Early Beckington

Beckington is mentioned in the Domesday Book as being the land of Roger Arundel. There was land for 10 ploughs and there were 9 villeins and 7 cottagers, 24 pigs, 100 sheep and 50 she-goats. There was a mill, 12 acres of meadow, and 8 acres of pasture which would have been on the higher ground away from !and liable to be flooded by the river, and 100 acres of wood.

Standerwick is also mentioned in the Domesday Book as being the land of Roger of Courselles. There was land for 3 ploughs and 2 villeins and 7 cottagers.

Beckington Abbey (which never was an Abbey and was probably given this name by one of its wealthy residents), was built about 1156. In 1347 it was converted to a college for priests. It may also have been used as an Abbey Grange, connected with Wells. It had attached 185 acres of farmland, a tithe barn, malt house, corn and cloth mills and a fish pond. It was remodelled in the 16th and 17th centuries when the magnificent ceiling in the upper drawing room was probably installed, indicating the prosperity of the clothiers of that time. In the 19th century it became a school, then a restaurant and dance hall, and finally, a private residence again, and is presently divided into two residences.

On the 26th April 1273, a marriage covenant was made in London between John de Earle, Knight, and Nicholas de Cheney Knight, for the marriage to take place between John de Earle and Johan, daughter of Nicholas. Nicholas was to pay John £300 in silver (a very great deal of money in those days) and John the father £30 worth of land and the rent in the manor of Beckington on 7 acres which he bought from John de Claverton along with the advowson (right of presentation of the benefice) of Beckington Church. Each party was to be kept by the parents for 3 years and then the bride handed over to her husband.

Thomas Beckington was the son of a weaver and was born in Beckington in the 15th century. He entered Winchester College and then gained a scholarship to New College, Oxford where he obtained a fellowship. He became a diplomat and in 1432 was with the English Embassy France in the employ of Henry VI. He was sent as ambassador to negotiate with John IV of France at Armagnac for the marriage of one of his daughters with Henry. Thomas Beckington eventually entered the church and was consecrated at Eton as Bishop of Bath and Wells by the Bishops of Lincoln, Salisbury and Llandaff. He died on 14th January 1465 and is buried in Wells.

Beckington became important and prospered in the middle ages as a result of the wool trade. Various grades of wool were received and sorted, then manufactured cloth exported from the area. By the 15th century, fulling mills were established along the banks of the River Frome and the cottage industry of spinning and weaving was thriving. Tudor broad cloth was woven in Beckington and there were quite a few prosperous clothiers living in Beckington who built some of the larger stone houses in the village, including John Compton, John Bamfylde, John Clevelod, William Longe, Thomas Webb and John Ashe.

Samuel Daniel, the Elizabethan poet, who lived from 1562 to 1619, is buried in Beckington and a memorial to him is above the north aisle of the church.

In 1624 Beckington, Orcherley (Orchardleigh) and Phillips Norton (Norton St. Philip) each contributed an infantryman for Colonel Ralph Hopton's Frome contingent which, with other units of the British Army, was sent to the continent to re-instate the Queen of Bohemia, daughter of James 1st, on the throne. Charles II rode through Beckington on 10th September 1663 with Catherine his Queen and on 15th September 1789, George III and Queen Charlotte with three princesses passed through the village on a visit to Longleat. Charles II is reputed to have spent one night in the village after his defeat at the battle of Worcester.

In September 1766, rioters marched to Beckington where, in spite of being offered money and parish relief for their families, they set on fire a mill and other property. A pitched battle followed in which firearms were used on both sides. One man was killed and several seriously injured, while others escaped by swimming across the river or by mingling with the crowd who eventually dispersed. The flames were then extinguished and the mill, stable and wagons saved, but everything else was destroyed.

John Timsbury of Beckington appeared before Thomas Horne J.P. of Mells Park in 1788 and made a complaint against a woman in the parish. Immediately afterwards he left the room, fell down and died. This was regarded as an awful and exemplary instance of Divine Justice upon a man who had maliciously accused an innocent woman.

