Aldbourne Heritage Centre

I was born on the 5th August 1936 at 36 Lottage Road. My parents were Alice Hunt(nee Sheppard) and Walter Thomas Hunt. My Mother’s Grandfather, Snuff Sheppard, lived in, and worked from Pettywell as a cobbler. Being related to the Aldbourne Brinds, we can trace my Grandmother’s family back through the village as far as records began. My Grandmother was born at Baydon Hill in 1872. She was the only daughter of the family and had five brothers, Tom, Jim, Arthur, Harry and Charlie Stacey. Their father died in a terrible accident in a well at Greenhill when the children were very young. His young workmate also lost his life trying to rescue him. Their mother was left to bring up the children all on her own. My Grandmother spent a good deal of her early life working in service in London. With the money she earned she was able to invest in property in the village. In 1902 she married Jack Sheppard, he had two brothers, Harry the eldest, and Teddy the youngest. My Grandfather worked on farms around the village. My mother was born in 1910 at North Farm Cottage, then owned by Tom Chandler, and lived there for six to seven years. She used to walk to school with her friends who lived at Hill Bottom which was Winnie and Hilda Martin, now known as Winnie Read and Hilda Chamberlain.

My Grandparents moved back to the village and lived at 9 Baydon Hill. My mother told me that her father put horse and rider moulds on the wall and they were still there in 1975 when we sold the house to May Dixon. My mother, Sarah Alice Hunt married my father Walter Thomas in 1934. My father was apprentice jockey at King Edwards Racing Stables, Foxhill. His parents came from Warwick which is why he received the nickname ‘Warwick’. He had two brothers and three sisters and they still live there, and when he visited them he would travel all the way on a two stroke motorbike. They called him ‘smokey moke from Aldbourne’. He then went to work for Major Powell in Aldbourne. They had their own house built at 36 Lottage Road by Charlie Stacey, which was on a patch of allotment and was the only house built there, at the time.

When the war came Warwick was called up into the Royal Artillery for six years. The house in Lottage Road was let to British Army Officers until 1942. In the meantime I lived with my mother and grandparents at Crooked Corner. We had to draw water from the well. The radio needed an accumulator and battery and a long earth wire to a pole in the garden to receive a signal. In the early part of the war when it got dark we used to walk down the garden and hear the drone of enemy planes and watch the searchlights all around brightening the night sky. In the daytime long trailers carrying planes on their way to Vickers Armstrong at South Marston and RAF Wroughton which is where they were repaired and built. They would try to squeeze through the narrow streets between Staceys grocer baker and Jack Humphries’ butchers shop. It was very narrow. In the build up to D day the 101st Airborne Division started to arrive, and children of the village had a wonderful Christmas in 1943. The Americans were very kind, we had things that we had never seen before. They would also give us rides in jeeps, it was great fun. All around the village were their supply dumps. All the lanes and roads had small Nissan huts which housed ammunition boxes and jerry cans for petrol. None of the huts was locked. Me and my friends would march with the US troops. One day we went out of the village to a field near Four Barrows, and ended up being caught in a practice minefield. There were flashes and bangs all around us. It was very frightening. Along the track leading to the barrows were rockets and mortar shells. There were planes dropping parachutes and pulling gliders all around us. Being a young lad, it was very exciting. Days before D day, in Major Powell’s yard, by the brook, they dug slit trenches and buried all the gear that they were not able to take.

