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Mells Back up

Home of our Delight is a Heritage Lottery Funded project exploring the impact of the First World War on the village of Mells, Somerset. This trail attempts to unpick a little of this time and peer under the skin of its rich history.

2.5 miles circular walk, taking about an hour and a half, there are slopes and gradients in the trail but no steps beyond curb


The trail begins and ends at the Mells Village Shop and Post Office, travel to this location for the first chapter to reveal.
Chapter one

Post Office

A hundred years ago, this building was not a shop and café but the shop building was a tenant's cottage where the Jacobs family lived. The building was then two storeys, and the parents (who worked at Wadbury Farm) and 5 children slept upstairs.

The triangular stone structure opposite had been commissioned in 1908 from Sir Edwin Lutyens by Lady Horner, as a memorial to her popular young son Mark who had died of Scarlet Fever. Lutyens was a close friend of the Horner family, and sadly this was to be the first of a series of memorial commissions he designed for the younger generation of the family between 1908 and 1921.
Keeping the shop on your right, walk up the hill towards the centre of the village. At the war memorial take a seat and lookat the cottages opposite. (Approximately 150m)
Chapter two

Old Post Office

At the time of the First World War this cottage was the busy village shop and post office. Local gossip, and news from the wider world, including the latest from the battlefields, would have been shared here.

The two daughters of the doctor's chauffeur, Mr Baber, helped to deliver the village mail; their brother, Frances, fought and was killed in France in 1916.

With postal delivery much more frequent then than today, people sometimes wrote and posted two or three letters a day to each other, so the post office would have been very busy. Local deliveries might arrive on the same day, and it only took two days for a letter from the battlefields in France to reach the address at home. International postage would have taken longer.
Chapter three


A soldier could send field postcards, these had no pictures just some printed sentences and soldiers had to select the right message.

It was a quick way to send a message to tell all was well at war!

The message was carried along wires and the text written or printed and delivered by hand or teleprinter. A teleprinter operator tapped the message out in code using a machine called a morse key. The message traveled to another operator who decoded the long and short taps into words and then passed the message on.

This was called a telegram.

The message looked quite odd and every sentence ended with with word 'STOP'
They were then either written by hand, or printed in capital letters STOP
When a telegram was ready it was placed in an envelope with address, then handed to a uniformed delivery boy who would take the telegram and deliver it STOP
Eventually this would become the telephone we know today STOP

In the first two years of the war 35,000 women were drafted in to fill the jobs that had been left by the post office workers away fighting. Throughout the war posting a letter had cost a penny, and it had been that price for 75 years. In 1918, the price increased by half a penny to 1 1/2d. Letters and postcards were a common way to keep in touch.

This chapter was written by current Mells pupils Hugo, Amilie, Elodie and Isabella
Chapter four


The village war memorial was also commissioned from Edwin Lutyens. The design of memorials and cemeteries commemorating the fallen in the First World War was to dominate Lutyens national and international professional life at this time, but this was a more unusual, personal commission from the Horner / Asquith families and the village of Mells.

The inscription on the memorial was written by Poet Laureate Robert Bridges: “We died in a strange land facing the dark cloud of war and this stone is raised to us in the home of our delight.” The lettering is by Eric Gill as is the sculpting of the St George statue, copied from a figure of St George in the Henry VII chapel of Westminster Abbey. Unveiled in 1921, the memorial cost £400.

Reginald Dix, editor of the Somerset Standard at the time was so moved by the artistry of the Mells memorial he felt “compelled” to write to Lady Horner.
“I should think it would be impossible for anybody ever to pass it without being compelled to stop & look & think.”
Continue up the road (Selwood Street) to the medieval tithe barn and the walled garden on the left.
Chapter five

The Tithe Barn

These were the walled, kitchen gardens for Mells Rectory, the incumbents at the beginning of the twentieth century being Reverend and Mrs Lear who were particularly remembered for their passion for theatricals. These were a truly village affair, with many villagers involved, including some of the soldiers listed on the memorial.

