East Brent History Portal

A Journey Along Lifes Path

01 Nov 2012 Article No: 36

(There were many paths at East Brent)

by Chrissie Strong (nee Edwards)


To start with, a few stories told by my father and other older people of East Brent. My grandfather could not do much work, he had been wounded in the Crimean War, and so grandmother earned a living by sewing ladies' dresses, handmade, for a few pence. She reared a family often, and lost two, a boy and a girl.. Grandmother used to sew by firelight, and when she had money to spare she would buy a few candles  they were called "dips" in those days. Every day my father and his brother Bob would take a bowl to the Vicarage for soup, other families went as well. If there were a few pence to spare, grandmother would send them, but if not, they had thick soup ail the same. The soup was made from bones and vegetables. The Cook was Called  Briggs.

Father left school when he was eight years old, and rode the bull in the plough for farmer Rich at Brent Knoll  I believe there are some Rich descendants still at Brent Knoll. My father and his brother Bob used to go bird-keeping for the farmers, that was to keep the birds off the Corn. I understand they got into a lot of mischief. They were paid two pence each Week. Father cut three fingers off in the chaff-Cutter, getting the bull's supper. Grandmother got them well herself, and had eight pence compensation - what a grand price!

I had an uncle named William Lee (from another family in East Brent). He married mother‘s sister, and he was an engine driver on the Somerset and Dorset Railway. Then he was moved to Bath from Highbridge. He died at Christmas 1978 aged 95 years. He told the story of the bull.

Father used to play in East Brent Band, and on. Sundays they played in the church, before the organ. Mr Brooks of Lympsham told me a story; Dad was at band practice, and the teacher told father to use his fingers properly, and he said "l can't, because l haven't any." The only other band members I can recall were Alfred Hubbard, Frank Woodward and a Mr Comer from Rooksbridge.

My Mother came to East Brent in 1900, from somewhere near Dulverton, and was cook at the Vicarage. Old Mr Lee (James) was the gardener, and Mrs Lee did the washing, for the Denisons. Of course, you were "someone" if you worked there.

I was born in the Bristol Road, in 1904 in the house now called 'The Gables'. l can remember mother and dad changing houses, and living next door to Mr & Mrs E Francis, in Prospect Cottage where Mr & Mrs Alford now live, and then moving to Brent Street, opposite the blacksmiths' shop. How I used to like to see the horses being shod. I remember Mr Hubbard being bad tempered, he only had one eye. What a lot, Dad with only half his fingers, and Hubbard with one eye! Dare say there were a few other odd ones - Ha, yes, Mr Bawdon on crutches! Mr Hubbard had two sons and a daughter. She was a nurse named Annie, she lived away, but came home for the holidays.

Next door to what used to be James paper shop lived Mrs Grace Tincknell. She used to be always called “Granny", and every week she called to Collect money. It was for a coal club, and was taken to Miss Wickham at the Vicarage, and each December all the members had 5 cwt. of coal; if they did not have enough money in, they finished paying the next year. The coal came from Jeffries. The boats came in on the tide to Lympsham Wharf.

Where the paper shop is now used to be the post office. I can remember the horse mail cart, and Mr Geoff. Ham and his butchers' cart. Mrs Ham looked after the shop while he was on his rounds. The cattle were slaughtered near the shop. Dad used to buy his heavy boots from Sealey's shop, they were  a pair. He earned 12/- per week, and in the summer he used to out around the hay fields, ready for the mowing machine - he started at dawn and worked until dark. He also worked in the Church yard, dug the graves etc., when Mr Thomas Francis had got beyond it, he took over. He had 10/- for each grave. Then a  Woodman gave up cleaning the Church, so Mother did that for 2/6d per week, doing the oil lamps as well. There were a lot of them, and glasses and globes to clean, and often the lamp glasses would break and smash with the draught.

By now I am growing up. We were all at Burnham on a Sunday School outing when the First World War started. We had just said Grace, and were ready to start our tea, when Mr Wickham said that War had been declared with Germany. I did not know what it was all about, and clapped my hands! But as the War went on, and the boys and men in the village were called up, l soon knew what it was all about.

