Minal in Victorian Times
The new Queen's reign began in Minal with a gift to the parish church of £53 by the Churchwarden, Mr. Pococke. With this money the South Aisle ceiling was circled, a new window with an iron frame put into the clerestory and new sconces provided.
The new Rector, George Buxton continued the good work expected of an Incumbent. He was appointed Rural Dean and was elected to the Diocesan Board of Education. Mr. Woodman, the farmer of Stitchcombe, was elected for the fourth time as Guardian of Minal, and Vice-Chairman of the Board of Guardians - a forerunner of the local government enjoyed today.
In 1843 the Tithes due to the Church were £780. An analysis of the land was :-
Arable - 2,332 acres
Meadow - 818 acres
Woods - 365 acres
Forest - 291 acres
Homesteads - 23 acres
Roads, rivers and waste - 58 acres
The owners of that time were given as
The Marquis of Ailesbury - 22,648 acres
Arabella St Quentin - 593 acres
Thomas Wylde - 567 acres
Glebe Lands - 159 acres
The occupiers were
Earl of Ailesbury - 259 acres
William Holcombe, Poulton Farm - 676 acres
Edward Vaisey, Grove Farm - 494 acres
Henry Hutchins, Folly Farm - 210 acres
William Hale - 64 acres
John Wentworth, Mere Farm - 141 acres
Henry Woodman, Stitchcombe Farm - 416 acres
John White, Home Farm - 593 acres
Wm and Thomas Young, Woodlands - 567 acres
John Tarrant, Church Farm - 143 acres
The new school seemed to be thriving, for in 1850 there was an advertisement for the immediate appointment of a Master and Mistress (with no family). Values of servitude were clearly shown when William Butcher, 45 years a servant at Grove Farm was given £3 for long service. At the same farm, Stephen Wailing died, being Mr. Vaisey's servant for 58 years.
In 1858, Woodlands Farm was auctioned when Mr. Young quitted. The farm was shown as being 220 acres in extent with 16 cart-horses. The following year the wood was put up for sale, with over 400 prime trees being sold off. Four years later, in January a very serious fire damaged the farm, buildings, ricks, cottages and two barns. Two horses were killed. The fire was stated to have been caused from sparks from a steam-engine. A very strong wind fanned the flames which were seen as far away as Aldbourne and the damage was put down as three thousand pounds.
A sheep plague in 1865 caused 108 animals to be destroyed and buried five feet deep in lime. The men's clothing had to be burned together with the hurdles and implements. In 1866 there was a special church service and a day of fasting and humiliation following the continuance of sore plague among cattle.
Fires at farms and cottages were often serious enough to warrant their inclusion in the newspapers of the time. In Minal in 1866 two cottages, one the Post Office, were burned to the ground. The fire engine came from Marlborough together with the water cart. Fortunately most of the furniture was saved by neighbours, but there was a 'hurricane' blowing at the time.
The third Census of the parish was taken in 1861, showing that the population was now 466 (equally male and female) who lived in 96 dwellings. This was an increase of about 10% on the earlier census of 1851. There were 40 families living in the village itself.
As evidence of the increasing amount of agricultural work being carried out, there is proud note that, at Werg Mill, new mill stones and a freshly built water-wheel of nine feet had been installed in 1867.
The next Census, that of 1871, marked the rise of the population to its highest level ever (and this has still not been surpassed in 1991). The 501 people (244 male and 257 female) were to be found in 106 houses. A walk from the bottom of Church Lane through the village to Home Farm would have located families, as follows :-
Church Farm - Henry Tarrant
Low Farm - Charles Brown
Home Farm - George Mortimer
That Minal had its own constable is indicated in 1873, together with the village gallows but there is no other evidence of the existence of such a gruesome implement.
Life in the village was of a communal nature. People made their own entertainment and formed their own social gatherings. The bell-ringers were treated to a supper given by Mr. Samuel Looker at Folly Farm. There was "roast-beef, plum pudding, a pipe of tobacco, nut brown ale and a good song afterwards." Perhaps this event off-set the effect of a letter to the local paper asking for "better singing in the church." There was also a supper for the children and the night school pupils, when Mr. Butler, the farmer from Stitchcombe gave a lantern lecture on "The North Pole". 28 of the pupils who had attended for 40 hours during the winter were given a hot supper.
The shape of things to come in the realm of archaeological discovery came when the Rev Charles Soames lectured the villagers on a Roman pavement which had been discovered on the plateau at Folly Farm. Later in 1884, the collapse of ground in the same field laid bare the mouth of a well the sides of which were lined with Sarcen stone blocks. At 25 feet down the well passed into solid chalk. This was the first real evidence of a Roman settlement. The remains of a villa and subsequently the site of Roman Cunetio were to follow later.
