Lost and Found

Albert’s map showing Combe and Linkenholt.

Albert’s letter of Wednesday 6th May 1942 relates the second half of his day out to Inkpen Beacon; another mammoth excursion by bicycle. He tells us of a couple of mishaps, one of which was the loss of his map in the area of Linkenholt. This little village is wholly owned by the Linkenholt estate (as it was in Albert’s time) and therefore little has changed since those times. You can’t buy one of the pretty houses, they are all rented out by the current owner, who bought the estate for £25 million in 2009.

Well, back in 1942 it was ‘E.Sharpe’ who kindly found my Uncle’s treasured map and returned it to him. His brief but charming letter is reproduced below. I have spent some time today trying to find something more about this gentleman, but without success. I was able to find a record for his dwelling in the 1939 Census, but all the names, except that of the cook, have been redacted. If you are interested to know why, take a look here (it’s too complicated to explain!).

Dear All, I think I will continue this letter where I left off the last one – at Inkpen Beacon (though of course I’m not there now) and go on recounting what happened in the ride.

I went down a pretty steep hill into Combe, or Coombe as I believe it is correctly called. (The map says Combe, but W.H.Hudson, the Parish notices & memorials in the church all spell it with the double ‘o’). The village is very tiny and consists of a church, a farm and a very few cottages, without, as far as I could see, even a shop. I went into the church and found that the parish is Coombe & Foccombe (Coombe in Berks., Foccombe in Hants). There was soon to be service and just before I left, the rector of the joint parish came in, an old, frail man. I had a few words with him – he knew Hudson’s book – and then proceeded down the road, past what must be a very isolated searchlight post, to a crossroads, from which the road climbs and turns to Linkenholt, in Hampshire: the border is about where the searchlight post was (or perhaps it should be vice versa).

At Linkenholt I stopped and went to the church door, but as there was a service in progress I did not go in. From there I went to Vernham’s Street, where I posted your letter, and about 100 yards on I stopped for a drink at a wayside tap. Looking round on the carrier, I saw that the map was not in its place. I had tied the map, the writing paper and my gas mask on but somehow the map must have dropped off. I was very worried and went all the way back to the crossroads, where I had last looked at it, without finding it. Of course there were plenty of people about when I went along the first time (and lost it) but on the other two journeys, not a soul. However, I thought whoever had picked it up must be a local, and would only need a little prompting to return it – perhaps not even that. Just to make as sure as possible I penned a note which I put on a Home Guard hut, the front of which was used as a notice board:-

Yesterday, by the second post, your letter & my map arrived, the enclosed letter with the map. I have replied to it this morning.

From Vernham’s Street to Vernham’s Dean by memory, and I found it a very nice little village, with a village pond and green, and neat little thatched cottages. I asked the way of a postman – Burbage I said, as it was the first place I could think of that I was going through. I followed the main road to Foxbury (just in Wilts) Oxenwood where I asked the way to Great Bedwyn, and again where the road crosses the A338.

I found Great Bedwyn alright, and went into the church there which is pretty large and very good. I followed the road by the railway and canal, as I could see from the map in “Highways and Byways” that they crossed the road near Burbage. Of course that map is hopelessly inadequate for cycling, as there are only a very few roads marked. However, I got along quite nicely, through Crofton, just past which I decided to stop and eat the remainder of the date cake. Just as I ran down off the road to the canal side my front tyre burst, much to my annoyance, so after eating the cake I had to mend that, which however did not take me long. I must think about getting a new tyre if that one is any more trouble.

My little road became quite rough and led away from the railway and by Wolf Hall into Burbage. From there I simply had to follow the main road (which was very quiet) through the western edge of Savernake Forest to Marlborough. In Marlborough I got something to eat and drink.

Alfred Brown’s dairy later merged to become ‘Brown & Harrisons’.

In a pub there (where I had some very nice cider) I met an old countryman who was actually a native of Charminster, though now living near Marlborough. He had also worked for some time as cowman for Alfred Brown’s of Southampton for a number of years, until 1920 I believe. He knew the town well and we had quite an interesting talk. I noticed that he called Great Bedwyn ‘Big’ Bedwyn. I recognised his Dorset accent as soon as he spoke to me, saying that is had been ‘waarm’ that day. It certainly had been a lovely day, and despite the two little mishaps I enjoyed it very much.

