocks of sheep. There are less sheep grazing now. At some time dewponds were constructed for watering the sheep and a few are still to be found.
Temple on Overton Down is a site of a Preceptory of the Kights Templars, a religious and military order founded in 1119. It was extinguished in 1307 to 1314 in one of the darkest tragedies in history.
Glory Ann is another place name which lies on the British Trackway, the origin of which is obscure.
On theory is that being a commanding spot, it may have been a British camp in Roman times. Later a cattleyard and cottages with gardens were placed here and on an old map in the British Museum it is disclosed as ‘Port Lorien’ cottages. A paragraph in ‘The Times’ 1881 reads ‘Oldest Officer in Marines, Lieutenant Smethwick of H.M. Northumberland – severe action near Lorient Harbour in 1812 in which a French Frigate and a Brig were destroyed. For this action he received a medal and a clasp’. Cottages named ‘Lorien’ could easily be corrupted by the countryman to ‘Glory Ann’.
The Delling is another picturesque name given to a cottage on the Downs where many a luncheon was served to a shooting party of Sir Henry Meux.
On other interesting field name leading to it is ‘Mumsall’, origin unknown. Nearby is Down Barn where a cottage stands in a veritable valley with an interesting ban kside running along in grassy steps as though sheep had grazed throughout the ages and formed these tracks. It lies in the old glacier bed and if we follow it, will bring us round to Piggledene Farm buildings, now unoccupied. Sarsen stones are dotted along the way in a winding track until the modern Bath Road calls a halt.
The name Piggledene derives from Pig-all, old Wiltshire term for the berry of the whitethorns which abound here, and ‘Dene’ meaning valley. It is now the property of the National Trust.
Maids Acre is a name given to a piece of land running up beside the second belt of trees towards Fyfield where a girl is said to have cut and tied an acre of corn in a day. One is glad to know her gallant effort is so perpetuated, as the story goes it cost her life.
Totterdown on the Downs is from the Saxon ‘Raised on high’ – to totter, for after the Romans, came the Saxons in the sixth century who settled here and gave their names to our villages and fields. They built their hamlets and farms on the river banks and rough roads began to appear followingthe course of the stream from village to village as they do today. The bases of principal parts of names is almost entirely Saxon, as goes the couplet:-
In ford, ham, ley, in tun
The most of English surnames run
Lammas meadow is the old name given to the meadow directly in front of Overton House, which was the old Vicarage, and is the only piece of land now left belonging to the Church. It probably derives from Lammas Day the 1st. August, from ‘Loaf mass’ – a custom of the Saxons to offer up an oblation of new loaves of bread as first fruits of their new corn.
Other field names in the Parish are:-
Hollow Snap ‘sunken road on the hill’ now called ‘Allahs End’.
Larks Lears or Lerkeley Hill ‘poor barren land’ – ‘ler’ meaning empty or as the Wiltshireman would say ‘lear’.
Bethem Barrow Field adjoining Whiteway Hill, the barrow having disappeared under the plough some two hundred years ago, it is recorded.
Cotton Barrow Field another vanished barrow – ‘coid or coiten’ – ‘dwelling by the wood’ is next to Piggledene.
Saddle-back Field (opposite Stanley Copse).
George Mead adjoining Bath Road from the ‘Old George Inn’ cottages.
Lacket Meadow frin ‘Lacca’ a pit or well, also ‘lac’ (Saxon word) meaning sport and sacrifice – maybe village game of ancient days.
Gallop Piece ‘gal or geal’ – Saxon meaning roomy or spacious.
Windmill Road where on top of the hill was once a windmill.
Whiteway – chalky road.
Stanley Copse or Stonelegh or Stonywood.
Gamen Anglo-Saxon word meaning pleasure and games.
Pennings defined as a site of some yard or fold distant from the farm, usually marked by a clump of trees originally planted to shelter it.
