Compiled and written by Danny Howell, first published in 'The Illustrated Warminster And District Miscellany, Volume One' (Bedeguar Books, May 1996):
Older Miscellany readers in the Warminster area will no doubt remember George Farmer Gauntlett who lived for many years at Middleton Farm, Norton Bavant, and his son Mark who lived and farmed at Bishopstrow Farm. Their family background was a most interesting one, particularly that of the successful partnership between George's father William Bowle Gauntlett, and George's uncle Samuel William Farmer.
George's grandparents George and Caroline Gauntlett spent much of their lives at Market Lavington. Their only son, William Bowle Gauntlett, was born on 15 December 1834 at Market Lavington, in the house later occupied by Messrs. Hopkins And Sons, builders. He was educated at Devizes, at a school carried on by Mr. Evans at Eastbourne House, Bridewell Street. William had one sister but she emigrated to America, where she died.
When William's father George died, his widow Caroline married James Farmer of Lavington, who was well known in agricultural circles and had a butcher's business at the High Street, Market Lavington (which was later conducted by Edward Doubleday). James and Caroline had one son, Samuel William Farmer (who was, therefore, William Bowle Gauntlett's half-brother).
William Bowle Gauntlett married Jacintha Madaliene Glass Turner at the Independent Chapel, Market Lavington, on Christmas Day 1858. They were wed by the Rev. H. Atley. Jacintha was the youngest daughter of Henry Glass Turner, Esquire, of Orcheston. She was born on 21 October 1840, baptized at Orcheston St. George on 23 April 1843, and went to school in Devizes.
William and Jacintha had seven sons and six daughters, namely:
Caroline Turner Gauntlett (born at Easterton on 4 October 1859),
Frederick William Gauntlett (also born at Easterton on 18 September 1861),
Sidney Herbert Gauntlett (born at Market Lavington on 14 April 1863),
George Farmer Gauntlett (born at Market Lavington on 2 January 1865),
Robert Macer Gauntlett (born at Eastcott on 6 November 1867),
Mary Louisa Gauntlett (born at Eastcott on 15 August 1869),
Rebecca Jacintha Gauntlett (born probably at Eastcott on 8 March 1873),
Cedric Oliver Gauntlett (born at Eastcott on 25 January 1875),
Anne Rowena Gauntlett (born at Eastcott on 2 May 1878),
Edwin Bowle Gauntlett (born at Eastcott on 12 December 1880),
Adela Emily Gauntlett (born at Collingbourne Kingston on 11 November 1883),
Altivia Edith Gauntlett (born at Collingbourne Kingston on 22 March 1888),
and Wilfred Gauntlett.
After his marriage to Jacintha, William Bowle Gauntlett farmed for some time in the neighbourhood of the Lavingtons before moving to the Grange at Easterton. He subsequently returned to Market Lavington, where he took up residence at what was known locally as the Old Market House (the former home of a Dr. Hitchcock). William Bowle Gauntlett later removed to Eastcott Farm, carrying on business at Little Coate Farm at the same time. About 1880/1881 the family left the neighbourhood and went to live at Brunton House, Collingbourne Kingston, where William carried on farming while his health allowed. The move to Collingbourne Kingston coincided with the time when he first entered into a very successful business partnership with his half-brother Samuel William Farmer.
Samuel received his education at the Spa in Melksham and went to Aberdeen to study, the intention being that he would become a doctor. Unfortunately he developed lung trouble and had to return to Wiltshire. It was expected that he would die before journey's end but he survived and went on to live a long life. By the time he returned to Wiltshire his father James Farmer was dead and his mother Caroline bought him a farm - Easterton Hill Farm - hoping that the air of the Wiltshire Downs would help young Samuel. Adjoining Easterton Hill Farm was New Farm, on the top of Lavington Hill, and this was in the occupation of James Sainsbury, who initiated Samuel with regard farming practice. Samuel lived at Easterton Hill until the 1870s when he married a Miss Redman of Coulston and moved to Little Bedwyn Farm which he subsequently purchased, and where he resided until the time of his death.
The 1870s were difficult times for farmers and Samuel had to struggle to hold his own. He had been rearing and selling heifers either in calf or with their calves. When trade proved particularly bad one year he decided to keep the recently calved heifers and to milk them himself. The result was so satisfactory, financially, that he determined to go into milk production on a permanent basis. This was the big turning point in his career. Having proved how milk could be profitably produced on an arable farm he took Collingbourne and Grafton Farms in conjunction with his half-brother William Bowle Gauntlett. They started large dairies on these farms, under the style W.B. Gauntlett & Co., and they never looked back. In a short time they had control of Brunton House Farm, Southgrove Farm, Green Farm and Manor Farm at East Grafton, which were all on the Savernake Estate. Farmer and Gauntlett rented them from four successive Marquis' of Ailesbury.
