The Nineteenth Century Community
As the penultimate century of the millennium began, it was evident that, although many of the events which took place in the parish may now seem to be of minor importance as compared with those of the great saga of early history, nevertheless they all combine to make up a panorama of relative happenings which depict life in Mildenhall.
Europe was in turmoil. The people learned of the complicated pattern of Napoleonic conquest and battle. The parish Rector of the time was the Reverend Charles Francis and the extent of his own anxiety is evident from a paragraph written in his own hand in the Burial Register under the date of December 1807
"By the Treaty of Tilsit, the perfidious French completed the overthrow of Prussia and the Downfall of the German Empire: compelled Great Britain to seize and bring away the Danish Navy and stores and obliged eventually The Royal House of Braganza to leave Portugal and under protection of a British Squadron, to set sail Nov 29th for the Brazils. Gracious Lord, how long?”
Perhaps the good Rector was pondering over the fact that, only six years before, he had seen to its conclusion the remaking of the bells in the church tower. Would they ring out for a great peace or as an alarm for people of Mildenhall in the case of invasion? He had already recorded the event in the parish Register
"September 4th 1801, the Five new bells recast at the expense of the Inhabitants from the four old ones, dated 1596 were finished and rang in the Tower for the first time. The following is the inscription on the Tenor Bell
NOS QUINQVE RENOVARUNT DE QUATTVOR QUAE OLIM ANNO DOMINI 1596 TINTINABVLA INTER SACRA ECCLESIAE DE MILDENHALL INCOLAE SVMPTIBVS SVUS P.V. ANNO DOMINI 1801 ED VAISEY ET GVL YOUNG SACRO CUSTODIBVS
The lofts in the tower were likewise repaired. The under floor was lowered several feet and under ceiled, with an octagonal opening in the centre, from which is suspended a light of four sconces. The window over the Belfry door was considerably enlarged and new-glazed, and a new stair-case to the Loft added. The entrance to the Belfry from without was improved and the Tower repaired. The expense £231.12.6½ paid by a Church rate." The other bells were inscribed -
1. "James Wells Aldbourne Wilts Fecit 1801"
2. "The Rev Cha Francis Rector gave £10 towards these bells J.Wells fecit 1801AD
3 and 4 - as No 1 bell
The older bells were probably by John Wallis. James Wells, Bell founder of Aldbourne was certainly the maker of the five new bells. A sixth bell was to be added in the Twentieth Century
The influence of the Rector in the Parish became very evident, especially during the next twenty-five years. Writing on the occasion of his preferment in 1788 the Reverend Charles Francis (who was Rector of Collingbourne Ducis and Mildenhall, also Chaplain to the Earl of Ailesbury) stated :-
"All these preferment’s were conferred unasked for, and I acknowledge with gratitude and truth that they were undeserved Bounties of God and kind patrons to their unworthy
In 1796 the Rector of Collingbourne Ducis and Mildenhall was announced as Proctor for the Clergy of Wilts in the newly created Lower House of Convocation.
There is a record throughout the Church Registers of Confirmands presented by Mildenhall Parish at Triennial services, usually held in Marlborough at St. Peters Church.
In 1789 - 35
In 1795 - 44
In 1801 - 36
In 1808 - 28
In 1792 - 45
In 1798 - 31
in 1804 - 37
In 1806 The Reverend Charles Francis preached a sermon on the Death of the Lord Bishop of Sarum, a sermon subsequently published.
In 1811 the Rector wrote :-
"Towards the latter end of the year the Bishop revived in this Diocese of Salisbury the very ancient, but in this and many others Dioceses long disused, Office of Rural Dean, appointing (it should seem) twenty-two Deans for Wiltshire and Buckinghamshire and joining parts of Deaneries of Marlborough and Cricklade together, His Lordship coupled me with Mr. Woodrooffe, Vicar of Somerford Keynes. On December 19th I received my Commission as Rural Dean of Marlborough"
In 1811, the parish population had risen to 386.
Crime in the parish was general and of an agricultural nature. In 1817, Ann Dance and her daughter were sentenced to six months each at Marlborough Sessions for stealing three sacks of wheat from the farmer at Poulton, Mr. Halcombe. In 1824 one W.Lambdin was sentenced to death for stealing a sheep, the property of Mr. White of Minal. He was, however, reprieved. In 1832 a worker, Thomas Chivers was sentenced to 2 months at Devizes for leaving the service of his master, William Halcombe in Minal without permission. This was an offence if the servant had been engaged for the year.
