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Village Tensions Spilled Over Into Stabbing Attack

The "dancing party" in the Hare and Hounds Inn at East Chinnock on Shrove Tuesday 16 February, 1858, brought young men and women from the village and those around, to enjoy an evening of drink, music and dancing.

Despite the convivial atmosphere, there were tensions that would build up as the drink flowed and village rivalries rose to the surface. Fights between rival village men were not uncommon but rarely resulted in more than bruises, black eyes and sometimes lost teeth. But occasionally the result could be serious, if not fatal, such as the death of a West Coker man some 12 years before in a fight with Odcombe men at Pye Corner.

Some young men from Haselbury Plucknett were not welcome in the village, especially for their attention to some of the East Chinnock girls. Alfred Voisey of West Coker, who was playing a cornopean, which is similar to a trumpet, remarked to Sarah Bicknell that the Haselbury men should not "come over here after the girls of Chinnock". One of the Chinnock girls, apparently enjoying the company of Henry Hewlett, aged 22, of Haselbury, his brother and several friends, was Sarah's sister, and it was against Hewlett that Voisey's remarks were directed.

The dancing party came to an end shortly after midnight and the revellers, many of whom were far from sober, began to disperse to their homes and villages. Voisey set off home up Chinnock Hill in company with Mary Ann Cooper, Elizabeth Higgins and a young man called Withey. Back at the Hare and Hounds, as the Haselbury men were leaving, Hewlett got into an argument with a man called Pike, who attacked him and knocked him to the ground. Recovering, Hewlett shouted that he was going to get the West Coker policeman and made off up Chinnock Hill.

Hewlett and Voisey would shortly meet on Chinnock Hill, and a few days later Hewlett would find himself in Yeovil before the county magistrates, charged with cutting and wounding Voisey with intent to do him grievous bodily harm.

The events leading to Hewlett's appearance in court are somewhat confused, as it would seem all the main participants and some of the witnesses were "well under the influence" and gave contradictory evidence.

However, what can be established with some certainty is that as Hewlett went up Chinnock Hill he passed Voisey and his companions. Following their warning that some men, who had gone before, were waiting to give him a "hiding", words were exchanged and in the scuffle that followed Hewlett stabbed Voisey in his left arm. His brother and friends from Haselbury saved Hewlett from further assault.

The bad feeling between the Haselbury men, and Hewlett in particular, was recalled by Sarah Bicknell, who told the Bench that Voisey had threatened to waylay Hewlett on his way home. Other witnesses stated the participants were drunk and Hewlett had been attacked, beaten and kicked by Voisey and Withey.

The chairman of the Bench, George Harbin, summed up the case by saying: "There appears to have been a drunken row, and if the prisoner had only given a blow in return, the Bench would have perhaps dismissed the case; but the use of an instrument was so extremely dangerous, and so unlike the English practice, that it must be prevented by law. If an artery had been cut, the prosecutor might have bled to death or, if the blow had been given in some more vital part of the body, he might have been killed instantly."

Hewlett was sent for trial at the Spring Assizes, where the jury perhaps had some sympathy with the predicament he had found himself in on Chinnock Hill and delivered a verdict of not guilty.

Reproduced by courtesy of the Western Gazette

The Bristol Mercury (Bristol, England)
Saturday, March 27, 1858; Issue 3549
Crown Court Friday

George Hewlett, 22, was indicted for cutting and wounding Alfred Voisey with intent to do him grievous bodily harm, at East Chinnock, on the 17th February last.  Mr Hooper prosecuted and Mr Edwards defended the prisoner.  The parties were drinking together till a very late hour on the night in question and after leaving a fight ensued, in which the prosecutor and the prisoner took part, and in the course of which the former was wounded.  The evidence however, was far from conclusive, and the jury returned a verdict of Not Guilty.

