Alfred’s Keri Jones visited St John’s Church in Enmore Green on Saturday 11th August to view an exhibition of community memories.
Enmore Green is technically a part of Shaftesbury, but this community, which lies below the hilltop town, retains a village-like character. It feels like a place in its own right. And that might explain why so many people were determined to dodge the downpours on Saturday to attend a celebration of 175 years of St John’s Church.
“It seems that a small village can often generate more history, simply because it doesn’t suffer quite so much change as a larger place, where you will get a redevelopment of the town centre and lose all the old buildings. You also get quite a lot of people who have always lived there,” said resident David Preston.
David gave me a whistle-stop tour of the mass of historic material that volunteers had pinned to display boards lining the nave of St John’s Church. There were scans of official records and registers and copies of newspaper cuttings. So many different emotions were on display. The smiling faces of school pupils celebrating the coronation were displayed a few feet away from a sad press report on the closure of the school in 1987 headlined, ‘The End of Enmore Green’.
The level of enthusiasm in the church suggested that the reporter had got their prediction wrong. “What’s been particularly exciting is that people who have not seen one another for years have met up. Some people today were at school together, or in the church together. The school records have created a lot of interest and the earliest one is from 1908,” explained Elizabeth Preston, who helped arranged the event.
Nigel Garrett has already shared some of his family’s archive with Gold Hill Museum’s First World War project, ‘Shaftesbury Remembers,’ which is now online. Nigel brought along photographs of his soldier relatives and framed replicas of their service medals. He also had a large bronze medal the size of a saucer, known as a ‘death plaque’.
“I’ve brought information relating to my family, the Brine family. They were from the Sherborne Causeway. These were brothers to my grandmother and I have details of a cousin of theirs who was on the HMS Lion. He lost his life in an accident. He’d only been on the ship for a couple of weeks after his 18th birthday,” Nigel said.
The men from Enmore Green did not fight together. “The two brothers were together on the Belgian border and then one of them was taken to Italy to fight the Austro-Hungarians. He lived up until the end of the war but died three or four days before Armistice Day. Frank, the brother, who was down in Belgium, died in 1917,” said Nigel. Before the brothers went to war, they operated a road haulage business using horse-drawn vehicles. “They were hauling GPO poles up and down the A30. That was their main job.”
How Nigel uncovered these family heirlooms is an incredible story in itself. “We live in Guy’s Marsh, in the house where my grandfather was born and his mother was born. It was an old pub on a farm. I had the tenancy of the farm and when they came to split up my grandfather’s farming ‘empire’, I managed to buy the house. We were going through drawers and this was all there. It hasn’t been touched since the First World War. We knew that they were in the war but we did not know where or what they got up to or their rank.” Nigel says he was both shocked and ‘very, very touched’ when he uncovered these cherished possessions.
Elizabeth had another sad story to share about locals’ lives cut tragically short. A small wooden cross has recently appeared in St John’s churchyard. Elizabeth’s research revealed that a young mother, Freda Brickell, died in 1942 at the age of 27. Mrs Brickell had lost two of her children. Decades after the tragedies, a relative had placed the cross in memory of one of the children who had not been given a fixed memorial.
“A little wooden cross appeared in the churchyard. It was for a baby that was stillborn in 1939. The cross referred to her as ‘being in the memory of the grandparents’. I did find out who the grandparents were and I have now spoken to somebody in the family and learned more,” Elizabeth said.
“In 1942 another baby, a sister, was buried in the churchyard. She was just ten hours old. A few days later, her mother, Freda, was buried. It seems that she had suffered a fall. By looking through the old burial records, I found that the second sister that died is buried in the churchyard.”
Elizabeth believes that the family had wanted to remember the stillborn baby who was not commemorated with a headstone, possibly because she was so young when she died. Elizabeth believes that the family member responsible for the cross died earlier this year. “It’s a very sad story. In a way we would like to bring her into the church community and say some prayers for the family because I feel that somebody must still be grieving for her,” said Elizabeth.
David Preston has researched Enmore Green’s brick industry and he was keen to show me some of the historic records related to the brick kilns, which once operated around the village. “The one at Hawker’s Hill is well known and there’s a fair amount about that because it went on for much longer. Nobody knows much about the Long Cross one, and the brick kiln on Buttermilk Lane though,” said David, adding, “Brickworks are essentially a bit ephemeral. They are usually on farmland so if the brickworks closed down, the farmer cleared it away. There’s not much left.”
These brickworks were situated at the bottom of the hill, below Shaftesbury, because that’s where the clay lies. David reckons that there were possibly a dozen brickworks in operation. “It wasn’t a huge enterprise and it was a bit seasonal because brickmaking was weather dependent. You needed to be able to dry the bricks so there wouldn’t be much going on in the winter.” The industry started here in the Georgian period. “It was in the middle of the 18thcentury. They did it for about 100 years,” David explained.
Brickmaking would not have been a major source of employment in Enmore Green. “You do find in early records that people were described as brickmakers but not very many of them. Most of the people would have been agricultural workers and there were a lot of cheesemakers or cheese dealers, for some reason.”
The road on which St John’s Church is situated is now referred to as Church Hill. But its name used to refer to the brickmaking industry. “It was known as Brick Hill,” said David. “It seems to have changed around 1910 because that’s when some people give their address as Church Hill and others give their address as Brick Hill in the school admissions. Presumably it was because it was more relevant to call it ‘Church’ rather than ‘Brick’ Hill.”
You can spot the local bricks, if you know what you’re looking for. “There is a distinctive type of Shaftesbury brick. It’s red with blue ends and you can see some of them on Bell Street.” The thatched cottage on that town centre street features this architectural detail. “Those would have been bricks from Long Cross,” explained David. “The blue was something to do with the way that they fired them. It sometimes depends on the type of sand or clay that you are using to make the brick in the first place.”
Even though Enmore Green is just five miles from Gillingham, the bricks produced there were very different. “Gillingham brick is characteristically a bit of a dull red. You see a lot of houses in Gillingham made from it,” David added.
After the success of the history day, Elizabeth says that she is keen to hear from anyone with Enmore Green records or photos to share. She hosts regular memory sessions where locals chat about how the community has changed and swap their stories. Elizabeth is keen to start recording more memories for the benefit of future Enmore Green residents. She’s clearly planning ahead for the church’s 200th anniversary – in 25 years time.