Chitterne Now and Then
Blog Archive - July 2009

Monday 27th July - Good News/Bad News

There is doom and gloom in the village with the bad news about two soldier sons of Chitterne who have been injured in Afghanistan recently. Both of them are young officers and both have lost a leg. As if that's not bad enough one of our retired farmers is in hospital. Sometimes it doesn't just rain, it pours.

But there's always some light even in in the darkest times and in our family we have some good news: our daughter Jess has helped to write a book that's just been published. "The Definitive Guide to Catalyst" is a book about using Perl, which is a computing language. Apart from that I have no clue what it's about and I certainly won't be adding it to my pile of bedtime reading. No doubt if you are a geek or nerd, or whatever the current phrase is to describe computer folk, you may understand more than me. I am just flabbergasted that the fruit of my loins can do such clever things, me who took three goes to pass 'O' level Maths, unbelievable. It must be all D's doing, he's the Maths whizz; his interest in early computers and programming must have rubbed off on the kids.

The contact with JR of north Wales is proving fruitful. He has agreed to let me use his words to add to the Chitterne People page. He has a theory that his wife R is related to everyone in Wiltshire and specially Imber, in fact he wanted to add every person on the Imber censuses to R's tree and then prove the connection, but R dissuaded him saying it was overkill. I've heard of this before. Another Chitterne researcher of long-standing, PR, wants to prove her connection to every village family. She's starting from a good place by being descended from the Poolman family, which is the most prolific, my list of Poolmans extends to over 40 pages.

Another query came in from New Zealand from DG, a descendant of the Gibbs family. This is the first contact I've had concerning that family, so there's no-one I can point her to for help, but there are some notes to send. Edward Gibbs ran Chitterne Farm before the Dean family came and the farmhouse was extended in 1881. The same farm that was run by the farmer in hospital at the moment, although in Gibbs' day it was much smaller as military ownership has meant that Chitterne Farm has absorbed 4 other village farms since the 1950's, see photo. Which reminds me: D and I have volunteered to record the farms in the village for the Wiltshire Buildings Record Farmstead Project. WBR have been given a donation by a member specifically for a record to be made of the historic farming heritage of Wiltshire for future generations, so we will be doing our bit in the village.

Saturday 25th July - Travels

This week I've been away for a few days staying in Suffolk with a college friend from way back. Suffolk satisfies my need for wide open spaces and big skies so it's a favourite. At college we were arty types, G still is, I am not, but I enjoy looking at art with her and I broke my outward journey to meet her in London and do just that. She recommended the Richard Long exhibition at Tate Britain, and rightly so. I loved his huge patterned pieces painted with river mud from the Bristol Avon directly onto the walls of the gallery. They're magnificent. I would love to be able to see him painting one, it must be quite a sight, the gloopy mud flying every which way, splashing adjacent walls and bouncing off the floor to leave a spattering of fine specks on the bare bits of wall between the patterns, and on the skirting nearest the floor.

A couple of days later we drove to Aldeburgh and Snape Maltings to see more exhibitions and this wonderful sculpture on the beach.

Tucked away down here in the wilds of Wiltshire I am perfectly happy to stay put, but I lose the confidence to venture further afield if I just stick to my local haunts, so it was time to break out. Having survived a boat-trip on the Thames, (I have a horror of floating above a lot of water), and crossing London alone on the underground, I arrived back in Warminster feeling slightly bolder, despite having bruised a fellow traveller on the train home when my case fell off the luggage rack. My car was still waiting for me in the station carpark and once home again I found an order for a book and a packet of old photos on the doormat.

The photos were from RB who had come to my exhibition on the Green, see 29th June blog, and included the picture of the Polden & Feltham workers as promised. The order, for The History of Chitterne by John Thomas Canner, which I edited and published privately about 7 years ago, came from JR in North Wales, whose wife is related to the Feltham, Grant and Meaden families. None of the ancestors JR mentioned appeared in my records, so I'm hoping that means another rich source of information is about to be revealed.

Wednesday 15th July - Michael's Wood

I've just been to my daughter Mandy's grave at Michael's Wood. She died 4 years ago today. I couldn't find her grave at first, but then spotted the fine grass we'd sown on it last year hiding under nettles and towering docks. I eventually uncovered the plaque and attacked the overgrowth with shears, noticing a newly dug small grave nearby awaiting its occupant, probably a child.

As I was leaving I saw Elizabeth Snell, our funeral director of 4 years ago, arriving in a hearse with another body to bury. She remembered us and came to look at M's grave and asked how we are all doing. Lovely lady, I felt so much better when I left.

Losing the grave is one of the few drawbacks to visiting a grave at this natural burial ground, that and the muddy uneven track to it. But these minor snags are far outweighed by the sheer peacefulness, beauty, and the whole ethos of the place, and anyway it wouldn't be "natural" if the approach was sleek tarmac and the graves trimmed by gardeners.

Parked alongside my car when I'd finished was another belonging to someone who'd come to the funeral. We got talking, she said "I never knew this place existed and I only live in Andover". I guess it's true that unless someone you know has requested an alternative funeral and you've sought it out, or you've attended such a funeral, it's not something that's advertised widely. So if you haven't heard of it either, let me tell you: Michael's Wood is in Wiltshire, just. It's on the Cholderton Estate; 15 acres of wild woodland set aside for human and pet burials, a few miles off the A303.

Thursday 9th July - Mounts at Malt House

A friend lent me a copy of Cold Cream by Ferdinand Mount. I knew he'd grown up at the Malt House in Chitterne and in adult life had worked for the Times, and I had intended to read this autobiography at some stage, but I had no idea I was in for such a treat. You get the impression that he just sat down and wrote his story as a series of events that cascade through the pages as they came into his head, but every one interesting and beautifully written.

I was already reading another book at the time Cold Cream arrived and I'm a "one book at a time" sort so I just dipped into the second chapter called "The Codford Road", but I was captivated from the first moment and unable to put it down so I abandoned my current book and read Cold Cream straight away.

Mount's descriptions of life in Chitterne in the 1940's are wonderful and I have to admit I've snaffled great chunks to add to my Chitterne history notes. On people: he tells of his relationship with Mabel Herrington who was the Mounts cook and how it was that he and his sister stayed with her in her field barn cottage on the downs when his parents went away on holiday; also of Olive Furnell the maid who helped him learn to ride a bike, and Mr Goodsell who came to the house selling clothes from a catalogue; but the best bit for me was his description of the sunday walks in the village, when up to twelve families would walk out together perhaps down the Codford road of a sunday afternoon in their sunday best, gathering wild flowers as they went. An idyllic scene.

Although I'm no tory, but a liberal through and through, I even enjoyed the bits about life at number 10 when he was roped in to write Margaret Thatcher's speeches. At no time does he resort to sniping or nasty comments about people he's met and neither does he blow his own trumpet, in fact he's very modest about all his achievements, which all adds to the pleasurable read. I shall add him to my list of Chitterne people of repute alongside Ela, Countess of Salisbury; engineer John Wallis Titt and detective Bill Brown of Scotland Yard.

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