Thomas Hardy and the Village Wedding

I’m looking forward to visiting Hardy’s Wessex – the landscapes that inspired a writer – at Wessex Museums this summer. So much to learn about the man, his writings and the lands in which he lived.

So far I have managed to find just one Aldbourne connection. Research via Mr Google and the British Newspaper Archive tells part of a story concerning a visit by the Aldbourne Players to Dorchester in May 1910.

The best known of the village groups, that from the Wiltshire village of Aldbourne … performed to largely empty houses, in Dorchester Corn Exchange, lured there by the belief that ‘they were paying a visit to another company of local players who had made themselves famous’

Thomas Hardy on Stage by Keith Wilson 1994

Apparently, as Keith Wilson goes on to say, the Village Wedding received a ‘lukewarm and condescending response’ in the Dorset County Chronicle. Not just out of loyalty to the Hardy productions by the Dorchester players, but from the fundamental fact that the ‘Hardy’ actors ‘played parts entirely different from those of their proper selves’. Whereas McEvoy selected village folk to portray their own way of life, dialect and family celebration.

One day, I’d very much like to obtain a copy of Mr Wilson’s book and perhaps take a look at the newspaper archive for the Dorset County Chronicle – definitely more research needed. You can read more about the Hardy Players via The Hardy Society website

Mr Hardy and Mr Charles McEvoy did meet for an important conversation in November 1911

Pall Mall Gazette 9 November 1911 Source: Find My Past

A much later article, possibly by the same writer, plays tribute on the occasion of Mr Hardy’s 82nd birthday :

In that moment of the dying day I realised as never before how out of the very landscape of his own countryside and the conditions of its people – generation after generation of passionate, simple human lives, sprung from the brown soil, destined to return thither as surely as the sap from leafless boughs – the ironist in him was born.

I can see him still standing there [at Max Gate], gazing out of those Downs of Wessex. He has not ‘made them his’ as the cant phrase goes. They – as he would be the first to say -are greater than he, and that very consciousness is a part of his greatness.

But they have made him theirs. Theirs is his patience; theirs is his irony. They had waited for him through how many thousands and thousands of years! Somehow I feel that they will have to wait a little longer yet before the stage is ready for them!

S R Littlewood Pall Mall Gazette 2 June 1922

Desmond Trevor Wootton – 1924 to 1941

My thoughts have been directed today towards the WWII names on the Memorial Hall and in St Michael’s Church.

From a certificate downloaded from the HMS Hood Association website in May 2021

On the anniversary of the sinking of HMS Hood, the cheerful face of Desmond Wootton always comes to mind. 17 years old and one of 1415 lives lost on 24 May 1941.

I often pause and read the names on the Aldbourne War Memorial Hall, and am gradually learning more about each of the names thanks to friends, archives and the shared memories in our village. Today’s research has been to help sort out information for the 100th anniversary of the Memorial Hall, and the exhibition planned for this coming July. It has been interesting to delve into the Hall Minutes and find that the British Legion sought permission to install a third memorial tablet on the Hall in July 1947. At a later Committee Meeting the design was accepted, leading to the unveiling and dedication of the plaque we see today on the Hall. A service took place on 20 June 1948.

Memorial Hall Minutes 1947
Memorial Hall Minutes 1948
Aldbourne War Memorial Hall
St Michael’s Church, Aldbourne

Thomas Fairchild 1667 – 1729

19 May 2022 update: I’ve been tidying up my notes today, and have completely forgotten how to re-blog on WordPress. If you want to know more about the Ingenious Mr Fairchild, who was born in Aldbourne, a really good reference is the Gardens Trust blog. Both articles were published in June 2017. and

9 June 2019 update – editing my notes about Thomas Fairchild on the anniversary of his baptism in Aldbourne 352 years ago. The Wellcome Collection : The wisdom of God in the vegetable creation. A sermon preach’d in the parish-church of St. Leonard Shoreditch, on Whitson-Tuesday, May 19, 1730. At the first opening of an annual lecture on that subject, founded by Mr. Thomas Fairchild – Denne, John, 1693-1767 Date 1730†

Portrait of Thomas Fairchild (unknown artist) Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford

November 2018: Aldbourne Community Heritage Group – ‘who lived in Aldbourne‘. An excellent presentation by Jan Lambourn, exploring Mr Fairchild’s ingenuity and curiosity.

