The Developing Parish
In the period of the late 17th Century and most of the 18th Century the parish of Mildenhall showed every sign of becoming a centre of the Agricultural Revolution. There was a predominance of larger farmsteads, the evolution of land-owning farmers as opposed to small tenants and estate land-lords. Reading contemporary accounts in deeds, documents and reports makes for a greater concentration on agricultural matters.
However, an early event was not so connected. There was "a stir" in the parish. The Civil War of 1643 moved into the area and brushed past the village. Royalist troops under Hopton were pursuing the Parliamentarians and moved along the old road from Aldbourne to Marlborough. There were minor conflicts and one used cannon ball was found in that area. The troops would have come through Whiteshard Bottom, Red Lane and passed Rabley, to enter Marlborough by St. Martins and also by moving down the passages in the High Street. There is another report that some of Hopton's men went south to cross the River Kennet and thus surround the town. The battle moved on to Roundway Down near Devizes where the Parliamentary troops were routed. In answering the inevitable question, there is no proof that the East window of the church was broken by the Roundheads. But it certainly is missing.
In a river valley like that of the Kennet, the meanders of the stream create wide bands of flat floodplain. As far back as 1646 there have been mentions of the water-meadows and these were a feature of local farming methods until comparatively recently. Hatches were constructed to permit the water to run on to the field where, aided by the alluvial silt and the assured supply of ground water, three crops of hay could be expected in one season. Near to the site of Werg Mill the former hatches and tunnels can be seen, and in a quarter of a mile away towards Stitchcombe, is the outfall hatch which would have let the water run off at the appropriate time.
At this time, sheep farming was profitable for three reasons. The chalk grass lands, especially to the north on the Marlborough Downs, were ideal for the full exploitation of these animals. The self-fertilisation of the grass by the sheep themselves was an advantage, the fleece provided the raw material for cloth making and the meat formed a staple diet for the less affluent farm workers and their families. The wool side of the equation was represented by a cottage industry, where the womenfolk spun and wove the cloth. The finished cloth needed to be "fulled" or stretched in water and at least two of the parish mills were equipped to do this operation - Werg and Elcot.
As far back as 1215 the King owned a fulling mill near Marlborough and in 1237 orders were given to build a new one 'below the corn mill at Elcot'. This must have been Werg. In 1799 a clothier, Samuel Cook was set up in Marlborough to revive the old methods of hand weaving and preparation. The mill at Elcot was used. The revival was necessary to the locality because of new steam mills at Trowbridge and Bradford-on-Avon which were too competitive. However, by 1799 Cook was bankrupt.
In 1792, the Revd Charles Francis, the Minal Rector, was writing to Lord Ailesbury that "his women and children (of Minal) are now totally out of work and must pick stones from the fields to make the roads". These unemployed persons were a burden on the parish rate, or would starve.
A summary of the machinery in Elcot Mill just after Samuel Cook's occupation stated that there were four Harmer Patent shearing frames, a double riser, a 36" scribbling engine, 24 and 28 in carding engines, a slubbering billy and a pair of fulling stocks. It was capable of producing 8 to 10 broadcloths a week. It was returned to corn grinding after this time.
The decline in the wool industry was so serious that there was a requirement that all dead were to be buried in a woollen shroud. In 1792, an affidavit by John Tarrant of Stitchcombe, Miller, that "Thomas Neate, late of Stitchcombe was not put, wound up or buried in any shirt, shift, sheet or shroud made from or mingled with Flax, Silk, Hemp, Hair, Gold or Silver or other than sheep's wool only, also respecting the coffin liner".
In 1700 Poulton House was built. The architect was the same as for Ramsbury Manor, 5 miles away. It remains a perfect 'William and Mary' house at the centre of the Poulton Estate - originally two large farms, Poulton Major and Poulton Parva.
