Somebody lost their marbles

April 20, 2014

Marbles are truly ancient toys. They have been found in the ashes of Pompeii which means the Romans used them more than 2000 years ago.

Mass production of clay marbles began in 1884 but it isn’t always possible to tell if such clay marbles are from the era of mass production, or from the era of one at a time making.

However, we do think that a couple of clay marbles that we have at Market Lavington Museum do date from the nineteenth century. Here is one of them.

One of two 19th century clay marbles found during renovations at the former Volunteer Arms.

One of two 19th century clay marbles found during renovations at the former Volunteer Arms.

Being a marble, the size is about 1 centimetre across.

We do not know who lost these marbles, but we do know they were found during renovations at the old Volunteer Arms pub on Church Street. Perhaps marbles was played as a pub game, out in the yard or maybe these toys belonged to family who lived there. For much of the nineteenth century this was a branch of the Potter family. They certainly didn’t lose their marbles in any other sense.

Dancing in the Parish Room

April 19, 2014

Uncaptioned photos are a bit of a nuisance. What we are looking at today is a group of people who appear to be doing a ‘grand chain’ as part of a country or barn dance.

Dancing in trhe old Parish Room in Market Lavington, possibly 1960s

Dancing in the old Parish Room in Market Lavington, possibly 1960s

We think this was probably in the 1960s. There’s a young man near the back who appears to have modelled himself somewhat on George Harrison of the Beatles.

This young man is something of a George Harrison lookalike

This young man is something of a George Harrison lookalike

The blobs are photographic error – not part of the suit – but we can just imagine all the older folk telling him to, ‘get your hair cut’.

We have no caption to tell us what the event was but perhaps it was a church social. None of the participants are named but we do know that Peggy Gye was amongst those present.


Perhaps some of this group might be identifiable.

We do have other photos of the same event which have been put in a scrap book by Peggy Gye at some point in the past.


That group has a man smoking – it wouldn’t be allowed these days – and could that be Sybil Perry at the far end?


This looks like Peggy Gye serving some refreshments.


Did they really play musical chairs?

We certainly get something of a feel of the old Parish Room here. At the time when we had this hall, it seemed fine and it did feel a sad day when it was demolished. But what a small, gloomy, cramped place it actually was when compared to our new (2007) Community Hall. Now that is a building our community can be truly proud of.

We also can remember that good honest wholesome fun was still available in those days, away from the TV and the as then un-thought of electronic devices of today.

Shem Butcher

April 18, 2014

It was back in 2012 that we came across the story of Shem and his donkey shay, pictured on October October 1st 1900 at Lavington Station – the day the railway line opened. Back then we hoped to come up with a better quality photo and we have got one that’s a bit better – excuse enough to revisit this wonderful story which was actually published in a 1930s newspaper. This time we have transcribed the story and here it is.


Our picture is not one of “the wonderful one-hoss shay” which Holmes immortalised in “The Deacon’s Masterpiece”. It is what might be aptly termed “Shem’s shay”.

Shem Butcher and his donkey cart - ready for a customer on the opening day at Lavington Station - October 1st 1900

Shem Butcher and his donkey cart – ready for a customer on the opening day at Lavington Station – October 1st 1900

To the younger generation it will appear to be only a picture – probably as an amusing one – but to the older residents of Devizes and around about, it is one in which they will recognise an old personality, who used to’ be as familiar in our Market Place as Drew’s pigeons. Those of the older school will recognise in it Mr. Shem Butcher and his donkey-cart, who in days gone by used to be a regular attendant at Devizes Market. Shem and his equipage were the observed of all the observers in those days – an old favourite with the locals and, his cart tied up with string and his donkey’s harness similarly kept together, were the subjects of curiosity on the part of those who saw them for the first time. Shem, now gathered to his fathers, was an old man, but it was a moot point whether he was senior in years to his donkey. What has happened to his faithful companion we do not know; according to the laws of nature it should now be enjoying its last rest, but seeing that the “oldest inhabitants” are said to have rarely seen a dead donkey one would hesitate to say that Neddy has brayed for the last time.

