Thomas Hardy and the Village Wedding

https://www.wiltshiremuseum.org.uk/?exhibition=hardys-wessex

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 https://www.hardysociety.org/

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

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

Charles Edward Westall ( 1886-1917)

Aldbourne War Memorial Hall

Following a 4-year project funded by a LIBOR grant from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Army Museums Ogilby Trust (AMOT) is excited to launch The Ogilby Muster (TOM). TOM is an online platform which gives users access to First World War archives held in Regimental Museums across the UK.

With over 75 participating collections, and more set to join in 2022, TOM will eventually hold over 2 million items including some never-before-seen material. Covering the period 1900 to 1929, the platform contains documents, photographs, letters, diaries and more, all related to the British Army and the men and women who served. Launching during Remembrance month, TOM has preserved the experiences and memories of those who served in the First World War for future generations.

Army Museums, Ogilby Trust

The first thing I tend to do when something like this appears is search for ‘Aldbourne’. Three records pop up, including an entry relating to Aldbourne Road in Coventry. (One day I will research why that road carries the village name!).

Westall, Charles Edward b. Aldbourne, Wilts e. Bradford-on-Avon, Wilts 198546 Gnr. k. in a. F. & F., 22/10/17

CASUALTY LISTS. Official roll of RHA, RFA, Regulars and Territorial Force (including HAC Batteries) killed during the Great War entitled “Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914-19”
This media belongs to: Royal Artillery Museum
Wiltshire Times 1917 – POR4605 Wiltshire Museum (photo January 2019)

See also: https://aldbournearchive.wordpress.com/2021/11/04/john-beresford-powell-1897-1976/ Another Aldbourne connection found in The Ogilby Muster (TOM).

Aldbourne – by Francis Cunningham Batson (1858 – 1931)

Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society Collection (Wiltshire Museum, Devizes)

This watercolour by Frank Batson (1896) was purchased by the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society with the aid of the MGC and V&A Purchase Grant Fund.

In 1989 the Society acquired an 1890s painting of the church, ‘Evensong: Aldbourne’ by Frank Batson of Ramsbury, to record the work of R.G. Hurn who had recently retired as Treasurer, a print of which fronted the 1990 Christmas card.

Andrew Sewell – “Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine, St Michael’s Church, Aldbourne (1994)

Parliament Piece … on one of his visits to Ramsbury Cromwell was said to have held a Parliament in the grounds adjacent to the house. It was from that that the owner in the 1920s … renamed it Parliament Piece as he could not stand its earlier name of the ‘Rookery’. Before he bought it, the house and Hilldrop had been owned for over two hundred years by the Batson family who took a prominent part in village life. Their wealth had been created in the slave trade and sugar plantations of Barbados in the 17th century.

Barbara Croucher “The Village in the Valley – A History of Ramsbury” (1986)

In the early 18th century, a Batson heiress and her husband, William Davies bought the property. Their eldest son, Thomas, died in 1759 without marrying, but had changed his surname to Batson. His brother, Edmond, changed his whole name to Thomas Batson. Edmond married Elizabeth, ‘one of the ancient family of Lascelles, of the County of York’. Edmond/Thomas and Elizabeth didn’t have children, so the property was passed through a succession of nephews (including the Meyrick family) until vested in Alfred Batson – who returned from Italy following the death of his father (also Alfred) – in 1856.

I wouldn’t have been able to navigate the Batson family without the assistance of Barbara Croucher’s fascinating writing, and the discovery of the fabulous new book (with amazing photos and illustrations) by Rowan Whimster, published in 2020 by the Friends of Holy Cross Church, Ramsbury.

There are memorials to the family in Holy Cross Church and churchyard. Frank’s ashes were interred in Holy Cross churchyard in 1931. Information from a register produced by Jane Handford is on the Ramsbury web page of findagrave.com. This is searchable by name or surname.

Holy Cross, Ramsbury (October 2021)

In the 1851 census Alfred and Mary Elizabeth Batson and their five children were listed as resident in ‘Babbicombe’, Devon. By 1861 and living in Ramsbury, the rapidly increasing family included ‘Francis C’, aged 2, born in the village.

The Batson family certainly played a huge role in Ramsbury life soon after arriving in the village.

