Thursday, 1 March 2012

You can now read more about Warminster, the Wylye Valley and South West Wiltshire, and all manner of things posted by Danny Howell, on his website:

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Jim Carpenter - The Miller Of Wylye


Bert Collinson has written to us with a question. He says: "Some years ago I remember reading some memories of the late Jim Carpenter, the famed miller from Wylye, and I'm sure these were published by Danny Howell. I've got several of Danny's books (and very good they are too!) but I can't seem to find the account about Jim Carpenter in any of them. Can you tell which book features them please?"

Danny Howell replies:

"Thank you Bert for your enquiry. Jim Carpenter's memories were first published in a little book called Wiltshire Lives. This was produced in 1981 by the St. Edmunds Arts Centre (later Salisbury Arts Centre - in the old St. Edmunds Church, at Bedwin Street, Salisbury). I was able to reprint Mr. Carpenter's memories in my Wylye Valley Life magazine, issue No.8, dated Friday 24 August 1984. That's over 25 years ago! The Wiltshire Lives booklet is now out of print and back copies of the Wylye Valley Life magazine are now very hard to come by - in fact they are now collectors' items and have been known to change hands for quite a bit of money. Because of this, I'm happy to reproduce Jim Carpenter's memories here for you and other readers of this blogspot to share and enjoy. They certainly make very interesting reading."


"I suppose I'm pretty well the oldest man in Wylye village. Born at Bapton, christened at Fisherton, and we come back to Wylye eighty-six years ago."

"I spent all my school days in Wylye School. At that time we had to have about one day a week and that was religious instruction given to us then by the parson - no names, no pack drill - and that parson used to bark at us kids and put the fear of the Lord into us. One day he barked out at poor old Randolph, 'Randolph, what did Sampson slay the Philistines with?' Randolph hadn't a clue. 'The job end of a donkey's ass, sir,' he said."

"We used to get two pence a week pocket money and we'd get a tuppeny whopper made by Flint, the baker. And a tuppeny whopper was a lardy cake. Lovely. I'd love one now!"

"Well now, I left school when I was fourteen and went to work in the old mill at Fisherton Delamere the day I were fourteen, so I've seen a few changes. We rented the old mill for nearly forty years and then we were at Wylye Mill about sixteen year and a half. And I and my brother were the last to do any actual grinding with the waters, as far as I know, on the river Wylye, which during my time had nearly seventeen mills on it. They're all gone now."

"The old mill at Fisherton, there were only me father there, and then me father and me for a number of years. Of course, we had the old horses, of which we grew very fond. We'd take the stuff out on a horse and cart, before the motors, before the tractors."

"At the mill, it was all grinding then. There was no compound then, only barley meal from morning to night. We'd grind about three hundredweight an hour with the old mill stones, and during the summer months, if the water was really short we had to stop up all night and grind. And during the Depression we were taking foreign barley off the station at Wylye, dragging it to Fisherton Delamere by horses, grinding it, putting it into hessian bags, and hauling it to Warminster for five pence a hundredweight. The times were a bit hard then."

"Then we had the first lorry, an old solid-tyre lorry. An oil lamp behind, acetylene lamp in front, and then me brother of ten striking a box of matches coming from Warminster home, trying to keep the blasted back light alight. And the legal speed were twenty miles per hour. You couldn't go any faster. As for the brakes, you had to trust in the Lord to stop. And the name of this old lorry was Sir Garford, long since forgotten."

"Village life was very different then to what it is now. Wages would be eleven shillings. Later they went up to thirteen shillings, the cowman and the carter were to get fifteen shillings. We'd have fresh meat on Sunday. During the week we'd have eggs, and all the villagers kept two pigs, one they'd kill in the spring before the weather got too hot, the other one they'd sell to help buy another one. Then they'd have two more and they'd kill one, and sell one when the weather got cold enough to salt it down. Then we'd have a stew. A breast of mutton would be four pence and a rabbit and all the vegetables of the garden, all in together, all stewed together. Oh, and I can taste them now - mother's dumplings. If you couldn't get a rabbit for nothing it would be a tanner (6d.)"