William Bowle Gauntlett was always up to date with equipment on the farms. He was never slow to take up new ideas if they were good ones. He had been one of the first farmers in the county to use steam power for ploughing and cultivating - in 1863 - when it was looked upon with hostility by those who made their living working on the land. He was very interested in livestock, particularly Shorthorn cattle, and believed in the advantages of having a flock of sheep on the farm. He was not seen at markets as much as Samuel Farmer, leaving that side of the business to him. It was said that William Gauntlett was more interested in good farming than profit making.
The two half-brothers did not always see eye to eye on everything but differences aside they made a commercial success of whatever they put their hands to. It was said that "There were never two more shrewd men. They were always keen on a bargain but both were the embodiment of uprightness and straight dealing." They were both staunch teetotallers and they didn't smoke. In their early days they were both closely associated with Samuel Saunders of teetotal propaganda fame. William Bowle Gauntlett was a supporter of the Western Temperance League and he was also "a distinguished official of the Good Templars organisation." A strong force of mind was required because teetotallers in those days were regarded as fanatics. No wonder then that the anonymous writer of an appreciation to William Bowle Gauntlett said "Such a man of definite principle, high aims, and so influential and steadfast, deserves to be reckoned among Wiltshire men worthy to be remembered."
Likewise, Samuel Farmer was referred to by the Rev. J. Carey, at his funeral, as "A good man. Such words are the most fitting epitaph for Mr. Farmer." Samuel Farmer had begun his agricultural career in a small way, with very little capital, but he died a wealthy man. His success was due to his great energy, bold initiative, sound judgement, and general force of character. He spent no unnecessary time at fairs and markets and when business was done he went home. He expected all who were associated with him to conform to his own high standards. A good judge of character he ensured that there were no slackers among his staff. He saw farming only as a means of making money and not as a hobby. He cared nothing for admiring how stock or crops looked but saw them as profit. His reputation was that of a great financier and he saw figures and calculations as recreation. He made sure that the farms were well equipped and ample capital was always provided. The adage "If something was worth doing it was worth doing well," came rapidly to mind for Farmer. He laid down the broad lines on which business should be conducted and left others to carry out his wishes. He had a natural instinct for bargaining and a fixed determination to get value for money. For many years he did the purchasing of the manures and feedingstuffs which were required, buying direct from Mark Lane in a wholesale way, distributing the consignments, and getting much better terms than an individual farmer at the local market. He had a name for being a hard man but he was just in his dealings. He loved money but not as a miser would; he loved the power it conferred. He mellowed in later life and became very generous to causes which appealed to him. He was a benefactor to the Savernake Hospital (he was a governor of it from 1911 onwards). It was his donation of £3,000 which made an extension to the hospital possible. He also gave to Dauntsey School, where he was a governor; and he was a trustee of the Somerset Hospital at Froxfield. He did not like or follow field sports.
Samuel Farmer's alliance with another farmer, Frank Stratton, paved the way for the huge profits he made. It was in 1885 that Farmer had gone into partnership with Frank Stratton & Co., building a vast agricultural enterprise in the Pewsey Vale. By that time a great deal of money had been lost by people concerning the land, a whole generation of farmers were practically ruined and rents had fallen considerably. The outlook was uncertain, farms were in a bad condition, and tenants were difficult to obtain. It took considerable courage for Farmer to launch out in those conditions but he took advantage of the situation. Farmer and Stratton started in the Manningfords and in 1889 they also rented Cuttenham, Hilcot, and Charlton Farms. In 1892 Farmer took Rushall and part of Wilsford (from Alfred Stratton) and later he added Horton. A little later again he added Norton Bavant, Bishopstrow, Patney and Puckshipton. By 1895 they were farming 14,000 acres and at the height of the enterprise they had about 25,000 acres, on which were milked over 2,000 cows. Farmer provided the finance and Stratton the managerial ability. Milk was produced on a very large scale for the London market, with a policy of a lower output per acre than before but a higher output per man or per unit of capital employed.
