Don Lewis (9 December 1926 – 1 March 2009)
The story starts at Red House Farm. The land was bought from the Pembroke Estate, Wilton, in 1918 by M S Waters and there was no farmhouse. While Mr Waters was building the present brick farmhouse and buildings south of the A30 he lived in Manor Cottage, just to the north of the church. He added, rather incongruously, a double fronted brick façade to this old stone cottage. After his death his executors sold Red House Farm to C Featherstone Coles in 1947.
When he moved into his new farmhouse Mr Waters sold Manor Cottage and it was later bought by Tom Lewis, a smallholder and market gardener who grew strawberries on the land opposite. Tom was married to a nurse Lydia Mary Lodder who used the cottage as some sort of nursing home.
Young ladies expecting children out of wedlock, to conceal their pregnancy, often stayed for several months some distance from home and returned only after parting with their babies.
In this way 21 year-old Edith Lilian S. came to Manor Cottage from the New Forest where her parents had a bakers shop. She gave birth to Don. His birth certificate shows the father as unknown and gives him the names Donald Lewis.
Don is thought to have spent his first 3 years at Red House farmhouse and then returned to Manor Cottage being adopted formally by Tom and Lydia taking their surname; so he was now Donald Lewis Lewis.
Tom died in 1939 aged 68 and Lydia in about 1953, a year before David was born.
David’s mother was Iris Wrigley who, with her children Hazel and Robert came to live with Don and subsequently bore his children, David and Wendy. When Iris left Swallowcliffe with three of her children, David stayed with Don and so they remained until Don’s death. Don subsequently had little to do with Iris and the other children after their departure to Hindon.
Don was a great vegetable gardener and a very skilled fitter. For many years he worked at Stainers Garage on the A30 and then at the Overhouse Laundry in Tisbury doing maintenance.
In his younger days Don was a pillar of St Peters Church. He sang in the choir, tended to the boiler and rang the bells. Later, for 30 years, he rented the unconsecrated reserve burial ground between the church and his house as a vegetable garden, bringing a cartload of vegetables each year for harvest festival in lieu of rent. This land had been given to the church by Mr Waters.
In 1956 a new vicar arrived and lived in the vicarage with his many daughters. It was the duty of all parishioners to receive holy communion at least four times a year including festivals. In the Book of Common Prayer “the Curate” has the duty to be very cautious as to who can take the sacrament so as to exclude any “open and notorious evil liver… so that the Congregation be thereby offended”.
The new vicar, presumably being aware of the existence of 2 year old David and believing that his parents Don and Iris were not married, publically excluded Don from taking communion when he came to the rail at Christmas. It is not clear as to whom in the congregation Don and Iris’ unmarried state had given offence. I wonder if the Curate followed the letter of the law and informed the Bishop of his action within 14 days?
Don was deeply hurt. He was not one to forgive an offence and never attended a church service again. He considered that he had been denied worship for over 50 years.
On his 80th birthday he wrote out his own burial instructions which we followed as best we could. “I shall be carried from Manor Cottage, the house where I was born, placed on my cart and wheeled through the gap in the hedge across the land that I have cultivated since 1978 to the rubbish heap that I made at that time. There to be buried without any Blessing, no flowers and stone monument. I want to be returned to nature as cheaply as possible”
Morals can be drawn but let us just say that such a sad situation should not arise today as the C of E eventually moved slowly and painfully into the 20th century and, in time, will realize that the 21st has arrived.
For me a Quaker, in fulfilling Don’s wishes to be buried in unconsecrated ground, I am following the practice of my spiritual predecessors who, as nonconformists in the 17th century, were forbidden burial in consecrated ground and had to establish their own burial grounds. Local Quakers still use their lovely burial ground at Ashcombe under Wingreen.
May Don rest in peace. I do hope he was aware of the extent of the affection and respect in which we, his friends and neighbours held him. I know David knows this.
Martin Shallcross, Canon and Friend
An interesting footnote to this story from Susan Roome
(daughter of the "new vicar" mentioned above):
Here is my passage about my father.
The Reverend James Vesey Roome was Vicar of Swallowcliffe and Ansty from 1956 to 1966.
During that time he fulfilled his commitments according to his understanding of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Faith as laid out in the Book of Common Prayer. Sometimes this put him at odds with his parishioners, but he believed he had to follow the rules and did so to the best of his ability.
He was very happy in his role of Perpetual Curate of Swallowcliffe and made some good friends and strong relationships with his parishioners. Most obviously was with Ernest Hayter, who never went to church, but whom the vicar described as a perfect Christian due to his heart-felt help of members of the parish when needed.
The vicar was ordained in Salisbury Cathedral in 1916 and also enjoyed his regular duties at the Cathedral between 1956 and 1966. He chose Swallowcliffe and Ansty because he had been trained into the priesthood at St. Boniface College in Warminster and after a full life elsewhere knew he would enjoy living in a Wiltshire parish again. He was particularly proud of the connection between Ansty Church and the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem and enjoyed the 750th anniversary of the chapel in 1961.
Susan F. R. Roome