June 2017: and

The Bard and A Dabchick

1970 Aldbourne Village Festival

On Shakespeare’s Birthday, celebrated around the world on the 23 April, I have tended to think about flowers mentioned in plays and sonnets – most recently streak’d gillyvors in The Winter’s Tale.

Shakespeare’s baptism is recorded in the Parish Register at Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon on 26 April 1564. So I reckon today is as good a day as any to think about the Bard and birds, specifically a dive-dapper peering through a wave (Venus and Adonis).

I can’t actually remember what I was looking for in the British Newspaper Archive (an occupational hazard) but these items caught my eye:

Some rare birds have been lately caught in the Town Pond, at Aldbourn. Many of the inhabitants were attracted to the spot, and various missiles were used before they were caught. They are supposed to be a species of sea fowl. About fifty years ago some birds of a similar description were seen on the same spot – From a Correspondent

Reading Mercury 2nd May 1840

ALDBOURNE AND THE DABCHICKS – the “Birds of Marlborough,” a book lately issued by Mr E. F. Thurn, of Marlborough College, has the following anecdote in reference to the Little Grebe, or “Dabchick” (Podiceps Minor): – “A Little Grebe appeared in a farm yard pond in Aldbourne. No one knew what this, as they supposed, rara avis, was: a bed-ridden old man, who was said to be possessed of considerable ornithological knowledge, was accordingly wheeled out in his arm chair to give his opinion. A good deal of hesitation ensued, and the ‘man of science’ at length pronounced it a ‘sea woodcock’ (!) and by this name it has since been known.”

Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard 2nd April 1870 & Newbury Weekly News and General Advertiser 7th April 1870

Well, what could I do except try to find a copy of Mr Thurn’s book? A lovely little green bound volume, dedicated to the Rev G. G. Bradley, Master of Marlborough College, with a preface acknowledging the ‘two or three members of the school, who had a taste for Natural History, [who] banded themselves together’ in 1864. The society grew and within a year and a half after its formation published its first report. I’ll have to check but think that the poet, Charles Hamilton Sorley, joined the Natural History Society during his time at Marlborough College, leading to his enjoyment of local stories and the article published posthumously concerning ‘The Bobchick’. This copy of the Birds of Marlborough is a virtual one, and lives in the Internet Archive at being a scanned copy from the Smithsonian.

Sir Everard Ferdinand Thurn (1852 – 1932) Former Governor of Fiji

The first of the two bookplates shows that the volume belonged to a James Edmund Harting (1841 – 1928), author of Ornithology in Shakespeare published in 1871, who wrote:

[A] species of grebe is referred to by Shakespeare in his Venus and Adonis:

“Like a dive-dapper peering through a wave
Who, being look’d on, ducks as quickly in.”

This is the little grebe, or dabchick (Podiceps minor). In some parts of the country we have heard it called “di’ dapper,” but it was not until we had met with the passage above quoted that the meaning of the word became apparent.

On the subject of “loons,” the Rev. H. Jones has some appropriate remarks in a volume of essays entitled “Holiday Papers” (p. 65). “The great-crested grebe, or loon,” he says, “is a giant compared to our little friend the dabchick, and altogether makes a more respectable appearance, both in picture and pond. The habits and figure of the two birds, though, are much the same. There are numbers of loons on the ‘broads’ of Norfolk. Indeed it is in East Anglia that I have most especially watched the dabchick. These loons, like the lesser grebes, incubate and leave their eggs in the wet, and meet with the same ridiculous failure when they attempt to walk. Like them, they are capital divers, and begin from the egg.”

