To understand its more recent history, we take a tour starting just below the church from the village square, which used to be the centre of village life with shops, pubs and local businesses all close-by and a weekly market. The tour firstly takes you in an easterly direction into Lowertown and then in a westerly direction into Highertown.
Opposite where the red post box is now located, the village shop and post office traded under the ownership of Pete and Jenny Stringer until it closed in August 2008 - a victim of the post office closures in that year. It has now been converted into a home extension.
Its loss was a major blow to the community but residents came together to establish a community shop. Originally located in the skittle alley at The George Inn, the shop moved to it's home at the Village Hall in 2012.
Known as ‘Joyce’s in Town’, it was originally built as a town house around 1625 by Christopher Joyce, a wealthy farmer who owned several local tenanted farms. By the 1800s, when the population of Brompton Regis exceeded a thousand, the property was listed on the Tithe Map as a Coaching Inn and courtyard, but by 1890 it had become a general store, owned by a Mr G Stephens. From then on the shop was passed from generation to generation, Stephens, Perry, Steer, and Stringer. There are still some billheads from 1916 showing that the shop, owned by William Perry, sold all sorts of items from suits of clothes costing £1.5s, caps for a shilling and 3d, and loaves of bread for between a penny and four pence.
Up to the early 1900s, some cowsheds (previously attached to the present tearooms) provided shelter for the horses with a barn above that used to extend out across the road, making the village square almost into an enclosed area.
The post office was originally set up here but in the 1930s, it was moved to Highertown in the property now know as ‘The Old Post Office’, It returned to the village shop in 1974. An off-licence was added in 1986 and a tea room in 1989.
Up to the 1930s, the delivery of all goods to the shop was by horse and cart, bringing supplies from Bristol and Exeter via Dulverton Railway Station and delivering to customers around the area as far as Luxborough, Upton, Huish Champflower, Brendon Hill, Wheddon Cross and Bury. The road through the village was finally made up with tarmacadam in 1932.
Green Gables, originally Joyce Cottage, stands on the corner next to the old shop and, at one time, used to display millinery.
The old village pound, a lock-up for petty criminals and drunkards, can be seen just behind the post box. The pound had no windows, the roof was domed shaped and the door opened out onto the path. Outside the pound, the little gate in the corner was for the animal pound where stray animals were held until claimed by their owners. The roof became very dangerous and was pulled down but the pound was restored by the Parish Council in 2004.
The railed path that runs uphill from the pound was built in June 1908, when the churchyard was extended. It was known as Short Cut Path because it was quicker to get from the lower part of the village to the higher part. The path that runs up through the churchyard was the extent of the churchyard up until then.
Opposite the old shop and Green Gables are two gated entrances. The one on the right leads to Nicholls Farm House and barn which are thought to be on a possible site of Gytha's house which was razed to the ground on her death. The one on the left used to lead to the blacksmith’s yard and the old forge where he shod horses and crafted ironwork. On entering the yard, the old forge was directly ahead and on the right was a long galvanised shed which was used to store and sell farming tools and equipment and carry out agricultural repairs. Inside the forge, two horses at a time could be tethered in one half and anthracite fires, with twin blowers and an anvil each side, in the other half. Above head level, long lengths of iron, for making horse shoes, were hung.
It was started by Jack Down and then, in 1918, it was taken over by Walter Steer followed by his two sons, Leslie and Jack, when he died. Jack, who did little shoeing, was bought out by Leslie in 1950 when Jack and his family left the village. Even in those times, there was such a thing as an early morning rush-hour! Farmers needed their horses shod and ready to work in the fields before the sun rose too high and it became too hot for the horses to work effectively. It ceased to be a blacksmiths in 1963 and became a house in 1979.
On the corner of the entrance to the blacksmith’s yard, Corner Cottage was the District Nurse’s home up to 1957. Further along this row of cottages, the number 12, Part Trotts and St. Fillians were used as the homes of the blacksmiths and behind them was a further small cottage, called Ivy Cottage, which was pulled down in the 1960s.
Going further down the road into Lowertown, the end of terrace house on the right, despite its name, was not the old forge but an agricultural repair workshop run by the blacksmiths. It became a workshop in 1947 and was built on the site of a thatched house which fell down in the 1930s.