Mead is an ancient word – betokens pasture land of village – whereby every free villager had the right of turning into it his cattle or swine. It was only when the grass began to grow afresh that the common meadow was fenced off into grass fields one for each household in the village, and when hay harvest was over, fence and division was a an end again.
Chick Changles Wood a corruption of scythangra, meaning ‘sloping hangar’ a wood on the declivity of a hill. There is an old right-of-way leading from Ov erton village across the Kennet by stone and iron bridges through the with bed, much overgrown in the summer. It crosses the meadow and out by the field gate next to the two cottages 88 and 89 Bath Road, crossing the road and following an old track called ‘Snail Creep’ beside the Police Constable’s house, finally bringing one up on the down. Unused now but forty or fifty years ago a short cut from the village.
Overton still retains a strong farming interest, though farmed in a different way. Previous to the 1914-1918 war the three farms in the village were separately owned, North, South and West Farms. Following the end of the war the Olympia Agricultural Company with Lord Manton at its head acquired most of the surrounding farms. They held the property for about four years, and after the death of Lord Manton the farms gradually passed into the hands of Mr. F. Swanton who has lived at North Farm since, and who has successfully farmed over the years to which his many winning cups and trophies testify. He is the largest property owner and employer of labour in the parish.
The house, North Farm or Manor Farm and buildings were built one hundred and sixty or one hundred and seventy years ago.
The barns still show the wooden pegs holding it together, before the coming of steel nails and screws. Mr. Neate was the first occupant and incidentally planted the trees that surround it.
A story goes that Mr. Neate, who previously lived at the house adjoining the Church (later called the Old Manor) complained to the Duke of Marlborough at that time that his house was not good enough, being told ‘Well, build yourself a house and I will pay for it Neate’. This he proceeded to do but the Dike later sold the property and Mr. Neate was never paid.
After Mr. Neate, the house came into the possession of Mr. Long, then later to Mr. Parsons. The Olympia Agricultural Company next acquired it, until Mr. Swanton bought it in the 1920’s.
Mr. Swanton is the owner of one or two valuable and rare books. One is ‘Extracts from History of Agriculture and Prices in England’ by Professor J.E. Thorold M.P. It contains farm prices and phenomenon observed in the British Isles from the 9th. Century, and embraces a period from 1259 to 1582.
Local colour is lent by a collection of these same records published in 1911 and compiled by T.H. Baker F.M.S., whose nephew was Mr. Alec Taylor’s secretary and who lived at one time at Ivy House, Fyfield.
To quote a few items:-
In 1774 – Bullocks were £6.00 each
Sheep were 12/- each
Lambs were 8/- each
Turkeys were 3/6 each
Geese were 2/6 each
Chickens were 9d. each
Pigeons were 2d. each
Pork was 3½d. per lb.
A labourers daily wage was 1/-.
In 1652 is a record by John Evelyn that on 29th. April was that celebrated eclipse of the sun, when hardly anyone would work nor stir out of their homes.
It also contains the description of the disastrous snowstorm of 1881 which reads – ‘On the 17th. January a rough easterly wind arose to a gale in the night and about 7am. On the 18th. It began to snow which continued the whole day, drifting frightfully. It was so cold and the wind so rough one could not look up against it. A cessation about midnight for two or three house then came on thicker than before and did not cease till the 19th. No man living remembered two days of such weather in succession. Great loss of life of both men and beast. Roads blocked and all business at a standstill’.
There are still one or two of the older generation who can recall hearing their parents speak of the local tragedy of the Fyfield man Farr.
Another book of great interest owned by Mrs. Swanton contains survey maps and information covering the lands of the farm estate compiled over one hundred years ago.
Mr. Cecil Orchard also owns an interesting old family diary and account book over one hundred years old. One entry reads:- ‘Five weeks and two days work at 1/8d. a day making hurdles’, another entry:- ‘Eleven dozen hurdles at 2/9d. per dozen’. ‘Two cord of wood = 12/-‘. ‘One pair of boots = 8/6d’.
