A ramble around the village in the 1840s
Transcript of a talk given in 1988 by ex-resident Peter Oxlade

I have been asked to tell you something of the history of Fifehead Magdalen and it is fitting that I should do so in The Old Rectory because my interest in the subject was aroused in this house a little over seven years ago, when a talk was given on the local history of the district and the speaker found almost nothing to say of the history of Fifehead. Admittedly he was a historian of Gillingham and was at that time preparing a book on the town, but even so it seemed strange that he could find so little to say about Fifehead and I therefore decided to see what I could find out.

The first thing I discovered was that little of the history of Fifehead was recorded in any book and later I found that much of the detail was wrong, anyway. Nothing of great moment appears to have happened here and the amount of information available at the Dorset County Record Office and County Library was minimal. The only papers I could use were the tithe documents of 1840 and the census of 1841 which, taken together, give the basic information about the village and its inhabitants at that time. The tithe papers were a survey of the village, field by field and house by house, made when the payments of tithes in kind were converted into money payments and an accurately detailed survey had to be made to determine the cash payments to the vicar to be made by land-holders. These two documents, the census return and the tithe papers, are often used together in the study of local history to form a starting point from which it may be possible to work both backwards and forwards.

Then I became secretary of the Parochial Church Council and found that in the parish chest there were the church registers from 1564, churchwarden's accounts from 1693 and forty years of poor law accounts in the second half of the 1700s. Now I could learn who had lived in the village in the past 400 years and obtain a few glimpses of certain aspects of their lives. This is the background to my simple way of telling you something of the history of Fifehead by pretending to take a walk round the village in 1840 and learn who was there, and what was there, and then putting some historical cladding on that framework.

I would mention that I have had no access to private documents so that there may well be those among you who are in a position to correct me about details of your houses and lands but I have been greatly helped by Mrs Jean Hunt and Mr Peter Custard who have loaned me various papers relating to the village at the times when the Manor of Fifehead was sold in 1805, 1820, 1865 and 1904.

So, on to our ramble around Fifehead Magdalen and we begin outside the churchyard at the gates of FIFEHEAD HOUSE or the Great House as it was popularly known in the village. This had been built in 1807 to replace the former Tudor Manor house, following the acquisition of the Manor of Fifehead two years previously by Mr George Cox who was something of an early property speculator, having purchased several large estates, including that of the Abbey of Glastonbury. Mr Cox lived at Fifehead House for about ten years and then sold the estate to Mr Vincent Stucky, who had his home near Taunton and, as far as can be ascertained, never resided at Fifehead. In 1840, the point in time with which we are chiefly concerned, Fifehead House was occupied by the Vicar, the Reverend Edward Peacock, who had married the daughter of his Bishop and lived in the style of a country gentleman.

Having said that, after the first two years of his ministry in the village he did not have a curate but the parish registers show that he regularly carried out all the duties of a country parson and was seldom away from his parish. He was to die in 1848, having been Vicar for almost thirty years.

I do not propose to say anything about Fifehead House itself as details of its architecture, etc, together with photographs, are given in the volume on the buildings of North Dorset, prepared under the auspices of the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments of England and published by Her Majesty's Stationery 0ffice.

Although by 1840 there was little trace of the old manor house, other than that some of its Tudor walls had been incorporated in farm outbuildings, it is appropriate to refer to it here because of the importance of the Manor to the life of the village in previous centuries. The manorial estate of almost 1000 acres was the village; the ecclesiastical parish, and its boundaries, were almost identical with these existing today. In 1840 the estate comprised about 140 acres of arable land, 770 acres of pasture, and woodlands and withy-beds along the river amounted to 55 acres. The vicar's glebe lands totalled 25 acres and these belonged to the church and were legally excluded from the manorial estate.

The former MANOR HOUSE was built about 1510 as the residence of the Newman family, who had rented the estate from its Lord, the Abbot of St. Augustine's Abbey, Bristol, from 14081. The Lordship of the Manor was purchased from the Bishop of Bristol by the then head of the family, Colonel Richard Newman, after the restoration of the Monarchy in 1660. Colonel Newman died shortly afterwards and there were then, successively, three other Richard Newmans who were Lords of the Manor. In 1699 the last of them was raised to a baronetcy and it is his family memorial tablet and sculptures which dominates the present vestry, originally the Newman mortuary chapel, of the church. Sir Richard died in 1721 and was succeeded by his son Sir Samwell Newman who died unmarried in 1747, when the male line became extinct. Two of Sir Samwell's three sisters continued to live at the Manor House and to control the estate until the last one died in 17752. In 1779 the estate was sold to a partnership of two men, the Reverend William Whittaker of Motcombe, brother of a former vicar of Fifehead, and Robert James, a Fifehead farmer. The Newman family had also acquired the Manor of West Stour in 1656 and this, too, was purchased in 1779 by Messrs. James and Whittaker. By 1805 Robert James's partner was the Reverend Walter Whittaker, son of the former vicar, and it was they who sold the Manor to George Cox.