Opposite the Old Forge, is the old Methodist Chapel which was built in 1854 and had its roof restored in 1989. Underneath the slates on the wall facing the road is a plaque "Zion 1854”. Inside, at the front, is a crucifix which is not normally seen in a Methodist chapel as it is usually an open cross. It is a marvellous carving even down to the details of fingernails. At the front, also, there are four beautiful figured stained glass windows. The two figures on the left, one of which is named as St John the Divine, has the inscription "The Lamb slain from the foundation of the World". Over the figure named as St. John the Baptist is the inscription “Behold the Lamb of God" and over Balaam “The death of the righteous”. In the bottom comer is the explanation of the memorial in Latin.
Ad gloriam dei et in memoriam
John & Jane Joyce
Ex hac parochia olim
Hane calvariam hane mensam
Dei et has fenestras nonnulli
Liberi eorum dederunt 10 Oct. 1939
A carved communion table and rail were put in by the Joyce family in 1939. It was quite courageous of the Methodists at that time to accept this gift. The memorial was really intended to go to the Parish Church but the Vicar at that time, Rev. lnman, would not accept it because of Balaam being in one of the two windows; supposedly because Balaam faced two ways in the Bible. At the back of the chapel there is an upstairs balcony.
There used to be a set of petrol pumps on the forecourt outside the chapel when the selling of petrol started here in the early 1930s. It was pumped from a tank above the ground, using an ordinary rotary hand pump, into a half gallon metal measure and then put into cans, tractors or cars by means of a funnel. This practice ended in about 1945 by the arrival of underground tanks and proper petrol pumps. Selling of petrol in the village ceased in the village in 1975.
In the late 60s, there was no Sunday School so Margaret Veale (from Dawes) and Louis Woolley (from Kingsbrompton Farm) ran a Tuesday School in the Methodist Chapel.
Further down the hill, on the left, are The Old Wagon Works and Rock House. Rock House was the home of the How family for many years. The family originally arrived from Wales at the time when the iron ore mines at Brendon Hill attracted a lot of people, especially from Wales. They took residence at Rock House first of all in 1832 and then again from 1850. In the 1920-30s they were able to purchase the house from the Carnarvon Estate.
John How was a wheelwright of high calibre and, at the wagon works, he made a range of horse-drawn carts, wagons and barrows, for which he was well-known way beyond the boundaries of Exmoor. He felled, hauled, seasoned and cut all of his own timber and by the 1870s was employing up to 17 people - carpenters, wheelwrights, blacksmiths and sawyers. He had his own livery for the wagons that can be seen from the photograph, each with spoked wooden wheels fitted with iron bands. In 1873, he was delivering two wagons a week to his agents and a new two-horse wagon sold for £12 5s 0d at that time. His wagons were also exhibited at the Royal Show.
Halfway down the hill, in the side of the wall, is a mysterious-looking door. Known as Sawdust Door, it used to open up under hoppers which funnelled sawdust down from the large saws above, to be carted away. At the bottom of the hill were even bigger saws for cutting trees into workable timbers.
He also became a builder and, with his uncle, rebuilt Bryant’s Bridge in 1864. The business prospered as it was handed down to his son and grandsons but with tractors taking over, the last cart was built in 1940 and the company gradually wound down until it closed in 1985. (Ref Exmoor’s Industrial Archeology - Michael Atkinson). Most of its contents were painstakingly recorded and taken to the Rural Life Museum at Glastonbury. The site was sold after the business closed down and a house is now built on the site.
It is possible that Rock House was built, along with a row of three cottages down the lane leading to the river, in what was recorded, in the 1400s, as the hamlet of Mashrow. The cottages were converted into two houses in the 1970s, however, the outside ‘privies’ for the cottages, which back on to the river, remain and are used as garden sheds. Downstream from the ford, the river divides into two and on the 1840 map it shows that this was where water was directed through Trotts brake keeping its height to run the water wheel further downstream at Pulhams Mill.
Further along, at the top of the ridge, is Ridge Cottage. Its history is unknown but there is some evidence that it may have been a toll station; in the past there were a few toll roads on Exmoor. It is ideally placed on a ridge overlooking the road both ways and inside the original building there used to be a small room, the size of a ticket office, with a window opening next to the front door. Furthermore, next door where Rock Mead is now built, there used to be a holding area or pens, called a (w)rap, for drovers’ animals. Before the railways, herds of cattle were driven by foot from the South West to faraway markets, even as far as London, and would have needed stop-over points. In addition, a small an 18C percussion cap pistol, complete with lock and barrel but without its stock, was found in the garden - something that could have been the property of a toll-master.