Outside of his partnership holdings with Stratton, Samuel Farmer took Ham which adjoined Bedwyn; and also Enford Farm from his brother-in-law Mr. H. Sargent. In addition he had a large holding at Henley On Thames.
When county councils came into existence under the Act of 1888, Farmer was elected a member of Wiltshire County Council as an alderman. He was vice-chairman of the County Rate Basis Committee and he also served on the Assessment Committee of the Hungerford and Ramsbury Board of Guardians for many years. For his services with food supplies and arrangements during the First World War he received the O.B.E. He belonged to the Liberal party for most of his life but sometimes moderated his support, sometimes transferring to the Conservatives. As previously mentioned, like William Gauntlett, he took an interest in the Temperance movement. He was a member of the United Kingdom Alliance. He was placed on the Commission of the Peace for Wiltshire in 1907.
Samuel Farmer's wife predeceased him and there were no children of the marriage. Samuel William Farmer died at the Manor, Little Bedwyn, on 9 July 1926. He had been in ill health for the last six months of his life. He was 78. He was cremated and buried at Little Bedwyn where he had been a churchwarden for 30 years. He left a gross estate of £404,330 chiefly to charities.
By coincidence, William Bowle Gauntlett died just a few months after his half-brother Samuel Farmer. In his younger days William Gauntlett had been a good cricketer and a fine shot but he allowed himself little recreation in later life. He learnt to drive a motor car when he was 80 but failing sight prevented him from continuing to drive. He served as Hon. Sec. to the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Association and Hon. Treasurer to his local Rechabite Society, in whose principles he was deeply interested. He was on the Commission of the Peace for Wiltshire, having qualified as a J.P. for the Everley and Pewsey petty sessional division in 1909.
When William and Jacintha celebrated their Diamond Wedding anniversary (in 1918) the event was perpetuated by William placing a clock in the tower of Collingbourne Kingston Church, and this was also partly donated as a thanksgiving for peace after the First World War. William was very interested in Collingbourne Kingston Church, particularly with its fabric, and he subscribed to repairs. He served as a warden during the incumbencies of two vicars.
Despite advancing age he was of remarkably fine physique but failing health in the last six months of his life curtailed his farming activities. He was practically blind in the finish but retained his cheerfulness. William Bowle Gauntlett died at Brunton House, Collingbourne Kingston, on 23 October 1926. He was 91 and was laid to rest in Collingbourne Kingston Churchyard.
His widow Jacintha died at Brunton House, Collingbourne Kingston, on 31 January 1928. She was 87.
The 1891 Census shows William and Jacintha's fourth son George Gauntlett living at Manor Farm, The Green, East Grafton, with his widowed 81 year old grandmother Caroline Farmer (who was born at Mere). George was employed by his father William Bowle Gauntlett and Samuel William Farmer at Manor Farm, East Grafton, as a bailiff for some years, but by 1903 he was living at Middleton Farm, Norton Bavant, where he was working as a land steward for Messrs. F. Stratton & Co. (S.W. Farmer's partners). Frank Stratton also had North Farm, Norton Bavant, and by 1907, as previously mentioned, had also taken Bishopstrow Farm. Bill Symes, who now lives at Boreham Field, Warminster, is able to recall that the carts at Bishopstrow Farm all featured the name 'S.W. Farmer' on them; and Bert Dawkins, of Sambourne Road, Warminster, who lived next to Bishopstrow Mill when he was child, remembers that the track which runs north from Bishopstrow Farm to Middle Hill was then known as Farmer's Lane.
By 1915 George Gauntlett was farming Middleton Farm and North Farm, Norton Bavant, and Bishopstrow Farm, on his own account. He later added Bishopstrow Dairy to his holdings. He spent his entire life as a farmer and became one of the best known agriculturalists in the district, not only running four dairies but also specialising in the breeding of sheep.
George's wife (who was always known as Floss) was formerly a Miss Florence Mary Wallis, a farmer's daughter from Stapleford. She was the second daughter of Mark and Louisa Wallis, of Church Street, Stapleford. Like her parents, Floss was born at Chitterne. George (who named Burbage, Wiltshire, as his place of residence) and Floss were wed by the Rev. J.F.D. Hernle at St. Mary's Church, Stapleford, on 27 May 1896.