In 1786, a plot of land was purchased for £20 and the Baptist Chapel was built - a "Dissenters" Meeting House. This was enlarged in 1802. During the 19th century there was a flourishing Sunday School, founded in 1790, with 20 teachers and 100 scholars. The congregation at this time was over 200. The Baptist Chapel at Rudge was founded at the beginning of the 19th century. There was much rivalry between the Rector of the Church of England and the Baptist Church to attract as many children as possible into each of their Sunday Schools.

On 4th December 1793 a coach was stopped in Beckington Bottom (probably the Plain) by highwaymen who knocked the coachman off his box and robbed the passengers of 14 guineas.

On the brighter side, William Marshall, the writer on agriculture, rode from Frome to Devizes and recorded on 21st September, 1794 in his Rural Economy of the West of England "The name of the village on a board at the entrance of Beckington - a liberal act in those who placed it there".

In the 19th century, firstly in 1823, Clifford Mill was advertised for sale "Clifford Mill - capital water fulling mill, with several cottages, stable and outhouses, and 28 acres of superior pasture land". Secondly in 1832, Beckington Mills were advertised for sale "Mill - woollen factory 60ft long, with 4 floors, the principle part being 20ft wide. The machinery is worked by the same water wheel as the flour mill - a powerful groundshot water wheel".

On 12th August 1874, a Florists' Feast was held at the Woolpack Inn. Whoever produced the three best whole brown carnations of three different sorts of his own raising was entitled to a silver spoon, the second best to a gold ring. No person could produce any flowers without first dining with the company.

A flower show was held for many years in the field at the corner of the Bath and Trowbridge roads, opposite to the present recreation ground. It was one of the biggest shows in the district and included a Baby Show and many side shows. The Band of Hope held rallies in this field as well. The last big flower show was held in 1932 in Rylands field. This occasion was remembered for its bad weather when a steam traction engine got stuck in the mud. There was also a rifle club with both men and women members.

Twentieth Century Beckington

The first Annual Parish Meeting under the local government act of 1894 was held in the national schoolroom on 4th December 1894. Mr James V. Pickford was elected chairman, together with six parish councillors who were Doctor W. G. Evans, Goose Street; Issac J. P. Millett, Priors Court Farm; Mr Charles Bourne, Richmond House; The Reverend Thomas E. Sainsbury; Mr William E. Dainton, Rudge Hill; and Mr Frederick Gunning of Standerwick Court Farm.

In 1899 at the Annual Parish Meeting, the electors present complained to the Frome Rural District Council about the condition of the drains on the Plain and the Frome Road. Flooding there had been so bad that school children had been unable to reach school. The Parish Council frequently discussed the state of the roads and footpaths in the village as indeed the Parish Council does today.

The motor traffic through the village caused much concern as far back as 1905 when the Clerk to the Parish Council was instructed to write to the Somerset County Council to request that three danger signboards be placed in the village on account of the danger from the motor traffic. This particular request was refused, but in 1911 the Parish Council agreed to the order of three motor danger notices, and in 1913 the Parish Assembly passed a resolution that a letter be sent to the County Council, drawing their attention to the excessive motor traffic, and the nuisance caused by the dust thereof to the inhabitants of the parish, and asking that something be done to mitigate the nuisance. In those days the roads were not tarmaced.

On Wednesday, 18th December 1906, the Church Tower of St. George's Church was re-opened after being restored and the new peal of eight bells was dedicated by the Venerable Archdeacon of Wells, the Reverend F. A. Brymer. There had originally been six bells, four had been recast and an extra two added to make a peal of eight bells. The scheme to do this had taken 10 years and cost £1,200, all of which had been found through the instrumentality of the Reverend T. H. Langford-Sainsbury, Mr R. R. Tanner and Mr I. J. P. Millett (Church Wardens), Mr E. M. Nelson and secretary Mr W. J. Hole.

In 1917 the Parish Council was requested by Somerset War Agricultural Committee to seriously consider suggestions made by the board for the destruction of house sparrows and rats. The Parish Council decided to pay the following awards:

3d (1 1/4p) per dozen for heads of fully fledged house sparrows.
2d (5/6p) per dozen for heads of unfledged house sparrows.
1d (5/12p) per dozen for house sparrows eggs.

