Tatworth Village/Church and Home
Chapter II: Church and Home Edit
In close proximity to each other there were six religious houses, in and around Tatworth - five were non-conformist chapels, and all were built roughly within a generation of each other... demonstrating the nonconformist conscience of the population. In the first half of the nineteenth century, there were four lace mills in Chard and one in South Chard. All were busy producing lace [bobbin net] - using new technologies... the town was expanding. The generous act of Lord Poulett - donating land, enabled St Johns Church to be built - it was the last one; it is interesting to speculate how many others would have been built if that had been first? There is little doubt that the surrounding villages to Chard were enlarged rural hamlets, and their inhabitants were poor - closely allied to the land. The hardships of their lives – low wages and large families, ensured they would stay so. Children were brought up to adhere to ridged moral values, extolled every Sunday in all the religious houses. They were Christian, if not always, chapelgoers. Politically, the majority were radicals [extreme Liberals] – chartists and non-conformists - protestant dissenters, who did not accept the views of the Established Church.
Even if the Collins family were not frequent visitors to chapel or church, they accepted the accepted doctrine taught – about duty and honour. The older generation spoke about ‘one’s place’ in the order of things. The gentry were offered as examples of ‘the right way to do things’ – manners, habits, language and decorum. The Socialist Party, and Trades Union, were coming into being. The class structure clear in the country but confused in town. In the large houses and estates, snobbery ruled the different jobs.
These beliefs and manners approximately cover Queen Victoria’s reign. The industrialization of Britain - had an enormous effect on its citizens, particularly the country folk. Once begun its progress had a knock-on effect, prompting great scientific advances in almost every field. These created massive building projects. Young people left the land to seek work in towns and cities, which demanded the building of houses, and workplaces. As with all expanding societies, there were at the bottom an enormous number of poor, sick and handicapped people. The impetus of the expansion declined about the time of the second Boer War – about the turn of the nineteenth century.
As in all villages or towns, you were either church or chapel; and usually the parents dictated this choice - if the parents did not attend one or other of them then their children might attend one of the Sunday schools. Anyone who did not attend any religious institution was considered beyond the pale. The church and chapel goers did not mix socially with each other... their congregations, fetes, days out, celebrations, and high days and holidays, were spent apart. Both services had their own procedures – equally strict. Each religious sect was regulated outside the village or town by their institutions – with their books, hymnals, collect for the day, and flags, assiduously collected by their participants. Those who were Church of England had to face the journey to St Mary’s of Chard - to attend church. It had been a sore point for many years. Here they were the worshipers of the national religion having to put up with having to go all the way to Chard, or else go to a non-conformist chapel.
In 1827 a meeting had been arrange in the vestry to iron out the problem of too little seating. The unanimous conclusion was to have built a gallery. However, although this built it still did not meet the needs of the Tatworth parishioners. A further meeting found support for a mission chapel to be built, to accommodate all the Anglicans. The lord of the manor, Earl Poulett, contributed a quarter of an acre of land, and all the necessary stone, for the proposed structure, plus fifty pounds. The Langdon family of Parrocks Lodge presented the east and south windows, both to honour his own family. The building was designed by Mr Pinch of Bath in the Early English style and cost £1,400, and the builder, Davis of Langport - created the building of local stone.
The foundation stone was laid in June, the year of grace for The Great Exhibition, in 1851. The building was finished the following September, to be consecrated by the bishop of Jamaica, who stood in for the bishop of the Diocese who was ill. At the ceremony, the congregation witnessed the chapel’s first baptism. Just over eighty years later I too was baptised there only by then the chapel had become a church, and fully furnished. The start of the consecration began when the bishop and accompanying clergy, the village's' principle inhabitants, formed up in procession... to march to Manor Farm... leading all the assembled signatories. It was a grand occasion as they all filed into the church there to be met by the assembled congregation - turning in their pews to welcome the notables in. Some of the congregation could not be accommodated - the crowd was so enormous the overflow formed an aisle outside the great west door. After the service the bishop and those in the procession returned to Manor farm to be served with liberal refreshments.
In 1860 John Payne , the lace mill proprietor, presented an organ to the new church. By Order of the Church Council, in 1866, a new ecclesiastical district was formed which created Tatworth a Parish, now consisting of 1552 acres, and a population of 852 souls. The mother church of Chard retained the right to nominate each new vicar who in 1851 was that vicar’s son, Henry Bell Thompson who had been curate-in-charge of the mission chapel. In 1890, the church was called to attend to the funeral of the king of the gypsies, which was to become an annual service of remembrance - always well attended. The vicar's first job was to gather about him his church committee and start the Sunday school; depending on his authority, he controlled the type of service… in conjunction with the organist, or choirmaster.