The second bookplate, is for Alexander Wetmore (1886 – 1978), the sixth Secretary of the Smithsonian, serving from 1945 to 1952.

I think it’s reasonable to assume that one of these gentleman took a pencil to page 51, and really didn’t care for the name Sea Woodcock for podiceps minor.

Walrond Family Ancient and Modern

Walrond Memorial in St Michael’s Church, Aldbourne (2022)

I have photographed the Walrond Brothers, Edward and William, many times. Usually at Harvest Festival when their inscriptions are obscured by vegetables and flowers. Or at Christmas when the knitted Nativity figures progress along that handy flat surface. I’ve not yet closely studied their ancient family history, or the connection with the other large memorial inside the church: that of the Goddard family. However, there is this fascinating article on the Aldbourne Community Heritage Group website – Aldbourne Chase Disputes

Last weekend, my friend Peter kindly emailed me this photo of a Walrond family plot in Brighton (having spotted the Aldbourne connection) and it was time for me to start to investigate the family tree. Starting with Robert and Clara Walrond, together with their sons Robert Dudley (b1879) and Francis Hiller (b1882).

With thanks to Peter Turvey who spotted this grave at the Brighton (Woodvale) Cemetery (2022)

Robert and Clara were married in 1873. They had three daughters (Ethel, Hilda, Lilian) then eldest son Robert Dudley. The newly widowed Clara was living with Lilian and her family at the time of the census in 1911.

Robert and Clara’s youngest son Francis died at home of wounds on 15 August 1916. Francis is also buried at Woodvale, Brighton.

Robert Dudley Walrond married Hilda Dorothy Blundstone on 19 June 1909. It looks as though they had three children: Robert Edwin (1910), Karen Dorothy (?) (1912) and William Eric (1915). Robert Edwin Walrond returned to England from Buenos Aires in 1932, giving his address as ‘Aldbourne, Bramcote Road, Putney, SW’. It seems likely that Robert Edwin was returning from his family property in the Argentine.

Article about the late John Fisher – Dabchick April 1993

Robert Dudley Walrond died in 1954, and his funeral took place in St Michael’s Church, Aldbourne. In the Parish Newsletter (July 1954) Robert is described as “the head of the last remaining family descended from that ancient Wiltshire family that included Edward and William, who lived during the reign of Elizabeth I”.

1954 Aldbourne Parish Newsletter – with thanks to Aldbourne Community Heritage Group

Robert Edwin Walrond continued as a benefactor of St Michael’s Church, and was mentioned several times in newsletters until the announcement of his burial (ashes) appeared in April 1965. The family tomb in the churchyard bears the names of Robert Dudley, Robert Edwin, William Eric and his wife Rosemary (nee Larcom), Karen Duras (nee Walrond) and Karen’s only son, Peter.

Aldbourne Churchyard 2022

Fundraising for the Aldbourne War Memorial Hall – Past, Present & Future

Aldbourne War Memorial Hall Account Book

Aldbourne’s aim from 1917 onwards was to build a hall in remembrance of the lives lost in the Great War, and also ‘fitted in every way for public meetings, with arrangements for concerts and theatricals – a building which all hoped would be a real and lasting centre for community life and interest in the village’ (North Wilts Herald 2 May 1919/British Newspaper Archive).

I think those long ago fundraisers would have enjoyed the idea of a Duck Race.

The present-day Memorial Hall Committee invites everyone to enjoy the very welcome return of the Easter Extravaganza on Saturday 16 April 2022.  On the Green if fine, in the Hall if not. The Ducks will race again!

 Our Memorial Hall is still ‘fitted in every way’ to cater for public meetings, concerts, theatricals, Yoga, Lunch Club, hire for parties and wedding receptions – the list is seemingly endless. 

