Thursday, September 8, 2011

Great Western Railway Medical Fund

In 1948 Aneurin Bevan, Labour's Minister of Health, rolled out the revolutionary National Health Service, a cradle to grave safety net of state health and welfare care. Something GWR employees at Swindon had enjoyed for over 100 years.

The World War II Coalition government had debated the whys and wherefores of creating a National Health Service but it was the radical Welsh MP Aneurin Bevan who masterminded the plan having been inspired, it has been said, by the GWR Medical Fund at Swindon.

He had urged members of Clement Attlee's post war Cabinet to visit the town and see just how an employee's contributory scheme could, and did work. "There it was," Bevan is reported as saying, "A complete health service, all we had to do was to expand it to embrace the whole country."

Daniel Gooch, Locomotive Superintendent at the railway works is acknowledged as being the initiator of the GWR Medical Fund. As men were dismissed or put on short time working when a depression hit the railway industry in 1847, Gooch approached the Directors of the GWR with a number of proposals. Included in his letter is a request made by the men "one of the plans is to arrange with Mr. Rae, (sic) Surgeon, to attend the whole for a small weekly payment by each man..."

His first suggestion was that company doctor Stuart Keith Rea be paid an annual salary of £30 with a rent-free company house A shop on the corner of London and High Street was converted into a surgery and dispensary. Dr. Rea also received a capitation fee of between 10-18s (50-90p) according to the number of patients, out of which he had to pay for all medicines, bandages, splints and leeches!

By December 1847 the GWR Medical Fund was up and running. Membership became a condition of employment and subscriptions were deducted from the men's wages, 4d per week for a married man earning more than £1 and l 1/2d for a boy earning less than 10s.

The implementation of the Public Health Act of 1848, prompted by an intolerably high rate of death and disease in rapidly expanding Victorian towns and cities, led to a damning 1850 Public Enquiry into conditions in Swindon. Although the inquiry concerned itself mainly with Old Swindon,conditions in the new settlement at the bottom of the hill were, if anything, worse.

With railway village residents receiving a water supply pumped from the Wilts and Berks Canal, also the repository for New Swindon's cesspools and ditches, it was no wonder the new churchyard at St. Mark's was rapidly filling up. Across the summer of 1851 there were 13 burials. Life expectancy had plunged from 36 to an even more shocking 29 years. Clearly the newly created Medical Fund Benefit Society had its work cut out.

The minutes of early Medical Fund committee meetings contain regular complaints against the GWR Company, the most pressing of which was the need to resolve the drainage and water supply problems in the railway village. The committee also wanted residents banned from keeping chickens, rabbits and pigs, all of which added to the general filth and health hazards.

GWR company houses were regularly inspected with the medical fund providing free carbolic acid and lime wash in the battle against dirt and disease. In the 1850s a Keeper of Lime Brushes and Invalid chair was appointed with a salary of £1.5s.

Desperately needed washing facilities were created with eight baths in the Mechanics Institution, later moved to a yard at the back of the Barracks. When this building was converted into a Wesleyan Chapel in 1868 the Fund built 32 new baths on a piece of land between Taunton Street and Faringdon Road.

In 1871 the fund established an accident hospital, subscribing initially to St. George's and St. Mary's in London and Bath General Hospital where their members could receive further treatment if necessary.

In 1887 the Medical Fund employed a dentist. Records show that in his first year the zealous dental surgeon performed over 2,000 tooth extractions.  That same year the fund appointed an undertaker. Members had free use of the horse and shiliber (funeral carriage) but if the funeral was for a dependent a charge was made for the use of the horse.

Artificial limbs were produced at the works for patients across the GWR system and returned for repair or alteration. A notebook dated 1893-1896 held at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in Chippenham includes detailed diagrams with measurements, materials and cost.

Friendly and Benefit societies already existed in many industrial towns, including the 'GWR Locomotive and Carriage Department Sick Fund Society’ established in Swindon a decade earlier, however, the GWR Medical Fund was unique in the wealth of services it provided.

Although such comprehensive health care provision would have been difficult to achieve without the support and involvement of the GWR company it was the ordinary railway men who ran the complex system.

With the position of president held by the Works Manager, it was work colleagues and members of the Society, who elected the rest of the nine-man committee. Results of the 1911 election reveal the committee members worked in the Loco Department, A Shop, the Carriage Department, the Wagon Department and the Traffic Department.

In 1948, at the time of its absorption into the newly created National Health Service, the GWR Medical Fund was providing health care for over 40,000 Swindon residents.