The Vicar, tried to make the morning service as popular as possible - to draw in new adherents, but jobs in the home and farm prevented a large gathering. The local gentry did attend matins, which may explain why there were so few workers. However, communion, for the confirmed, was straight after matins or morning service. Occasionally there would be an afternoon service if there was a christening or Mother’s Day service. If those were not laid on Evensong was at 6pm. The church was lit by oil lamps, which gave the interior a warm glow even on the coldest night. The flickering candles on the altar made a focusing point for the congregation. After the service, the congregation stepped out of the church into the blackness of the night with the cheery glow behind them. There was no traffic to worry about so the various families could make their own way home all walking in different directions calling out their ‘goodnights’. There was no fear that anything dangerous likely to happen – it never did. Everyone hurried home to get out of the cold.
Towards the end of the expansionist period there was an immediate increase in family size, which created a population explosion. Churches and chapels benefited - their congregations increased. This religious fervour continued right up to the First World War. The horrors of that campaign were felt all over Britain, and certainly by the county battalions. When the war was over there were fewer men left, and for those that were, many had lost their faith. The many single parents that were available to go to church were trying to bring up a family - lacked time and energy. The numbers attending church or chapel never returned to pre-war levels.
Families usually sat in the same pew. The congregation entered the church to kneel down to say their prayers for forgiveness - for any wrongdoing, before the service began. The collect for the day, or the weeks psalm, gone over in one’s mind… and no one spoke. The service was known by heart as were the hymns… the sermon, always long and boring… the collection, a period of coughing and movement. It was forever the same… the Langdon’s windows reflecting the spluttering candlelight and the decorated altar the only piece of colour. Fortunately, the heating managed by the sexton took the chill off the inside or it would have been most uncomfortable.In the summer, it was usual for families to visit each other in rotation after the evening meal, which, on a Sunday - was the main roast of the week. The older folk would ‘sit out front’ and converse with passers by. A special service was said for ‘The Churching for Women’. After having a baby women would go to the church and the vicar would read the service, which would cleanse her – release her from sin.
At about the age of twelve children were confirmed, after which they could attend communion services. For several weeks the candidates would attend classes one evening a week. They had to memorise and recite the Ten Commandments, The Creed, The Catechism, The Lord’s Prayer and various other psalms and collects depending on the vicar in charge. At the ceremony, the girls had to wear long white dresses, white shoes and veils. Boys wore their best school uniform. Each awarded a prayer book or hymnal. Modesty was considered an essential part of life. Sex was never referred to, parts of the body not discussed, child birth a total mystery, and was'nt climax something to do with a car or fire pump? Menstruation, even to women, a necessary evil, that nobody could quite explain, masturbation made you blind, and the Marquis d’Sade - all you could expect from a foreigner.
The picture commonly painted by artists of a ‘rural idyll’ shows a quaint timber framed cottage, with unruly thatch, chickens running about, children playing with a kitten and mother sitting on a stool outside the front porch with her lace pillow. The colours were clean; the light bright and there was not a scar to be seen. It was a picture of bucolic calm - gracing many greeting cards. However, it was not like that at all. Most cottages were either converted hovels, rows of terraced factory homes or estate houses. They were not owned by the inhabitant but rented. Mains water was piped to the village in the thirties and electricity some years later... and main sewers, some time after that. All had deficiencies relating to construction, few had any damp course, most were damp, and many leaked. The community existed by ‘following dear old dad’ - there was little place for individual action or free thought… for, 'what is good enough for me is good enough for you'. The dress code, hairstyle, meals, habits and pastimes, ‘as they had always been’ – predictable; anyone who deviated was not accepted – considered a bit of a cad.
Was it any wonder that there were many undernourished and sickly children. Large families, little money coming in, and damp, draughty, unsanitary homes... were bound to lead to colds and influenza. Chilblains in the winter sun-stoke in the summer and little understanding about personal hygiene, all contributed to a poor physique. No one understood about the need for balanced meals and clean water. There were no inoculations or advertised health warnings. Hospitals, if visited, had to be paid for. If the family had previously paid into a penny a week health club or hospital scheme, then it was free. It was common for young children to have chicken pox, measles and whooping cough, and cases of diphtheria, and scarlet fever, were rare. TB and glandular fever feared, whilst rickets and blindness not unheard of.