Mr Hillman was appointed to receive the heads and eggs and to pay the rewards. The Parish Council was responsible for finding land and managing allotments in the village.

In October 1918 the Parish Council received a letter from the Frome Rural District Council asking for information about the requirements for new houses. The Parish Council replied that there was a need for 6 houses for the "working classes" and that current rents of the village houses were between 2s 6d (12 1/2p) and 4s (20p) per week. The need for houses arose because houses had been pulled down or gone out of occupation. On 17th December 1919 the Frome Rural District Council acquired 3/4 acre of land on the Warminster Road for the first housebuilding by the council.

In March 1923 at the Annual Parish Meeting, Mr W. E. Keevil introduced a proposal for a Recreation Ground. He thought that it was becoming unsafe for children to be allowed on the streets without a guardian on account of the motor traffic. Several gentlemen promised to contribute sums of money, varying from £5 to £10, towards the purchase of a recreation field and several fields were suggested.- In 1927 a piece of ground between the Bath and Trowbridge roads had been acquired for the recreation ground. Mr H. P. Millett offered to give the council the land necessary for the improvement of the road junction between the Bath Road and the Trowbridge Road.

In 1926 a representative of the village was appointed to see the manager of the Frome Gas Company about a supply of gas to the village, and an electricity supply was also considered. In 1929 it was finally agreed to adopt the Lighting and Watching Act 1833 for the whole of the Parish of Beckington. But there was some delay before the electricity was brought to the village and the old oil lamps had still to be used. It was not until 1931 that electricity was used for street lighting which was installed at a cost of £56 5s 0d. From then on mere street lights were erected and as money became available, further street lights were installed. The provision of street lighting is the responsibility of the Parish Council who raise money for this through the annual precept.

In 1928 the Frome Rural District Council was asked to arrange monthly collections of household refuse and remove the council refuse dumps to a more suitable place.

In 1934 the Parish Council thought that there should be a residential magistrate and a residential Registrar of Births and Deaths in the village, an office which Mr J. V. Pickford had held until his retirement. People in the village had difficulty in travelling to the nearest magistrate and registrar. This request was refused. It was made again in 1950 and again refused.

Until shortly before the second world war, there had been no public water supply in the village. There were a large number of wells and springs on which the villagers relied for their supply. From time to time those by the side of the road could get polluted. In Rudge, for example, in 1901 the Parish Council was asked to provide some protection for the dipping well there against the washings from the road and the cattle drinking from the well. In 1934 at the annual assembly, some parishioners said that they had experienced a shortage of water.

In 1936 the question of a piped water supply was again raised but some of the residents, including the local doctor, strongly objected to the Frome Rural District Council proceeding with a scheme to supply piped water. They considered that there was an ample supply from wells and springs in the village and that such a scheme was an unnecessary expense. A memorandum from the clerk to Frome Rural District Council was read out stating that in the village there was no proper and adequate sewerage system and this depended upon a piped water system. Farms could not be granted a grade A certificate for their milk unless they had a piped water supply and a lack of piped water stopped both private enterprise and council house building and also a piped supply would increase the value of property and arrest the decay of the village. Nevertheless, those present voted against such a supply by 53 votes to 8 votes. Although the Parish Council brought pressure to bear on them, the Frome Rural District Council would not build any more houses in the village until a piped water supply was available and, finally, they overrode the wishes of the parish, laying a piped water supply in the village just prior to 1939, and in May 1939 the council houses at Clifford were built.

The War Years

On 29th August 1939, the Autumn term started at the village school. Two days later the children were instructed in the use of gas masks, sent home and the school closed so that evacuees from London could be received there and billeted in homes in the village. Mr & Mrs Green brought their school for handicapped children to the Old Rectory. A women's Land Army camp was erected in Mill Lane. One of these land girls, May Buckingham, married Mr Bill Hillman and another, Dorothy, Mr Norman Hillman. A Local Defence Volunteer Group, later to become the Home Guard, was formed in the village.

