An interesting comment on the use of the rifle in combat in the 1860s, when the main infantry weapon was the muzzle-loading rifle, from the Western Flying Post of 13 November 1860:
‘We extract the following amusing anecdote from the speech of John Nicholetts Esq., delivered at the meeting of the Martock Agricultural Society, which is fully reported in another place:- He would relate an anecdote in connexion with rifle shooting told by his brother who is at Palermo. On one occasion he met Colonel Peard – Garibaldi’s Englishman – who said to him, “Mind, if ever you go rifle shooting use your rifle in a scientific manner. Recollect always not to kill your man, but to wound him, then it takes two men to carry him off, and those two men never by any chance come back the same day. With a double-barrelled rifle, therefore you may get rid of six men at each discharge.” We think this worth consideration.’
Meanwhile over at Castle Cary, the Pulman’s Weekly News of 11 March 1863 issued a warning to its readers:
‘About a week since, an individual appeared here who has since succeeded in duping more than one of the inhabitants. He represents himself as having just arrived from Australia, and it is singular that he can give correct accounts to their relations of many persons who are now in Australia, but sometimes inaccuracies are apparent in his statements. He represented himself as the grandson of one poor old man. Of course the old man was delighted to see him come back safe from the distant continent. He therefore housed him for a day or two, and on his stating that he was short of cash, he even supplied him with some until he could get his Australian bills cashed. Having obtained what he could of the old man, he has since decamped, and it has transpired that he was no relative whatever. It is rumoured that he has been successful in several instances, by similar representations, of duping many in this locality. He is about five and a half feet high, of a dark complexion, and appears about 25 years old.’
In the autumn of 1874 there was a variation to the quotation of ‘A bull in a china shop’ at Crewkerne, as reported in the Western Gazette of 2 October:
‘On Thursday afternoon, some bulls were driven through this town by a drover employed by Mr. Pattinson, cattle dealer. On arriving in Sheep Market Street, and seeing the gate leading to the yard of Mr. Tout, ironmonger, open, three of the animals walked quietly into the yard and one of them unceremoniously entered and took possession of the back kitchen, and it was not until he had broken four panes of glass, and then with some difficulty, he was driven out. The animals then proceeded on their way through Sheep Market Street, but on reaching the dwelling house of Mr. Fone, tailor, whose front door they found open, two of them entered the passage. Mrs. Fone was sitting in a room at the left hand side of the passage with tea laid awaiting the return of her children, and on seeing the head of her unexpected caller thrust into the room she was much alarmed. She, however, managed to leave the room through another entrance and the drover of the bulls crawled underneath its legs into the room, and succeeded in driving it out.’
Pulman’s Weekly News reported relief in West Coker in April 1899, when;
‘A large number of parishioners met at The Laurels on Monday evening to welcome home Mr. Arthur Herbert Gould, eldest son of Mr. Job Gould, twine manufacturer. Mr. Gould had recently undergone a very successful operation at the College Hospital, London, where his leg was amputated at the hip. The operation caused the gravest anxiety to the parishioners at large, and the ringing cheers with which he was greeted on his arrival testified to the sincerity of the welcome he received. Mr. Gould has been for some years an active member in the firm of Messrs. Gould & Sons, and it is hoped that he will be long spared to push forward the industry of the village, whose interest he has so much at heart.’
However, on 17 October 1899, Pulman’s Weekly News reported relief of a somewhat different and slightly mysterious kind at East Chinnock:
‘Miss Kate Rendell, who mysteriously disappeared from home on Thursday week, returned home on Wednesday evening, to the intense relief of her relatives. She was in too weak a condition to give any explanation of her absence.’
I wonder where she’d been and her explanation! The record is silent.
May 2017 – Jack Sweet
YEOVIL in 2000?
In celebration of King George V’s Silver Jubilee on 6 May 1935, several local journalists produced a Souvenir programme. One of the contributors looked forward to Yeovil in the year 2000 and this was his vision (tongue somewhat in cheek perhaps) of the town in the brave new world 65 years later:
‘The flood-lit air port was astir with the busy hum of machines and hurrying figures when I arrived by the night mail. It was my first glimpse of Yeovil after many decades. I had returned to take part in the city’s celebrations at the birth of the year 2,000.
‘I knew that the one-time old Somerset market town had become the hub of the West, the key town to one of England’s most flourishing shires, but the transformation that had taken place was startling. Looking out of the windows of my host’s car as it glided silently through the town, ablaze with light, it might well have been a dream city.
