More glimpses of the Old Farm House

Milking at half-past four in the morning, the farm lad sleeping in a room over a pig-sty, and two dozen cheeses maturing in a loft

Milking at half-past four in the morning, the farm lad sleeping in a room over a pig-sty, and two dozen cheeses maturing in a loft, these are among some of the further glimpses of the Weston village scene and of the Old Farm House in particular in 'Dialogue The Second', a further chapter in the booklet on the Old Farm House written and illustrated by Charlotte Eleanor Wilson, a London visitor who stayed at the Old Farm House in 1826.I do not know whether any copies of the original publication survive. A reprint was published in 1882 by Charles Robbins, and edited by Ernest E Baker, the local historian. Today there is not even a copy in the borough archives. In his introduction to the 1882 edition Ernest Baker explained his reasons for having the book reprinted: "We have seen, or rather have thought that we have seen, during the last few years, such a growing interest in everything relating to Old Weston, that we came to the conclusion that a visitor's experiences in a farm house, in the village of Weston, fifty-six years ago, would be interesting not only to the many visitors who now frequent our favourite little town, but also to the residents and old inhabitants who have seen it spring up like Jack's celebrated beanstalk."Another, and perhaps a stronger reason for reproducing this book, is our desire to preserve, as far as possible, every trace of Weston in its village or chrysalis state. The fashionable watering place of today with its residential population of 13,000 (Mr Baker was, of course, writing of 1882) is naturally such a vastly different place to the almost unknown fishing village of 1826, with its 1,800 inhabitants, that anything related to former days, must, of necessity, be worth keeping and taking care of."Honest Varmer King and Zarah have long since been gathered to their fathers, and the scene of their labours is covered with buildings; as near as we can ascertain, the printing offices of the Weston Mercury now stand on the site on the far from weather-proof old farm house."The Old Farm House stood at the corner of Orchard Place on or about the site of Gilkes, the butcher's. The Mercury's office and printing works later stood on the site until the 1880s, when they moved to the present specially-built premises in Waterloo Street. Here then, from Charlotte Wilson's The Old Farm House, are some more extracts from what she called "Somerset Dialogues":WIFE: Wull ye do someat vor I, as ye zaid you'd like to do? Wull ye take the big basket, and thic tin pail, and go in the orchid, and pick zome apples up?FARMER: There be as many apples vallen down as wou'd make a hogshead and a half of zider.VISITOR: Which is the way to the orchard?FARMER: Why it be over thic gate in the garden, where ye zeed Tim put the thorns and bram'les, to keep the dookes out.VISITOR: Well, how shall I contrive to get over it? I am afraid those thorns and brambles will run in me; and since I have had this touch of rheumatism I have not been very clever at crossing over stiles.FARMER: Oh, he beant a haird one to get over. And there be no water in the ditch if ye should vall.VISITOR: But there are some fine nettles growing there.FARMER: Eze, but they won't hurt 'e, if ye doesn't touch 'em.WIFE: Why don't ye geet up in the morning, Miss, to zee the cows milked? They ull be in the vield by half-past four.VISITOR: That will be too early for me.FARMER: Aye, thic be the way of you Lunnon volkes. Ye come down here for air, and lie a bed till seven or eight o'clock. We be up at half-past dree.WIFE: Thic Tim must be spoken to. He geets quite idle; he didn't geet up s'morning till vour o'clock.Hannah: Why, An't, he do zay thic pig in the stable under his room do keep grunt, grunting zo murnfully all the night thro', he can't zleep vor him. He goes on vor all the world like he wur going to die.WIFE: I zay, Miss, if ye can geet up a ladder, and wull follow I into the loft, ye shall zee some of my painting.VISITOR: Some of the furniture, or the walls, I suppose?WIFE: Noa. My paintings be better than thic kind 'o work! You shall zee my two dozen cheese; zome I've painted all over red, and zome I've zpotted. Ye wull zay I've done 'em zo nicely when ye zees 'em.One wishes that Charlotte Wilson had used her pen to write about and sketch the local scene more fully. She could sketch well. Here we are reprinting her drawings of the back of the Old Farm House and of the farmer's wife and Tim. She also included in the book several amusing drawings of articles of furniture in the farmhouse, including 'thic table' that "wants only zome wood or zstones