At the foothills of the Mendips, on the main road between Wells and Weston-super-Mare, lies the quiet, unassuming village of Rodney Stoke. Owned by a number of families over the years, Stoches (old English for ‘settlement’) has been known as Stoke Whiting, Stoke Giffard and Stoke Rodney over the years, before the name settled on Rodney Stoke.
With a population of close to 1,500 people, you would expect the village to be a bustling affair, but settled as it is – along three lanes leading downhill from the A371 – it has an altogether quieter feel about it.
The lanes are lined with cottages built for former farm workers. Some former outbuildings have been converted into newer residences while other parts of the village are much newer properties, albeit still in keeping with the history of the village.
At the bottom of Stoke Street lies a farm, while the former manor house stands proud above the surrounding fields.
The parish church – St Leonard’s – is, unsurprisingly, place next to the manor house and, while hidden from most of the village, it can be clearly seen on the skyline from the south, standing tall and proud against the dramatic escarpment of the Mendips.
Normally, when I visit the local villages, I spent time in the churchyard looking for Commonwealth War Graves. However, Rodney Stoke stands out as one of the county’s Thankful Villages.
Fifty-three parishes in England and Wales are commemorated as having sent servicemen to war between 1914 and 1918, all of whom returned at the end of the conflict. These Thankful Villages stand out, particularly given that there are tens of thousands of towns and villages across the country.
Somerset has the highest number of Thankful Villages by county, with Rodney Stoke counting as one of nine. This is celebrated by a window in the church, giving thanks that “All glory be to God, whom in his tender mercy has brought again to their homes, the men and women of Rodney Stoke who took part in the Great War 1914-1919”.
(As an aside, Rodney Stoke sadly doesn’t fit into the category of being Doubly Thankful, having seen all of their service men and women return from both world wars. Four local residents – David Cooper, John Glover-Price, Denis Thayer and James Williams – perished in the 1939-1945 conflict.)
A second memorial to Rodney Stoke being thankful is situated in the Village Pound.
Since Norman times, strict controls were in place about where and when animals could graze on common land. The Pound – a walled area on the main road – was a place for straying animals to be kept until their owners paid the due fine.
As with other villages I have visited for this alphabetical journey, Rodney Stoke is definitely worth stopping by for. To the north of the village lie the Stoke and Stoke Woods Nature Reserves , and the village pub – the Rodney Stoke Inn – must also be worth a visit!
Seven miles to the north of Yeovil, lies the unusually-named village of Queen Camel. While it sits on the main A359 road, this thoroughfare dog-legs through the village, so it avoids the speeding traffic of which Othery is a victim.
The name derives from the old English word cam, meaning ‘bare rim of hills’, a word shared by the river that runs through the village. The manor of Camel was given to the crown in the late 13th century, and the name was changed to Camel Regis (“King’s Camel”). Edward I gave the area to his wife, Eleanor, and so the name Queen Camel was born.
One of the highlights of the village is Church Path, a cobbled road that leads from the centre of Queen Camel to St Barnabas’ Church.
The church itself dates from the 1300s, and, despite the main road, is surrounded by a quiet churchyard and allotments. Additional architectural elements – including an imposing porch on the south side – were added in the 19th century, as part of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee celebrations.
The churchyard includes a gravestone to Seaman Donald Burgess, who died in the Great War, aged just 17 years old.
Details of his life can be found on the CKPonderingsCWG site, which is dedicated to those who lost their lives as a result of that conflict.
The houses in the village are all local stone, and while some are from the early 2000s, they fit in almost seamlessly with the old structures around them.
The Mildmay Arms is the village pub; again, it is reminiscent of a coaching inn, and was likely used as such at some point in its history.
Queen Camel has an undoubted village feel; with a population of less than 1000 people, there is a definite sense of community here.
A former bus stop – standing outside the Memorial Hall – now houses a mural dedicated to the village’s history, as well as a book swap station.
There is a lane in Queen Camel that is dedicated to a Grace Martin; I have not been able to find out much about her. There is someone by that name – the daughter of John and Judith Martin – baptised in St Barnabas’ Church in July 1744. Beyond that she remains a mystery.
Despite its location, Queen Camel is a peaceful place to visit; a lovely addition to the Somerset A to Z.
Continue up the A361 for 16 miles from Othery and you reach the surprising village of Pilton. I have driven through the village countless times over the years, and there is so much more to it than what is visible from the main road.
Situated on the top of a hill to the east on Glastonbury, the village once overlooked an inland sea that stretched to the present day Bristol Channel. This lead to the village’s original name, Pooltown, because ships were able to navigate this far inland.
The houses in the village are old, from local stone, and really fit in with the country feel. Despite the main road, laden with juggernauts, being close by, the majority of the village is in a sheltered valley, and within a matter of metres away from the A361, it can barely be heard.