Rosa Collins had a number of stillborn children that needed to be baptized before burial. It was not unusual for pregnant girls to commit suicide rather than face the disgrace of being a single mother. Divorce was unheard of, not that many wished they could. The main reason for women not wanting a divorce was that the courts found in favour of the man - they retained custody, the home and all the possessions. For men it was the shame and the cost. The main reason for discontent was the husband’s drinking, leading to physical assault. What made life at Rosalie Cottage so different was Rosa’s ridged rules of behaviour - which she demanded from her children. The were few crisis, life was structured along tried and tested paths. It may have been boring for nothing upset the ordered existence, but it was most certainly predictable – calm and ordered.
The society as a whole, prior to the turn of the nineteen-fifties, was disciplined. The majority lived by the law, the property owner and the employer. Over all would be the rules set out in the bible. Shame, honour, duty and integrity were qualities set out by parents, by example; the school – usually by motto, and church or chapel - by sermon. As most other people followed the same dictum, the qualities were reinforced.
All men wore a hat or cap summer or winter, it was the mark of a freeman - considered an essential part of daily dress. Women too put on a hat or bonnet when going out, wore gloves and did not think of attending church or chapel without wearing stockings. Men doffed their hats: when meeting a woman in the street, for prayers, Armistice Day parade, the National Anthem or when a funeral cortege passed by… A death in the village was accorded closed windows, drawn curtains and black armbands. My father insisted that my brother and I should raise our caps to neighbours, their friends and elderly relatives. This ended very quickly when we copied our friends and stopped wearing caps… but even then, we had to touch our forelocks. Eventually, even this mark of respect died out during the early part of the war… it was then that society changed - to be less formal.
It was an ordered society where anything out of the ordinary feared. This was never more so than for the handicapped that were treated as odd, sometimes ridiculed and certainly not considered. Many at the turn of the century confined to the workhouse or mental institution. For caring parents of such children it was extremely difficult, for the state provided no help. The majority who went out to work understood that no attendance meant no pay and even if one attended - if for some reason work could not be done, payment would be stopped. Rain would only stop work if the animal could not produce. Thankfully there was always maintenance in the barn or outhouse to tide one over and if necessary using the flail to produce chicken feed. In times when no money came in a loan could be arranged from the tally man or produce bought ‘on tick’. Everyone used cash even the employer who paid weekly. It was considered a disgrace to be in debt and ‘saving up’ was the order of the day. Most homes had a number of tins where money was put for each article of expense – so much for the paraffin, the weekly shopping, the butcher, and baker; the coalman and the rent. There was a good deal of swapping between the tins!
Individuals were extremely independent, especially my grandfather who would not accept charity in any guise. There were no social services or welfare relief other than an amount for the insurance man who called weekly... there was nothing for a rainy day. Anyone too old or feeble ended up in the workhouse, if the family could not look after them. Workhouse inmates were expected to do some work in the cookhouse, laundry, or garden. If too infirm, put into a special sickroom where the fittest fed the others. Because travelling was difficult, the inmates rarely had visitors, which made life that of a prisoner. Chard had the nearest workhouse which was divided into casual and residential sections - casual for vagrants, usually ex-soldiers – some shell-shocked, who moved from place to place, chopping wood before moving on. Residential inmates, were long-term, some children reared by the workhouse, other orphans, some pregnant – who had been thrown out of their home. The workhouse children were found work when they came of age others apprenticed or joined the services. The workhouse was provided with money from the rates, by donation or by benefaction. Life was hard not just, not because money was short, but by intent. It was considered that to earn ones keep was essential and that the harder life was the faster inmates made progress to leave – to make room for others. During the depression – between The General Strike and rearmament for the Second World War - in the early thirties, large numbers of unemployed and displaced men roamed the countryside looking for work. They often slept in barns or outhouses and begged house to house. They were not abusive but filled with sorrow that they had nowhere to go.
