Memories of a Fontmell-born Inhabitant

February 4, 2006
The sheep wash, Mill Street

Editorial introduction:

Charlie Andrews

Charlie Andrews

In about 1970 Charlie Andrews (as he was always known) wrote down some of his memories about his life in Fontmell Magna. He was very devoted to the village and ended his notes with ‘Fontmell Born and Proud of it’. The text appeared in several forms and in one of them, an interview in the Bournemouth Evening Echo on 30th November 1971, he uses phrases that had already appeared elsewhere. .
In his later years he lived in one half

Charlie's Cottage, Mill Street

Charlie's Cottage, Mill Street

of the cottage in Mill Street which you see here. It was later converted into a single dwelling and very appropriately named ‘Charlie’s Cottage’. His emphasis on being born and bread in the village may give the impression that his family had always lived here. But in fact his father came from Ringwood in Hampshire and his mother from Haden. The first three of their five children were also born elsewhere. In 1901 there were two other Andrews families in the village: James Andrews, a mason by trade, originated from Margaret Marsh, a nearby parish, while Charles Andrews, another mason, came from Marnhull. These were probably related families, but a fourth family certainly was not. At that time the village policeman was George Andrews who was born in Chickerell, and he and his wife and two children lived in the police house in South Street. Dorset policemen were normally stationed in the same community for only three or four years at a time.

There are, however, documentary references to the name Andrews in Fontmell as far back as the Hearth Tax of 1664 and occasional mentions in the 18th century. It is more than likely, therefore, that although there is no evidence of uninterrupted continuity, Charlie had a right to feel he belonged here. This is his story.
Editor

Lurmer Street, Fontmell Magna

Lurmer Street, Fontmell Magna

FONTMELL MAGNA – what memories it brings back to the older inhabitants, who, as I notice sadly, are getting fewer in number as time creeps on. It’s iron foundry, saw mills, brewery, and flour mills have all disappeared, but Collyer’s Brook and our dear old Cross Tree still remain; what tales the latter could tell, some sad and some not worth repeating! Our maypole, having succumbed to time and weather, is no more. Time brings changes, but to many it is still old Fontmell.
I can remember, as a schoolboy, a man

Red Rovers football team

Red Rovers football team

living here by the name of Charles Mayo, he used to be a slave driver in his younger days, and how we used to look in awe at the whip he used. We look back to our Carnivals, promoted by Henry Merrifield, to our Red Rovers Football Team before the first World War, to our squires, policeman, Rifle Range and Reading Room. All these are now things of the past, and with them the cap-raising of the ‘good old days’, which is a very debateable description.

Methodist Chapel, village shop,malthouse and maypole

Methodist Chapel, village shop,malthouse and maypole

I can recall a day off school for nutting in Fontmell Wood. Also the two postmen walking from Shaftesbury delivering letters and parcels, and then collecting the letters posted here – their names were Mr W Imber and Mr Foot. Letters were one penny and postcards a halfpenny. At that time coal was one shilling and ninepence a hundredweight. I can picture Henry Shute swinging his flails in the barn near the Cross Tree, threshing the corn which people had ‘leased’ by permission of the local farmers. I remember our Band of Hope outings to Hanford in farm wagons which they lent. What a shaking – but we enjoyed it!
I can remember when Fontmell had street lamps around the village; so looking back, in some things we have not advanced with the times since ladies wore bonnets and shawls, and the men smocks. It was a great time for the boys in 1911, when a Scout Troop was formed by Humphrey Springfield and Dr James Appleyard, both of whom, alas, have passed away. My! We felt smart in our new uniforms, and used to march from here to Shaftesbury and back to take part in the Carnival.