Today I fell for some work, though not of a very exacting nature. I was a “marker” for the cross country course, and actually all I had to do was sit out on one of the training gallops near Beckhampton. I wrote some of this letter whilst I was there. This evening I shall quite likely go for a little ride, perhaps through Compton Bassett

I hope then to see you this Sunday, May 10, at Salisbury in the Cathedral Close some time during the morning. I should advise you to bring some dinner, as the town is very crowded on Sundays. It certainly looks as though the weather is going to treat us kindly; I certainly hope so.

I cannot remember anything else to answer in your letters, so I suppose I shall have to waste the rest of the page. One more thing – it would be quite nice to have a cake.

All the usual love, from Albert.

It’s nice to think of Albert looking forward to seeing his mum and dad in Salisbury (and expecting cake too). The arrangement to meet ‘some time in the morning’ speaks of a different age, when all parties were reliant on slow and sometimes unpredictable public transport. Unfortunately we won’t get to hear anything about their excursion, as the next letter I have from Albert is dated 22 May. He has left Wiltshire and all its beauty behind, stationed in London, “address unknown.”

“A League-long Tableland”

A view from Warlbury Hill, also known as Inkpen Beacon

This week I publish just one of Albert’s letters, written on a Sunday afternoon atop the highest hill in Hampshire. Take away the date and this could have been written at any time in the twentieth century; there is no flavour of war here. Indeed should you be a reader hungry for history regarding the RAF in World War Two, then I’m afraid there is little for you here. If, like many of my regular readers, you seek the common threads of humanity in the words of those long passed, then I invite you to read on.

1pm, May 3 Sunday  1942                                                  Inkpen Beacon

Dear All, I am looking down towards Hampshire from the South side of Inkpen Beacon. The best view and what a marvellous view it is, is looking north to Berks. & Wiltshire, but it is too windy to write letters there. On this side there is just enough breeze to prevent the sun from being uncomfortably hot. Even from here it is very nice looking down the road to Combe which you will see is walled in on three sides by the downs. For a good description of the village and surrounding country see “Afoot in England”. As a matter of fact it was reading that book which made me visit the place today & it certainly is worthwhile.

“The top is a league-long tableland, with stretches of green elastic turf, thickets of furze and bramble, and clumps of ancient noble beeches—a beautiful lonely wilderness with rabbits and birds for only inhabitants. From the highest point where a famous gibbet stands for ever a thousand feet above the sea and where there is a dew-pond, the highest in England, which has never dried up although a large flock of sheep drink in it every summer day, one looks down into an immense hollow, a Devil’s Punch Bowl very many times magnified,—and spies, far away and far below, a few lonely houses half hidden by trees at the bottom. This is the romantic village of Coombe…. that small isolated village in its green basin—a human heart in a chalk hill, almost the highest in England.”

“Afoot in England” W.H. Hudson

I came to Hungerford on the main London road. Although it is such a busy road, there was not much traffic today after I had passed by ‘an army convoy’ before & just after Marlborough. I started from camp at 10am, and so avoided what few joyriding motorists remain. In Marlborough I saw a good example of how the British Army carries out manoeuvres; coming down on the London road I encountered one of the light trucks leading some heavy lorries up a side road. As they came to a turning the driver put his hand out to the right, and an officer standing up behind him promptly put out his hand to the left. Apparently they didn’t know which was the right road, though there were three sorts of police fellows about and about 2 one inch maps to each car.

Along the A4 between Marlborough and Froxfield I saw what seemed to be Berberis growing and blooming by the roadside. Froxfield is quite a nice little village by the Kennet. It has some rather nice looking alms houses, called Somerset Hospital. Just a minute & I will see what “Highways & Byways” has to say about them – apparently they were built in 1691 and enlarged in 1775 “by the right noble Sarah Duchess Dowager of Somerset deceased.”

In a farmyard at Froxfield I saw an old stage coach in a very dilapidated condition. Just out of the village is the Berkshire border and from there it is not very far to Hungerford, where I left the main road. I went through a lovely common just out of Hungerford, and took the quickest road to Inkpen, which is quite a small village, some distance away from its church, which I did not visit.

Though I took it to Calne on Thursday, my 3-speed was not yet ready yesterday, so I have been running with more or less fixed gears. Just before reaching Inkpen though, I fixed the gear in middle, by means of a piece of wire & the chain I usually lock it up with. I need a lower gear than top in this part of the journey.

