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Carnage: The Battle of the Somme centenary - men from colleges and towns like Marlborough’s killed in a costly lesson on modern warfare

Sir Edwin's Lutyens' 'Monument to the Missing of the Somme' at ThiepvalSir Edwin's Lutyens' 'Monument to the Missing of the Somme' at ThiepvalThe Battle of the Somme began early in the morning of 1 July 1916. It was an Anglo-French campaign fought over four and half months through the summer and autumn of 1916 across a front which stretched some forty-five kilometres from north to south.

During the course of that campaign, British and French armies advanced twelve kilometres at the point of their greatest gain, but still failed to capture either of their two target towns, Bapaume and Peronne.

Casualties (dead, wounded, missing, captured) amounted to about 420,000 for the British, 200,000 for the French, and 580,000 for the Germans.

Those bare statistics contain some figures of local interest. For example, six of the 42 members of St Peter's Parish in Marlborough who died in the war were killed on the Somme.

The numbers from Marlborough College are even more heart-breaking: twenty former members of the College died on the first day alone, and another ninety before the fighting in that part of France was over.

There was not a community in the country left untouched by this Battle.

If the battle failed to achieve the much-heralded "break-through", it did succeed in one of its objectives, namely saving the French at Verdun. During the course of the following winter the Germans withdrew to the Hindenburg Line, surrendering five times as much territory as the British and French armies had won the previous year, and adopting an essentially defensive strategy until the spring of 1918.

The Lutyens monument, which sits astride the Thiepval Ridge at a point where the British took three months to advance less than half a mile, commemorates the 72,000 missing of the Somme, those who have no known grave. Ninety per cent of those men died between July and November 1916.

Stone marking Devonshire Trench: buried there are 163 men killed on 1 July 2016 during their attack on Mametz villageStone marking Devonshire Trench: buried there are 163 men killed on 1 July 2016 during their attack on Mametz villageIt is an imposing memorial whose "precise geometry and intellectual imagination subverts and elevates the simple form of the triumphal arch into a meditation on war and loss". Guarded by redoubts - fortress-like entrenchments on the crest of the ridge - thousands of British troops died in the course of wresting Thiepval village from German control.

Further north, other villages made equally impregnable by the steep slopes of the River Ancre's valley, likewise blocked the advance of the British forces.  One village only falling in November and another remaining in German hands after the battle was over.

How the Allied line advanced in the direction of Bapaume (click to enlarge)How the Allied line advanced in the direction of Bapaume (click to enlarge)What success was achieved on this part of the front came largely as a result of the threat to the German defenders of being outflanked by the eventual fall of the village of Pozieres on the Albert-Bapaume road, the capture of Mouquet Farm, and the partial successes of the battle of Flers-Courcelette in late September.

Prior to this it had taken the Australians forty-five days and nineteen separate assaults at a cost of over 27,000 casualties to capture Pozieres which dominated the central part of the ridge against which the British soldiers had to advance across the entire length of their part of the front line from their starting point on July 1.

Despite blowing mines to dislodge the Germans from their strong defensive positions at La Boiselle, progress up both Sausage and Mash valleys either side of the road to Pozieres was slow and costly. Charles Edmonds in A Subaltern's War described the scene at the village of Ovillers just two weeks after the first attack went in: "Among the wire lay rows of khaki figures as they had fallen to the machine guns on the crest, thick as sleepers in Green Park on summer Sunday evenings."

The aftermath of war: the remains of Delville WoodThe aftermath of war: the remains of Delville WoodFurther south and east where the slopes were less steep and the German defences weaker, there had been initial success against other villages, but further progress in this sector was hindered by large thick concentrations of trees - Mametz Wood, Delville Wood and High Wood - where it proved almost impossible to break the German stranglehold on the surrounding land.

At Mametz the 38 (Welsh) Division suffered 4,000 killed or wounded in the course of just six days.  In a similar period of time, three quarters of the South African troops who tried to capture Delville Wood became casualties.  And High Wood survived for over six weeks in German hands despite persistent but limited attacks which feature in Robert Graves' Goodbye to All That.

Beyond Maricourt and Guillemont either side of the River Somme the French were having greater success, thanks to the greater effectiveness of their artillery bombardment, the relative weakness of the German opposition, and the strength, skill and co-ordination of their infantry attacks.

