A wartime visit to Nunney

Coombe Farm, Nunney
Coombe Farm, at the end of Donkey Lane in Nunney, around 1960

Dr Robin Woolven contacted us because he is editing diaries that describe wartime visits to Nunney.

Nunney 1931
An aerial photo of Nunney taken around 1931, with Coombe Farm at the end of Donkey Lane at the far top right

Anthony Heap
Passport photo of Anthony Heap
Londoner Anthony Heap kept a diary for his last 56 years and left them to the London Metropolitan Archives. They include wartime visits to Nunney.

Dr Woolven is currently editing the years 1931 to 1945 for two volumes to be published next year by the London Record Society.

Anthony Heap was born in 1910 and lived all his life in Holborn and St Pancras, London. From the late 1920s he was a regular ‘first-nighter’ in London theatres, extending his interest to the cinema and later television and opera. A large part of his diaries consists of his reviews of performances.

From the end of 1940 he worked for St Pancras (later Camden) Borough Council for the rest of his working life. His descriptions of life in the air raid shelters as well as the bomb damage he saw on his walks around the city make his diaries of particular interest to social historians.

In 1941, in the course of his weekly tours around St Pancras Air Raid Precautions Depots to pay the Wardens and First Aid Post staff, he met a young woman with close links to Nunney.

Anthony Heap and Marjorie Heatley (‘M’ in the diary) married in London on Saturday 11 October 1941.

Marriage Index for 1941

Marjorie’s ancestors are buried in the churchyard of All Saints Church, Nunney. Her mother lived at Bangle Farm, Chantry, and Marjorie’s cousins ‘Hefty’ Henry and Margaret lived at Coombe Farm in Nunney.

Marjorie’s father was a dentist and lived in Australia. Another cousin, ‘Bubbles’ lived at – we think – Trudoxhill, about 2.5 miles from Bangle Farm. Bubbles married in 1946. Marjorie had previously shared rooms in London with her cousin, Joan, who may well have come from the Somerset side of the family.

Extract from Heap diary
A page from Heap’s diary
Two volumes of Anthony Head’s diaries are scheduled to be published next year by the London Record Society, covering the years 1931 to 1945. A great follower of English diarists, including Pepys and Arnold Bennett, Heap wrote his own diary in the hope that it would be read.

Copyright of the diaries is held by the Corporation of London and the documents are held at the London Metropolitan Archives in Clerkenwell. All 56 volumes of the diaries are archived under Accession No. 2243 and are available to readers who wish to read the originals.

Here is an extract from the 1941 diary, describing a visit to Nunney during the first week of Anthony and M’s marriage.

Sunday 12 October

Coombe Farm, Nunney
Coombe Farm, at the end of Donkey Lane in Nunney, around 1960

Down to Somerset for five days. Mother came and saw us off on the 12.30 from Paddington. Had to change at Chippenham – wait an hour for a terribly slow train which stopped twenty minutes at every station. And the fact that we both felt very tired and very hungry didn’t make the journey any more enjoyable for us.

Bangle Farm, Chantry
Bangle Farm, Chantry (by permission of Geograph.org.uk, photo © Phil Williams)
What a relief it was when we at last crawled into Frome station at 6.00pm and were wafted away in a waiting car to Coombe Farm where we’re to stay. This is M’s cousins’ place, about four miles from Bangle Farm where M’s Mother lives. There wasn’t quite enough room for us to stay there.

After some much needed tea we set out for Bangle Farm in the car. There I was introduced to my mother-in-law and innumerable relatives who had all foregathered for a feast in our honour. Simple kindly farming folk. Never was a good dinner more welcome more than this sumptuous repast …

Monday 13 October

Nunney Air Raid Patrol
Nunney’s Air Raid Patrol was kept busy in 1940 (collection Somerset Record Office)
All is peace and tranquility down here. Except for the drone of the planes flying by overhead, the war and all connected with it can be completely banished from one’s conscious thought in this quiet serene unspoilt countryside of rich fertile soil and yonder undulating hills.

They have however had a few bombs in the vicinity for it’s on the direct route from the South coast to Bristol which the raiders usually take when making for that much bombed city.

In contrast to our hectic activities of the last few days, we spent a lazy easygoing sort of day beginning with a late breakfast in bed, which I’d have enjoyed better if we’d had a pot of hot tea with it instead of a lukewarm cup each. Still, we do get plenty of new laid eggs; they being so rare in London now.

