Jimmy’s fete and Caentel’s weorp

Yesterday, I went by train on the fine country branch line from Yeovil to Dorchester, across the river valley and then into the limestone hills through Yetminster, where you change for Ryme Intrinseca and through Maiden Newton for Cerne Abbas with its scanty monasterial remains and the chalk giant on the hillside, once visited by women of the tract wanting to improve their fertility (not sure whether the giant worked for men as well but I kissed my then wife while looking at it and have four children in all, one pre-giant and three post-giant so there may be something in it).

Dorchester is the county town and also the cultural centre of the county with its records office and museum which has a good library of Dorset books. I wanted to check what they had on church history, especially on the ambitious programme of rebuilding in the nineteenth century (after eighteen century neglect, the authorities were perhaps eager to promote the church as a means of social control against the background of the French revolution and the expressions of discontent about the suffrage).

I found a few interesting books but there wasn’t as much as I’d hoped. Nineteenth-century church restoration does seem to be something of a gap to be filled by research. Perhaps the diocesan (church) library at Salisbury would offer more.

I have to think, however, about how much time and effort I’m prepared to devote to this subject. My aim is to have a living relationship with Dorset and to be able to understand what I’m looking at/reading about. I like to be able to dip into Dorset from time to time but don’t want the study of Dorset to close over my head so that there is no room for other things that interest me. I now feel that I know enough about Dorset churches to have a framework for further visits and thought but I should probably move on to another topic rather than becoming engrossed in the equivalent of a PhD. Among other things, I’d like to look at the large houses of the county, their architecture, of course, but also their effect on the community around them, on enclosure, agriculture and on landholding over the past couple of hundred years and up to the present.

Again up to a certain level without getting bogged down so I shall probably decide to read about this for a definite period.

After I’d done the serious stuff, I started browsing through the rest of the museum library’s collection. Surprisingly they still have a card index. The Museum obtained a large amount of lottery funds for an extensive rebuilding and extension. Their move back into the building was probably seriously delayed by covid so they had not really settled down in their refurbished quarters. I’m very nervous about the rebuild as I fear that the process of making the museum more “community-friendly” may damage some of the things I loved about the old museum, but that’s a long topic for another blog post.

I found some information about my great great grandfather in an old book of reminiscences about my ancestor’s village Marnhull published by the Women’s Institute in 1940, reproduced below. It’s not the most flattering story but I think that my popping up in St Gregory’s Church in sackcloth and ash to make an official apology on behalf of the latter day Kendall family for their nineteenth-century loose chatter might be overdoing it a bit.

“Jimmy Kendall, who kept the Crown Inn, was the leading man in running the old Marnhull Club fete and prepared the dinner on Club Day. he was talking to an excise officer outside the Crown Inn, when Harry Cressy passed, driving a [horse-drawn] van with a relative beside him. Jimmy passed a remark to the excise officer, whether the van was licensed to carry women.  The excise officer made enquiries and in due course a summons was issued against  Harry Cressy. This resulted in a local bad feeling against Jimmy Kendall. A short time later an effigy was found hanging from an elm tree in “Bowling Green” (just below the Crown). It remained there a few days, was then taken down, put in a coffin and a procession of “mourners” paraded the village.  When outside the Crown, the coffin was let drop with a bump on the road. There was a “widow” dressed in white in the procession, which proceeded to the field “Wood” (opposite the “Blackmoor Vale”) where the “burial” took place.

This was known as “Jimmy’s Fete” (? fate).

This reminds me of the custom of the Skimmington Ride which Hardy refers to in the Mayor Casterbridge, where villagers stage a noisy mock serenade directed at someone who had outraged what the villagers regard as public decency (perhaps in cases of adultery).

The pub where my great great grandfather, James Kendall, was the publican was portrayed in Tess of the D’Urbervilles as the Pure Drop Inn I believe the date when he (and later his wife) managed the pub more or less coincides with the presumed date of the events in Tess.

I’m very happy about this Dorset connection with Hardy and Marnhull.

I also found out a bit more information about my great grandfather, Christopher Kendall. I knew he was a carpenter but he was apparently, more particularly a wheelwright, like his son Harry Kendall, my grandfather who died in 1895.

It’s amusing when there is a chink in the curtain of forgotten history providing information about long veiled ancestors. I must attend to my archive so that it doesn’t get forgotten again!

There used to be another manor in Marnhull called Kentlesworth, the location of which is unclear. I believe the surname of our family may derive from this name. I found an etymological explanation of the name Kentlesworth. The latter part is from the Old English (Anglo-Saxon) word “weorp” (the p I suspect is a misunderstood Saxon “th”) meaning farm or enclosure. The Kentle is said to originate from the sixth-century Anglo-Saxon name Caentel, so that it would be “Caentel’s Farm”:If this is correct, the family surname originates far back in history and long before the Conquest from an Anglo-Saxon called Caentel.

There are a number of other place names in West England where Caentel forms part of the name. This is, of course, speculative but it seems not unreasonable.

There is also an important Cornish-Welsh poet with a name resembling Kendall, whom I made efforts to appropriate as an ancestor but as the evidence was non-existent (I couldn’t prove a link between Marnhull and Cornwall), I reluctantly have to regard this as less likely). There are also villages in the area with “Caundle” as part of their name from the River Caundle, which is another possibility but I think that when adopting a surname, it would seem intuitively more reasonable for a person to be named as being of a manor than of a river, though “of Caundle” as one of the villages would be a more convincing candidate.

More evidence could perhaps be obtained if I brushed up my Latin and mediaeval clerk’s latin and consulted the manorial records to see what the history of surnames was like in the area (were there were many “Kendalls” in the Caundles, for instance).

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