Fires, shops and other memories
I was too young to remember the first phase of the post war housing development in the field at Brimble. I can remember the construction of the bungalows and seeing the wooden pegs in position, marking the locations for the houses in the final phase at the lower end in 1954.
There were three serious fires in the village during my childhood, in addition to the one at Corner Cottage. The one that I can vividly remember was the 1952 fire at ‘Burgess’, now known as Acorn Cottage, the residence of Mrs. Argylls, who ran weekly rug making classes for village children. I was walking back, with my mother, from my grandparent’s house in Brimble Cottages and witnessed the unfolding drama standing on the opposite side of the road, watching the flames leaping from the thatched roof into the sky. Fire crews attended from Sturminster Newton, Sherborne, Shaftesbury and Blandford. Strong winds and poor water pressure, combined with a twenty minute delay waiting for an electrician to arrive, to disconnect the mains power supply, meant that it was not possible to save the house from almost total destruction, with only the outside walls left standing.
A newly built barn at Caundle Farm was destroyed by fire in the December of 1959. The cause of the fire was never established, although arson was suspected. There was a delay in raising the alarm with no one living on site at the time, as the farmhouse had yet to be constructed. The sound of the asbestos roof cracking and exploding could be throughout the village, as a result of the intense heat generated by the fire.
The Tithe Barn at Court Barton was destroyed by fire in 1963 as a result of children playing with matches catching the straw stored in the barn alight. The fire spread rapidly and the children involved only narrowly escaped the blazing inferno.
After the demise of the castle, or probably a more accurate description fortified Manor House, at Court Barton the tithe barn had been constructed on the northern boundary of the site in the 17th Century, using stone from the ruined castle. Most of the public footpaths and bridle-ways radiate from here and as recently as 1821 regular Manorial Court Sessions were being held in the tithe barn. An Administrator carried out the administration of the Manor under the supervision of an annual ‘Court Baron’, with the proceedings recorded by the Steward, or his deputy, in the Manorial Court Rolls. Two volumes only of these records, covering the years 1788 to 1821, have survived. The first business at each Court was the presentment of a regulation in regard to straying cattle. This is fully set out in the first year and repeated in succeeding years, then follows the appointment of Hay-wards and Tithing-men one of each for Caundle and one of each for Woodrow. The duty of a Hayward was to look after hedges and fences, to keep cattle from injuring them and to impound stray cattle in the Pound, which at that time was situated where the Jubilee Oak now stands, at the cross roads at the upper end of the village. The duty of a Tithing-man was to preserve good order and enforce observance of the Sabbath a forerunner of the early village constable. The pound was later relocated to the right hand side of the entrance to Court Barton where the Coronation May tree now stands.
A sufficient number of tenants were required to attend in order to constitute a meeting of the Court. Apart from the appointments the entries recorded in the Court Rolls refer mainly to reports on straying cattle, the repair of buildings, reports of deaths and changes of tenancies, nuisances and encroachments.
From 1852 some of the responsibilities of the ‘Court Baron’ appear to have been taken over by the Vestry Meetings, at which appointments were then made for a Guardian, a Way-Warden and two Overseers responsible for the assessment, and collection, of rates to pay for handouts to the poor. The Guardian replaced the Tithing-man and the Way-warden. Later it became the normal practice to draw up a shortlist of names for Overseers foe presentation to the Justices who made the final choice. The Vestry proceedings were not entirely under the control of the church officials, however they did have a strong influence, and the affairs of the parish and the church were closely inter linked at this time. It was the vestry meeting that obtained the new burial ground in Drove Road and founded the primary school. In 1894 under the terms of a local government act, passed by the Houses of Parliament, the administration of parish affairs was transferred to a Parish Meeting.
After the sad loss of the tithe barn at Court Barton, the one at Barrow Hill Farm, which had fallen into a state of disrepair, resulted in the collapse of its roof. The remaining walls were demolished at the time of the residential development of the site in 1990, leaving just one surviving tithe barn in the village at Newleaze Farm.
