When miners chased police off Callow racecourse

MUCH has been written from time to time about the charm and peace of the thatched village of Winscombe of former days, but if life flowed at a much slower tempo then it was not

MUCH has been written from time to time about the charm and peace of the thatched village of Winscombe of former days, but if life flowed at a much slower tempo then it was not dull. The village had its harvest home and annual cottagers' show, cricket and football teams flourished, and from time to time there was the spice of the sensational as, for instance, when the villagers returned from Callow races to gossip about the sensational finish to what must have been the major race of the day, in which those rough customers, the Shipham miners, fought the police and chased them across the hill to Axbridge where the constabulary barred themselves in at Axbridge police station!Shipham's miners were once a great menace in the area. Their lives were hard, poverty was rife, they were heavy drinkers and quarrelsome, and market garden land in the area was often half cleared of produce in their night raids.Their brush with the police at Callow was mentioned by the late Mr Orion (Owen) Charles Caple, of Grove Farm, Winscombe, who penned his memories in several pages of foolscap, from which I quoted in last week's article.On former day race meetings he commented: "I well remember the Sandford and Banwell Steeplechases which were held at Mr Card's farm at Slough pit. A few years after Webbington House was built the races were held just north of Crook Peak, following the course of the road past Barton, returning via Max Mills and the 'crooked river'. At a later date, for one year, the races were held at Brent Knoll, then for several years at Wolvershill, Banwell. But since the last war all meetings have been held at Chewton Mendip."I've been told of Callow Races, and that on one occasion the Mendip and Shipham miners, after a difference of opinion with the law, chased the police across the hill to seek refuge at Axbridge police station. The miners eventually returned to the race-course."A sporting occasion of special interest in Winscombe was a challenge walking match "between Mr Alfred Weeks and a Mr Manning who built one of the villas opposite Bird's bakery in the grounds where the old saw-mills existed."This match was to start at the Railway Hotel and from there the men would walk through Barton to Webbington common, on to Cross, Shute Shelve, finishing at the pub from whence they started. I remember Mr Manning, who was slightly built. He had to carry weights to make him the equal of the much heavier Mr Weeks."Mr Caple did not state who won.Other diversions were live pigeon, starling, and rabbit shoots, and Mr Caple recalls in particular a rabbit shoot when he waited behind a hedge to get a straggler rabbit that had been badly hit, another rabbit made for the hedge and one of the shooting party raised his gun to despatch it."I immediately turned by back on the gunman and lay down, but the rabbit was shot and so was I. I got a couple of shot in my buttocks, but it was nothing serious as they hit a fleshy part of my torso."Sidcot was a pleasant little hamlet, and there were just a few old cottages standing apart from the Sidcot School building and the Quakers' old houses. When Mr Edward Hembury was married and came to reside at Sidcot his nearest neighbours to his cottage at the top of Greenhill anywhere to the west of the main road, were to the south, at Turnpike, the old King William public house, I believe in the occupation of a Mr Smith, and to the north the Prince of Orange, now Grove Farm. To the west across the hillyfields was an old cottage adjoining the Railway Hotel."In the early 20th century my father took us kids, in company with many others, up to the top of Callow at 3am one morning in July because we had learned overnight that the competitors in the Round Britain Air Race had arrived in Bristol, and would be leaving again at sunrise to continue their journey down to Exeter, and at about 4am it happened."Teresa Carpenter spotted it first and cried, 'There they are!' Two planes approached, coming over Shipham towards us. The pilots were the Frenchman Beaumont and Vedrines. We spotted another plane which proved to be piloted by Colonel Cody."Postmen of old used to walk many miles and Mr Caple recalled when Mr Harry Baker started duty as Shipham's."Mr Baker had for several years lived at Congresbury," he wrote, "and carried mail on foot as far as Churchill gate where he handed over mail intended for delivery at Churchill, Sandford and Langford."Mr Baker proceeded via Dolberrow Bottom to Rowberrow