They were, however, somewhat distracted by events at Verdun, and when the Germans brought up additional troops from that battle the French advance slowed. The village of Rancourt, one of the many such places devastated during French offensive and German defensive operations, is now an important site of remembrance, with its vast military cemetery, containing the graves of 8,566 Frenchmen.

Railway Hollow Cemetery with the graves of 107 Commonwealth soldiers (44 of them unidentified) killed in the battle - and two French war gravesRailway Hollow Cemetery with the graves of 107 Commonwealth soldiers (44 of them unidentified) killed in the battle - and two French war gravesThe Battle of the Somme began on a glorious summer day - July 1, 1916 - when in the short break between the lifting of the artillery bombardment and the infantry advance at 7.30am, soldiers reported hearing the skylarks singing - they still do in the poppy-strewn fields where the cemeteries mark out the line that was no-man's land one hundred years ago.

The Battle ended in the dreariness and dampness of a very soggy October and November when those same fields had been reduced to muddy quagmires, when the trees had been smashed to stumps and the villages crushed to piles of rubble.

In popular mythology the Battle encapsulates all that is seen to have been wrong with that war, indeed many wars - pointless but heroic sacrifice under the dubious leadership of at best distant, and at worst incompetent, commanders - the epitome of "lions led by donkeys".

In truth it was the point at which armies on both sides learnt the very painful lessons of this new form of industrial warfare, and began to devise the necessary strategies and tactics both to pursue it and to combat it.

[Photos courtesy of David du Croz - with thanks. Click on photos to enlarge them.]

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All the fun of the farm, at Open Farm Sunday

Waiting for a tractor ride on Open Farm SundayWaiting for a tractor ride on Open Farm SundayMarlborough Downs farmers threw open their five bar gates yesterday (Sunday) to allow hundreds of people a peek behind the scenes at a working farm.

There was a chance for children and adults to get close-up and personal with Hampshire Cross pigs, a couple of the 85 Aberdeen Angus beef cattle that graze the water meadows alongside the River Kennet, and some of the 140 Wiltshire Horn sheep, as well as an assortment of ducks, geese and chickens.

But the day was about more than commercial farming. The host, the 1,000 acre Manor Farm at Avebury Trusloe, is one of a group of farms that make up the Marlborough Downs Nature Enhancement Partnership.

Together, over a total of 25,000 acres, the Partnership farmers have pledged to encourage diversity and protect the area’s rare wildlife.

On the ever-popular tractor rides, visitors were told how the landscape around Windmill Hill was being managed to encourage grey partridges and corn buntings.

The entire farm lies within the Avebury World Heritage Site, and farmers told how they had to take care ploughing around ancient monuments, especially where an avenue of buried standing stones lie just inches from the surface of the ground.

Visitors also discovered how computer and satellite technology was helping farmers to effectively manage the soil by varying levels of chemicals during crop spraying and fertilising.

Three quarters of the farm is given over to the production of crops. Oilseed rape is harvested to fry the chips in burger restaurants, barley is used by Coors to brew their beer, and wheat is bought by Warburtons to make bread.

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St Peter's Church flies some special flags - and you can climb to the foot of the flagstaff for an amazing view

A new Marlborough tradition has been born at St Peter's Church: they mark thirty national days and anniversaries of relevant events each year by flying the appropriate flag, standard or arms.  This tradition began some years after the Church was declared redundant in 1974.  A Trust now runs the Church on a 99-year lease from the Diocese of Salisbury.

St Peter's 'flag days' vary from the day Thomas Wolsey was ordained in this church (10 March 1498) to the ten days of the Battle of Britain and back to the day King John granted Marlborough its Charter (20 June 1204.)  As people often ask why an unfamiliar flag is flying over St Peter's, we are publishing the full list below.

They also fly flags to mark specific anniversaries.  On Bank Holiday Monday (May 30) the White Ensign was flying to mark the day HMS Marlborough was adopted by the town - one of the regular days.  This year the Ensign is staying aloft for two more days to mark the hundredth anniversary of the important First World War naval engagement, the Battle of Jutland - in which the battleship HMS Marlborough played a significant role.