Opposite North Farm was once a row of four white-washed, thatched cottages, two of which were the old ‘George Inn’ of coaching days. The stabling and cottages were demolished in the 1920’s to make way for the new road widening scheme. Now only the site remains with a cherry and apple tree marking the spot, behind the grass verge and fence. George Lane, nearby, leads towards the village, where two more old and picturesque cottages, near the Church, frequently draw the artists brush. Two more old cottages of 16th. Century vintage stand at the corner turning of the village. Another interesting old house ‘The Old Manor’, by the Church was once Church Farm, where Mr. W. Rawlings, a smallholder lived. In a severe thunderstorm the lightening unfortunately killed his few cows which ruined him. Previous to this it was occupied by a saddler and harness make, one hundred years ago, name unknown. The old cottage at Church Ill has been said to have been the village blacksmith’s of that time.
The ‘Old Manor’ has been considerably altered and rebuilt, and one wonders if the underground passage which lies beneath the house though sealed up and running beneath the roadway, south, was made in the saddlery days, or even of an earlier date, perhaps the Civil War period of 1643. A part of the house was built on and contained a large down-stair room, called the ‘Reading Room’. The gift of the use of the room to the parishioners was made in 1890, free of rent as long as Lady Meux was owner of the estate. Later when the estate was sold, the room passed into the possession of Mr. William Russ.
Passing the corner cottages one comes to Holly Lodge. This was an old cottage with thatched workshops and frontage yard attached but let independently. The workshop was for many years the village carpenter, wheelright and undertaker. The business belonged to Mr. Huntley of Honeystreet and was managed by Mr. Joe Ashley, who was also Verger for some years. The house, about 1950, was reconditioned and much of the interior brought back to its original construction. Old fireplaces and beams were brought to the surface. Amongst the latter was found a wall beam with the lettering E.M.P. 1691 marked on it. This tends to suggest that it could have been the property of the Earl of Montgomery and Pembroke of that time as the estates extended that far from Wilton. Many things point to the possibility of its being an old farmhouse originally, or even an inn. From time to time pieces of old pottery and churchwarden pipes have been dug up in the garden. There is also to be found within the back premises a large wall of considerable depth. Opposite stands a derelict building which was probably stabling accommodation or a blacksmith’s forge, although no-one can remember its being put to such use.
A few feet away is the Kennet Valley Hall which was built for the use of the Parishioners and opened in September 1931. The opening ceremony was performed by the Right Honourable J.H. Whitely, a former speaker of the House of Commons and Vice-president of the National Council of Social Service. Fourteen organisations banded themselves together as sponsors and a Committee of Management comprises a representative nominated by each of these organisations. Erection of the building was carried out by Messrs. G. Sprules and Son, of Lockeridge, and a loan debit on the project was finally cleared as a result of a fete held in 1934. The Hall is the centre of social activities and is put to regular use each winter by the local indoor games club. The Mothers’ Union, inaugurated back in the ‘thirties, is another organisation to make the Hall its headquarters; likewise the Women’s Institute which, since its formation in 1924, has always met alternately at Lockeridge and Overton.
Mr. Swanton gave the site for the hall.
Another old house of 16th or 17th century stands next to the Hall at the cross-roads. It is the home of Mr. and Mrs. Pearce, daughter of the previous owner Mr. Henry Sprules popularly known as ‘Snooty’, being the local chimney sweep over many years. He was in his 90th year when he died, an independent sturdy old Wiltshire man around whom many a story is told. He kept a small general shop, also a brougham for carrier work to and from Marlborough. On rainy days he was often to be found sitting inside with his passengers. Many passers-by viewed with alarm this driverless equipage bounding along, but the old horse knew its master and its way to town. When he retired from his hiring business, his horses were sold to a man at Devizes, ten miles away, but he did not reckon on one of his horses, a young colt, trotting back early one morning to his old master. The Duchess of Portland, an animal lover, wrote to Mr. Sprules on reading a newspaper account, an appreciative letter of thanks for his undoubted kindness to his horses.
