Friday 29 April 1988

Smallbrook Farm, Warminster, 1905-1965, Introduction


Smallbrook Farm no longer exists; it is just a memory to those who are old enough to recall what formerly occupied the area now taken up with the "Prestbury Park" residential estate - Prestbury Drive, St. John's Road, Southleigh View and Willow Crescent.

Smallbrook Farmhouse, demolished soon after 1964, was situated very near today's junction of Prestbury Drive and Southleigh View. It was probably built in the 1830s. Its site was on or near that of Olwey, the Manor House of Smallbrook, a small manor (mentioned in the Domesday Book) which also included additional parcels of land at Sambourne, Bugley, Chedlanger and Upton Scudamore. The Reverend John J. Daniell in his History Of Warminster, first published in 1879, gives an account of the lords of the Manor of Smallbrook, and he adds "The mansion of Olwey, 'a fair country house, with a small park overlooking a fine valley,' was pulled down within the last fifty years: the site is occupied by a small farmhouse; two pillars of the old gateway still remain, and the private road from the Warminster Highway, guarded by a chain." The "private road" referred to by Daniell still exists today, though it is now modernised and used as a public thoroughfare, connecting Boreham Road (opposite Chancery Lane) with the junction of Smallbrook Road, Gipsy Lane, Southleigh View and Sandy Hollow. It is currently known as Chain Lane; its name reminds us of the means that made it private in Daniell's time and before.

Smallbrook Farm could be approached by several ways: the aforementioned Chain Lane; Smallbrook Road (formerly known as Dutch's Lane), which runs south-east from Boreham Road near the junction with Imber Road; via Sandy Hollow, the steep incline from Calveswater and Henford Marsh; and by Smallbrook Lane and a footpath, both running west from Boreham. The farm comprised nearly 60 acres of mostly good dairying pasture, reaching from Boreham to Wheeler's Nurseries, and those who worked the land here were able to enjoy the relatively unspoilt view over the Marsh and the River Wylye to Eastleigh and Southleigh Woods. The last to farm at Smallbrook was Bert Dowding (born 1915), who followed in the footsteps of his father, Albert Dowding (1875-1959). The latter commenced farming at Smallbrook in 1905, taking over the holding from his brother-in-law, George Baker.

During the spring of 1986 I had the good fortune and pleasure to make a tape-recorded interview with Bert Dowding, whose Wiltshire brogue and sense of humour, coupled with an accurate recall of times past, made for a most enjoyable conversation lasting over three hours. In December 1987 I was likewise able to record an interview with Bert's sister, Mrs Beatrice Young (born 1909), who also supplied me with several pages of written notes. Beatrice also kindly loaned to me many of the photographs and pictures for reproduction within the following pages.

I have, for the purposes of publication, mixed the words of Bert and Beatrice, as transcribed from the tapes of the interviews, to form the bulk of the text of this book. For those readers who always want to know more I have also included other information concerning some of the people, places and events mentioned by my two interviewees. This broadens the scope of the book and makes it much more than just an account of the Dowding family and their lives on and away from the farm. These extra items appear within the text in 'boxes' and readers may decide for themselves whether they only want to enjoy Bert's and Beatrice's personal recollections, or whether they want to read everything including details of my avid researches.

Either way, I hope that you will find this form of presentation acceptable. I am sure that older Warminster residents will be stirred by the contents of this book, and younger ones and newcomers will certainly be able to glimpse what is now another part of Warminster's history. I am pleased to know that I have, once again, been able to publish something 'new' about Warminster's past; and I am glad to have had both the chance to meet Bert Dowding and Beatrice Young (charming people) and to record in print an account of Smallbrook Farm for all to read and enjoy.

Danny Howell, April 1988.