"The villagers used to band together to form a pig club. They used to pay in about 2d. a week. If one of the villagers lost a pig, which would be a great loss to them, then the club would make the value of the pig good to them if one of them had their pig dying during the winter or the summer. And I think I went to the last Pig Club Supper that was held in the village during the First World War. And we had a good supper and a few songs. We sung a few old songs that were so old that they are partly forgotten. One I vaguely remember, it went like this: 'Oh, look at the country bumpkin, Scratching his cabbagy head.'

"At Michaelmas the farm men would get Michaelmas money which was then about £4. Some would get £6. And they'd buy themselves a pair of boots, or a suit of clothes, or something else that was really needed."

"We used to go down to the pub on a Saturday night and have a pint of beer and I can remember the beer was two and a half pence a pint. Woodbine matches were four boxes for a penny. Woodbine cigarettes were a penny a packet and porter was three pence. Poor Mrs Widdow used to call it 'squirt.' I offered to give her a quart of squirt and that was her dinner, and she'd have another quart in the evening, that was her tea and her supper. And she lived on it and lived to be about ninety!"

"One of the characters in the village was a fellow who used to sleep rough. His name was Albert Dyer. He went under the name of 'Old Taller' and he'd done something wrong and he was supposed to go and apologise to the policeman whose name was Mr Cooke. Mrs Cooke comes to the door. Old Taller says 'Is old Cooke in?' She says 'No, can I give him a message?' He says 'Yes, tell him he's a damn fool and I'm glad on it!'

"One of the big events in village life then was the Odd Fellows' Fete held on Trinity Monday. The Odd Fellows was a friendly society, before the days of Social Security. They'd parade the village with the band, and then have a dinner, games and sports, tug o'war, side shows and things like that. It was quite a day, it was a big event in village life."

"The village band made a tremendous noise. Not all that musical but that didn't matter. We enjoyed it. And the bandmaster was Mr Joe Wootten, the village school master."

"And I can remember going with my father to what was nearly the last Castle Fair, up top of the Forest. The gypsies used to come and there were animals. Horses, colts, sheep and cattle. The Fair stopped because the War was on."

"To finish up my story I have written a little song. I hope you like it:

I'm an old dusty miller,
I live in the Vale,
I swallowed too much dust
And not enough ale.
Now I'm trying to put things right,
I've got to sit up drinking
Ale all night . . . . . ."

Monday, 11 January 2010

Winter Carnival At Shearwater


G. Curtis has contacted us with a query which ties in with the current snow and frozen conditions we are witnessing. He says: "I'm sure that years ago when the winters were so harsh, they used to hold events on the frozen ice of Shearwater and these included roasting oxen and sheep as a way of feeding the hundreds of people who attended. I was telling a neighbour this and he would like to know if anyone can confirm this."

Danny Howell replies: "Yes, you are quite correct. In the 1990s I published a leaflet about Shearwater and my notes referred to one of the winter carnivals held there, in 1891. The leaflet is now out of print but I have added it here so that you, your neighbour and others can share the information."


Shearwater, the lake on the Longleat Estate, at the western end of the village of Crockerton, was made in 1791-1792 when the Marquis of Bath was responsible for damming the Shearwater stream.

Covering nearly 40 acres and nearly a mile in length, the lake takes its name, it is generally believed, from the area's use for sheep shearing prior to 1791. In those days there were numerous ponds here from which clay had been dug. One of these ponds was used by the people of the neighbourhood for washing their sheep before shearing.

Shearwater was constructed according to the design and recommendation of Francis, Duke of Bridgewater, the Canal celebrity, who was a frequent visitor to Longleat and an intimate friend of Thomas, Lord Viscount Weymouth and the first Marquis of Bath.