One other story is told of his exploits at tree lopping in the village, when he was seen to fall suddenly to the ground. To his anxious rescuers who ran up to help he remarked dryly, ‘I was sitting the wrong side of the saw’!
The cottage is cream washed and standing at the corner, still known locally as ‘Snooty’s Corner’, and was one hundred years ago the village Sunday School.
Opposite are two more old thatched cottages surrounded by an old stone wall which again suggests it may once have been a farmhouse. Two or three old stavel stones ornament the flower garden in the lane which helps to preserve the old world atmosphere of the village. Further down the lane which is known locally as ‘Frog Lane’ are other old thatched and stone built cottages, one chimney being date-stamped I.S. 1697.
Along the street standing next are four Tudor style built cottages called ‘The Grange’ but at one time was called ‘The Barracks’ but no-one knows the origin.
We then come to ‘The Cottage’, home of Mr. and Mrs. A Peck. Mrs. Peck is Assistant Postmistress. Thirty-five years ago it was the village blacksmith’s, r. Nicklen, and the garage, as it is now, was at that time the blacksmith’s forge. Stavel stones again are an attractive feature of the front garden.
Next is an interesting old house called ‘The Yews’. In 1859 it was purchased by Mr. and Mirs. Bailey who established a bakery and General Stores. Later, the daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, opened what was probably the first Post Office in the village which they held for many years.
Close by is the telephone kiosk, and bus shelter which was built by local voluntary labour. The roof is of Cotswold tiles and the material was given by Mr. Swanton. The shelter was opened 2nd. June, 1953 to commemorate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
Next is the new modern blacksmith and wheelwrights belonging to Mr. Huntley of Honeystreet, a little out of keeping with the old world cottages.
Opposite are three more reconditioned old cottages known as ‘Peacock’ which was originally a farmhouse. One hundred or so years ago it was the home of Mr. Pumphries of Pumphries Woods. It derived its name from a hedge or tree growing in the front garden cut and shaped like a peacock, but alas is no more. This was cut down in the 1930’s when reconstruction took place. Inside one of the cottages at the time was revealed an old beam, inside a cupboard, with the lettering E.P. 1552 which again tells us it was the Earl of Pembroke’s property.
An old couple Mr. and Mrs. Abraham Waite, whose descendants still live in the parish, lived there for many years. Many a dozen clothes pegs were made by the late Verger, Mr. John Waite, who also lived here, for the use of the village people, and very good pegs too.
At the back of the adjoining barns was the Village Pound which was used about two hundred years ago for impounding strayed cattle, and a levy charged when they were claimed.
The old cottage at the back of ‘Peacock’, the last occupant being Mr. H. Rogers, is now in a state of demolition. It was used as a Dame School one hundred years ago.
Two old granaries, 16th. Century, once used for storing grain and raised from the ground on stavel stones, so called to stave off the rats and mice, were pulled down for safety sake in 1955. They stood in the field next to the modern blacksmith’s shop.
Opposite is the General Store and Off License held by Mrs. Bartlett, widow of Mr. E. Bartlett, who opened up in addition a bakery in 1928. The bakery terminated in 1954. The Sub-Post Office next door is held by Mrs. Bartlett assisted by her daughter Mrs. Peck. An amusing story is told of these two ladies efforts at bread baking in the early days of the 1914/1918 war. Mr. Bartlett was called to the forces, leaving his wife, seventeen year old son and fifteen year old daughter, with little experience, to cope with the bread baking. Whilst delivering, the son, Arthur, realised he was short of bread so telephoned his sister, giving her instructions to make a quick dough. Mrs. Bartlett made the dough taking great care not to have the water too hot as this would kill the yeast. Too much care apparently, for the water was not warm enough which had the opposite effect. The result was a large cold stone-like dough, which was useless. The son made another batch but the problem was what to do with the large cold lump, as it was a grave offence to waste foodstuffs. It was eventually decided to dig a hole in the garden and bury it. A week later on arising one fine morning and looking out, was to be seen a moving mass of white foaming dough! The warmth of the ground had caused the yeast to work. The dough was a great worry and was repeatedly buried. Each time it appeared, came with it the fear of the Food Officer discovering the unpardonable offence. One is glad to learn that awful secret was finally buried beneath the obituary R.I.P.
