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Saturday, 22 November 2008

Holy Wells, Shitcocks and Piscombe: Folk history of the Bincombe and Upwey area



With with the ever changing landscape within the Weymouth area, and construction work already started on the Weymouth Relief Road (see previous blog entry The route to history). I thought I would share a couple of articles from the late Audrey Johnson's column Dorset Diary (Dorset Evening Echo March 10th 2004). Discussing the nearly forgotten folk history and stories of the Bincombe and Upwey area.
"Bincombe's Link to ancient spring
More information flows in following ex-pat's query over village.

Last week Sally Morgan, an ex-pat Dorset woman, sent me an e-mail from her home in Normandy asking about Bincombe where she grew up (Diary, March 5). She said she is "interested in trying to gather together some of the hamlet's anecdotal past, in particular relating to around 11 cottages that have now disappeared, with their inhabitants".

I quoted from a Topigraphical [sic] Dictionary of England, written in 1831 by Samuel Lewis, who said that the River Wey runs through the parish, in which are quarries of fine stone and a mineral spring. Numerous barrows are visible on the neighbouring downs.

Mark North, author of Dark Dorset, was quick to reply, saying he believes "that Lewis may have been referring to either the spring at the Wishing Well or the Spa at Nottington as the mineral spring. Ronald Good gives a good description of this in his book Weyland, the story of Weymouth and its countryside.

He says: "the southern boundary of Broadwey parish took a very wandering course by which it enclosed the hamlet of Nottington. This place also has a mill, but its leading feature is a mineral spring that rises on the margin of the Wey. The water of this spring is sulphurous, and its medicinal virtues, especially in cases of skin disease, have been known at least since 1700.

"We are well aware that the course of the river doesn't divert through Bincombe. However, there was once a mineral spring in the parish of Bincombe, near the hamlet of Elwell at the base of Ridgeway Hill as mentioned in Jeremy Harte's article on Dorset Holy wells.

"He points out that 'the hamlet of Elwell in this parish is Helewill in 1212, and is derived from haele, safe, haelu, health, or hael, omen - so that it was either an oracular or a healing well.

WELL LINK: (above) The Royal Oak Inn, circa 1910, once situated at the bottom of Ridgeway Hill on Dorchester Road at Upwey and demolished in 1968 to improve traffic visibility at this point. The bus stop at the bottom of the hill now marks the site of the inn

"In recent times it was known as the Healing Well, 'a spring in a field at the bottom of Ridgeway, behind where the Royal Oak Inn used to stand. Healing properties,especially in connection with eyes, were attributed to this spring'. This folklore connection with healing of sore eyes has also been connected with the Wishing Well waters as well.

"References to the name of Elwell (Heal Well) can be found on a map of Bincombe Parish in the Royal Commission for Historic Monuments Books of Dorset which clearly states the valley, since destroyed by the railway embankment, as Hellwell Bottom, though it fails to mention the location of the well behind the Royal Oak Inn, now demolished. It does, however, highlight a spring on top of the hill as well as the ancient Celtic field systems and one humorous name for a valley, which has, I expect, long been removed by OS maps."

Above: segment of map of Bincombe Parish taken from the Royal Commission for Historic Monuments Books of Dorset. Below, Shitcocks and Piscombe as it appears today prior the construction of the Weymouth Relief Road.


It's certainly deleted from my 1:25 000 map, as is Hellwell Bottom which also appears on the early map from the Historical Monuments book. The small valley lies just south of Lower Bincombe Farm and rejoices in the name Shitcocks and Piscombe - though why it was so named I can't imagine, unless it was the site of the village midden. Do any locals still use this odd name?"
An article followed up the interest in the holy well in Elwell - Dorset Diary (Dorset Evening Echo March 22nd 2004).
"The melancholy tale of military execution
Shallow mounds could mark last resting place of two corporals shot in 1801

The Bincombe story (Diary 5/3,10/3, 20/3) seems to be drawing to a close, unless you know more.

Sally Morgan, who asked the original question, has e-mailed with 'a little more information I picked up from Dad (Brian Dibben) and Ken Pashen (an elderly farmer from Bincombe) who was able to give me quite a list of villagers who once dwelt in the cottages.

Mr Barter lived in a cottage that is still there, opposite the church, and walked to Portland every day - but was it to work in the quarries or not?

