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The Berrett family has a long association with the village and can be traced back many generations. Bryan Berrett has given talks on village history for local audiences for many years and now writes a regular local history piece for the local newsletter. This section of the website combines his images and writing about village history and is designed for anyone interested in Steeple Ashton and its history including residents, former residents and visitors. Articles which appear in this section were understood to be correct at the time of writing, but subsequent research may uncover differences. Sources, where known, have been acknowledged.
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Memories of Rood Ashton and Farm - by Peter Hornsey
My Memories of Rood Ashton House and its Home Farm, between the early 1940s and 1953.
My Mothers sister was Mrs Fred Corp who, with her husband, were the tenant farmers from the early 1930s, of the Home Farm estate at Rood Ashton. They purchased the farm which included Rood Ashton House from a Mrs Shaw around about 1950. The house was resold quite quickly, [ I believe the Catholic Convent School in Trowbridge were viewers, [ my wife was a pupil at that time !]], to a developer who was to convert this into small unit living quarters. I believe he had previously converted Devizes Castle in the same manner. I recall that he did actually achieve one unit as this was used by a farm hand for a very short time. As I understood he then realised the wealth of lead and other reclaimed material in the building and proceeded to demolish having a grand reclamation sale leaving the shell to stand derelict for many years thereafter. The Home Farm itself was sold again in the early 1960s to Messrs Pike the present owners.
I was born in Trowbridge and my first memories were of cycling as a very young boy up West Ashton hill and over the crossroads, only half the size they are today, and into the park through the gates. After the 2nd World War when I was 8yrs old, we moved away and visits to the farm were then in school holidays. In 1953, eight years later, my first job was to be working on the Home Farm.
The estate of the House, Farm and its parkland was approx. 300 acres. The Lodge on the West Ashton crossroads was a tied farm cottage, now very much enlarged, at that time this was the entrance to the estate. There were gates but I cannot recall their design. Moving towards Melksham the right side was the boundary, there were no buildings within this stretch of woodland. Castle Lodge was another tied cottage, this was the earlier entrance to the estate, the gates were operable to drive through in my time. [ See pic no. 2]. I have been told that the Biss Wood [ in my memory very much larger than now ] had a drive from Castle Lodge through it, with the first gatehouse to the estate being the lodge to the caravan park close to today’s petrol station near to Trowbridge. Immediately after Castle Lodge the boundary of the estate leaves the roadside at right angles to cut across the N.E. side of what was the ornamental lake to join the Eastown Lane on the sharp bend by the lake. The boundary continued Southwards on the lane towards Eastown. At Brickells Lodge, another tied cottage, again vastly enlarged, was the entrance to the Home Farm side of the Estate, and still is. Nominally the boundary then followed the right side of the lane/road back to West Ashton and down to the crossroads again, behind the houses.
Parkland & House.