Among the first volunteers were Jack Smith, Alec Watts, Bert Holly, William Biggs, Geoffrey Millett and Harry Gibson. Captain Grimsdale was in charge of the group who did night duty on the railway line near Standerwick. They trained in a field near the river where the sewerage farm is now. In 1940, the Parish Council formed a War Savings group.

Mr W- C. Valentine was appointed treasurer and the Clerk to the Parish Council, Mr Randall, was the secretary.

All occupiers of fields in the parish which were thought to be able to afford landing for enemy aircraft, were asked to put obstacles in the fields to prevent the landing of such aircraft. A pig keeping club was formed. Just before D-Day (6th June 1944, when the invasion of France took place), the army took over the village. All empty houses were requisitioned (and some others as well) to provide accommodation for the troops. The Old Manse became the sergeants' mess, and the Abbey, the officers' mess. The recreation ground was commandeered for parking army vehicles. It was rumoured that there was a prisoner of war in part of the Abbey. Certainly a high wall was built around the garden. Caroline Barth records that the prisoner of war in question was a German paratropper named Klaus Barth. Beckington Abbey was once owned by her mother's father, Capt, G.P Russell RN, but at the time he was not party to this knowledge.

In May 1945 the village school was closed for two days to celebrate V.E. Day (Victory in Europe) and the children enjoyed tea and sports at the Rectory. Each child was presented with a mug and two sixpenny savings stamps. The children had two days extra holiday at the end of the summer holidays for VJ. Day (Victory in Japan). The old people were taken on an outing to Longleat and Shearwater where they picnicked.

It was decided that the War Memorial should take the form of a village hall. The estimated cost was £3,000. Major T. R. Wilbraham was elected Chairman of the Village Hall Committee and Mr P. A. Boyce its secretary, and by 1954 the hall was in use.

Post War Beckington

In 1946, a public telephone and kiosk were placed outside The Full Moon Inn at Rudge and also in 1946 a shelter at the bus stop on the Frome Road was proposed. This shelter was eventually built with stone from the Blind House, which was demolished in 1956.

In 1949, a scheme to extend the electricity supply to Rudge was drawn up and electricity was installed there by 1950. A piped water supply was laid on in Rudge in 1954 and in the following year council houses were completed and given the name Calas Mead. Calas is the name of a field on which these houses were built.

By 1949 council houses were being built in Mill Lane. The name "The Horse Close" was chosen, this being the name in 1703 of the field where these houses were built. More houses were added to this site in 1953 and in 1956 a council housing estate was completed in Sandy Lane. Old people's flats were built in Goose Street and old people's bungalows, together with a warden's house were built along Sandy Lane in 1975 and given the name Lahs Place. Private housing development includes Holmfield Close (1965), Rylands (1976) and The Weavers (1984).

The doctor's surgery, which had been attached to The Abbey House, the home of the Evans family who had been doctors in the village for many years, moved to Enderby Hall at the lower end of Goose Street in 1971.

In February 1966, there was a fire in the kitchen and dining hall of the Ravenscroft School at Beckington Castle. Some damage was done but fortunately the main part of the house was unaffected. There was a nasty accident on 15th May 1968 when a lorry crashed into the petrol pumps facing the Warminster Road. There was a fire and the lorry, carrying milk crates, was a write-off.

1977 was Jubilee Year and to celebrate this occasion a fancy dress parade was made through the village, starting by the church and ending on the recreation ground. A street party organised by Mrs R. Hoare, Mrs M. Cruttwell, Mrs H. Spitteler and helpers, was held in Church Street.

Mr and Mrs Last who ran a book binding business and bookshop in Goose Street sent the Queen a book of greetings from the residents of Beckington, bound in red and with gold lettering. This book was kept at Mrs Davies' shop at the corner of the Warminster Road for several days so that residents in the village could sign it. Mr James Wainwright arranged for a supply of mugs so that each child could be presented with one to commemorate the day. A seat was purchased and placed in Church Hill outside the church. A bean feast was held in the village hall with sports for all on the recreation field such as races, obstacle races and wellington throwing competitions. As a result of collections made for these festivities, after all expenses had been met for the Jubilee celebrations, there was a £500 balance, and it was decided to hand this to the village hall committee to launch a fund to extend and refurbish the village hall.