It is now a plant nursery and tea rooms.
You have two options here, either dip in to the walled gardens on your left (restricted hours) and pop out back on this road a little way up, or just continue along the road to The Talbot.
Chapter six

Travel up New Street to the side of The Talbot Inn, about half way up on the right you will see a carved dog high up in theside of a building.
Chapter seven

The Boys School

The panel, marks one of the two active village schools in Mells at the beginning of the twentieth century.

The fact that the village had two schools gives an indication of the high number of families and children in Mells at that time, more than double the current population of 600, with parents' employment not only connected to the village and land, but also industrially at Mells Colliery and nearby Vobster Pit.

This building was the boys' school, incorporated into New Street by Colonel Horner in 1840. New Street is the oldest street in Mells and was laid out by Abbot John Selwood of Glastonbury in the 1460s/70s. Girls were educated separately at what continues to be Mells School further out of the village.
Chapter eight

Mells Pupils

The boys studied reading, handwriting, mathematics, with a little history and geography too.

They ate soup in there class rooms because they didn't have a hall, and were caned if they were naughty. The pupils sat in silence facing the teacher unless they were asked to speak!

This chapter by Sam and Albie who are current pupils at Mells school.
Walk into the Church Yard.
Chapter nine

The Graveyard

Both the church and graveyard, of St Andrew's Church have a powerful resonance with the First World War. Lady Horner was the daughter of William Graham a wealthy Glasgow merchant and Liberal MP; a great philanthropist and patron of the arts. On marrying Sir John Horner, to the surprise of some in fashionable cultural London, Frances continued her father's passion for the arts in rural Somerset. This influenced her home, her friendships, but also went on to affect the family and village's expressions of grief and remembering.
Walk to the right of the church and into the graveyard.
Chapter ten

The Grave Stones

Here you will find a number of beautiful memorials relating to this period: Siegfried Sassoon, one of the most powerful voices of the First World War, is buried here, close to Monsignor Ronald Knox, another First World War survivor, who like Frances Horner and Katharine Asquith, converted to Catholicism after the First World War, and translated the Vulgate version of the Bible in the nearby manor.

Also buried nearby, alongside members of the Horner and Asquith families, are Lady Violet Bonham Carter, Raymond Asquith's sister (and grandmother of the actress Helena Bonham Carter) and Reginald McKenna, a cabinet minister in the Asquith government.

Several of these graves are beautiful in their own right, designed by artists / designers of the time including Edwin Lutyens, Eric Gill and Laurence Whistler.
Chapter eleven

Optional Extension

The next chapters are best read inside the church but there is an optional extension which will take you up the hill behind the village.

Follow the avenue of yews at the rear of the church, at the end of which is a gate passing into the field.

Walk diagonally to the left and halfway up the hill.
Looking back towards the church, manor and village; the view remains unchanged from a century ago.

However you will no longer see the village colliery walkers trudging across the fields to the Mells Colliery to your right. Mells Colliery was located near the crossroads to the neighbouring villages of Vobster and Newbury.

A big local employer at the time; the colliery compensated the families of Colliery workers who were serving soldiers.

Now journey into the church.
Chapter twelve

St Andrews Church

On the left of the door as you enter, you will see an embroidery which is unmistakably the design of Pre-Raphaelite artist Burne Jones, another close friend of Frances Horner. Frances was a skilled embroiderer and was frequently commissioned by Burne
Jones to bring his designs to life.

According to family records, although the design and a partial embroidering dates back to the 1870s, this work was completed by Frances and her daughter Katharine in the years during and immediately after the First World War, as part of their own process of grieving, and also as a tribute to the village in memory of all those lost. The banner is inscribed with the last lines from the Divine Comedy by the Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) and translates as: “The love that moves the sun and other stars”.

Perhaps the most evocative of the memorials is the Edward Horner memorial which brings the unusual element of a horse and rider into the church; something the villagers in 1919 were not entirely sure about, when the memorial was initially proposed to be located centrally under the tower.