Education of the village’s children became an urgent priority for Ramsbury’s Victorian movers and shakers. Those same influential figures were also determined to help illiterate adults escape the bonds of rural poverty. In the 1860s Alfred Batson of Parliament Piece and the Burdett family from Ramsbury Manor joined forces to provide a village meeting room as an alternative to the temptations of the village’s pubs and drinking houses. As well as accommodating a soup kitchen for destitute agricultural labourers and their families, the Burdett Reading Room [now the village library] was the venue for night classes run by the Batson family.

Rowan Whimster – “Ramsbury: A Place and Its People” (2020)

By 1881, Francis C was 22 and his occupation was given as ‘Captain Royal Lancashire Militia’. In the 1891 Francis C Batson was the head of the household in Ramsbury, occupation ‘Artist’.

One of the earliest references to Frank Batson’s work that I’ve found is a report on the Bazaar at Ramsbury Manor in July 1891. This was a fundraiser towards the restoration of the ancient parish church at Ramsbury. The goodies listed on ‘Mrs Batson’s stall’ include a fine display of embroidery and a large number of pictures in watercolours and oils. Sketches ‘from the brushes of Mr Frank Batson and Mr Stephen Batson’ found a ready sale. (Newbury Weekly News 23 July 1891).

Andrew Sewell observed in his notes dated 1989 that there are four labels on the back of the Batson painting in the Wiltshire Museum.

The Newbury Weekly News ( on 16 May 1901) mentioned that “Mr Frank Batson [Ramsbury], after the lapse of several years, has his fourth picture at the Royal Academy this year, Playing out time in an awkward light“. Quite the supersized canvas, 6ft by 4ft and now at Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club – Art UK https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/playing-out-time-in-a-difficult-light-46262

In the spring of 1904, The Cornishman newspaper reported that the same painting was exhibited by Frank Batson at the Newlyn Art Gallery. In March 1905, the Western Morning News described Frank Batson’s contributions to the collection at the Passmore Edwards art gallery, destined for the Royal Academy and other London exhibitions – “three Venetian subjects, which were small but dainty”. Easier to transport than the 6’x4′ cricket painting!

Frank Batson was listed on the 1911 Census as a theology student, boarding in Castle Gate, Nottingham. The Nottingham Evening Post 29 September 1919 noted that he and his brother, the Rev V.L. Batson, presented three watercolours by their father, Alfred, to the Nottingham Castle Museum. Frank may have moved from Nottingham between 1911 and his death in 1931, but at the time of his death his residence was given as Fern Lodge, Chilwell, Nottinghamshire. Probate granted to Elizabeth Annie Batson, widow. The Nottinghamshire Society of Artists included some of Frank’s works in a memorial exhibition during the autumn 1931 (Nottingham Evening Post 12 November 1931).

Frank Batson had eleven siblings, some of them have their own stories reported in history books and the national press. There are reports featuring the self-styled ‘King of Lundy’ (Arthur Wellesley Batson) which I’ll save for another article on another day. A sister-in-law, Henrietta Batson, collected folk songs and Mummers Plays; including versions from Chilton Foliat and Baydon. The Baydon version was the foundation for the return of the tradition to Aldbourne in 2018 https://aldbournearchive.wordpress.com/2019/01/05/aldbourne-tradition-revived-the-mummers-are-back/.

With thanks to Warwick Hood, Jenny Greaves and of course the Wiltshire Museum, Devizes. I’m so glad that I’ve finally got round to writing up our chats about the painting and started a journey into the Batson family history. More to come!

Old Michaelmas, Pack Rag Day and Blackberries

Blackberries tend to appear all year round, but when is it best to pick them?

I looked up ‘Old Michaelmas Day’ and, according to various sources, it’s either 10 October or 11 October. Either way, according to folklore it’s definitely the last day to safely pick blackberries. I heard years ago that the Devil swept his cloak over the land in October, making the fruit bitter. Other legends relate Lucifer’s Fall in October, landing on a blackberry bush and cursing the fruit. More prosaic explanations include damp weather, and possibly something to do with the life cycle of the caddis fly.

There is a brilliant mug with old Wiltshire dialect words in the shop at Wiltshire Museum, Devizes (link to their website below) including ‘Pack Rag Day’ for Old Michaelmas. Pack Rag Day seems to relate to servants or agricultural workers moving and finding new employers at hiring fairs. So maybe that’s why the first of the Marlborough Mop Fairs is held on this particular weekend in October.