Leaving the village towards Wimbleball, you come to Mill Cross where, if you take the right fork and then immediately turn right, you enter Storridge Lane which leads to Redcross Farm. An archaeological study of the farm by Southwest Archaeology, found that a document accompanying the Inclosure Map of 1804, setting out the roads and footpaths to be kept open, records this as an ancient road leading to a gate called Redcross gate (no longer in existence but about halfway along the lane). It gave access only to Storridge Common and to a medieval settlement called Upcott (recorded in the Lay Subsidy for 1327 - Somerset Studies Library) which was located on the site of what is now Redcross Farm. It is likely that the road (or track) provided direct access for the farming community at Upcott to the mills at Pulhams and Hartford. It seems that Upcott was a three-farm hamlet for part of its history and the name Redcross appeared for the first time as one of the tenements in 1767 in Land Tax records (Somerset Record Office). It is not known which ‘Redcross’ came first, the gate or the tenement, however, it is thought that the name derived from the fact that the soil to the south-west of the farm is red and to the north-east is grey.
Some time between 1841 and 1888, there was considerable investment in the settlement when the layout of the farm buildings was radically altered and the present Victorian farmhouse was built (probably from parts of earlier buildings) to create the present Redcross Farm. An engraved stone high above the front door shows a date of 1861. It was about that time that the road from the Redcross to Lyddon Hill was built to improve access from the farm to key transport links and thus open up the final link in the current ‘Brompton Regis By-Pass’. In 2005, the present owners undertook a major renovation of the farm buildings and the photograph below shows the farmyard as it looked prior to those renovations.
Going back to the fork in the road at Mill Cross, the left fork leads to the ancient mill at Pulhams Mill and the right fork leads to the equally ancient Hartford Mill. Both are old grain mills that date back to the Domesday Book and both used to have water wheels.Pulhams was a working mill in the mid 19th Century but lost its overshot waterwheel and became farm run at one time by Jack Stenner and then Bertie Evans. When it went up for sale, an article (from the Guardian newspaper) published in the Parish News tells us something about the farming conditions at that time. It was bought by the present owners 30 years ago and significantly renovated to become a craft centre. It is now a popular tea room and an art and craft shop, specialising in Exmoor crafts and hand-made furniture.
Halfway down the lane to Hartford is Hiccombe House which fronts directly onto the lane. Believed to be 16C, in the 1950s-60s it was run as a flower nursery specialising in heathers with large greenhouses to grow tomatoes and cucumbers.
At the end of the lane is the hamlet of Hartford. In the late 18C it was said to have had fifteen houses, the greatest part of which were cottages (ref: The History of Antiques of Somerset by John Collingson - 1791). Signs of early house platforms, enclosures and other earthworks marking the sights of tenements just north of the hamlet have also been reported.
There were once extensive water cress meadows along the river where the fish farm is now located and these photographs show the valley as it was with many of the buildings and barns that exist today. Tall trees dominated the triangle. Hartford Lodge, just above the triangle and behind the trees, is likely to have been a gatehouse at one time.
A leat (artificial watercourse) used to direct a flow of water from the river, at a point just below the concrete road to the dam, along the side of the lane to Hartford Mill where the fall of water powered its overshot water wheel. No evidence of the leat remains today. The water course then flowed away from the Mill across Lady Harriot’s Drive behind what is now the entrance to the property. Unfortunately, the wheel was broken up and used for firewood by Polish army men billeting there during the War. The building remained untouched and was used to house turkeys at one time until a decision had been taken on the location of the Wimbleball Dam when it was renovated and extended as a private home.
Just below Hartford Mill there is an old stone clapper bridge over the River Haddeo next to a spring well called Mutton Pie Well so-called, it is said, because workers used to eat their mutton pie lunches there. There used to be two or three cottages by the well.
Hartford Cottage (once known as Hartford Farm, or simply as Gages) was a working farm occupied by the Gages family from around 1850 until about 1930 but was originally built as two cottages and had a thatched roof - just visible behind the Mill in the above photographs. The footbridge across the river was clearly more rudimentary in those times and shows how sheep were carried across the river (possibly by a member of the Gages family).
Just upstream from Hartford is Wimbleball Dam. The Wimbleball Reservoir Project was inaugurated on 27th September 1974 to mark the start of a lot of disruption and, to some, the inexcusable destruction of the Haddeo Valley. Two properties were lost under the water although both were demolished beforehand. Steart Cottage was at the deepest part of the reservoir and Bessom Cottage was just below Bessom Bridge. A telephone exchange also disappeared under the water. You can see more information and photographs of how the valley was changed by this major event on our Wimbleball Valley webpage.
In very cold winters, the lake has been known to freeze over and at times of a long drought, the old bridge at Bessom can become visible when looking down from the existing bridge.