So you have an estate which had been in the hands of the same family for over 350 years, with the family farming half the lands and occupying the Manor House for much of that period, thus giving a sense of stability to the village. Then the estate was sold, and sold again, every twenty or thirty years or so, until the 1920s when it was broken up as a unit. But by virtue of that earlier stability, when the village of 1840 is examined in detail, it is possible to suggest that as regards the houses and land holdings, there was not a great deal of change from the village of the 1600s - the holdings were almost identical and the houses were the same or replacements on roughly the same sites.

We then proceed past the CHURCH and, again, some of the history of this building has been recorded in the Royal Commission's survey. What I wish to emphasize, however, is the church's important role in village life, from Elizabethan to Victorian times, as the mainspring of the limited local government of the period and of the first glimmerings of the welfare state.

The secular affairs of the church were governed by its church vestry meetings, meetings of the landholders of the village who were required to hold parochial offices for the common good of the village and its inhabitants. They met, under the chairmanship of the vicar, in the church porch after morning service, two or three times a year, and elected from among their numbers a churchwarden, two overseers of the poor, one or more parish constables and two waywardens, sometimes grandiosely called surveyors of the highways, who were responsible for the upkeep of the local roads. There were basically six or seven farms in Fifehead and they usually provided the same number of vestrymen, sometimes one or two more if adult sons or brothers were available. There was no obligation to be a practising churchman, although the villager elected as churchwarden usually was, and, as for the rest of the offices, they were shared out between the others. Although all offices were rotated as far as possible, it meant that most of the men held offices at least three years in five. And these were quite onerous offices, particularly when it is remembered that, until 1780 or so, many of the farmers were illiterate and their duties involved the keeping of three sets of accounts.

Coming from the church towards the centre of the village, immediately on the right at what is now the drive to the present Manor House, was a farmhouse called CHURCH FARM. The tenancy of the farm was held by Charles Silverthorne, who rented 160 acres and employed seven labourers. He had come to the village about 1812 and had had another farm, near the site of the present Higher Farm, before moving to Church Farm where he had been for about a couple of years. He was to die in 1867, aged 84, and farmed the land until then. Silverthorne was born at Brewham and it may be of interest to note that, of the six men holding the farm tenancies in 1840, only two had been born in the village and four had come from the Wincanton - Pitcombe area of Somerset. The Fifehead farmers whose origins can be traced were rarely Dorset-born and I think that this may be due to the fact that the Newman family had branches with seats at Wincanton and Evercreech and may have recruited their tenants from that area.

Church Farm was carried on until the 1880s, when the lands were divided between Higher and Middle Farms and the farmhouse became two cottages, for employees of Fifehead House. These were demolished within living memory.

Between Church Farm and the dwelling now called The Old Post Office was a single cottage, standing where Fifehead Cottage is today, and this was occupied by an agricultural worker called William Stokes. He had been born in the village in 1791 and lived in this cottage until death in 1863.

In a survey of 1832 the cottage was said to be in a very bad state of repair but it continued to be occupied by members of the Stokes family, until it was replaced during the ownership of the manorial estate by Lieutenant Colonel Browne, in the period 1904-11. Such cottages were primitive and their occupiers paid neither rates nor tithes.

The building now known as The Old Post Office was in 1840 the home and workplace of Henry Lazenbury, a carpenter. It was formerly a single-storey farmhouse belonging to the Davidge family, who had farmed in the village from at least the mid 1500s to the 1770s. Successive heads of the family had been tenants of two farms, this one and the larger farm now called Manor Farm but then called Nethells. For many years, apart from the Newmans who farmed around the church and manor house, the Davidges ranked as the senior farmers in the village. The family's connection with Fifehead ceased in 1772, when two George Davidges, father and son, died in the same year and they are commemorated by a large memorial tablet on the north wall of the church.

After the Davidge family ceased to lease this farm, its lands were incorporated into other farms and the house was occupied by a series of tradesmen - thatchers, blacksmith, carpenter and dairyman - before becoming the home of the bailiff to the manor house and incorporating the village store and post office.

The 1841 census showed that the VICARAGE was then occupied by the Rector of Kington Magna but this must have been a temporary arrangement. It was occupied at the beginning of Mr. Peacock's ministry by his curate and during previous incumbencies it had often been similarly occupied, because Fifehead had had periods of absentee vicars and vicars holding plural livings who were at Fifehead infrequently. One vicar, a relative of the Newmans was an absentee vicar for nine years in the 1760s and 70s. The head of the Newman family was patron of the living and Miss Frances Newman appointed her nephew, who was vicar of a Yorkshire parish, but there is no evidence in the records that he ever took a service or held a vestry meeting in Fifehead3.

After Mr. Peacock's curate departed, the Vicarage was let to lay residents until it was occupied from 1848 by Mr Peacock's successor, the Reverend Joseph Hunt, who was Vicar of Fifehead for 55 years.

Again, I will say nothing about the dwelling as the former vicarage is another Fifehead house which is reasonably adequately documented in the HMSO publication.

