Corsham Stories

Friday, 16 August 2019

Mushroom Culture At Corsham

Mushroom Farming.

The outbreak and extended duration of the war will have had an impact on local business with the loss of labour, shortages of materials and changes in demand. It would though also have brought opportunities as reported by the Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette in October 1914.

Mushroom Culture at Corsham
Messrs. Agarric and Co. Ltd. have leased a disused portion of the quarries of Yockney and Hartham Park Co. for the purpose of cultivating mushrooms after the French methods. The area of the grounds consists of 25 acres, each section comprising three acres. It is under the local management of Mr. W. Pepler, assisted by Mr. Chibleur, and is supervised by Mr.Durbec, one of the Directors of the above firm. Large Towns such as Liverpool, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Covent Garden (London), and the large liners will be supplied direct, and it is anticipated that a large amount of labour will soon be employed. The difficulty in the initial stages of the industry is to get a sufficient supply of manure from the farmers and others, but those who do co-operate in this way will be amply repaid later by the re-sale to them at a cheap rate of the manure. Already local men are employed.

 Underground Mushroom Farming in Bradford on Avon.

While this was just a snippet from the newspaper about Corsham in 1914 our research has now been given life by an internet contact from France and the family of Monsieur Chibleur named in the article.

Gustave-Louis Chibleur came to Corsham in 1914 as a specialist in Mushroom farming – known as a ‘Champignoniste’ and worked with the Agaric Company who had taken ownership of underground space in Pockeridge Quarry.  Gustave brought his family with him and they lived on Westwells. It is known that he was in Corsham during the whole of WW1 and until at least 1919.
We have access to an underground map showing the location of the Agaric Quarry space under Pockeridge and know that the business did indeed thrive and remained in existence until 1928. 
By 1923 there were 5 hectares in cultivation producing up to 136,000 kilos of mushrooms a year.[Victoria County History of Wiltshire, Vol IV, p.250] . The extensive warren of underground chambers even needed its own Narrow gauge railway and rudimentary ventilation system. Production ended in 1928 when the area became infected with a fungal disease. The trade ceased completely in 1939 at the start of WW2 and was transferred to Bradford-on-Avon.
Newspaper reports from September and October 1915 indicate that residents who lived nearby the Quarry were less than happy with the regular routine of bringing in the fresh manure needed to nurture the mushrooms. The practice appears to have been that manure was brought in by train and carted to the Quarry via Pickwick Road where the smell was described as ‘something dreadful’. The Town Council were petitioned to do something about the nuisance which also included flies and hornets and were invited to live for a short time on Pickwick Road to witness the impact first hand.

Gustave-Louis Chibleur and his family photographed in Corsham in 1917. The soldier is his son visiting while on leave from the French Army.

In a linked and interesting story, later survey of the quarry area used by the Mushroom Company found that after the Company had moved out a local entrepreneur had moved in to take advantage of the space and the privacy – they discovered a die-press used to forge fake half-crown coins. Arrests were later made and it is now another aspect to Corsham’s underground story.

Thanks to the Chibleur family, Alan Payne, Julian Carosi and Nick McCamley for contributions to the Mushroom story.

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Corsham's Women of WW1

The women of Corsham, particularly the young women, saw opportunity, excitement and duty in support of the war effort. In 1914 at the start of the war, Corsham had relatively recently received and welcomed the Women’s Suffrage Pilgrimage marchers into the Town raising personal expectations in many and the war then opened up chances that may not previously have been imagined.
 As part of the war effort, women were needed in organisational, administrative and physical roles previously the reserve of men, to step into positions of influence and responsibility at home, and sometimes into pioneering roles abroad as women were recruited into the Services.
The War Records of Corsham details among the 719 people who served during the war some 24 women who took up the call of the recruiting posters and took on a service role. Some of those women are known through the work of the Corsham Red Cross Hospital, others are not so well known and others are not so straightforward to trace or to research. All though were clearly important at the time and we have tried to find out more about them through ancestry records. In some cases families today may not even know about their relatives war service.
It is clear as well that these were 24 of many other women that may have had equal claim to an entry in the War Records Book or whose war time efforts were not in a service uniform.
If you have any information about or photographs of Corsham’s Women of World War 1 then please contact Corsham Commemorates through the Corsham Town Hall.
Corsham’s Women of WW1
Margaret Jesse Allen
Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps
Jessica Beszant
Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Service Reserve
Florence Bishop
Wilts VAD 30
Evelyn Nellie Blackmore
Margaret Bryant
Women’s Land Army
Annette Ina Crisp
Florence Emily Crisp
Supervisor of Forage LAAS
Edith Emily Gerrard
Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps and RAF Patrol
Mary Gerrard
Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps
Alice Goldney
Commandant Wilts VAD 30
Florence Hemmings
Lena Hemmings
Ada Honour
VAD Wilts 40
Maria Mizen
Women’s Land Army
Esme Mildred Parkinson
Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service
Gladys Frances Parkinson
Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service
D Pearce
Rhoda Ellen Pinnock
Laura J Rigden
Supt of Stores LAAS
Mrs Ada Scott
Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps
Hilda Shewring
Women’s Land Army
Agnes Tennant
Women’s Land Army
Gertie Uncles
Women’s Forage Corps
Charlotte Hedworth-Williamson
British Red Cross. Commandant Wilts VAD 40