The lake and surrounding area is managed as a natural and attractive feature of Exmoor National Park. It is a place for quiet enjoyment and controlled recreation with landscaped car parks, bird watching hides, a lecture room, a tea room and picnic and play areas. Fishing, sailing, walking and bird watching are the key activities although it also plays host to major events such as the annual UK Ironman triathalon.
Overlooking the lake is Haddon Hill, which can be reached by walking up from the dam or by car to the car park at the top. ln the 1939/45 War, Haddon Hill was a big base camp for thousands of American soldiers building up for D-Day. The highest part of Haddon Hill is called Hadborough and its trig point is 1163ft high. Close by are three Roman tumuli where some Roman coins were found at one time.
Back to the village and going in the opposite direction from the Village Square into Highertown, the big house with the slated end, that you see going up the road alongside the churchyard, is the old Vicarage, believed to have been built about 1810. This is where Lower Town ends and Higher Town begins. It is quite a large house with a cellar and with a circular drive going up to the front door and to a cobbled courtyard with stables and barn behind which is the old Vicarage meadow.
During the late 60s, a European Scout Group, started up by John Woodbury when he was vicar, held meetings each week in the cellar of the old Vicarage and sometimes in the old village hall. Unlike other scouting groups of the time, both boys and girls could become members. They attended traditional church parades and, during the summer holidays, about 20 of them set up camps with the boys camping at Shircombe and girls at Dawes. The Group carried on under Michael Stagg when he was vicar until it disbanded in the 1970s.
Next up from the old Vicarage, there was a rather delightfully thatched New Inn public house poking out into the road. Unfortunately, it burnt down in 1936 and the existing house was built further back from the road and ceased to be a pub!
Just above the New Inn, outside the big gate, there used to be another set of hand-cranked petrol pumps although these stopped selling petrol about 10 years before those in Lowertown. The pumps were operated by the Davey family who lived in Edwells House, the next house up from the New Inn just above where the pumps stood. Before the house was built, by the Daveys, in 1935 there stood a hut for the use of the postman who walked to and fro from Dulverton.
Through the big gate, the marked footpath takes you through to Edwells Bridge. Back in the 1930s/40s, the old brake by the bridge was a mass of wild strawberries. Over the bridge and across the big field there is an outcrop of rock call Glitterstone. The folklore is that in the morning, when it hears the cock crow, the giant rocks go to the river to drink!
The lane leading up the hill from the road junction is Sanctuary Lane, so named because a Congregational Church was here on the right-hand side. The iron gates are still there and, inside, tombstones are to be found.
The house on the opposite corner was the original Police House and next door to that was the Highertown Post Office and Store which closed in 1974 when it moved back to the Village Shop.
The top gates of the churchyard were put there in 1951 by the local builder and opposite, in the wall, you will see a water tap with a plaque above:-
A thank offering: Gospel of St John, chapter IV verse 13 and 14: Whosoever drinketh of this water will thirst again, but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. September 29th 1870.
It was put there by Mr.Stuckley Lucas as a thanks offering as his wife had recovered from a very severe illness from which her death was expected.
Oval Cottage, standing behind the thank offering, was named by the owner in 1920, Mr Wally Reid, who used to work as a grounds-man at the Oval cricket ground. He retired here and brought the two griffins, his retirement present from the Oval, which now stand proudly on the pillars of the front gateway. In 1999, when opening up their inglenook fireplace, the present owners uncovered a small blue medicine bottle with a message inside written on 20th December 1889 by 13 year old Sydney Reed.
Further along, opposite The George, was the village schoolhouse, school and the school playground. It was a Church of England school which opened in 1872 with 12 pupils. Its highest recorded attendance was 104 in 1886 and at one time boasted three teachers and two classrooms.
Life for children in the 19th century could be very hard, particularly if the wage earner died at an early age. Sometimes, out of necessity, the children would offer themselves out as servants; one young girl working as a servant gave her age as twelve to the census taker when in fact she was ten. To have them go out to work at such a young age would have been devastating to the feelings of any parent. Working on the land during the 19th century was very hard as the Industrial Revolution changed so many things throughout England.
A study of education in the village was carried out in 1967 by Margaret Lygoe (nee Steer) as part of a degree thesis. Margaret was born in the village; her father was Leslie Steer, the blacksmith, and her mother, Dorothy, was a teacher who was evacuated during WW2 with children from her school in West Ham. Margaret's study looked into the village's education over ninety plus years with reference to national legislation, parliamentary reports and access to school log books and a summary of her report follows.
