Background and History

A brief history of the trust:

Nowadays, we generally refer to the trust as “The Williams Trust” and many parishioners are aware that it makes financial contributions towards the education of young people in the Parish, especially in cases of greatest need.

But who was Thomas Williams, and what exactly does the Trust aim to do now?

The Start

Fred Pitfield’s researches revealed that Thomas belonged to a branch of the Williams family based at Herringston, south of Dorchester. Thomas had been in business at Morlaix in Brittany and returned to Shitterton House in 1688 where he lived as a bachelor until his death in 1728. In the years 1690 and 1691 he was a churchwarden.

In 1719 he established the original Trust, which brought into existence the boys’ school at Barrow Hill and provided for the education of a number of poor children from the Parish. In the County Archives we can see a hand written extract from the Charity Commissioners’ Report made in 1835, which details the 1719 Trust –

“By Indenture of Lease and Release bearing dates 28th & 29th September 1719 Thomas Williams granted & released to John Williams, Denis Bond, & John Bond & John Wills Vicar of Bere Regis and their heirs, 7 acres of arable land in Bere Field, a dwelling house, orchard and six acres of pasture ground, lying at Rye Hill and dwelling house garden and orchard with two grounds containing about four acres; another house and garden and a cottage at Bugbarrow with half an acre of arable land in Bere Field. All the said premises being situate in the Parish of Bere Regis: also a common of pasture for 50 sheep and 10 cows appertaining to the said premises and the tythes of hay of a certain moor on the west side of rush Mead in the said parish Upon Trust to apply the rents and profits thereof to teaching and clothing six poor children of the parish of Bere Regis as many of them as conveniently might be of the tything of Shitterton to be appointed by the Trustees. And the said donor directed that none of the said children should be under the age of seven, nor above fourteen: that they should be taught to read, and to write and to account and also the Church Catechism which they should answer in the Church when required; and that all , or as many as conveniently might  be should be boys.”

Members of the Williams and Bond families have continued to be associated with the Trust over the centuries, and two serve today as Trustees. Likewise, the vicar of the time has always been a Trustee.

The lands that formed the original assets of the Trust included a house, garden and orchard at Hollow Oak, to the west of the Bere Stream by Doddings. In 1719, the property came with the right of “……..digging clay & chalk, making & burning brirks & lyme…..” Other land and property was on the east side at the top of Rye Hill, and on Barrow Hill (originally known as Bugbarrow) including what became the boys school and master’s cottage. Further land was at Rush Mead, to the west of Roke.

The Eighteenth Century

We have no information on how the Trust operated in its first century but there are records of further endowments.

Two of the vicars, Rev. Henry Fisher (vicar 1725-1773) and Rev. Thomas Williams (vicar 1773-1817), a namesake but not related, gave additional funds. From the Will in 1773 of Henry Fisher –

“To the Trustees of the Charity School in Bere Regis aforesaid for the time being a sum of One Hundred Pounds to be placed out at interest on government or other paper securities and the Interest, Dividends & Profits there from arising to be from time to time applyed to the use & benefits of the said Charity School for the better teaching & cloathing  of the children of the said School whose parents are of the Established Church of England & repairing of the School House there, the present rents and profits of the said school being insufficient for that purpose.”[1]

Including the above gift from Fisher, the additions to the original endowment were :-

1773 – Rev. Henry Fisher £100 for use of the charity school.

1784 – Mrs. Nevill Pleydell £5

1813 – Rev. Thomas Williams £100 invested for benefit of the schoolmaster

The Nineteenth Century

In 1823 the number of Trustees was down to two, John Bond and Rev. Thomas Williams. Instructions were given to prepare a conveyance of the Trust Assets to new Trustees, but both men died before this had been done. So in the middle of the 19th Century, there was nobody to collect rents and dividends and the charity seems to have fallen into neglect. It is not clear when new Trustees were appointed and matters put back into some sort of order. There are clear accounts for 1856 and by 1878 there were again Trustees registered with the Charity Commission.

From the 1856 accounts we can see that the Trust had £260 invested in 3% Consols, the dividends supplementing the rental income from the land and properties.

Over the years, the Trustees were more or less successful at collecting the rents –

“Caleb Almer gave up the tenancy of the land on Rye Hill …..… at which time there was due from him ………… As he is at this time (1842) reduced nearly to pauperism, & blindness, and moreover the Trustees could only claim a certain amount within the statute of limitations it was determined to accept £12 from him in lieu of all further claim which was accordingly paid………..”

