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 . . . . . ."