The Smiths

Names and occupations can be awkward. In Market Lavington we have Bakers who were tinsmiths, Potters who ran a bus service and many of our Smiths were pond diggers.

Pond digging is not a major occupation these days, but when animals were kept on chalk hills, before the days of mains water, some supply was needed. But chalk is porous and it took skill, knowledge and perseverance to create a pond in a spot where it would fill with natural water and so provide this vital liquid for farm animals.

These ponds are often called dewponds but in truth they relied on rainfall. The Smith family of Market Lavington were famed for their pond making skills throughout the South of England. Much of Wiltshire is chalk land so they did a great deal of work in their home county. If you look at censuses and search for Smith born in Market Lavington they crop up scattered around the countryside and the occupation, invariably, is pond digger for the men folk camped or took lodgings where they worked leaving the women and children back at home which might have been on White Street in market Lavington.

As time went on and the family grew and spread other branches, away from Market Lavington continued working on the ponds. Our photo shows that the firm was based in Basingstoke as well as Market Lavington.

The Smith family and workers at a pond dig - a photo at Market Lavington Museum

Smith signboard and dog

At the time of the 1901 census Charles J Smith was 45 and was working at Chute in East Wiltshire. A 19 year old Charles Smith, perhaps a son, was with him.

At Market Lavington Museum, we are lucky to have a recording made by Sybil Perry, a descendant of the Smith family who explains the rather complex process of pond making. We also have other artefacts used by pond diggers.

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