Margaret Jessie Allen.
Private Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps.  Enlisted in the Sudan, May 17th 1917. Served in France at Rouen and Amiens. Discharged medically unfit, March 28th 1918.
Margaret Jessie Allen is recorded in the War Records of Corsham as serving in the Army Auxiliary Corps. This was her married name at the time that the War Records were compiled – she was born and raised in Corsham as Jessie Neate. She was born in 1899 to parents Henry and Emily (nee West) living in Priory Road in Corsham.  Her father was a Stone Quarryman but had previously been a Groom when the family lived briefly in Hampshire and also then worked as a Labourer for the Rural District Council. Jessie was one of 10 surviving children living in Priory Street in 1911; she was 12 then and still at school. She left school at 14 and by March 1916 was living and working in London – she was a booking clerk working for the London Electric Railway Company. Her next of kin was named as Mrs Bromage, an Aunt living in Paddington. Jessie was very keen to join the War effort and named Miss Lapham from Corsham and the Revd Winnington-Ingram as character references for her application to the Army Auxiliary Corps. She eventually was allowed to enlist although her employers stated that she was employed ‘substituting for a man called up to the colours’. Her application was approved in July 1917 in London (not the Sudan as referenced in her War Records citation). Her service was however very brief. She was sent to Rouen and was also in Abbeville but as early as October 1917 was admitted to hospital with Rheumatic Fever. She was stated to be prone to fainting on exertion and, appearing before a Medical Board in February 1918, she was declared medically unfit for further service. There is a record of Valvular Disease of the Heart.
Jessie returned to Corsham and after the war married Alexander Allen in 1919. Alexander had also served during the war with the Royal Engineers; he was at the Battle of the Somme and was wounded and gassed during his war service. His brother Albert Allen was killed during the war and is named on the Corsham War Memorial. Jessie’s brother Albert Neate also had a war history including an extended period as a prisoner of war forced to work in Russia.

Jessica Dorothy Beszant   
Nurse, Queen Alexandra Imperial Military Service Reserve. Joined the Civil Nursing Reserve, December 29th, 1915. Received orders for Malta from the Bristol General Hospital, May 8th, 1917.  Joined Queen Alexandra’s Military Reserve, and received immediate orders for Dublin. Demobilised May 8th, 1919.

(Photograph reproduced by permission of Mr Steven Flavin of Corsham Postcards)
Jessica Beszant was born in Corsham in 1890 – her father was William Herbert Beszant who owned the High Street Butchers shop. Her mother was Edith (Austin) and she had a brother William and sister Ethel. Jessica went to school locally and by 1901 the family were living on Lindley’s Farm with father William now described as a farm owner and butcher.
Jessica was a career nurse and by 1911 was already working and living in Bath as a sick nurse. Jessica did not serve in Corsham Hospital but the War Records of Corsham detail her as one of only a few women who had active service roles during the war. She joined the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve and served in Bristol, Malta and Ireland as a Staff Nurse qualifying for distinguished service and military medals.
She continued to nurse after the war and was registered under the Nursing Council and as a Physiotherapist and Masseuse in Bristol until at least 1946 during WW2.
Jessica never married and died in Bristol in 1954.
Her father was living in South Street in Corsham and her brother William Beszant took over as the High Street Butcher.

Florence Bishop.
V.A.D. Wilts 30.  Awarded Royal Red Cross, 2nd Class, August 8th 1919 for nursing wounded at Corsham Red Cross Hospital.

Florence Bishop pictured top left.
Florence Bishop was one of original and core members of the Corsham Red Cross Hospital Nursing team. Born in 1898 she was the youngest daughter of George and Emily Bishop who lived in Priory Road in Pickwick. She had a brother Fred and sisters Edith, Emily and Elizabeth. Her father was a stonemason. 
Florence is named on the Red Cross memorial tablet in Corsham Town Hall which was the site of the Corsham Hospital between 1914 and 1919. She would only have been 16 at the start of the war when she started working at the Hospital on a part time basis. Her registered address was recorded as High St, Corsham. She very soon moved to full time working and stayed at the Hospital through until it closed receiving recognition for her outstanding service.
Her brother Fred also served during the war – he was a Sapper in the Royal Engineers.
After the war Florence married William Woodburn. They were living in Somerset prior to WW2. William was a Railway Fireman. Florence died in 1994 aged 95.
Florence was awarded the Royal Red Cross which had been introduced to award nurses in the army and in the then Army Nursing Service for exceptional services in military nursing.
Evelyn Nellie Blackmore.
Chief Section-Leader, Women's Royal Air Force.  Joined at Hursley Park Camp, Winchester, May 5th 1917.  On home service.  Demobilised September 20th 1919.
Service Number 5906.
Evelyn Blackmore is recorded as being a Chief Section Leader in the Women’s RAF during WW1. The WRAF was only formed in 1918. It was made up of Women who would previously have been in the WRNS or Auxiliary Army Corps and most likely working at one of the Air Stations. Evelyn enlisted at Hursley Park in Winchester in 1917 and would have been one of the earliest to join the new Service. In those early days Women would have largely been employed in staff or support roles.
Evelyn was born in Corsham and was 21 when she joined the war effort. She was previously recorded as a Domestic help in 1911 when she was 15. Her father George Blackmore was a Plasterer and Tiler and he and his family were living on Priory Street before the war. George and his wife Rhoda had 4 children and 3 of them served during the War – Nellie in the WRAF, George as a Sapper in the Royal Engineers and Tom was a Lance-Corporal in the Hampshire Regiment. All returned safely from the war. Evelyn’s mother, Rhoda, was a volunteer at the Corsham Red Cross Hospital from the start of 1916 involved in washing duties, specifically socks and ties; she took on a paid role from March 1919. Her Red Cross record gives High Street as the family address.
Margaret Bryant.
Women's Land Army, Served from April to October 1918.

