My sisters gave me a framed photograph of the windmill at High Ham for my sixtieth birthday. Living on Windmill Road, the mill was a constant feature of our landscape, a sight we saw every day.
We moved to the village of High Ham in Somerset in February 1967. Our house was the last in a line of council houses built in 1926. Beyond our house, the road passed between open fields before reaching Stembridge Tower Mill, the only thatched windmill in England. It had stood semi-derelict for years, before being restored by the National Trust in the early 1970s.
It was only a decade ago that I learned that the story in the village was that the mill and its house and cottage had been left to the National Trust by Professor Bellot in memory of his son.
It had been assumed that the son concerned had died during the First World War and a search of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website produced a quick result, Bellot not being the most common of names:
In Memory of
Lieutenant BRYSON BELLOT
1st/1st, North Somerset Yeomanry
who died age 24
on 27 March 1918
Son of Hugh H. L. Bellot, D.C.L., and Beatrice V. Bellot,
of High Ham, Somerset.
Remembered with honour
The war memorial plaque in Saint Andrew’s church in the village shows Bryson Bellot as the first name amongst the eighteen from our little village who died in the Great War.
Finding Professor Bellot’s Christian names on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website meant being able to search for him on the Internet and a Wikipedia page confirmed, “In 1969 Professor H. H. Bellot left the windmill, cottage and garden to the National Trust in his will”.
Yet it was pointed out to me that Professor Bellot must have been a great age when bequeathing the mill to the Trust; in his nineties, at least because his son had died in 1918 at the age of 24, so had been born some seventy-five years before Professor Bellot’s death.
Who was this man who had lived to such a great age in our village?
Papers held by the Somerset Archives in Taunton suggest there was deep involvement in village life, but how did Professor H.H. Bellot remain around for so long?
The answer became clearer on the website of University College, London. Professor Hugh Hale Bellot had been born in 1890, he could not have been father to Lieutenant Bryson Bellot. The UCL website even has a photograph of the man who was once our neighbour.
The University of London has a catalogue of the papers left by Professor Bellot, they include: “Photograph of Bryson Bellot (Bellot’s brother) in a military uniform” and “Bryson Bellot: Documents and letters of Bellot’s brother who died in Abbeville on March 17, 1918.” So Professor Hugh Bellot was brother, and not father, to Lieutenant Bryson Bellot.
Bryson Bellot’s father was, however, also Hugh Bellot. An obituary for the Royal Historical society shows that Professor Hugh Hale Bellot (1890-1969) was son of Hugh Hale Leigh Bellot (1860-1928). The DCL (Doctor of Civil Law) after H.L. Bellot’s name in the casualty records should have been a hint, Hugh Hale Bellot was a history lecturer, a search for Hugh Hale Leigh Bellot reveals him to have been a barrister and law lecturer.
Professor Bellot must have been a interesting figure in our little village: an obituary for a former pupil describes him as “Professor H. Hale Bellot, an old-fashioned gentleman and a rather anachronistic figure, even in 1953”.
Of course, the real mystery is how a prominent academic family from Surrey came to be living down our road.
The windmill and the nature reserve at Turn Hill remain fitting tributes to the old-fashioned gentleman.