Recollections 
                        A personal history of the village by Peter Custard
                                                    (First published in the Fifehead Magdalen Millennium booklet)
My name is Peter Custard. I was born in 1929 and have lived all my life in this village. Most of my working life has been spent on the land in various capacities including that of manager for Colonel Richards when he owned the estate. I have been asked to talk about my recollections of the years immediately before and after the war for the Millennium Book of Fifehead Magdalen and this I do with pleasure with the help of a substantial quantity of ale (which has powerful memory-activating properties) at the Plough at Manston and my scribe, Rollo Belsham. These years saw the beginnings of great changes in the village way of life, more perhaps than many people realise, and I will try to touch upon them in these recollections.
 
The village was a very different place before the war. Almost everybody was working class and their employment was mostly in the village, mainly on the land. There was real poverty in the early/middle 1930s, with very low wages. For example George Extance dug clay at Gillingham brick works and earned about £1 per week for 6 days hard work.
 
The Church was full for both services every Sunday. Everybody employed by Captain Learmoth (who owned the estate which then comprised essentially all the parish) was required to attend Church as a condition of employment. The domestic staff from Fifehead House attended in their uniforms, including the cook notwithstanding the imminent demands of Sunday lunch. The domestic staff included 2 chauffeurs, 5 grooms, 4 gardeners and laundry staff (Mrs. Peabody and her daughter Sylvia) plus cook and housemaids etc. Church attendance was much lower after the Learmoths left.
 
There were many children in the village which then had a larger population. There were even as many as 33 in the early 1950's, by which time the village population had shrunk somewhat. Every child was a member of Church Sunday School or Church Choir before the war and was thereby entitled to an annual holiday excursion of one day, to Weymouth by charabanc (this having a shape like an elongated bath and with a separate door for each set of seats across the body of the vehicle). The outing on September 3rd 1939, which was the last, was via Wells Cathedral (to see the horses around the clock when it strikes) and the Cheddar Gorge to Weston-super-Mare, this time in a bus instead of a charabanc. Mr Gallimore (who then ran the Post Office and was verger and choirmaster) having heard en route of the outbreak of war, was much exercised lest the bus be commandeered for wartime duties before setting out on the return journey to Fifehead. In the 1950s the village hall committee gave a Christmas party in the hall for the parish children, each child being given a present to the value of 5 shillings (25p today). Mr Gallimore had come to the village in 1898 and lived in Fifehead Cottage whilst he was farm manager. He was verger from 1898 until early in the 1950swhen I took over from him. He took over the Post Office in 1935.
 
There were only 3 cars in the village in the mid-1930s. Two were owned by the Learmoths and the other by Sidney Hunt of Middle Farm. The other farmers (of Manor, Factory and Higher Farms) had ponies and traps. All the village farms were tenanted until the estate was broken up in 1937 when the Learmoths moved to London. The auction was conducted by Henry Duke and Son of Dorchester in the village hall, then in the laundry (now Home Farm) and finally in Fifehead House for the surplus furniture. The 4 cottages opposite our house, Highlands, fetched £100 each for the centre pair and £150 each for the two end cottages. In those days they all had taller chimneys. The much reduced estate was bought by Mr P.G.M.Talbot.
 
Milk was supplied to the village before the war on foot or by bicycle, with the pail hung from the handlebars, by Mr Gallimore who kept 2 cows, then by Mrs. Pitman who kept 4 or 5 cows in what are now the stables of Manor House. It was not unti11952 that milk was delivered by van.
 
Cider was made at Higher Farm (where I worked at one time), predominantly for the staff. We made 4 hogsheads (of 54 gallons each) and 2 pipes (of 110 gallons each) every year. The cider was free to the staff each of whom had his own gallon jar. This admirable practice persisted unti11955. Higher Farm at that time employed 5 men and 2 permanent landgirls, plus others from time to time. Incidentally, the official wage in 1950 for farm workers was £4.14.0 (£4.70 in today's coinage) for a week of 57 hours (compared with office staff today whose working week is only about 37 hours.)

The village water supply was provided by the system installed by Lt. Col. Browne in the early 1900s. Comprising spring water through one pipe for drinking and cooking and river water through a parallel pipe for other purposes, each supply being collected in a cistern near the river and pumped from there by a Petter oil engine to storage reservoirs disguised as a cottage alongside the drive from the Manor House to the road near the Old Chapel. The water supply flowed by gravity to houses in the upper part of the village from this disguised reservoir whilst those on Fifehead Hill and lower down used their own sources. A Council water supply was provided for Fifehead House in 1940when it was taken over by the Royal Navy (and probably connected then to Fifehead Cottage as well since the Talbot family had moved there). The supply came from the direction of Marnhull and ran up alongside Old School House and then down Village Road to Fifehead House. Shortly after the war, Colonel Richards, who had bought part of the estate, paid for the Council supply to be taken to all houses in the upper part of the village including Higher Farm.
 
People did not have transport to enable them to shop outside the village. They ordered their requirements from a number of tradesmen from Gillingham, Marnhull and elsewhere who called house-to-house and delivered a few days later when they collected payment. Strangers of Sturminster was one of these: Cokerel, Curtis and Harsent were the three bakers, E.R.Strickland of Gillingham delivered hardware and paraffin (from what are now Crocker's premises) and Howard Andrews of Marnhull (whose shop is now occupied by Spar) supplied shoes, clothing, lino and carpets etc. He was known as Johnny Fortnight There was also a butcher, of course. These services continued throughout the war when the bicycle continued throughout the war when the bicycle continued to be the only means of transport for almost everybody. Today, we have one bus a week to Yeovil.
 