The memorial was designed by Lutyens, and the plinth clearly echoes the form of the Cenotaph in Whitelhall. Lutyens commissioned the bronze of horse and rider from a fellow Royal Academician, Sir Alfred Munnings, then on a new artistic ascent due to his role as a war artist recording the Canadian Cavalry Brigade. Primarily an equestrian painter, the Horner memorial is one of only two sculptures created by Munnings; his groom Garrett, dressed in cavalry uniform, sat as the model for the rider, and ‘Patrick', one of Munnings' horses, as model for the horse. The face was modelled with reference to a photograph of Edward Horner.

At the foot of the church tower there is also a powerful memorial to Raymond Asquith. Carved directly into the masonry of the walls by Eric Gill, the Latin inscription would have originally been under-lined by Asquith's sword, now safely stored elsewhere.

The wreath is by Lutyens.
Walk out of the church, back down New Street, and turn right past The Talbot Inn.
Chapter thirteen

The Rectory

The annual Mells theatricals, involving both the ‘big house' and the village, would have taken place annually behind the Rectory walls to the left, before and after the First World War. In 1919 the performance was ‘Cymbeline'; referred to by Lutyens in a letter to his wife Emily written that year after a visit to finalise the location for the village memorial.

Lutyens arrives late, so avoids the performance. The thought of Mr Lear, the vicar, and his wife Mrs Lear, playing the King and Queen and having to invoke Jove at an altar, “such a thing would have bust me from suppressing giggles.”
Chapter fourteen

Walk further along the road; on the right is the entrance to Mells Manor.
Chapter fifteen

Mells Manor Gates

The gate piers, circa 1925, are again the work of Lutyens. In her book ‘A Time Remembered', written ten years later, Lady Horner comments: “Both in London and in the country he has beautified every house I had anything to do with, and the village of Mells owes a great deal to his skill.”
Follow the high stone wall on your left enclosing the Rectory grounds, this is directly opposite the Manor gates. Continue for approximately 200m.
Chapter sixteen

Poyntz House

Designed originally for a wealthy 17th century clothier, in 1915 Poyntz House became temporary home to the Van der Werve family - husband, wife and five children - Belgian refugees following Germany's invasion of Belgium in 1914. 250,000 Belgian refugees are believed to have fled to Britain during the First World War, who were provided with homes in communities across the country. Volunteer refugee committees were set up across the country, including in Frome, to facilitate the process for this.

The family remained throughout the war, and according to Lady Horner's memoir, continued to contribute to village charities long after their return to Belgium.
Continue along the lane until you see the mediaeval village lock up on your right.
Chapter seventeen

The Gaol

The lock up marks the entrance to Rashwood Lane or ‘Rasherswood Lane' as it was often known then. Two of the soldiers who went off to fight and did not return lived along this lane.

Until the 19th century this was the main north-south road through Mells, crossing the stream and continuing uphill to where the present school stands.

Open the iron shutter on the door and peer inside, this lock up has both an exterior and interior door creating a safe way for the occupant ( thief / drunk ) to be fed whilst minimising the risk of the prisoner escaping.
Chapter eighteen

Directions - Short route

There is an opportunity here to cut the walk short by continuing along this road, keeping to the left. At the bottom turn left on to Bottom Road, which will take you back to where we began at Mells Shop and Café.

Continue with the trail to find out about the Girls school, Corporal Arthur Long and the Yeomanry on the village green.
Turn right into Rashwood Lane beside the lock-up.
Chapter nineteen


Corporal Arthur Long is believed to have lived at 2 Rashwood Lane, in the cottage now known as ‘Woodcot'. Arthur and his father and brother were the estate builders and decorators; Arthur was also a stalwart member of the Mells theatricals, performing in ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor' in 1914, before leaving for France. He died in action at Ypres in May 1915, leaving a widow and three children.

The home address of Lance Corporal Edgar Chamberlain is further along the lane (precise address unknown) with his parents Sidney and Mary Ann Chamberlain. 34 year old Edgar was a member of a Lewis Gun section and joined the army in March 1915. He died in action, also at Ypres, two years later in August 1917.