Margaret was born in 1896 in Corsham – the only child of Frederick and Emma Eva (Sully). Frederick Bryant, also from Corsham, was the Town sub postmaster and Bank Agent living at the Post Office on the High St next to Alexander House. Her mother Emma was from Bayswater in London. There are no service records for the Women’s Land Army but the Corsham War Records detail that Margaret joined up for 6 months towards the end of the war when she would have been 24. It may be that she responded to a suggestion to enrol posted at her own Post Office or that she was approached by one of the local Land Army agents.  Margaret continued to live locally after the war and was still living in 17 High St when she died in 1960

Annette Ina Crisp.
Women's Royal Naval Service.  Joined March 1918.  After training in London, appointed Vice-Principal, Devonport Royal Naval Barracks.  Awarded M.B.E. June 26th 1919.
Annette Crisp was the daughter of local doctor and surgeon Dr James Crisp. She was born in 1892 and lived in Alexander House on the High Street with her father and mother, Florence, and sister Kathleen and brother Ellis. They were a well known and respected family and they all had roles during WW1.
Annette had a short but clearly highly responsible and successful role during the war when aged 26 she joined the emerging Women’s Royal Naval Service in Plymouth. She was recruited into a senior supervisory position and clearly made her mark quickly as evidenced by the award of an MBE.
The following reference was provided by the WRNS to Messrs Rowntree Ltd of York when Annette applied for a professional position at their company in York in October 1919 immediately after she left the service.

Miss Crisp entered the WRNS on 20.4.18 and was appointed as Officer in Charge of WRNS ratings working in the RN Barracks at Devonport. She had entire charge of the station until her final release owing to general demobilisation on 23.10.19.
As the number of women ratings employed in the barracks increased she was promoted to the rank of Deputy Principal and given an assistant. Miss Crisp was responsible for the good behaviour and general wellbeing and attention to duty of the women who were employed at the barracks as stewards (waitresses), cooks, sick bay cooks, bakeresses, storewomen etc. She also had charge of the Clothing Store for the South Western Division and was responsible for the issuing of it, checking returns etc. She carried out her duties most efficiently and was awarded the MBE in recognition of her services.
Miss Crisp is extremely hard working and conscientious and was very keen in her endeavours to provide recreation for the women as well as in their supervision. She is reported as being particularly successful in her handing of the working class women. Her clerical work was business like and accurate. She can be recommended for a position of responsibility. 
It is presumed that Annette was successful in her application to Rowntree and she was certainly still living in York in 1939 prior to the Second World War – the 1939 register records that she was also a designated ARP Warden.
Florence Emily Crisp.
Forwarding Supervisor of Forage.  Joined August 1st 1915.  Served under the D.P.O.S. Wilts, Western Area, until January 1920.  Mentioned in Dispatches, September 5th 1918.
Florence Crisp was the wife of local doctor and surgeon Dr James Crisp. She was born in 1868 in Corsham, the daughter of Thomas Montgomery-Campbell who was a Royal Naval Commander. They lived in Westbourne Villa on Pickwick Road.  She married James Crisp in 1888 and then lived in Alexander House on the High Street. She had 3 children Annette, Kathleen and Ellis. Florence was reported as welcoming and introducing the Suffragist Movement Marchers when they came through Corsham in 1913.
In the War Records of Corsham Florence is recorded as being a 'Forwarding Supervisor of Forage' joining in 1915 and serving until 1920. This was a specially created Supervisor role for women in the Army Service Corps to co-ordinate the collection of hay (forage) from farms and arranging the logistics of onward transmission to Army Units. An unusual but important role.  Agnes Tennant, Laura Rigden and Gertie Uncles were also recognised as working for the Forage Corps suggesting some local collaboration. Florence is also named on the Hospital memorial tablet in the Town Hall as part of the Corsham Voluntary Aid Detachment as is daughter Kathleen and husband James Ellis as one of the attending Medical Officers. Kathleen Crisp was one of a number of the nurses that are known to have maintained a scrapbook or autograph book to record the names of patients at the hospital.

Daughter Annette served in the WRNS and son Ellis in the Royal Navy carrying on the Campbell family naval tradition.

Edith Emily Gerrard and Mary Gerrard.
Edith Gerrard. Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps and Royal Air Force Patrol.  Served in England, France and Germany.  Demobilised December 6th 1919.
Mary Gerrard. Head Cook, Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps.  Joined at Bristol, August 1917.  Employed on home service.  Demobilised November 1919.

Edith Emily Gerrard and her sister Mary would have joined the Army Auxiliary Corps in 1917 as it was formed. Edith was 18 and Mary was 22. They were part of a large Corsham family – 12 children in total – and when they enlisted they had 5 brothers serving in different parts of the world. Their father Joseph, who was a Brush Maker, and mother Eliza Mary (nee Poore) lived in Westrop in Corsham and when Edith and Mary enlisted they would have had 7 of their children involved in active service. In October 1917 soon after the sisters enlisted, their brother, Sergeant Oliver Charles Gerrard, was killed in action at Ypres. He is named on the Corsham War Memorial. Another sister, Lottie, was a volunteer helper at the Red Cross Hospital.
Much of the service record history for the Army Auxiliary Corps was destroyed by Air Raids during WW2 so it is not immediately possible to establish individual service histories beyond the brief summary in the Corsham War Records Book.

