Sunday 17 April 1988

Smallbrook Farm, Warminster, 1905-1965 Review


I know that the summer is not perhaps the time when farmers and their wives do much reading. But many country lovers like to take a book on holiday with them, so I am going to tell you about a book which has just come into my hands.

This has a lot of historical interest, and quite a lot of local country lore. It is called Smallbrook Farm, Warminster, 1905-1965.

The book has been written in rather an unusual way. The author, Danny Howell, made tape recordings of conversations with Bert Dowding and his sister Mrs Beatrice Young.

He writes: “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 his accurate recall of times past, made a most enjoyable conversation lasting over three hours.”

“It was Bert’s sister, born in 1909, who supplied me with written notes and pictures which enabled me to write this book.”

The book is not the usual style, as it quotes passages of Bert’s conversation verbatim, and then follows historical data of people, and places, which for local folk will be of interest.

Warminster, of course, is featured strongly, but Frome, too, has quite a bit of its past brought to light. For instance, did you know that Warminster once had a busy cattle-market? A picture shows a white-haired gentleman from Cooper and Tanner selling sheep in 1960.

I rang this highly esteemed man, who is still active in Frome, and he remembers the occasion. The Warminster Town Council, who were concerned about the falling business of the market, wrote to Cooper and Tanner asking if they would try to revive the falling trade. However, as history knows, Warminster Market, like many others, eventually closed.

The book tells how Clarks, of shoe making fame, bought the market site for an unbelievably small sum. That was in May 1955.

The author has gone to a great deal of trouble in researching his facts and figures. It is perhaps surprising that in 1952, in one quarter, some 1,547 cattle were sold through Warminster Market.

Bert Dowding’s words on the recording were - “There are not many markets left today. A small community could hold its own in those days, and you simply walked your animals to and from the nearest market. When lorries came you could fit your animals in a lorry to go to a big market, where lots of dealers would be. One extra bid at the bigger auction would pay for your transport.”

Bert goes on to remember personalities who were regular supporters of Warminster Market, names which are still well known today like Arthur Bazley, Percy Legg, Mr Gauntlett of Bishopstrow, Mr Hill and Teddy Parrott of Bugley Farm. Teddy only had one leg and he used to ride around his farm on a horse.

Bert’s sister Beatrice said: “Sometimes I would go to market with Father. He went to the one at Frome in the days when Warminster didn’t have a market.”

Bert recalled how: “Like other young chaps I used to buy colts to break in. Horse dealers travelled about, and they knew what people wanted. The colts were brought from Wales. The dealers would show you half a dozen and you would pick yourself two or three. They cost £15 each. They were kept in the rough meadows in the summer. They were something to ride about on, and you broke them in. When they were broken in they could help with work on the farm; and you could sell them on for £25.”

These conversations bring back so vividly what life was like on the farms before mechanisation ruled our lives.

Another verbatim quote from Bert: “Before the first world war milk was a penny a pint. After the war it was about two pence. Father gave up his milk round after the war, and we put it on the rail at Warminster station. Lots of milk carts arrived at the station each morning. They came from all the surrounding villages like Tytherington and Sutton Veny. In May 1926 we had the general strike. We could not put our milk on rail for London because the railways stopped working. There was a milk factory down at Frome, close to the station and we took it there. I was nearly 11 years old. Father said: ’You can take the milk to Frome with the horse and cart.’ Off I goes with the horse and cart to Frome. Father gave me three pence to take with me, and I went into the cafĂ© at Wallbridge opposite the factory, and bought three buns to eat coming home.”

This book by Danny Howell is published by Wylye Valley Publications, Warminster. This book had a splendid review in Farmers’ Weekly in early May. It was this review which made me order it. The first print sold out, but copies are now available.

Arthur Court, Somerset Standard, Friday 15 July 1988.