I was by then doing more jobs, but I had rheumatic fever, and was very ill for some time, and then I walked with two sticks - I must have looked a sight with nearly all my hair off. Anyway, with very good Care from Doctor, and a neighbour called Mrs Fry, I recovered.

The doctor lived at Brent Knoll. He came most days in his pony and trap. I don't expect he got paid always, but he never refused, or got into tempers.

I remember the day I started school. I went to the Church school, and another little girl started the same day, Agnes Emery. We were always good friends. She passed away about three years ago, quite near her birthday. She was two days older than me.

Now in Brent there were some people named Starks. Mr Starks was a cattle drover. I never knew what their parents did, but I should think they did the same kind of job. Miss Starks did sewing, but things had moved along a bit since Grandmothers' day, and Miss Starks had a sewing machine! She also had two coconut shells, one with pins in, and the other had 'racking cotton, to be used again. They had a kind of parlour shop, sold lace, Cotton, and ladies undergarments. I can remember Mother buying a red waist petticoat trimmed with black braid, 2/6d each, plain ones  and corsets 2/- upwards. (Whoever reads this I trust they won't be bored, I write as it comes to memory).

I am now ready to work at the Vicarage evenings, as Mr Cooke the gardener has been called up, and is sent overseas to Egypt. I used to clean the boots and shoes, and steel Knives in the evenings - Oh what a job to get them clean when they had used vinegar! It was a job with bath brick and cork, and what a pile of them! After that I had to fetch the milk from Church Farm, a gallon, and take the big can for milk in the mornings, take the evening mail to the post, and if there was any time left over, weed the garden, weather permitting. I also had to take a small monkey in the garden with me on a long rope. The monkey came from Africa - Mr Ted Wickham brought him home. I loved it, it was such a pet. In later years it was sent to a zoo, but did not live very long.

The Sealeys sold their shop to Mr & Mrs Hudson. They were from London - what a wonderful thing it was, someone from there! They had three girls, Rosa, Grace, and Connie.

Now I am 15 years old. The war is over and I go into service at the Vicarage, to do the cooking at £1 per month. We were paid on the first of each month. My print frock Cost  lined,  not lined. Mother got me a blue dress, and two white aprons,  each from Mr Brice at Cheddar. The other girl came from East Huntspill, her name was Alice Cook. I was sorry for her, she always seemed to be on the run, I had plenty to do, but she had more, her legs used to swell up. We had to be up by 6 a.m. and had to boil the kettle on a stick fire in an open grate.

Sometimes the kettle would tip up, so I would have to start again. This would be at about 6 o’clock, and the morning tea had to be up by 6.30 a.m. Then there would be hot water to carry to the rooms, and if there were visitors, the same procedure. We had the rooms to tidy downstairs, I did the study, passage & hail each morning, grate to clear up, and fire to light. I had a large kitchen range to clean, and breakfast was at 8 a.m. sharp. So the days went on, meals  all the cakes were homemade - and there were odd bits of Cooking for Mrs Wickham to take to the people in the village who were ill.

Each Sunday we went to Church, to one of the services. We had one Sunday off from 2  until 9 p.m., and the next Sunday 2 o'clock until 5 p.m. There was a Mrs Thrift who lived in Chapel Cottage in Bristol Road. Every Sunday she would go to church dressed in black. Everyone when they reached a certain age wore black. She used to make bonnets, black, and they were lovely, trimmed with lace, and sometimes with flowers, and cloaks trimmed with small black beads.

The Gentry and farmers always sat on one side of the church, and all the rest of the village sat in the black seats. "Theirs were the white seats," Dad used to say, "They thought they would go to Heaven first."

As I am writing this, all sorts of things come flooding back. There used to be village concerts, played with village people, and they were held in the church school. I remember Dad was the butler in one of the plays, and some visitors arrived in the play, they were asked to stay for a meal, and he had to say "Have a tatter to stay your stomach" - that stayed among the people for ages.

