Posts Tagged ‘Fiddington’

The Andover and Radstock Railway

July 15, 2016

Just how different would Market Lavington had been if this proposed railway line had actually been built? Probably it would have transformed the place which was at the end of its life as a market town to rival Devizes when the line was proposed.

We do not know the precise route the line might have taken, but some evidence has emerged in the shape of an auction sale document for land at Fiddington.

Auction catalogue page for land at Fiddington

Auction catalogue page for land at Fiddington

The sale was of land in Fiddington and the auction was to be held at the Workman’s Hall on Wednesday 16th May 1866. And the plots are advertised as being within a quarter of a mile of the proposed railway.


We believe the line might have passed more or less along The Clays – right in the heart of Market Lavington.

We do know that James Neate upped sticks and brought his wine, spirit and brewing business to Market Lavington believing this railway would bring much prosperity to the area. He survived financially (just) without the railway.

Rails eventually reached the parish in 1900. The local station was nearly two miles away from the village centre. Had that Andover to Radstock line been built there would have been a village centre station.


West Lavington Poor Rate Survey

April 9, 2016


Now why do we have this elderly looking book- it dates from 1840 – about West Lavington? The answer is simple. Back at the time this book was produced the parish of West Lavington contained areas later transferred into Market Lavington. The main area was the one called Fiddington.

This book contains information about who owned what and who lived where in Fiddington.

Here’s a sample.

A sample list of plots and properties

A sample list of plots and properties

This section is all lumped together because it all belonged to one person and was occupied by one person. We can see the size of each plot and the total and the estimated rental value and rateable value are given. Across the double spread page we get the people concerned.

This tells us that this area was owned by William Davis and occupied by John Hayward at that time.

But just where is it all? Along with the book there is a map of the tithing of Fiddington and each plot is numbered. Our map has been annotated by an earlier owner so has the names of each plot pencilled on. So here we see a section of the map which is a long thin map to reflect the shape of Fiddington.

A small section of the associated tithe map

A small section of the associated tithe map

We can easily pick out plot 760 Dr Batter’s Hill which is the first plot named in the above extract. The whole map makes locations clear.

So a handy document which names each field. Potential visitors interested in more of West Lavington should note that we do not have the map but we have the values and occupiers of the properties.

Diana Benson

February 27, 2015

Diana Whishaw Benson was born in 1913. The birth was registered in the Bath district to parents John Benson and Enid (née) Whishaw. Both had connections with Tsarist Russia. Enid was born there in 1891 and John had worked in Russia. He was considerably older than Enid having been born in 1869.

The couple married in Bath in 1912 but soon after John, who was a doctor, took Fiddington Asylum in Market Lavington. The asylum was the backdrop to Diana’s childhood. Her sister, Barbara was born in 1915 and a brother, Ian in 1920. Their births were registered in the Devizes area – quite correctly for a family living in Market Lavington.

People who knew Diana all comment on her beauty. This photograph of her as a young adult certainly gives that impression.

image002Diana grew up to be a talented musician. She obtained her licentiate of the Royal College of Music in 1933 when she was just 19 and made her debut as a professional pianist at Bournemouth in June of that year.

Diana was renowned for having a fiery temperament. Apparently on one occasion she was playing the piano for her aunts during which one of her aunts turned to another and said “Evelyn dear, do give me a recipe for your scones“. Diana slammed down the piano and left the room.

Diana Benson married Gerald (known as John) Atkinson on 19th September 1936 at Alderholt near Fordingbridge. The bridesmaid on the right is Diana’s sister, Barbara Benson. Alderholt had become the home of Diana’s parents.


John was a naval officer and during World War II he was based in Malta. He was able to take his wife. However, a problem arose over her grand piano which could not be taken. Diana decided her piano was more important to her than her husband. They divorced in 1940.

Meanwhile Diana was building a reputation as a pianist. A search through the Radio Times archive reveals five occasions when she is named as the pianist for a radio broadcast.