Entering the estate, past the church built for the Long family, was the more formal parkland. The only fencing was of the metal parkland type, one or two gates of a like sort and the occasional similar tree surround. The original gravel drive from the Castle Lodge did not go directly to Rood Ashton House but swung back to almost the church before joining the later tarmac road. This was very obvious at the time. Before the war ended I was probably too young to remember the interior of the big House, but I do remember swill, from the kitchen area of the house, being collected regularly by horse and cart to feed to the pigs on the farm ! This was collected from the only part of the House that survived, and this was the part later Spot Listed !! After the dismembering of the House and before it completely imploded I vividly recall the drive up to the Grand Entrance, [ see pic no 1 ] it’s Hall and the stairs [ see pic no.4 ], the main Living Rooms, looking to the S.W., with their enormous windows, [ or rather holes !], and what was left of plasterwork etc etc. Mr. B. Berrett’s picture [ no 3 ] shows the outside of this corner of the house in its original condition, most particularly the size of these windows. All a terrible sin !! Moving on past the house Eastwards, were the Stables, unused by this time, but the cobbles still covered the yard and there were still some grand Victorian fittings in the actual stables. At this point the road became a track that purely serviced the house from the farm. The land drops quite steeply, and was wooded, at the bottom was a brook. Here was situated the pump for the water supply. I cannot remember where the electric was generated. There was a Deer Pen, of some 5 acres, with more metal parkland fencing, on the Eastown side,[ S.East ] of the Stables. There were ornamental “walks” from the South side of Rood Ashton House around the back of the Stables, and in front of the deer pen, these followed the brook through the woods with at least two ornamental ponds. This walk, all very clearly seen, could be followed towards the ornamental lake [ North ] through the woodland and eventually exiting the wood via a pedestrian White Wood Gate to cross the field, on a path, again quite visible, and end up at the boathouse on the lake. There were I believe two islands. I recall “child boating”, and in 1947, which was a very hard Winter ice skating !! Standing at the entrance to Rood Ashton House and looking across the valley there is a wood rising on the far side and beyond that the ground drops away again to the aforementioned lake. Towards the top of this wood was the icehouse. In shape rather like a large rugby ball, I guess 20ft high x 10ft dia. made of brick and sunk two thirds into the ground. In my memory a good lair for foxes, but originally would have been packed with ice from the lake to be used as a fridge of today ! A hazy and early memory was of MOD huts still remaining from WW2 in the parkland on the West Ashton side. One of these was sold by my Uncle to a Mr Harry West to demolish and re-erect at West Ashton to live in. This was on a plot of land, which may have been owned by Uncle, now being the last property on the right on the main road going towards Yarnbrook, much changed now !
A memory from 1959.
Brian Berrett’s picture [ no.3 ] was sketched from a slightly terraced corner of the formal garden, the demarcation boundary was in stone and in some form of balustraded trellis. This can be seen on the far right hand side of my picture no.1. The path in the sketch comes towards the position of the person sketching , I know not where the path would have gone. In 1959 my Uncle gave me two octagonal stone pillars, about 30”dia x 60” high, with castellated tops which I rescued from deep undergrowth, from the position where the artist must have been sketching . I wonder if these were the gate/entrance posts of this path ? I took them to my own house, of at that time, and used them as my gate posts. They can still be seen today, in Trowbridge, down Dursley Road, past the pub, 75 yards on the right, in the hedge !!!
Home Farm & Market Gardens.
The Home Farm House faces towards Steeple Ashton [East] with its brick and tile buildings, including dairy, cheese rooms, apple store and its own stabling, all stretching on the right and towards the Lake [North]. There are still many of the original buildings to be seen with the farm house faux brick archs being repeated on the buildings, ending with a two storey cart shed, now a cottage, with the same arch design. The design is repeated and can be seen on the double storey mill building behind these buildings. I imagine this was all conceived, maybe in 1836, at the time of building. The approach to the farm house is alongside and in front of this period architectural facade. The only building on the North side of the service track to Rood Ashton House was Kennel Cottage, another tied cottage property. Yes, it was the kennels as its name suggests. I know, as this, in later years, was my first home and one could see the outlines of the actual kennels within its own small walled garden.
I do have memories of Steeple Ashton, [but I leave this to better memories in the village than mine ] however from the farm we used to supply logs, which included Canon Yerbourough, I personally threw logs into the front of our holiday cottage, [ Coachmans ], which was then open fronted storage before its conversion !!!
Close by the front South East corner of the farmhouse, was the Market Garden that supplied Rood Ashton House. This vegetable and fruit garden was approx. an acre, or more, in size and completely enclosed by a high brick wall, [ look across the field to the right as you go up the lane to Eastown some of the wall is still intact ] it had its own House and a cottage within this brick wall. In my memory this was owned by a Mr V.Holland, I wonder if he purchased the freehold in the 1930’s ? He never serviced the big house in my time, but I remember he owned an Austin 16 and loaded this with stock each day to go to his retail shop in Trowbridge, which was at the end of Bythesea Road, on the opposite corner to the railway station entrance.
These are only my memories, if there is anybody who reads this, [of my age or a little older] , maybe two heads would jog yet more memories!