put under his legs, and then he wull ztand ztraight".There is also the chair with the rickety back, the caption to which is "the legs o' thic chair ha'e been zo vor years. Doan't lean back in he or you'll vall".For much that we know of early days at Weston we are indebted to visitors who kept diaries. The earliest of them is by a man who came here in 1824. His diaries were kept in booklets, and written in a beautiful hand. Those, of course, were days when people could write. The calligraphy runs straight as a die without rules, and there is rarely ever a correction.His first entry simply states: "Thursday, August 3rd, 1820 - Arrived at Weston-super-Mare at 8 o'clock. Took lodgings of Mrs. Beale on the moor." There is nothing about the journey from Bristol, which must have been made by coach.Of his first Sunday at Weston he wrote: "After dinner enjoyed my long anticipated pleasure of going to the rural church. It was crowded to excess, and I was glad to get a seat in the aisle among the villagers. One of the happiest pleasures I enjoy at Weston is the happiness of having a pious clergyman. The Rev Jenkins preached a short but impressive discourse."His manner was particularly devout, and his language clothed in humility, breathing forth that affectionate regard which a faithful minister ever bears to his flock. His sermon was plain, though much to the purpose, and well adapted to the rustic part of his congregation."The rural church, of course, was the old village one, which was pulled down four years later to make way for its ugly, more commodious successor. The Rev Jenkins mentioned, was Stiverd Jenkins, always referred to as the Rector, but really the curate-in-charge. The Rector was the squire-parson, who lived at Brockley and who rarely ministered to his Weston flock.Jenkins lived at Locking and travelled to and from Weston on horseback. The route he took between his home and Weston is still known as Rector's Way. A block of houses on the sea-front was once known as Stiverd Place.But to return to our diarist. Apparently the weather was not good at the start of his holiday, but then he writes:"The first calm summer's day we have had. Walked to Knightstone. Much surprised at the improvements there. Little expected to see that barren rock with so tasty a building on it. The ladies drank tea with us in the evening and saw the tide to perfection. Reflected on the wonders of the deep; the sun was stealing behind a golden cloud, and gradually appeared to descend into the sea. A distant vessel glided between sky and water, but was soon lost to the eye."On the Friday there was this little picture: "Very beautiful. Took a morning walk up the Hill. The fields looked fresh and green, while the simple village church added greatly to the beauty of the scene, immersed in trees. The houses of Weston lay scattered before us, and the sea far, far beyond, far as the eye could reach. Sweet scene, methought, I shall leave thee soon for city views."And here is a note that recalled the time when sheep grazed on the hillside: "Walked beyond the bathing house, took a sketch of Knightstone and the Anchor Head house. It was calm; the sun was in its meridian splendour, and shone upon the distant waves. A few sheep were scattered over the sun-burnt hill, picking the scanty herbage and heedless of the wandering stranger."Then there was a visit to Uphill: "Though much tired enjoyed the fatigue of mounting the hill to the church and was fully compensated by the view it commands. Beneath spread the little fertile village of Uphill, interspersed with meadows and gardens. Beyond was the sea. After resting on a tombstone I descended the hill and after a long walk on the beach returned home."Here is a glimpse of truly rural Weston: "Sky lowering, sun shone at intervals. Called on our friends and walked to the strand; the tide was retiring. After dinner, ascended the hill behind the church with difficulty; the view from to hence delightful. In a sequestered part at the foot of the hill stood several thatched cottages with gardens in front. From one, heard the wild singing of its rustic tenant.And this picture: "Very clear and beautiful. In the evening walked up the Locking road almost to the village of Hutton. The fields looked greener than usual; the reapers were busy and the rosy milkmaid was tripping through the 'path-divided dale' - and all was still, silent and peaceful."Weston was growing up, and growing swiftly. It would not be long before sheep ceased to graze on the hillside and reapers and milkmaids would no longer be seen in the fields reaching to the seashore.* This article, edited by Jill Bailey, was originally published on April 21, 1967


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