26 August 1938 21.00


Conductor, W. J. Cotton  Diana Benson (pianoforte)

  1. J. Cotton, conductor of this choir, comes from a musical family. His father and five brothers were singers in Dawlish parish church choir, and his two sons were choristers in Exeter Cathedral choir. His daughter is also a well-known singer. He himself was a member of the celebrated male voice quartet, the Isca Glee Singers, and sings in Exeter Cathedral.

21 January 1939 11.00


by Diana Benson  (West of England)

13 June 1939 18.00


Rita Owton (contralto)  Diana Benson (pianoforte)  Frederick Harvey (baritone)

24 July 1939 18.40


by Diana Benson (pianoforte)  Nocturne in C minor, Op. 48 Prelude in F, Op. 28, No. 23 Berceuse, Op. 57  Scherzo in C sharp minor, Op. 39

23 June 1940  11.45


two of his piano pieces played by Diana Benson

Diana was well enough thought of for a composer/pianist, Herbert Fryer to dedicate a piece called ‘My Love’s an Arbutus’ to Diana. You can hear this piano piece, played by Philip Sear here. .

After her divorce Diana became a Roman Catholic (we believed she toyed with becoming a nun) and settled down at the Fiddington Lodge which had enough space for her and her beloved piano.


Local children, in those pre-television days, found that standing outside Fiddington Lodge and listening to Diana play her piano provided free entertainment. One of the youngsters, Lily, had been made the Goddaughter of Diana when she was confirmed into the Catholic church. She had the luxury of being able to listen from the inside. Lily has a real fondness for her former Godmother and recalls trips out, probably to Alderholt where Diana’s parents still lived.

Former husband, John Atkinson, had less pleasing memories. Apparently he chanced to meet his ex-spouse one day and he described the experience as “not unlike standing on a rake in such a way that the handle leaps up and belts you in the face”.

Diana died on 20th February 1966. She was aged just 53 and Lily recalls bad health dogged Diana’s later life. She also has a memory that Lily may have gone to Scotland which may explain her absence from the England and Wales death register.


Diana plays her piano

With thanks to Lily Rose of Market Lavington, Goddaughter, Vivienne Kevan (niece) and also to the website of Turtle Banbury at

Charles Hitchcock

February 8, 2015

Charles Hitchcock owned and supervised the Fiddington House asylum for much of the second half of the nineteenth century.

Fiddington, as ever, provides a slight inconvenience in that the area with that name was in West Lavington (although physically separated from the main part of that parish) and later it was transferred to Market Lavington.

But Charles started life, born at Cliffe Pypard which is to the north of Avebury, in Wiltshire. He was born about 1812 and we know nothing of his early life. In fact the first firm date we have is that of his marriage to Elinor Knight on 29th December 1835 at Piddlehinton in Dorset.

From the birth and baptism records of his children (at Market Lavington Church), we think that Charles was probably working at Fiddington House by the time of the 1841 census, but not living at Fiddington. We cannot trace Charles on the 1841 census which suggests he lived in the parish of Market Lavington. The 1841 census for Market Lavington has not survived.

But in 1851 we can find Charles as the proprietor of Fiddington House asylum, living on the premises which were then in West Lavington, with wife Elinor and five children all of whom had the middle name, Knight, and all of whom are listed as born in Market Lavington. Their ages varied from 1 up to 12. We know of other children who, sadly, died.

For the 1861 census, Charles was away from home, perhaps engaged in one of his hobbies for he was at Hythe in Kent and listed as Lt of Volunteers (Lieutenant?). Elinor, his wife, was at Fiddington, along with two daughters one of whom was married to a man serving in the Canadian Rifles.

It would have been about this time that Charles acquired the magic lantern projector we have featured before on this site.

In 1871 Charles was still in charge at Fiddington, with Elinor his wife, and a married daughter and family with him.

Elinor died in 1876 aged 62. She is buried in the churchyard at Market Lavington and the burial record says she lived in Easterton. But in 1881 Charles was still in harness at Fiddington. In fact we have featured a directory advert for Fiddington House, with Dr Hitchcock that was published in 1880. Click here to see it.