I used to fetch milk for different people from the farm. Some used to give me a penny, some two pennies a Week, and I used to fetch water from the standpipe for a Mrs Petherem for a farthing a week, each day after school. I used to get Mrs Venn's shopping, she didn't have much money, so she would give me a slice of cake, and it was the cake Mother had given her!

There used to be a Captain Tetly living at Brent. He had a troop of Boy Scouts. They had a band, and used to march to Church, first Sunday in May. Once a year they spent a week on Brent Knoll. Mother made them fruit cakes, and Dad used to take them. During the week I would be taken, carried most of the way as my legs were weak.

On the Weston Road, at Dodds Lane, lived Mr & Mrs Rice and their daughter, and on the other side of the lane was a bungalow. It was a small farm, with cow sheds and other buildings. I can't remember who lived there, but I do remember lovely flowers. It fell to pieces, but I noticed the other day that some of the walls are still standing. A bit further along was Mr Charles Pop ham’s farm, Manor Farm. It was a lovely old house, Mr Popham farmed in a big way, and was called the Lord of the Manor. I think it was more or less a nickname.

Years ago I read in a book that there was a family of Reids who were Lords of the Manor in theìr time, and in the Church there is a plaque saying something about them, they are buried in a vault in the churchyard.

There was a bungalow just inside the Vicarage gate where the gatekeeper lived. A Mrs Small lived there, and once gave me some bread and jam.

Mr Robert Board lived at North Yeo, he was the peoples' Churchwarden and his brother William was the Vicar’s Warden. Mr & Mrs Board and Miss Ethel Comer retired to Burnham. On his retirement he gave East Brent a row of yew trees, to be planted along a very old wall at the bottom of the Churchyard to hide it. It was a lovely old wall, too nice to be hidden, so all the trees died one at a time.

There was an old thatched farm where Kenneth Popham now lives. It caught fire, and was burned out. It was rebuilt, and Metford Popham lived there until he moved to Manor Farm, on the retirement of Mr Charles Popham. There was a Miss Parker who lived with Mr & Mrs C. Popham, and she married Mr Edward Wall. They had The Nook built, and lived there for a good many years. It was a lovely house, and nice gardens. Mr Walter Callard lived in Church Street. He used to play the organ in Church. It was an old-fashioned one, someone had to push a wooden handle up and down to get the air in the bellows. Dad did it for a good many years, and then when he was made `sexton he had to toll what was called the "little bell". So I took on the organ blowing.

Friday nights was choir practice, and sometimes three times on Sundays, for 2/6d a quarter (Three months). Dad and Mother were paid every three months. Mr Frost was Warden then, and sometimes Mother and I would walk to North Yeo for the money.

They all used to drive to Church in gigs on Sundays, the two Mr Boards and Mr & Mrs Frost. There used to be stables in Church Street for the horses, and a shed to put the traps and gigs in. Mr Collard went to Caerphilly in his younger days, and learned to make Caerphilly cheese, then Came back and taught them to make it in East Brent.

Mrs Comer lived in a cottage overlooking the Churchyard, and she had a pony and cart, and used to call on all the gentry on the Berrow Road with chicken, ducks, butter, eggs and veg. She used to leave East Brent about 8 a.m. and collect from the farms on her way, and bring back any shopping for a few pence. A Mr Matt Coles came around the villages from Berrow with his donkey cart, selling Burnham shrimps, 2d a pint, and other local fish. He always seemed to be bad tempered -they worked hard in those days and I expect they were tired. There was no machinery then, yet everybody seemed to be happy. People are in such a rush these days. How things have changed.

Near where we used to live in Brent Street, almost opposite the little shop was an Adult School. It was used for tea parties etc. and Bible readings, and there was a service every Sunday afternoon. The Miss Gillings used to come from Edingworth sometimes, and there seemed to be a lot going on.  George Cooke lived next door to Mother, and she used to take me in the week, and sometimes we went to the Chapel. Dad was a Churchman, and he never found out l went to Chapel - the two religions never mixed in those days. There were stables at the Chapel, and a furnace house, where Mrs Dunwethy boiled the water for tea parties. She cleaned the Chapel, and lit a fire in the big round stove in the middle of the Chapel to heat it in the winter. She also did a post round to the outlying farms and Cottages, and walked to Lake House Farm, and South View Farm. Mr &  Redding lived at Lake House, and Mr Dibble farmed South View, and Mr & Mrs Huett lived further on again. Mr Huett was a mason, and worked “when the spirit moved." He also kept a few Cattle. There are still some of the family about now.