1847 smallpox epidemic - launch of the GWR Medical Fund Benefit Society was announced during the same year.

1848 Public Health Act

1850 Public Inquiry - Inspector George T. Clark declares Swindon to be 'particularly unhealthy.' 1853 typhus outbreak

1864 Old and New Swindon Local Boards of Health elected

1865 Letter to the Swindon Advertiser stated 'small pox and fever were raging in the town.'

1868 baths build on land between Taunton Street and Faringdon road

1871 Accident hospital opens in the converted armoury on Faringdon Road

1887 Dental Surgery opens

1892 Milton Road Baths open on corner plot of Milton and Faringdon Road

1927 Accident Hospital enlarged

1930 Ophthalmic department opened

1939-45 Chiropody and psychiatric clinics introduced

Photographs - Top Aneurin Bevan, Daniel Gooch, 1907 Management Committee and 1947 Officers of the Society.  Visit Swindon Local Studies Collection on

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Milton Road Baths

Toothill Farm

Toothill in West Swindon was the site of the ancient Antiock's Well, famous for its miraculous and healing properties.  An Old English name for a meeting place or look out point, a farm at Toothill is first mentioned in 1594.

Toothill Farm has had many owners and occupiers during its long history and quite remarkably letters concerning an 18th century tenancy dispute have survived.

The Governors of Charterhouse administered the dairy farm at Toothill from 1605 when Thomas Sutton, founder of the now famous Charterhouse School, acquired it, along with two other properties, Whitehill and Mannington Farms, in the Manor of Mannington.

In a box of Charterhouse documents held at the London Metropolitan Archives in Clerkenwell an exchange of letters between Jasper Yorke, David Smith and Thomas Melmouth record the contested lease of the farm at Toothill.

The multi talented Jasper Yorke, carpenter, joiner, farm bailiff and gamekeeper had acquired the lease through his marriage to Bridget Vilett whose father Charles Vylett appears as tenant on a 1685 lease.

By 1752 he was sub-letting the farm, a common practise in the 18th century, to David Smith. However, Smith appears to have ideas above his station. He wanted the tenancy for himself and wrote to the Governors complaining that Jasper was neglecting the property. He promised to undertake the not inconsiderable repairs and made an offer of £160 rent on the property £10 more than Jasper was paying at the time (over £19,000 by today's value).

A furious Jasper wrote to Thomas Melmouth at the Charterhouse offices that he was surprised Smith "should Act in so base a Manner." He asked that when considering the terms of a new lease the Governors "will give me the Preferrance before a Stranger." He concluded with a reference to Bridget, saying, "my Wife is very Uneasy about Mr. Smith's extraordinary Behaviour." Unfortunately the outcome of the dispute is lost and by 1780 another tenant was in residence. Mr Bound was recorded as paying land tax on Toothill and in 1789 his widow, Mary negotiated an 18-year lease on the farm.

At the time of the 19th century Tithe Commutation Act field names included Withy Bed, Little Toot Hill, The Hospital and Last Field while several fields were simply called 'New Inclosure' indicating the recent reorganisation of land.

Toothill Farm was sold in 1919. Bought by Wiltshire County Council it was converted into allotments for soldiers returning from service in the First World War.

Today the farmhouse in Bodiam Drive, a Swindon Borough Council owned property, overlooks the busy Western Way with the M4 just a stone's throw away, a far cry from the time when Toothill was a settlement some four miles from Swindon.  Home to various community groups, the farmhouse was threatened with closure in 2005. However £12,000 worth of repairs undertaken by the Council assured its future.

As Jasper Yorke confidently predicted in a letter dated Nov. 26th 1763 "and when those Repairs are Perform 'd which I am doing the Farm House will be a Sufficient Tennantable House for this Farm for a Hundred Years to Come."

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Not the best line of defence...

It probably wasn't the best line of defence to offer up to the magistrates.

When Henry Jackson, 30 a smith at the GWR Works, appeared at Swindon Petty Sessions in November 1881 charged with being drunk and disorderly, he claimed that 'he meant to be locked up to see what sort of beds they had at the station, as the last one he had was a wooden one.'

It's to be hoped the accommodation at Swindon Police Station came up to Jackson's exacting standards. In 1873 the new station at the top of Eastcott Road (then called Eastcott Lane) replaced the old one in Devizes Road, built some 20 years earlier.

Before the 1850s Swindon had only a lock up at the top of Newport Street. Built in c1762 this 8ft square, dark and dingy structure was less than secure. In the 1840s a railway navvy was liberated by friends who dug a hole under the door and then burned the building to the ground.