The two men were among the 1,700,000 soldiers on both sides, and an uncounted number of civilians, killed or wounded in the fierce battles for the Ypres salient, throughout the First World War.
Continue along to the end of Rashwood.
Chapter twenty

Rashwood lane constricts to just a cut through path here (straight on) This connects to an un-metalled footpath, turn left down the narrow hill passing Drums Hill Cottage.
Chapter twenty-one

The Reading Rooms

At the foot of the slope, to your left, you will see the remains of cottages which would have been occupied at this time, when the population of the village was around 1,500.

To your right are the Reading Rooms, then a community building for the village. The Reading Rooms were upstairs, with the stable for the village doctor's horses below.
Walk past the Reading Rooms along ‘Doctor's Walk’, following the mill leat on your left. Bilboa House. (Approximately 140m) is the next stop
Chapter twenty-two

The Doctors House

A century ago this was the home of the local doctor, George Crawford Helps, who held a daily surgery at home, Sundays included.

‘In the afternoon he did his rounds of the area on a bicycle while his chauffeur, Mr Baber, tended to the doctor's vegetables. On other occasions, when the car was out of action (Baber was delighted when ‘them plugs' played up), Trilby, the doctor's pony was harnessed up. Dr Helps had a busy practice during the war, especially delivering the babies of wives of soldiers at regular intervals after home leave: “That's what leave does”.
Chapter twenty-three

The Mill

Just around the corner from Bilboa house are the ruins from the Mill, here picture in winter showing more of the building structure.
Continue along the lane until you come to the main road then cross carefully on the diagonal to the gates and lodge of Mells Park.
Chapter twenty-four

Mells Park

There is no public access to Mells Park, and the house is not visible, but it is worth noting its history connected to this time. Originally built and occupied by the Horner family, by 1905 they had moved back to the medieval manor. During the first part of the War Mells Park was leased to Charlotte Thaxter Bates, of Donnington Hall, Ledbury, Herefordshire, and the late Gilbert T. Bates, who also lost a son, Captain Stanes Geoffrey Bates at Ypres in 1915. The Bates left Mells park soon after.

In 1917 further tragedy struck, when Mells Park house was destroyed by fire; Pansy Helps, the doctor's young daughter, ‘noticed the ceiling of her nursery (in Bilaboa House) lit up by the red glow from the burning house”.

Wartime shortages of horses, able-bodied men, steam, and petrol made it near impossible for local fire brigades to help. The house burnt slowly to the ground over several days, but almost all of the contents were saved.

By November 1917 the Horner's had also lost their last son and heir, Edward, at Cambrai.
Keeping to the public road, (not through Mells Park gates) climb the hill to Mells Green (Approximately 200m)
Chapter twenty-five

Village Green

The view of the green was once lined with Elm trees, as can be seen in the photograph. These were blighted and died from the Dutch Elm disease infestation of the 1970. Often mistaken for Oaks as they are of the same stature and volume and both trees have deep folkloric roots. The saying 'Elm hatethman, and waiteth' is partly drawn from the fact that large Elm trees would drop boughs on calm still days without warning, as if waiting for people to wander beneath. Elm was the Welshman's favoured timber to make long bows from rather than Yew.
Chapter twenty-six


Mells Green was also used by the North Somerset Yeomanry for training both before and during the First World War.
Chapter twenty-seven


The horses were the engines of World War 1 and their welfare and health was essential, often animals were better fed than the infantry.

Jo - Munnings ref here perhaps?
Continue up the hill to Mells First School which was originally the girls school.
Chapter twenty-eight

Girls School

In Mells school 100 years ago the Wenlock building (the right wing) had not been built as you can see by the old photograph.

When this building was a girl school they studied reading, spelling, hand writing and mathematics.They left school around the ages 12 and 14 and started age 5.

During World War I the high street looked very different from how it is today there were no super markets or shopping centres. Shops were smaller and many were named after the family's that owned them.