Mrs. Argylls’ rug making class in 1955
Golden Hill Stores
In my early childhood the village shop was located at the top of Golden Hill, or Shop Hill as it was more commonly known at the time, in the property now known as the Old Post House. In 1954 the retiring owners Mr and Mrs Collis sold the business to Dikes of Stalbridge. The shop then transferred to the former bake-house on the opposite side of the road, purchased from the retiring owner Baker Hayes along with Golden Hill Cottage, which provided the accommodation for the first shop manager shop manager a Mr. Bealing assisted by his wife. I can remember being given a free ice cream on the first day of opening, a real treat for a young child in 1952. Mrs. Margaret Downton took over the management of the shop and roll of postmistress in 1957, remaining in post until her retirement in to 1981.
Most families relied on the shop for the bulk of their weekly provisions. Bread, meat and milk and fish were delivered to the door Bread was delivered by Dikes Bakery and also by Arthur Ratley from the Co-operative stores in Stalbridge High Street. Fred Baverstock, working for George Parsons at Stalbridge Weston, and two Stalbridge butchers, Mr Carter and Albert Gray, delivered meat and Herbie Parsons had a weekly fish round.
The shop provided residents with a meeting place and the opportunity to exchange the latest gossip. Petrol could be purchased from a hand operated Shell petrol pump located at the front of the shop.
Before the Second World War Mr. and Mrs. Chaldicott were the proprietors of a shop on an adjoining site, where Darnell House now stands. Groceries were delivered to remote dwellings and outlying farms by pony and trap, with the pony kept in a stable at the rear of the premises. In the late 1930s the property fell into disrepair, due to lack of maintenance to the thatched roof, and was demolished. The lower part of the front elevation is still visible, as it forms the retaining wall for the front garden of Darnell House. During my childhood the site was derelict an overgrown, owned by a couple living in Kent who had erected a timber framed single storey building, clad in galvanised iron sheeting, providing them with very basic holiday accommodation every summer.
One of the most noticeable changes to have taken place in the fields surrounding the village, when compared to my childhood, is the disappearance of dairy cows from the fields. There have of course been other noticeable changes including a significant decline in the wild bird population especially sparrows and starlings, also the wild flowers in the hay meadows and cornfields and the loss of meadow grasses and the elm trees, which used to dominate the hedgerows.
Stourton Caundle today is unrecognisable from the village I grew up in the 1950s, when milk production was still crucially important for the village economy. There were dairy herds at all six of the former main estate owned farms, Manor Farm, Brunsells Farm, Barrow Hill Farm, Newleaze Farm, Higher Woodrow and Woodrow Farms, together with herds at Newland and Rockhill Farms, with the land attached to both of these farms formerly part of Newleaze Farm. There were also dairy herds at Cockhill, Haddon and Brunsells Knapp Farms. Fred Priddle also had a herd of around a dozen cows, renting land and a milking shed at the rear of Gwyers, making a total of twelve dairy farms operating within the parish boundary. A common site on a summer afternoon was to see Fred’s cows ambling down the high street following afternoon milking, to graze in the orchard at the rear of his residence at Myrtle Cottage. Although some pigs and free-range hens were kept, and a few acres of were corn grown, most local farms mainly relied on milk production for the main source of income. Milk production has subsequently ceased at all twelve of these locations.
Brunsells Farm shortly before the relocation to Brunsells Knapp
The abolition of guaranteed milk prices after the First World War meant that there was no funding available for maintenance of buildings, or for investment in tractors, machinery or the installation of milking machines. The formation of the Milk Marketing Board resulted in a return to a guaranteed minimum price for milk giving dairy farmers the confidence to invest in milking machines. Until the early 1950s these herds consisted mainly of Shorthorn cattle. There was a gradual introduction of Friesian cows during this decade and by 1960 this breed had mostly replaced the Shorthorns.
Deregulation of milk prices in 1994 hastened the ongoing reduction in the number of dairy herds. The one remaining dairy farm, now relocated to a purpose built buildings at Brunsells Knapp, has a fully automated milking unit. Comparison with the methods employed and the number of personnel involved, in milk production at the twelve dairy farms in the village during the 1950s, illustrates the revolution that has taken place in milk production, both locally and nationally. The vast improvements in hygiene, nutrition and animal husbandry, combined with the modern methods used for rearing and frequency of herd replacements, have resulted in the significant increase in milk yields and milk quality during the last sixty years.