Charles was still at Fiddington in 1891, but now he was with his second wife. He married Mary Jane Weekes in 1889 when he was aged 77 and she was a mere 38. She was a Market Lavington born governess. Maybe that’s why our photo shows him looking so sprightly.


Charles Hitchcock (1812-95), physician and owner of Fiddington House Asylum

Charles died in 1895 and is buried in Market Lavington churchyard.

Six years later, in 1901, we find Mary Jane living on her own means at Weston on the edge of Bath

Fiddington Lodge

February 7, 2015

Time was when the area where the Fiddington Clays estate now stands was the site of the asylum. Fiddington House had been run for over 130 years as a private enterprise home for people with nervous disorders until the end came in the 1960s. Here we see the Fiddington Lodge house shortly before demolition.

Fiddington Lodge in about 1960

Fiddington Lodge in about 1960

For many years this had been the home of Diana Benson. Older residents in the area recall standing outside the Lodge hearing her play her piano. Diana was a part of the family who owned the asylum but music was her forte. She might have been a professional pianist but war and life intervened. She had a rather short lived marriage which foundered over the question of taking her piano to Malta during World War II. Diana, it seems chose her piano over her husband. Later she became a nun.

We’d love a picture of Diana at the museum. Has anybody out there got one they could copy and send to us?

Doctor Donald Hood

October 27, 2014

We were recently asked if we knew anything of Dr Hood, born Market Lavington, who featured in a book about the Duke of Rutland. We had to find out more, so here is what we now know.

We started by finding Donald on the 1901 census.

Donald Hood found on the 1901 census

Donald Hood found on the 1901 census

So there is Donald W C Hood, consulting physician at 43 Green Street, Westminster aged 53 born Market Lavington, married to Alice and with several children.

This enabled us to find Donald on the 1851 census.

Donald Hood, aged 3 in 1851

Donald Hood, aged 3 in 1851

And there he is, aged 3 and living in Clapham in South London but born in Lavington. Donald’s father, William Charles was a doctor of medicine in practice and his mother was Jane. Donald had a younger sister and brother, both born in Lavington. The younger brother has been given the forename of Willett and this offers a clue to the family. Jane, his mother was born Jane Willett and she married William Charles Hood in the Devizes district (so probably at Lavington) in the summer of 1846. Jane, we assume, was a relative of Robert Willett who owned the Fiddington Asylum.

The following extract is from .

Fiddington House at Market Lavington was originally intended for pauper patients. In 1829 the justices licensed Robert Willett, a non-medical man, for the reception of about 72 patients; the medical attendant visited the house twice a week. The visitors reported the house to be clean and comfortable and that restraint when used was of ‘the mildest and most simple nature’. At a later date the Lunacy Commissioners reported that the use of restraint was habitual. The original asylum consisted of detached buildings mostly of one story, some with stone floors and without ceilings. Considerable overcrowding occurred around 1846 when about 200 patients were received although the premises were only licensed for 175 patients. Charles Hitchcock received the licence in 1850 and soon after the opening of the county asylum the pauper patients were transferred. The number of private patients for which Fiddington was licensed in 1862 was 24 male and 26 female. Reports on the house became more favourable and in 1882 the accommodation was described as plain but comfortable at an average cost of £100 a year.

We believe that Dr Hood, the father of Donald was that Medical attendant who worked with Robert Willett. Further evidence comes from

Sir William Charles Hood

b.1824 d.4 Jan 1870 MD St And FRCP Edin FRCP (1863) JP

Charles Hood was born at Lambeth, the son of a doctor, and sent to school at Brighton. He was admitted to Trinity College, Dublin, at the age of seventeen, but acquired his professional training at Guy’s Hospital, qualifying in 1845 and taking the St. Andrews degree in the year following. He held an early appointment as resident physician to a private asylum, Fiddington House, Devizes, but was soon made the first medical superintendent of Colney Hatch. In 1852 he obtained the same post at the Bethlem Hospital, where for ten years he worked indefatigably for the improvement of the patients’ conditions, and particularly for the segregation of the criminal insane. He resigned on appointment as a Lord Chancellor’s visitor in lunacy. He was elected treasurer of Bridewell and Bethlem Hospitals in 1868, the year of his knighthood. He died in the treasurer’s house at Bridewell.