“No wonder you fail to recognise it” said my old friend, smiling at my bewilderment. “Of course you must remember that a very large area of Yeovil as you knew it was scheduled for demolition long ago and has been rebuilt,” he explained.
“One of the first steps taken by the City Council was the re-planning of Yeovil into industrial and residential zones. There has been a clean sweep, and most of the old landmarks have disappeared. There are still some romantic old-world corners left, but you will have to go out into the countryside to find them for many of the villages of your day are now suburbs of Yeovil.”
‘It had been a gala day in Yeovil, and thousands of people were present at the opening by the National Director of pastimes of the huge new sports stadium, where a display had been given by many famous speedway “stars.” Now the night-life of the city was in full swing, and Yeovil’s “Broadway” glittered with light.
‘Later I was to discover that in spite of the robot-like efficiency with which the life of the city was carried on, the architect, in planning the new Yeovil, had built with the mind of an artist, and had given it a new beauty. There were spacious parks, broad avenues and boulevards that had taken the place of narrow, crowded streets with great motor ways.
‘Garden cities, with their own communal halls and social centres, had replaced the old housing estates, while in the industrial zone itself, though the factories were working at full pressure, smoke and grime were things of the past. The system of employment was so designed that there was work for all.
‘The feature of the new Yeovil was its imposing Guildhall, the centre of civic administration, with its lofty Gothic pillars and noble facade.
‘For the old market place, nestling under the shadow of the Mother Church, now a cathedral, I looked in vain, but on a new site, covering many acres, Yeovil Market had grown to become another Smithfield.
‘Despite the growth of aviation and the impetus it had given to one of Yeovil’s most flourishing industries, railways continued to play an important part in the nation’s life as far as heavy freightage was concerned. This was apparent by the big railway depot, Yeovil Central, which had taken the place of the three stations that formerly served the town.
‘With its rise to fame and the cosmopolitan character it had acquired, there had sprung up a new culture. Yeovil had become one of the most musical towns in the country. Its schools and colleges were well known, the Engineering Institute having gained world-wide repute.
‘Yeovil Hospital, too, in its park-like surroundings, had also moved with the times, and was the centre from which sprang many new health services, ranging from delightful hostels for mothers and babies to the rest home for the aged in the eventide of their lives.
‘What fascinated me most, perhaps, was the new accent that the inhabitants had acquired. Had any one asked, in the plaintive tones of the old days, “Where be I too?” he would have been regarded with as much curiosity as an aborigine. Fashions had also changed, but it was the men who now set the pace in raiment of colourful hue.
‘Sleepy Somerset had gone for ever. As the vision of Yeovil faded, I realised the very name of the place had changed. Yeovil was no longer Yeovil but Yeotopia.’
TWO GLIMPSES OF SOMERSET IN THE 1860s
Shortly before Christmas in 1860,‘XYZ’ took a walk up Ham Hill and described his afternoon-out in a letter to the Editor of the Western Flying Post:
‘SIR, – It being Christmas time, with your permission, I will endeavour to add somewhat to the light reading you usually provide at this festive period by giving a short description of a pedestrian excursion to Ham Hill on a fine frosty day last week. Often, as the same road may have been trodden by your readers, everybody may not perceive the same beauties and make the same reflections. There is nothing remarkable, I must admit, in the footpath across the fields to Preston or in the road through Montacute; and it is only when you approach the foot of the hill itself that the real beauties of the neighbourhood force themselves upon your attention.
The day I selected for my peregrinations was, as I have said, frosty, and the sun shone with all the keen brightness customary at this time of the year. Unluckily, however, a milk-and-waterish looking mist veiled the distant hills and hid many of the fine points in the view observable on a cloudless summer’s day. With one long gaze I drank in all the beauties of the scene. Langport looked in the distance like a small seaport town, and the uninitiated would hardly be convinced that the expanse of water which was visible, was the result of the rains only. The numerous small towns and villages which lie between Langport and Crewkerne presented a most peculiar appearance. The blue smoke, vainly endeavouring to overcome the atmospheric pressure, lay in massive-looking wreaths around the brows of the fine towers which invariably characterize the churches of Somerset. The rays of the setting sun pierced through the heavy air and flooded landscape with a tint such as the artist Claude might have endeavoured in vain to convey to his canvas; and the metal on the church spires flung back the radiance in mingled hues of excessive brilliance.
