Frank Maidment was a giant of a man both in stature and in achievement. Tall and jovial, and known to his friends as the ‘Bishop’ of Salisbury Plain, he had many talents: a Baptist preacher, a baker, sub-postmaster, village shopkeeper and publisher of postcards. When he died on 16 December 1952 aged 92, he had spent an incredible 75 years preaching the Gospel, having started in 1877 as a Wesleyan when he was barely 17 years old. He preached at Chitterne and surrounding villages on the Plain for over 50 years, and from 1907 until 1943 he was the regular preacher at Imber, cycling there in the early days.
Born at Burcombe near Wilton, on 23rd August 1860, to coal porter Charles Maidment and his wife Maria, his strong faith permeated everything he did from an early age. As a boy he had given addresses at Sunday School before being pressed into taking a service at a little village chapel near Weyhill when he was living at Andover, Hampshire. From that time, and for the following 18 months he regularly occupied the pulpit. After returning to Wilton he preached every Sunday for 3 years in the Salisbury area and at the same time studied and passed the exams that made him a fully qualified Wesleyan Methodist lay preacher.
Frank, married his first wife Rose Tew, of Wilton on 2 February 1881 and came to Chitterne that same year to take over Jacob Everly’s bakery and grocery business next door to the Baptist Chapel in Bidden Lane. Later, in 1907, adding the village Post Office to the business. The couple had one son, Charles, who later became organist, treasurer, Deacon and life Deacon at Boscombe Baptist Church, Bournemouth.
As a baker, Frank was known for delivering verbal quotes from the bible with his loaves. In his pony and trap he delivered around the village, to the field-barn cottages and even out as far as Imber. Ernie George remembered how Frank always added a comment from the scriptures to his greeting as he handed out the loaves:
“Lovely day, Martha, Praise the Lord,” or “Filthy day Bertha, work of the devil.”
Frank encouraged or admonished young and old alike, as he considered necessary. Viscount Long of Wraxall recalled, in a letter to him many years later:
“Well do I remember baking the loaves as a boy and generally making myself an infernal nuisance to you. But you always had a smile and you allowed us to play havoc in your shop. What happy days those were.”
But to a parent of a youth he considered wayward Frank might say:
“It grieves me to see fine village lads, your ***** among them, loafing at the bottom of the lane, wi’ their hands in their pockets. Mark my words; nothing good will come of it. Idle hands make idle minds. Six days shalt thou labour."
It was not unknown for him to stop on his way to his next preaching engagement and admonish any villager he found working on a Sunday, and ask them why they were not at Chapel. For despite being a Weslyan, he continued his preaching at the Chitterne Baptist Chapel almost as soon as moving in next-door, and he took the shepherding of his flock very seriously, gaining a reputation for his good work amongst the poor and sick. He and Rose were baptised in 1889 and Frank was made Deacon and asked to take a monthly service that same year. He became leader in 1904. The Baptist Chapel Fire
On 1st April 1903 a fire started in the thatched roof of the Chapel, after an evening meeting had been held there, and soon destroyed most of the building. The seats, organ, books, stove and most moveable objects were saved, but a new venue was needed. Frank approached the farmer, Mr Wallis and asked if the congregation might use his malthouse and this was agreed to for the summer. Next he set himself the task of raising enough money to rebuild the Chapel, which had originally been held by the Wesleyan Methodists since 1846, but had subsequently been handed over to the Baptists when the Methodists were unable to “work the cause” so far from Salisbury. The money raising turned out to be one of Frank’s greatest triumphs and his reputation stood him in good stead. With his natural ability to approach people from all walks of life he cajoled, begged, strived and left no stone unturned in his quest for funds as he himself relates in a passage he wrote in the chapel minute book:
“The sacrifice of our friends was wonderful. One old friend at Imber about 80 (years old) did some little (jobs) for 2d or 3d and one day gave me 10s which he had saved to give a thankoffering to God for Spiritual help from sermons I had preached at Imber. A poor widow in our village gave me 2/6d one Sunday after Christmas as God had sent her some friends to help her. She was poor, only on Parish relief of 3s per week. The Imber friend was only allowed 2s per week. In each case I said: “I cannot take it,” both said “you must, it’s for God’s House,” and I had many other cases like it.”
A site for the new chapel near the old one was given by Walter Long MP; it was prepared by chapel men who came after their day’s work with their pikes, shovels and barrows to remove the chalk, and farmers sent horses and carts free to take the chalk away to fill holes on their farms. Mr Burbidge, a director of Harrods in London, offered the interior of a congregational chapel he had purchased to furnish the new chapel, in memory of happy holidays he had spent in Chitterne at his brother’s farm. A friend had some doors given to him from Potterne Church and donated them to the cause. A Mr Deacon of Swindon gave the lamps for inside and out. The new chapel was opened almost exactly a year after the disastrous fire that destroyed the old one.
Frank’s wife Rose died in 1914, and he married Annie Few of Corton, his housekeeper, in 1925. The baking business carried on until the 1930’s, but then Frank gave it up and concentrated on the grocery shop and Post Office, but he was still vigilant when behind his counter. If he discovered a member of his congregation trying to post off a bet on a favourite in a horse race, he would be ready to hold forth on “the evils of gambling.” Ernie George remembered Frank’s shop vividly:
“His shop boasted a bell which gave off a sharp DING as you opened the door. To the left was the Post Office hatch, in front was the shop counter, and to the right was a large window-shelf to display goods. A large beam ran across the ceiling above the counter, on this were hung pairs of hob-nailed boots of all sizes, boot straps, card of studs and boot-tips (even small boys wore hob-nailed boots in those days). On the side of the counter were large blocks of carbolic and Sunlight ‘washing’ soap; I suppose that is why, when you opened the door you got a strong aroma of leather mixed with ‘washing’ soap.”
Frank was presented with a testimonial in appreciation of his “Loving and Devoted Service” and many gifts in 1932 when he had completed 50 years at Chitterne Baptist Chapel. In 1933 he was President of the Wiltshire and East Somerset Baptist Association. He was again praised after 60 years service as a lay preacher in Corton, Tilshead, Imber, Shrewton, Lavington, Littleton Panell, Crockerton, Westbury, Heytesbury and Westbury Leigh as well as Chitterne. He must have baptised, married and buried hundreds of people and traveled hundreds of miles in the course of his career.
Frank Maidment felt the loss of Imber very keenly when it was requisitioned by the War Department in 1943. He had been leader of the Baptist Chapel there for many years. He wrote letters to Viscount Long and AG Street, who like him did their utmost to have the village returned to the villagers at the end of the Second World War, but to no avail.
In 1949 Frank retired from his duties as sub-postmaster after 42 years of service to the villagers of Chitterne. He was 89 years old!
At the end of November 1952 Frank’s wife Annie died suddenly, aged 67 years. Frank himself was an invalid by this time and he died only 18 days later, on December 16th, 1952. He was 92 years old. He was buried in the grave of his first wife Rose, in St Mary’s graveyard on 20 December 1952. The tombstone describes Frank:
“ A Faithful Baptist Preacher for 75 years at Chitterne and villages on Salisbury Plain.”