The Agricultural Labourer's Doom  

To The Editor of Reynolds's Newspaper:

If there be any one point upon which the average Englishman is prone to pride it is the general and substantial happiness of the majority of the inhabitants of these isles. The land, the lord, and the labourer appear to him to form a blessed triology, knowing no want, and having no wish ungratified. First comes the land tilled by the hardy and prosperous peasant. Then comes the peasant himself, with sunburnt cheeks and robust frame. Above the two hovers the lord like a superior providence, receiving such tithe of rent and profit as keeps him in the luxury which superior influences of all kinds have been accustomed to ask for and receive from time immemorial.

            But what are the facts? Agricultural England is studded with hovels as bad if not worse, than that which Corbett saw in his Itinerary. The town fever-dens which Dickens drew, and the horrible midden heaps in which Charles Kingsley pictured the hedgers and ditchers of his time living, exist to-day.

            If my statement is doubted, sir, if these assertions be deemed overdrawn, the sceptic has only to take a train down into Somersetshire. There he will find a set of squalid, sickly, starving wretches, so meanly housed and so poorly fed that the veriest water-rat in the Somerset ditches has a life which, compared with theirs, abounds in comfort and well-being. Here, and within the compass of a single day’s journey, the Cobbett of to-day would find depopulated villages. He would find piggeries, the roofs of which are level with the adjacent fields, but which are used as the abodes of men and women, who are the free inhabitants of a “great free Christian power.”

            Take the village of East Chinnock as an example of the state of things actually existent, sir, at this very moment, at the close of a long reign, called a reign of far-reaching beneficence, and in the famous year of grace 1881. East Chinnock belongs to Lord Portman, and the average wages here are 8s. 6d. per week for men, and 3s. 10d. per week for women. At Gibbon’s Hill, in this district, are cottages the front doors of which are so dilapidated that the vermin of the fields may enter at will. The holes in the windows are stuffed with straw. The floors are partly rough stones and partly natural dirt. Here the labourer rots away his life what time it is not being weather-beaten out of him in the dreary round of open field-work.

            This, sir, on the testimony of Mr. Mitchell, better known as “One from the Plough”, the latest visitor to East Chinnock, is the actual state of things this first sunny Sabbath in May, to be seen by anybody who will take the trouble to go a little over a hundred miles journey from Charing-cross.

            Perhaps if I give Mr. Mitchell’s own words, sir, the appalling horrors of the bestial life led under these circumstances may be more fully realized. Another cottage at Gibbon’s Hill is the same as that which I have already described—

“—only with a few more holes in the door, floor, windows, walls and roof. In a recess called a fireplace were eight little children, the eldest not more than ten years of age, mostly asleep until my entrance caused them to stir. I can hardly repeat the pitiful tale of the poor woman, who had scarce a penny to buy food for these children. Death would have been a happy release for them all. . . . Rent was 1s. 6d. per week; no water to be had near. Arrangements for decency as well as water supply to be found down at the brook below, excepting that in the former case there might be hedgesides found nearer. On the thatch of these cottages, so well soaked with rain-water by the time of spring, the summer develops hundreds of mushroom growths, called ‘toad-stools’. . . . I visited a place called the ‘Rookery’; there the people live in places ten times worse than pigsties. The housetops are level with the field, the land bank forming the back wall: the houses are very dilapidated. I went into a house called ‘The College’, whence a farm labourer and his wife had just been removed to Yeovil Workhouse, since which . . . the man has been happily claimed by ‘welcome death’. . . . There are more than twenty houses in East Chinnock without any w.c., water, or other sanitary arrangements. Sixty years ago there were over fifty freehold cottages in the place, all of which now belong to the noble landowner without payment!”

            Here, be it remarked, are two disastrous series of causes working the ruin of agricultural England. First of all comes the total neglect of sanitary precaution, or even of the common means of household protection against the weather. This breaks down the physical stamina of our peasant as certainly as an attack of fever always leaves seeds of disease behind. But not content, for the sake of saving a few pence in hovel repairing, to expose their serfs to every wind that blows and every storm that falls, the lords of the southern counties appear to be adopting far more pernicious and actively dangerous principles so far as the stability of the national prosperity goes. Where, for instance, have the just-mentioned fifty freehold cottage “estates” gone to? They have been swallowed up evidently on Lord Portman’s, or some other landowner’s, domain, a domain which in the former nobleman’s case, besides large tracts of land in Devon and Dorset, runs to the enormous extent of 24,170 acres in Somerset! At any rate, accepting the statement quoted as being true, such appears to be the only explanation.