The cottage now called Mandy cottage, at the corner which was then known as the Crossroads, was in 1840 occupied by a farm labourer named Meshach Rice, who was to live there until his death in 1866 at the age of 85. He was born in West Stour and came to live in Fifehead upon marriage. His wife was a member of the Slade family, who had lived in the cottage for generations and whose menfolk had been the village tailors over many years. It was appropriate that a man called Meshach should come to live in the cottage because the names of two of the Slade tailors had been Shadrach and Abednego.
Meshach Rice was an agricultural labourer for most of his life but in old age he was employed as a gardener at Fifehead House.

From Meshach Rice's cottage we would have gone on towards Fifehead Wood to see, on the left hand side of the road, a small cottage in the middle of the field immediately before the entrance to the wood. This field was known as the Brick Yard and had for many years been rented by the various tradesmen occupiers of the former Davidge farmhouse. For this reason I thought that it was possible that it had been connected with brick-making. There was a small brick business just across the river on the outskirts of Marnhull, but the sub-soil near the wood seemed unsuitable for brick manufacture. Then, in an old document I found references to a field in this vicinity called Buck Yard and I think that this is the correct name, probably derived from its proximity to the wood, which abounded with deer, and that the misreading of the old name had led to the field being incorrectly named in the records for 200 years or more.

In 1840 the cottage in the field was occupied by a lady called Sarah Wren who was still working as a farm labourer at the age of 70. She subsequently became a pauper and moved from the cottage to live with her daughter elsewhere in the village. The cottage was demolished in 1863 and was not replaced.

We now retrace our footsteps towards HIGHER FARM, then a new farmhouse built a year or two previously to replace two old farmhouses which were in an advanced state of dilapidation. One was situated just a few yards away, nearer to the Crossroads, and the other was in the field behind the church and had been known as Higher Church Farm. Higher Farm was occupied in 1840 by William Toogood who had moved to this farmhouse from the one behind the church, where he had been born in 1796 and had later succeeded to his father's tenancy. At Higher Farm he farmed all the lands he had rented before and also some of the land of the old farmhouse a few yards away. This had been farmed by Charles Silverthorne who then moved to Church Farm but also retained the tenancy of some of his former fields.

The Fifehead farmers were often moving from one farmhouse in the village to another and consolidating and splitting up landholdings. The Toogood family, for example, had earlier farmed from Church Farm where Silverthorne was now the tenant.

Higher Farm comprised about 164 acres and Toogood employed four labourers. He was married to a daughter of the farmer at Manor House and this was another characteristic of Fifehead farmers at this time - the extent of intermarriage between members of the farming families so that there was an elaborate cousinhood among the farming community.

At this point in our ramble, as we leave the main farms on the top of the hill, I would like to refer back to the duty of the upkeep of the roads. What this amounted to in practice was that each year one of the farmers from the top end of the village who was in a big enough way of farming to have a team of horses was responsible, as one of the two elected waywardens, for the transport of loads of stone from the Todber quarries to be used in the making up of the road between Trill Bridge and the Crossroads. He had to bring three loads of stone a day for three days in the spring and in the autumn, and to employ six men for the six days roadmaking at a wage of 1 shilling a day. The men were local farm labourers who were required by statute to perform this work if called upon to do so. Similarly, one of the farmers at the lower end of the village was elected as the second waywarden and obliged to arrange for the carriage of stone from the Henstridge quarry to repair the road from Cale Bridge to the bottom of Fifehead Hill. Then, according to the comparative state of disrepair of the two sections of road, there was often a minor dispute as to who should repair the stretch of road from the bottom of Fifehead Hill to the Crossroads and from there along Wood Lane, as it was called, to Fifehead Wood. Usually the matter was resolved, as one would have expected, by the waywarden from the top of the hill repairing Wood Lane and the other waywarden continuing with the repair of the road uphill to the Crossroads.

Along the road, between Higher Farm and the dwelling now called Three Farthings, was a pair of cottages previously associated with the recently demolished small farmhouse behind them. They subsequently became farm labourer's cottages for Higher Farm and were themselves demolished comparatively recently. In 1840 they both had all-female households. In one cottage lived two unmarried cousins, members of the Gillett family which was an old and very prolific Fifehead family, who were then in their sixties and working as agricultural labourers. At this time there were still seven older women who were in census terms 'heads of household', either single or widowed, who worked as labourers and this figure was in line with that for Dorset as a whole, indicating that 10 per cent of the agricultural labour force was female. It was a situation that was changing, however, because most of the younger Fifehead women and girls down to the age of ten were employed as glovers. They were outworkers, working at home, and their materials were supplied by packhorse deliveries from Milborne Port and Yeovil, with the gloves being collected on the next visit with leathers, etc.

In the other cottage lived a mother and daughter named Lambert who were the village dressmakers. The mother was then about 66 and the daughter, who was unmarried, was 40. Her father had died in 1812 and the relevant entry in the church register has a note beside it in the Vicar's writing "Died by drinking cold water when hot and holding plow for G. Cox". This is an interesting entry, not only because of the medical phenomenon, but because it may show that the Lord of the Manor was regarded as something of a parvenu and not given the courtesy of style as Esquire or Gentleman, which was normally accorded the Lord of the Manor by the incumbents of the parish.