Alice F H Goldney OBE.
Assistant Commandant, Red Cross Hospital, Corsham from October 1914 to June 1915. Commandant from June 1915 until the hospital was closed in August 1919. Awarded Order of the British Empire.
Alice Frances Holbrow Goldney was born in India in 1878 – the daughter of Frederick Charles Napier Goldney who was a Major in the Indian Army. After returning from India the family lived in Middlesex and was still there at the time of the 1911 census – Alice was 32 and was living at home with her parents and younger sisters Vera and Marjorie.
In 1913 Alice married Sir John Tankeville Goldney in Ealing where she had lived. Sir John was the brother of Sir Frederick Goldney and had previously been married to Jane McGregor who died as Lady Goldney in 1911. They lived in Monks House, Monks Park in Corsham. Sir John was a Bank Director of the Capital and Counties Bank but had also been Attorney-General and Admiralty advocate of Leeward Islands, Judge of British Guiana and Chief Justice of Trinidad. He had been knighted in 1893. He was also a J.P. for Wilts and High Sheriff for Wiltshire.
At the start of the war, Alice, now Lady Goldney, was a Nurse, volunteer worker and also Assistant Commandant of the Red Cross Hospital (Lady Methuen was the First Commandant) but she then became Commandant in her own right from June 1915. She remained as Commandant until the Hospital closed in August 1919, supported by Sir John. She was awarded an O.B.E. for her service. Lady Alice’s sister Marjorie also served as a nurse at the Corsham Hospital.
Sir John Goldney died in 1920 and Lady Goldney is known to have sailed back to India soon after. She re-married in 1943 to Harold Robinson. She died in 1957 aged 79.

Florence Hemmings and Emmelina Hemmings.
Florence Hemmings. Member of Women's Royal Air Force.  Served in England.
Emmelina (Lena) Hemmings. Member of Women's Royal Air Force.  Served in England.
Florence and Lena Hemmings are listed in the Corsham War Records Book as being Members of the WRAF during WW1. No other information or service detail is available. The WRAF was only formed in 1918 by which time Florence would have been 26 years old and Lena 21. They were both born in Corsham and their father Henry, a stone miner and then a jobbing Gardener and his wife Selina lived originally in Priory Road and then in Ashford Cottages on Priory Street in Corsham.  They also had a son William who aged 15 had joined the Royal Navy as a boy sailor in 1910. Prior to the war Florence had moved from Corsham working as a Domestic Nurse to a wine and spirit merchant and his family in Bath.
After the war Florence married Abraham Spackman in 1921 and died in 1967 aged 75. Emmalina married Arthur Oatley in 1923 and died in Corsham in 1984. Their brother William died in March 1920 after the war but is named on the Corsham War Memorial. He is buried in Ladbrook Lane Cemetery with a Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone.
 Ada Honour.
V.A.D. Wilts 40. Joined September 1916. Head Cook, G.S.V.A.D. Served one year in England and one year in France. Demobilised February 10th, 1919.
Ada Honour is named in the Corsham War Records Book and has a Red Cross Service Card which confirms that from May 1917 she was attached to Voluntary Aid Detachment Wiltshire 40 which was the Biddestone Branch. Her permanent address was recorded as being Hartham Park. The card does not specifically mention Corsham Hospital but it is presumed that she was the Hospital cook through until it closed in August 1919. She had previously served in Huddersfield War Hospital and in France at the 52nd Stationary Hospital in Le Havre.
It has not been possible to conclusively trace Ada Honour and why she was residing in Hartham Park and named in the Corsham War Records. Edith Honour, possibly a sister, also has a Red Cross Service Record showing her residing at Hartham Park and giving time to the Hartham Park Work Party no 1625 between January 1918 and January 1919.