At the rear of the General Shop and Post Office are two more old houses, in one of which lived old Jimmy. He used to make string potato nets to be popped into the cooking pot with the bacon and greens, a real old time Wiltshire dish.
Opposite ‘The Cottage’ is Forge Lane, so called after the old blacksmith’s forge, a lane leading to a new Council building site ‘Knights Close’. Some two dozen houses and two bungalows having been built since the end of the war in 1945.
Two more new houses belonging to Mr. Swanton are about to be built in the same lane.
One hundred years ago the village carpenter and undertaker, named Mr. Walker, lived at the corner of Overton turning for East Kennett. A relative, Mr. Pearce living in the village, recalls being told of his funeral and what an impressive sight it was. Two black horses bedecked with black hoods and mantles which covered their bodies, and black feather plumes nodding on their heads as they conveyed him to his last resting place.
The Methodist Chapel near the same turning leading off to Kennett Drove was built in 1901. Mr. John Glass who owned West Farm gave the site. The present Sunday School Superintendant is Mr. W. Deacon of Overton who has been so for over twenty years, and to well-attended classes. Previous to 1901 services were held in a nearby cottage.
South Farm House, in the centre of the village, was once occupied by Mr. Butler, but for the last thirty years has been the home of Mr. Robert Buxton and his niece Miss Clark. He is an artist of considerable merit, and has show at the Royal Academy and is famed for his water colours of the Tedworth Hunt.
A large drying plant at the back of the village, belonging to Mr. Swanton, was erected in 1953, and marks the progress of time in the farming world.
Oxen were used last in the fields about fifty-five years ago, and an old inhabitant Mr. George Philpott who had driven them behind the plough has said ‘they kept pace with the ‘osses, they had to’. A green track or land at the back of the village is still called ‘The Hitchen’, where the oxen were hitched to the harness. There are still a few very fine carthorses to be seen in the meadows but the herds of pedigree shorthorns far outnumber them.
Potato growing and picking up in the fields is an occupation on a large scale, chiefly run by women. Sixty to seventy years ago a few women living in the village pursued another task, stone picking up on the Downs for the making of roads, to augment the weekly income. For in those days wages were low and families of nine and ten had to be supported on as many shillings weekly.
The smocked frocks of the men and cotton sun-bonnets of the women were last seen about forty to fifty years ago.
The gathering-in of the harvest was rounded off with the merrymaking of the Harvest Home, the last being held about forty eight years ago at the ‘Bell Inn’. Many of the older generation recall Mr. Glass, the genial host of these gatherings where concertina, singing, dancing and feasting were the order of the evening.
The mills which ground the corn one hundred odd years ago have all disappeared. One mill stood on the river at the back of West Farm, a favourite spot for children’s bathing, but a danger spot as the water covers a deep hole where presumably the mill stood. Some children once were enjoying the water when one, Rosie Waite, almost drowned, but for the timely plunge of thirteen year old Rodney Farley of Fyfield who very pluckily dragged her to the bank.
The with bed by the river at one time extended to the George Lane Bridge – the sedge which abundantly grew there was dried and used for thatching purposes whilst the withy canes were used for hurdle making.
