The story of the old farmhouse

Orchard Place is a street name surviving in the centre of Weston which recalls the resort's village days

Orchard Place is a street name surviving in the centre of Weston which recalls the resort's village days. At the corner, on or near the site of Gilkes, the butcher's, stood The Old Farm House, a rambling, thatched building. It was pulled down many years ago, and for a time premises on the site were the Mercury's printing works, before the present offices and works were built.An interesting record, with sketches, of life at the farm in the early 1800s has survived in a publication called "The Old Farm House at Weston-super-Mare, 1826." It was written by a visitor, a Charlotte Wilson, and was published by Charles Robbins, a former printer of local guide books, in 1882.In her introduction Charlotte Wilson wrote: "In the year 1826 I visited Bath, for the benefit of the waters. After a sojournment of four months there, my medical adviser recommended my to spend a few weeks at Weston-super-mare, which is about thirty-six miles from Bath, and sited at the entrance of the Bristol Channel. The village then (for it has since become a fashionable resort) consisted only of four streets, two inns, and a few scattered houses, some of which had been newly built by the rustic inhabitants of Weston who, themselves, resided in small cottages with mould or stone floors."On our arrival there (myself and mother) the place was full; not a lodging to let. We were encumbered with luggage, and the stage would not before tomorrow return to Bath. (By "the stage," the writer was, of course, referring to the stage coach.)"Our situation was truly perplexing," she went on. "The day, too, was intensely hot, which rendered our wandering over the deep burning sand on the beach very like wanderings in the land of Egypt. At last a young woman belonging to a small cottage, compassionating our case, very kindly took us to an old dame, who was, I presume, principal gossip of the place."She was holding a cabinet with four other gossips when we were ushered into her presence. Our tale was told, and we like strange animals were stared at by the whole group."'Come all the way from Lunnon to Bath, and form Bath to Wessun.' What wull 'em do?" 'Here you, Zue,' said the Dame, "go wi' 'em to Varmer King's and ax him of he'd like to have'em. Tell him they be people from Lunnon, and nobody'll have 'em.""This graceful message was faithfully delivered by our guide, and happily produced an effect quite as good as the most courtly epistle in the style of the Lord Chesterfield could have done. We soon made treaty for a white-washed room in the farm, with a little casement window considerably lower than my head, and a door secured only by a wooden button."I must not omit to say that our landlord had another house on the beach, to furnish which for the summer season the Old Farm had been stripped of the greater part of its furniture, and most of its kitchen utensils. In a word, for comforts and conveniences, it was then little better to live in than the tub of Diogenes."At first I found some difficulty in understanding the broad Somerset dialect of the good folks at the farm; and they at times were as much puzzled to comprehend me. Everything there - chair, plate, table - was called them. Tabby Tom, the cat, was an exception; he was styled she."I had never before been forty miles from London, consequently, the art of making butter and cheese was to me very interesting. I was delighted with the novelty of the scene, and even attempted, in an ambitious rusticating mood, to milk a cow, but Colley cast, I thought, an ungracious glance at me, so I resigned my seat at the pail to the farmer's niece, Hannah, who was her regular attendant."The farmer's wife was a pattern for cleanliness and industry; who was a very bee; and but for her clever management, Farmer King (who had lost the use of an arm) would have found his affairs in a very bad situation."I was pleased and am used at the simplicity of the honest rustics, to make myself acquainted ... I often left my own apartment to join the old dame in the cheese room or parlour."One hardly associates milking, and butter and cheese making with Orchard Place today does one?The rest of the book consists of what the authoress called Somerset Dialogues. They are interesting for the representation they give of the interpretation of local dialect and her observation of character and of the scene in and around the farmhouse.Here are some extracts:FARMER'S WIFE: Com, zit down by the vire, and have a cup of tea wi' I. I wull stir him up a bit. The wull always leave he sticking in the vire, zay what you wull. Have zome toasted cheze; don't zay noa. Hannah, wull ye have a cup of tea?HANNAH: Noa, A'nt; I lakes bacon and taters best.WIFE: Zo does my old man: he has had bacon, taters, and zider for his breakfast, vo, these vive-and-twenty years; but I liked a cup o' tea beside.HANNAH: Doant you, Miss hae bacon and taters vor breakvust in Lunnon?VISITOR: No, Hannah.HANNAH: Nor toasted cheese?VISITOR: Never. I even dislike the smell of cheese in the morning.HANNAH: Moi heart - and I do think it zmells zo nice!(The Farmer is outside driving ducks from the garden).FARMER: Shew! - shew! - geet out! - geet out! I wish somebody would zteal thic old woman's dookes. She never gives them nothing to yeat, and then they comes routing about in the garden, and yeating up all bevore 'em.WIFE: Drat they dookes! They be zuch zilly cratures. They can't come in the garden and ztuff themselves quietly, but they must begin quack, quack, quacking! and then the old man hears 'em, and turns 'em out; so thic's all they geet by their talking.FARMER (as he come in): Thic pigs must be turned out o' the archard. The wind ha'e blown the apples down, and they be yeating away as never was.One gathers from this comment that Orchard Place really had an orchard once upon a time. The following extract lends some identifiable local colour: VISITOR: Pray what is the name of that church to the left?FARMER: Why it is Up-hill church.VISITOR: From standing on a hill I suppose? I asked the name of it yesterday from a man working on the spot, but he called it Hopple church.FARMER: Eze, so it be.VISITOR: And not Up-hill church then?FARMER: Eze, but it be Up-hill church. And thic thing on t'other hill be part of an old mill. They zay it never could be vanished; for what the people done in the day the devil pulled down in a night.VISITOR: This house you are in farmer, seems a very old one; it must be very cold in the winter.FARMER: Why it be rather oldish. They call it the Old Varm House; it be the only one in thic place. T'other end, by the stable and cheese room, ha'e almost vallen down, but we props he up with a bit of 'ood. No rain today! I wish it ud come! We always know when it be going to rain by the ztones o' thic vloor. They be zo wet and slippery bevore it comes down, you can hardly step on 'em wi'out valling.VISITOR: You cannot use this room while in that wet state.FARMER: Why not? Thic be nothing.HANNAH: We always then zands the vloor, and then we doesn't zlip zo much. But, - O, moi heart! It be zo cold!Why if you pile up thic grate wi' 'ood, and zit before the vire, wi' your feet on the bars, the back of your legs wull be chapped and bleeding wi' cold. And then the rain do pour down the chimley zo, the top of it be so big. You can zee the stars when they're zhining if you look up him. I'm zure I've wiped up two pails of water in a day that ha'e come down him.FARMER: But then we always keep a good vire, Miss, coals be cheap here. It beant half zo cold as in Lunnon. Wull ye stay wi' us till Christmas, Miss; it will do ye zo much good.One wonders how many generations of Old Farm House families spent the winter around that big open fireplace, up the chimney of which the stars could be glimpsed.This article, edited by Jill Bailey, was originally published on April 7, 1967


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