Heathfield History



Back row: Victor Henry Babb; Earnest William Lock; Clement Charles Matthews; Richard John Smith; George William Swain; Gordon Summers
 Front : L/Cpl. Leslie Cornish; L/Cpl. John 'Jack' Bodger; Sgt. (later 2nd Lt.) Charles John Thomson, Thomas William Bodger; Colin George Thomson
 The above photograph was taken outside the garage at Manor farm, Charles Thomson's Home


Heathfield Rectory - 100 years ago

Information given by the Rev. Frank Spurway about HEATHFIELD VILLAGE HISTORY,
particularly about the cider made at HEATHFIELD RECTORY, DOLLINGS LANE. 



1066 He mentions the possibility of the first church being down by the Mill.
1500's He says the present church building is TUDOR (see original many stone window in chancel)

PARSON THOMAS CORNISH - INCUMBENCY 1786-1840 He loved trees and had 10-15 acres of orchard frequented by woodpeckers. He had log barrels in his cellars made of English oak, stamped 1805 and his 'TC' monogram ( which was also stamped on his water closet!).
 During one of the longer church services, the rector's foreman put his head round the door and whispered "Master, the cider do tuzzily!" whereupon the rector hastily gave the congregation the blessing, jumped upon his horse and galloped home to The Rectory. The congregation would have to understand.

 1850 An old Miss Chidgey who lived in Wood Street, Taunton, when questioned in 1923, remembered 40 firkins of cider being filled each morning for the farm labourers during the time she worked at Heathfield Manor Farm. - The farm formerly worked by 'horse and hand'. There was a row of cottages from the pub right up to the church: a wagonwright's shop and many houses built of cob which 'have melted away like butter in front of a fire when the thatch has perished'. Families of 12 lived in these Heathfield Cottages living on 11/- a week, the milk was free, and a firkin of rough cider a year were made from 8 acres of orchard at Heathfield Manor Farm.
1842 The Rev. Spurway has a register for the sale of cider from Heathfield Rectory for the years 1842-1864, and many illustrious aristrocratic names appear in it. The best cider was sold at 8 guineas a hogshead: the cheaper at £1.7.0. a hogshead.

The Rev. F.E.Spurway it mentions that his grandfather EBCS over-restored Heathfield Church. He put in the pine pews. The old box pews and the old font (now a garden urn) were taken back to his rectory.
 It was said that EBCS made the best cider and had the best hands in Somerset. He had 70 acres of Glebe, so rich that if you stuck you walking stick into it, next year it would have grown into a tree (!). The rector's children could shoot, fish, and play cricket. From Heathfield Rectory you could hear the bells of 16 different towers because Taunton Vale is like a cup; Milverton has the best peal. It was said that a Mr. Cattle did the actual work of making the cider. EBCS knew that before you can make good cider you must have sweet barrels, so he burned sulpher in them.
 The rectorial year revolved round the orchards. First in the early winter pruning the trees which had grown for 100 years in the rich red loam of Taunton Deane. The trees were 7' in the bole, and one was 40' high. The applewood was burnt on the rectory fires, and in the winter came the wassailers with blackened faces for the pagan ceremony of singing to chase the evil spirits off the trees. They would sing in the rectory drawing room too: and then (with a more vulgar song because they thought the rector could not hear) they would dance in the backyard with the serving maids. In the spring the bees would work, and in the autumn the old horse worked the mill. The apples were gathered from the trees and placed in racks shaped like a V and then covered with thatch so that all water would drain off the apples before they went into the cider press.
 'Morgan sweets' were mixed with the standard 'Kingston Blacks' sometimes. The apple juice was three days in the vat.
 In all the long cellars across the road, across the yard, were all the barrels: and there at Heathfield Rectory 5,000 gallons of cider a year were made.