            This conclusion is borne out by the population returns. The three Chinnocks with Chisleborough had in 1831 a population of close upon 2,000 souls. This same area, after exactly half a century of time for development, is some 500 people short of this number, when it should stand at nearly 3,000. And what wonder? With people condemned to inhabit black holes on the one hand, and with land cormorants snapping up their small holdings on the other hand, population has no more chance to exist, much less to thrive, than a rabbit asphyxiating under a air pump has of becoming a Sir Humphrey Davy.

            But I have not done yet. All this time, during this long half century of summer, and shower, and smiling harvest, the parsons of the place I name have been netting an annual revenue of about £4,000 a year. Thus the growing prosperity of the landlord and the continued fatness of the Church have been co-existent with the decrease of ten lives every year upon the food-producing powers of the place. What must be the outcome of a state of matters like this—what can only be the outcome? The question, sir, answers itself—is being answered all over the kingdom by untilled acres running up to their hundreds of thousands of weed-producing fields, where formerly the patient earth heaped up her increase for the use of man. Of course, I do not allege that Somerset is worse than any other county. All over agricultural England, where there is no press, no public voice, no clubs, no workman’s union, no nothing but the deadly power of squire and parson, this dull, dumb suffering on the part of the agricultural labourer goes on. If he objects to drinking water drawn from his own midden, or remonstrates with the employer who houses him worse than a mangy cur he is sacked, he is turned bodily out on the bare roadside to starve, or die, or go to the devil, just as it may happen. Who cares for him? Nobody. Who hears of his trouble? No one. Who knows when he dies, or goes into the workhouse, or emigrates? No one, except the census enumerator, who at the close of fifty years finds five-and-twenty men missing out of every hundred once numbered, or, judged by what ought to have been the increase, exactly half the expected population vanished into space!

            This, be it remembered, sir, is no fancy picture. It details the actual state of things to be found at this moment in a fairly public place, which is within three hours’ ride of the capital. Is there no member of parliament who will let a little light on the matter by asking a question in the house about the actual state of the Chinnocks, about its former population, and about the tenure of the holdings of the landowner or landlords whose title-deeds cover it? And failing this means of giving country-born Englishmen and Englishwomen some chance of a life which shall be a little better than that of the prehistoric cave-bear, is there no esprit de corps among workers the whole nation over to make everyone determine to leave no stone unturned till the land laws of England as they stand are wiped off the statute-book?

(Source Reynold's Newspaper Sunday, May 1, 1881; Issue 1603)
Thanks to Janice Walker
N.B. According to Peter Gurney, in The Great Exhibition of 1851: New Interdisciplinary Essays (edited by Louise Purbrick), Reynolds’s Newspaper was one of several radical publications aimed at a popular working-class market.

In The Absent-Minded Imperialists: Empire, Society and Culture in Britain, Bernard Porter gives Reynolds’s Newspaper as a leading example of one of the substantial broadsheets expressly directed at the working classes. Porter describes G.W.M. Reynolds, the proprietor, as ‘possibly the second-most popular British novelist (after Dickens) of the entire nineteenth century—though he has hardly ‘lasted’, partly because his cheaply produced books tended literally to disintegrate— . . . who attracted hundreds of thousands of readers in the 1850s with a regular menu of blood, guts, sex and radical politics’.