Shem and his shay, as seen in the illustration, are drawn outside Lavington railway station, upon the first day when the Stert – Westbury route of the Great Western Railway to the West was opened. It was there that the photographer Burgess’s camera made a picture of them which has now become historic. Upon the opening of the route the writer was at Patney Station when the first train steamed in from the Lavington direction on a beautiful October morning in 1900. But it is obvious that he went to the-wrong place from the point of view of public interest. That was surely at Lavington, where, according to an endorsement on the back of the photograph, Shem’s shay represented “the first public vehicle that plied for hire at Lavington station upon its opening.” Whether it was patronised by any of the passengers we are not told. For years after the route was opened the photograph was given a place on one of the walls of the station. It remained until, having regard to the changes which the efflux of time brought, the picture began to lose its significance because those who knew Shem Butcher became fewer and fewer. Eventually the photograph became the property of Mr. H.J. Sainsbury, the local builder, which was appropriate, as it was Mr. Sainsbury who, in a light spring cart which he made himself, drawn by a fine little upstanding cob, took the first load of goods either to, or from, the local railway station.

Shem was often the butt of jokes on the part of the younger generation, and a story as to that is perhaps worth telling. The donkey and cart were standing unattended in the drive of Clyffe Hall at Market Lavington while the aged owner was doing business inside the house. A few young rascals of the locality came along and removed the donkey and cart to the other side of the road, where the Awdrys used to have their cricket pitch. There was situate a five-bar gate, which was locked, but one of the perpetrators of the joke had the key. He with the contrivance of the other young scallywags, unlocked the gate, unhitched the donkey from the cart, and Put the shafts through the bars, hitching Neddy in again on one side of the gate with the cart on the other. Then they locked the gate and awaited the arrival of the owner. What Shem said can be imagined. The culprits of the incident were in hiding, and eventually one of them, having heard the owner’s story, “happened to have a key in his pocket and wondered if it would fit and unlock the gate!” Needless to say it did.

Mr. Butcher who latterly resided in a cottage adjacent to the Clock Inn at Lydeway was formerly a farmer at Cheverell Common, having a herd of some 20 cows. He made a speciality of producing mangold seed, with which in those days he supplied a number of farmers in the neighbourhood.

It may be of interest to recall that this first section of the new short route to the West from Stert to Westbury was opened for goods traffic at the end of July 1900 and for passengers on 1 October the same year. From the new station, called Patney and Chirton, to which the single line of the old Berks and Hants extension railway from Hungerford had already been doubled, it is 14½ miles long, and for the first mile runs alongside the old line to Devizes. Save for a brick viaduct, 120 yards long and 40 feet high, near Lavington, there are no engineering features worth mentioning, but the earthwork was heavy and much trouble and delay was caused in the early stages by slips. Until the opening of the Castle Cary and Langport line, which had not then been begun, its only effect was to shorten the distance between London and Weymouth, and of course all stations below Westbury, by 14½ miles. This, however, was of some importance in connection with the competitive Channel Islands traffic, which was constantly increasing. Two new twin-screw boats, Reindeer and Roebuck, similar to Ibex, had been placed on the station and a summer daylight service established in 1897, in addition to the regular night service.

A Message in a Bottle

April 17, 2014

This is another under the floorboards posting – but this time with a difference for today we look at something deliberately placed under floorboards when a new building was erected.

Somewhat more than 100 years ago Market Lavington decided it needed what was, in effect, a village hall but which was always called The Parish Room. A site was located on High Street, more or less opposite the Workman’s Hall, money was raised and construction got under way. The building was completed in 1908 and it served the community well until 1996 when it was demolished to make more space for the Nursing Home.

In 1907, the builders and the movers and shakers who got things organised, put a list of names on a piece of paper, put the paper in a bottle and rested it under the floorboards.

And there it stayed until 1948 when the floor needed some replacement. The message in a bottle was found, photographed and replaced and it is these photos we see today.

Builders of the old Parish Room in Market Lavington. The list was left in a bottle, under the floorboards.

Builders of the old Parish Room in Market Lavington. The list was left in a bottle, under the floorboards.

We start with the committee, headed by the Vicar who would have been J A Sturton at the time. With him were J E Gye, G Bishop and J H Merritt. The Gyes were carpenters, George Bishop was a builder and John Merritt was a blacksmith. Possibly the trades were deemed potentially useful in the building work.