The Parish is generally considered a healthy spot to live in, conducive to longevity. Within the last thirty years a few nonagenarians can be named:-
Mr. & Mrs. H. Cook of East Kennett
Mr. G. Middleton of West Overton
Mrs. John Waite of West Overton
Mr. Henry Sprules of West Overton
Mr. & Mrs. John Waters of West Overton
Of the latter, a grand-daughter Mrs. Amy Truman aged seventy, who recently visited the village after forty years tells a few stories of her grandparents. At their Diamond Wedding the village people presented them with a clock to mark the occasion. She remembers when her Grandmother passed away, a neighbour went into her garden and knocked on the bee-hive ‘telling the bees that their mistress had died’, an old custom. She also stopped the clock saying ‘Time and tide wait for no man but it will for you’. Another story she remembers of her Grandfather’s father, how he was taking his horses and wagon to a mill with corn when the ‘Press Gang’ intervened and seized him. He was taken from his horses and wagon at Thatcham and conveyed to London with many others, put on a barge to sail up the Thames and forced to enlist to fight in the Battle of Waterloo. Incidentally Mrs. Truman enquired if the old Walnut trees still stood near the West Farm garden wall!
One must not leave out one personality the district nurse, one of the old school of nurses, Nurse Pincott who acted in this capacity for 38 years. She lived at Holly Lodge for most of those years, and helped to bring 750 babies into the world and never lost a mother. After 25 years, in 1935, the parishioners gathered at the Kennet Valley Hall to pay tribute to her years of service. Bouquets and a purse of money were handed to her. On her retirement in 1948, after 38 years of nursing, the parishioners once again demonstrated their esteem and value of her services in a similar way. Extracts from verses dedicated to her were recited at the gathering:-
Summers heat, winters cold
Cycling the village street
Nurse’s brown clad figure
In uniform so neat.
And now the time has come
‘Tis met with courage high
The day we all regret
To Nurse we say ‘Goodbye’.
One other heart is sad
As hov’ring o’er her porch
Nightly he seeks in vain
The flash of Nurse’s torch.
‘The old order changeth’
He sighs o’er hill and dell
Lost! Bemused, poor old bird
The Stork, she knew so well!
To Nurse we say Farewell,
Her years of service run
None more fitting words than these
‘Well done, Nurse – Well done’.
The district nurse is still with us, No.11 Knights Close, is the official residence. How much easier it is in these modern times for the Nurse to carry out her duties with nice motor car instead of a bicycle, which over so many years was the only means of travelling to her patients.
Even the school children are conveyed to and from their schools by bus. Not for them are wet sodden shoes and clothes, as was often the plight of the children of 30 odd years ago, they now arrive fresh, dry and rested. Juniors up to 11 years of age only are now taught at Kennett and Lockeridge Schools, after that they all go to Marlborough schools.
All farm cottages in Overton have been reconditioned since the Town and Country Planning Act after the war. A piped water supply laid on, bathrooms and flushes, airing cupboards and electric light. Rayburn cooking stoves have been installed ensuring a constant supply of hot water to hand which is a further boon, and with the definite higher standard of living enjoyed is very far removed from village life as lived even 30 years ago.
To go back 70 years when the average farm workers wage was 9/- weekly, cottage rent at 1/- or 1/6d., 1 cwt. of coal 1/-, bread 1/- a gallon, beer at 2d. a pint, shag tobacco 3d. an ounce, a packet of five cigarettes 1d., one did indeed step into another world. Most cottagers endeavoured to keep a pig or two in the sty which ensured a little meat for the household for it was not easy or cheap to purchase butcher’s meat. When pig killing time came round they invariably sought out Mr. John Waite for the job. His charge to kill and cut up a pig was the princely sum of one shilling.
During and since the last war a Pig Club for Mr. Swanton’s employees was formed. It has been the means of providing bacon practically all the year round at a very reasonable cost, and was much appreciated by the harassed housewife during war rationing days.
One cheap dish enjoyed in the old days was a rabbit pie, now denied to all since the myxamatosis scourge killed off all the rabbits in 1954.