 I haven’t discovered yet who “Northumbrian” may have been.
Jeremy Churchill

The Abuse Of A Public Charity  

The abuse of a public Charity has caused much discussion recently at East Chinnock. The charity lands there consist of 11a. 0r. 20p., besides houses, and produce upwards of 50l per annum. The complaint of the poor people of the parish is that for years past they have been kept in total ignorance of the management of the funds derived from this property, and the existing inquiry was instituted in consequence of some time since forcible possession being taken of a portion of the property. On Wednesday the accounts were gone into. It appeared the feoffees had erected, at great expense, certain premises, which are now called the “School-house”. These premises are not completed, and have never been occupied; no estimate had been obtained of the cost of the erection, but a surveyor had gone over and valued them and considered them worth just the amount which had been drawn out of the funds for the purpose of building them. At this meeting the feoffees agreed to have an audit, and annually to publish the accounts, and to distribute every year whatever balance might be in hand, and in every respect to carry out the original intention of the donor with respect to the trusts. “It is however worthy of remark”, says the local journalist, “that the feoffees at present acting have no right whatever to administer the funds of this charity. They are, beyond question, merely trustees to hold the same to such uses and purposes ‘as seven of the most discreet men of the parishioners shall from time to time appoint.’ No such appointment by the said seven wise men of East Chinnock has ever been made, and the present feoffees are purely self-appointed ones.”

(Source Daily News London Saturday, May 29, 1847 Issue 312)

The other side of this story is given in East Chinnock “Village Echoes”, pages 21-22 and 32-33.
£50.00p from 1847 would now (in 2008) be worth £3,237.16p, using the retail price index.
At 40 square perches to a rood (1 square perch is 0.00625 acres), 4 roods to an acre, 11 acres, 0 roods, 20 perches = 11.125 acres = 4.5 hectares.

Jeremy Churchill

Election Riot
Yesterday at the County Petty Session, Isaac Shiers, Charles Axe, Joseph Andrews, Thomas Gage, George Garrett, Frederick Rendall and Edward Rendall of East Chinnock near Yeovil, were charged with causing a riot during the last election. Mr Trevor Davies, of Sherborne, prosecuted, and Mr Howard Bowen, of Weymouth, defended. It appeared that a party of Conservatives were returning to Crewkerne after attending a political meeting at Yeovil, and on arriving at East Chinnock some unpleasantness arose because, as the East Chinnock men stated, the Conservatives had insulted some of the villagers when passing through the place on their way to Yeovil. The witnesses for the prosecution stated that some of their party were badly ill-used, but the East Chinnock party had in their possession a formidable bludgeon, which they stated was taken from one of the Tory party. Mr Bowen suggested that the men should be bound over, and this was ultimately done, the defendants being ordered to pay the costs.

(Source: The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post (Bristol, England) Thursday, September 2, 1886 Issue 11951)

Dispute in the Hare and Hounds - March 1871

John Rendell age 20, carpenter, on 6th March was in the bowling alley of the Hare & Hounds Inn in East Chinnock. A dispute arose about a quart of cider. Rendell knocked William Gibbons down and they had a fight. Gibbons claimed that about a quarter of an inch of his nose had been bitten off! When the judge asked, Gibbons said he didn’t think the injury would affect his sense of smell or speech, but that it would be a disfigurement for life. The defence said it was a fair fight and the injury might have happened by falling on a nail.

Rendell was found guilty but due to his excellent character and him being a peaceable young man, he was sentenced to two months hard labour only.

(Source Bristol Mercury)

Smuggling in 1830

John Young From East Chinnock aged 52 was convicted in 1830 for Smuggling. He was fined 100 pounds or 10 months imprisonment

(Source Dorchester Gaol Registers 1782-1853)

Church meetings  

March 1858

There was grave concern as many groups were playing games like Hazard on Sunday evenings during divine service "to the destruction of all morality, the desecration of the sabbath and the annoyance of every peaceably disposed person".

It was recommended that the parish constables be instructed to be more vigilant and take down names of the "oldest and most incorrigible" whom would then be summoned to answer for their conduct before a magistrate. The constables had to take care that all expenses "be defrayed by the offending parties"

At a meeting in 1854

Samuel Young proposed that the rate for sparrow catching went up to 3d per dozen. The meeting continued with the decision to employ a professional mole catcher. The mole catcher was paid £5 per annum for his services. For a number of years F. Thorne was the lucky incumbent.  

28 June 1838

A new blue stone pavement to be laid in the old part of the church, the same as in the new part and a new gate to be built at the old entry of the churchyard, 2 stone stiles for the footpath and a wall.

Thanks to Janice Walker