My focus for this month is fundraising; both by the groups who book the hall and for and on behalf of the Hall itself.  A quick study of the history surrounding the early days of the campaign in 1917 and how funds were raised, shows the great ingenuity of the population of Aldbourne.  Bearing in mind that this was during a time when the countryside was still recovering from the effects of the Great War, and many families were suffering great hardship; their menfolk being dead, injured or enduring incapacitating illnesses of the body or mind.

One report from March 1919 relates that on one day concerts were held in the afternoon and evening at the schoolroom; followed at the weekend by a dinner for the Aldbourne lads who had been on active service.  At the same time as raising funds to create a memorial for the fallen, our village was also looking after those who had returned.  It is also interesting to see that Aldbourne Band “resuscitated after four years .. received a cordial welcome”.  Speeches were made, bravery was acknowledged and by the close of proceedings the sum of £15 was handed over to the scheme for which Aldbourne people were working so heartily.

Jumping forward to 1928, a kitchen was added to the Hall and declared open by Miss Evelyn Fox from the Old Rectory.  The newspaper of the day lists all the festivities arranged to celebrate the opening, with generous prizes awarded for a ‘Knock-out Whist Tournament”, parcel tying and a balloon race.  More music, this time from piano, banjo and violin.  At the end of the day another £13 5s was raised for the kitchen fund.

Whist Evenings seem to have been a real attraction and have raised considerable funds over the decades, both for the Hall itself and for village organisations.  In December 1932 no less than 42 tables were occupied for an evening aimed at reducing the debt on the Hall.  A fine turkey was won by the highest scorer, Mr R Hutchins.

So successful was the fundraising that by October 1935 after a year of hard work and several particularly generous donations, the treasurer Major Ingpen was able to announce that the Hall was, for the first time, free of debt.

With thanks to Alison Delorie for helping to collate the information for this article. Also thanks to Alan Heasman and the Aldbourne Community Heritage Group for sharing their encyclopaedic collection of newspaper articles and Parish Magazines.

Originally published in the April 2022 Dabchick Magazine

Eleanor Maud Cheramy (nee Hawkins) 1906 – 1987

RAF Odiham – on our visit 2015
Parish News April 1976

The portrait is signed ‘M E Wilson’, and I have been wondering if the artist could be Margaret Evangeline Wilson (1890 -1977). The Art UK website has a number of paintings by this artist; including some portraits. I am also wondering if it is the same portrait of Eleanor Maud Cheramy described in the February 1974 Aldbourne Parish News:

Your readers might like to know that Madame Cheramy’s portrait, showing her wearing her war decorations, was painted by a famous artist in 1963. It was hung in the Grande Palais (Academie Royale) in Paris, where it was awarded the Gold Medal, the Top Award.

L.M. Gillingham, Dorset December 1973

Eleanor Maud Cheramy nee Hawkins was the subject of a run of articles and shared memories in the Parish News during the early 1970s. She and her husband, Eugene Charles Cheramy, are mentioned often in books and articles describing the Pat O’Leary Line and the French Resistance during the Second World War. An inspiring woman, who overcame great hardship and injury to return to Britain and live quietly by the sea in Southern England. She died in 1987 and it is believed her ashes returned to France with her son, Michel, who died in 1990. It has been my privilege to chat with Susan Hook (nee Hawkins), a third cousin twice removed of this courageous Dabchick. Sue came to visit the Aldbourne Heritage Centre in 2018 and has conducted a huge amount of research which she has been kind enough to share.

Parish News October 1973

Past and Present: WI in Aldbourne

100 Years of the Women’s Institute: Resolutions by the Decade – Aldbourne Carnival 2015
Aldbourne in Westminster 1948

If you partake of Facebook, you may like to visit the Aldbourne WI Group. I was browsing recently and followed up an announcement there about the Resolution Selection Results for 2022.