A description of Shearwater in 1881 notes: "The grand expanse of lake with its varied colour, its magnificent surroundings, its beautiful walks, and its most infinite variety of picturesque effects, cannot fail to arouse in the visitor some expression or feeling of admiration for the beauties which nature so lavishly displays. But when it is remembered that the forests of trees with which the banks are lined were planted by mortal hands, that the abundant variety of flowers and foliage is due to the care and cultivation of man, that the pleasant walks have all been planted by the ingenuity and formed by the skill of human beings like ourselves, - and when in addition to all this we remember that even the noble lake itself owes its origin to mechanical contrivance, we can hardly restrain a feeling of wonder at the vastness of what has thus been achieved, and of thankfulness to those by whom it has been undertaken, completed, and given up for public enjoyment. A public drive extends nearly all round the lake, and numerous seats are provided for the comfort of pedestrians, who will also find many delightful shaded walks which are impractible to the wheeled conveyance."

During the harsh winters of the 19th century Shearwater would freeze over with solid ice, sufficient for ox-roasts to be held on the lake itself.

During January 1891, following eight weeks of frost, a carnival was held at Shearwater with over a thousand people on the lake! An open range was built on the ice, surrounded by sheets of corrugated zinc, and a sheep was roasted whole. The roasting commenced at 3.30 p.m., and the meat was carved and distributed at 8.00 p.m. The boathouse keeper got a leg, the bargate keeper got a shoulder, and the Carnival Committee got the other shoulder. The remainder was distributed to the rest of the first-comers, with bread and 36 gallons of beer. A brass band played and there was skating, followed by a torchlight procession. The carnival ended at 10.00 p.m.

A thatched boathouse on the north side of the lake was destroyed by fire at Whitsun 1938. Lord Weymouth assisted Warminster Fire Brigade in trying to douse the flames. Crowds of people gathered to watch the blaze. The fire occurred only a month after the old boathouse keeper, Mr. A. Trollope, passed away after being at the boathouse for over 50 years.

Another building, to the side of the boathouse, also met with destruction by fire. Wilfred Middlebrook remembered: "It was a huge rustic structure with a deeply-thatched roof in the Dutch style and was once used as a stable. It caught fire in July 1944 but nobody did anything about it for a long time because those who saw the smoke thought it was waste wood being burned by workmen from the Longleat Estate. When Warminster Fire Brigade eventually arrived the place was well alight, and the firemen were hampered still more by wasps that had been nesting in the thatch. That was the end of the old stables."

Today, a modern boathouse can be seen on the north side of Shearwater. This is all a far cry from the time when during the 1920s and 1930s Shearwater was the haunt of university oarsmen but the lake is currently the home of the Shearwater Sailing Club who were responsible for the building of the pavilion near the north-east corner in the early 1960s.

In more recent years the lake has provided a home for waterfowl and was briefly visited during the spring and autumn seasons in the late 1970s by an osprey during his flights to and from his breeding ground in Scotland. Herons can often be seen in the Shearwater area.

Bargate Cottage, to the south-east, is now a tea room and restaurant, following many years use as a tea room and cafe. Mrs Bessie Stockley, who celebrated her 100th birthday in 1982, had fond memories of Bargate Cottage where her parents lived for many years. When she was growing up there she was told by local people how they used to tend allotment gardens on the slopes of the valley before the lake was formed.

In 1981 it was noticed that Shearwater was leaking through a nine inch hole in one of the lake's original sluice gates. This was remedied with sandbags and cement being placed in situ by a team of divers from Bristol.

Repairs to the sluices and work on the banks so as to comply with E.E.C. regulations, meant the draining of Shearwater in October and November 1988. Fish were removed from the lake. Pike were temporarily transferred to Broadlands at Romsey, other big fish were moved to the lake adjacent Longleat House, and small fish to the Mill Pond at Horningsham.

The lack of water in the lake resulted in an array of finds being discovered, including live ammunition (mortar bombs and shells) and firearms abandoned during the Second World War, not to mention an assortment of old bicycles and other junk.

Now restored, Shearwater continues to provide enjoyment for many sightseers and users of the lake. It is particularly colourful during early summer when the rhododendrons and azaleas are in flower. Autumn, with its colourful hues, is another ideal time for visiting this lovely place.

Danny Howell.