At one time, Minal had a Chapel of the Knight Templars called Salk. No sign of this exists, unless it was the site of two old cottages belonging to the Glebe which were always called 'The Vicarage'. They were burned down in 1866.
The boundary of the parish had remained very much as it was in Saxon times. In 1875 a Vestry meeting in Minal was told of the new boundary which was to divide it from North Savernake. A large acreage of Savernake Forest lies within the parish and, with a minor adjustment made in the twentieth century, still forms part of the southern boundary. The parish acreage was given as 4,025 in 1887.
In the 1870's Mildenhall was to see the possibility of having its one and only railway line - but no station of its own. The work of constructing the Swindon, Marlborough and Andover Railway began in 1875. The collapse of the ceremonial wheel-barrow used at the opening was surely an omen for the railway, which was to have considerable financial problems during its life-time.
The single line crossed the River Kennet near to Elcot Lane and moved in a curve and then through a cutting, under the Marlborough to Mildenhall road, over the lane to Rabley and under a third bridge used as a farm-track. The three bridges are dated 1881 and are still in evidence. The track-bed has been recently adopted as a leisure path between Marlborough and Ogbourne.
At its completion, six trains a day ran in each direction with two on Sundays. By 1958 this service was reduced to one. The line was closed in 1961. There was one accident on the line. In 1895, a four-coach train was derailed at Tanner's curve, just on the boundary with Ogbourne parish. Part of the train plunged down the embankment but, remarkably, there were no serious injuries to boys returning to their homes from Marlborough College.
This chapter of Victorian history must conclude with a sad but revealing episode which occurred in 1879. It reflects the social, agricultural and transport aspects of life in Minal at the time.
If, when driving or walking towards Marlborough from the village, half way up the hill and on a bank to the right-hand side, a small stone cross can be seen, inscribed A.H.O.WATTS 12 MAY 1879. This marks the place when an accident occurred.
Harry Watts (as he liked to be called) was fourteen years of age. He lived in Axford and worked for the farmer, Mr. Butler, at Stitchcombe. On this particular morning he accompanied the carter with a three-horse wagon loaded with sacked wheat. It was to go to the railway station at Marlborough. They returned to Stitchcombe with the empty wagon. By 1230 they again set out to Marlborough with wheat and were returning with the wagon loaded with coal. They shared a quart of ale at the Bear in Marlborough and there was a second stop at the Queen's Head when a second quart was shared between them. They then set off home.
Going down the steep hill, near to the Rectory, things began to go wrong. Harry was walking beside the horses when they took fright and bolted down the hill. It was said at the time that a gun shot might have scared them. Harry, struggling with the horses was drawn under the wheels of the wagon which then overturned. Harry was carried to the first house in Minal where, later that evening, he died.
At the inquest a verdict of "accidentally killed" was brought in and the jury members donated their fees to the distraught mother of Harry. The young 14 year old farmers boy doing a man's work, the dependence of horse-drawn traffic on often poor roads, the oft-present ale for refreshment - all are indicative of the conditions prevailing at the time. The little stone cross by the road-side reminds us.
The 1861 Census indicates the occupations of the people of the parish. It was recorded that there were:-
Agricultural Labourers - 139
Basket Maker - 1
Clerk - 1
Carpenter - 6
Cordwainer - 1
Farmers - 7
Gardener - 1
General Labourer - 3
Miller - 3
Rector - 1
School Master - 1
Blacksmith - 1
Servants - 19
Shepherds - 4
Shepherd Boy - 2
Plough Boys - 6
Carter - 2
Farm Bailiff - 1
Brickmaker - 1
Paupers (Almspersons) 1
Based on the family history of Joan and Ken Sawyer in Weymouth – the following has come to light.
Ken inherited from his mother (neé Davis) the silver cup below, inscribed “Presented to John Vaisey for the best 100 ewes at Marlborough Fair, August 22,1856”. He always understood that this came to the family through his great grandfather, William Davis, who was a nephew of John Vaisey.
However, the records show that William Davis was born to Elizabeth Davis in Marlborough Workhouse in 1840. No father was recorded and Elizabeth died in the same month. William was brought up by his grandmother in Mildenhall and in the 1851 Census she is recorded as “widow of agricultural labourer, pauper”
Ken’s knowledge is that John Vaisey was a large scale farmer at Grove Farm with 570 acres, and feels it is inconceivable at that period that there could be any close legitimate family relationship between him and the Davis family.