The scientific study of brambles, or Batology, has origins in the 18th century. Apparently in those early days all British blackberries were lumped together as one species. In An Early History of Batology in Wiltshire (1999), Rob Randall reveals that the earliest known reference to a Wiltshire plant when Donald Grose was compiling his county flora was in a grant of land by King Cenwalh in 672 AD, probably at South Newton, which refers to a ‘brember wudu’. Grose explains “the same Bramble Wood is mentioned in six of the Wiltshire Charters but the site is not determinable” (Grose 1957, p 223).

Thanks to Mr Randall we have a list of brambles collected by Miss Emily Sophia Todd (1859-1949) part of that lady’s “formidable herbarium” at Swindon Museum & Art Gallery. Miss Todd lived at Hampstead Cottage in Aldbourne and collected a vast amount of flora. Including brambles from all around the country, but apparently she “rarely travelled more than a few miles from her home at Aldbourne when collecting Wiltshire material [brambles].”

when Donald Grose was preparing the account of brambles for his Flora in 1948-9 he invited William Charles Richard Watson (1885–1954) to Wiltshire for some field work. During this period Watson checked the brambles in the Todd herbarium.”

Rob Randall* Wiltshire Botany 2, 1999 An Early History of Batology in Wiltshire

* This gentleman is very possibly the same Rob Randall. Dr Steve Wharton’s oration on Robert Randall for the honorary degree of Master of Arts in December 2014 https://www.bath.ac.uk/corporate-information/robert-randall-oration/

A Mystery Postcard – Aldbourne Carnival?

1909 postmarked postcard Wiltshire Museum – Wiltshire Life Society AVGB GBP367

This mystery began (for me) in July 2014 in the library at the Wiltshire Museum, Devizes. One of my colleagues showed me this photograph of a young person with a decorated bicycle. The photograph is a laminated reproduction, part of the Wiltshire Life Society collection.

We spent some time trying to track down more information, to no avail.

In October 2014, the curator of the Aldbourne Heritage Centre confirmed that a similar copy photograph was part of the village collection.

The Millennium Book of Aldbourne has a note about the origin of Aldbourne Carnival and mentions a parade of decorated bicycles in 1905. So it is possible that this photo is therefore one of the earliest showing an entry for the village carnival. In fact, the image was used to promote the 100th Aldbourne Carnival in 2015. It has remained in my Aldbourne Archive as a mystery to be solved ‘one day’.

Last year an original postcard appeared on eBay and is now with local historian Graham Palmer. It was a fantastic find!

There are still mysteries to be solved. Who were Miss Annie Cox, Lizzie W and Harry?

Any and all suggestions welcome!

Carnival Postcard Mystery Solved

DZSWS:AVBGB.GBP367
Photograph, carnival costume including a decorated bicycle, Aldbourne, Wiltshire, 1909, an image from the Wiltshire Life Society collection.

The discovery of this photo is one of my happiest memories from early days of volunteering at the Wiltshire Museum, Devizes. My fellow volunteers often found items relating to Aldbourne and, knowing my interest, called me over to have a look. This laminated photo was part of the Wiltshire Life Society Collection and formerly part of a display at Avebury. No clues as to the location of the picture, or identity of the young person. Just a date: 1909.

Fast forward our village preparations for the 100th Renewal of Aldbourne Carnival in 2015. A copy of the same photo was found in the collection at Aldbourne Heritage Centre. I carried a copy of the photo with me and showed it to more or less everyone I met, trying to find out if it rang a bell from any family album. It went into the local paper, and even got a mention on BBC Wiltshire.

From memory, there’s a snippet in the Millennium Book of Aldbourne that acknowledges research that carnival in Aldbourne in its present form can be dated back to 1915; whereas, with decorated bicycles (like Pewsey) a slightly earlier date of 1905 was mentioned. If only there was some way to be sure that the note ‘postemark 1909’ was accurate.

Roll forward again to October 2020 and eBay (almost ten years to the month that I first met our young friend with the decorated bicycle). There’s the Aldbourne postmark 1909, and now all we have to do is solve the mysteries arising from the card itself: who is ‘Lizzie W’, who is ‘Harry’ and who is ‘Miss Annie Cox’?

With thanks to Graham Palmer
With thanks to Graham Palmer