At the corner of the Crossroads was the building now known as Three Farthings, described in the surveys as dwelling, workshop and schoolroom. The house was occupied in 1840 by Walter Gulliford who was a carpenter and also the parish clerk, an office generally described as midway between that of a curate and a church servant. The Gulliford family had been established in Fifehead since at least Tudor times and dozens of their names appear in the church registers. Some had been tenants of small farms, by virtue of which they had held all the parish offices, and at least five generations of Gullifords before Walter Gulliford had combined their carpentry with the position of parish clerk, which was normally an appointment for life. They were mostly called Benjamin; Walter was the exception but he was a grandson of the previous holder of the post, who had died a few years earlier aged 86.

The Fifehead parish clerk, for two hundred years prior to 1778, had been paid the sum of thirty shillings as the annual fee for his services but he was paid extra for his duties at funerals, where he dug the grave, made the coffin, tolled the bell and led the mourning, and he was given additional annual payments for expenditure on the small items he used in caring for the church. In 1778 the lump sum payment was raised to three guineas but the parish clerk was no longer to have the free ale with which he had been supplied on the occasion of three church festivals each year. At the side of the Vicarage there had been a hop-yard of 1½ acres, where the hops to make the ale were grown. The liquor wouldn't all have gone to the parish clerk - in many villages the church provided an ale-house to keep the inhabitants from the suspected vices of the inns but there is no evidence that there was a church ale-house in Fifehead. There was certainly no inn and when the parochial officers held a dinner to celebrate the end of their year of duty they went to the Ship Inn at West Stour, which was also used to accommodate visiting dignitaries.

Walter Gulliford was the last of the Guilliford male line to live in Fifehead. He was called to account by the vestry meeting for pushing up his incidental expenses to too high a figure, treble that of his grandfather and, after the death of his wife, who was described in the census as a schoolmistress and who died in 1846, he left the village. His eldest daughter became head of the family and in the census of 1851 she was shown as the school mistress but by the following decennial census the whole Gulliford family had left Fifehead and their home was occupied by the footman at Fifehead House and his wife who had become the schoolmistress.

The school, such as it was, had been started by the Church in 1826 as a Sunday school "for the improvement of the poor children of the parish". The schoolmaster and schoolmistress were two young people of the parish in their early twenties, William Gillett, a farm labourer who became parish clerk after Walter Gulliford, and Elizabeth Rice, daughter of Meshach, from the cottage opposite. The Gullifords then had no apparent connection with the school and I assume that because the house was regarded as almost church property, being the home and workplace of the parish clerk, a part of the carpenter's shop was taken over to provide a schoolroom. The appeal for funds to inaugurate the school stated that it was to be carried on on Sundays from 9 am until morning service, when the children would be taken to church, and from 1 pm until evensong (presumably held at about 3 pm), also to be attended by the children, after which school would he continued until 5 pm in winter and 6 pm in summer. From this school developed the Fifehead day school, about which something will be said in due course.

The dwelling was much larger than the typical Fifehead cottage and had probably been associated with the old farm behind it which was occupied by members of the Gulliford family for over 150 years. The last Gulliford to farm there was a spinster, Molly Gulliford, who ran the farm for over fifty years until her death in her eighties in 1812, when the tenancy passed to Charles Silverthorne. The Gulliford's house and workshop-come-schoolroom were later adapted to farm cottages for employees of Middle Farm and Fifehead House.

Half way down the hill was the cottage now called Keeper's Cottage, although there is no record of a gamekeeper having lived there. In 1840 it was occupied by George Abbott who had come to Fifehead from a neighbouring village as a farm labourer and had married the daughter of another William Gillett, whose family had occupied the cottage for generations. Abbott's father-in-law had been the hayward of the Manor, the man responsible for the maintenance of the hedges and fences, and he also looked after the village pound which was at the foot of his garden and orchard. The remains of the wall of the pound can still be seen at the gateway below the small paddock, which was formerly the orchard. I suppose the reason for combining the two jobs was that if the hayward did his work properly there would be fewer animals escaping from the fields to give him extra work as the pound keeper. Abbott did not succeed his father-in-law as hayward when the latter died in 1819 but after many more years as a labourer he acquired a horse and cart and set up business as the village coal merchant, going regularly to the Somerset coal mines at Radstock to bring back supplies which he hawked around the district. After Abbott's death the cottage was occupied by the Manor's woodman and eventually became a cottage tied to Middle Farm.

MIDDLE FARM is thought to be the oldest farmhouse in the village and in previous centuries had been occupied, together with Manor Farm, by members of senior farming families who were farming what was called the lower living. At various earlier times the Fifehead farming tenancies had been consolidated into two - the higher and lower livings. The lower living was based on these two farms, with lands extending from the bottom of Fifehead Hill to the Stalbridge and Marnhull boundaries, and the higher living was based on the farms around the church with members of another family holding this enlarged tenancy. The holdings fluctuated with halvings-off into several tenancies and then amalgamations so that two families again farmed most of the parish. The last division into higher and lower livings ended with the change of ownership of the Manor in 1805.