Start of Report: Prior to the founding of the National School in 1872 there was a Dame School operating in the village. This continued in competition with the new school in 1872 and in 1873 the new teacher noted the poor standards at the Dame School. During the early years, it seems parents in the village preferred the Dame School, while most of those attending the National School came from outlying farms. In these early years, there was some skulduggery with previous teachers setting up Dame schools and luring children away. Even so the number on roll approached 100.
Attendance was poor and children were often kept at home for gardening, whortleberry picking, sheep-shearing, bark-ripping, haymaking and lambing. Such absences continued until the end of WW1 and up to 6 weeks absence annually for agricultural work was an accepted fact. Frequently the weather was poor and children stayed at home. There were a number of references to illness including scarlet fever, “fever”, measles and influenza. In 1876 at least one child died at Woolcotts of “Fever” and in 1907 one died of measles. In 1877 there was a mad dog scare , and it was reported on May 29th that ”one or two cases of hydrophobia” had occurred “not far from here”. The teachers exclaimed frequently at how little the parents valued education, and comments from the early annual inspections bear this out. (Note: Lord Sandon's Act 1876)
Some people were poor enough to receive what we now call “benefits”. Education was not compulsory until 1880, although in Brompton Regis in 1874 it was noted that “people who have parish pay (are) afraid to keep their children at home as they have been told they will have their pay stopped”
On June 2nd 1876, after an inspection, the despairing teacher wrote “This is my first year in the place and in no other have I found such indifference in parents with regard to their children’s best interest. The pauper children who are obliged to attend passed the best.”
On one occasion April 9th 1877, pupils had a day off for the “money scramble” after a Grand Wedding. The money scramble was a village tradition which continued into the latter half of the twentieth century. We certainly had to fork out in 1972!
The changes to the agricultural population at Lady Day (in March), traditionally a time for paying rents and for hiring labourers and servants, was frequently noted as a disruption. Many labourers lived in tied cottages and at that time were moving home or leaving. Families had very uncertain lives.
The log book records various instances of poverty, and some attempts to alleviate it including the founding of a clothing club. In 1908 Lady Victoria Herbert formed a Boot Club which 36 “chiefly labourers’ children” joined. In 1909, the children paid £8 10s 11d to the boot fund and Lady Victoria Herbert paid 3d in the shilling: 37 children received boots. In 1917, after many reports of neglect, one child reported as verminous and neglected, was removed by the NSPCC to Dulverton Workhouse .
The Carnarvon and Herbert family visited regularly, taking an interest in the teaching and dispensing money and gifts. On June 24th 1912, the Countess visited and left 13lbs of sweets. Even as late as the 1950s, we received oranges at Christmas.
After the start of WW1, on October 16th 1914, the Countess of Carnarvon and Hon Mrs Herbert asked that the girls be asked to knit socks and stockings for the troops. In 1915, weekly egg collections for the soldiers were reported and an 'old boy', aged 20, returned to talk to the children. “He has been fighting with the army in France and was wounded at Ypres. It was very interesting to hear an actual account of trench warfare”. In 1917, the ink froze in the inkwells and during the year children collected and sent 19½ lbs dandelion roots and 60lbs of sloes (presumably a war effort). In 1918, the education authority, known as “the office”, allowed children one and a half days a week to pick blackberries. The teacher noted that the village collected and sold 500lbs. End of Report.
The children had to walk to school in all weathers sometimes taking 1-2 hours each way and, for some, their school days started and finished with children’s duties on the farm. All lighting was by oil lamps and the school was heated by an open fire at one end and a big black stove at the other. During the winter, the village pound was used as a store for solid fuel (coal and coke) and children went from the school with empty buckets to fetch fuel for the stove. The children were given hot milk which was heated on the stove. Milk was readily available and was delivered around the village by hand cart for people to fill up their jugs, sometimes with freshly killed rabbits for sale which were hung over the handle bars. It was a time when rabbits almost completely overran the countryside and it was usual for farmers to catch over 100 rabbits in a day to try to control them. Indeed, it was a time when a daily so-called 'rabbit train' departed from Brushford.
In 1918, the school had a very good report from a Diocesan Inspector who said that “it was a pleasure to examine this excellent school”. Click here to view this report.
Before the 1939-45 war, Mr and Mrs Bullivant of Baronsdown were benefactors of the school and provided books for the children at Christmas time. They also used to throw a Christmas party for the children every year. One of the pupils of that time remembered the R101 airship flying over the village in the early 1930s and the whole school being regularly invited to Baronsdown for a day of games and sports. In addition to their normal lessons, the children remember being encouraged to help in the school house garden to learn about growing fruit and vegetables. During the dark winter afternoons, when there were no electric lights, one pupil remembered sitting on their chairs on their desks so they could better see to knit and sew.