Gladys and Esme Parkinson.
Esme Mildred Parkinson. Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service (R).  Joined Devonport Military Hospital, September 1914.  Served overseas on hospital ships between Peninsula, Lemnos and Egypt, (June 1915).  Later served in Egypt, Mesopotamia (with first hospital staff to reach Baghdad) and India.  Mentioned in dispatches by General Murray. September, 1915 and other "mentions".  Demobilised on return to England March 15th 1919.  1915 Star.
Gladys Frances Parkinson. Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service.  Joined Devonport Military Hospital, June 16th 1914.  Served overseas: at Lemnos, October 1915; Egypt and the Sudan.  Mentioned in dispatches by General Murray (Lemnos).  After the war served at Kitchener Military Hospital, Brighton, April to November 1919.  Resigned November 26th 1919.  Royal Red Cross, 2nd Class; 1915 Star.
Both Gladys and Esme Parkinson were nurses prior to the war. Both were in Bath Royal United Hospital in 1911 so were ideally positioned and trained to join the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Nursing Service in 1914 as the war started. They were used to the Military way of life as their father, Percival George Parkinson, was a senior officer in the Royal Ordnance Corps. Gladys was born in Portsmouth in 1886 and another sister, Irene (1887), and Esme (1888) in Woolwich in London as their father was regularly posted around the Country. Their mother died in 1890 when the sisters were very young and soon after the birth of their brother Claude. Percival and his family then had a tour of service in the Channel Islands where the children continued their education.
As recorded in the Corsham War Records Book Gladys and Esme were both in the Queen Alexandra’s Nursing Service and spent most of their war service overseas. Both were well travelled, mentioned in dispatches and recognised by the Red Cross for their outstanding service. Their brother Claude was in the Royal Field Artillery and fought in Belgium and France. He survived the war and was demobilised in February 1919. Sister Irene was part of the Corsham Voluntary Aid Detachment as a nurse as the Corsham Hospital opened in October 1914. She was nursing until April 1916 when she became the Hospital Quartermaster. She was serving at the hospital until it closed in August 1919. Their father Percival also had his own WW1 history playing a senior role on the Staff of Armies for Home Defence.
Gladys remained on the Nursing Register after the war until at least 1937. Her address was recorded as the family home of Dunsford, Corsham. Esme married Lt. Frank Symonds in a military wedding in Corsham in August 1919. They lived in Sussex.
Rhoda Ellen Pinnock.
Women's Royal Air  Force.  Enlisted at Bristol, November 1918.  Served in England.  Demobilised November 1919.
Rhoda Ellen Pinnock was born in Melksham in 1897. Her father, Charles Pinnock, originally from Box was a stone quarryman. Her mother was also called Rhoda and she had three daughters, Rhoda, Laura and Eva who, prior to the war, were living at Westwells in Corsham. The only service information for Rhoda is that she enlisted for the WRAF in Bristol in 1918 – the year it was formed - and she served for the remainder of the war. She would have been 21. Rhoda married in 1926 in Ledbury in Herefordshire. Her father died in 1927 but her mother continued to live in Westwells through WW2 and until she died in 1953.
Laura Josephine Rigden.
Superintendent of Stores, L.A.A.S. Served as Forwarding Supervisor of Forage under the D.P.O.S., Somerset from January 1st to end of March 1916; and under the D.P.O.S. Wilts until May 1917. Appointed Superintendent of Stores for Wiltshire, Women’s Land Army, December 31st 1917, continued until the W.L.A. was demobilised, December 31st 1919. Medaille de la Reine Elizabeth (Belgian).
Laura Rigden was a Teacher at Clarement College in Corsham for more than 25 years prior to the War years. Born in Kent in 1866 and one of 11 children she was first listed as a Music Teacher at the College in 1891. She was teaching at the college together with her sister Isabella and with her long term partner Agnes Tennant with whom she was recognised as Principal or Head Teacher by 1901.
From the Corsham War Records Book we know that Laura Rigden became a Superintendent of Stores in the Women’s Land Army having also had a supervisory role in the Women’s Forage Corps which was established to manage the huge requirement for hay and fodder for the Army’s horses at home and at the war front. Horses were the main form of transport for the Army during the whole of WW1. Women employed by the Army Service Corps were responsible for managing the production and forwarding of hay and fodder to army barracks and camps. Laura served in this role between 1916 and 1919 but was also hugely instrumental in co-ordinating efforts in Corsham to house and manage Belgian Refugees that were brought into Corsham. Laura’s responsibilities included managing a local Supply Depot at Grove Stables in the town from where refugee families were able to collect various supplies on a weekly basis. She also organised regular fundraising events with local entertainment. Laura’s efforts were recognised by the King of Belgium with the personal award of the Medaille de la Reine Elizabeth for her ‘spirit of sacrifice and service’. 
Laura Rigden was offered the opportunity to join the Parish Council in 1919 immediately after the war, an opportunity that she declined but she did join the Council in 1934 and served for 3 years until 1937.
Laura was living in Kent in 1939 as a retired teacher prior to WW2 but we know that she retained strong links with Corsham and in 1946 after the war she and Agnes Tennant generously gave a piece of land and funding for a garden of remembrance in Stokes Road. There is a plaque naming the Misses Tennant and Rigden on the gate to the war memorial.
Laura Rigden lived in Elham in Kent with her sisters until she died in 1962 at the age of 96.

Hilda Shewring.
After being trained in farm work, joined the Women's Land Army, June 12th 1917.  Demobilised November 30th 1919.
Hilda Shewring hadn’t even reached her 16th birthday when she responded to a National Appeal for Young Women to enrol in a new Women’s Land Army, it was confusingly called ‘Army’ but it was a civilian organisation staffed and run by women and it was part of the National Service Scheme. The purpose of the scheme was to replace men who had been sent away to war and in particular to increase food production. Over 20,000 women joined the scheme. Recruits were given initial training at either agricultural colleges or local farms and were then registered for the Women’s Land Army. Local Village agents would have kept registers of trained local women farm workers and would have worked with local farmers to employ these newly trained recruits.

Hilda was born in 1901 and lived in Ashford Cottage, Priory Street with her parents and family. Her father Daniel was a Bath Stone Sawyer at one of the local quarries. She was one of 9 children and would have seen her brothers and cousins enlisting for the war while she was still at school. Her brothers Daniel and William Shewring had long military careers and survived the war. Hilda was part of the Land Army for the whole of its WW1 existence – she joined for training in 1917 and left on the 30th November 1919 when the scheme was disbanded.
Hilda married Albert Ward in 1922 and continued to live locally. Prior to WW2 she and Albert were living in Potley Lane.