In 1840 Middle Farm was occupied by Thomas Stay, a man in his mid-thirties who had been there for about ten years. It was a farm of 145 acres employing five labourers. Although the farmhouse had been a substantial dwelling for centuries, as described in the Royal Commission's report, a manorial survey in the 1830s stated that the walls of the house were defective and "must be looked into". As to what happened there is no record but Thomas Stay eventually belied his name and gave up his tenancy in 1845, departing to a farm in Marnhull.

Below Middle Farm, and lying well back from the road, was a single cottage with a garden, a small orchard and a stable. In 1840 it was still known as ROBERT GULLIFORD'S, after the previous occupier, who had been in business there as a small-scale timber merchant. He, and his forebears, had rented a nearby part of the wood called the Coppice Grounds and had supplied wood for fencing, faggots and spars used in thatching. Robert Gulliford had died in 1833 and the cottage was then occupied for a while by a relative named Sarah Ann Hayter who appears to have carried on the business for a few years. By the time of the census in 1841, however, the cottage was the home of her son and his family, all agricultural labourers, and later it became a cottage leased to the tenant of Factory Farm and the last property in the village to be held on a copyhold lease granted by a Court of the Manor of Fifehead Magdalen, which ceased to function in the early 1860s.

A little further along the road, at a point almost opposite the two existing cottages, a short track led to a pair of dwellings known as THE CRESCENT, which was the shape of the track. The buildings were also known as the Poor-Houses and were used by the parish officers, the overseers of the poor, and churchwardens, to house pauper labourers and their families, but in the surveys a distinction was made between a block of four tenements and a detached one across the track. This grouping was earlier a substantial farmhouse, occupied by a member of the family farming the lower living, and a worker's cottage, which were both allowed to fall into comparative disrepair, probably after the building of Factory Farm. When the property was surveyed in 1832 it was stated that it was in bad condition and that the parish should carry out repairs but nothing was done and the new Poor Law reform of 1837 took the responsibility for upkeep away from the parish. Yet these dilapidated buildings continued to house the families of five agricultural labourers until they were demolished in 1895. The Poor Law Reform Act established Unions of Parishes to build and maintain district workhouses where the paupers laboured within the building and its grounds. The parish poor houses were essentially a means of providing a village labourer with a cottage, albeit a poor one, where husbands were not separated from their wives and children and where they could continue in employment, as and when they could find it. But due to old age, ill-health and periods of unemployment, there was soon a regular exodus from the Fifehead poor houses to the Union workhouse at Sturminster Newton and for the adults it was usually a one-way traffic.

A tragedy in Fifehead, which was repeated in many other villages, was that some inhabitants of the poor houses were members of the families of small farmers who, a few years earlier, had been relatively prosperous and had themselves been overseers of the poor and distributed parish relief to their own workers and other villagers. The parish relief system was both benevolent and calculating. In an almost exclusively agricultural community the parish officers were usually farmers and it was almost inevitable that the relief system came to be used as a means of subsidizing farm wages by reducing the farmers' payments and making up the deficiency from poor law relief. Of course, the relief came from the parish poor rates and these were mainly contributed by the farmers but there were a few other members of the community who also paid rates and so the farmers' administration of parish relief led to an easing of their wage burden.

There is a lot of talk today about the north/south divide as regards wages but at this time, although it existed, for agricultural wages it worked the other way round. Wages in the north were a third as much again as those in the south, in general, and nearly two-thirds more than those in Dorset, which was a very poor county indeed. The fifteen years prior to 1840 had been especially poverty-stricken in Dorset, with farm wages only half as much as they had been seventy years before, and there had been serious revolt among the labourers, with arson of farm buildings and ricks. There is no record of any such incident having taken place in Fifehead but trouble flared as near as Stour Provost and there were many cases of local workers being sentenced to terms of imprisonment or transportation.

The Crescent in 1840 can hardly have been other than a rural slum, housing five families, all with at least five children and some with eight and more, and all of them extremely poor.

Then, as now, there were no more dwellings along the road until one came to FACTORY FARM which was built about 1817 for Thomas Dowding, a member of the family who had farmed this end of the village for the previous forty years from Manor Farm, Middle Farm and The Crescent. Thomas Dowding was the last representative of the family to farm in the village and he moved from house to house as the land holding dwindled and ended up at Fifehead Mill. The Factory is said to have been started as a woollen mill, becoming a stocking factory after the wool industry in the area declined, but as the building was described in a survey of 1833 as a "farmhouse late a factory", it must have had a fairly short industrial existence. In 1840 the farm was being run by Richard Sanford who was a relative of the then tenant of Manor Farm and son-in-law of Thomas Dowding, who by then lived at the mill. Richard Sanford, who came from the Bruton area, had married in 1827 after having been a partner with his father-in-law in the textile business but he soon concentrated on the farm which comprised 186 acres and employed six labourers.