In 1943 two Airspeed Oxfords collided in mid air over Bishopstone Down. One crashed at North Farm near the woods at Liddiard’s Farm, the other crashed over the Downs. All on board were killed. I remember two US planes flying low over the village, one missed the hill, and the other crashed into Eastleaze. On another occasion a US bomber which was badly damaged was trying to land at Membury. It exploded on impact and carried on for another mile. I can remember seeing a German fighter flying over the church extremely low going West. One memory that really stands in my mind was when I was looking out of my grandmother’s bedroom window at around 7 pm and I saw a plane on fire flying over the church. There were parachutes falling from it and it eventually crashed at the bungalow at Red Barn in West Street. I can remember seeing ambulances coming down Baydon Hill from Membury. They were carrying the wounded to hospital at Marlborough and Wroughton. It went on for hours and I still remember the strong smell of ether. I can remember a group of young Americans at Powell’s stables having a bet as to who could hit the weathercock on the church. One took aim and hit the old bird. It is now being looked after by Ron Morley. Me and my family made friends with an American from Texas whose name was Roland Enhibit. He was a good friend of mine, and unfortunately he was killed in Normandy on 8th June 1944.

In the early part of the war I can remember watching Stephen Everett bring the cows down from the Four Barrows to Liddiards at Glebe Farm for milking. He was a little old man, red faced with a bowler hat and glasses on the end of his nose. If there was any water in the pond he would let the cows drink, if not he would have to pump it into the trough. I myself was a mischievous young lad. If there was anything going wrong, it was always John Hunt, but not always! The worst thing I ever did was to steal rabbits from the rabbit catcher’s traps. I got caught and the local police were after me. I also got the cane from the headmaster!

One nice sunny day when school was over you would look up in the sky and watch Lancaster Bombers towing targets, you would hear the drone from the air pressure, machine guns rattling, cartridge cases would drop all around us. Today, when you’re digging your garden you can still quite often find these. We also watched spitfires and hurricanes practicing.

We children of the village never got bored. Girls would play hopscotch and skipping, boys would play tag chasing, Find Jimmy and ‘I erk ye,123’. I know because I’ve still got the scars to prove it! We used to play around the pond, the square, the green and the churchyard, and Bertie Liddiard’s yard. The older boys would play catching the owl, they would get into the hayloft, open the trap door and have a bucket of water ready. They would get some unsuspecting person to hold the sieve under the trap door in order to catch the so called owl. That person would end up with a good soaking. They never caught me!

The village dew ponds were all around the village, and the cattle used to drink from them. My favourite was one at Greenhill. We would go to Peggy Knoll which, incidentally, is where I got caught stealing rabbits; walk up the steep hill behind the wood, and at the top there was some cattle sheds, and at the side was the pond. It was about 10 yards wide with crystal clear water, thick moss, and full of pond life, newts, boatmen, dragonflies and moorhens were all there. We paddled in to catch the newts in a jam jar. It was lovely and warm, and not too deep. We never thought of danger in them days. Most dew ponds have now been filled in although there are still one or two around.

My family were strong Methodists. When I was young I attended Sunday School in the morning and afternoon, and then an evening with my parents. We had Anniversary once a year and all the children would have a small piece to say. The chapel would be packed with the congregation. There would be prizes given for the best attendance, and trips to the seaside.

Everyone used to keep chickens and pigs in their back garden, and would share fresh meat and eggs with all the neighbours, and they would do the same for us. We always had a constant supply of food. Milk was delivered to the door every day by the local farmers. My first wage was when I was ten years old. I went to Preston Farm, then owned by Siddie Watts. I led the cart horses round at Harvest time picking up sheaves of wheat. At the end of the day Jack Watts would give me my wages. I was so proud! When I was about 12 years old I would go rabbiting, catching them on the farms around the village. One day I went to North Farm where I met the foreman, Bill Giddings, who worked for the owner at the time, John Lawrence. He asked me if I would like to help with the harvest. I jumped at the chance. It was in 1948. I then went on to work there for the next 18 years becoming a herdsman amongst other duties.

My wife Margaret Hunt was born at Upper Lambourn. We married in 1960 and had two children, Brian the eldest, and Loretta. Brian married Jackie Tollifield in 1985. The Tollifields moved into the village in 1979 when her father, Dave was the steward at the Aldbourne Sports and Social Club. Brian and Jackie now live in Swindon with our only granddaughter, Georgina. Loretta and her partner, Chris, also live in Swindon. Myself and Margaret are both retired and enjoy hobbies such as gardening and day trips out and about.