Geographical Changes since 1998

The construction of a bypass around Beckington in 1989 has made a significant improvement to the peace and tranquillity of the centre of the village. Three options were considered originally and the one at the eastern side of the village was chosen. The construction of the bypass necessitated alterations to the road towards Rudge, which was straightened and lowered to pass under the bridge carrying the bypass road. Trees and hedges were planted both along the bypass and on the banks either side of Goose Street/Rudge Lane.

After the bypass was completed a new petrol filling station was built near the roundabout at the Bath end of the bypass, at the entrance to the village. The filling station also sells some groceries, newspapers and tobacco and there is a travel lodge and restaurant for the refreshment and rest of travellers.

The Lays housing estate was built in 1989/90 with an amenity area planted with bushes and trees fronting Goose Street. The development of the rest of that area was completed, firstly with the building of a modern surgery in 1995, and secondly by building new houses to the south of the surgery in 1998/99. The surgery provides not only doctors' consulting rooms but also treatment rooms, offices, a large airy waiting room and ample parking.

Initiative taken by the Parish Council has resulted in Webbs Mead, a small development of social housing at the edge of the village. This provides attractive housing for several young families.

The village hall has been enlarged with the building of the Clifford Suite giving improved facilities.

To celebrate the millennium there are current proposals to improve the approach to the village by planting trees and bulbs along the roads and lanes.

Villagers' Views

John Ball wrote:

Whilst the bypass has clearly brought considerable benefit by removing the acute congestion, it does have its downside. The light glow from the bypass and petrol station lights have taken away the dark star filled nights, which used to be a feature of this rural village. It has also affected wild life – Little Owls that regularly nested at the end of our garden no longer do so. The noise from traffic on the bypass is also quite loud and is an annoying background to bird song.

The absence of through traffic has understandably led to more on street parking. Unfortunately this is often done at junctions compromising safety and could easily delay emergency services.

Several of the village lanes were damaged when traffic tried to avoid the BT road works between Beckington and Bath (C 1990). They have never been repaired – e.g. the end of Goose St and Park Lane are examples.

Lynne Gould and Sue Conway wrote:

How quickly those ten years since the previous Appraisal was published have gone!

The opening of the bypass has brought numerous advantages to residents in Warminster Road. We well recall waiting for up to ten minutes, in order to be able to pull out of our drive into the stream of traffic, and often being unable to make a right turn into the drive from the road in the evening "rush hour" so that we had to drive past and park in Sandy Lane until later in the evening, when we could retrieve the car and park in our own drive. Now we are quite surprised if we have to wait for one car before we can pull out!

The reduction in the noise level, the reduction in the level of fumes from the traffic and the absence of the litter, dust and dirt which was a feature of pre-bypass life have all improved the quality of our life. Sometimes now when we are standing on the pavement, talking to friends and neighbours, we remember how this was impossible at the height of the traffic because of the noise and the danger of lorries passing so close to the houses.

We now see children making independent excursions, on foot or bicycle, to the Post Office, whereas parents were afraid to allow them to walk down the road without adult supervision.

The constant stream of traffic prevented many ordinary, everyday exchanges of community interest as we felt cut off from the houses opposite.

Window-cleaning, curtain washing and the task of washing paintwork have all become considerably less onerous.

We become extremely irritated when we hear "newcomers" complain about the volume and speed of the traffic in the village. Where are those photographs which were on display at the exhibition of the proposed routes?? We long to show them Warminster Road with nose to tail traffic and a cloud of fumes.

The Warminster Road has become more rural looking and there has been a significant increase in wild-life over the years. Beckington has become a village again and we are delighted that it has, at the same time, retained the advantages of having its own school, church, chapel, service station, Post Office and general stores, wonderful gift shop, doctors' surgery, two pubs and an excellent Village Hall, as well as a reasonable bus service.