The new purpose built station at the top of Eastcott Road had accommodation for a superintendent, an inspector, a sergeant and 8 constables; a public court and 8 cells, although at the time of the 1881 census there could have been barely room to swing a cat o' nine tails in the new station.

Superintendent George North, his wife and five children plus a servant; Inspector Worthy Porter and his wife and nine children and Sergeant Thomas Rebbick with his wife and their four children all managed to squeeze in - oh and there were two prisoners, William Mills and George Barker.

By 1889 the Swindon branch of the Wiltshire Constabulary had increased to a superintendent, an inspector, two sergeants and 16 constables and in 1891 the building was enlarged on the South Street side.

With a population in excess of 45,000 in 1904 the Superintendent at Swindon was given a pay rise to reflect the heavy workload.

The station in Eastcott Road was closed and demolished in 1973, replaced by a new divisional headquarters on Fleming Way, which has since also been demolished.
The £19.5 million Gablecross Station opened at Swindon in 2005, though whether the beds are wooden or not remains unknown.

Wiltshire Constabulary was established in 1839.

Four superintendents were appointed at an annual salary of £100 exclusive of clothing but with a horse. A further nine superintendents received £75 per annum, minus the horse.

Constables were required to be under 40 years old, 5ft 6ins tall, literate, numerate and "to be free from any bodily complaint, of strong constitution and generally intelligent." Pay was 17s 6d (87p worth today about £59).

Frances Bevan

Photograph 1911: Swindon Division - Police Station, Eastcott Road, Swindon by William Hooper courtesy of Mr P.A. Williams see

Police Station 1966 courtesy of Swindon Viewpoint see

Pauper Inmate - Derby winning jockey Charles Marlow

The Highworth and Swindon Union Workhouse at Stratton St. Margaret was built in 1845-6 in the wake of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act. With outdoor relief - payment in cash or kind - now restricted to only the deserving poor, the workhouse was the destiny of those down on their luck.

At the time of the 1881 census the workhouse at Stratton contained 206 people. Among them was Charles Marlow, a man who had enjoyed both fame and fortune.

In the 1840s Marlow was ranked as one of the top jockeys of his day. It was his association with the Earl of Eglinton and his horse The Flying Dutchman that secured Marlow's place in horse racing history.

Marlow rode the Dutchman to an exciting win in the 1849 Derby. After three false starts Hotspur with George Whitehouse onboard stole the Dutchman's early lead. But as the runners and riders turned into the home straight Marlow struck his horse with the whip and the Flying Dutchman won by a short neck.

Marlow was in the saddle again later that year when the Dutchman won the St. Leger at Doncaster. Both horse and jockey were at the height of their fame when they joined forces for the Doncaster Cup of 1850.

The race, a two hander saw the Dutchman matched against Voltigeur, a young, inexperienced horse. The result should have been a foregone conclusion. Opinion was divided as to the cause of the Dutchman's poor performance. Some said Marlow was drunk.

With the Dutchman's worth at stud compromised by this defeat, Eglinton arranged 'A Great Match' between Voltigeur and the Flying Dutchman. Raced over York's Old Course on May 13th 1851 and watched by a huge crowd, the Dutchman romped home to win by a length, his reputation, and Marlow's restored.

In 1853 Marlow ran the third of his classic race successes, winning the Oaks on John Wauchope's filly Catherine Hayes. At what point did the drinking become a problem for the top class jockey? Was it after the disastrous 1855 Oaks when he broke his leg riding a horse named Nettle? Did that injury signal the end of his career?

In 1871 Marlow was employed by Grand National winning jockey turned trainer, Tom Olliver at stables in Wroughton where he headed a team of five. Ten years later he was in the Highworth and Swindon Workhouse, his career finished, the glory days just a memory. He is recorded on the census as - Charles Marlow - Jockey 1849 Winner of the Derby With Flying Dutchman. The following year Marlow was in the Devizes workhouse where he died in October 1882.

Image is a reproduction of The Great Match (The Flying Dutchman and Voltiguer) by John H. Herring

1906 Tram Disaster

Ask any Swindonian for directions to Victoria Road and you're likely to be greeted with a blank look. Ask for Vic Hill and everyone will know where to send you.

Originally called Victoria Street and extending only as far as Prospect Place, development northwards to the new industrial complex took off in the 1850s. By 1899 building had extended to Regent Circus and in 1903 the two sections were renamed Victoria Road.

Victoria Road cuts through an area once known as Tarrant's Field where Frederick Large records a number of 'phenomenal happenings' in his history of the town, A Swindon Retrospect, written in 1931.