A letter from an ex-pupil, Mary Swain, that was sent for the school reunion in September 2002, provides a personal description of school life and village life in the 1920s and is published here for its invaluable insight.
During the war, the sudden influx of evacuees meant that some classes had to be held in the village hall. The village school and evacuees were merged allowing the older children (19 seniors, 8 of them from the village) to be taught separately. Each child had to carry a gas mask with them to and from school which became a burden for those who had to walk long distances. However, according to those that remember, they did come in useful if you found yourself involved in a fight over something. That said, discipline at school was always very strict with the teacher of the time sometimes resorting to a ruler on the knuckles or rump.
This was a very difficult time for all evacuees to be taken away, almost overnight, from their home and loved ones. Coming to the village was a great culture shock for many of the children. Although they lived in "slum" conditions, they had been used to mains electricity, gas, water and drainage. However, it is encouraging to read an account (click here) written for ‘The Evacuee’, a newsletter published by The Evacuees’ Reunion Association of Jean Slattery’s experience, who, with Mr E L Hughes, was taken in by Bill and Mary Goss. A more personal and detailed account was written by Derek and Alan Wheeler of their experiences at Rugg’s Farm. This slightly edited account account (click here) gives a good insight into the life of the farming family during the War Years. A way of life that is unheard of in this day and age.
The school celebrated its centenary in 1972. The last of the head teachers, Miss Mollie Leadbeater, who was in charge for 26 years, was very popular with all of the pupils.
The school was closed on 17th July 1981 with the same number of pupils as when it started 119 years earlier.
Directly opposite the old school is The George Inn. It was named after George I who was King of England from 1714. Ted Howe ran the pub during the WW2 years and was reputed to have the most powerful voice in the church choir. The first part was slated from thatch in about 1964. In the courtyard, under the wall, there were some shops, one was a cobbler’s shop and the other was a butcher’s shop. A Mr Tout followed by Dickie Denscombe were the cobblers although there was also a deaf and dumb man, known as Dummy who ‘cobbled’ as well. Evidently, he could utter a few swear words when he was worked up and was expelled from Williton workhouse for this. The postman used to collect and deliver shoes as well as his letters and parcels. The last butcher, Mark Goodland, used to keep pigs in a shed up against the roadside wall directly outside the George. The sound of squealing pigs could sometimes be heard in the school. He finished trading there towards the end of WW2.
Up until the late 1970/80s, there were two small bars in The George, a snug and a public bar. A floor plan showing the layout of the pub during that time compared with today’s layout can be seen here together with a photo taken in about 1976-7 in the small public bar when Jimmy and Mary Vaulter, who ran the pub into the 1980s, were running it. The occasion was the celebration of 50 years of drinking at The George by Wilf Davey when he was presented with a tankard from the brewery.
From 2008 until 2012, the village shop operated from the skittle alley in The George Inn and was managed by the landlady, Trish Randell, and a willing group of volunteers. A Shop Support Group was formed and successfully obtained grants to facilitate investment in equipment to help keep the shop open.
In March 2012, the arrangement had to come to an end and the shop was relocated yet again, this time to the Men’s Club Room in the Village Hall. After a considerable amount of effort in a very short period of time, and monetary loans/contributions by some villagers, the shop was successfully relocated under a completely new guise. The Shop Support Group became an Industrial and Provident Society for the Benefit of the Community and took over responsibility for running it along with the volunteers and an appointed shop manager. It successfully bid for grants and lottery funds to facilitate the establishment of the new shop and, today, it offers a much wider range of products and local produce than ever before. Its success is a tribute to all those involved, past and present, in what was a significant undertaking solely for the benefit of the community. Today, it runs as a successful enterprise in its own right providing a welcome service to the community, click here for more information.
Next up from The George Inn, there were three individual cottages that have now been combined into one house and a garage.
Further up next to the Village Hall was the bakery. In 1859, the records show that Mr Richard Radley was the baker and in 1923, Mrs Bessie Chidgey. The last baker was Mr Fred Arnold, who had taken over from his father Charlie. It closed down in 1951.
Next up on the left-hand side is the Village Hall. The original Village Hall, or the reading room as it was called, was built in stone in 1914 and a wooden extension was added in the 1920s. The extension was used to house a full-sized snooker table which was loaned to the Men’s Club ‘so long as the club existed’ by Mr. Bullivant of Baronsdown. In 1983, the snooker table was moved out of the wooden extension and into the original village hall to make way for the existing permanent extension to the hall. The extension cost £23,000 and was opened on 2nd September by Rev Michael Stagg and dedicated to the instigating secretary Phyllis Down.