Agnes Tennant.
County Organising Secretary, Women’s Land Army. Appointed Forwarding Superintendent of Forage, July 26th, 1915. Commandant of Bracken Cutters’ Camp, Savernake Forest, August to October 30th 1916. Transferred to the Board of Agriculture, March 1917 and appointed Organising Secretary for Wilts Women’s Land Army. Resigned on account of ill health, Aug 11th 1918. Volunteered as Motor Driver, September 1918 and attached to RASC Devizes until after the Armistice, November 1918.
Agnes Tennant was born in Ayrshire in Scotland in 1867 – she was one of seven children and her parents farmed their own land. Her father died in 1878 and by 1891 aged only 24 Agnes was a Boarder at Claremont College in Corsham employed as a Teacher of English. Agnes was a Teacher and then Principal or Headteacher at the College for more than 25 years prior to the outbreak of WW1. 
It is not known if the College closed during the war but from the Corsham War Records Book we know that Agnes Tennant joined The Women’s Land Army and progressed to become a, splendidly named, Forwarding Supervisor of Forage which was established to manage the huge requirement for hay and fodder for the Army’s horses at home and at the war front. Horses were the main form of transport for the Army during the whole of WW1 and women were employed in the logistic roles of managing the production and forwarding of hay and fodder to army barracks and camps. Agnes served in this role in 1915 and 1916 when she then took on a County wide role within the Board of Agriculture including, according to the Corsham War Records Book, a Commandant role at a Camp in Savernake Forest. Ill health caused her to resign from this role in 1918 but she remained fully involved as a volunteer motor driver attached to the Army Service Corps.
Immediately after the war Agnes was elected as a Parish Councillor and she served the Council until 1941 including spells as Deputy Chairman and then Chair between 1930 and 1932. She was also a local magistrate. Intriguingly Agnes Tennant resigned from the Parish Council in 1941 during WW2 citing unspecified ‘important war work’ as the reason for her departure after 22 years on the council.
Agnes was living on Stokes Road prior to and during the war and in 1946 she and Laura Rigden gifted land on Stokes Road together with funds to build a garden of remembrance as a memorial to those local men that died during the war. There is a plaque naming the Misses Tennant and Rigden on the gate to the war memorial.
Agnes Tennant continued to live locally until she died in 1950.

Gertie Uncles.
Women’s Forage Corps, attached R.A.S.C. Joined at Chippenham. Served til January 9th. 1920
Gertie Uncles is named in the Corsham War Records as being a member of the Women’s Forage Corps.
It has not been possible to trace Gertie Uncles or to establish any link with Corsham. Local research suggests that she was Gertrude Uncles born in 1895 in Calne.  With her parents Henry and Harriett she was living in Paul St Chippenham before the war working as a shop assistant in a Drapers’ shop. She married Gideon Doel in Bath in 1924.
Mrs Charlotte Hedworth-Williamson.
Lady of Grace of the Grand Priory of the Order of the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem in England. Hon. Divisional Secretary of Chippenham Division Red Cross Society. Commandant of the V.A. Biddeston Detatchment, Wilts 40 B.R.C.S.

Mrs Charlotte Hedworth-Williamson is known to us in the First World War as the Commandant of the Biddestone Voluntary Aid Detachment and the leader of the Work Party of Ladies that met at her home – Middlewick in Corsham – to undertake Red Cross related Needlework.
Charlotte was born in 1861 in Yoxford in Suffolk – her full name was Charlotte Campbell Campbell-Johnstone. Her father Alexander was a Foreign Office Diplomat and she probably lived abroad during much of her early years. At the age of 25 she married Captain Cecil Hedworth-Williamson of the 4th Dragoon Guards – he was a Military Man from a Military family who was 16 years older than Charlotte and by 1891 he was retired from the Army and living in Dumfries in Scotland with Charlotte and their son Hudleston Noel Hedworth-Williamson.
Captain Hedworth-Williamson died in Bath in 1909 and is buried in the cemetery in St Bartholomews Church in Corsham. Charlotte was living in Middlewick House as a widow in 1911 prior to the war.
The War Records of Corsham Book and her Red Cross Service Card detail that Charlotte was Divisional Secretary of the Chippenham Division of the Red Cross Society which managed and organised all of the support to the local hospitals. It also records that she was recognised for her service with the award of the title of Lady of Grace of the Grand Priory of the Order of the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem. Indeed this is inscribed on her gravestone in St Bartholomew’s Cemetery – she died in 1941.
Her son Hudelston was a Major in the Royal Field Artillery and had a distinguished military career – he received a Military Cross and was awarded a Distinguished Service Order.

Monday, 24 June 2019

Women's Work For The Troops

One of the emerging stories from research of the Corsham area during 1914 – 1918 is the unswerving and generous support of local women for servicemen at the front and for hospital patients and refugees who were resident in the area.

The article quoted below comes from the Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette Newspaper published on 20th November 1914.

Towards the end of October, a parcel containing 118 knitted belts and 138 pairs of socks was sent as a contribution from the women of Corsham towards the gift from the Queen and women of the Empire to the troops at the front. By command of the Queen a gracious letter of thanks was sent to all who had contributed, these included knitters from Slaughterford, besides some of the Belgian refugees in Corsham. Special belts have been made to suit the needs of the Indian soldiers. The next effort the Corsham women propose to make is to provide as many flannel shirts, socks, mittens, and mufflers as they can for our soldiers and sailors on active service, and any help towards this end, in work, money for materials, or kind, will be gladly welcomed. Particulars from Miss Haynes, Corsham.
Knitting for the troops was a heavily publicised campaign to encourage women to support the servicemen away on active duty – there are patterns for socks, mittens, gloves, balaclavas, leg warmers – even waistcoats for officers.