On one occasion a huge waterspout burst over the centre of the field creating a deluge of rain. Another time a tornado like wind whipped up a newly mown crop of hay, and transported it to stabling in nearby Prospect.

However, the cause of the fatal tramcar accident on June 1st 1906 on this same spot owes more to negligence than the supernatural.

The accident occurred at the end of the second day of the hugely successful Bath & West Southern Counties Show taking place at Broome Manor Farm. Hosting the show was a huge achievement for Swindon bringing increased revenue into the town during the five-day event.

The No. 11 tram was packed to capacity with passengers hanging on the outside when it got into difficulties at the bottom of Victoria Road opposite the Queen's Theatre. First on the scene were several soldiers who administered first aid, followed by a team of local doctors.

The Swindon Advertiser covered the accident in great detail, printing updates on the condition of the injured.

There were conflicting reports for eyewitnesses. Alfred Manners, owner of nearby Queen's Theatre described how the overcrowded tram came down the hill "at a great pace" while postman Mr. J. Waine said it was travelling at a moderate speed of 6 or 7 miles per hour.

The driver of the tram, William Lyons, said the brakes had failed and that he lost control. On hitting the points, the vehicle was derailed and overturned.

None of the passengers escaped injury and four were killed - Harry Dyke, a brewers agent from Goddard Avenue; E.H. Coad, licensee of the Railway Inn, Newport Street, Rowland J. Thurnford, a farmer from Draycot Cerne and Charles Phippen from Bath. Thomas Neate, also from Bath, died six weeks later.

A Board of Trade enquiry later found that the new tramcar, although thoroughly tested, had only been in place on the Victoria Road route for one day and was unfamiliar to the driver William Lyons. Negligence was cited when one of the injured passengers later sued Swindon Corporation and was awarded £7,200 damages.

(Photographs of the accident and the funeral of one of the victims were taken by William Hooper and are printed here courtesy of Mr P.A. Williams see

Frances Bevan

Empire Day

You could be forgiven for thinking that Empire Day was an English institution, established in those glory days when Britannia ruled the waves.

In fact it wasn't officially recognised in Britain until 1916, some seventeen years after it was first celebrated in the dominions.

Empire Day is credited to have been the brainchild of Lord Meath. However, it appears that the Education Department of Ontario might have had the idea first.

In 1899 the Canadian government announced the establishment of Empire Day to be celebrated by schoolchildren on May 24th, Queen Victoria's birthday.

In a letter to the Times newspaper dated April 25th 1899 Lord Meath expresses his support of a day "to be spent in instructing the scholars in matters appertaining to the Empire by means of lectures, recitations, etc and part in pleasant exercises of a patriotic character..."

A year later and Ferdinand Faithfull Begg, Scottish stockbroker and politican, introduced a Parliamentary Bill to discuss a new national holiday.

The original proposal was for a holiday on the first Monday in October as it was felt there were already too many holidays in May and an October Bank Holiday would nicely break up the long stretch between August Bank Holiday and Christmas.

By 1902 Natal was already celebrating Victoria Day on the old Queen's birthday and the governments of Malta, Ceylon, India and Burma confirmed support of the proposed Empire Day.

In 1904 Lord Meath was still working to get the holiday recognised despite the creation of the League of the Empire Movement two years earlier. An editorial in the Times commented: "It is felt that England should not be behind the Colonies and dependencies in the matter."

However in 1906 it was reported that 7,500 schools in the UK had celebrated Empire day and some 20,000 altogether had applied to the League for suitable literature such as a lecture given by Mr. W.K. Stride entitled "A Trip Around the Empire."

Alongside the serious instructional material the day was celebrated with a play or pageant, children dressed in costumes of the member countries. Empire Day soon became a feature of the school calendar for children growing up in the interwar years.

In 1958 Empire Day was renamed Commonwealth Day and since 1973 has been held on the second Monday in March.

The Queen attends a service in Westminster Abby and records a Commonwealth Day message for the member states.

Frances Bevan

Monday, September 5, 2011

National Farm Survey

Lower Shaw Farm

If your grandfather was a farmer at the outbreak of the Second World War, there is a resource available, which not only describes the farm but just how competent a farmer he may or may not have been.

With wartime shipping embargos in place it was essential that British farmers achieve the highest level of food production possible. While the Dig for Victory campaign called for everyone to keep an allotment, the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret were photographed cultivating their own plot in Windsor Great Park. London parks such as Kensington Gardens were dug up, and even the moat at the Tower of London became a vegetable patch.