(This paragraph was written by current Mells school pupils.)
Chapter twenty-nine

Horse Chestnut Trees

Village greens are often populated with mature Horse Chestnut Trees, and during World War I the Royal Navy needed large volumes of the solvent Acetone to make Cordite. This is a smokeless gunpowder for firing artillery and initially the Acetone was made using a bacterial fermentation of grain, however grain was in short supply, fortunately a Mr Chaim Weizmann had developed a technique to ferment Acetone from Horse Chestnuts, an alternative source of starch. So school children were asked by the Ministry of Munitions to gather tons of these nuts from far and wide, which were then stored in six huge silos at Holton Heath in Dorset, at the Cordite Factory.

Curiously Arthritis sufferers often placed two fresh conkers in their trouser pockets to help with this chronic disorder.
go back to the road and continue up the hill a short distance. On your left is a public footpath, take this trail.
Chapter thirty


The image depicts a flock of sheep who died on the Mells estate when struck by lightening. This stark image is rare but not uncommon as a herd of over 300 deer were killed by lightning strike in Norway late August 2016.
Continue along the path.
Chapter thirty-one

Take the left gate and walk down the path which will eventually lead onto the road. At this point continue down hill back into the village.
Chapter thirty-two

Sir Edward Lutyens Carving

This carving is again by Sir Edwin Lutyens.

As a physical record of how many people have walked this trail please place a small pebble on the top right of the plinth.
Continue along the road to the right of the stone carving.
Chapter thirty-three

Shops in the Village

Often shop keepers displayed there goods outside the shop and then brought them inside. To buy the things a family needed, meant walking to lots of different shops like the butcher for meat. Back then they didn't have much food so they ate vegetables and made dumplings, in the war there was a lead dog called Sargent Stubby.

These chapters were written by Lexie, Bradley and Imogen who are current pupils at the school.
Cross the junction and continue along Top Lane for approximately 120m.
Chapter thirty-four

Take the left fork and drop down into the valley towards the river.
Chapter thirty-five


Cross the bridge and follow the path through to the road. Then turn right.
Chapter thirty-six

Cricket Bat Willows

To your right the field has been recently planted with White Willows so called due to the white underside of its leaf which has been chosen as they are commonly used in cricket bats. Extracts from other Willow varieties have been used over the years to help Rheumatism and 'diseases of dampness' perhaps due to it's natural affiliation to watery locations.

In both bark and leaf is the active compound Salicin whose usefulness has been known for some time, the healer and philosopher Pliny the Elder, who observed the eruption of Mount Vesuvius around 79AD noted the medicinal uses of Willow with a distilment of the bark being useful to lower the temperature of fevers.
Continue along the lane to Mells Post Office and Cafe, where this tail concludes.
Chapter thirty-seven


Thankyou for walking this trail.

‘Home of our Delight' is a Rook Lane Arts Trust community project with Mells village supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Special thanks to Jo Plimmer, Sue Bucklow

? School pupils / teacher name
? Volunteers

Chapter thirty-eight


The Holly tree was apparently once planted near houses to ward off lightening, though its more likely positioned for it's strong and impenetrable hedge qualities keeping livestock and people at bay.

The bark of the Holly tree can be turned into a substance called 'Birdlime', which is banned in the EU due to its cruelty, although the Valencian region of Spain still traditionally snare Song Thrushes in this manner. The preparation includes boiling the bark for 10-12 hours then rinsing through with water until an incredibly sticky and odour-some substance is made. This is then smeared on the lower branches of trees, when the birds land in it they become trapped in the goo.

An interesting deviation from the WW1 period was that birdlime was used in the manufacture of an anti tank grenade called 'The Sticky Bomb' during WW2. There were several field trials which resulted in a report stating they did not stick to muddy or dusty tanks, although distressingly the grenades often got stuck to the soldiers uniforms instead. The Ordnance Board of the War Department did not approve this grenade for use by the British Army, however Winston Churchill intervened and ordered them set into production, around 2.5 million were manufactured.
Chapter thirty-nine

Girls from the village were educated here, and the school continues to be the single First School (now mixed, and with an onsite nursery) for the local area.
Re-lock Points