The Chitterne Longs provided land for both the Church and the school in the village, continuing the family’s tradition of responsible Lordship of the various Manors they held. Besides bequests of land and money to the communities, food was distributed to the poor on a regular basis and tenant houses were upgraded.
From the book “South Wraxall” author unknown
The various branches of the family described as ‘the most flourishing & numerous family in the county” had property at Potterne, Semington, Freshford, Whaddon, Rood Ashton, Trowbridge, Monkton, Draycote & Chitterne, as well as elsewhere. The branches intermarried, & this combined with the fact that several men died without issue, makes the compilation of a family tree, and understanding of inheritance, complex to say the least. Presumably they knew one another, visited each other’s houses – an extended family in the best sense of that modern phrase. Their estates were within easy riding distance of each other. Even today, walking the footpaths rather than relying on sealed roads, & looking across a flat stretch of land (as at Whaddon) it is easy to picture the Longs moving from house to house as kinfolk visited each other.
The family’s fortunes were founded on good marriages and on the wool trade. Henry Long (of Whaddon) is recorded as a clothier in 1599. It is hard to tell just how closely involved the various branches of the family were with wool & the cloth business, or whether or when their political interests were run in tandem or took the place of trade. However there is evidence that in the early 18th century they were still quite closely connected with manufacturing.
The Longs were inevitably active locally, took their place in national events, & produced seventy three Members of Parliament. (According to one magazine report there were once eleven members of the family in the House at the same time). They were centre stage, sometimes ministers, but usually played supporting roles. However, Walter Hume Long, whose initials can be seen on several houses in the village of South Wraxall, was a leading member of Cabinet early in the 20th century & his obituary in The Times probably summed up the values held by at least some of his ancestors in saying that ‘his career was a remarkable example of the influence which sterling honesty and straightforwardness of character can command in public life’.
Having been brought up in Wales, he later established himself at Rood Ashton. He entered Parliament as a Conservative in 1880 (at the time the other 4 Wiltshire MPs were all Liberal) and remained a member until 1921, three years before his death. His early ministerial career included a spell as President of the Board of Agriculture which led to considerable unpopularity when, during an outbreak of rabies, he ordered that all dogs within an area of 20 miles of the outbreak had to be muzzled. This led directly to the formation of the Canine Defence League. He went on to be Secretary for Ireland in 1905 and by 1916 ‘he was the most powerful voice on Irish affairs in the government’ Just as today, Ireland was not a job to be taken on lightly and he had not wanted this appointment. Lord Esher, who described him as ‘a first rate sort’, recorded that
‘Walter Long behaved beautifully; he was very anxious to be First Lord of the Admiralty (appointed 1919) and had the strongest objection to going to Ireland. But he waived his personal feeling in the matter’.
Two years later he was close to achieving even greater prominence:
“Walter Long at the Levee, got scarlet in the face with fury, when speaking to me on the treatment of Arthur (Balfour). Yet he was the man whom the malcontents put forward as potential leader. They have dropped him since he nearly kicked a deputation of them downstairs”.
The aristocracy & landed gentry are perceived, in one sense rightly, as having great power and wealth in the second half of the 19th century. But all was not entirely easy & many families who were unable to develop interests in industry, mining or trade, were affected by the agricultural depression and by enormous costs of maintaining the affluent lifestyle perceived as necessary for a political career but which some, such as the Longs, could ill afford. Walter Long’s mother had ‘absolutely no self-discipline in money matters’. In 1876 the year after the death of her husband Richard Penruddocke Long (at the early age of 49) she spent 10,000 pounds and her son clearly inherited some of her characteristics.
‘Since 1875 Long had spent 15,000 pounds more than his income. He had to sell land & property to raise the money. By the end of the 1870’s the estate had been severely affected and the agricultural difficulties of the late 19th century, together with the changes in taxation of the earlier 20th, obliged Long to sell most of his estate by 1914. By the late teens he & his wife could no longer afford to live at Rood Ashton and it gradually fell into ruins. After many centuries it was a sad end for which Long was partly responsible’.
However, the decision to sell a large part of his estate was taken in September 1910 when Mr Long wrote to his tenants from Rood Ashton…
‘in my deliberate opinion the financial policy of the Government in relation to large landowners compels all of us who are interested in land to most carefully consider our position…..A change is coming over the scene and those of us who do not possess other sources of income must regulate our affairs accordingly’.
The death of his son Brig-Gen Toby Long, killed in action in 1917, no doubt added to Walter Long’s troubles & disillusion. The two had been particularly close ‘from the time he was twenty-one’ he wrote, ‘I consulted him about everything’. In the manner of the day a memoir was published as a tribute to Toby Long, with a foreword by Field Marshal Earl French, who described him as
‘a splendid leader of men… His leading characteristics were great strength of character, remarkable fixity of mind and purpose, and above all, an inflexible appreciation of his duty and an iron determination to carry it out at all costs’.
Walter Hume Long was given a viscountcy in 1921.
Letters to the Editor
Walter Hume Long, together with Rudyard Kipling & others, believed giving women the vote “could only lead to much bolder & more dangerous proposals at no distant date. We are unalterably opposed to the grant of womens suffrage in the interests both of women & the State, and believe that our views are shared by the great majority of both sexes in the United Kingdom”…..”We invite prompt and generous assistance (at Lloyds Bank) of all those men & women who share our views, and are anxious to show that the sentiment of the country is overwhelmingly opposed to this ill-advised innovation”.