We are trying to find out all we can about the Corsham WW1 Knitters.

If you have any artefacts or information that might help, please get in touch!

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Albert Sylvester

At The Heart Of The WW1 War Committee

Albert Sylvester with David Lloyd George

Albert James Sylvester was born in Harlaston in Staffordshire in November 1889 the son of Albert and Elizabeth Sylvester, his father Albert was a tenant Farmer. He left school at the age of 14 to work in a local brewery but was astute enough to learn Pitman’s shorthand and touch typing. So from humble beginnings Albert progressed to the point in 1911 when he was living in London and working as a professional speed typist. Those specialist skills were obviously recognised and sought after and he went on to play an integral role in World War 1 as private secretary to the Secretary to the Committee of Imperial Defence between 1914-1921, to the Secretary of the War Cabinet and the Cabinet between 1916-1921 and to the Secretary of the Imperial War Cabinet in 1917. He would have been at the very heart of all major decisions relating to the War and dealing with all of the war leaders. He was reported to be the first man to take shorthand notes at a Cabinet meeting and in respect of World War 1 he recalled how he had typed the First World War Armistice Terms on his own Underwood typewriter and was personally entrusted by the Government to carry those documents to France in his briefcase.

Albert married Evelyn Annie Wellman from Kingston on Thames and the daughter of a Baptist Minister, in 1917 and continued his service working to the British Secretary of the Peace Conference in 1919 and impressively then going on to serve three successive Prime Ministers between 1921-1923: David Lloyd George, Andrew Bonar Law and Stanley Baldwin. Remarkably he then served as Principal Private Secretary to David Lloyd George from 1923 until his death in March 1945 – 22 years running Lloyd George's private office in London. This time would have included meetings between Lloyd George, Hitler and Hess in Germany in 1936. After Lloyd George's death, Albert earned his living as a member of Lord Beaverbrook's staff from 1945 until 1948, and spent a further year as unpaid assistant to Liberal Party leader, E. Clement Davies. In 1947, he published The Real Lloyd George, a book based on his diaries and in 1949 when he retired from political life he chose to move with his wife to Wiltshire and moved to a farm at Chapel Knap in Corsham. In later life he moved to Gastard House and then to Rudloe Cottage in Box carrying with him his publicised ambition to publish a full-scale autobiography but this was never realised. He was living in Rudloe Cottage in 1962 when his wife Evelyn died. He did complete a second book in 1975 called Life with Lloyd George but he did not complete the story of his own life. There are however diaries and personal papers now owned by the National Library of Wales which must provide a unique insight into the personal life of Lloyd George. Albert lived to the age of 99 and died in October 1989 just weeks before his hundredth birthday.

The following articles are from the Gastard News and give further personal insight into his later life.

From Donald Carpenter.
Albert James Sylvester CBE JP 1889 -1989

I have two typewritten notes sent to my father in the late 1940’s by Mr. A.J.Sylvester. He owned the land that is my home, Chapel Knap Farm, Timberleaze Cottage and what are now 5 and 6 Chapel Hill. He also owned Gastard House for some time. He was an excellent and generous landlord taking a keen interest in the farm and the local environment.

What is particularly special about the notes is that they were typed on the same Underwood machine that saw the tumultuous events of WW1, for Albert Sylvester was the first person to record the Cabinet meetings in 10 Downing Street. He was summoned there in 1914, from his secretarial work in the Admiralty, and rose to become private secretary to three Prime Ministers: David Lloyd George, Bonar Law and Stanley Baldwin. In his time he met and worked with the greatest people in the land including Lord Kitchener, Beaverbrook and Churchill. He remained a close companion to Lloyd George working as his private secretary – ‘recorder and keeper of secrets for 22 years’, and he used the same typewriter throughout his working life.

Some people in Gastard may remember Mr Sylvester for in later years he lived in Rudloe Cottage, Box where he attained the great age of 100 years. He started working at the age of 14 in a Staffordshire Brewery but he then taught himself Pitman’s shorthand and the skill of touch typing. He was a truly remarkable person, ‘Rising’ as he said, from a peasant background to become the most trusted custodian of state affairs in the country.’ Not only did he attain this distinction but he was also awarded the CBE, was a Justice of the Peace, champion golfer, horseman, writer and at the age of 87 a prize ballroom dancer. It was a privilege to have known him.

A follow on piece from Ian Thompson

I was interested to read the item in September’s newsletter by Donald Carpenter regarding Mr. Sylvester of Rudloe.

I had the pleasure of having several conversations with Mr. Sylvester and recall him telling me how he had typed out the First World War Armistice Terms on his Underwood typewriter. He related how he was entrusted by the Government to carry the Armistice Terms over to France in his briefcase.

This connection with Corsham is of particular interest; this year being the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of WW1.

The story of Albert Sylvester is continued in the book Corsham Revealed More written by Julian Carosi.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Harold Simmons: A Corsham Boy Missing His Father

In January 1918, Corsham lad Harold Simmons of Pickwick Road, wrote a letter to his father serving at home with the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC).

Like many children, he would have seen little of his father through the war years and his enthusiastic sharing of news conveys how much he must have been missing an absent and idealised parent.