Meanwhile the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries began a survey of all the farms in England and Wales over five acres in size to assess how able Britain was at feeding itself during wartime.

Questionnaires were completed on site and maps were drawn up showing the farm boundaries. Details of the conditions of tenure and occupation were recorded and notes made on the general condition of the farm, the state of the buildings, the equipment and the availability of utilities. At the end of the inspection the farm was given an A, B or C classification.

The survey during which 320,000 farms were inspected took over two years to complete and cost £20,000. Market gardeners and poultry keepers were among those inspected while holdings of between 1-5 acres were the subject of a separate survey.

The MAP inspectors were often themselves experienced farmers, which probably accounts for some of the caustic comments they made.

Both Upper and Lower Shaw farms were inspected in late February 1942 by F.E. Price. Upper Shaw proved to be in a slightly better condition overall, although both farms were given a B classification on the grounds of 'personal failings.'

Mr. Price was kinder to the Hook brothers farming 61 acres at Upper Shaw describing them as "rather old fashion in their methods." He was more critical of Angus Webb who had 106 acres at Lower Shaw, claiming he had a "lack of farming knowledge and no inclination for hard work."

Results of the National Farm Survey, dubbed the Second Domesday Book, were released in 1992 after a 50-year closure period and are available for consultation at the National Archives in Kew.

An online search of the TNA catalogue looks more difficult then it actually is. Enter the parish you are researching in the search field word or phrase box and MAF 32 in the department or series code box. The reference number generated will enable you to order the document ready for retrieval when you arrive at Kew. If you are unable to visit it is possible to order a photocopy, Visit for further information.

Upper Shaw Farm

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Victorian Mystery at Wick Farm

Today Wick Farmhouse is a substantial six bedroom house overlooking the Prinnels housing development in West Swindon.

Once part of the extensive Bolingbroke estate, the former 150 acre dairy farm dates back to the medieval period. Aerial photographs taken in the 1970s clearly show the ridge and furrow pattern of open field farming.

During the 19th century Wick Farm was home to Jonas Clarke senior for over 26 years. The Clarke family were pretty unconventional by Victorian social conventions. Although married in his late twenties, Jonas soon began an alliance with a servant girl called Alice Pinnell. Thirty years and seven children later they eventually married at St. Mary's Church, Lydiard Tregoze in 1853, after the death of Jonas' first wife.

After Jonas senior's death in 1862 the tenancy at Wick Farm passed to his son, Jonas Clarke junior. A desirable property, the Clarke family obviously wanted to keep their stake in the farm, resulting in a Victorian mystery which today remains unsolved.

On 3rd April 1881 - census night, Jonas junior, aged 56, head of the Wick Farm household, is apparently in residence, with him is his cousin Kate, employed as his housekeeper, and three young children, Jonas 4, Sarah S. 2 and two week old Robert. Cousin Kate was the children's mother but their birth certificates contain no details of a father.

But Jonas couldn't possibly have been at the farm on census night. He had died in February of the previous year.

To add to the mystery, a report in the North Wilts Herald the previous month stated that - 'Mr Jonas Clark, farmer of Lydiard' was summoned for the non payment of £24 6s 3d poor rate.

Were the Clarke family trying to keep his death a secret? In a small rural parish this would have been impossible, or would it? Perhaps Kate was trying to hang on to the farm? Was Jonas the father of her three illegitimate children? Was she really a 'cousin’ or was the relationship more intimate - like his father, Jonas junior already had a wife.

Now lets rewind the story a bit as writer and local historian Mark Child, author of Swindon Old Town Through Time has eventually got to the bottom of the mystery.

Kate Trinity Clark, the daughter of Benjamin Clark, was born in Hullavington in 1830 and was indeed the cousin of Jonas Clark junior. Her father's elder brother was also called Jonas, a popular family name. Born in 1823 and 1826 respectively there was only a few years difference in the age of Uncle Jonas and Jonas junior, which lies at the heart of the confusion and a brilliant piece of detective work by Mark.

Kate and Jonas junior's relationship began in the late 1870s with Kate's uncle Jonas and his son William joining the family at Wick Farm around the same time. Mark's research reveals that it was Uncle Jonas who had died in 1880, his death certified by Dr William Baines Dawson and not Jonas junior as I had previously deduced. I had searched for Kate and the children following Jonas junior's supposed death - problem was I didn't widen my net far enough!

So what happened to our elusive Jonas Clark junior?