Some of the these flags and standards are regular ones you can buy, but many of the flags flown over St Peter's are so esoteric that they are specially made - by Marlborough resident, former ceremonial officer and embroiderer David Sherratt.  He also made the new banners in the Church.

A specially designed 1914-1918 War remembrance flag - designed by David Sherratt - is being flown to mark the hundredth anniversary of days on which individual Parishoners were killed during that war.    

Major York with the flag of the Shakepeare Family Arms Major York with the flag of the Shakepeare Family Arms Another example of David Sherratt's work is the Shakespeare Family Arms.  This is flown on May 3 to mark Shakespeare's birthday (1564). 

This is often celebrated on April 23 - which is inconvenient for as it conflicts with St George's Day - and that day certainly needs a flag.  However, by using the Gregorian calendar, which was introduced during Shakespeare's lifetime, his birthday slides neatly forward to May 3.

The man who looks after the flags and often raises and lowers them, is Major Jeremy York, St Peter's Constable of the Tower.  He also organises - and often conducts - the tours of the church tower.  Some 1,500 a year make the climb raising about £2,000 towards the Church's upkeep.  

It is a fairly cramped climb up 137 steps to the top, but it is well worth it for the history you pass on the way up and the amazing views from the top.

1966: the bigger bells were removed from the Tower 1966: the bigger bells were removed from the Tower The surviving bellThe surviving bell The clock - still punctual after all those yearsThe clock - still punctual after all those years John Bayly was here John Bayly was here

Even on a dull Bank Holiday Monday, once you are 100 feet above street level the views of the town and its surroundings are a revelation.  You certainly get a unique view of the Marlborough Mound.

This Mound is hidden away in Marlborough College grounds and has only recently been proved to date from the same era as Neolithic Silbury Hill.  Later it was used by the Normans to raise the castle's keep above the homes of the hoi polloi.  And later still, the stone from the castle was used to build St Peter's Church.

Did you know the High Street curls so much?Did you know the High Street curls so much?   View from St Peter's Tower of the Marlborough Mound [Click on images to enlarge them]View from St Peter's Tower of the Marlborough Mound [Click on images to enlarge them]

As you climb the tower you pass through The Priests's Room (where the flags are stored), the ringing chamber (from which they used to ring the bells), the clock room (with its working clock), the belfry (now with just one bell) and so to the tower roof itself.

At one point you can see the signature of John Bayly - once of the Merchants House - inscribed into the wall.  Other graffiti are more recent and not so interesting!

The church's bells were removed in 1966 because their great weight was damaging the tower.  Only the smaller Sanctus or curfew bell remains - it was cast in 1741.  It now provides the chimes for the clock.

The clock was made by a Shropshire company in the very early years of the twentieth century.  It is regularly serviced by an expert who says it will not need a major overhaul for another 150 years.

It is known that a church on the site was dedicated to St Peter in 1223.  It was rebuilt in about 1460 - taking some of its stone from the castle.  In the later sixteenth century the dedication was changed to 'St Peter and St Paul' - and although the Trust bears both saints' names, it is now known once again as St Peter's Church

Tours of the tower are available most Saturdays and Bank Holidays between Easter and early October, and are possible at other times by appointment via the St Peter's website. St Peter's The charge (at the time of writing) is £2 for adults and £1 for accompanies children.  And once down again, there is a very good café in the Church serving good pick-you-up coffee - and very good cake.
 

St Peter's Church schedule of regular flag raisings through the year:

26 January        Australia Day                          Australian national flag

5 February        Waitangi Day                           New Zealand national
                                                                                      flag

6 February        Accession of HM The Queen   Union flag

March (varies)   Commonwealth Day                Union flag

1 March             St David's Day                         Welsh national flag

10 March         Ordination of Thomas Wolsey
                           (1498 at St Peter's Church)     Wolsey's Arms

17 March          St Patrick's Day                        St Patrick saltire

21 April             Birthday of HM The Queen (1926) Union flag

23 April             St George's Day                        Flag of St George

3 May              Birthday of William
                                Shakespeare (1564)          Shakespeare family arms

19 May        Marlborough Charter Day -
                              Queen Elizabeth I (1576)    Royal arms of Elizabeth I

25 May         Wessex Day                                 Flag of Wessex

30 May         HMS Marlborough adopted by   Union flag or
                                               the Town                White Ensign