Mother worked at Chapel Farm when all the young people were there, and sometimes I went with Mother.  Mrs Gamlin used to give me some bread and cream - oh, it was lovely. They had a parrot, which scared the life out of me.

Jack and Tom Lang sang in the Chapel Choir, they had lovely voices. They used to wear knìcker bockers, they came to their knees with a band around, black stockings and boots. I had a pink dress with a big frill round the yoke, and brown button boots to my knees - that was my best Sunday turnout. How funny we must have looked.

Then one day there came a shock, a big lorry came with two horses and several men, and took our beloved Adult School away to Edithmead. It was used as a Church, because it was too far for the people to walk to Brent Knoll, as it was in Brent Knoll parish. Rooksbridge people walked to East Brent, but a little cottage in  Lane was made into a Chapel, called the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. They had a Sunday School there, and other services.

We all had to walk to Brent Knoll station if we wanted to go to Weston. When Mr Watkins came to Brent Knott he would take you in his trap both Ways for 1/6d, also a Mr Rideout did the same thing. He also had a very smart turnout for weddings, a lovely gig, all shiny and bright, shiny harness, and a big bow of white ribbon on the whipstock. The whip was never used. I remember Miss Starks that did the sewing getting married to a Mr Harrison, and they had the trap. Mr Harrison was killed in the war.

At the farm where Mr K Popham lives were a lot of walnut trees, and the nuts were sold for 4d for 100. Mother used to have them in August and pickle them for the ringers' supper which was held in the Church School. They had cider from the farms, and ended up being very merry. As  time went on, Choir and ringers went by train to Bristol pantomime. They used to buy roasted chestnuts, and jacket potatoes from the barrow boys, who cooked them in big iron buckets on a barrow outside the theatre. Dad always brought some home. Mother worked for many years for Mrs Woodward at Church Farm. Mr Woodward was a farmer, Mrs Woodward collected eggs, butter and poultry from the farms on Tuesdays. The eggs were washed and packed on Wednesdays, and the poultry got ready for Thursdays market. When it was all ready, counted and packed it was taken to Brent Knoll station, first train to Bristol, then Mrs Woodward would go on a later train, just after 8 a.m. The porters saw to it at Brent Knoll, and the barrow boys at Bristol would have it ready for her when she arrived.

Mother and the Woodwards' daughter Nelly would clear up the big dairy, everything was scrubbed, the water was heated in a big furnace with a coal fire, and all the rubbish was burnt. Then there would be lunch to cook on a coal stove. Lunch would be for about six in family. Hilda and l had to sit at a small table in the window. We were at school most of the time, but if we went to lunch we had to do all the washing up. Sometimes if they were busy, they would be left till after school - it all seemed never-ending.

Mrs Woodward did her shopping in Bristol, at the City Supply. She brought home lovely things - among them was ground coffee, it saved grinding your own, and glace cherries, they were weighed up in blue paper packets, all sticky. Hilda and I had to put all the things away. We were always given some cherries, and we took a few more, I dare say Mrs Woodward knew!

Before the farm workers went milking in the afternoon, they had to have a cup of tea and a slice of cake. They would bring the horse and cart round to the back door and load up the milking pails and churns, stools and spans. The spans were long ropes of woven horsehair about two and a half to three feet, with a loop at one end, and a small piece of wood at the other to fasten through it. That was put round the cow's legs just below the knees to stop them from kicking and running away, also the tails were tied in with it. Sometimes they would fidget about, and knock over the milker. I have had many a laugh to see the milkies' legs in the air.

