by Grace Hudson
At the centre of the village, and nestling at the foot of Brent Knoll, stands the lovely Parish Church of St. Mary's as it has done for many hundreds of years. The spire, with the golden weather vane, gives an imposing background to the surrounding roads and houses. The entrance gates were given and erected to the memory of Prebendary A.P. Wickham who, with his wife, were well loved and highly respected in the village. The Vicarage was at the centre of village activity in those days and the Women‘s Institute was founded and monthly meetings were held there for many years.
The Church stables can still be seen, but part is now used as a Church room. These stables horses during Church services, as they had brought their owners to Church in pony-traps from outlying parts of the village. The Wesleyan Church, too, had stables where the traps were left in safety while their owners attended church.
The village was mainly self-supporting with many small farms. These were named often after trees such as Yew Tree Farm, Ash Tree Farm, Chestnut Farm and Poplar Farm. Sadly, these are no longer farms but private dwellings. Knoll Farm still remains a farm but Church Farm and Manor Farm are farms no longer.
Farmers were the biggest employers of labour, and farm produce could be bought direct from the owners. Milk would be taken to the Factory at Rooksbridge to be made into cheese and cream. Quantities of milk were put into churns, taken by cart to Brent Knoll Station, and sent off to the Cities. Cider apples were grown widely, most farmers making their own Cider, which always proved a very popular drink – especially at Harvest time! Cream, eggs, butter - lovely farm butter - poultry and vegetables would be taken by horse and cart to nearby towns each week.
There were five shops in the village in those days. The Post Office stores sold everything including groceries, hardware and drapery. There was a newsagent, two sweet shops and a baker from a nearby village delivered bread regularly in a horse-drawn van. If you wanted milk you took your jug to the nearest farm and the milk was poured out in a dipper from the churn.
A row of Cottages, now mostly demolished, housed a Cobbler, a bonnet maker and there were three dressmakers from whom to choose.
A gifted wheelwright Worked from his shop making hay wagons and all implements required by the farmers. It was a joy to see the beautiful Wheels and finished articles brightly painted which he displayed outside his workshop. He was also the undertaker.
Two schools served the village - the Church School and the Council School. Both schools taught Children from the age of five years to 14 years. There seemed to be many children in those days as both schools were full. Pupils attended from the outlying villages of the Parish, many walking two or three miles each way, in ail winds and Weathers.
Harvest time was exciting with the grass cut and dried in hay cocks. It was a thrill to be allowed to ride on a hay wagon to the field and play among the hay Cooks. It was hard Work loading the wagon, and building the hay ricks - a very skilled job.
The Harvest Home was the climax. Early in the week, horse drawn Caravans would arrive in the Village with trailers of equipment. These belonged to the family of Heals’ Roundabouts. These Caravans were beautiful with brass fittings and gaily painted, and were housed in Church Street, the stables being used for the horses. A large marquee was erected in the field in front of the Vicarage and then the Heal family set up their sideshows, roundabouts, swinging boats, coconut shies and many other exciting stalls. The marquee itself was decorated with evergreen garlands looped along the roof, and banners, which had been made and decorated over the years, hung from the sides of the tent giving a festive background.
On the day, the Church Bells would ring at 6 a.m. and at eleven the procession for the Church service would assemble. The band would lead the march, followed by the choir, the clergy, who had been invited, and finally the parishioners. After the service came the luncheon. This was attended by the men only and women and children received a free meat tea at 5 p.m. As now, the luncheon menu consisted of quantities of meat which had been cooked by the committee members, cider and beer to drink and Christmas puddings. This was followed by cheese - a giant truckle cheese donated by the Cheddar Valley Dairy of Rooksbridge - and crusty bread. I must add that the ladies of the village had spent many hours stoning raisins, washing fruit, grating suet and preparing all the other ingredients for the Christmas puddings which were made and cooked at the vicarage. No charge was made for the luncheon and tea to the village people, as donations had been collected from farmers, business folk and other well-wishers who all subscribed generously, Children’s sports were held in the afternoon and then there was all the fun of the fair. Dancing in the evening continued into the early hours with the band adding to the sounds of the fair outside.
The family of Heals packed up, taking their beautifully decorated Caravans away until the next year, (The Harvest Home Committee still invites Heels’ Roundabouts each year). The marquee was taken down and the field returned to normal.
This was the culmination of a year’s work in a rural community and a time when the whole village could unite in thanksgiving and celebration.