Nunney home guard
Pressing matters: an ‘important notice’ calling an urgent meeting to discuss if the Nunney Home Guard and Air Raid Patrol could combine their 1941 Christmas parties at The George. (click to enlarge)
We were up so late that there wasn’t time to do anything but take a short stroll over the fields before lunch – plentiful affair of lamb, potatoes and turnips and baked plums and custard. They certainly know how to feed well.

Walked over to see a secluded lake and grotto which M is very fond of in the afternoon. An exquisite and unique spot well worth seeing.

Then to Bangle Farm for tea. And again for supper after a walk over to Chantry to get a drink and some cigarettes at the White Horse. Called in on a churchyard en route and saw the graves of M’s ancestors. They’ve been farming round these parts for two centuries or more.

Stayed sitting talking round the fire with M’s mother and aunt till about 10pm. Half an hour walk back to Coombe Farm, a cup of cocoa and then to bed.

Tuesday 14 October

Changeable weather. Never really fine but could be a good deal worse. Little rain so far anyway.

The George at Nunney
The George at Nunney in 1943, with the sign across the road
Wrote to mother in morning. Visited a cousin of M’s in Nunney in the afternoon and had tea there.

Nunney is a rather picturesque old village very reminiscent of some of the Cotswold towns with its square towered church, a stream running alongside the main street.

It also boasts a ruined castle and the uncommon novelty of an inn sign (The George) placed right across the street like a banner.

Called in at Coombe to get our coats and a suitcase in which to carry back the wedding presents back [sic] and then went over to Bangle for the evening.

Called round to the nearby Manor Farm to see Uncle Ernie and Aunt Annie before supper. Back to Coombe and at 11pm, very tired, very hot. To bed.

Wednesday 15 October

Frome in the mid 1930s
Drove into Frome with cousin Frank in the morning for market day. Not a particularly interesting place. It’s built on a hillside, has hundreds of shops but very little else.

We just wandered around, bought some things here and there, had a drink and some lunch and came back in the early afternoon.

After some early tea, walked over to Bangle, and there had more tea thrust upon us, closely followed by an early supper, for we had to leave soon after 7pm to get back to Coombe in time to join a party setting off by car to a Home Guard Dance in a nearby village called Wanstrow.

A wartime dance at the Nunney church rooms

The Pub at Wanstrow
The Pub at Wanstrow
A terrible dance, small dingy church hall with a floor as unpolished as the swarm of lads of the village who filled the place.

We took one look at it and immediately went round to the nearest pub and drank as much sherry and Bass as we could drink before closing time in order to make the thing tolerable.

Thus did we manage to stick it through to the bitter end at 1am. But I shudder to think what it would have been like without such stimulant.

Thursday 16 October

That Hamilton WomanThis soft sleepy Somerset air doesn’t suit me at all – any more than it did when I stayed over at Brean two years ago. It’s far too enervating, I feel tired and listless all day.

Up very late. Went along to Nunney Post Office and sent back our wedding presents in a parcel for we wouldn’t have room for them in our suitcases. … [to cinema in Frome to see Lady Hamilton…] …

Back to Coombe for supper after. Drove over to Bangle and brought back a load of provisions to take back with us. Poor M very upset at leaving her mother. However I continued to [urge] her to sleep and all was well.

Friday 17 October

Nunney Post Office
Nunney’s former Post Office (left)
We intended going back today but decided at the last minute to stay on till tomorrow. The early promise of another day as lovely as yesterday [caused] us to make up our minds very quickly.

Did what packing we could for the morrow morning, went to the Post Office and wired Mother to get some rations in for us, and phoned the station to find out about trains.

Back to lunch and once more over to Bangle for the afternoon and evening. Started to rain heavily in the evening and set in for the night. Got rather wet getting back.

Still we weren’t sorry we’d stayed on for another day. It rounded off the week perfectly.

Frome Station
Saturday 18 October

Back to London on the 10.30am from Frome. And a nice wet morning made going back much more welcome than it might have been had the weather been better.

Got into Paddington at 1.20 having taken half the time it did going down. Cab home, lunch, unpacking, shopping, tea…

The former White Horse pub in Chantry

The couple subsequently visited Bangle Farm, Coombe or another house locally each summer for a week or two. They helped with hay making, nettle clearing etc and walked round the lake and toured the area which Marjorie dearly loved.

Heap’s main holiday activity seems to have been drinking homemade and brewery beer as well as ‘cyder’ in the White Horse in Chantry or The George in Nunney. He has comments on the occasional wartime beer shortages.