and on to Shipham, then to Winterhead Farm, through Winscombe Street on to Star, and finally back to Congresbury taking with him any outgoing mail. This was a matter of some twelve miles daily. When at a later date he was transferred to Winscombe Post Office the family came to live at Stream Farm on the opposite side of Winscombe Street from Winterhead Farm. Mr Baker later lived at Court Farm, Shipham, and finally at Hillside, Sidcot, opposite the Avenue."Mr Caple recalled that when he returned to Winscombe after the 1914/18 war his mother told him of the discovery of old deeds on parchment in a secret hiding place under the floorboards in a bedroom."Some of them were dated 1715," he stated, "and there were also deeds of Winterhead Manor which I gave over to its owner, Mr Reginald Pearce. On one of the deeds it was stated that the annual rent of some property was one peppercorn."Burials indicating that people lived in the Winscombe locality long before churchyard interments are mentioned in Mr Caple's manuscript.Human bones were unearthed during levelling operations on the Down, near the Avenue, and in a field from where stone was being taken for road-making on the Down. Two adult skeletons we also found during excavations when Mr John Grubb decided to have a hard tennis court laid down just east of his house.Mr Caple recalled the building of many Winscombe houses and the picture he gives of the village before the extensive development is of special interest. He stated that "on the opposite of Sidcot Lane the nearest house to Fairlawn was a cottage where Mr Tripp, the baker, lived in retirement. Next to this cottage stood the forge, kept by Mr Stevens, whose son Jack, carried on the business after his father."Up in Winscombe square near the church lived the Thatcher family, a member of which was an actress named Dolly Parnell. She married a German prince and left Winscombe for Germany."Another fold forge was at the Triangle on the Banwell road. It was owned by Mr Harry Mabbett, whose son, the late Frederick Mabbett, farmed for many years at Nut Tree Farm close by."Along the Axbridge road from the Turnpike stood only a couple of cottages at Hale Well. There was also a cottage where Mr William Hancock lived, the only other building being Hale Farm at Shute Shelve. I remember the others being built."Mr Caple used to deliver milk to Wintrath, the home up the Avenue, of the late Francis Knight, author of Seaboard of Mendip, Heart of Mendip, and many other books."On a few occasions he would open the door of his little glasshouse to meet me. The glasshouse was set back in the rockery beside the drive so that he could do most of his writing in peace. But he would invite me inside to have a little chat as he put it, to have a few moments relief from writing. He was an interesting old man."The only housing up Oakridge Lane was Oakridge House and a cottage," Mr Caple wrote. "My father had to fetch water for domestic purposes from Winscombe Brook in barrels by horse and cart, and later from Hale Well until a water main was laid from Blackdown to Shipham and across Old Down to Daffodil Valley and Star and then along the main Sidcot road to stand-pipes, from which householders had to carry the water to their homes."Mr Caple had occasion to recall a time when Winscombe had far too much water. In the great floods of the night of July 12, 1968, there were innumerable dramas which, in isolation, would have made newspaper headlines. But there were so many that lots of them never got noticed and the full story of that horrific night in the Mendip area will never be known.At Winscombe Mr Caple's home, Grove Farm, was flooded to a depth of three feet by 9pm.He wrote: "My sister had gone to bed as usual at 7.30pm. She slept on the ground floor and was rescued from the rising water by David Hembury, our neighbour, whose prompt action saved her life. He put her over his shoulders and carried her upstairs to a bedroom from where she was removed by the Weston Fire Brigade with the assistance of police patrol officer PC Hutchings, also of Weston... the police and firemen persuaded me to leave the house, much against my will, at 11pm. I did so to enable the brigade to feel they could go on to meet other calls. My garden was completely washed away."Perhaps one day Mr Caple's manuscript will be published. It is of immense value to local historians, and apart from the survey of its contents that I have made in my two articles it recalls the names of many old Winscombe families and their links with the village.This article, edited by Jill Bailey, was originally published on August, 1975


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