One of the things I have found since moving down to Somerset how different the place names are from back in the south east of England. For every Yeovil there is a Kingsbury Epicopi, for every Bridgwater, a Chiltern Cantelo. The etymology of these place names holds a constant fascination for me, and is another reason I have set out to explore the local area more.
So it is that, on reaching the letter C in my quest, that I choose an unusually named village to photograph.
Charlton Mackrell lies midway between Glastonbury and Yeovil, on Bull Brook, a tributary of the River Cary. It shares its name with the neighbouring village – the similarly named Charlton Adam – and, like Baltonsborough, has a population of around 1000 inhabitants.
The names of the villages can be traced back centuries – Charlton comes from the Saxon word for “farmstead of the freemen”. Adam can be pinpointed to the local FitzAdam family who once lived there. Mackrell is less easy to pin down, but it is likely to have similar origins.
Certainly manorial buildings rule over the village in the way they tend to do; large houses and mysterious gated entrances can be found all over. The local church – Saint Mary The Virgin – sits right next to, and is obviously connected to, one of the larger properties (after all, manorial families often built religious buildings out of their own money to show their devotion to God, which just happened to help them control the local population).
The Charltons also suffered at the hands of Dr Beeching; the railway station closed in 1962, along with the other six stations between Castle Cary and Taunton. Three railway bridges survive, however, the lowest of which is only 2.7m (8’9″) high.
The villages’ war memorial is, unusually, not at the heart of things. It is, instead, nestled in a fork in the road joining the Charltons. Sadly, it only serves to highlight that, even in the depths of the Somerset countryside, tight knit communities were in no way immune to the ravages of war.
There are, thankfully, only eleven names of the lost under each of the villages, but given that the combined population of the two villages at the time was around 600, these twenty-two fallen represented an unthinkable loss for those left behind.
Two of the men on the Mackrell side of the memorial are buried in St Mary’s churchyard. If you have followed my previous CKPonderings blog, you will know that the history and stories behind those who fell during the Great War fascinate me.
Private Quinton Charles Wyatt was born in the Gloucestershire town of Northleach in 1893 to William and Elizabeth. His mother died when he was a toddler and, by the time war was declared, Quinton was working as a farm labourer and waggoner.
He joined the 8th Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment on 22nd November 1915. He was posted to France four months later, but medically discharged from the Army on Boxing Day 1917.
Private Wyatt died in Charlton Mackrell on 11th November 1918 – Armistice Day – and buried in St Mary’s churchyard.
Private Roberts Pretoria Hallett was born in the summer of 1900, to Frank – a shepherd from Charlton Adam – and Emily, who came from Charlton Mackrell. Roberts (the correct spelling) was the youngest of eleven children.
Roberts was just twelve when his father died, and, when war came, he enlisted in Taunton, along with his brothers, Francis and William. The Great War was not kind to Emily Hallett: her son William died while fighting in India in 1916; Francis died in the Third Battle of Ypres in June 1917.
Roberts was assigned to the 5th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment; while I’ve been unable to identify exactly when he saw battle, by the last year of the war he would have been involved in the fighting in northern Italy.
What we can say for certainty was that is was shipped home at some point towards the end of the war, and died – presumably of his injuries – in Newcastle-upon-Tyne on 16th October 1918.
William Hallett was buried in India, Francis in Belgium. Private Roberts Hallett, therefore, is the only one of the three brothers to be buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s in his birthplace of Charlton Mackrell.