Saturday, 13 May 1989

Warminster Before The Second World War


There was a change of programme for the Warminster History Society's monthly meeting on Monday 8th May 1989, held at Warminster Library, when the proposed speaker, Mrs Pam Slocombe from the Wiltshire Buildings Record, was unable to attend.

Instead, Warminster History Society member, Danny Howell stepped in to give another of his enjoyable slide shows. On this occasion he chose to portray the working life of Warminster before the Second World War.

Familiar business names, including Frank Morgan (malting), Carson & Toone (iron-founding), Scott & Smith (corn factors), George Wheeler (nurseryman), James Button (haulage and removals), Claude Willcox (Warminster Motor Company), John Hall (paints and varnishes), Dr Edwin Sloper Beaven (barley breeding), and John Wallis Titt (farm implements, wind-engines and waterworks), were brought to life on screen with portraits, biographies and reminders of the outstanding contributions they made towards the town's former prosperity.

A favourite slide showed the staff of Mark Hill's Station Saw Mills, on their annual outing to Stonehenge in the 1920s. A huge traction engine called "The Pride Of Wiltshire", decked with flags and bunting, was turning the corner by Ivy Lodge, out of Imber Road into Boreham Road. It was towing three wagons full of sawyers and their families, all heading for the famous landmark on Salisbury Plain, where a picnic lunch of egg sandwiches was provided free by Mrs Hill.

Monday was market day in Warminster and the inns were allowed extra opening hours on Monday afternoons so that the farmers, auctioneers, butchers and dealers, could have a drink and a meal after their business at the market was over. An old slide showed a sign on the wall of the Bath Arms advertising that the inn was also open on Monday afternoons "from 2.00 pm until 4.30 pm for the accommodation of those attending Warminster Market." A special dinner, called a market ordinary, was provided for about two shillings. The poorer farmers dined at the Three Horseshoes, the more well-to-do farmers preferring the Bath Arms or the Old Bell.

Street scenes and close-ups illustrated the changing facades of Warminster's shop fronts. Among the shops portrayed were Everett's (grocer), Tommy Chinn (butcher), Archie Crease (butcher), Haden (ironmonger), and Stiles (ironmonger).

William Mundy's at 12 East Street was a popular cafe and shop, with its famous "faggots and peas". The secret recipe for the faggots originally came from an Australian soldier in camp near Warminster during the First World War. When Mr Mundy bought the cafe in 1923, the estate agent told him that it was an ideal place to buy a business because plans to widen East Street and demolish all the buildings on the opposite side (north) of the street were about to happen at any moment! The scene is still virtually the same today.

Mr Howell concluded by showing how some of the shopkeepers enjoyed their spare time on Wednesday afternoons - half-day closing - before the First World War. This usually took the form of a ride by horse and brake to Shearwater, Stourhead, or the park at Edington.

During the severe winters of the 1890s, ice-skating took place at Shearwater and an occasional ox roast was held on the frozen lake.

Other highlights in the Warminster calendar were the pleasure fairs, held in the main streets, every April and October until 1963. Mr Howell's last slide showed the April Fair in 1937, with steam rising up from the showman's roundabouts outside the Post Office, and hundreds of people swirling about in the streets, enjoying the stalls and attractions.