I reached the hill here at about 12.30, and before writing this I ate half the date cake. I took that as I thought that of all the eatables, it would travel best. Incidentally it is a very nice one. If I can find a piece of string I will now measure my mileage up to date: if I am to believe my cyclometer it will be about 25. And not very far out either, it is actually about 23. I see from the map that I was wrong in saying that Froxfield was by the Kennet; that river does not run close to the main road again until Hungerford.

Kerria Japonica

I have seen quite a lot of Kerria today, as well as wild cherry blossom and all the usual spring flowers. I saw some wild bluebells on Thursday. At the moment I can also hear a cuckoo in the woods below.

On Thursday, after I had taken my 3-speed in to be repaired (by Friday he told me) I went out of the village north-westwards, on a little road between A4 and B3102. After about two miles I turned right and went along a road which overlooks the plain of the Avon. Though the road was never more than about 410 feet high, the view was pretty extensive and as the sun was coming through the fresh green foliage, from the west, it all looked very lovely. As I only decided in Calne to go for the ride, I had not my map with me, but by various little lanes I managed to find my way to Compton Bassett, crossing the B3102 just north of Hilmarton, and keeping south and west of Highway. Compton Bassett is a very long village, which straggles along the lane for a distance of about a mile. I suppose I should not say “straggles”, as it is one of the neatest & best kept villages I have come across. Most of the cottages are whitewashed or cream washed and have tiled or smartly thatched roofs and well tended gardens, many of which are terraced up the hillside. The church I did not visit, as it was too late in the evening, but it is a Perpendicular building which looks very good from the outside.

Between Compton B. and the main road is an RAF camp which takes its name from the village. Its situation at least is much better than ours as regards immediate surroundings, and it is doubtless neither so cold or so windy.

By the way, the parcel arrived quite safely on Saturday by the second post: they seem to be a bit slower in transit of late.

Excepting that I must try to see Mr Bryan one night, and that I must go to Calne tomorrow & get my 3-speed wire (I hope) and a card for aunt Daisy, I think there is little to say in reply to your letter, so as it is getting a bit uncomfortable here, and also it is 10 past 2 and time to push on, I will be closing now.

I will post this in Combe or perhaps somewhere in Hampshire. I suppose it will not be much use sending love to Auntie Edie as she will have gone before the letter arrives, so love to all at home, from Albert.

P.S. Remember me to Mrs Churchill. I see that I have forgotten to bring the right envelopes, so excuse the one I have used, and the way the paper is folded.

In the course of this endeavour of mine, which has mostly centred around Albert’s letters (as they far outnumber those of my other Mabey relatives) I have gained a great deal; not just insights into times gone by but also an exploration of hidden memories of my own. In this letter Albert invites me to remember the Kerria that grew in the front garden of my childhood home, rather too ‘straggling’ for my Mother’s liking. Albert casts my mind back to the tall bookcase in the living room filled with faded linen covers, “Highways and Byways”, “English Downland” that I ran my fingers across on drowsy afternoons. He calls to mind the singing grasslands and dusty chalk paths we tramped along, with Mum and Dad ahead of us, four girls lost in our daydreams. Albert, dear and gentle soul, invites me to memories that are distant and sweet.

Albert’s Travels

When the evenings are longer, I shall often go up there after tea, perhaps taking a book to read, though I think I should be content merely to enjoy the scenery
The Lesser Celadine, harbinger of Spring.

It was lovely to read about these pretty flowers, and the wild violets, and then to see both of them on my run today, thinking how Albert experienced the same pleasure and optimism in seeing these early spring flowers proliferate across the land.

These two letters continue Albert’s themes of exploration of his surroundings and observation of the natural world, which he clearly cherishes. Sadly, were I able to follow in his footsteps this March, (which I cannot do as we are still in a national lockdown) I fear I would not hear so many songbirds in the skies, nor see so many beautiful beech trees. However one day I would like to do that, take the same walk or the same cycle ride. It would I think be quite easy to do, for he gives us detailed directions.

Oh, and we learn that the motorcycle belongs to Bob.

Wednesday March 11 1942

Dear All,

Another wet Wednesday, once more we stopped inside cleaning up and doing other odd jobs of work – I was afraid this would happen when the wind changed. Let’s hope that the weekend will be finer.

You will have seen that I got to Chippenham alright from my last letter’s postmark. As I believe I mentioned before, it was a lovely day, warm compared to my last motor cycle trip and I enjoyed it no end. The country to the West (off the hills) is more like it is at home, with hazel copses – I saw some catkins – winding rivers, and hedge-enclosed fields. We saw a lot of trees being felled too, beeches I believe they were.