Bert Legg of Home Farm, Boreham (who, with his wife Claire, lodged with George Gauntlett's son Mark and daughter-in-law Muriel at Bishopstrow Farmhouse for a while after his marriage in October 1946) remembers George Gauntlett as a good, hardworking man. Bert said "He had dairies of cows at Bishopstrow Dairy, Bishopstrow Farm, Middleton Farm and North Farm. That was all dairies of cows. And George kept a hell of a lot of sheep. George's land went nearly right up over to Imber Clump. They had a terrific acreage. Well, I think at one time they had seventeen carthorses to do the work, and a big staff. There was a dairyman at each farm. The staff included Topper Hiscox, the Puckets and the Burroughs. Mr. Gerald Kaye, who lived at Yew Tree Cottages, Bishopstrow, did the books. George and Floss Gauntlett would invite my wife Claire and I up to Middleton Farmhouse to have some bread and cheese with them in the evening. They were a wonderful couple. Mrs. Gauntlett loved to smoke, she liked her cigarettes. They had a Daimler car and an Alvis, chauffeur driven in those days. They were big farmers, oh yes, there's no mistake about that. And it's all gone now and done with. Mind, I wouldn't change who I've got for a neighbour now at Bishopstrow Farm - Laurence Rice. He's the best bloke in the world. He's marvellous. If I need something or I need a hand he's there just like that, straight away. He's been there since Mark Gauntlett left; Laurence Rice's father came there one year, about 1964 I suppose, and got killed in an accident the next year. And Lock Rice is still farming at Bishopstrow Farm today."
George and Floss Gauntlett's eldest son, Jack W. Gauntlett, attended the County Secondary School, Warminster, and later joined the Royal Flying Corps on 1st January 1917. He took a great interest in his work. While he was stationed at the aeronautic depot at Farnborough he came home on leave (the first leave he had taken since joining the R.F.C.) on 25th April 1917. This was to be the customary 48 hours leave before proceeding to France. It was obvious when he arrived at Norton Bavant that he was unwell, and it was soon realised he was suffering from measles and bronchitis. So serious was his condition he was removed to the Military Hospital at Sutton Veny, where he succumbed to pneumonia and died on Friday 11th May 1917.
His funeral was held at All Saints Church, Norton Bavant, on the following Monday. Draped with the Union Jack, the coffin was conveyed from Sutton Veny on a gun carriage and was escorted by a firing party from the East Lancashire Regiment. At the entrance to the churchyard the cortege was met by Messrs. A. Waite, H. Toomer, W. Moore, T. Hiscox, G. Dewey, and S. Snelgrove (the employees on George Gauntlett's farm), who acted as bearers. The children from Norton Bavant School, with their teachers, were assembled at the churchyard. The Warminster County Secondary School was represented by the three senior boys: F.B. Alexander, W.H. Edwards, and R.E. Noise. The funeral procession was met by the Rev. J.W. Barrow (Vicar Designate of the parish), the Rev. J.H. Shaw, C.F., (Chaplain of the Military Hospital), and members of the choir. The coffin bore the inscription "Second Air Mechanic J.W. Gauntlett, No.52597, Royal Flying Corps, Died 11th May 1917, Aged 19." The grave was lined with narcissi, cherry blossom and moss. After the remains were committed to the earth three volleys were fired by the military party.
To the anguish of the bereavement was added further anxiety by the fact that daughter Joan and youngest son, Bobby, were also suffering from measles. Joan recovered but Bobby, who was two and a half years old, died of pneumonia on 23rd May 1917 (a few days after his brother Jack). Nurse Giles and the three servants at Middleton Farm acted as bearers at the funeral, which was held at Norton Bavant. There were over 30 floral tributes. The Rev. J.W. Barrow, Vicar of Norton Bavant, officiated.
George Gauntlett died suddenly on Friday 13th September 1946. He was 81. Immensely active for his age he had attended Wilton Sheep Fair on the day before his death. The Rev. E.H. Earle (Rector of Bishopstrow) officiated at the funeral which was held at Norton Bavant on Monday 16th September 1946.
Mark Gauntlett's wife was formerly a Miss Muriel Smith, the only daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Ashworth, of Deanston, Perthshire, Scotland. Prior to her marriage she was housekeeper to the Bazley family at Boreham Farm. Mark and Muriel were wed by special licence on 1st August 1936, and took up residence at Bishopstrow Farm House (the previous occupants of Bishopstrow Farm House, Major W. and Mrs. Olpherts, had moved to Donum, a recently-built house behind Prestbury House, Boreham Road, Warminster).