2 June          HM the Queen's Coronation (1953) Union flag

June (varies)Official birthday of HM the Queen  Union flag

15 June        Sealing of Magna Carta                  Royal standard of King John

20 June        Marlborough Charter Day - King     Royal Standard of
                                               John (1204)                King John

June (varies) Armed Forces Day                         Union flag

29 June        St Peter's Day                                 Flag of St Peter

1 July           Dominion Day                                Canadian national flag

4 July           USA Independence day                Stars and stripes

3 September Merchant Navy Day                      Red Ensign

6-15 September Battle of Britain                        RAF Association Standard

21 October        Trafalgar Day (1805)                 Union flag or White Ensign    

25 October         St Crispin's Day (Battle of
                                        Agincourt - 1415)         Flag of St George

26 October         Death of King Alfred the
                                             Great (899)             Flag of Wessex

November (varies)Remembrance Sunday          Union flag

11 November         Armistice Day (1918)             Union flag

29 November        Death of Cardinal Wolsey (1530)  Wolsey's Arms

30 November         St Andrew's Day                     St Andrew Saltire

(St Peter's flag is also flown on days associated with the Trust that looks after the church.)

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Take a break from weeding and visit a garden with an exhibition of contemporary sculpture 


Coelenterates (aquatic invertebrates) sculpture by Carol Andrews in resin and steelCoelenterates (aquatic invertebrates) sculpture by Carol Andrews in resin and steelIf you have a Bank Holiday weekend of gardening ahead, you could always take time off and head to West Lavington Manor (SN10 4LA) to see a stunning private garden, a welcoming community run café and an exhibition of inspirational contemporary sculpture.  

Celebrating Art in the Garden, the 2016 sculpture exhibition at West Lavington Manor is being staged by the voluntary organisation The Friends of the Garden.  This year’s exhibition forms part of the Rural Touring Arts programme run by Wiltshire charity Pound Arts.

The Manor’s gardens cover more than four acres and incorporate seventeenth century terraces, lawns shaded by magnificent mature trees, a new Japanese garden, and extensive borders. Yew topiary frames many spectacular views.

These and other spaces magnificently showcase contemporary sculpture. This year 28 artists are taking part. They include Wiltshire artists Bryan Hanlon (from Swindon) and Alison Bowyer (from Marlborough.)  

Across the lake Bryan Hanlon's bronze heron hunkers down on the deck while Alison Bowyer’s peacock in fused glass and aluminium wire will stroll along the border.

Sculpture by other artists working in stone, ceramic, copper, steel and glass will provide visitors with the opportunity to appreciate how together, contemporary sculpture and landscape create a new dynamic and sense of place.

 

The exhibition is open daily 11am – 6pm from Thursday 26 May – Sunday 12 June. It is open Bank Holiday Monday, closed Tuesday, May 31 and Monday/Tuesday, June 6/7. Entry £7 per adult (with a seniors concession of £5 excepting June 11 - NGS open day). This entry fee includes an exhibition catalogue. Accompanied children under 16 are free.

Michael Savage checks two of his sculptures: Core & Leaf Form - both made in beaten & welded copperMichael Savage checks two of his sculptures: Core & Leaf Form - both made in beaten & welded copper

 

 

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Marking two hundred years since Mildenhall's famous church had its amazing Gothick 'make over'

The two decorated pulpits - or ambones The two decorated pulpits - or ambones This year the Church of St John the Baptist in Mildenhall - or Minal as it is known locally - is staging a special exhibition to mark the bicentenary of the fitting out of the Church with its glorious 'Gothick' carving,  box pews and ambones or pulpits.   

The exhibition in the church tells visitors about the Rector who applied to the Diocese of Salisbury to make such bold changes to the parish church. He was supported by twelve wealthy parishioners who funded the operation.  

The exhibition gives details of the re-designing of the church as it is recorded in  documents held in the Record Office in Chippenham.
 
Greatly admired by the twentieth century poet and romantic, John Betjeman and featured in Simon Jenkins's book 'England's Thousand Best Churches', the furnishings
in this basically Norman building have achieved nation-wide fame - as the visitors' book clearly shows.
  
The Rector in 1816, the Reverend Charles Francis, was a typical eighteenth century parson who enjoyed the patronage of the then Earl of Ailesbury.