The following ten years proved eventful for Kate and Jonas junior.  The couple left Wick Farm in 1882 and moved to Darby Green Farm at Yately, Southampton where in November of that year Jonas junior was declared bankrupt.  Six months later the family moved to Bleddington and at the time of the 1891 census Jonas, then aged 65 was living in Pebworth, Gloucestershire with Kate and their six children.  But the family was still far from settled and within a few years moved yet again to Haselor Hill in Warwickshire. It was here on their small holding that Jonas junior died in 1898 aged 73. They had never been able to marry and Jonas's wife Elizabeth outlived him, dying in 1903 at the age of 92.

Kate continued to farm the property at Haselor Hill with the help of her elder sons and in 1911 she was still there with Clarence, her youngest son and the only one still living at home.  Kate died in 1924 aged 66.

Mark's persistent research has proved a cautionary tale in the danger of jumping to genealogical conclusions.

A memorial in the churchyard at St. Mary’s, Lydiard Tregoze records the burial of: Jonas Clarke died March 31st 1862 aged 74; Cordelia Ann Carey, his granddaughter, died December 8th 1861 aged 16 years old and Jonas Carey, his grandson, died January 18th 1863 aged 14.

St Mary's Church, Lydiard Tregoze

Clarke family memorial

Jane Helena Tuckey

When Peter Guggenheim began researching his Wiltshire family history he discovered not a 'rags to riches' story but more a decline into genteel poverty.

Peter's great grandmother, Jane Helena Tuckey was born on March 15th 1848 at Langley Burrell, the fourth daughter of Robert and Ann Tuckey.

The 1841 census returns for Yatesbury record wealthy, bachelor farmer Robert Tuckey living with Ann Trotman, an unmarried servant and her four year old daughter.

Perhaps Tuckey family opposition to this mismatched alliance delayed a wedding. By the time the couple did get around to walking up the aisle at St. Saviours in Bath they had two daughters and Ann was pregnant again.

But by 1851 Robert had come into his inheritance and the growing family moved into Shaw House along what is now called Old Shaw Lane in West Swindon.

In 1872, shortly after the death of her father, Jane married farmer John Clarke, thirty years her senior, and moved to nearby Kington St. Michael where John farmed 381 acres. With 20 farm and house servants on the payroll, this was a big establishment.

Jane Helena Tuckey pictured around the time of her 21st birthday

Quite what happened to the family fortunes remains unknown but by 1882 Jane and John were farming at Minety. It was here that John suffered a heart attack and was found dead in one of his fields. Jane was left with four daughters aged between 7 years and six months to support.

Peter describes this as a defining point in her life, which became "less prosperous, and with little doubt, a struggle there after."

In 1884 Jane married Francis Dicks. Her second husband, seven years her junior, was a fitter employed in the GWR works. The couple with Jane's girls moved into 37 Hawkins Street, Rodbourne where a further two children were born.

In the small terraced house Jane's lifestyle was far removed from the comfortable childhood she had enjoyed playing in the orchard at Shaw House.

Widowed for the second time in 1903 she survived on an income derived from taking in a lodger.

Jane died on November 26th 1918 aged 70. Peter says family memories were of a lady of 'manners and style' whom an aunt described as someone who had 'come down in the world.'

Frances Bevan

'orrible Murder at 'ook!

Nothing much out of the ordinary ever happened in the small Victorian village of Hook, Lydiard Tregoze. Until 1854 when an event occurred that shocked the small community to its foundations.

William Wright had only lived in the village a few months. No one knew much about him or Ann Collins, the woman who sometimes lived with him.

Wright had served in the navy but after his discharge had adopted a nomadic lifestyle, travelling the country, staying in one place only as long as the work lasted. He told how he met fellow traveller Ann Collins some three years previously. By the summer of 1854 the couple and Ann's young daughter were staying in a lodging house in Wootton Bassett.

Wright obtained a job as a blacksmith in nearby Hook where he rented a cottage in the village. However Ann was reluctant to join him and when she did she stayed but a short while. She told him she was going to Lancashire to visit her family but Wright soon discovered she had returned to the lodging house and fellow boarder known as Billy Cock with whom she was having an affair.

Neighbour Eliza Philmore told the court how she had heard the couple arguing at 7.30 am on that fateful Saturday morning of the 18th November.

In his evidence Wright told how Ann had reached for a razor screaming she would cut his throat. He then lashed out, holding in his hand a knife with which he had been eating his breakfast.

"The woman's death must have been instantaneous, the head being nearly severed from the body, the bone of the neck being completely severed and both carotid arteries and jugular veins cut through," The Advertiser reported.