Chippenham is not a very large town, about as large as Havant, but more of a marketing town. It has one main street, with a square at one end, and, near the other, a bridge across the Avon. Further on is the station, which is the junction of three G.W. lines. There is a market, where there is also a NAAFI canteen, where we had tea. There are some fine old shops in the town, but there are no really interesting ones, such as at Winchester, or even Marlborough. The main business of the place seems to be concerned with the Nestles milk & Westinghouse electric factories which are there, & they are probably responsible for the council housing estate on the Bath side of the town. That part of Chippenham is quite uninteresting.

I saw some snowdrops and crocus in bloom in the school garden at Chippenham, I expect the Branstone snowdrops are well out now. Up here the spring will be later than at home but if I look around now I expect I shall see some Lesser Celandine out (I first saw it about March 3rd last year) and soon there should be wild violets & primroses, at home if not here. There is not quite the right sort of place here for large numbers of primroses or bluebells.

I was pleased to receive your letter yesterday, I hope this one is not so late in arriving as my last parcel. I have written to Jean, it was really past time I wrote to her. I think it is quite a good idea to get her a silver chain for her cross, but I think I could afford 5/3d on my own, & Peter could get her a little something else. If you can get me a pen, she can have my old one too. And you must find out what Peter would like – if he knows himself that is. For Auntie Bertha I shall get some chocolate if there is any available.

I do not yet know when our long weekend is. It should fall on Easter Weekend, but since there are travelling restrictions it may be altered to a week before or after. When I next go to Marlborough or Devizes I shall try to get hold of the times of buses to Salisbury.

I do not know what I shall do on Sunday. If this wet weather continues it will be rather damp and sticky for walking, so I may try to hire a bicycle. As I sit here & write this letter, the prospect of cycling seems very attractive, & if I get a bike on Sunday & all is well, I may yet ask you to send mine – there are a number of places in the camp where they can be stored away – Bob kept his motor cycle here quite successfully.

Thanks for the parcel by the way. I have eaten the cake (v. nice) but some of the jam still remains. We have been having a little jam most tea times, so I generally take mine at breakfast time. I think that will do for tonight, so goodbye and love from Albert.

The Cherhill White Horse

One detail that caught my eye in Albert’s next letter was his reference to ‘the now black white horse.’ I suppose that during wartime having a huge chalk horse near an RAF camp was a bit of liability, seeing as it would have been highly visible from the air, even in low light. So it was given a make over to suit the times. I remember as a child looking out for this horse as we drove along the A4, perhaps on a visit to relatives in Bristol. Wikipedia tells us that, “The figure at Cherhill was first cut in 1780 by a Dr Christopher Alsop, of Calne, and was created by stripping away the turf to expose the chalk hillside beneath. Its original size was 165 feet (50 m) by 220 feet (67 m). Dr Alsop, who was Guild Steward of the Borough of Calne, has been called “the mad doctor”, and is reported to have directed the making of the horse from a distance, shouting through a megaphone from below Labour-in-Vain Hill. His design may have been influenced by the work of his artist friend George Stubbs, notable for his paintings of horses.”

Sunday March 15

Dear All, many thanks for the parcel, which was very welcome, though most of the stuff I have eaten already. The cheese paste is very nice and I can always do with some of that, though at the moment there is some left.

As regards Peter’s present, if you cannot find out what he would like, you will have to give him money – about 5/- will do. If he wants books or something that costs more than 5/- it will be quite alright to order them. I suppose the warship week will be soon, when it comes off get me some savings certificates to leave about £2 in the box – I think that should be sufficient.

Yesterday evening I walked to Calne, up the hill to Oldbury camp and across some fields to Blackland, from which I followed the lane to the main road, which led me into Calne, where I had some supper and caught the bus back to camp.

It was growing dusk by the time I had climbed the hill, and after a sunny afternoon, ragged grey rain clouds had filled the sky. However, the wind was still Southerly & warm, and it was very, very pleasant on the top. The Wiltshire chalk does not seem prone to forming well-defined ridges of any length, but like the hills just here, like those which are the northern boundary of the Vale of Pewsey, do rise sharply from the general shapelessness of the Downs. On the North side of the hill is as steep as any chalk hill I know of, almost a precipice, and as it falls away sheer from the 800ft height, one has a fine view of the village of Cherhill and the road, dotted with tiny people & cars beneath. The camp is mercifully hidden by the curve of the hill (on which is the now black white horse) and the treed landscape, with the long fields, the cottages and church, & on the other side, the rolling downs stretching far away to the south, the crest of each hill capped by its little beech clump, is very enjoyable, one of the finest views I have come across in Wiltshire. When the evenings are longer, I shall often go up there after tea, perhaps taking a book to read, though I think I should be content merely to enjoy the scenery.