Muriel Gauntlett was an enthusiastic stamp collector and founded a small stamp club at Bishopstrow. Her husband Mark also shared her passion for stamps and was the founder of the Warminster Philatelic Society (which closed down but by coincidence was re-formed on the 15th anniversary of Mark Gauntlett's death). Muriel Gauntlett also showed a keen interest in the Fancier's Association and was its Honorary Secretary for a time. Mrs. Gauntlett suffered from indifferent health for two years and on medical advice she travelled by air with her sister-in-law to Karachi in November 1952, to visit her brother and spend a brief holiday, hoping that the change of climate (a warm one) would do her good. Unfortunately, on the return trip by sea, her condition worsened and she passed away on board ship on 17th February 1953. A memorial service for her was held at St. Aldhelm's Church, Bishopstrow. It was conducted by the Rev. H.G. Green and was attended by relatives and many friends.
Mark Gauntlett's constitution had always been weak and he never really got over the death of his wife. His health declined when he felt her loss so much. Those who knew him remember him spending long periods in bed; the running of the farm being attended to by the foreman Mr. A. Waite. A staunch member of the Warminster Branch of the National Farmers' Union, Mark gave up attending meetings in 1959, when he was taken seriously ill and retired from active farming. So ended a career of nearly 60 years helping his father and farming on his own account.
On Friday 25 September 1964 the live and deadstock of Middleton Farm and Bishopstrow Farm were sold by auction on the instruction of Mrs. Florence Gauntlett and her son Mark. Messrs. A.W. Neate And Sons, the auctioneers of 8 St. Mary's Hill, Newbury, later reported the sale of the 64 Hereford and Devon beef store cattle as "a flying trade." The cattle were in excellent order and straight off the grass. The Hereford cows made from £41 5s. to £46 and a cow with a suckling calf made £56 10s. The store cattle were reported as being "in excellent order." Two year old bullocks sold from £83 to £83 10s.; Hereford and Devon stores, 18 - 20 months old, £58 to £74 15s.; 18 months old from £51 10s. to £60 5s.; Hereford and Devon stirks from £46 to £59 5s. Overall average was £60 10s. White Leghorn hens were sold for 8s 6d. and 9s. A good company of buyers was present for the sale of the 200 lots of deadstock, much of which was rather old. A Fordson Major tractor made £160 and another made £177. An International T-6 crawler tractor made £47. The following prices were realised: Keens four wheel trailer, £43; Girder tipping trailer, £11; various horse carts and wagons made up to £5; tractor hay sweep, £9; chain harrows, £20; Cambridge rollers, £42; disc harrows, £17; Ransomes four furrow multi-track plough, £11; cultivators to £7; cattle crush, £22; Ideal grain cleaner, £35; saw bench, £6; Alfa Laval 3-unit milking machine, £22; water troughs to £4 10s.; and an office safe made £5. A 1937 Wolseley 12 h.p. saloon car made £10, and a 1955 Ford Prefect car made £87 10s. The latter - registration WPL 616 - was purchased by Danny Howell's father, Ben.
Mark Gauntlett moved to Ilfracombe, to be by the sea, where he hoped to spend many years of happy retirement. Things were not to be; he arrived in Devon one day, was taken tragically ill the next, and died on the third day (5th October 1964) at the Tyrell Cottage Hospital, Ilfracombe. His funeral, conducted by the Rev. E. Wade-Stubbs, was held on the 9th October at All Saints Church, Norton Bavant, where he was laid to rest with his father and brothers.
Laurence Rice, from Devon, eventually became the new tenant of Bishopstrow Farm and Middleton, but Mark Gauntlett's mother (Florence) and sister (Joan) continued to reside at Middleton Farm House. Florence Mary Gauntlett died, aged 98, on 10th April 1973. Her funeral was held at Norton Bavant. Miss Joan Gladys Gauntlett, who is remembered by some for her colourful language, passed peacefully away on 5th June 1985 at Warminster Hospital. She was 84. Her funeral service was held at Bath Crematorium on Tuesday 11th June.
A look around Middleton Farm today reveals hardly any tangible evidence of the Gauntlett's occupation and the part it played in the huge farming enterprise that was Frank Stratton & Co. Several of the farm buildings have been removed. The wooden barn, where coal was stored for fuelling the steam ploughing tackle, is gone (demolished). Even the old cattle troughs are gone. The only real reminders are the odd iron fenceposts tucked here and there in the remaining hedgerows - silent witnesses to the dairy production which Stratton, Farmer and Gauntlett, provided for much of the London market.
Copyright Danny Howell.