The Baptismal Registers of the time indicate that the Rector was most particular to receive into the Church every child - a practice not found in every parish. In 1792, he recorded Stephen, the base-born son of Mary and a gardener of East Kennet. In 1895 Joseph, the base-born son of Sarah, single woman. The reputed father was a Private in the 5th Regiment of Dragoons. There was also an entry for 'Thomas, son of a woman calling herself Jane, taken in Labour at the turnpike, Marlborough Forest, and delivered at Werge'.
In 1816, there occurred an event of considerable importance to the Parish and its church. Twelve farmers together raised a sum of two thousand pounds (a not inconsiderable sum at that time) and devoted themselves to restoring the interior of the Church. All the pews were replaced with shoulder-high stalls, including 'family' boxes for individual families. These were in oak, carved and formed in the style of the period. The twin pulpits, the patron stalls, the frontal to the musicians gallery and the main doors all formed this great endeavour.
The farmers were :-
Henry Woodman of Stitchcombe Farm
Edward Vaisey of Grove Farm.
Philip Watts of Axford
Thomas Cox of Minal
John Looker, Churchwarden
Samuel and William Oatley of Poulton
Joseph Hutchins of Folly Farm
Thomas and John White of Home Farm
William Young of Woodlands and
John Wentworth of Mere.
These names are inscribed on six shields under the gallery, and were previously high over the Chancel arch.
As a result of this action, the church of St John the Baptist, Minal is perhaps one of only three in the country which depict the architecture and furnishings of the Georgian period, unaltered by the Victorians.
The Revd Charles Frances died in 1822 and was replaced, as Rector, by the Revd George Buxton, who, in 1827 married Rose Shepherd of Marlborough. However two of the works, planned for the everlasting good of the Parish by the Revd Francis were completed only after his death. He gave a sum of £4,000 to build the school. The School, situated at the East end of the main village complex was completed in 1824. The Architect was Robert Abraham who chose a Byzantine style of architecture for the building. It had an octagonal centre building with two single storey wings. Its perpendicular style has often confused passers by, who mistake the building for Minal Church.
A new brick built three-arch bridge was completed in 1826 to carry Werg Lane over the River Kennet and thus provide a more substantial crossing than a wooden bridge which stood at that point previously. This again was attributed to Charles Francis, who could foresee the need for the very busy mill at Werg to have adequate access for miller's wagons as opposed to a ford.
In 1827 there is a very full record of a Right of Way dispute affecting the track from Bay Bridge on the Marlborough to Swindon turnpike road and a junction near to Poulton Farm. A Minal shop¬keeper Looker, returning from Ogbourne drove his wagon along the track, as he had always done. The Poulton farmer, Mr. Halcombe, made his senior man a Constable and served a citizen's arrest on Looker. At a hearing in March 1827, witnesses for the accused stated that for forty to sixty years the track had been an accepted Right of Way and had never before been blocked or passage denied. The Court found for Mr. Halcombe and a fine of £35 levied. Five years later, Mr. Halcombe obtained a 'stopping up' order on the track. But this was not the complete end of the story. In 1979, an Inspector of the Department of the Environment, sitting at a special meeting in the Minal Village Hall, heard a case for confirming the same track as a Bridleway. In 1982, the Report found that the Bridleway should be confirmed. Some civil procedures still take time.
In 1831, the Rector, Revd Buxton took a step that would have made him very popular. He refunded fifteen percent of all tithes to the villagers and farmers. This act might have followed a period when a series of riots and destruction of machinery took place in the parish, and when letters of threat were written by the labourers concerned.
In 1833 keen observers within the parish would have seen a team or teams of surveyors making a steady progress along the Kennet valley-side complete with instruments and measuring facilities. This was evidence of the beginning of a survey for the London to Bristol Railway.
The line was to enter the parish from the east near to Hens Wood to run south of Stitchcombe following the course of Chopping Knife Lane and to leave the parish to the west near to the present Savernake Hospital entrance. It would keep to the higher ground at a height of about 200 feet above sea-level. This gave rise to an interesting speculation as to where the railway station for Minal would have been.
In the event, Brunel was more attracted to the northerly route through the Vale of White Horse and Swindon. It is suggested that the wealthy land-owners in and around the Kennet valley wanted much greater prices for their land, and they were also not prepared to see the 'new' railway passing through.
Later, there was to a second survey to bring a line from Marlborough along the valley bottom, along Elcot Lane, Ghost Lane, and across the water-meadows to the north of Stitchcombe. This was a branch line to the proposed Didcot to Basingstoke Railway which was also not proceeded with. The surveys and plans still exist in the County Records Office.
In 1841 the first proper Census was taken throughout the land and the details applicable to Mildenhall are now available (the necessary one hundred years having passed). For the first time, a reliable and accurate population figure was given, and some idea of where people lived in relation to one another. All of the Minal village people were listed together but the route the Census enumerator took as he walked from to house helps to locate the various families.