In 2011, the Village Hall had another major extension and refurbishment at a cost of £150,000 of which £50,000 was raised by the community and the remainder funded by a grant from the Local Action for Rural Communities which was part of a European funded programme for the rural development of England. Although all sections of the community helped to raise funds, the main driving force behind the project and who made it happen was the Village Hall Secretary at the time, Jenny Stringer. More recently, new chairs have been purchased and improved insulation installed. For up-to-date information, please click here.
The Hall provides an invaluable focal point and venue for many events, meetings, socials and lunches including most recently the 2012 Diamond Jubilee celebrations and as a backup venue for the Brompton Regis Show (click here) both of which brought together the whole community.
In June 2005, the Brompton Regis Film Society was inaugurated and showed many of the latest released films in the Hall. It ran successfully for six years before the opening of other local film clubs (following the lead of Brompton Regis) and dwindling audiences made it unsustainable.
The Men’s Club and the snooker table remained in the old village hall until March 2012 when it became clear the the space was needed to re-house the Village Shop which had to move out of The George Inn. In the interests of the overall community, the Men’s Club decided not oppose the relocation of the shop into it’s room even though it meant dismantling the snooker table and seriously threatening the demise of the Club whose roots go back nearly 100 years; Men’s Club History. Thanks to support of Charles and Kirsty Stewart-Smith of the Old Vicarage, an alternative location for the snooker table has been found and the Club can continue providing a snooker facility for the gentlemen and ladies of the village.
There used to be some cottages on the edge of the road directly opposite the village hall but the remains of these have now gone. It was behind here that the Kingsbrompton Fair used to be held every October when the village became a hive of activity and the local farmers sold their sheep and cattle. The school closed for the day and village businesses enjoyed record trade. The Fair came to an end in the 1950s and bungalows have now been built on some of the land.
The property just up from the village hall, on the opposite corner of Brompton Meadows, used to be the village police station until it closed in 1972.
The last building on the left, as you leave the village towards Dulverton, used to be an agricultural machine repair garage. As the use of horses declined, Mr Gilbert Davey (of Edwells House) and his son Edward (known as Ted) ran a business selling and repairing tractors and farm machinery and built the garage in 1950. Prior to that date, they ran their business from the two Nissan huts that can still be seen on the left hand side of the top road to Dulverton. During the War, a searchlight manned by soldiers was located at these huts. The daffodils that can still be seen beside the huts were originally planted by those soldiers. The Daveys had a large thresher which they used to take to different farms at harvest time and, before mains electricity became available, they did good business supplying Lister Lighting Plant generators. During the 1950s, they supplied one of the first combine harvesters in the area. The garage closed in about 1987.
Within a generation, farming in the Parish changed considerably and the magnitude of that change was very well described by an article in the Parish News in October 1970 by a so-called ‘Old Codger’ ; The Harvest - by Old Codger. The following photographs remind us of how much more labour intensive it was compared with today.
A little further out of the village, the lane drops down a steep incline before it bears to the left and then right at Renford.(*) This used to be called Renford Steep because the lane took a much sharper left turn and steeper drop before the lane was ‘straightened out’ in 1955.
(*) For the record, the road junction at the top of the hill is called Renford Knap (not Rendford as on the signpost) and the junction with the top road to Dulverton above Lyncombe Farm was always known as Lyddon’s Hill Cross and not Beech Tree Cross as on some maps.
At the bottom on the left of the old route there used to be two cottages which were lived in until 1947. Each cottage had two rooms upstairs and two rooms downstairs and the two ‘privies’ were across the yard. There was no water in the cottages; it had to be fetched from a tap across the road.
In the 1920s after the Great War, a lot of travellers took to the road begging and looking for work either in towns or on farms and a system of workhouses and ‘bread and cheese’ stations were set up to help them as they looked for work. One of the cottages was a ‘bread and cheese station’ for those travelling to/from workhouses at Dulverton and Williton.
In the field on the opposite side of the road, there used to be two big Renford ponds where there is now a large agricultural shed. The ponds were fed by the little River Ren which rises a little further up the valley, at a wooded spot called Flouncy Bottom, and then flows under the road and continues to Nicholls Farm in the village where it used to run a water wheel to work farm machinery. From there it flows down to and under the road between Rock House and Ridge Cottage to join the Pulham. At both places, where it now runs under the road, there used to be a ford until sometime in the 1930s.