Educated at Marlborough Grammar School, son of Marlborough's Borough Mayor, he spent the whole of his ministry in parishes of which the Earl was Patron.  Whilst he occupied the position of Rector in two of the Earl of Ailesbury's Yorkshire parishes, he also served on Marlborough Borough Council, was Mayor for three terms and also Chief Magistrate.

The box pews - each with its own doorThe box pews - each with its own door Two of the twelve state their reason for the changes to the churchTwo of the twelve state their reason for the changes to the church "I will now thank you to get the Bishop's licence"...signed Chas. Francis"I will now thank you to get the Bishop's licence"...signed Chas. Francis Rev Francis' simple memorialRev Francis' simple memorial

In Wiltshire he was a Canon of the Cathedral and Rector of both Minal and Collingbourne Ducis, as well as Domestic Chaplain to the Earl.  A busy man indeed - even before he took on the re-ordering of St John the Baptist in Minal.

A true Protestant, in his will Francis founded the Protestant Free School in Minal to educate poor children and children of parishioners.  In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries this school achieved a fine reputation until it was closed later in the last century - and is now a private house.

He also left sums of money to be distributed amongst the poor parishioners in Minal and Collingbourne Ducis, as well as in his two former Yorkshire parishes a month after his death. His obituary disclosed that he had a small private museum - like many parsons of the time, he was something of an antiquarian.
  
The exhibition, which will remain in the church for the summer, gives details of Francis's career both in the Church and in the Borough, with reproductions of his work done on the church building from 1802 until the major refurbishment in 1816. 

A small set of panels also record the history of the Church over the centuries from the ownership of the land by Glastonbury Abbey in the ninth Century to the re-forming of the Church in England in the sixteenth century.  There are also panels recording the more general history of the Church of England in the eighteenth century - the era of the gentleman parson to provide some background to the Francis story.  

The Medieval piscina The Medieval piscina A pillar with uncovered remains of early paintingA pillar with uncovered remains of early painting Some of the church's Norman carving Some of the church's Norman carving

Looking further back in its history, on display in the South aisle will be the medieval piscina - a washing place for vessels used during the Mass.  This had been hidden behind the 1816 panelling until it was revealed in 2014.  

The Church will be open during daylight hours during the summer months with parishioner stewards in attendance.

FOOTNOTE:  Four articles marking the bicentenary have been published in The Parish Pump - the monthly magazine for Minal and Axford:

  • Why the Church Interior was Refurbished                   Maurice Stanton
  • Mildenhall and the 'Gothic Revival'                         Christopher Rogers
  • An Aristocratic Saga - Rev. Charles Francis                   David Sherratt
  • Twelve Good Men and True                                             Stephen Hurd

All four articles can be read at this web address.    [Click on photos to enlarge them]

The gallery installed in 1816 - the organ came laterThe gallery installed in 1816 - the organ came later The church has a stunning exterior too...The church has a stunning exterior too...

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The last spin for Wilton Windmill, as volunteers prepare for sails to come down

Miller Charles Baxter at Wilton WindmillMiller Charles Baxter at Wilton WindmillThe sails have spun for the final time at the last working windmill in Wessex - at least for a while.

They are soon to be removed for much-needed renovation. Especially in need of repair are the patent sails, whose slats can be angled to catch the wind.

Last week, the final batch of the wheat flour was produced at the mill from the fields that surround it.

There is no ‘cheat mechanism’ at the windmill: flour is either produced by wind power, or not at all.

And for miller Charles Baxter, 2016 has been an unproductive year – and an indication of how precarious the industry was in Victorian times.

“We’ve only managed a handful of flour,” he said. By last Friday, the society was down to its last 10 bags.

The Wilton Windmill Society relies on the sale of flour to fund the day-to-day running of the historic building, which was erected in 1821.

Around £10,000 a year is needed to keep the millstones turning. Sadly, perfect milling days – dry weather with constant winds of between 16 and 18mph – have been in short supply this early in the season.

And now, the Wilton Windmill flour stocks are too.

The renovations of the sails, though, are being funded by Wiltshire Council, which has owned the property since 1971.

Volunteers are hopeful that the sails will be back up before the windmill provides a backdrop for a murder mystery evening.