1900's Incumbencies of Heathfield & Hillfarrance joined until 1908. This was not a happy arrangement. At Hillfarrance there was a set of instruments but no players: so EPS brought the instruments to Heathfield and popped every man in the village in the band. But when there was a recital in Hillfarrance Church the people of Hillfarrance sang -
 "And where were the instruments found?
 In Heathfield, In Heathfield!"
 So after the fuss, EPS brought the instruments back, and obtained instruments for Heathfield itself.
 The only man in the parish not in church was Jim Bodger who could not possibly come because he had to mind the cows. After 28 years farm service, he had 1 day's holiday, but got so bored he went back to mind the cows!
 EPS hobbies were cricket and cidermaking. He started 'The Somerset Stragglers' cricket team, still going strong in 1970.
 He used a hydrometer for cidermaking.
 1901 He won a gold medal for his cider at the Bath & West show, the only one won by a Clergyman.
 The Taunton cycling club used to visit the rectory at what they called 'Yef-field' to drink the cider - how they managed to stagger back to town is a wonder.

The Rev. Hockley was 'a saint, but no cidermaker'. During the 1st World War there was no cider made. The 100 year old barrels and the press went to a shop behind St. James' church to make rhubarb wine - after 1/2 million gallons of cider from 'KINGSTON BLACK' apples had flowed from it (named from the village of Kingston St. Mary).

The rectory was sold to 'Gasey' Harris, property dealer.

I was born, with a twin sister, at the beginning of 1909 at Heathfield Rectory. I had four much older brothers, three of them soon to be killed in World War 1.
 My first memories are of being pushed in a go-cart by a nannie to wait for the train to pass under the bridge between Hillcommon and Oake. It enveloped us in swirling steam and coalsmoke as it snorted and whistled its way to Norton or Milverton - very thrilling! On Sundays my sister and I were pushed to Heathfield Church. There I always hoped to see Ernie Lock who worked at Manor Farm. Ernie had a red beard and wore a smock. He had a great way with children and was especially exciting as he had a steel hook in place of a hand lost in a threshing machine. Often he looped the reins onto this hook in order to crack his whip over the flanks of an amiable shire horse drawing a cartload of roots or whatever. The shire was another chum.
 In church my mother played the organ, which she had bought for the church. It was pumped by hand and if the lad pumping it got too excited over a rousing hymn the chatter of the handle sounded like a pile driver. More likely his attention became diverted and the organ groaned almost to a standstill then, the lad being alerted, it wheezed up the scale like an ill-blown bagpipe. There were some eight men in the choir - no boys, let alone girls. My mother also taught in a little school that stood beside the churchyard gate at Heathfield and at Oake primary school.
 A day at the Rectory began with breakfast-time prayers in the dining room. The 'staff' - Mrs. Robinson the cook (all cooks had the courtesy title of 'Mrs.'), the house parlour maid and a variable number of girls knelt over chairs lining the walls, the bows of their aprons waggling at the centre of the room. Arthur Moore, our cider maker (later in charge of the brewery at Norton Fitzwarren) and Tom Perrott the gardener were excused attendance.
 Once a week we would take the pony and trap into Taunton to do some shopping. We clipclopped over the flint road - there was no tarmac - passing other traps, gigs and broughams at a slow pace. The road was so narrow we had to be careful not to scratch the varnish. Very occasionally a car was heard approaching. Out jumped my mother to hold the pony's head. It was a dreaded moment.
 At intervals along the road stonebreakers were at work. Piles of big stones were delivered in wains, the stonebreaker picked these up in one hand and cracked them to an almost uniform size with a stonehammer held in the other. It was quite skilled work - the stone was turned to expose the grain and fissures. I had an old friend who made me a minute hammer and I used to sit with him for hours pretending to be capable of adding to the pile of stones ready to be rolled with mud and water into the ruts and potholes. Meeting the steamroller with the pony trap was another feared possibility.
Once in Taunton the pony was either hitched to a pavement post outside the chosen shop or put up in the mews behind the Castle Hotel which then faced onto North Street. The charge was 4d plus an optional 2d for a nosebag of oats. Included in the service was the dusting of the trap, stabling the pony and putting him back in the shafts to be ready at an agreed time. On the way home we might call on the Wyndham Slades at Montys Court or, across the road, on my godmother Miss Mave Scott, who lived at Wey House (now a nursing home). She was a formidable old lady who usually dressed in black and white or purple and was covered in lace and jet necklaces. She was surrounded by a peculiar sweet smell it seemed to me. Years later my parson brother Frank (perhaps remembered by some of you older readers) told me that she had a great liking for port. This, perhaps, explained the mysterious whiff.
 It was all another world.