The sheep wash, Mill Street

The sheep wash, Mill Street

The sheep-washing was a great attraction to young and old, but that also was a thing of the past. One can just see the remains of the wash by the new Rectory. Our Church bells too, alas, are now silent: as old ringers passed on the young did not take their place. [They were, in fact later replaced, and the bells are now very much part of the village. Editor] The monument to Lieut. Salkeld, V.C. remains intact in the churchyard; many headstones have, unfortunately, fallen into decay, but the churchyard has been tidied, and is kept better now than in the old days, but memories of the people buried there will remain as long as Fontmell families remain. It used to be the custom that when a person died the tenor bell was tolled, each toll of the bell representing one year of their life. The last person it tolled for was Mrs C Day, known to many as Patty Chick, sister of the late Ben Chick; and I was the person to toll it.
The first reaping machine that came to Fontmell was still in the barn on the hill which the late Mr Balfour Gardiner had converted into a lovely house, after Farmer Moody left the farm in 1926/7. Many of the houses in Fontmell have had alterations done to them since the sale of Sir Richard Glyn’s estate in 1926. Some you would hardly think the same, not only in looks, but in price: houses then sold for about £100 are worth thousands now. Our old Rifle Range was sold for £55 and is now known as Gossips Tree Cottage.

Baker Edwards' bread cart

Baker Edwards' bread cart

There used to be two baker’s shops in the village, and a butcher’s shop. There were two carriers with horse and van, Tom Still going to Blandford on Thursdays, and Tom Chick to Shaftesbury on Saturdays. They used to charge two pence for bringing a parcel, and six pence for a person to ride. The house that has changed most, I think, is Springhead. From three cottages to a farm house, then successively a flour mill, and iron foundry, a milk factory, and now a gentleman’s house, I wonder what next.
I can remember when strips of land were let to local smallholders, they were under the terraces and we called them the lanches [lynchetts]. The last three to rent them were Tom Still, George Edwards, and William Edwards, who had the post office. There was a butcher Mr Tuffin who, ’twas said, killed a young goat and sold for prize lamb! We kiddies used to say ‘maa’ when we saw him, but always from a safe distance. The farmers made their own cider in those days, and we used to have a drink out of the tub: it was pure apple juice, no chemicals.

Rolf Gardiner with the drum

Rolf Gardiner with the drum

At that time we had 75 to 90 children at our school, without the new classroom, and three teachers to teach us. I often think of the days at school, Empire Day especially, when we used to march to the old rectory, have a bun and a bottle of ‘pop’, and then a half-day holiday. I wonder what the comments would be if our present parson rode to hounds, as Canon Edmonds did then on his grey horse. As time went by, the late Mr Rolf Gardiner came to Springhead, introducing folk-dancing and sword-dancing. What a lovely sight, the girls in their pretty dresses, and the men and lads in dark breeches, white shirts stockings. On May Day and other occasions we used to dance round the village, and on Plough Monday we travelled round the towns and villages doing the Plough Dance. Once we did it in Dorchester for the Minister of Agriculture, and once in London at a Plough Sunday Service. The Friendly Society had their annual fete with the Shaftesbury Band leading the procession with a large banner. I often think of the Dramatic Society and the plays produced by Dr Appleyard in the school, but we old ones who used to take part are getting fewer and fewer.
We still have a tailor’s shop in the village which has been in the Stainer family for many generations. But the golf course is no more. It was on the Fore Top and it was a nine hole one and a great attraction for people who used to play there such as Dr Appleyard, Mrs Hastings, Mr E Barrett and Rev. W Tapper (father of Dr Geoffrey Tapper). There was a Saddler’s shop under the Cross Tree where a Mr Tachell from Ludwell used to mend harnesses for the local farmers, and sold whips, curry combs, dandy brushes, brasses and oil for the leather harness.
Another great occasion in the village was he opening of the

Fontmell in autumn

Fontmell in autumn

Village Hall on 3rd April, 1948. When I look at the programme for the Opening Night, I wonder where village life has disappeared to. But we have our Girl Guides, Brownies and Scouts, or discussion Club and Women’s Institute, showing that Fontmell changes its attractions and adapts to the coming of many new people making their homes here. But it’s still ‘dear old Fontmell Magna’, with its memories of the past for the old ones, and the ‘modern’ outlook for the young ones for the future.

Author: A.E. Andrews