In 1731 the Manor of Minal was finally transferred to Lord Ailesbury, where much of that family's influence remains to this day. In 1736 one John Greenaway of Minal was fined £5 and 5/- ¬rent for non-payment and a new lease was granted to Thomas Knight, Miller of Elcot Mill.
By 1787, the Revd Francis had been curate at Mildenhall for ten years and on the death of Richard Pococke the Rector, succeeded him in the living. He was also Rector of Collingbourne Ducis - a long horse-ride away. In retrospect, Charles Francis was the first of the last five Minal Rectors who, collectively, had such an impact on the parish. During his 34 years as Rector of the parish he was Mayor of Marlborough in 1802 and was made a Proctor in Convocation of the Church, a forerunner of the Synod of today. In 1811 the office of Rural Dean was revived by the Bishop and the Rector of Minal was so appointed.
A distinguished soldier came to live at Poulton in 1790 in the person of Colonel J.B.M Baskerville. After a military career, mainly in Ireland, he retired to Mildenhall. He formed the Local Defence Volunteers against the possibility of a Napoleonic invasion; he was a Marlborough Justice, the Game Licence Clerk, a successful farmer. In 1806, together with the Rector, the Revd Charles Francis and Henry Woodman, the farmer of Stitchcombe, he took the parish into the Ramsbury Association of Proceedings for Misdemeanours. This was a voluntary body to protect law abiding people from crime - in fact an early form of police. He died in 1817 aged 85 and a large and impressive memorial was erected on the south wall of the Chancel in St John the Baptist church in Minal.
Another soldier, General Calcraft, Coldstream Guards died in 1818. Apart from the memorial tablet, the funeral hatchment can been seen on the north wall of the triforium.
The increase in population mainly employed in agricultural work meant more activity. In 1685, when a haymaker earned 6 pence per day, including his food, and a hedger received 3 pence per day in winter (or 10 pence plain rate without food) there was a noticeable increase in the number of accidents - as reported in the Salisbury Gazette. There were three drownings at mills on the Kennet, a farm worked kicked to death by a gelding, an accidental fatal shooting accident, an 8 year old being run over by a wagon and fatally injured, one suicide and one man dead from natural causes, found in a field.
Another aspect of life in seventeenth century is revealed by a short note written in the Burials Register in 1810. Referring to a family named Viveash who lived at the Werg Mill the Rector observed that the burial of Sarah at the age of 24 was the last of ten children, all of whom had died from Consumption at Werg.
To remind us of the severe aspects of law and order at the time, a sentence of death was passed on White, a Minal man, for stealing two sheep - but this was later commuted to a prison sentence. Such were the proceedings in the Courts and at Inquests.
However, the most notorious matter was to occur in 1798, when "Murder most Foul" was the charge against a Minal man. William Yeatle, was a widower, who had moved to Cirencester with his son and remarried. There was a period of jealousy and animosity to such an extent that Yeatall set off on foot with the boy, to take him back to his home village of Minal.
They were seen by several villagers who knew him. The next day he was seen returning - alone. He said that he had taken the lad to an uncle in Wanborough. A neighbour informed the Parish Overseer and an enquiry followed. When the body of a young child was found near Ramsbury in the River Kennet, the hunt for William Yeatle was on. A letter sent from Acton led the officer to seek out the man, and he was shortly charged with the crime of murder. He stood trial and was found guilty. His execution followed. It is of interest that this is a rare example of an individual local officer doing the detective work, a task undertaken nowadays by the constabulary.
It is about here that it becomes possible to trace some of the larger families. Although the records have made it possible to trace from 1560, no family from the 16th century endured until the 17th century. One was the Looker family.