The paid workers, who built the hall were; J James, F Burgess, W Ring, H Dole, P Lie?? and J Goodall.

In addition there were free workers, J H Merritt, S Axford, G Gillett, ? Hussey, Mr Sea, A Baker etc. Mr Lea was the architect.

The other side of the paper has been signed and dated.

Reverse of the list - signed by W Ring

Reverse of the list – signed by W Ring

It was signed by W Ring on November 16th 1907. Presumably this was when the flooring was completed.

Sad to say, we do not know what became of bottle and message when the hall was demolished in 1996. It would be good if it was preserved somewhere.

But at least we have a photograph and that should enable us to find out more about the men who built the old Parish Room.

Widening the road

April 16, 2014

The year is 1993. Maybe the car is still king for it had been decided to improve the main road which runs through the Lavingtons to make it wider, straighter and faster. Twenty years on it may seem this was a mistake as long lengths of the improved road now carry permanent speed limits and parked cars in the villages do a wonderful job of making sure traffic passes through slowly.

In fact, when these schemes were planned, many people thought it was to make life easier for the cruise missiles which used the road on their way up onto Salisbury Plain. If that was the case there’s a certain irony in the fact that the decision had been taken to get rid of these missiles by the time the roads were improved.

Road widening in progress at Eastcott in 1993

Road widening in progress at Eastcott in 1993

Our first photo sets the scene in Eastcott where a sign records what was happening.

The sign gives us all the information

The sign gives us all the information

A new surface is laid

A new surface is laid

The scale of the works was quite large – and other stretches of the road were similarly – or even more massively, re-engineered.

Was there any advantage in the end? We do not know the figures, but maybe accidents have been reduced. Perhaps, journey times are a few seconds quicker than they otherwise would have been. And of course, those harsh new surfaces soon weather in and these days nobody will realise this was once a narrower route.

Helena May Elisha

April 15, 2014

We have met Helena before on this blog. It would be impossible not to come across this wonderful lady if talking about Market Lavington in the 20th century.

Helena came into this world in 1903 at a time when her grandfather’s horse bus service was the main link between Lavington and Devizes although that was beginning to founder with the opening of the railway and Lavington Station in 1900. Helena, who was always known as May, lived with her parents on Parsonage Lane. Ed Potter, her father, was assisting his father in the business interests he had, by working on the farm.

We know that Canadian Soldiers were billeted with the Potters at one time. Maybe they inspired May to want to do her bit for she worked on the land and later did Red Cross work too.

She was still Miss Potter when she started teaching the infants at the Market Lavington School. That was a job she had for life and people in the village in their nineties recall being taught by Miss Potter and some perceptive sub 40 year olds recall that Mrs Elisha still came in to do supply work on occasion. But teaching at the day school was not enough and Miss Potter also was the Sunday School teacher. When May married Bill Elisha in 1929, the children all clubbed together and bought the couple a clock.

Perhaps sadly, the Elishas had no children of their own, but May had an extensive family of real relatives and an even wider family of the children in Market Lavington.

After retirement, May continued to serve the village. She became a member of the Parish Council – Husband Bill had once been chairman.

This news clipping recalls her long years of service.

Mrs Elisha of Market Lavington receives a gift for 31 years as a Parish Councillor

Mrs Elisha of Market Lavington receives a gift for 31 years as a Parish Councillor

The hand written note tells us this was in the Wiltshire Gazette on 18th October 1990. May is looking frail, but we learn she had only recently retired from her 31 year stint on the Parish Council. She is being given some photos of old Market Lavington by fellow councillor Bob Francis.

May died about a year after this photo was taken.

Sadly, the other person in the photo, Bob Francis died before the end of the 20th century as well.

The Volunteer Arms

April 14, 2014

Time was, and not so long ago, that Market Lavington had four pubs. At the time of writing it still has two and one of them is up for sale.

Today we look at a newspaper ad for the old Volunteer Arms which closed in the 1980s. The advert dates from 1981 and was published in the Wiltshire Gazette.

1981 newspaper ad for the Volunteer Arms in Market Lavington

1981 newspaper ad for the Volunteer Arms in Market Lavington

Aah! Memories of past times! Lavington still had its own telephone exchange and we all had easy to remember four digit phone numbers in those days. And memories of a time when you could buy a three course Sunday lunch for just £3.75.