So, Donald was born in Lavington whilst his father was medical superintendant at the Fiddington Asylum.

But Donald causes confusion by not being clear about his birth place. The 1871 census has his birth place just recorded as Wiltshire. In 1881 the enumerator has written Potten. In 1891 his birthplace is given as Fiddington. Maybe Donald was confused because until the 1870s Fiddington had been part of West Lavington and various land transfers took place which saw it transferred to Market Lavington. Donald would not have remembered his time in Wiltshire and may not fully have grasped the changes in parish boundaries which affected his birthplace.

However, in 1911, the first census to be actually written by householders, Donald has made a clear entry of Potterne as his birthplace.

Donald was certainly involved in medical controversy as highlighted by his views on appendicitis. This article comes from the Ryde Social History Group at

In 1910 the English surgeon Dr Donald Hood caused considerable worldwide interest with his assertion of the infectious nature of appendicitis.

A distinguished surgeon, who has had great experience of appendicitis, has been suggesting in the columns of the Lancet that the complaint is contagious. He points out how much more frequent and severe are cases of appendicitis than they used to be, and how often the members of the same household are seized with it in quick succession, and surgeons are attacked by it after operating on patients suffering from this complaint. It is now suggested that there must be a particular microbe that causes appendicitis, which on this hypothesis is set up by contagion. It seems rather difficult to suppose that there is a microbe which acts only on the appendix, but now that the suggestion has been made, pathologists will be on the look-out for the hypothetical microbe, and if it really exists it should not be long before it is discovered. Unhappily, the surgeons of the day are afforded numerous opportunities of detecting it by the frequency of operations for the removal of the appendix.  Source: Isle of Wight Observer 18 June 1910

We now turn to the part Donald played in the strange story of the Duke of Rutland and we have an article published in the Leicester Mercury for October 25th 2012