All the land was given over to dairy farming. These were horse and cart days and the first tractor did not make its appearance until the war when wartime regulations required that a designated acreage of land had to be used for cereal production. I learned to plough with a pair of horses on leaving school.
 
We made our own entertainment. There were occasional social evenings in the village hall when the entertainment was provided by Frank Gallimore's concert party, his daughter playing the piano. There were also combined whist drive and dance evenings, the dancing starting around 10pm. During the war there were regular weekly dances with a proper band: people came from all around, by bike. No beer or spirits were available in the hall: it was necessary to visit a hostelry beforehand and perhaps sneak back a bottle of beer. Up until 1939 the village had its own football, hockey and cricket teams whose members were predominantly village people, and a very well supported tennis club.
 
People took every opportunity to supplement their very meagre wages. This inspired what today would probably be called "a business initiative" on my part, involving goats. A family of evacuees had been moved into Stour View Cottage who required a supply of goats’ milk for health reasons. I acquired a few goats and ran them on the tennis courts, then disused because of the war. In the atmosphere which prevailed in wartime, (it was 1943) it was natural to keep them in the Baptist Chapel, conveniently nearby, there being no services. I sold the milk at 6 pence (2.5p in today’s coinage) a pint around the village, and later, having discovered that goat's meat was excluded from the regulations governing food rationing, sold that as well to a local butcher. Services in the Chapel re-started in 1948 and finally ended in the 1950s.
 
Although the village population was greater before the war the number of houses has changed very little. This reflects the fact that small houses often were homes to large families: for example, Alf Burt who lived in Swallowfields in the late 1930s had 10 children there. It was said they slept head to foot in the bed.
 
Captain Talbot, who lived in Fifehead House, was a model railway enthusiast and a skilled engineer, building the locomotives and rolling stock himself. The landscaped track of 8 to 10 inches gauge, was situated in the four acre kitchen garden (which lies to the front of what is now Manor House). Sir Robert Sutton around 1951/51 had a swimming pool built there. Colonel Richards, who bought the house in '58/59, filled it in.
 
Colonel Richards had an interesting life. He had served in the Royal Navy as Captain of HM.S. Tiger (hence the crest of this ship on the gravestone in the churchyard). He left the navy as a result of the manpower economies of the 1930s and subsequently joined the army. I first met him when, as a second lieutenant, he bought Ivers Marnhull in 1937. His wartime record included service in France and command of the great coastal defence guns at Dover. He was a Lloyds underwriter after the war and owned property in London amongst which was Dudley House in Westmoreland Street (near Harley Street) which was converted into flats. I worked for him for 34 years. One could not have asked for a more generous employer. He was also a convivial man: I recall having delivered something to him in London and being taken out to lunch at the United Services Club to show his thanks. Some hours later I found myself quite unable to board the train at Waterloo without assistance!
 
The village was on the receiving end of the Luftwaffe's attentions on a number of occasions at night, probably as the result of the jettisoning of bomb loads by aircraft attacking Bristol. In late 1941 a stick of four bombs fell between the front of what is now Manor House and the drive which starts opposite the old chapel. One bomb did not explode: it penetrated 30 feet. On another occasion a stick of three fell between the field behind 5 Village Road and White Posts with the middle bomb making a hole in Trill Lane. At about 9pm during another night in 1942 an aircraft dropped a long scatter of incendiaries from near West Stour to Cale Bridge: I recall how pretty they looked burning white and bright in large numbers across the fields. The following night "Lord Haw Haw" as he was known, broadcasting on German propaganda radio, announced that their aircraft had attacked lithe seaplane base" at Henstridge! A landmine which fell in the field opposite Trent House and Beech Cottage in 1942 fortunately dissipated most of its force upon a row of beech trees and, surprisingly, did very little damage (but it moved the front wall of the Post Office and this was later rebuilt).
 
The village had another lucky escape when a Wellington bomber of 458 Squadron RA.A.F. attempted a crash landing in the fields between the electricity sub-station and the old chapel, to the west of the road to the A30, at about 8am in very bad weather (it was snowing heavily) one morning in January 1942, when it was still dark. The aircraft, badly damaged in an abortive raid on the docks of Boulogne, was already on fire as it made its attempt from the direction of West Stour, with all twelve 250lb, bombs still on board. Happily, only 4 exploded. Sergeant Bert Garland, the pilot, survived, but was badly hurt, as did one other crew member, the other 4 being killed. By an extraordinary coincidence Bert and his wife shared a breakfast table during a holiday cruise in the mid-1900s with George and Diana Allard of Nether Compton (near Sherborne) who learned of his unhappy connection with Fifehead Magdalen. The upshot of this chance in a million meeting was that Bert and Isla returned to England in 1996 and I was able to meet him and show him where my father and I helped to drag him from the wreckage of his aircraft. I was thirteen at the time and I have vivid recollections of the terrible sight of the burning wreckage of the Wellington scattered across the fields.
 
We celebrated the end of the war, VJ, Day, in the evening in the road outside the Ship Inn, as we had done for V.E. Day. There was no special organised celebration. The village had come through the war totally unscathed, but farm mechanisation, accelerated by the demands of wartime, then continued apace and with it the progressive reduction in the need for labour directly working the land to the point when only about 10% of the adult population today is directly involved in agriculture - and the milk comes not in a pail but in plastic bottles from the supermarket!
 
Rollo Belsham, scribe.                                                                    
Recollections, Peter Custard.
 

 

 








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