Women and Girls with ASD & ADHD – under-identified, under-diagnosed, misdiagnosed, under-supported

Women and girls presenting with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are going undiagnosed. The NFWI calls on the government and funding bodies to fund research into the female presentation of ASD and ADHD, and for action to be taken to improve the diagnosis process for women and girls, to ensure that they are equipped to better manage these conditions and do not suffer in silence.  The NFWI further calls on WI members to raise awareness within their WIs of the issues facing women and girls with ASD and ADHD.

The Women’s Institute is democratic and member-led, and the resolutions process is unique in putting members at the heart of decisions about our campaign activity. Every issue that we campaign on stems directly from a resolution put forward by members and adopted at the Annual Meeting. WI members have a unique opportunity to turn a concern into a national campaign every year, backed by the whole of the WI.

A resolution is a call for change on a current issue in society. Once a resolution has been adopted at the Annual Meeting, the Public Affairs Department turns it into a campaign. Through national and local campaigning, members play a key role in achieving change on important issues.

Read more about our campaigns in our Centenary Report.

Honor Liddiard (writing for the Parish News in 1968) recalled that “The WI was formed here in 1918 … On reflection, I think I was the first delegate to go to London from Aldbourne. I was chosen one summer day at Upham House, where we were being entertained by Lady Currie. The meeting I attended was not in the Albert Hall, but at Central Hall Westminster. Reporting on the meeting to our own WI, it may have been nearly fifty years ago, but I was just as nervous as I am speaking today.”

Thanks to the Aldbourne Community Heritage Group sharing this photo on their Facebook page, and those lovely folk who contributed details we know this was the 50th birthday of the Aldbourne WI. Annie Slade (left) and Louisa Stacey cutting the cake.

Ending with a final note about the Women’s Institute and Resolutions, this newspaper cutting reports on a WI meeting in 1937 when members spoke on the resolutions put forward in that year. Click here to read the WI Centenary report published in 2018. Additionally, this document lists all NFWI Mandates from 1918 to 2021.

Aldbourne Memories #BritishPieWeek 2022

A search through the Aldbourne Archive this morning, in praise of PIES in all their glory – some more palatable to modern tastes than others. I’ll start with some more modern recipes and end with two definite ‘dishes of necessity’ that sustained desperate folk in desperate times, in days of yore. The thought is never far from my mind that we are fortunate to be able to make food choices for ourselves and families.

Recipe reminiscences gathered by the Aldbourne Oral History Project (2006)

Wartime memories – the Americans gave large tins of pineapple. Mother made pineapple pie.

Mabel/Mabs Beckingham

I remember my oldest sister making a banana pie, and she had got some banana essence and some parsnips and somehow mixed them up, mixed them up together to make it seem like it was a banana pie. How that worked I don’t know, but I know she did it.

David Palmer

Delicious recipes and pie pastry hints, taken from ‘Do Me a Flavour’ published in 1986 by the Aldbourne WI

Aldbourne Parish News 1974

I have seen mention of Rook Pie, very definitely a ‘dish of necessity’ and possibly the source of the nursery rhyme’s infamous ‘four and twenty black birds’. Necessity turned to sport for the gentry during the 19th Century and Mrs Beeton’s recipe was published as late as 1936. I did some research with Mr Google, but it made me feel faintly queasy; so Dear Reader – I’ll leave you to your own devices on that one. I’m with the black bird that went in for sinus surgery, quite frankly I’m not surprised rooks took every opportunity for vengeance. Although, part of me wishes the visitation took place in the parlour or counting house, rather than the maid in the garden. (And thanks to Jenny Wren, well known plastic surgeon).

Drought Across the Wiltshire Downs 1933 – 34

From the collection of the Aldbourne Community Heritage Group

I have vivid memories of the Summer of 1976 in Wiltshire, although we weren’t in Aldbourne back then so I didn’t get to see this great carnival float in person. (Who made it, can anyone remember?). A summer of long sunny days, stand-pipes, followed by rain at the end of August on my sister’s wedding day. Then a visit to the Lake District and seeing half empty reservoirs.