Although there are no longer any Lookers in the parish, they are to be found in nearby townships. The first trace in Minal was in 1620 when William and Anne came to work in the parish and eventually had five children, whose baptisms are duly recorded in the Church registers. Before 1700 one of these children Thomas had grown up to marry Sarah and they were to have 8 children. By 1745 there were eighteen grand children and three great-grand children. In 1800 twelve children were alive in the parish. At one time there were four brothers of the Looker family, all with children. There were still two families noted in the census of 1881 as living at the Knap (which is still standing) when a remarkable total of eighteen people - including a lodger - were living in the two adjoining cottages.
One member of the Looker family became a churchwarden, another was the village blacksmith. Samuel Looker held Folly Farm, and his son, also Samuel, died in Shanghai. A memorial tablet in the church commemorates this.
Another family with very long ties to the parish are the Barnetts. Edward Barnett came to the village before 1788 and married a village girl. From this there followed a family line which has stretched continuously ever since. The last three generations are still living in the parish. The Barnetts have been the carpenters, wheelwrights and undertakers to the village, and in this connection the indentures of one apprentice have been located in the County Record Office. These are for William Hissey, a minor aged 13 who was apprenticed to Samuel Barnett of Mildenhall, Carpenter and Wheelwright. It is dated 1st May 1845 and gives an interesting insight into the seriousness which the Masters gave to the matter of apprenticeship. The lad was 'not to get married, play cards, dice or the tables, frequent taverns or playhouses. The master provided meat, drink, board and lodging. The apprentice found his apparel, clothing, mending, washing and medical attention'. John Barnett, born 1798, went on to become a Methodist minister and during his lifetime wrote a book "Faithful until Death" (Gratton Marshall, London 1878). He tells of his early years as a boy in Mildenhall. He tells of his parents who were respected by their neighbours and the family had a good church upbringing. John tells of his father becoming a farm bailiff and living in a cottage belonging to the parson. He says of the parson "He was the great man, the little God of the place. Everybody bowed down to him and nobody ventured to incur his displeasure".
There was a second book concerned with Mildenhall. A man, John Mildenhall had been born at Marridge Hill in the parish of Ramsbury and came into "the manor" of Mildenhall to work as a farm labourer. In 1668 he had gone with Penn to the new Americas and helped to found Pennsylvania. At a later date, he wrote a journal (published by William Medenhall of Bath) in which.he recorded his life, including his stay in Mildenhall. Now, every summer, visitors from the United States arrive in the village that John had written about in his book. Unfortunately as he was not born here, or married here and certainly did not die here, there is no record of him in the Registers. The spelling of the name has changed to Mendenhall with usage.
During the restoration work in the church in 1981, a memorial stone was revealed behind panelling. This was an inscribed tablet referring to the Jones family of Woodlands dated 1642, a family who resided there for some 150 years. The stone is again covered by the panelling, so perhaps a record of its lettering is appropriate.
HEARE LYETH THE BODY OF WILLIAM JONS GENTELM WHOE DIED THE 8 OF NOVEMBER 1610 WHOSE LYFE WAS RELIGIOUS AND HONEST HIS DEATH GODLY AND CHARITABLE SOE WITNESSED BY THE BEHOLDERS DESERVEDLY COMENDED BY THE PREACHER AT HIS FUNERALL AND HEARE SLEEPETH WITH HIS FATHER THE BODY OF JOHN JONS GENTEL HIS SON WHOES DAYES ALSO ENDED SHORTLIE AFTER BEING THE 28 OF JANVARY THE SAME YEAR BOTH WHOES SOWLES BEING WITH THE UNDEVIDED TRINITIE GLORIFIED AND CHARITABLY DEPARTED ACCORDING TO THEAR FAYTH PVBLISHED
AT THEAR DEPARTVRES TO BE SAVED ONLY BY THE DEATH PASSION AND BLOD-SHEDDING OF CHRIST JESVS RECEAVED THEIR SALVATION WHIT.F.ST THE WORDLE DOTH PERSECVT THEM
The late E.G.H.Kempson the Marlborough historian has commented that 'the same year' was of course 1611 by our reckoning but still 1610 according to the Old Style then in use.