The postman had a hut in the paddock near the farm. When he had finished his round, he could rest there, and in the winter he lit a fire in a round stove and dried his clothes if he were wet, and then the hut would be warm for the afternoon postman. Owners of the land, where these huts were placed were paid a rent. Telegraph poles earned a shilling a year, then it went up to 1/6d.  Mrs Moore worked for Mrs Popham - the washing would be done once a month. There were lines full. It was not just the Washing, there would be the furnace to keep going, the wash­house to scrub down, and other floors to do with the washing Water, for 2/- a day. Your lunch would be given you, and sometimes a cup of tea mid-morning, but you had to hurry up and get finished by 4 p.m.

In Jarvis Lane, by Mr Harry Ham's farm, there was a way to the Knoll, and some way up the field was a well, with a piece of rock sticking out. It was always dripping, and was called dripping well. Dad said that when he was a boy, water was fetched from there. The last I saw of it, it was overgrown.

A Mr & Mrs Emery lived where Harry Ham lives. He worked for Holts the brewers in Burnham. He was a cooper, and made and mended the wooden barrels. They also kept a few Cows, and Mrs Emery made butter in a big wooden butter churn. It had to be turned until all the whey came out. She used to beat it with big wooden pats, and make it up into rounds, and print it with a mould with a Cow and some wheat on it. She also wore pattens, they were worn on your boots about 2" high, (or higher), to keep your feet off the wet floors. They were made of iron by the blacksmith.

Mr Ben Starks made his living mole-catching - a full time job. He skinned them, and then the cured skins were made into moleskin waistcoats for the richer people. Sometimes a farmer would have one. The little creatures were very destructive, they made molehills all over the fields, and would kill the grass, and any crops in their way. Mr Starks was crippled with rheumatism, and went into the workhouse at Axbridge to be looked after, but used to come out for a few weeks holiday, and go round the farms peeling shallots and onions, cutting up red cabbage for pickling in the winter. I fancy he always stayed at Church Farm with the Woodwards. He slept in the barn, and they gave him his food. Sometimes he would spend a few hours at my home, talking to Dad. I was always scared of him, but when he lived alone l got his milk for him every day. One day I did some shopping for him, and as a treat he asked me to stay to supper. I was too scared to say "no", but when he said we had roast hedgehog I felt so ill, and stayed that way for days! When I told Dad, he said "Why worry, you are still alive"  and that was true.

In Church Street, opposite Miss Hodders on the grass verge was a well, with stone steps leading down, and a few railings near the top. Mr Hodder dipped the water for his gardens. We were always told there was an underground passage to Glastonbury when the monks were there, but has filled up over the years with water.

Mr & Mrs Hutson and the two Miss Hutsons three brothers, Archie and Sidney were killed in the First World War. Sidney was about the first to have a motorbike in East Brent. I remember running to the gate to see him pass by on his way home. I think he worked at Weston. There were very few motorbikes then, but he had an accident at Brent House. There was a very bad bend in the road there, and Sidney ran into a man leading a bull. I think another vehicle was involved, and there was a court case, and Dad had to go.

Near the Brent Knoll Inn where the roads cross, one to Highbridge and one to Rooksbridge, there was a triangular piece of grass with a water pump in the middle; there was another on the green by the butcher's shop. The Water came from the springs at the foot of the Knoll, near the school and church. Mr Denison had a few pumps put in different pans of the village  when the water was laid on by the water­works that was a posh do. When we lived in Brent Street, Mother used the water from the Vicarage. The standpipe at the top of the church had a metal cup on a chain, so the school children could have a drink. I should never think it got washed up, many a cup I have had, and none of us was any the worse. Children used to walk in all weathers from Rooksbridge and Edingworth to school, bringing their dinners, and bottles of cold tea. Sometimes the bottles would be placed round the stove, and the heat would crack them, so someone went without. I often think about those little children, they must have been wet through, and had to stay in lt. I was lucky, as I did not have far to go. Those that sat near the stove were lucky, but the ones at the back must have been frozen.

Mr  & Mrs Tom Hill lived at South Hill, Where Mr George Hill lives now. They had a milk factory, and made Cheese and butter. Mrs Hill made it in a shed which was covered in thick ivy, it had a stone floor, and a marble slab. The stone floor was swilled down with water and it was lovely and cool in summer.  Hill made whey butter, for 9d a lb. They also kept pigs, which were fed on the whey mixed with meal. When the wind was in the south you could smell them all over the village! That was a sure sign of rain, but nobody ever grumbled.