I walked on, passing a small, geometrically-planted square of beeches and descended to the fields, across which I walked towards the Blackland Road. In one of the fields I picked up the head of the first wild flower I have seen this year, possibly pecked off by a bird, as there were none other of its kind near. It was a smallish brilliantly yellow thing, after the style of a dandelion but not much larger than a daisy – you probably know what I mean. [‘Coltsfoot’ is wriiten in the margin, in my Grandfather’s hand]. There were many birds singing, mainly blackbirds I think, but also chaffinches, robins, larks and some others, and the air seemed filled with song. It was getting dark after I had descended the hill, & by the time I reached the Calne road it was quite dark. In Calne I had some sandwiches & meat roll in the W.V.S. canteen there – a very good place too, I think they must get a lot of stuff from Harris’s.

Harris’s sausage factory at Calne

Today I have been out cycling. I queued up for one of the camp bicycles, for which I paid 1/8d and by about 10 was out of the camp, going down the road towards Calne. It was a very unpromising morning for a cycle ride; true the wind was South but the hill was hidden from time to time in mist, and after I had gone a little way it began to rain. I continued in spite of it, and turning to the left, again through Blackland, got on the Devizes road. After a while the rain ceased, and at the top of a hill, I took off my gas mask and tied it to the back stays of the bike. My road crossed the Beckhampton – Devizes road and led me on through Bishop Cannings, which as the photograph suggest, is a pleasant little village. I followed that road over the canal and through Allington, Alton Barnes and Alton Priors to Wilcot. I stopped where the road goes nearest to Rybury camp and climbed the hill, though not going right up to the camp. It rained again whilst I was there, and then there was a fleeting patch of sunshine which crossed the Downs from south to north. In Wilcot I took a wrong turning (I’m not sure how) and instead of coming out in Pewsey I arrived on the main road a couple of miles on the Salisbury side. Again it rained and I sought shelter in an inn near North Newton (on the crossroads between 2 rivers [Avon]).

I ate my dinner, which consisted of all the biscuits which remained, spread with cheese paste. By the time I left (1.30) it had stopped raining, and once more the sun was shining, as it continued to do for quite a while. I turned back towards Pewsey, which I reached quite quickly with a following wind and from there I took the road to Savernake. Pewsey is quite a pleasant little town about the size of Bishop’s Waltham. I crossed the A346 and the railways at Savernake station and went on the road through Savernake estate. To my disappointment the WD [War Department?] have Savernake forest, and the Grand Avenue (photograph in ‘English Downland’) which I intended to take to the A4, is closed. I had to carry straight on, and struck the London road a mile or so further east, and along it rode to Marlborough. I had some tea in Marlborough & looked at the bus timetable – there is an hourly service to and from Salisbury – and went to one of the churches. Then I returned to camp along the main road, in sunshine & after a very enjoyable day, though due to the smallness of the bicycle, my legs felt a bit cramped.

So enjoyable was it that I should like to have my bicycle here, so that I can enjoy the full pleasure of cycling. Rather a change of opinion you may think, but it will be so nice to be independent of other means of transport, especially as one has to queue up for hired bikes, for buses, and hitchhiking! So perhaps you could send mine to Calne station, “to be called for” – by passenger train I suppose. But first buy a lock and chain (not Woolworth’s – everyone has keys for them) and remove the saddle bag. Perhaps you had better send some tools, the puncture outfit, my adjustable spanner, tied underneath the saddle (so that the railway people don’t sneak them). I leave it to you whether you send the pump. I think that is all so goodbye now & love from Albert.

P.S. There was a red sky tonight and I saw some smoke going straight up. I saw lots of snowdrops – almost wild, & heard lots of larks.

Today is my Uncle Peter’s birthday. I spoke to him earlier on the phone, as we cannot see each other under the current restrictions. He reminded me that Albert would have been 100 this year, being 5 years older than Peter. My uncle was kind enough to tell me that he enjoys reading these letters and remembering those times, which is a great incentive to keep on with my posts. Happy Birthday again Uncle Peter, I hope we can see each other again soon xx.