The local church is St John the Baptist, which is on the north side of the valley, has a commanding view across all Pilton. Once again, the Church’s dominance is in plain sight, and it can be seen on the skyline from most of the houses.
In the churchyard is a memorial, a grave to Sapper Percy Wright Rodgers, who fell in the First World War. More information on this young man’s life can be found on the CKPonderingsCWG blog, along with more stories of the fallen of the Great War.
To the south of the village, a tithe barn stands alone and proud. Once belonging to Glastonbury Abbey, the barn once stored local farmers’ produce, of which they gave the Abbey – the landowner – one tenth.
The barn is now a Grade 1 listed building.
In the barn’s grounds is a monument to the Land Armies of both world wars; a bench in a quiet corner of an already quiet corner of the village is perfect for contemplation.
When I first made my intention of moving to Somerset known to friend, family and colleagues, the general first reaction was usually related to the annual music festival. My stock response to this was ‘no’, and, if the mood was right, this was usually followed up by the fact that the Glastonbury Festival does not actually take place in the town of the same name.
Worthy Farm, the location of the festival, is situated just to the south of Pilton, six miles from Glastonbury. It was only called Glastonbury Festival because that was the nearest town people had heard of.
If you get the chance to make a quick pitstop from your journey to the south west, Pilton is definitely worth a visit. A genuine gem of a village, hidden in plain sight, it is also a good start and end point for a wander across the Levels or over the hilltops to Shepton Mallet.
Edward (Teddy) Lewsley was born in 1894, the ninth of twelve children to James and Charlotte Lewsley from London.
James had worked with horses, and become a cab driver at the turn of the century; Edward started as a general labourer on finishing school.
Edward’s military history is a little vague. From his gravestone, we know that he joined the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry and was in the 1st Battalion. The battalion fought at the Battles of Mons, Marne and Messines.
In the spring of 1915, Edward’s battalion fought in the Second Battle of Ypres and, given the timing, it seems likely that he was involved.
Whether he was on the Western Front or stationed in the UK, Private Lewsley was admitted to the Red Cross Hospital in Sherborne, where he passed away on 30th May 1915.
One of Edward’s brothers also enlisted in the Light Infantry.
Daniel Lewsley first joined the East Surrey Regiment in 1909 and continued through to 1928. This included a stint as part of the British Expeditionary Force in France.
Sidney Ralph Pragnell was the eldest of two children of Edward and Ellen Pragnell. Edward grew up in Sherborne, before moving to London to work as a chef; he found employment as a cook in an officer’s mess, which took him and his wife first to Ireland – where Sidney was born – and then to the barracks at Aldershot.
By the time of the 1911 census, Edward had brought his family back to Dorset, and was running the Half Moon Hotel, opposite the Abbey in Sherborne. Sidney, aged 12, was still at school.
When war broke out, Sidney was eager to play his part, even though he was underage. An article in the local newspaper highlights his keenness and how he progressed.
When war broke out, he was keen to serve his country and joined every local organisation his age would allow him to. He was an early member of the Sherborne VTC and Red Cross Detachment, and was actually the youngest member of the Volunteers to wear the uniform. Whilst still under age, he enlisted in the Royal Naval Division at the Crystal Palace and after a period of training was drafted as a qualified naval gunner to a merchant steamer carrying His Majesty’s mails and in this capacity went practically round the world. In February  he joined the RNAS and after some air training in England went to France to an air station, where he passed all the tests with honours and gained the ‘wings’ of the qualified pilot. Lieutenant Pragnell then decided to go in for scouting and came back to England for advanced training in the special flying necessary for this qualification and it was whilst engaged in this that he met with the accident which resulted in his death.
Western Chronicle: Friday 16th August 1918.
The esteem in which Second Lieutenant Pragnell was held continues in the article, which quotes the condolence letter sent to his parents by his commander, Major Kelly.
It is with deep regret that I have to write you of the death of your son, Second-Lieutenant SR Pragnell. Your boy was one of the keenest young officers I have ever had under my command and was extremely popular with us all and his place will be extremely hard to fill.
The service can ill afford to lose officers of the type of which Lieutenant Pragnell was an excellent example and it seems such a pity this promising career was cut short when he had practically finished his training. May I convey the heartfelt sympathy of all officers and men in my command to you in this your hour of sorrow.
Western Chronical: Friday 16th August 1918.
What I find most interesting about this article is that the letter from Major Kelly detail how Edward and Ellen’s son died, and this this too is quoted by the newspaper.
Your son had been sent up to practice formation flying and was flying around the aerodrome at about 500 feet with his engine throttled down waiting for his instruction to ‘take off’. Whiles waiting your boy tried to turn when his machine had little forward speed. This caused him to ‘stall’ and spin and from this low altitude he had no chance to recover control and his machine fell to earth just on the edge of the aerodrome and was completely wrecked. A doctor was there within a minute, but your boy had been killed instantaneously.