Mr Gamble also made cheese and butter. Farmers used to take their milk to these small factories, also to the Cheddar Valley factory at Rooksbridge, which was on a much larger scale. The factory belonged to Cox & Cox of Cardiff, and the milk was taken to Brent Knoll station twice a day on horse-drawn wagons, and also from a milk factory at Tarnock, then owned by Mr Henry Counsell. It was a common sight to see people having a ride on the milk lorries from Rooksbridge to East Brent, or to the station to get a train to Weston, and come back the same way at night.

It was a great time of year when the cider was being made at Church Farm. Ail the apples were gathered in big heaps in the orchards, women did this job for 3d a bushel. Then they were collected in wagons and putts, and taken to the loft over the mill. They went through the mill and into a vat and press. The pulp was spread between cider clothes, made from horsehair, and then the big press was screwed tight, and left to drain. The worn out cloths were unravelled to mend others.

The big steam engine would come round to thresh the corn. The coal man brought tons of coal from Highbridge, and the farmers would lend their men to help out. Large lunches would be cooked at the farms, and carried to the men (I can smell it now). Of course if it rained, the job had to be put off. It caused great excitement for the children, and also the grown-ups.

A real character in the village was Jack Burge, he was short and fat, and worked "when the spirit moved". He knew where to find the best watercress, mushrooms and wild violets, which he made up into bunches and gave away.

Mrs Day lived where Miss Hudson lives (Poplar Cottage). She was a dressmaker, and used to make dresses for the Miss Gillings, and sometimes if there was a piece left over, Mrs Day would make me a dress. Dressmakers never gave back any material left over. Mr Petherham lived next door. He had two ornaments of old ladies wearing glasses, who nodded their heads. Nearby lived the Elms family, and Mrs Fry, who kept a few cows, and took the milk around in two big buckets, and sold it by the pint.

Mr Hodder used to keep a big garden in Church Street, and took all the produce to Weston, chicken, eggs etc. The garden belonged at one time to the Vicarage. I used to go and help pick the fruit in summer. Charlie and Nelson would help. They would bring home waste food from the Hotels, and it was put in big tubs, soaked, and fed to the pigs and hens. Mrs Hodder served customers at the house.

Mr Francis was the village carpenter and undertaker. He made wagons, wheelbarrows, and they were painted with pretty patterns  real works of art. Mr & Mrs George Francis had a bicycle made for two, and twice a year they would set off for Loxton to see their relations. Mrs Lang would shout for Mother to come and see them.

Mr Brooks was baker at Rooksbridge, he would come at about four in the afternoon with nice hot bread. There was Mr Leach from Tarnock, and Mr Allen from Lympsham who came any time up to midnight. He made cider biscuits, they were round, something like a scone, only lighter, with Caraway seeds in.

Mondays was cattle market, and the cattle were driven for miles, they went along early morning, any time from 2 o‘olook. Sometimes the drovers would knock you up, for a bucket to milk them in. Cows and men must have been tired out.

We all used to pick blackberries, and they were bought by Mr Fred Ham. Sometimes they were 2d a lb, or a halfpenny, depending on the market. They were used for dyeing, and in the jam factory. Mr &  Jack Adams kept three cows, which were pastured all over the village. They went milking in a pony cart, Mrs Adams attired for milking in a large black hat with long hat pins and a white apron, Mr Adams in an old slouch hat and a white Coat. I am afraid they were ridiculed by the rest of us. Mr Fisher was the cobbler. His prices were 9d or 1/9d, and if he didn‘t like you, he made a real mess of your boots.

When the First World War was over, Dad took his cornet to the top of the church tower, and played Reveille, at 6 a.m. At 11 a.m. we met at the Bristol Road, near Chapel Farm, and marched through the village to Church. At the unveiling of the War Memorial Mr Woodward placed a note in a screw-topped jar, and sealed it inside the Memorial.

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