When he realised what he had done Wright slashed at his own neck twice, but the wounds were only superficial.

Ann was buried four days later in the churchyard at St. Mary's, Lydiard Tregoze. Her grave is unmarked but her fate was recorded in the burial register by the Rector Giles Daubeney - 'murdered by William Wright with whom she lived.'

Wright was executed in front of Fisherton Anger gaol on Tuesday March 27th 1855. The Advertiser reported that the hanging, the first at the gaol since 1849, drew but a small crowd as "the execution took place about a quarter of an hour before the usual time."

Wright's own gruesome end was reported in graphic detail -"The fall from the drop caused the wound which the unfortunate criminal inflicted upon himself at the time of the murder, to break out afresh, and this tended considerably to increase the horror of the spectacle."

He was buried within the gaol grounds.

The cemetery at Hook

The Old School House at Hook

The churchyard at St Mary's. Lydiard Tregoze.

Read the full story of the trial and execution of William Wright in the Swindon Advertiser dated Monday December 11th 1854 and Monday April 9th 1855.

Swindon Central Library holds copies of the Swindon Advertiser in newspaper copies and on microfilm from 1854 to date and the North Wilts Herald from 1861 to 1941. Phone 463238 for more information.

Read All About It!

published courtesy of wiltshirelady
Local newspapers make interesting reading for the family historian, especially if your ancestor had criminal tendencies.

Court cases were covered in great detail, often including asides made by the defendant in the dock. However, the case that appeared before magistrates at Cricklade Petty Sessions was no laughing matter.

A report in the North Wilts Herald in June 1881 tells how a husband and wife both appeared on two different, but related charges.

John lles, an agricultural labourer from Pavenhill, Purton appeared accused of failing to send his two sons to school, thereby breaching a previous order. lles blamed the neighbours, saying they encouraged the boys to work in the fields, paying them in food. As the story unfolded it seems likely this might have indeed been the case.

Meanwhile his wife Sarah faced a prison sentence for an assault on her thirteen-year-old stepson George. On the day in question Sarah had been beating the younger of her two stepsons, seven-year-old Albert. When George intervened, holding a stool between his brother and stepmother to fend off the blows, Sarah then turned to beating him, first with a stick and then with the stool he had held as a shield.

Witness Jane Bunce told how her daughter, having heard the boy's cries, had told her 'they were killing George lles.'

Neighbours at Pavenhill who came to George's assistance, told how his head was bleeding from a deep wound and how Mrs. Bunce had to hold him up to get him to Mr. Waldegrave's surgery in the High Street.

When agricultural labourer Charles Mills, went to the house to ask lles 'if he meant to see to his child' the reply he received was ‘I didn't do it, and shall take no notice of it.’

Evidence given by Mrs Bunce, the wife of GWR labourer, James Bunce, was damning. She told of the neglect the boys suffered and said 'the children were good boys, and well looked after when their own mother was alive.'

George's evidence revealed the level of violence the two boys suffered at the hands of their stepmother and how they frequently went hungry.

The Chairman of the magistrates warned Sarah that she faced a six-month gaol sentence. In the event she was sent to prison for 7 days 'to see if that would have any effect upon her.' She was also charged with 5s 6d (about 77p worth today £56) costs and threatened with a further 7 days in prison if she defaulted on payment.

In his summing up the Chairman told Mr. North (Police Superintendent in Swindon) to instruct the police to keep a good look out at the defendants house for the future.

Swindon Advertiser founder William Morris

Swindon Advertiser offices, Victoria Road.

Wootton Bassett Hiring Fair

James Drake, a schoolteacher from Wootton Bassett, is another unsung hero of Victorian account keeping.

In 1836 Drake was appointed Deputy Clerk by the newly founded Monthly Market Committee. His duties were to take the minutes of meetings, record the sales and names of the Christmas Show winners, and most importantly for the family historian, make full lists of those who were employed at the Hiring Fairs.

Hiring or mop fairs as they were sometimes called, were events where job seeking labourers and servants presented themselves for hire.

Traditionally the servant wore clothing or carried an implement to advertise their trade. A shepherd wore a lock of wool or carried a crook, a maid might carry a mop, hence the name 'mop' fair. Potential employers browsed the ranks, asking questions and stopping just short of testing muscle strength. It was the demeaning nature of these events coupled with improved methods of communication that eventually saw the end of the hiring fair towards the end of the 19th century.

The right to hold a market at Wootton Bassett dates back to a royal grant made in 1219. Held on a Wednesday, by the 19th century the market had lost popularity and eventually ground to a halt around 1813.