Dear Dad, just a few lines to tell you about us. We have 6 German prisoners in the Methuen Arms, all of them can talk English, and there are 2 guards there. One has a revolver in his belt, and they have ploughed Farmer Fry’s field and they go to Chippenham every night. Now they work up Bradford Road, of course that means they have to pass our house every night and morning.

Thank you for the birds on cards, all the boys are saving them here. Now I am in standard 2 I find that the sums are harder. I have still got the pencil box you gave me. I am glad to tell you that I am getting on alright with the piano. Roy loves to play with me on the pavement nights. Mam is sewing.

Goodnight Dad

Sadly, Harold died of consumption on 7th August 1918 – and so did not see his father again.

This story was donated by Corsham Commemorates Researcher, Pat Whalley, as told by the soldier’s grandson, Jack Simmons.

F Simmons, Harold’s father who in January 1918 was serving in the RASC. Sadly, son Harold died in August 1918 and father and child would not see each other again.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

The Military Funeral Of William Robbins

William Henry James Robbins

Most soldiers that were looked after at the Corsham Hospital were recovering from wounds or operations and were either returned to service or prepared for discharge. There were however a number of losses at Corsham Hospital. One of those was Private William Robbins who died on the 22nd June 1917. This is how his death was reported in the Wiltshire Times. Private Robbins is buried in Ladbrook Lane Cemetery in Corsham. 

From the Wiltshire Gazette. 28th June 1917

Military Funeral

Apart from the pathetic side of the question it was a coincidence that a trumpeter under Lord Methuen in the South Africa War should come to Corsham to die. Private W.H.J.Robbins, while on duty in Gloucester, contracted a severe chill which developed into acute bronchitis, and the disease had made serious havoc with him when he was removed from Bristol Hospital to the Corsham V.A.D. Hospital. All the care which the greatest experience could bring him did not avail, and he succumbed on Friday in the presence of his wife. Private Robbins was at one time in the Duke of Beaufort’s Regiment and served in Egypt. He has seen 30 years service, and it was while on guard in the Royal Defence Corps at Gloucester he contracted the fatal cold. He comes from a Military family, his father being an old Crimean soldier.

The funeral took place with military honours, on Tuesday afternoon. The procession formed up at the lower end of Priory Street, close to the mortuary, and was headed by the firing party (members from the Royal Defence Corps by permission of Lieut. Bevir). Following them were the wounded soldiers from the hospital (those in a fit condition to walk the distance) who drew the conveyance with the remains with ropes. Then came the funeral carriages (lent by Lady Goldney, Commandant) containing the mourners – Mrs Robbins (widow), Miss Robbins (daughter), Mrs Glover (sister), Mrs Latham (sister), Miss Glover (niece). Next in order was Lieut. Bevir, followed by members of the Corsham Ambulance Detachment, under Commandant P.J.Gane, and with measured tread they went through the High Street. Arrived at the burying ground, they were met at the gates by the Vicar (Rev. A.J. Winnington-Ingram) who officiated. Thanks to previous arrangements made by Commandant Gane, and the regulation of the public by Sergt. Nicholas, everything went through in excellent order. Lady Goldney (Commandant) and the Assistant-Commandant (Mrs FitzAdam-Ormiston) were at the graveside with many of the sisters and nurses from the hospital. Immediately after the ceremony three rounds were fired by the Defence Corps, and Trumpeter Fowler, (No.1 ward, Melksham Hospital) sounded the “Last Post”. The following were the wreaths sent:- In loving memory of dear Uncle Will, from Lois; With deep sympathy from the nurses and sisters; With deep sympathy from the Misses McLaughlin; In remembrance from Lady Goldney; In remembrance from the Matron; With deep sympathy from the Assistant-Commandant, Mrs FitzAdam-Ormiston; Deep sympathy from a neighbour, Mrs Parnell; With deepest sympathy from the patients at the V.A.D. Hospital; With deepest sympathy from Miss Hart; With deepest sympathy from Miss Halhed; In remembrance from Miss Sainsbury – “Though our warrior’s sun has set, Its light shall linger round us yet; Bright, radiant, blest”; With great sympathy from the Biddestone Commandant, Mrs Hedworth Williamson. Borne upon the coffin were the Union Jack, the trumpet, side arms, and cap of the deceased.

William was survived by his wife Adelaide who lived in Leyton in London.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Etched Into History: A Canadian Link With Corsham

The WW1 hospital established in the Town Hall during 1914 – 1918 will have brought many soldiers to the Town and probably established enduring personal links but one soldier from Canada left a more permanent reminder of his time in Corsham with an inscription on the cornerstone of a stone bridge on the Corsham Court estate.

Councillor Phil Whalley first brought attention to the inscription back in 2005 but with the Centenary commemorations now upon us has raised it to the fore once again. The inscription is dated 27th April 1917 and is attributed to Private W.L. of the 27th Battalion Canadians. Interestingly the N’s in Canadian are carved back to front.

We know that Lord Methuen allowed recuperating patients from the hospital to walk through the grounds of the estate so it is quite possible that this Private was a wounded or ill soldier sent back from service in France to receive treatment. We cannot trace any admission records for soldiers to the hospital but, challenged by Councillor Whalley, students from the Corsham School History Department are aiming to investigate further to find out about Private W.L. who spent some time in Corsham etching his name into history.

If you have any information about Private W.L or his family please get in touch.