A ramble around the village in the 1840s
                  Transcript of a talk given in 1988 by ex-resident Peter Oxlade

                                                   (Scroll to end of this page for old Fifehead photographs and link to old census records)

I have been asked to tell you something of the history of Fifehead Magdalen and it is fitting that I should do so in The Old Rectory because my interest in the subject was aroused in this house a little over seven years ago, when a talk was given on the local history of the district and the speaker found almost nothing to say of the history of Fifehead. Admittedly he was a historian of Gillingham and was at that time preparing a book on the town, but even so it seemed strange that he could find so little to say about Fifehead and I therefore decided to see what I could find out.
The first thing I discovered was that little of the history of Fifehead was recorded in any book and later I found that much of the detail was wrong, anyway. Nothing of great moment appears to have happened here and the amount of information available at the Dorset County Record Office and County Library was minimal. The only papers I could use were the tithe documents of 1840 and the census of 1841 which, taken together, give the basic information about the village and its inhabitants at that time. The tithe papers were a survey of the village, field by field and house by house, made when the payments of tithes in kind were converted into money payments and an accurately detailed survey had to be made to determine the cash payments to the vicar to be made by land-holders. These two documents, the census return and the tithe papers, are often used together in the study of local history to form a starting point from which it may be possible to work both backwards and forwards.
Then I became secretary of the Parochial Church Council and found that in the parish chest there were the church registers from 1564, churchwarden's accounts from 1693 and forty years of poor law accounts in the second half of the 1700s. Now I could learn who had lived in the village in the past 400 years and obtain a few glimpses of certain aspects of their lives. This is the background to my simple way of telling you something of the history of Fifehead by pretending to take a walk round the village in 1840 and learn who was there, and what was there, and then putting some historical cladding on that framework.
I would mention that I have had no access to private documents so that there may well be those among you who are in a position to correct me about details of your houses and lands but I have been greatly helped by Mrs Jean Hunt and Mr Peter Custard who have loaned me various papers relating to the village at the times when the Manor of Fifehead was sold in 1805, 1820, 1865 and 1904.
So, on to our ramble around Fifehead Magdalen and we begin outside the churchyard at the gates of Fifehead House or the Great House as it was popularly known in the village. This had been built in 1807 to replace the former Tudor Manor house, following the acquisition of the Manor of Fifehead two years previously by Mr George Cox who was something of an early property speculator, having purchased several large estates, including that of the Abbey of Glastonbury. Mr Cox lived at Fifehead House for about ten years and then sold the estate to Mr Vincent Stucky, who had his home near Taunton and, as far as can be ascertained, never resided at Fifehead. In 1840, the point in time with which we are chiefly concerned, Fifehead House was occupied by the Vicar, the Reverend Edward Peacock, who had married the daughter of his Bishop and lived in the style of a country gentleman.
Having said that, after the first two years of his ministry in the village he did not have a curate but the parish registers show that he regularly carried out all the duties of a country parson and was seldom away from his parish. He was to die in 1848, having been Vicar for almost thirty years.
I do not propose to say anything about Fifehead House itself as details of its architecture, etc, together with photographs, are given in the volume on the buildings of North Dorset, prepared under the auspices of the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments of England and published by Her Majesty's Stationery 0ffice.
Although by 1840 there was little trace of the old manor house, other than that some of its Tudor walls had been incorporated in farm outbuildings, it is appropriate to refer to it here because of the importance of the Manor to the life of the village in previous centuries. The manorial estate of almost 1000 acres was the village; the ecclesiastical parish, and its boundaries, was almost identical with these existing today. In 1840 the estate comprised about 140 acres of arable land, 770 acres of pasture, and woodlands and withy-beds along the river amounted to 55 acres. The vicar's glebe lands totaled 25 acres and these belonged to the church and were legally excluded from the manorial estate. 
If you have found this interesting, you may follow the story here.

If you would like to view burial records and to read details contained in old census records click here

On this link you will find fascinating photographs and text of the old Manor House.

View down lane towards the church 
                      The horse and cart is driven by Sidney Joseph Hunt, grandfather of Anthony Hunt.

Above and below:   Trent House and Beech Cottage

Christmas postcard stmped at Fifead Post Office 24 December

Front of the Christmas postcard

Pictures kindly provided by Peter & Helen Mera.
Additional photographs and maps from the Village Hall collection.

More photographs of the village would be gratefully received (and later returned unharmed)