In 1836 a group of local farmers and dealers keen to bring new trade and prosperity to the town, decided to establish a new monthly market. Captain Bartholomew Horsell of The Marsh, Lydiard Tregoze was appointed Chairman, a role he was to hold from 1836-1851.

The first Hiring Fair was held on 4th October 1836 and was by all accounts a huge success. James Drake recorded in the Committee Minute Book that between three and four thousand people crowded into the town.

Drakes' description reads like something straight out of a Thomas Hardy novel:
"The servants who were hired were supplied with a blue favor which they display, the Women in their bosoms and the Men in their Hats, and a Band of Music paraded the Streets during the day. The merry Dance engaged the Rustics until late in the evening when (we feel pleasure in stating) the whole multitude dispersed in the most peaceable and orderly manner."

Wootton Bassett Hiring Fair was held twice a year, on the Tuesday before Lady Day (April 6th) and the Tuesday before Michaelmas (October 11th).

Hard working servants were rewarded for their year's labour - women received a gown and the men a hat, paid for by subscribers to the Market. A cash payment was paid to servants retained by the same employer for a number of years.

The Minute Book accounts provide an intimate view of mid 19tn century agricultural life. Although Drake may have taken a few short cuts in his record keeping, he has left a valuable finding aid for the family historian on the trail of the agricultural labourer or farm servant.

At the Michaelmas Fair in 1839 and 1840 both Eliza and Leah Pitt, servants at Mannington Farm, received an award of a gown.

The Great Monthly Market Committee minute book 1836-39 and 1839-1849 is available for consultation at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, Chippenham.

Swindon Central Library holds copies of a transcription published by the Wiltshire and Swindon Family History Society, ask at the enquiry desk for information. Copies can be obtained from the Society - visit their website

Frances Bevan

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Life in Service

 Today few occupations can guarantee a job for life but in the 19th century it was quite different. In 1871 there were 1.4 million women in domestic service - 6.5% of the total population.  One in three girls between the ages of 15-20 worked as kitchen maids and housemaids -and one record breaking Swindon family notched up an incredible combined service of over 160 years extending across three generations.

James and Elizabeth Pitt moved to their new home, one of three stone built tied cottages in Mannington Lane, in 1818. An agricultural labourer, James was first employed by tenant farmer Richard Dore King at Mannington Farm and later by Richard Strange who in 1835 signed a 12-year lease on the 237-acre farm.

The couple had five daughters, Eliza, Leah, Jane, Mary Ann and Martha, all baptised at St. Mary's Church, Lydiard Tregoze and of whom four were destined for employment at Mannington Farm.

Eldest daughter Eliza worked as a 'house servant' for over 24 years. In the 1860s the going rate for a housemaid was £14 per year, all found, the hours were long and the work hard. But as Mrs. Beeton, that doyenne of household management, advised her readers: "A bustling and active girl will always find time to do a little needlework for herself..."

Her sister Leah served the family for just two years due to her untimely death at 18 years of age. She died 26th October 1841 at Cricklade where she was working in service. The cause of death was given as "Visitation of God."

Third daughter Jane put in an impressive 24 years at Mannington Farm. She began work in 1839, first as a house servant then after her marriage in 1859 to Thomas Osman, Richard Strange's groom, as a dairymaid.

Fourth daughter Martha also began her working life as a house servant at Mannington. However by 1871 she had been promoted to Lady's Maid to Richard Strange's daughter Julia.

Elizabeth Pitt died in 1871 and her husband James in 1882. An elaborate and expensive memorial, probably erected by an appreciative employer, marks their grave in the churchyard at St. Mary's, Lydiard Tregoze.

Julia took over the running of the farm after her father's death and by 1891 there was a whole host of Pitt descendants employed in the household, including Martha aged 52 and Jane Osman's two daughters, 21 year old Julia who is a housemaid and Louisa 28, cook.

The Mannington Farm tenancy changed hands in the late 1890s ending over seventy years of Pitt/Osman family service to the Strange family.  Today the elegant 18th century farmhouse that the Pitt girls cleaned and polished has been converted into flats and a bus lane passes by where the family cottage used to stand.

Mannington Farmhouse

Mrs Holliday - cook at Lydiard House

Unidentified household staff at Lydiard House and Park

Gamekeeper Henry Hiscocks - this and above mentioned photographs are published courtesy of Lydiard House and Park. 

James and Elizabeth Pitt's memorial in the churchyard at St Mary's, Lydiard Tregoze.  Published courtesy of Duncan and Mandy Ball.