We are not sure what type of machinery at Nicholls Farm the water wheel powered but it may have been used to facilitate making home-made cider which was produced there until the mid-forties.
In the above photograph, the cider is being tested by, what is thought to be, a timber haulier for Hows the wheelwright at Rock House. The cider house with its apple mill, and loft above, was at the back of the building. One ton of apples produced 3½ hogshead of cider - a hogshead being 65 gallons. You can also see a large stack of faggots which were used for the base of hayricks and for fire-lighting. Typically, a farm worker would cut back a hedge and produce 100 faggots a day.
During WW2, the village formed a unit of the Home Guard although we have no reports of them being called into action.
It was in 1953 when television first came to Brompton Regis even though, at that time, the village was 5 miles from the nearest electricity supply. So that the villagers could watch the Queen’s Coronation on television, a generator was set up by Mr Gilbert Davey, in the George Meadow behind the village hall. It was connected to a television, provided by Mr Brian Kille, in the village hall which was highly decorated with streamers and bunting in the national colours. Refreshments were provide all day and villagers were able to ‘look in’ throughout the day. “We had a wonderful picture and it didn’t break down once” said Mr Davey. It proved to be very popular and was kept on for a few days until the police warned that they were entertaining without a licence!
Mains electricity did not arrive in the village until the late 1950s and not until the 1960’s in the outlying homes.
The late 1960s was a demoralising time for the village. In May 1968, a weekly bus service to and from Dulverton was discontinued, only a year after the service had started up, owing to a lack of support. It has left the village with no public transport since that time. The bus used to leave Brompton at 9.45am each Saturday with a return bus in the afternoon.
In addition, the sewerage system and water supply were regarded as ‘pathetic’ with no plans to improve them, the school and Post Office were being threatened with closure, plans to flood the Haddeo Valley were being aired, with one of the considered options threatening to flood all homes south of the village and lapping up to Rock Steep, and a BBC TV programme on the threats to rural life featured Brompton Regis as a dying village. It was a time of some dismay and uncertainty. However, the village certainly did not die and 10 years later was able to see a new sewage disposal facility, mains water being supplied by the new reservoir which did not encroach on the village, the school still prospering (although not for much longer) and the Post Office still in existence but located in the village shop. Even more encouraging were the plans to build more homes on the George Meadow and to knock down and replace the wooden extension to the village hall.
Electric street lighting was installed in the village in May 1972. Although most people wanted street lights, there was some opposition to it. Initially, it was proposed to put the cost on the rates, which would have included everyone within the Parish. Understandably those in Bury, along with others in outlying farms and those who didn‘t want to pay more rates, opposed the idea. A meeting was called and the Village Hall was packed out with people, including a coachload from Bury, and the idea was turned down. But, not to be beaten, those who wanted it raised the money from jumble sales, bingo, etc.. and eventually street lighting came into being.
On Saturday 21st May 1977, the children’s play area was officially opened and immediately became very popular even though funds had then to be raised and grants applied for to buy suitable equipment.
An old car show was held in 1992 to help raise funds.
In May 2001, the village saw the official opening of the Millennium Green after purchasing it from a property developer and putting in more than two years of hard work restoring it from the wasteland that it had become. It was jointly opened on 7th May by Grace Langdon and Sam Cowling who were the oldest and youngest residents in the village and is now used for village fetes and by families and children to play and enjoy themselves.
Because agriculture used to be so labour-intensive, there were many more households in the village than there are today, even after the Brendon Hills iron mines were closed at the end of the nineteenth century. By the end of World War 2, the village still boasted a school, two places of worship, a bakery, a butcher’s, a wagon works, a forge, a separate Post Office, two petrol stations, Davey’s garage, The George Inn, the Stores and a Milliner’s, as well as a resident policeman. Over the last sixty years, agricultural mechanisation, the loss of rural jobs and the persistent migration to urban settlements has caused a steady decline in the local population to about three hundred people on the electoral roll.
There lies the essence of this short history, because we feel this small settlement represents the epitome of rural England, a cluster of homes nestled around a church, a shop and pub. Most people know everyone else, as well as all their business, and most people generously demonstrate that they care about each other and the community in which they live. There is an interaction between all age groups, which so often seems to be missing in urban sprawls, and we do not experience trouble with the youngsters in our midst, even though they have few facilities at their disposal.
Acknowledgements to Roger Steer, Mollie Leadbeater, Margaret Lygoe, Geoff Simpson, Jenny Stringer, Ken White and Brian Boundy