Dr Christopher Kent
Transcript of interview with Dr Christopher Kent, The Laurels, Tytherton Lucas
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The Hamlyn family outside the Laurels
I moved to The Laurels in 1999 just before I retired from Reading University where I was a Senior Lecturer and acting head of the Music Department. I got to know Tytherton Lucas through my late wife, Angie (Angela Thomas). She grew up here from 1949 with her mother, Ruby, and aunt, Doris. Her father, George Thomas, had left to return to his parents in Bagillt in North Wales. They had met and married when he was manning the search lights on Fred Grimshaw’s farm during WW2. He was a skilled silk worker before he was called up and the job was held open for him at the end of the war. Ruby had elderly parents here and she didn’t want to leave them. Angie was born in 1949.
Ruby had moved to The Laurels in 1934. Her father, Eli1 Baker, had been born near Hill Corner Road and had become a farm worker. First of all, they lived at Manor Farm Cottage2, as a tied cottage. Eli Baker worked for Bob Davies at both Manor Farm and Gastons Farm. He tended the dairy herd of Ayrshire cows. He recollected skating down the canal one cold winter. Eli and his wife “Dolly” (Dorothy), acquired The Laurels from Tommy Freeguard. Before that it was a tied cottage to the Crook family. The above photograph of The Laurels shows the Hamlyn family who rented the cottage at the end of the C19th.
Tommy Freeguard was a general handyman worker. I have his Daybook which gives accounts of what work he did for whom. He never married and as he became older and more infirm, Dolly used to take hot meals round to Tommy and kept an eye on him. Eli and Dolly were saving up to buy The Laurels but to their surprise when Tommy died he left the cottage to them. They had never expected this. Ruby used to hate any kind of change and sat on the doorstep and refused to move to The Laurels. Of course, she eventually came along with her parents. Ruby was born about 1919 so would have been about 15 years old then.
Ruby had a brother and sister. Her brother, Roland Baker and his son, Ron, lived in East Tytherton in the old Forge house on the corner with the wonderful dahlias. Ron was unexpected and Eli and Dolly were able to help Roland buy the house with the money that had been put away for buying The Laurels. Roland and Ron both worked at Westinghouse in Chippenham.
Ruby attended the primary school at East Tytherton and won a scholarship to the first Grammar School in Chippenham. She found it difficult to do her homework in the evening because her brother, Roland, was building radio sets. They had no electricity at The Laurels until the late 1950s. Dolly was always terrified of electricity! The Laurels was the first house to be connected to running water just after the war. Ruby’s health was delicate, and she suffered from migraines. After she and her husband George Thomas separated Ruby stayed on at The Laurels, with Eli and Dolly, and looked after Angie. Ruby and George Thomas formally divorced when Angie was 18.
Doris was Ruby’s younger sister, and she inherited The Laurels because Ruby was still formally married. Doris went to the domestic training school in Trowbridge. But after the war the need for servants disappeared, so she worked as a nanny and cook for various people in the area including Dyrham Park and Lady Altrincham at Tormarton. She recalls watching the bombing of Bristol from Dyrham Park. She would cycle back to Tytherton Lucas when she had a day off. As Dolly required more support – she suffered high blood pressure and became immobile – then Doris lived at home and she became a nanny to Adrian the son of Colonel Rolo Baker at Pinnegars House, East Tytherton. Adrian was involved in a car accident in his teens and was mentally impaired. He died recently.
The Laurels was fronted with Ashlar stone in 1826 and is still the original rubble stone on the other sides. The inscription “RT 1826” is on a beam in the attic. It looks as though this was when the height of the roof was increased. Before that it was probably just a thatched hovel. The current lean-to music room was formerly the workshop with direct access to the road. I have an auction notice for the sale of The Laurels in 1836. When Eli died in 1963, Doris converted part of the lean-to workshop to a downstairs bathroom. Local Authority grants were available to support installing such indoor facilities. Ruby and Doris had the small bedroom. Their parents had the front bedroom. Angie had an area in the attic as her bedroom.
Angie attended East Tytherton primary school and then Hardenhuish Grammar school. I went to Sheldon secondary school and then moved to Hardenhuish for ‘A’ levels which is where I met Angie. She also suffered migraines and like Ruby was reluctant to seek medical advice and eventually it led to a fatal brain haemorrhage. Ruby had bought Angie a piano and she played the harmonium at St Nicholas church.
My family moved to Wiltshire in 1956. My father was a butcher and worked for the Co-op in Chippenham. The Co-op provided a house in Hungerdown Lane. We subsequently bought a house in Hardenhuish Lane. I used to cycle around all the local villages. I remember the small mixed farms with a patchwork of fields and hedges. Later hedges were ripped out and much of the land converted to cereal crops.
Angie went on to study French at Aberystwyth University and I went to Manchester University to study music. I met Angie again in Tytherton Lucas at Christmas in 1969. We were both back from our universities for the Christmas vacation. I often played the organ at St Andrew’s Parish Church in Chippenham having begun lessons there in the sixth form. That Christmas, I was asked to play at St Nicholas chapel in Tytherton Lucas. Angie was very shy. But we had common interests in music and the countryside. More people came to church then, from all the large houses and from many of the cottages too. There were maybe 15 to 20 in the congregation. Back in the early C20th there were even more, and they had two services for Harvest Festival to fit everyone in.
There was very much a feeling of class distinction as the big house owners went to each others’ houses for sherry after the services. Several army officers came to live in former farmhouses which had lost their land including Colonel (then Brigadier) George Powell at Coggswell, Brigadier Arengo-Jones at Stokes, and Colonel Eyres at Barnbridge. Bob Davies at Manor Farm gradually acquired most of the land around Tytherton Lucas. There was much change in the 1990s as the military families moved out. Many of the house owners are now from professional backgrounds except for Pam Sawyer, widower of Doug Sawyer who farmed at Field Farm, and Rex Grimshaw, a retired farm worker who lives at Catbrook. We got on very well with George and Charmian Powell, George gave Angie away and they hosted our wedding reception at Coggswell.
When Angie and I moved to Tytherton Lucas in 1999, I became the organist at St Nicholas church. I managed to obtain a grant from the Leche Trust for the purchase and restoration of the present church organ, which came from near Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire. It had been built in Bath in circa 1837 by John Clark.
Interviewed by Helen Stuckey, March 2014
This transcript was agreed by Dr Christopher Kent for use in the Bremhill History Project,
19th February 2021
- Elijah Baker
- Manor Farm Cottage is now called Broome House and is lived in by the Cooks