When historian Catherine Bailey was invited to chronicle the history of the Duke of Rutland’s family during the First World War, she uncovered a secret which had remained hidden for more than 60 years. Reporter Peter Warzynski talks to the author about her discoveries…
When John Henry Montagu Manners, the 9th Duke of Rutland, died of pneumonia on April 22, 1940, he was remembered as a soldier who fought with comrades on the Western Front.
His name and rank formed the centrepiece at the chapel at Belvoir Castle as a tribute to his virtuous war record.
But the Duke had spent his final days locked in a dank room at the castle, frantically trying to erase any record of his involvement in the Great War.
In all, 249 men from the Belvoir estate were killed fighting on the frontline in France between 1914 and 1918. The Duke was never among them.
Despite leading the Remembrance Day parade through Rutland year after year and presiding over the ceremony, his supposed military service was a sham – but not one of his own making.
His mother, Violet Manners, the 8th Duchess of Rutland, used her considerable persuasive powers and position to approach Lord Kitchener and Sir John French, the Commander in Chief of the Western Front, to keep her son from the fighting.
Eventually, she rigged a series of medical examinations and dashed any hopes John had of battling in the trenches in Ypres with his regiment – the 4th Battalion Leicestershire (the Tigers).
In the years before he died, ashamed of his sham military service, the Duke became reclusive as he obsessed over the family’s meticulous records.
His aim was to erase any reference to his military past and rewrite the family’s history – and he succeeded.
However, the truth did not come to light until historian Catherine Bailey began combing through the records in 2008.
“The archive was prist-ine,” she said. “It went all the way back to the 12th century and included tens of-thousands of documents.
“But when I began studying them, I noticed gaps.”
On April 22, 1940, the Leicester Mercury reported “with great regret that the Duke of Rutland, head of the ancient family of Manners, died at his seat”.
The article paid tribute to the 53-year-old, stating: “He went to the front in February 1915, serving with the rank of Captain.”
Catherine said: “The family had no idea John had altered documents and letters and rewritten history. It was only when I unearthed a small trunk containing more letters I was able piece together the clues and unravel what had happened.”
Catherine first entered the Muniment Room at Belvoir Castle – where the family archives are kept – in 2008, after the Duke and Duchess of Rutland agreed to let her research the family for a book about the First World War.
“My original idea was to write about a great family during the Great War and the Duke and Duchess agreed to take part. But after just a few months, I noticed things were missing from the records,” she said
Catherine found three gaps – 1894, 1909 and 1915 – in the otherwise perfect chronological archive.
“It soon became a detective story,” she said.
The first gap related to the death of John’s brother, Haddon.
“When John was eight his brother died, but the reason for the death was not what the family believed had happened to him.”
Catherine stops there. “I don’t want to give too much of the book away,” she explains.
“John was banished from Belvoir Castle on the day of Haddon’s funeral and spent most of his childhood years estranged from his parents.
“That event is the key to his character and shaped the rest of his life.”
Haddon’s death shook Violet, his mother, who made no secret of the fact he was her favourite.
But the tragic event had further implications. Were anything to happen to John, she would lose her money and privileges when her husband – the 8th Duke – died.
His title and estate would be handed over to his half-brother, leaving Violet penniless.
Catherine believes the Duchess’s efforts to keep her only son from the frontline were motivated by neurosis rather than love.
“She did everything she could to prevent him from fighting on the frontline, because the most likely outcome of being on the Western Front was being killed,” she said.
It was true John was a Captain in the 4th Battalion, Leicestershire Regiment before it was absorbed into the 46th North Midland Division.
He was appointed aide-de-camp to General Edward Montagu-Stuart-Wortley, a role which included instructing soldiers in Britain.
However, when he was sent to Ypres, France, in 1915, much to his frustration, he only witnessed the Great War from the safety of Goldfish Chateaux, the Army’s regional headquarters.
John’s exclusion from the carnage of the frontline was due to his mother’s relentless interference.
Violet wrote letters to GHQ (General Headquarters) and General Wortley and even pressured her daughter into seducing a man whom she thought would be able to influence senior officers.
She finally turned to family physician Dr Donald Hood to give false evidence about John’s health, claiming he had recurring dysentery.
“The more I got to know him, the more his story became a tragic one,” said Catherine. “For the first year of the war he did all he could to fight with the men of the 4th Leicesters.
“But it was his mother’s meddling and constant undermining that finally got him returned home.
“He spent the rest of life ashamed and his final years locked away trying to erase his past.”
The Secret Rooms, published by Penguin, is out on November 1.

Donald Hood died in 1924 in the London area.

Fiddington from Lavington Hill

June 10, 2014
The Fiddington Clays area in the 1960s

The Fiddington Clays area in the 1960s

On the face of it, this is a rather uninteresting looking photo but in truth if we enlarge sections we can see that it tells us a great deal.

The style of labelling tells us that this was a Peter Francis photo. We have it dated as 1960s.

Let’s do some of that zooming in.

Houses on the Fiddington Clays estate

Houses on the Fiddington Clays estate

Here we see houses on the Fiddington Clays estate. They are looking fresh and new in this photo.


This was once Southcliffe Farm

An older bungalow is surrounded by newer houses. Was this the former home of the Alexander family who had Southcliffe Farm?

Houses were still under construction at the time.

Southcliffe houses were still being built

Southcliffe houses were still being built

The Congregational Church and environs

The Congregational Church and environs

Roughly in the centre of this photo we have the 1892 built Congregational Church. We also see Stobbarts Road and Townsend. We also see the Southcliffe barns which now stand rather forlorn.

So yes, there is much to be seen in the photo.


