There are two parishes in Wiltshire with the name Bishopstone. One is in the north of the county, on the Wiltshire/Berkshire border, the other is in the south on the Wiltshire/Hampshire border. The southern parish of Bishopstone is eight kilometres south-west of Salisbury. It is rectangular in shape and the river Ebble flows from west to east through the middle. The parish contains six ancient townships, each running back from the river. Bishopstone, Netton and Flamston lie north of the river, while Throope, Faulston and Croucheston are opposite them, south of the river.
Before the 10th century the parish as we know it now was part of a larger estate called Downton. This in turn was part of a large area of the Ebble valley known as Ebbesbourne. Bishopstone became a parish on its own between 1086 and 1208. At first it kept the name Ebbesbourne. It was later called Bishop’s Ebbesbourne to distinguish it from Ebbesbourne Wake; in the later Middle Ages Bishopstone was established as a parish name. It means ‘The Bishop’s Farm’, as at one time the manor belonged to the Bishop of Winchester. Geologically the parish is on a strip of alluvium (a fertile deposit of clay, silt and sand left by flood water) and river gravel. It is enclosed to the north and south by chalk downs which are covered in places with clay and flint.
Bishopstone is not an area rich in archaeological finds. There are nine bowl barrows scattered across the parish and slight traces of a field system in the south. One of these barrows yielded a plain tub-shaped urn 24½ inches high, the largest ever found in Wiltshire. It is now in Salisbury Museum. Grim’s Ditch forms the whole of the southern boundary of Bishopstone. This was a territorial earthworks built by Iron Age peoples c.300 BC. The Roman Road from Dorchester to Old Sarum enters Bishopstone from Knighton High Wood and is clearly visible for one mile.
The two manors north of the river, namely Flamston and Bishopstone (including Netton), were held by the Earls of Pembroke, as was Faulston. They were sold during the first half of the 20th century. The manors of Croucheston and Throope passed through several different families.
The church of St. John the Baptist was built during the 12th century and was extensively altered during the mid 14th century. It is cruciform in shape and consists of the chancel, north and south transepts and the nave. In the 15th century a two-storey porch was added. There was a Primitive Methodist chapel in Bishopstone, which opened in 1833 in Croucheston. It closed in 1978.
There are many buildings of interest in the village, including 13 with listed status. An example is the old rectory, now called Bishopstone House. This substantial building was built c.1815 at a time when many clergymen had large families and also needed space to entertain. (The Rev. Barford, who died in 1780, had 15 children). The conservatory was added for the Rev. Montgomery who lived here from 1824-1842. His wife Cecilia painted several watercolours of the house and church.
Faulston House dates from the 17th century and was rebuilt c.1800. The house is on the site of a late medieval house with moated enclosure, referred to by John Aubrey in his Natural History of Wiltshire (1847). In the 16th century the Vaughan family lived here, when it was known as Faulston Castle. At this time it had fortifications, gardens, courtyards, ponds and fruit trees. By 1666 most of the fortifications had gone; one tower remained (it still stands), which was used as a dove cote.
Netton farmhouse was built in 1637 (there is a date tablet on the wall) by one of the Shergall family. The family became tenants in the early 17th century and the name appears frequently as occupiers of official posts in the parish.
Bishopstone was mostly an agricultural community. In 1811 it was entirely dependent on agriculture. Out of 132 working people, 122 were in farming and 10 were in trades. The 1851 census shows a similar pattern. Six farmers, who in total farmed over 4,000 acres, employed 162 labourers. A few men were in the farming related trades of milling, carpentry and blacksmithing. On the 1901 census most men were still employed on the farms.
Shoemaking began in Bishopstone in the early 19th century. The first shoemaker to set up a business was Thomas Barter, a young man who was part of the growing Non-Conformist community that had developed from Broad Chalke. A group of families, particularly tradesmen, had moved to Bishopstone to start an Independent chapel there. Thomas started shoemaking in a cottage; his business soon expanded and he took over Bridge House. By 1869 Thomas had 17 cottages for his workers. His son Isaac developed the business still further until Bridge House contained a shop and a boot factory, making agricultural boots for a wide area around Salisbury, until the business finished in 1918.
