Portrait of a Parish - Page 4

100 Years Ago


In 1900, the Civil Parish of Monkton Combe included Combe Down, but the Ecclesiastical parish had separated the two some years previously when Holy Trinity Church was built "up the hill". The Census figures of 1891 gives the total population of the Civil Parish as 1,760.
In the old Ecclesiastical parish of the village centre, Tucking Mill, Dundas, Brassknocker Hill and Mount Pleasant (roughly coinciding with current boundaries) there were just under 400 people in 70 households, apart from Monkton Combe School which had about 50 pupils.

Houses did not exist on Trollopes Hill, Warminster Road, the lower part of Shaft Road (after Woodbine Cottages), The Croft, South View, St. Michael's Court and nor was there a village hall.

The Somerset Coal Canal, with its busy wharf at Dundas, had closed in 1898, so the gaily painted barges, towed by two horses, were no longer a daily sight. Water lilies and other vegetation clogged the waterway the the promised railway had not yet reached the lower end of Mill Lane. A mile down the road, or a shorter walk over the field, was Limpley Stoke station on the Wilts and Somerset branch of the Great Western Railway - which ran an infrequent service. When the line was extended to Monkton Combe (as a goods line), it probably provided employment for local people.

The village scheme must have been one of considerable activity in those days, with people going about their business on foot or by horse and cart. Women could be seen at the open doors of their cottages along the village street, or Mill Lane, cutting buttons off the old uniforms destined for the Mill - which had recently been converted for flock manufacture. Children could be seen playing with their hoops, tops or skipping ropes, or gather by the old lock-up or in the brewery yard for a serious game of marbles or conkers.

Work was provided by three farms, two mills (listed in the Domesday survey) - Mr. Freeman's flock mill and the Tucking Mill which produced Fullers Earth, three public houses, quarries, a number of big houses, Monkton Combe School, a post office, two shops and a National School. Socially and economically, there was a clear gap between the lives of the villagers who provided the workforce and those who provided the work.

There was not a great movement of population, most people having been born in the village or surrounding villages, or having come from nearby Bath. So it must have been easy to know everybody. Visitors or strangers who were attracted to Limpley Stoke and the spas in Bath would be easily recognisable.

No car or bicycle however, is recorded as having been seen in the village at that time. Such traffic as came was horse-drawn - the post office van, - Mr. Morris's bakery van from Freshford, the coal cart from the Midford Depot or the occasional light trap bringing people from the stations in Bath or Limpley Stoke. Sometimes there would be heavy stone wagons carrying supplies to some building work and it is said that if, in a dire emergency, the doctor was to be sent for he would ride out from Bath on horseback.

There were two schools, the Village School for 70 children up to the age of 11 and Monkton Combe School which had 50 "scholars" aged 13 - 19, so the two groups of youngsters had nothing in common. There was even opportunity for conflict as the privileged "scholars", with their boats on the river and cricket teams and athletics on Longmead (sometimes shared with Farmer Wick's cows) and their exclusive area for swimming in the brook, must often have been envied by the village youth. A.F. Lace, reliable recorder of the year 1900, in his book about the School ("A Goodly Heritage"), describes the pupil power of the day when a schoolboy prank, directed against the influence of the school Secretary, went wrong. Every boy in the school was involved, punishment was meted out, the Secretary withdrew and it is said that the administration improved after that.

There was a Church Mission Chapel with seating for forty on Mount Pleasant and a Congregational Chapel in Mill Lane, but little is known about them. The church was still the hub of the village and there were two services on Sundays, a Sunday School and a choir. The plaque in the church to the memory of the Rev. D.L. Pitcairn, who was then the Vicar, says that he was "learned, kind and gentle" and he was frequently seen about the village dressed in a black cloak and shovel hat. National and other important events were celebrated in front of the church when a band provided by the school, played suitable tunes, a flag would be raised in the Brewery Yard, a service followed and then there would be tea and buns at the vicarage which was either Westfield House or Bushy House. Mrs. Pitcairn directed the choir, its annual outing and she organised the ladies of the big houses in charitable work. This was much needed as most jobs were insecure, wages were low and domestic violence was frequently the result of drunkenness. Old people too, were often a burden on poor households and thee was no safety net for them, other than charity. There were hand-outs of tea an coal to poor families at Christmas from Mr.Vaughan-Jenkins of Combe Grove Manor (the largest landowner). Boots for children who subscribed to the card scheme at school, were supplied by Miss Knott. Apart from this, the needy depended on what little could be spared by their family (if any) or the pity of neighbours. Tramps were seldom welcomed.

However, if the economic conditions of the day left little time for the majority of the villagers to enjoy much leisure from providing for their subsistence needs, others were more fortunate and there was a good deal of friendliness and many shared interests between the well-to-do and the staff of "the College". There were dinner parties, and Mrs. Pitcairn, among others, was very partial to a game of Bridge. A.F. Lace says that school matches on Longmead were well attended by the ladies and gentlemen of the parish and, particularly for the younger members of staff, Miss Orchard's teashop at the post office was a great standby. She would order cakes from the Freshford Bakery so that the "young gentlemen" (there was a fairly frequent turnover of graduates in their first jobs after leaving university) could entertain their friends with propriety and in the written recollections that stem from that period, it was always summer and the surroundings were always idyllic.


Life 100 years ago:  page 4 - page 5 - page 6

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