Many workmen on Mr. Swanton’s farms have been in his employ for some 30 or 40 years:- Mr. V. Angell, Mr. T. Dobson, Mr. J. Harris, Mr. Hurcott, Mr. Chas. Waite, Mr. A. Wise and Mr. C. Orchard.
Many old customs have died out within the last 20 years. The tolling of the Church bells at funerals is heard no more, or the playing of hymn tunes on the Church bells in Lent, which was often a feature in the evenings.
There is still a band of bell ringers within the parish who can be mustered together for special occasions.
One memorable event in the village was when Mr. Swanton returned with his bridge in 1935. As his car turned in the drive entrance under a caption ‘Welcome Home’ the bells rang out merrily. All his workmen and their families, in number about 150, had gathered to greet them. Ropes were fastened to the car and drawn up the drive, where on the steps of the gateway an address of welcome was read and two small children handed up a bouquet and a buttonhole. At the same time the Kennet Vale Silver Band who had assembled on the lawn suddenly struck up ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow’.
A silver salver suitably inscribed was presented to Mr. Swanton on the occasion of his marriage from all his workmen. A week or so later the barn at Fyfield was the scene of a celebration supper party to his workmen, and tea parties for their wives and families a few days after.
The old custom of home-made wine making is now being revived after being suspended during the war through sugar rationing. All the root wines, potato, beet, carrot and parsnip and the popular dandelion now find a place on the pantry shelf.
The television and radio influence in the home, the merging of town and country children in the town schools all tend to weaken the local dialect, except among the older generation. Town surrounding too with its varied occupations open up a wider vista to the imagination of the growing child mind. One wonders if the same interest will survive future generations of school children at the sight of a growing cornfield, as was embodied in a small village boy’s remark, just prior to the war – ‘Alackey! Whit in yero a ready s’no!’.
A story is told of one old inhabitant, typical of village life of 70 years ago – of the Cottager and his pig. So much in common had they. Did they not indeed sustain each other?
He had spent many anxious hours watching over his pig, soon anticipating a ‘happy event’. Then deciding all was well went to church. Tired out he was soon fast asleep, when the congregation’s loud AMEN woke him with a start. ‘What’ he cried out, ‘TEN!. Thar wer on’y two on ‘em when I left w’hoam’!
As we leave Overton and climb Church Hill to the top of the ‘Bowling Green’, one has a splendid view of the surrounding downs and fields. No-one remembers the bowling, but the name has lingered and relates to a piece of land near to the belt of trees by the pig fattening house which will recall memories of the Fly Plague in 1936, when many ceilings and walls of cottages in the village were moving black masses of flies! Newspaper reporters from London came down to investigate and tell the story of the Fly Plague which emanated from the pig-house and surrounding trees, a veritable harbour for them.
Progressing along the Lockeridge Road, on the left, next to ‘The Kennels’, a one-time game keeper’s cottage, is the old recreation ground. Here many a fine game of village cricket is recalled by players of forty years ago. Football and tennis too have been played, remembering also Mrs. Swanton’s women’s cricket team and an occasional women’s football match!
Adjoining the old recreational field is ‘Gypsy Furlong’, meaning ‘Gypsum’-white lime or plaster, the original meaning is chalk. Furlong is short for furrow long. It is the home of Mr. and Mrs. Giffard. The Giffard family has been long associated with Lockeridge and its activities. Throughout the war years 1939-1945 Mr. Giffard was Battalion Commander of the Home Guard Unit, and Mrs. Giffard was the President of the Women’s Institute and Enrolling Member of the Mother’s Union over a number of years. Mrs. F. Swanton is the present Enroller. The house, known as ‘Gypsy Furlong’, was the residence many years ago of the late Mr. Ponting, the well-known architect.
Just below it stands ‘West Close’, once the shooting box of Sir Henry Meux.