Pubs always need to look for fresh ways to encourage people in and here the pub, often just called the ‘Volley’ have hit on the idea of a Spanish evening. This was the era of package tours to the Spanish Costas.

The ad has a nice little sketch of the pub – rather nice as this was not a well photographed view.

As to the prices – that £6.50 is at least £20 in present day terms. Maybe it was not such a cheap night out.

Jubilee Bunting

April 13, 2014

It is always good to receive items of art or craft produced by the many talented folks who live in Market Lavington and Easterton. We were recently given a triangular pennant, used as bunting as part of the W.I.’s Diamond Jubilee of the queen celebrations in 2012. The pennant, we believe, was used alongside similar items from other branches of the Women’s Institute at various get-togethers the association had.

Our pennant was made by Jeannie who is also prolific amongst the local quilters. It depicts an Easterton scene on one side.

Easterton depicted on a pennant made in 2012

Easterton depicted on a pennant made in 2012

What we see here is the village pump in Easterton.

The Market Lavington side shows the road up Lavington Hill leading to the vedette (the gate) on the edge of the military range with the red warning flag flying.

The road up Lavington Hill is on the other side of the pennant

The road up Lavington Hill is on the other side of the pennant

We’d like to thank the WI for this donation.

The bottom of White Street, Easterton

April 12, 2014

Once upon a time, if you turned into White Street there was Kandy Cottage and the bakery before you reached Court Close Farm.


Bottom of White Street, Easterton before road improvements...

Bottom of White Street, Easterton before road improvements…


The scene looked like this, and as we have seen before it now looks like this.

...and after 'improvements'

…and after ‘improvements’

This was done to allow traffic to go faster in those days when cars and drivers dictated what happened. It is the remnant of the building that we’ll look at today.

The last remnant of the old building in 2014

The last remnant of the old building in 2014

If this building looks familiar then it could be because we saw it in a painting that Mike was doing at the Community Hall open day. This is the photo that Mike was using.

It is in a sad state and as Court Close Farm and its buildings, including this one, has recently sold, then this rather ancient structure must be at risk.

Despite its state, it has a real charm about it although we struggle to see how it fitted in to any of the original buildings. Perhaps it can be saved, but if not at least we have photographic evidence.

Community Hall Users

April 11, 2014

It seems like no time at all since Peggy Gye, in one of her last public engagements, cut the ribbon to declare the Community Hall open.

Peggy Gye with Peter Furminger declare Market Lavington Community Hall open - September 20th 2007

Peggy Gye with Peter Furminger declare Market Lavington Community Hall open – September 20th 2007

In fact this event was in 2007, nearly seven years ago and sadly both of those leading personalities, facing the camera, have now died. Peggy is about to enter the hall and Peter Furminger who had been chairman of the hall committee stands by to allow Peggy to be the first person to enter the hall.

This year the hall has been recognised with a top level accreditation for its running – undoubtedly well deserved. At the end of March 2014 organisations that use the hall were invited to have a stand to tell the public what they did. Not all the regular users were able to attend, but there was a cross section of village activities on show.

We of the museum had a stand which not only allowed us to talk to the public – and no less than 20 new (to us) photos and one other artefact arrived at the museum as a result. We could also record the event so that future folk can see what went on in a thriving village in 2014.

Let’s start with the churches. There are two church communities based in Market Lavington but they celebrated their oneness by sharing a stand and being truly ecumenical with the people manning it.


The backdrop there belonged to the quilters who also took a table – not to mention walls etc.


The scouts and cubs had a table and were able to show off a recently won scrapheap challenge trophy.

What a fab trophy for their model of a cresta run with all sorts of moving parts.


There is a thriving short mat bowls club in the hall.


They had an attractive stand and lots of information.

The Parish Council were there, both for real and in photographic form.


Many other organisations were there including the table tennis club, tai chi, the Day Centre etc.

But for us at the museum it was the art group who stole the show. We were able to watch Mike at work, being given advice by the tutor.

And there is Mike with the painting he was working on which depicts a threatened building in Easterton.


It was a good day for us at the museum and a day like this helps the hall to maintain its high standards.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 191 other followers