Particularly relevant to your article from Mark North, about the springs in Upwey, Walt Tizard, who I remember had a rich Dorset accent and dialect and died some years back now, told my father that a field called Bat-hays, behind the old chapel off named because the locals used to bathe their eyes there and that the water was rich in iron.

Apparently, the spring behind the Royal Oak went to a water trough for the horses to drink and the steam engines to fill up before the haul up over Ridgeway.

The Royal Oak was the watering hole for one Bincombe inhabitant, a Mr Bullock, who Ken Pashen tells me was a carter who walked to Upwey every evening for a quiet drink. 'It was his evening constitutional. Not so for one poor man who is said to have over-indulged and drowned in a ditch on his way back to Bincombe. The man who drowned would have been coming back into Bincombe from Broadwey.

'Unlike Mr Bullock, who would have walked back up across 'Biscombe' or 'Piscombe'. 'I understand 'Shitcocks' has become 'Shitrocks', which for the younger generation may have something to do with the dangers of driving very big tractors down very steep hills, but for older villagers is because in a field running from Lower Bincombe to Bincombe Village there is a line of rocks inhabited by a large rabbit population that deposits its droppings all over the rocks.'

Holy Trinity Church, Bincombe

Military historian Ted McBride also wrote to remind us about the story of the deserters, mentioned in an earlier Diary, and he sent a cutting from the published just after the event.

'On the Downs above the rural hamlet of Bincomb (sic), a military camp was set up, where desertion wasn't an option - a little story of that period ...

'On Tuesday, July 3,1801, were shot on Bincombe, near Weymouth, two Corporals of the York Hussars, pursuant to the sentence of a general court martial held on them for desertion. They, together with four privates of the regiment, took a boat from Weymouth Harbour and proceeded towards the enemy coast.

'They went as far as Jersey, which they mistook for the Continent, and were then taken by a King's ship and sent home as prisoners.

'On this melancholy occasion the whole line of the garrison, and all within ten miles, were present, and formed at the same time one of the most martial, as well as awful, scenes ever witnessed in Dorset. The prisoners were taken to the parade ground in a mourning coach, followed by their regiment.

Attended by Mr Brooks and Mr Stanley, two priests from Lulworth Castle, they alighted from the coach dressed in white and, with the priests praying to them, passed in slow time in front of the whole line and returned as far as the centre where their own regiment formed in front of the grand line.

'The prisoners advanced to the front for a little distance, and after a few a dozen carbines at about ten paces distance. Both fall instantly, like Christians and heroes; more fortitude and resignation had rarely been witnessed.

'The bodies laid on the ground till the whole line had passed them in slow time, after which they were put into their coffins and interred in Bincombe churchyard. The four privates were sentenced to be flogged, but owing to their good characters were forgiven.'

Ted wonders if the graves are marked. There are two schools of, thought on this. Most locals say that the graves are each marked by a stone slab, proof being the outline of an Iron Cross - a sure German connection.

The Hussar Graves? at Bincombe

But there is a snag - two, in fact. The Iron Cross is a prestigious decoration awarded for distinguished service, so the two deserters would certainly not qualify for its use on their graves.

More significant is that the 'Eiserne Kreuz' was not introduced as a Prussian military decoration until 12 years after the executions. It was solely for the Prussian War of Liberation, but its use was revived by William I for the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, recreated in 1914 for World War I, and last revived by Adolf Hitler on September 1,1939, the same day that German forces invaded Poland.What the icon in Bincombe churchyard marks I know not, but it certainly wasn't the last resting place of two corporals from the York Hussars. The story is well-known as the basis of Thomas Hardy's short story The Melanchcholy Hussar which, the writer avers, was quite factual and told to him by an old lady (who had an emotional involvement to the story) when he was in his midteens, though he was urged to silence by the teller until she was dead,buried and forgotten.

So this poignant love story was 'put on hold' for over 30 years, during which time Hardy's own rather melancholy mind had kept it secret,and who knows what effect that had on the writer? '

Suffice it to say that it is a powerful and sad love story, no doubt emroidered by a fertile mind.

In the story Hardy mentions that the two were buried near the church wall. To this day two unmarked, shallow mounds can be seen by the wall beside the track leading up to Bincombe Bumps. Could these mark the graves? Only an excavation will reveal what secrets are held there.Of course, we mustn't forget the Bumps, simple Bronze Age tumuli in an ancient barrow cemetery, and believed locally to be the Music Barrows, traditionally home of the fairies. According to folklore, it is possible to hear fairy merrymaking if you place your ear to the barrows at noon."

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