In the early twentieth century most men smoked – it was considered unmanly not to; the whole action of: buying, unwrapping, lighting-up, holding, expelling, stubbing out and conversing, was part of society – even part of the social graces. In some cases, buying tobacco considered more important than buying food. Cigarettes and tobacco was issued to the services, they were used as barter, often as contraband or as a bribe. The smell was considered sexy, masculine, homely and calming. Children collected cigarette cards and mounted them in books provided by the tobacco companies. They swapped them, stole them, collected the stubs, and made them. No male wishing to ingratiate himself - enter into a group - start a conversation, or feel at ease, shunned the use of his cigarette case. It was part of life - promoted, advertised, issued, and welcomed.
The village folk were lucky, not only did they have a lace mill employing, in good times, a hundred workers, but a thriving butter factory - with room for twenty. It had a railway terminus with ancillary sidings and sheds, and a corn mill at Forton providing animal feed. There were shops, in Tatworth and South Chard, and at least two main employers of any number of agricultural workers. All these businesses required servicing with a wide range of skilled workers plying their crafts and trades. They, in turn, employed trained helpers, fellow workers, and apprentices. This was indeed a thriving community each person relying upon the other in their work and in the home. Amongst these were the local masons, carpenters, thatcher, and decorators. The carters, farm implement makers and smiths all combining to turn out carts, wagons, and buggies. The miller was relied on to turn the corn into flour, and the brick, tile, and pipe maker, to provide the local building materials… some of his work lined the kiln for baking the lime and making more bricks. Many of these men turned their hand to other trades to affect a smooth flow of work throughout the seasons.
All these workers relied upon the work of a horse – mostly for pulling carts of farm implements, about their daily lives. They had been brought up with a knowledge and respect for its work and loyalty… for they knew they relied upon its power attending to its wellbeing. The local farrier and smiths were there to look village horses in sickness and in health correcting faults by applying the correct shoes. There were specialist smiths for shoeing, hammering out bent tools, sharpening tines, and making cranked handles for wells, gates, railings, and ornamental flower baskets. Ties for builders, chisels, and mending buckets… such a variety of work it was sometimes hard to fit in making the hooped tyres for the wheelwright. The engineering shop down by the station sidings performed a service to the lace mill whilst providing smaller more specialised items for all the other trades.
In general, whilst the village worker received sufficient in his wage packet to pay his rent and provide food he was content. As soon as his wellbeing was disturbed by famine, pestilence or war he became questioning and unhappy. If he heard about others whether in the next village to nearest town, receiving more he became dissatisfied… this was particularly so of the young. For much of Queen Victoria’s reign the country was comparatively stable. What applied – to normal behaviour, habit, custom, and pastime at the start of her reign, continued until the end. The effects of enclosure, bad harvests, the coming of the canals, steam, and the railways all had some effect on countryside life but it was a filtered change - slow to take full effect. What brought about massive change quickly was The First World War and its aftermath, a period she was not to see. Things would never be the same again in Merrie England!
Harry Collins was lucky in his choice of home. Others had to go to the village pump or collect rainwater. Rosalie Cottage had an abundant supply of clean sparkling water that never dried up even in the hottest summer. The new family had their first child Foster Fred a year after they moved in, in 1892. Thereafter they were blessed by the birth of fourteen more children, two being twins, over the next twenty-four years. Eight eventually married and six died whilst still young. Their cottage was of later build than their neighbour’s thatched homes, with a tiled roof, occupying a triangle of land between stream and road ringed on two sides by a low wall. The remaining side held an eight-foot high grassy bank peppered with an abundance of meadow flowers and fern, which when young has bright green fronds. At its foot runs a deep but narrow, gravel-bottomed, fast flowing brook - fed by numerous springs. This also drains the water running off Storridge Hill – the highest point around, and Monkham Down. Close to the cottage, the brook’s edge was lined with large stone blocks which prevented the water overflowing when in flood. Just over the small lane at the bottom of the garden, [St Margarets Lane], was Mr Jaco Parriss’ flint sided, tile-roofed cottage.
The brook, called ‘Water Lake,’ was not a lake at all but a slow stream which provided clear, sparkling water... alive with shoals of minnows. Lower down, watercress beds kept the water clear and fresh. This brook doubled as a convenient refrigerator for milk and butter in the summer... its waters irrigated the kitchen garden, filled the chicken’s bowls and flushed the privies. These rushing waters were slowed, lower down its course, by widening out to give space for untamed horseradish, brooklime, marsh marigold and crowsfoot. Its waters and wetland harvest explains why the cottage might have been built there in the first place.
