Saturday 10 November 1984

Old Pictures Of Warminster


On the evening of Friday 2nd November 1984, at Warminster Library, Warminster History Society launched their first book - Old Pictures Of Warminster.

I was fortunate to receive an invite to the launch, writes Danny Howell, which I was happy to accept and I went along with my Wylye Valley Life colleague, Neil Grant, to witness the occasion.

Andrew Houghton, one of the authors of the book, generously gave me a presentation copy, which I have reviewed for the Wylye Valley Life magazine, issue No.14, dated 16th November 1984.

Here is my review:

Every Picture Tells A Story

Last week saw the first publication by the Warminster History Society of an excellent collection of photographs of Warminster views, people and local events, taken between 1873 and 1944 (complete with additional drawings made prior to that), in an appropriately titled book called ‘Old Pictures of Warminster’. It’s a superb book, excellently produced and presented and that’s something all the more remarkable when you take into consideration the fact that many of these photographs were collecting dust and deteriorating in drawers and the backs of cupboards before they were donated to the Dewey Museum which was set up in 1972.

Other photographs were uncovered by friends and the History Society hope that this book will encourage others to look out their old photographs and who knows, perhaps this book will be the first of many more to come!

As Andrew Houghton said in his address to the Society and friends at the launch of the book at Warminster Library’s Meeting Room (itself the home of the Dewey Museum) last Friday (November 2nd), "the aim of the Society must always be to present the history of the town and the district to those who seek it and what better way than in book-form like this."

Being Warminster born myself, I found the book particularly appealing and interesting. Even the photograph on the front cover told a story for me. It shows a fine view looking up East Street towards Boreham Road in 1912, complete with a horse and cart, several people and another horse (a piebald too!) outside of what was Sharp’s Tearooms (now Young’s carpet shop). This picture was interesting to me because my grandfather Harry Ball called in Sharp’s one day in 1918 and for the first time met my grandmother-to-be Norah Cutler and it was here their romance began.

Next to Sharp’s, at No.7 East Street, Mrs. Holton used to do dress alterations and next door to her was Mr. (Henry) George Sheppard’s Tobacco Shop. He was a little, crippled man in a chair and he also did umbrella repairs which accounts for the umbrella-shaped sign above his door.

Another photograph in the book shows the Ship Inn, which stood next to the Athenaeum until 1901 when it was demolished to open up the Close onto the High Street. Again, this was of particular interest to me because my great-great-grandmother Eliza Pressley was born just behind this inn, at Common Close, at 11 a.m. on the 5th January 1844.

I’m sure that many other Warminster people, especially the older ones, will have their own memories and tales to tell about each picture too, which makes the book so enjoyable. Mind you, that’s not to say you won’t enjoy the book if you’re not Warminster born and bred. Quite the contrary, you will enjoy it, because it’s fascinating to compare the Warminster scenes now to what they were in days gone by.

Some things haven’t changed at all, while others have changed completely, in some cases several times in a hundred years. One instance is where two of Warminster’s newest shops, ‘Homecharm’ and ‘Curry’s’ now stand on the south side of the Market Place. Most people will remember that recently a Tesco Supermarket occupied this site but even that is history now, having been and gone already. In the book we have a fine view of a procession moving through the Market Place, with the Town Band marching four abreast past ‘Wall’s Garage’ which stood here, and next to it can be seen a small shop called the ‘Central Fruit Stores’. Behind the band are several people wheeling bicycles which appear to be decorated with flowers and things and there’s even a man wearing a splendid hat, wheeling a penny-farthing. The picture was taken in about 1930.

Another photograph of the same site shows the Market House, a rather elegant building, pictured in 1922. It was built by the Marquis of Bath in 1855 and designed by T.H. Wyatt. In the cast iron arcades of its rectangular courtyard, grain sales produced a turnover of £10,000 a week during the early 1860s. Before the Market House was built, grain sales were transacted under the arches of several inns including the Old Bell (which in one photograph taken in the 1880s bears a sign calling it the Australian Hotel). Warminster Corn Market was rated second only to Bristol in the West of England in the 1830s but began to decline soon after. The building of the Market House revived the trade to what is was before but by 1894 the corn market was declared almost dead. Another photograph shows a complete view of the Market Place in 1880, with the weekly market in progress, complete with wagons loaded with sacks of grain and a large crowd of people outside the Market House.

Many of the street scenes show a lack of motor vehicles (how different today) but the book does include Warminster’s associations with transport, with both exterior and interior shots of the Warminster Motor Company in George Street, as well as charabancs, railway engines, traction engines and even the Warminster Spitfire.

There is also a marvellous series of portraits of individuals who made their own personal achievements in community service, commerce or industry in the town. They include Dr. Beaven, Claude Willcox, Harold Dewey, John Wallis Titt and George Wheeler to name but a few.

The townsfolk of Warminster are pictured throughout the book in numerous activities, some of which show their ingenuity; it would seem any national celebration was an excuse to deck the houses or buildings with garlands of flags, leaves and flowers, and even build amazing structures in the same way reaching across the streets. One caption tells us that such was the fervour of the locals to play their part in these activities, there were very few left to be spectators!

So fascinating are the 140 photographs, drawings and other illustrations in ‘Old Pictures of Warminster’ I can see many of us spending many an hour browsing through the book, thanks to the efforts of Jack Field, Andrew Houghton and David Dodge and the other members of the History Society, and we must thank those who took the photographs and kept them over the years to make this collection possible. I’ve found out already that this is one of those books you can’t put down and every time you look through it, you notice something different. Resident or not, I’d recommend it to anyone.