INTRODUCTION by Robert Belgrave CBE (1920-1991)

It is a privilege for one born in Piddlehinton nearly 70 years ago to be asked to write an introduction to this short history of the village. The Village Hall Committee who initiated the project and the smaller group who did the research and put together first an exhibition and then this book, are to be congratulated; not least for their timing. For there are still a few of us around who can remember the 1920s, which constitute a watershed in the history of the village.

If Robert, Count of Mortain, to whom his brother William the Conqueror gave the village in 1066, or the Provost of Eton in 1442, the year in which King Henry VI gave the village to his new school - if either of these men had visited Piddlehinton in 1920, he would not have had much difficulty in understanding what was going on. Three people owned cars. Two farms used steam traction engines for some of their ploughing, which emitted smoke and sparks which not only polluted the atmosphere but set fire to whole rows of cottages. The fire engine was drawn by horses.

Almost all work was still done by men, women, and horses. You could get your horses shod in the village, your shoes made, your house thatched, your hurdles and your wagon wheels and your coffin made by craftsmen right here in the village. The carrier ran a horse bus to Dorchester where he would get you anything you wanted. When he bought his first motor bus, he never drove it in top gear for fear of working it too hard; and he made his passengers get out and walk up steep hills. The Brownies who performed a sketch in 1988 about a legendary "Witch of Piddlehinton" were astonished to hear that I knew the lady in question, and believed the stories that she went about disguised as a white hare and once put a curse on Farmer Lovelace's cart-horses so they all died in the night.

There has been more change in village life since the 1914-1918 war than in all the 830 years of recorded history before that date. The chapters which follow draw on written records and some archaeological evidence of events before 1920, and on oral history and photographs taken since that date.

During those 830 years, little that happened in the world outside affected the village. It did not matter much whether the absentee landlord was the King, a Norman Abbey or an English school. There was never a squire here. Perhaps that is why there is a spirit of independence in the village, where people like to organise their own associations and amusements, as are well illustrated in the text and pictures. A few outside events did have an impact. The Black Death in 1348 permanently wiped out whole hamlets in the parish. The prosperity of the Elizabethan era permitted the Churchill family to build a manor house at Muston on its outskirts. The development of water meadows in the 18th century made it possible to increase the number of sheep and raised the tithes with which parson Montague rebuilt the rectory. The enclosures of 1835 pretty well set the farm, field and woodland pattern we have today: before that the maps show far fewer hedges and an open field system of agriculture. The poor suffered; allotted small plots of land in the furthest corner of the parish, and further impoverished by the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 - no less drastic than the repeal of the European Common Agricultural Policy would be today. There was local unrest, corn ricks and barns were burnt nearby and the Trade Unions had their Martyrs down the valley at Tolpuddle. A bitter little rhyme of the period went:

"We hang the man and flog the woman
That steal the goose from off the common
But does not he deserve the noose
Who steals the common from the goose?"

The agricultural depressions of the 1890s and 1930s drove the young people to look for jobs in the towns or overseas, or in the armed forces, where there has always been a tradition of service in the Piddle Valley. Indeed wars have probably been the biggest outside influence, and even when victorious, they have left their mark.

It was the war of 1914-18 and the technological revolution which went with it that dealt the most shattering blow to the pattern of village life. There were 17 names on the village War Memorial, names of men killed in that war out of a total 56 who served - 1 in 3 of the able bodied men of Piddlehinton. Most of these served in France, Gallipoli, and the Near East. Two of them, in the Dorset Yeomanry, took part in the last - but one cavalry charge of the British army, against a Turkish force in the western Desert of Egypt where 7 years later the next generation defeated Rommel. Mercifully there were only 4 names to add after the 1939-45 war, partly because casualties were on a lesser scale and partly because all those involved in food production were compelled to stay in their jobs in order to save the nation from starvation. Many of those who stayed, served also in the Home Guard which, however comic its activities seemed to the English, impressed Hitler sufficiently to cause him to call off the invasion.

It would be a mistake to think of the past as a sort of golden age. Life in the country was hard. Even in the 1930s some children were hungry, ill clothed and ill shod and there was no electricity, piped water or sewer. It is well worth while to record the history of our village. It would be wrong to fossilise it in a sort of romantic, Victorian dream out of a novel by Thomas hardy. There has always been change; never more than in the last 70 years. The task, which our history can illuminate, is to preserve the best in the past without turning the village into a bloodless museum.

Robert Belgrave. 1990