Richard Sanford had a son, also named Richard, and for a period, they held between them almost all the parish offices until Richard Sanford senior died in 1875. But it should be remembered that the burden of these offices had first diminished after about 1860; the responsibility for the maintenance of the roads had been transferred to local Highways Boards, the police undertook the work of the parish constables and, although there were still overseers of the poor, they were members of Boards of Guardians sitting on committees to administer the union workhouses and not having personally to collect poor rates and to dole out parish relief.

The younger Richard Sanford carried on Factory Farm and was the senior member of the farming community in Fifehead until his death in 1900.

In the seventeenth century the MILL HOUSE was the farmhouse for the large land-holding at this far end of the parish. Then in 1710 the mill tenancy was reduced to the house, mill and four small fields and the rest of the lands became associated with Manor Farm and formed a part of the enlarged lower living, remaining so under three different families, the last being the Dowdings. In 1777 Charles A'Court, reputed to be a member of an old Huguenot family which had settled in Marnhull, became tenant of the mill for a time and the mill came to be called Court Mill and was so described for many years after A'Court ceased to be the miller, although the name was given a new lease of life when two of his descendants became millers there almost a hundred years later.

In 1840 the Mill House was occupied by Thomas Dowding, and his son, also named Thomas, was the miller. The tenancy then changed hands every few years and the mill was still recorded as operating until 1899. At the sale of the Manor estate in 1904, however, the dwelling house and mill were described as being in ruins and the stone roofing material was used for the roof of the church when it was completely renovated in 1906.

On returning to the village from Fifehead Mill in 1840 one would have turned the two corners before passing any dwelling on the right-hand side of the road, exactly the same as today. Then, near the Long House, was a farmhouse which stood well back from the road and had been the home of the Hannam family for more than a hundred years, having previously been in the occupation of members of the Gillett family. The farm had been a holding of forty acres and some of the Hannam family had been important enough to hold all the parish offices and to give their names to a number of the fields but in the 1830s the holding began to decrease in size. The farmhouse was divided to make a home for two Hannam families and when the patriarch Robert Hannam died in 1840, aged eighty, the property consisted of just the house, some outbuildings and two small fields. The house was then occupied, with their families, by David Hannam, a shoemaker, and Charles Hannam, an agricultural labourer. A few years later the house was further sub-divided to make homes for four families, including that of William Gillett, the parish clerk, who was making at least his third move around the village and returning to the home of his ancestors. A Hannam descendant was still living there when the sale of the Manor Estate took place in 1904. The farmhouse was demolished soon afterwards and was effectively replaced by the existing pair of cottages.

In the last sixty years of its life, however, the old farmhouse still possessed a status above that of similar buildings which had fallen from grace and had become poor houses, and its four resident families were liable to pay a charge in lieu of tithes although, admittedly, this was only a nominal sum.

The Long House was known at this time as THE DAIRY HOUSE. For as far back as records exist it had been connected with Manor Farm and had often been occupied by members of the family holding the tenancy of the farm. Sometimes it had been used, in effect, as a dower house, with the older members in residence there, and sometimes it had been the home of younger offspring waiting to take over the running of the farm although, in each instance, these family representatives were often in charge of the dairy. But in 1840 the house was occupied by a dairyman who was an employee, named Uriah Dyke, who was a newcomer to the village and did not stay very long.

A few years later the Dairy House was again in the occupation of members of the Sanford family, who farmed Manor Farm and Factory Farm, although not in association with each other, when two ladies, a widow and her daughter, were responsible for the dairy. But, because of the interrelationship of the local farmers, during the period 1830-1860 the Dairy House was occupied by members of three different families holding tenancies of other Fifehead farms and so it was also a training ground for the dairymen of the neighbouring farms.

MANOR FARM had for the previous 250 years been one of the most important farms in the village and its main features are well described in the Royal Commission's survey. It was variously known in the 17th and 18th centuries as Nethells, Nesthills or Northills Farm and was successively in the occupation of senior members of the village's leading farming families - the Davidges, the Jameses, the Youngs, the Dowdings and the Sanfords. Robert James, the co-purchaser of the Manor of Fifehead from the Newmans in 1779, had helped his father to farm the lower living farm Nethells Farm and then had moved to farm the higher living, with the aid of his son who was also called Robert, from Higher Church Farm and the Manor House. Robert James senior continued to be a working farmer, churchwarden, overseer of the poor and waywarden after becoming the resident Lord of the Manor but he retired from all parish offices after 1790 and was succeeded in them for a few years by his son but presumably they then became upwardly mobile because there is no further mention at them in any of the Fifehead records.

In 1780 the tenancy of Nethells Farm was acquired by the Dowdings, another family who came to Fifehead from the Glastonbury area, and two brothers and their two sons farmed the lower living for almost forty years. As members of the family began to relinquish parts of the lower living and to return to Somerset, the lease of Manor Farm, as it was by now generally known, was granted about 1816 to Abel Sanford, a farmer from Bruton. He firmly established himself as the leading Fifehead farmer for the next thirty years and in 1840 the farm comprised 200 acres and employed eight labourers. Abel Sanford died in 1846, at the age of 68, and was succeeded by his son-in-law, who had been a coach-builder in Wincanton and had served his farming apprenticeship when waiting in the wings at the Dairy House, but Abel Sanford's unofficial status as the village's senior farmer passed to his kinsman Richard Sanford senior, of Factory Farm. The son-in-law, who was named Edward Meaden, held the tenancy until his death in 1870, when it passed to the Mogg family, members of which still farm in Stalbridge and Henstridge.