On the positive side, Mrs. Ley at the end of the 19th Century was paying the Trustees £1  a year for “the use of walking under the trees and on the mound on Barrow Hill”. And around the turn of the century the sum of 10/= per annum was being received from the Drax Estates for “the right of sporting over Williams’ land”.

Not only had rents to be collected, but there were outgoings on insurance and upkeep. A Norwich Union Fire Insurance Certificate issued in 1881, indicates that the properties on Barrow Hill and at Doddings were insured for £800 at a cost of 18 shillings per annum payable on Lady Day.

Tithes were a regular source of confusion. Tithes due were complicated by the fact that certain of the vicars rented Williams Charity land adjacent the Glebe on Snow Hill and were due a church tithe on it! And there was often uncertainty on whether tithes had or had not been collected from tenants.

Sometimes income exceeded expenditure. In 1879 the Trustees were sufficiently confident to increase the number of boys supported to 8 each year and in 1880 they increased the schoolmaster’s salary from £10 p.a. to £15 p.a. Pretty generous this, since it had been at £10 since 1819 when Mr. Curtis was the schoolmaster!

From the accounts in 1884 we can see the cost of outfitting the 8 boys –

Pitcher –             Tailor for boys clothes                                £3.  –. –.

Hibbs –                Materials for clothes                                  £8. 10.  9.

J.Lane –               6 pr. boots                                                 £2. 20. –.

Ricketts –             2 pr. boots                                                 £1.  –. –.

The Twentieth Century

By 1900, the number of boys supported was down to 4 as the income fell short of requirements, which included a large amount of maintenance to the School House and cottage. From letters of the time it appears that the Charity was in debt.

The cost of a suit made by the village tailor went up from 13/6 to 20 shillings in 1903 and that had the Trustees looking at cheaper, ready made articles! (Paradoxically, they also decided to incorporate the Williams crest into the boys buttons at extra expense!) From the tone of the Vicar’s correspondence it sounds as though the entire village was suffering hard times.

In 1906, Mr. Lucas, who had been vicar Southerby’s gardener, vacated the cottage and field on Barrow Hill and went to manage Chalk Pit Farm for Mr. Lys. Mr. Marsh, who had been sub renting the Rye Hill field from Vicar Southerby, (paying £6 p.a.), now took on the Barrow Hill and Rye Hill fields directly from the Charity and started the dairy which continued till recent times.

Problems with collecting rents, tithing, and carrying out and paying for maintenance seem to have led the Trustees progressively to divest of the land and properties from the late 19th century onwards.

Authority to sell the Doddings assets for not less than £500 was sought and received from the Charity Commissioners in 1896. We have copies of the release, especially printed by Eyre and Spottiswode!

Finding the Title Deeds was a major problem. Correspondence indicates that deeds were missing in 1910 and this was a problem again in the 1970’s.

The last of the properties held by the Trust were sold off in the early 1970’s and were those on Barrow Hill including the original Old School House. At the time the properties were in very poor state of repair and maintenance  costs were eating up the whole of the income of the Trust.

1971 “The Beeches” was sold  at auction for £ 3,950 to Gilbert Griffin.

1972 Old School House itself was sold to Gilbert Griffin for £7,050 at public auction.

1976 The final small cottage was sold for £5,800.

The monies raised from property sales were invested in Charity Commission approved securities to provide a regular income.

The Trust Today

Happily, the extent of poverty and the lack of educational facilities which gave rise to the Trust in 1719 no longer exist. In their place, however, the students of today face ever rising contributions to the cost of their education.

So the current Trustees seek to help young people in the Parish with a contribution to their educational costs, priority being given to those most in need.

The Trust also supports the educational work of the Junior Church and a number of organisations in the village who set out to give youngsters an education for life in the broadest sense of the term, including social and physical training. It also helps the Bere Regis First School with funds towards requirements not normally provided by the local education authority.

[1] As a digression, this Will has a number of fascinating insights into the period –


“………… I desire that 4 day Labourers of the parish of Bere Regis (not receiving Alms of the said Parish) shall be bearers of my Corps to the Grave to each of whom I give and order a Coat of Coarse Grey Cloath, Hatt & Stockings to be worn (if pofsible) at my Interment  and my wish is that the Funeral Sermon shall be preached for me by the Reverend Mr. Morris of Bloxworth to whom I give for his trouble the Sum of One Guinea, silk hatband & gloves.”