Securing our history for the future

Bawdrip Memories

Article from Bridgwater Mercury November 1988

“We were paying 12/6d a week to rent a bungalow and then we decided to take a chance and have this house built. That was in I936.  It cost us £400 and we had to have a mortgage of 12/9d a week and a lot of people in Bawdrip said I wouldn’t like to take that on it could be a millstone round your necks.

Many People paying hundreds of pounds a month for their mortgage will smile a trifle bitterly at this memory from 76 year old Mr John Conduit, who still lives in that sturdy three bedroom detached house with its large garden.

But when Mr Conduit and his wife Winifred Ella took the decision to build their new home he was earning just £2.l2s a week as an employee of the Somerset Drainage Board.

“I worked for them for 25 years and l remember someone saying they had never seen a dolphin swimming above Burnham. But one day when we were working at Dunball we found a dolphin stranded in a pool along the River Parrett. We took it back to Bawdrip and I had my picture taken with it”.

After leaving the drainage board Mr Conduit went to work for the ROF at Puriton; staying with them for 25 years.

Mr Conduit, who was born in Bawdrip, says the village has changed a great deal over the years. He especially remembers the days when they had their own roadman, Mr Jack May, who swept the lanes, cut the hedges and picked every scrap of litter.

“Old Jack did a very good job and the village always looked spotless.”

One of the oldest people in the area is 93 year old Mr Charles Wheeler who was brought to the Bawdrip when was aged five.

He left school at the age of 13 and went to work as a garden goy at the rectory. When the First World War broke out Mr Wheeler volunteered for the Royal Field Artillery.

In l9l5 he was sent to France and fought in most of the major battles as a driver with the fourth division. Of those terrible days he says: “You simply can’t explain what it was like to those who were not there.”

At the end of the war he caught flu which turned into pneumonia and was sent to a former lunatic asylum at Newcastle for treatment.

“I was put in a large ward with other very sick men and they were dying like flies. There were Union jacks laid over lots of beds and it was awful.”

 When he returned to Bawdrip Mr Wheeler went to work as a gardener at Knowle Hall, then the home of Lord Fitzgerald,` and recalls that Lady Fitzgerald was known as one of the seven beauties of London.

At one time there used to be a folly in the grounds, a tower and some ruins made to look like a chateau.

They were built for the wife of a previous owner, Madame Greenhill, who was a Frenchwoman and very homesick?

Mr Wheeler remembers, with a wry smile, how one of his friends once bought a small cottage in the village for £16. The same cottage was sold a few years ago for £46,000.

In the 1880s there were 35 farms in the village, now there are only six, says Mr Eddie Crane, of Church Farm. His is oldest farming family in the parish and was founded by his great grandfather and great grandmother, who were cheese makers at Manor Farm and Peasey Farm.

They started farming with a few acres and since then the family bought a field here and there when land became available so that now we farm about 360 acres.

“I remember my grandmother used to say the north aisle of the church was the “cream end” because it was reserved for the farmers and gentry.”

Today Church Farm is worked by Mr Crane and his brother Dennis, helped by their father and mother, Mr and Mrs Jack Crane, who are semi-retired. Eddie Crane is a parish councillor and every five days the clock at the beautifully kept 13th century church of St Michaels

Another person with many vivid farming memories is Mrs Rose Fisher, who was born in 1904, one of a family of 12 daughters. She left school at the age of 11 to go milking for her father.

“In those days all the cows were milked in the fields and it was hard work for a little girl because I had to be up at five o’clock and we milked in all weathers, frost and snow and rain. Things have certainly changed in the village and in the old days we used to have a lot more social life. My father started out as a miner in South Wales and by his own efforts he managed to buy a couple of houses there and then came to this country. He was quite a businessman and bought a couple of quarries. When all my sisters left home to go into service I stayed behind to help dad.”

“I used to take loads of stone into Bridgwater by horse and cart to be crushed for lime and l also remember how excited we were when it was Carnival and fair time. I remember the torches and the great horses drawing the floats. I believe it was a lot more colourful and exciting in those days than now. Over the years my father built a number of houses in the village and in his will he left one house and a field to each surviving daughter.”

Another well-known person in the village is Miss Ellen Mabel Gilbert, who is known to all as Cissy.

She is alert and energetic and still looks after her very large garden, despite her 75 years.

She worked for some years at the local school, as an assistant, serving dinners and finally as a cleaner.

“In those days the school was heated by two coke stoves and they were lit every Sunday afternoon for the whole week.”

Next to her little cottage is the ironically named Manor House, once supposed to be the smallest inhabited place in the country. It is really just a large stone shed, with one room up and one down, a staircase and a small fireplace.

Recalls Miss Gilbert: “They say a very tall man used to live there and it was so small he had to go outside every time he wanted to put his coat on.”

Bawdrip is a very old village, it was mentioned in the Doomsday Book, and has a number of ancient homes. One is Combe Cottage, which dates from 1629 and is the home of Mr and Mrs John Tait.

Mrs Joy Tait, who was connected with the flower guild and also a committee member of the local Women’s Institute, recalls that her cottage was once owned by a Mr Hector,

“At that time it was thatched and the story goes that he never went to bed until the last train had passed along the embankment beside the cottage because he was afraid of sparks setting fire to the thatch.”

Those who drive along the madhouse that is the main Bath Road will have only a fleeting glimpse of Bawdrip, for the official village sign stands at the outer edge of the parish on the main road.

But those who turn off down the side road will find a delightful little community, calm and sheltered, clustered round its beautiful little church. Long may it stay that way.

The original article is here click to open