Western Chronicle: Friday 16th August 1918.
Further research shows that the aerodrome Second Lieutenant Pragnell was training at was RAF Freiston in Lincolnshire, which had been designated Number 4 Fighting School with the specific task of training pilots for fighting scout squadrons. He had been flying a Sopwith Camel when he died.
Second Lieutenant Sidney Ralph Pragnell lies at rest in the cemetery of his Dorset home, Sherborne.
Sidney Herbert Stagg was born in 1901. The eldest child of bootmaker Sidney Stagg and his wife Frances, Sidney Jr was too young to fight in the when war broke out.
He enlisted in the Royal Navy at the beginning of 1919, and was assigned to HMS Powerful, a training vessel based in Plymouth.
Boy Petty Officer Stagg’s time in the navy was heartbreakingly short. Within a few weeks he had contracted pneumonia and succumbed to the disease on 27th February 1919. He was just 17 years old, and had been in service for 36 days.
The Western Gazette reported on his funeral:
[He] left Sherborne just over a month ago to join the Royal Navy, a career for which he had expressed a great liking, and was attached to HMS Powerful, being made Boy PO within a fortnight of his joining that ship. A short time afterwards he contracted influenza, and pneumonia supervening, he died on Thursday at the Royal Naval Hospital, at Plymouth.
A service was held in the Congregational Church, and sontinued at the graveside, where three volleys were fired by a firing party of the Volunteers [the Sherborne Detachment 1st Volunteer Battalion, Dorset Regiment], and buglers sounded the last post. The Rev. W Melville Harris (uncle of the deceased) officiated, and the principal mourners were Mr Stagg (father), Miss Joyce Stagg (sister), Mr H Hounsell (uncle), and members of the business establishment.
Western Gazette: Friday 7th March 1919.
Sidney Herbert Stagg lies at peace in the cemetery in his home town of Sherborne.
Born in 1871, Thomas Daines was one of fourteen children. His parents, Charles and Sarah, worked on a farm a few miles from Halstead in Essex.
After leaving school, Thomas followed in his father’s footsteps and, by the time of the 1891 census was also listed as an agricultural labourer. He married Kate Rawlinson in the spring of 1893, and they had two children – Matilda and Lewis – before relocating to South East London in around 1898.
The reason for the move was, more than like, job opportunities, and Thomas was soon working at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich.
Settling into their new city life, Thomas and Kate had five further children: Annie, Thomas, Alfred, Charles and Beatrice. Thomas continued as a labourer, before enlisting in the army within three months of war being declared in October 1914.
Sadly, Private Daines’ service was not be be a long one. Having suffered a bout of influenza, Thomas was admitted to a Red Cross Hospital in Sherborne, Dorset. He died of pneumonia on 22nd February 2015.
Private Thomas Daines lies at peace in the Sherborne Cemetery.
As a sad aside to Thomas and Kate’s story, their eldest son, Lewis, enlisted in the 16th Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers. He fought on the Western Front, and was killed in action in Pozières on 26th March 1918.
This blog has focused a lot on the Commonwealth War Graves I have found on my travels around (initially Somerset) churchyards.
One of my other hobbies is family history, and I have uncovered a number of my ancestors who fell in the Great War. None that have researched so far did so on home soil, however, and so they are not buried in the UK.
It is only fitting, though, that I commemorate their loss here too.
Charles Frederick Stubbles was born in Tottenham in 1892. One of eleven children to Richard and Mary Ann Stubbles, by the time of the 1911 census, the family were living in Edmonton. Charlie and his brother had found employment painting gas stoves, while his father was a building foreman.
Charles enlisted in the army in 1916, aged 25 years and 11 months. His service records show that he stood at 5ft 2ins, weighed in at 69lbs; his health was classified as C2 – Free from serious organic diseases, able to stand service in garrisons at home, able to walk 5 miles, see and hear sufficiently for ordinary purposes.
Joining the Labour Corps of the West Surrey Regiment, Private Stubbles initially served on the home front, before being transferred to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force in March 1917.
Charlie seems to have been a bit of a character and was pulled up a few times during his service. On 10th April, he was charged with “committing a nuisance in the barrack room”, for which he was confined to camp for eight days. On 21st August he went AWOL for nearly a day; he was docked eight days’ pay. On 28th October he appeared unshaven and dirty for the 7:15am parade; he was confined to barracks for seven days.
On 4th January 1918, Charles was admitted to a field hospital with diarrhoea; while there he was diagnosed with tuberculosis; he succumbed to this two days later, dying on 7th January 1918. He was 26 years old.
Lance Corporal Charles Stubbles is buried at the Haringhe Bandaghem Military Cemetery in Poperinge, Belgium.
Charles Frederick Stubbles was my great great uncle.