Malice Through the Looking Glass is the latest murder mystery evening from Smoke & Mirrors theatre company. It takes place on Saturday, June 25 from 7pm, with tickets priced at £25.

See our What’s On calendar for details.

To see a video of the windmill in action, go to our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/MarlboroughNewsOnline/videos/1348045458545451/

 

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As it says on the TV commercial - these Waitrose free-range eggs come from a Marlborough farm

Rachel Rivers collecting eggs off the conveyor beltRachel Rivers collecting eggs off the conveyor beltThe current Waitrose television commercials have been causing a bit of a stir in the advertising and farming industries - and amongst television viewers.   They are revolutionary - the one for the supermarket's free-range eggs has no voice over or music and simply shows hens clucking contentedly and scratching in their field.

As well as primetime television commercials, 'Waitrose TV' has explanatory 'Day at the Farm' reports viewable online.  The one promoting Waitrose's free-range eggs features Rachel Rivers who is the poultry manager at Lawn Farm, Milton Lilbourne.

The farm of about 1,000 acres is owned by Canon Gerald Osborne, Dean of Pewsey and a Canon of Salisbury Cathedral.  It lies mainly in the Pewsey Vale - south of Martinsell Hill and up onto Milton Down to the south, and now concentrates on cereals, beef cattle and free-range laying hens - thousands of them.

The farm, which is certified 'organic' by the Soil Association, stopped being a dairy farm in 2004 - partly because of the plummeting price of milk - and the following year won a contract with Waitrose to supply free-range eggs.

Rachel Rivers looks after 4,000 British Black Tail hens and two rearing sheds holding thousands of growing chicks - some of which will be sold on to other farms.  They arrive as day old chicks, at sixteen weeks become point-of-lay pullets and go into the laying sheds.  At eighteen to twenty weeks old they start laying.  And will lay for up to 80 weeks.

Chicks at ten daysChicks at ten days A British Black TailA British Black Tail A frame from the Waitrose TV commercialA frame from the Waitrose TV commercial

Each hen will lay about 319 eggs a year - that means the farm produces at least 1,700 eggs from each of its two large sheds a day.  Once laid, the eggs roll gently onto a conveyor belt so they can be stacked at the end of the laying house.  Every third day a lorry arrives to take the eggs to be graded and packed for the supermarket shelves.

The hens are free to roam within two large fields - protected by an electric fence.  They are also protected by the dozen alpacas Rachel Rivers keeps as 'buddy animals' for the hens: "They draw the hens out into the field and they are good at deterring foxes."

Foxes do sometime risk being chased off by a cross alpaca. A fox has been known to jump up onto one of the corner posts - all four feet resting precariously on a post the diameter of a saucer.

The alpacas are now at their woolliest with their winter coats looking positively luxurious.  At the end of this month they will be sheared - and their wool will fetch just about enough to pay the shearers.

Not only is the farm, organic, but the two hen houses having no mains electricity supply - despite the nearby giant pylons that stalk across the Vale - survive on two small wind turbines and solar panels.  

It is quite obvious that these hens are having a very happy life - they have little groups of bushes to scratch around in and plenty of dust to wallow in.  And they really do cluck around contentedly and follow Rachel Rivers - and a curious guest like your reporter - around as though they were pets.  They are happy and Rachel is definitely happy - she just loves her job.

Alpacas...and hens Alpacas...and hens  Free to roam!Free to roam!

Of course you cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs - and at the end of their laying life the hens go off to be processed for stock cubes, baby food and such like.

The television commercial was designed to support the Waitrose promise that "All our eggs are free-range".  The independent television production company making the commercial and the miniature video documentary were at Lawn Farm for a fortnight and used drone cameras for some of the shots.
 
The commercials have even included some live coverage from the farm.  "It is," says Rachel Rivers, "as it is - the cameras were set up and the chickens walked around them."

The longer video, with Rachel's voice over, has (as of May 1) had 28,938 hits on You Tube.

The other local farm featured in this Waitrose campaign is David Homer's dairy farm at Chisbury - on the edge of the Savernake Forest and with a Marlborough postal address.  It's a bit worrying to find the opening caption of Waitrose TV's 'A Day at a Dairy Farm' telling viewers it is in Newbury.

 

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