The present MANOR FARM COTTAGE (now called MY LADY'S COTTAGE) was then two dwellings. They were still leased to James Dowding, who had lived earlier at Manor Farm but had given up the tenancy of the farm and removed to Keinton.

One cottage was occupied by an agricultural labourer, James Dean, and his family. Dean's wife was described in the 1851 census as a grocer but soon afterwards, in a local trade directory, Dean himself was shown as the grocer. By the time of the 1861 census Dean faced competition. In the cottage in the field opposite, the Hayter family had been replaced by William Hinks, a carpenter, and his wife and Mrs Hinks was also described as a grocer. Similarly, in a trade directory of a slightly later date, William Hinks was shown as the grocer of the family. It seems that the Hinkses may have prospered more than the Deans because later on Mrs Hinks and her son took over the tenancy of Manor Farm from William Mogg. William Hinks did not share in this apparent prosperity, however, as he was found drowned in the River Stour in 1879, the year before the family's move to Manor Farm took place.

The other cottage was occupied by Charles Pike. Pike was a stonemason and his family had carried out the stonework for the Manor for many years previously but had always operated from Stour Provost. Charles Pike conducted his business in Fifehead until his death in 1867 and then it was continued by his sons and step-son, the latter still working from this cottage until after the end of World War I.

In the road-side orchard of Manor Farm, beyond Manor Farm Cottages, was another house divided into four tenements which for some years had been used by the parish to house poor labouring families. It had previously been the home of Stephen James who, in the early part of the eighteenth century, became tenant of Nethells and Higher Church Farms. It was his elder son, Robert, who became joint purchaser of the Manor estate and his younger son, also named Stephen, occupied the original family home, this house in the orchard, but by 1790 none of the family remained in Fifehead.

The house then came down in the world to become another parish poor-house. The building continued to be used as a home for the families of four agricultural labourers until it was demolished about 1895 although, as with The Crescent, the cottages were no longer classified as pauper's dwellings and became tied cottages of the farms. There was no replacement for this accommodation as the number of inhabitants of Fifehead began to fall. Decline set in steadily from the 1840s, due partly to the depressed state of agriculture and partly to the coming of the railways. Men left the village to work for the railway companies and never returned. Others exchanged agricultural work for better-paid jobs in the South Wales coalfields and there was a drifting away of menfolk from the village.

One who did not leave, and who was growing up in this poor-house in 1840, was a young boy labourer called Eli Galpin. He remained a farm labourer all his life but also became a well-known local lay preacher. He was one of the group responsible, in the 1860s, for the building of the little Baptist chapel at the edge of Fifehead Wood. The Lord of the Manor would not give permission for a chapel to be built in the parish, so it was built as near to the village as possible but in the next parish, which was more liberal-minded and already had a nonconformist chapel. Galpin was a bachelor who lived in his section of the poor-house until it was pulled down. He died in the work-house in Sturminster Newton in 1900 at the age of 70.

Climbing to the top of Fifehead Hill, we would have come to another larger-sized house which had also seen better days and which was situated almost at the corner of The Crossroads, just beyond the existing row of four cottages. It was another former farmhouse of some substance and had been occupied by members of the Cox family from the early 1600s to 1780, when the lands were finally absorbed into the tenancy of Nethells Farms after a piecemeal process over earlier years. By 1832 it was in a bad state of repair and had been turned into three tenements and used as another parish poor-house. By 1836 certain building works had been done and it had become five dwellings for agricultural labourers and their families and continued to be so used until the Manor estate was sold in 1904, after which it was demolished and replaced by the present row of cottages.

The house was one of three in the village occupied by members of the Cox family at the time of the introduction of the Hearth Tax. This tax was first levied in 1662, after the restoration of the monarchy at the end of the Civil War, on houses which had fireplaces, at the rate of 2 shillings per hearth per annum. This house had four hearths but the then senior member of the family, Mr. Thomas Cox, who was living at the Manor House, paid tax on twelve hearths. In the mid - 17th century the head of the household was Robert Cox, who was a Lieutenant of the County and styled in the registers as a gentleman. He was the only Fifehead inhabitant, or so it would appear from the records, who held any position of prominence in the county in the period before 1840, other than Sir Richard Newman. In fact, Fifehead seems not to have provided a home for a doctor, magistrate or attorney in over three hundred years and all calls for the services of such gentlemen had to be made to Marnhull, Shaftesbury, Sturminster or Dorchester. By the mid - 1740s, with the whirligig of agricultural fortunes, one of Robert Cox's grandsons was a carpenter who, together with a Gulliford carpenter, was paid £10 a year for three years to make new pews for the church. The work did not take so long but the church finances were in a parlous state and the Vestry meeting arranged to pay by instalments. The final absorption of the farmlands of this tenancy had taken place with the death of the carpenter-farmer in 1780 and there was then no longer a member of the family living in the village.