Drought is a Killer, Everyone knows, but with this up the garden everything grows.

“Let the Flowers Die” – says Denis Howell (Minister for Drought August 1976)

Parish News October 1976 – Aldbourne Community Heritage Group

During research into the village during WW2 I’ve run across the sterling work by the Red Cross hospital supplies depot in Aldbourne. According to the North Wilts Herald (16 August 1940) ‘the credit for its origin must be given to Mrs Ruth Rogers, its energetic secretary, assisted by many ladies interested in Red Cross work, and to Mrs Varvill, who kindly placed her house at the disposal of the organisers’. So I looked up Mrs Maude Varvill on the 1939 Register to see where she lived (Castle Barn, Castle Street), and then noticed that Ruth Rogers was her neighbour at Half Moon – personal occupation given as ‘Literary Agent, Writer’. Several cups of tea later I’d Googled Ruth Rogers and used the online newspapers via Find My Past (beware, very addictive!) to find out a little more about that lady.

Ruth Rogers wrote a long letter to the Ramsbury Rural District Council in March 1934, stating that she was unable to use her cottage at Aldbourne, because the well had gone dry and there was no other means of obtaining water in the village. Reference was made to ‘Medieval Conditions’ . Another letter, from a Mr W Durham of Aldbourne, indicated that he had to rely on the kindness of his neighbours. It was moved by Mr Hawkins (not sure if that would have been Oliver or Christopher?) ‘that the letters should be sent to Aldbourne Parish Council. There was a shortage of water there, and great inconvenience was being caused and he did not know what would happen if the dry weather continued for another fortnight. There were more than 200 wells in Aldbourne and every other one was dry at present.’ Reported in the North Wilts Herald 2 March 1934.

It’s raining again in Aldbourne this morning, after one beautiful sunny day yesterday – a (false?) harbinger of spring – with the Thames Water filtration unit on standby outside the library, muddy puddles everywhere and all eyes to the water table. (Not to mention will there be enough for a Duck Race this year as part of the Easter Extravaganza?).

But back in February 1934 it was a very different story. Mrs Phyllis Tobias (nee Bull) gave us a glimpse of the past in her letter to the Parish News in 1989.

Parish News December 1989 – Aldbourne Community Heritage Group

Mr Cyril Barrett (Aldbourne Oral History Project 2006) shared his memories of Aldbourne when all the water came from wells, with no mains water in the villages at all. Cyril also recalled a visit by Oswald Mosely’s men, when the tanks arrived on a lorry, were filled up and taken up to Baydon – ‘they were in a sorry state up there for water’.

North Wilts Herald Friday 23 February 1934

The local newspapers from the time are full of stories about Baydon, and the extent to which the villagers suffered during times of drought. I have found a fabulous resource in the back copies online of ‘Scene in Baydon’, the serialised history as told by the late R J Naish, JP.

The folk down at Aldbourne were willing helpers to their Baydon neighbours in times of drought. Water carts went to and fro in an arduous routine during such times, despite the fact that the ‘Dabchicks’ had, themselves, to husband their supplies. In times of extreme shortage both villages had to look to the kindly help of Chilton Foliat, which was always, mercifully, enriched by the clear
waters of the Kennet.

A Baydon resident still recalls how he had been sent down to Aldbourne by his boss to fill a farm water cart with about 200 gallons. Having done this, with the kind permission of an Aldbourne farmer, he was preparing to leave when the fire alarm went. His load was quickly commandeered to put out a thatch fire in a Castle Street cottage, so he returned to Baydon empty.

Scene in Baydon April 2011

That brings me full circle to Castle Street again, and I’ll end with a link to the Action for the River Kennet Projects at Aldbourne and Baydon Schools which are a far cry from the press coverage in 1933, where the rainwater tanks for Baydon school and the village as a whole were reduced to a few inches of stinking sludge.