A fine line separates industry from trade. Perhaps it is fair to say that an industry employs the individual skills of a number of trades in order to manufacture a product. Interpreting that definition rather loosely, there were a few areas of employment in Fovant which might have come within the industrial category.
Dr Clay included the following in his ‘Notes on the History of Fovant’:
Sandstone, chalk and purbeck stone have at different times been quarried at Fovant, but it is very difficult to determine the date of their quarrying.
Purbeck was quarried in the field just west of Folly Bridge, the field known as Little Coppice, until quite recently; but since this quarry is not marked on the Enclosure map of 1787, it can be assumed that it had not been started at this period.
The large sandstone quarry behind the Pembroke Arms Hotel was omitted in the Enclosure Map. This also can be considered as of recent date. On the upper slopes of the western side of the valley, towards the top end of the village, there are many irregularities which represent old workings for sandstone. Many of these were worked, no doubt, in order to procure stone for the building of the cottages along the bed of the valley. On the other hand large quantities of sandstone were found in the Early Iron Age habitation site (pit-dwellings) at Fifield Bavant Down. These dwellings date from about 480 BC, and since Fovant is the nearest site where sandstone could be obtained, and since quarrying in the side of a slope is the easiest and probably the most ancient method of quarrying, it is possible that some of these valley-side workings date from very ancient times.
Some of the chalk pits are certainly recent; others may date from prehistoric times. One on the slope of the downs is older than the Enclosure map on which it is marked. In other parishes chalk pits have been used as landmarks by the surveyors in Saxon days, and Strabo has recorded that the inhabitants of Britain were wont to marl their fields with chalk which they obtained from deep pits. It may be, therefore, that this chalk pit was first used by our Celtic ancestors.
The quarry on the hill behind the Pembroke Arms, was advertising its wares as early as the late 18th century.
Fovant Quarry, Wilts – 1788
Notice is hereby given to all Noblemen, Gentlemen and others, that there is GREEN STONE always ready for sale at the shortest notice of the very best quality, warranted to stand all weather, at the following reasonable prices.
at 9d. per ft. cube
at 7d. ditto superficial
at 6d. ditto ditto
at 6d. ditto ditto
Foundation ditto 18 in width…….
at 6d. a ft. running measure
And every other sort of Stone on the most reasonable terms. All orders will be attended to and executed with dispatch by
Their most obedient and humble servant
16 June 1788.
Ten masons were listed in the 1841 census, mainly members of the Jay family, so there must have been plenty of work for them. The quarry was still a going concern into the 20th century, but it is believed that it was filled in with the rubble from the upgrading of the A.30 road through Fovant that took place in the 1950s.
Henry Simper, who was the Quarry master in 1855, also rented Fovant Wood from the Earl of Pembroke. A statement from the Earl, known as a ‘Quit Rent notice’ is shown on the right. Click on it to enlarge (although, unfortunately, it is still not very readable). Many men were employed in the management of the woods and apart from the felling of the trees and cutting up the trunks into manageable proportions, there were such activities as bark ripping, spar and hurdle making and the actual sawing of the wood into planks. There was a sawpit at the top of Mary Barter Lane, just on the point of its junction with the Dinton Road. Sawing a tree trunk into planks was a two-man operation. The tree trunk would be rolled over the top of the pit, one man would be down in the pit, the other at the top and between them they operated the large cross cut saw.
Edgar Jay, a Fovant resident, and no relation to the masons Jay, said that his father ‘Herc’ was one of a group of workmen brought over to Fovant at the end of the 19th century by Mr. Hitchings of Broadchalke, to remove the Mill wheel and cut out the first watercress beds. An industry of sorts did develop. Cress was harvested, bunched and sold inside and outside the village until 1977, when operations ceased. Three years later the cress beds were converted into a trout farm, known as Springwater Fisheries. After a change of ownership the business became Millbrook Trout Farm.
Tom Coombeswas one of a team of men working in the Water Cress Beds and part of his story and that of his walking stick can be found on the next page, or by clicking on his name.