The five families resident in the house in 1840 were members of long-standing Fifehead agricultural labouring families, some of whom were further reduced to making the one-way journey to Sturminster Newton work-house, but others survived in Fifehead and their descendants were living in the building at the time of its demolition, early this century.

Around the corner, at the beginning of the stretch of road through the village which used to be called Church Walk, was a small farmhouse which was known in 1840 as BUTT'S FARM. It was so named after a former tenant in the 1770-1790 period but was occupied by George Dimmer who farmed about 32 acres with the help of one labourer. Dimmer had been born and brought up in Fifehead and the poor law accounts of the 1780s show that he was one of the "poor children at school" whose fees were paid by the parish.

Dimmer's tenancy of the farm was transferred in 1881 to Richard Sanford junior, who was then aged 25 and living at Factory Farm with his father. Richard Sanford junior continued to farm his holding until he succeeded his father at Factory Farm and then the Butt's Farm lands were transferred to the tenancy of Middle Farm. George Dimmer lived in the farmhouse until his death in 1863 and, after some years as a tied dwelling, the building was demolished at the end of the last century.

Before the farm was called Butt's Farm it had long been known as Huson's Farm. It was farmed by the vicar, the Reverend Richard Huson, in the early 1690s and early 1700s, then by his elder son, also called Richard, and later by his younger son, Narcissus, who was a pillar of the Fifehead community from 1710 until his death in 1770, aged 84. Narcissus Huson also farmed Church Farm and, for a while, a third land-holding, without a farmhouse, by the river at Trill Bridge. This was relinquished about 1758 but he kept the other farms until his death.

After leaving Butt's Farm to walk towards the church, one would have passed no buildings on this side of the road until coming opposite Church Farm where the dwelling now called Home Farm was then a boarding school. Home Farm was one of the old farmhouses of the Manor, occupied by members of the Newman family in earlier periods, and later by their tenants, but becoming linked with and subordinate to Church Farm. About 1780 the house was leased to a family named Hunt and during their occupancy it was re-faced with dressed stone and called THE VILLA. Mr and Mrs Hunt, and later their daughter, carried on the school at their premises but their two sons farmed extensively in West Stour. In 1840 the school was being conducted by Miss Sarah Hunt, assisted by a Miss Dowding of the Fifehead Mill family. It had 28 boarding pupils between the ages of 7 and 15, 9 boys and 19 girls, and in the first four censuses of the century, when individual names were not recorded, the Fifehead figures are inflated by numbers of this order, quite a high percentage when there were only sixty or so village children.

This was the school where selected children were taught to read and write in the period 1785~1804, with their fees being paid by the parish. In addition to the boarding pupils, the school also taught up to ten village children whose fees were paid from the poor law rate income. The pupils were taught to write and/or read, not always both, and the fees were £1 a year for writing lessons and eleven shillings a year for reading lessons. The building continued to be used as a school until 1856 and then became the home of persons whose names were included in the section of the local directory which was reserved for the details of gentry. In the directory's editions of the next fifty years Fifehead had just three such entries - the names of the residents of Fifehead House, The Villa and The Vicarage.

After 1856 the vicar developed the village school, building it up from the Sunday school and "Lame School" which had subsequently been carried on in the carpenter's shop premises. He provided a new school and school house at his own expense and obtained financial help with its maintenance from an ecclesiastical charity. When the Education Act of 1870 brought about the introduction of state education, he formed a School Board to obtain government grants for the school but it was never a church school and, after School Boards were abolished in 1903, it became the responsibility of the Dorset County Council which closed it in 1911. The school was built to hold sixty pupils but, as far as can be ascertained, it never catered for more than half that number and this was presumably the reason for its comparatively early demise.

The schoolmistress moved from the school-house and The Villa, too, experienced several changes of fortune, as if to conform with its no longer being dignified with the directory's classification as a home of gentry, before once again becoming a farmhouse in the 1930s.

I have now returned from this imaginary walk to my point of departure and, in inviting you to accompany me on such a stroll around the village, I hope that I may have given you, in my rambling guided tour, a few small glimpses into the history of Fifehead Magdalen.


  1. The first record of a member of the Newman appearing in Fifehead dates back to 1405 when a John Newman, brother of Robert Newman of St. Thomas's, Salisbury (c.1370 - 1402) is said to have been rector of Fifehead. I'm not aware of any evidence to confirm (or deny) that a Newman first leased the Fifehead lands from this far back. In his article in the Newman Chronicle in April 1998, Wayne Newman suggests that it was Robert Newman (c.1516 - 1556) who first leased the Fifehead estate on 20 November 1530.
  2. It appears unlikely that Sir Samwell or his sisters spent much time in Fifehead, at least in their later years. See comments on this subject on Frances Newman's page.
  3. This sounds unlikely - Frances didn't have any nephews.

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