While our family were on holiday we boys, up early - when excitement refused to allow us to linger in a warm bed, were out in the garden drawn by the temptations of the stream. The early morning sun’s rays caused the rounded pebbles laying at the stream's bottom to shimmer… its crystal clear water appeared like cut-glass, so sharp the shapes. The water, corralled by the edging stones on one side and the bank on the other, passes the backs of the cottages to enter a large pipe - that takes the water under the road bridge, and onwards towards Axminster. This convenient water had another use; carts for farm and home use had wooden wheels, even though having iron tyres fitted. One of the purposes for village ponds was to keep the wooden wheels from becoming too dry and shrinking.
By turning left out of the front gate, you could follow the course of the stream under the bridge – a ford when the road flooded. The fording place at the foot of the rise in Perry Street was wide and a water splash for the passage of carts. Above, the stone arched bridge, its parapets polished by the sleeves of countless travellers - carries the road that grandfather and his two sons took each evening… that led to the Poppe Inn. The water flows out of the pipe and swirls about creating a spreading pool - before the water - penned in once again, conforms to the line of the bank to continue its chuckling way towards the coombe.
Milk was always in plentiful supply; Harry worked at the Wiltshire United Dairies, butter factory, as did his son Hector They had ‘an arrangement’ with the dairy to provide them with butter. Anything extra that could not be afforded came from relatives who worked on the land or neighbours whose gardens produce a surplus. The dairy farm milked its own cows; filling the sterilized milk churns with fresh milk, to be delivered to each house in the village. The gaily-painted horse-drawn milk float – a two-wheeled cart open at the back with a step, for the driver holding the reins. It held a number of churns; the largest had a tap from which the white coated milkman, in formal peaked cap, filled the offered jug. When delivering to the door he carried the milk in a bucket, which he ladled out in pint or half pint measures. The horse knew the route and each house on the round… the milkman walking behind…
The farm worker’s lunch consisted of cheddar cheese and a large slice of bread and pickled onions - to be eaten in the field being worked on, or in the barn, first putting the nosebag on his horse… The milkman, usually in two-pound wedges, also delivered the cheese. The food was mainly homegrown and seasonal coming from Grandad’s kitchen garden. The diet never changed from one year to the next. It was fine when picked early in the season but proved to be hard tack later on when the beans old and stringy. What wasn’t eaten went into the chicken bucket; they did not seem to mind! Potatoes were the staple fare hardly ever mashed or roasted and not often cut up. They were plonked onto your plate with a knob of butter and liberally sprinkled with a tapped, knife-full, of salt. The rhubarb bed provided a continuous supple - like the potatoes, fine eaten in the season but hard, course and stingy, later on. Soon after the main crop of rhubarb, came the red and black currants or his prize gooseberries that seemed to last and last... to make gooseberry pie, tart, fool, pudding and jam. New french green beans, runners, peas and sugar pea.
The mushrooms from the field over the bank, the blackberries from the straggly hedge by the bridge and the wild apple up the lane next to the stile. Each year they gave their crop for us children to pick and grandma to cook. Whatever we brought home went into the pot. It was never wasted.It was a regular meal, to have roast chicken, one of the flock, taken from the bottom of the garden. It hung outside the backdoor ready to be plucked. No one could strip a bird quite like grandma who had it done in a trice. When cooked my brother and I claimed a leg each and as a special treat the parsons nose.
The shelves in the lean-to kitchen were packed with kilner jars. Either empty ready for filling or bearing their contents like a chemists shop. Most would bare blanched plum, greengage or damson. The bead-fringed muslin lay over the sugar jar above the curly treacly-coloured flypaper swaying in the breeze from the open door... bearing testimony to their worth. I close my eyes… imagine myself pressing the catch to the garden gate, and start to walk up the brick path… Then, smelling the box hedge, step into the hall greeted by yet another smell - now what is it… damp wood - slightly musty, could be old clothes? I go on… into the living room, now it’s stronger, like a bonfire - of burnt wood and ash, with a hint of lamp-oil and tobacco…
There was no time to linger – to stand and stare. Grandma would not let you stand idle. There were the eggs to collect, the chickens to feed and the washing to put out. 'Have you cleaned your-shoes-put-your-pencils-away-hung-up-your-jacket-made-your-bed-and-emptied-the-pail…', all said in a high-pitched cackle, with waved pointed finger like an orchestra conductor. There was no argument or discussion it was best to seek out grandpa in the shed and helps chop the wood...!