Ezra Price

June 4, 2014

This blog post stems from an almost chance find amongst our curator’s personal collection of old 78rpm records. It wasn’t any specific record, but rather the sleeve containing it that caught the eye for it was the sleeve provided by a Devizes music shop.

Record sleeve from a shop founded by Ezra Price from Market Lavington

Record sleeve from a shop founded by Ezra Price from Market Lavington

The record itself is not relevant to this story. It amused our curator to use this sleeve for a record which may have been manufactured by his family members in Tonbridge, Kent – for that’s where this record was actually produced.

But perhaps the name E Price rang some kind of a bell with Rog or maybe it was just curiosity. He tried to find out who he was. Now we think this sleeve dates from around 1930 but Rog looked him up in censuses and the first one he tried was the 1901 census. And there, next to Albion Place (where Handel House still is) was Ezra Price a music/pianoforte shopkeeper who had been born in about 1825 and the birthplace was given as Market Lavington.

Earlier censuses gave the birthplace as West Lavington so Rog’s mind immediately wondered if he might have come from Fiddington, that strange long thin strip of land, between Market Lavington and Easterton. Fiddington had been a part of West Lavington but in some sensible reorganisations it became a part of Market Lavington. So E Price was ‘one of ours’ and his name obviously stayed on his music shops long after he died – which was 1904.

Ezra was born on 16th November 1824 and was baptised at the Independent church in Market Lavington on 9th January 1825. His parents, James and Susanna, did indeed live at Fiddington.

Ezra married Lucy Denniss in 1847 and in 1851 the couple lived at Townsend in Market Lavington along with a couple of children.

Ezra appears twice on the 1861 census. He is with his wife and family at 17 Brittox Devizes, but also with his brother and mother at 212 Church Street in market Lavington. His brother was Enos who ran the Hope Coach between Lavington and Hungerford.

By 1881 Ezra and family were at Handel House.

An obituary for Enos of the Hope Coach mentions Ezra.

He was the last surviving child of the late James and Susana Price, and brother to the late Mr. Ezra Price of Handel House, Devizes.

This comes from the Hungerford Virtual Museum at .

Geoff Alexander and family

March 27, 2014

The Alexander family had a farm in the Southcliffe area of Market Lavington.

We think of Alfie Alexander as the founder of the Alexander dynasty, although, of course, the family really goes back years before him.

Amongst Alfie’s children there was a son called Deering and Deering had a son, Geoffrey, born in 1932. It is Geoff we look at today. The photo was taken in 1960 and shows Geoff with his wife, Val and baby daughter Mary Anne.

Geoff, Val and Mary Ann Alexander in 1960

Geoff, Val and Mary Ann Alexander in 1960

Geoff had married Val Baulcomb in 1954. Mary Anne was their first child, born in 1960. Paul was born the following year.

This branch of the family left Wiltshire for Australia. We know some of the family still live there.

Fiddington House – 1963

March 12, 2014

Fiddington House has an interesting history although we know little of its origins.  In 1834 Robert Willett purchased house and grounds to replace his first asylum in Market Lavington – there were too many ‘residents’ to cope with at his business in Palm House. And as the asylum made good money, he realised he could make that much more with bigger premises.

But interestingly, Fiddington House, set fair and square between Market Lavington and Easterton was actually in West Lavington. The strange arrangement of parish boundaries passes our present understanding and it was sorted out in the later part of the nineteenth century when Fiddington and its asylum house passed to Market Lavington

It continued a fairly peaceful existence, providing a home for troubled people and employment for locals until the early 1960s when the asylum closed.

Our picture today dates from 1963 when the building still existed but decay is clearly setting in.

Fiddington House after closure as an asylum in 1963

Fiddington House after closure as an asylum in 1963

This is the back of the building. The original Fiddington House is at the far end of the terrace like extension which comes out towards the camera.

Soon after the photo was taken the whole area was cleared and is now forgotten under the Fiddington Clay housing estate.