People now take a pride in the appearance of the outside of their houses and gardens, hence the increase in the entries for the "best kept gardens" and "best container-flower displays" in the annual horticultural show.

Life in Beckington has improved 100% since the opening of the bypass. Sue has just remarked on the reduction in the number of road accidents in the village. At one stage the Friday night shunt was a regular occurrence as drivers met the queue in Warminster Road. We frequently made phone calls and looked after shocked drivers until relatives could come and help them.

Rudge and Standerwick

So what has changed in the last ten years since the last profile of Rudge?

Not a lot many would insist. But when one looks deeper there have been changes and over a span of ten years they are quite impressive today. The bypass did not have the same effect on Rudge as it did on Beckington but it did have an impact, and that was to increase the traffic in Rudge as cars dash from Trowbridge, past Brokerswood, through Rudge, down to Standerwick and then onto the ever faster A36. Is it worth it? Well, the number of car accidents in the region of Dove Cottage would suggest that this dash for the faster road is taking its toll, culminating in a death in September of this year (1999). Thirty mile speed limit signs were put up in Rudge four years ago to remind traffic that they were in a residential area. It is also said that whereas there used to be on average one accident a month at Standerwick when the old A36 wound it's way around Court Farm, now there is one a week in the vicinity of the Bell pub. Mr Philips of Berkley House, was killed there in his Rolls Royce in the summer of 1996 whilst attempting to cross the A36. The bypass has its advantages but it also has its victims.

The Full Moon pub has been developed from a small, mainly drinking, pub ten years ago, into a thriving business. It has six letting rooms and a restaurant capable of seating 80 people. The landlord and his wife, Patrick and Christine Gifford, have won numerous awards in the licensed trade, including Best Pub of the Year and Best Business Woman of the Year. The Full Moon provides work for a lot of people and has put Rudge on the map, as it were. If one mentions The Full Moon at Rudge, it is immediately apparent where we are talking about.

The Methodist Chapel in the centre of Rudge is our only public building. The chapel still functions on two Sundays a month and is very well looked after by Mrs Valerie Thompson. We are lucky to have this facility still in our village and we should not neglect it. The W.I. hall at Standerwick was sold and pulled down in 1999 and a house built on its site. Let this be a lesson!

We have only two council houses in Rudge and Mr Charlie Rance, who had lived in one of them for nearly fifty years died recently. The house was then taken over by Mrs Lorraine Pople and her two young children. It is always a good sign when a young family moves into the village. During the past decade we have seen the deaths of Tom Graham, an Irishman, who had lived in the village for many years and was often seen striding out with his walking stick, and Joe and Flo Griffin, who lived for fifty years in Chapel Cottage, next to the old Baptist church. It is always sad when we lose indigenous residents.

Every other year a village fête is held at the Manor House, where Mr and Mrs Pakenham live. The fête is always a huge success, mainly due to the hard work of Mrs Carrie Pakenham and this year was even better than ever, raising over £4,000. The proceeds are always donated to the Multiple Sclerosis Society. Bob Turner always donates one of his fields for car parking, as more and more people come from further afield. The fête has been running now for 19 years and we look forward to many more!

There is not the capacity for building new houses in Rudge as we are not on mains sewage. However, during 1999 an old farm building opposite Lower Rudge Farm was converted into two cottages. The population of Rudge is approximately 100 and remains relatively stable. A few of the houses have changed hands but on the whole during the last ten years the same residents are still here. One thing that is slowly changing is the farming. The pressures on farmers over the past few years have been enormous and this is gradually being reflected in the farming activity. It would be a tragedy if our landscape changed too much. The hunt frequently meets in Rudge and this is an opportunity for local people to gather. It is always greeted with enthusiasm and a sociable atmosphere is enjoyed.

It is inevitable that the village has changed dramatically over the years from being a rural community, housing farmers and farm labourers to what it is today, where the majority of residents work in nearby towns and live in Rudge rather than live and work here. It would be sad if it became an ageing population but at the moment the village shows no sign of that as it does have its share of young families. The residents who are truly indigenous to the area are small in number and, in keeping with other villages, these old families are precious to the history and knowledge of the village.