In 1086 there were seven mills on the Bishop of Winchester’s Downton estate, one of which was possibly Bishopstone. A mill is mentioned in the early 13th century. The mill and mill-house were re-built in 1475-6. It is possible that in the early 18th century the mill was used to mill malt. A malt-house was mentioned in 1753, but by this time the mill was again used only for corn. In 1944 it was burnt down by an accidental fire. Afterwards the site was used by a firm producing animal feedstuffs until the 1990s.
There was also a mill at Faulston, dating from the late 15th century and possibly earlier. It continued to grind corn until the Second World War, when it was known as Lower Mill. Attached is an 18th century house which has been modernised and extended in recent years.
The White Hart pub dates from the early 18th and possibly the 17th century. The first licensed innkeeper was Mary Bayley in 1756. She had taken over her brother Abraham’s shop after his death in 1731; among the items left in his will was an apple-press. The name ‘The White Hart’ dates from 1790. The Three Horseshoes is much later, dating from the 19th century when it was a grocery shop and alehouse. It was called The Three Horseshoes by 1896.
The first Post Office in Bishopstone was kept by John Compton in Pitts Lane and dates from c.1867. He was a grocer and shopkeeper, and he also built a bake house, selling bread and rock cakes.
At the time of Domesday Bishopstone was part of the large estate called Downton, so it is not possible to estimate its population at this time. The first official figure is from 1801 when it was 535. The figure dropped by one hundred between 1831 and 1841, and this was attributed to emigration and the demolition of houses. The population reached its peak of 685 in 1861, after which it continued to drop steadily until the Second World War. In 1931 there were just 411 people in the village. After the War new housing was built and the population increased again to 622 in 2001.
Like all communities, Bishopstone looked after its own poor until the Wilton Union workhouse was built in 1836. By the end of the 18th century it had its own workhouse on a site near the Three Horseshoes inn. The average annual expenditure on the poor during 1833-5 was £906, a high figure for a parish of Bishopstone’s size. In 1838 people were encouraged to emigrate to New South Wales. A surviving document of the time says ‘ The emigrants [56 people] left Bishopstone in the evening of the 1st May in three covered wagons with their luggage travelling all night under the care of Messrs Rowthen and Sheppard and embarked on board the ‘Woodbridge’ lying off Cowes the next morning.’ It is doubtful that any of them had much sleep that night, their minds full of fear and excitement about the unknown life that was waiting for them.
In the 1860s the first doctor was appointed to the Chalke Valley, and a Friendly Society was formed where members paid a subscription to meet the doctor’s fees. By the 1880s there was a surgery at Broad Chalke and the Bishopstone residents would have consulted the doctor there when necessary, and if they could afford it. The first parish nurse was appointed in 1906.
In 1900 Bishopstone was still predominantly a farming community, and this is reflected in the Kelly’s Trade Directory. There are very few commercial entries in 1900 and most of these are farmers. The village was fairly self sufficient in that it had its own grocer, baker, shopkeeper, carrier, Post Office and blacksmith. Watercress was grown in the village from 1890, firstly on land belonging to Bridge House. Lord Pembroke later encouraged the business by allowing Netton Marsh to be enclosed and used entirely for watercress. This crop was still being grown in the village in the 1990s.
Another business that thrived in the early 20th century was the Bishopstone Wagon Works. This was started c.1900 by the carpenter and wheelwright Thomas Lawes. It was later run by the Wort family. Between the wars it grew into a building business as well as developing into making bodies for motor vehicles.
In 1953 a Coronation ‘Domesday-Book’ was compiled. This lists all the houses and their occupiers in the village at that time, and describes the accommodation. All the houses had electricity but many still had outdoor sanitation. It gives an interesting insight into living conditions in the 1950s.
A Village Club (probably a place for the men to meet and play billiards), was established in the early 1920s. By the 1960s a football club had been in existence for some time, as had a youth club, a Friends and Neighbours Over 60s Club and the W.I.
Bishopstone has its own website which shows that there is plenty of activity in this community and those of its neighbours. The Village Hall is well used and hosts exercise classes, country dancing, a lunch club and a quiz night. There is a cricket club but no mention of football. Sadly, the village lost its Primary School in 1977, since when the children have attended the school at Coombe Bissett. A shop closed in 1978 and The Three Horseshoes closed in 2002. The village discussion page on the website has lots of family history enquiries, showing that there is a lot of interest in the history of this village.
Today the villagers join in with activities in neighbouring Broad Chalke and Coombe Bissett, helping to maintain this part of the Chalke Valley as a popular place to live.