Turning with reluctance from the fascinating beauty of this picture, I looked towards Glastonbury. There hung the mist in gauzy masses which seemed to place a limit to space and to annihilate the idea of anything beyond. Then came the reflection that to a person twenty miles off gazing at the eminence on which I stood, I should appear enveloped in the same indistinctiveness. The sun had now sunk behind the hills, and the first breath of the chill night air made me think of retracing my steps and bidding adieu to Ham Hill and the surrounding beauties. I with no little difficulty reached the foot of the hill; and “stepping” the six miles in one hour and eleven minutes I arrived at home just in time for tea.
Wishing you, Mr. Editor, and your numerous readers all possible happiness on this glorious and Christian anniversary.’
To complete this glimpse of the Somerset 157 years ago, the following article from the Western Flying Post of Tuesday 1 January 1861 provides a homely glimpse into country life at that time:
‘On Wednesday last, the entertainment given annually to the workpeople on the Newton House Estate, by George Harbin Esq., took place amidst general rejoicing. The annual treat has been generally prepared at the conclusion of harvest time, but with the snow lying thick upon the ground, and heavens threatening another fall, we can hardly designate it this year a “Harvest Home.” Nevertheless the fare provided was as good and as thoroughly English as on all preceding occasions, and the workpeople assembled under the same happy presidency of Mr Dunning, the bailiff. Loyalty as ever characterised assemblages of British workmen, and following in the footsteps of their worthy squire they drank to the health of the Queen – “good Queen Vic” – with the lusty strength of English hearts. Revelling in the blissful ignorance of politics, the meeting exhausted the list of homely toasts and flung forth their happiness in good old English ballads. A joyous dance, in which those who knew how and those who didn’t joined, brought the evening’s conviviality to a conclusion. The satisfaction of all present was testified by three hearty cheers for the beloved and respected donor of the feast after which the party separated.’
The weather over the Christmas time in 1860 was a mixture of heavy rain followed by piercing cold and frost, followed by heavy snowfalls and a sudden thaw. The Western Flying Post commented that the Christmas snowfalls were the heaviest for seven years with drifts over 10 feet deep in Dorset, and the lake at Barwick House was frozen to a depth sufficient to bear skaters.
OLD SOMERSET CUSTOMS AND SAYINGS
On 15 August 1906 ‘JVS’ sent a postcard called KISSING IN SOMERSET, one of a series about old English customs, to a Miss Crossman, of Westbury, Wiltshire, and this is what it said:
‘It is an interesting study that of tracing the history of old customs of various places. Some of them are undoubtedly of great antiquity, such as the Flower Show at Taunton, the origin is put down by some to the time of King Arthur and the Druids. Somersetshire customs have very much struck the attention of strangers who find in difficult to account for such a difference in adjacent localities. A Cockney who has lately been “doing” Somerset made a note of the following peculiarities in regards kissing in the different parts of the County.
Clevedon girls keep quite still till they are well kissed, and then say “I think you ought to be ashamed.” Highbridge girls when kissed close their eyes in ecstasy, and do not open them again until the process ceases. Bristol ladies on being kissed suggest a walk to Keynsham, where they expect a little more of it. At Wellington, the ladies receive a salute with Christian meekness and follow the Scriptural rule, – when kissed on one cheek, they turn the other also. A Taunton girl, when kissed at once proposes a walk to Vivary Park. The Burnham girls act decidedly on the give and take principle, and object to being under any obligation. A Wiveliscombe girl on being kissed proposes a night visit to some neighbouring Druidical remains, some ancient inscriptions on which are considered to have talismanic power in influencing her dreams and future destiny. A Glastonbury girl insists on giving a return after four kisses. When a lady at Wells is kissed she blushes and says nothing. The ladies at Weston-super-Mare on being kissed smiles and simpers, puts on her hat and coat and proposes a visit to the Café, and have tea, junket and syllabubs in the romantic woods. A Bridgwater girl, while you are kissing her, falls in your arms and sighs aloud, “O! how nice – do it again.” Minehead girls say “Now if you go kissing me “Ma” will hear, but if I make the gate creak kiss me then, and she will not know the difference.’
And now a few old Somerset sayings together with their explanations from the Somerset Year Book of 1922
Bedlam WindBedlam (at South Brewham) had the reputation of being a bleak place. It was said that a bellows-maker of some eighty years ago, one John Chamberlain, was in the habit of going there to get the wind to put in his bellows, hence their good quality.
Cadbury FuneralWhen a deceased person is not greatly regretted by his relatives, or when the friends are likely to mark the occasion by festivities, Castle Cary people remark:. “Ah that’ll be a Cadbury Funeral – dry eyes and wet droats!”
Fleas Arrive on March 1stThis is a common belief in certain parts of the county. At Yeovil it is said that on that date they come marching down Hendford Hill, and at Crewkerne similarly down Cemetery Hill! Housewives should be very careful to sweep their front door steps early on this morning, as they may thus drive away the inquisitive beasts.
Little Cup MakersA nick-name for people of Wincanton. Sweetman has recorded what he believed to be a “very old legend.” The story goes that once on a time a traveller was going along a high road in this neighbourhood, when he heard a loud cry from a ditch: “Help, help, please pull me out.” The traveller stopped and enquired “Who are you?” when he received the reply “The liddle cup maker o’ Wincanton.” “Then stay where bist,” retorted the other “If thee’d bin a big-cup maker I’d a helped thee, but a liddle-cup maker, never!”
Langport Men are jocularly reputed to be web-footed. This is no doubt attributed to the low lying and marshy nature of the surrounding country, which during the winter months is often under water.
Market TownsRhymes similar to the following are no doubt found in several parts of the county:-
Hadspen, Honeywick, Pitcombe and Cole,
Higher Shep’n, Lower Shep’n, Stoke and Knowl,
Higher Zeals, Lower Zeals, Wolverton and Penn,
There bain’t twelve zich market-towns in England again.
Nick-NamesIn the same way that Somerset people are sometimes called “Cuckoo-penners,” the inhabitants of certain towns and villages have been given names, complimentary or otherwise, by their neighbours. Many of these have interesting stories behind them, but in many cases the reasons for the appellations have been entirely lost. Here is a short list:-
|Barton Rats||Curry Clowns||Ruishot Cheats|
|Beckington Bees||Frome Dumbledores||Stoke Bulldogs|
|Burrow Hounds||Keinton Mice||Stoke Pero Candlesticks|
|Charlton Bulldogs||Kingweston Candlesticks||Wincanton Little Cup Makers|
|Cary Chickens||Lyng Long-dogs||Wellington Roundheads|
|Chewton Bunnies||Langport Ducks|
|Crewkerne Moon-douters||Road Wopses|
And finally, my late father used to say ‘boychap’ to describe a boy who was not yet a man (a chap) but who was not still a boy – a youth to you and me.
One of the warships which saw much active service in the Navy of the Commonwealth of Oliver Cromwell, and subsequently with King Charles II’s, Royal Navy, was the Langport, completed in 1654 in Bright’s Shipyard, on the south bank of the River Thames. The Langport was 116 feet long, with a beam of nearly 36 feet, weighed some 681 to 694 tons net, carried between 50 to 62 guns, and was classified as a third rate Speaker–class frigate. Other ships of this class were Fairfax, named in honour of the English Civil War Parliamentary General, Sir Thomas Fairfax, and Plymouth, Bridgwater and Newbury, commemorating Parliamentary victories. The Langport celebrated the overwhelming defeat of Lord George Goring’s Royalist army by the Parliamentary New Model Army under Sir Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell, just outside the town in July 1645.
In 1654, the Langport accompanied by the fleet led by the legendary son of Somerset, Admiral Robert Blake, to the Mediterranean to show the flag and enforce the Navigation Acts which required cargos being transported to and from British ports to be carried on British ships. In 1655 the fleet was again in the Mediterranean, this time seeking compensation from the pirate states of the North African coast following attacks by Barbary Corsairs on English coastal towns and merchant ships. When the Bey of Tunis failed to pay, Blake’s fleet bombarded the Tunis forts and burnt nine of his ships.
In 1654 hostilities had broken out with Spain, and in April 1657 in a sea battle off Tenerife, Admiral Blake’s fleet sank 16 Spanish ships. However, this would be the Admiral’s last victory and he died on his flagship The George as she was entering Plymouth Sound on his return.
Three years later in 1660, following the death of Oliver Cromwell, the monarchy was restored and King Charles II regained the throne. One of the first acts of the new regime was to rename most of the Commonwealth ships, and the Langport became the Henrietta in honour of the King’s mother, Queen Henrietta Maria. Following the outbreak of war against the Dutch in 1665, the Henrietta fought in sea battles off Lowestoft in June 1665, the Four Days Battle off North Foreland in June 1666, Orfordness in July, 1666, and in the summer of 1673 in the battles of Schooneveld and Texel.
The Henrietta returned to north coast of Africa in January 1676, with two other warships, and attacked Tripoli in reprisal for more attacks by the Barbary Corsairs on British shipping.
The end came for this long-serving warship on Christmas day 1689, when the Henrietta was wrecked near Plymouth, and there has never been another Royal Naval ship to bear the name Henrietta or Langport.
November 2016 – Jack Sweet
Langport & District History Society