The village of Shrewton is actually made up of at least seven early communities and was, until 1934, three separate parishes. It is set in the middle of Salisbury Plain, to the north of the present A303. It has grown up around the River Till and associated dry valleys, in which a layer of gravel covers the chalk of the Plain. In the Domesday Book all the settlements here were called ‘Winterbourne’, indicating that the river could be dry in summer. Till is a later name that is derived from the place-name of Tilshead.
The three main Winterbourne estates became: Shrewton, the Sheriff’s town from 1236 as it was held by Edward of Salisbury in 1086 and he and his successors were Sheriffs of Wiltshire; Maddington was the Maidens’ town and was formerly Maiden Winterbourne, having been in the possession of Amesbury nunnery; Rollestone is named from the tenant of the manor in the 1240s. Shrewton contained the hamlet of Netton, which now survives in the names of farms, downland and road, while Maddington contained Bourton, Addestone and Homanton, each with a strip of land from the River Till in the east to the downs in the west. Major roads across the parish were the east to west road from London to Bridgwater via Amesbury and Warminster from the 17th century and the Southampton-Bristol road, which had become less important by the 18th century. The Devizes-Salisbury road had a new route through the parish in c.1900. There were also many local tracks and roads across the Plain.
There is reasonable evidence of prehistoric activity within the modern parish. The Neolithic causeway camp of Robin Hood’s Ball has 5 barrows nearby while, closer to Stonehenge, there are many barrows on Rollestone Down. A field system in the north, prehistoric ploughing on Maddington Down and enclosure in the south-east are all indicators that there was substantial activity here in prehistory. Roman coins have been found in both Shrewton and Maddington while some Romano-British pottery has been uncovered in the south-east of Maddington. Pagan Saxon artefacts have also been found.
There was a substantial settlement here in later Saxon times, probably corresponding to the seven estates mentioned in the Domesday book, but it is not known if a church existed in any of the larger settlements. In 1086 there were three estates in Shrewton, two in Maddington, plus Addestone and Rollestone. In total there was enough arable land for 21 ploughteams and the total population is given as 25 villeins, 29 bordars, 2 cottars and 20 serfs. Using modern population interpretation of Domesday figures means that it is likely that there was a population of between 300 and 350 in the settlements that now make up Shrewton. Despite the number of settlements there was only one mill, at Shrewton - an indication of the seasonal nature of the river.
We know that churches existed in Maddington by 1179, Shrewton by 1236, and Rollestone by 1291, and although it is quite possible there were earlier churches at Maddington and Shrewton there is no architectural evidence for these. It is likely that from medieval times until the early 19th century Maddington has had a larger population than Shrewton and that Rollestone has always been a very small settlement. In 1377 there were 49 poll tax payers (aged over 14 years) in Shrewton and 40 in Netton while there were 61 in Maddington, 25 in Homanton, 20 in Bourton and 9 in Addestone. Shrewton was a scattered settlement with houses from north to south along the river and road while Netton was a village in the south of the parish, which gradually declined as there were 15 houses here in 1773 but today the name is no longer used for the settlement here. Maddington was a more compact village set around its church while Homanton and Bourton were small villages and Addestone a hamlet. By the 18th century there were 10 houses in Homanton - some were demolished in the 19th century; Bourton had houses on the western bank of the Till (there is still evidence of house platforms), but by 1841 there was only Bourton House and its farmstead; Addestone was also reduced to Addestone Manor and its farm buildings by 1841. In 1428 there were only 10 householders in Rollestone and the settlement remained little changed for centuries.
Farming was the typical downland economy of sheep and arable. Corn was originally ground at Shrewton water-mill but by the 1580s there was a wind-mill to west of Maddington, south of the old Amesbury-Warminster road. This was still wind-powered in 1841 but had been converted to steam by the late 19th century and fell out of use in the early 20th century. It was demolished in 1958. In the 17th century some water-meadows were created alongside the river Till.
Each village had its manor house but the inns and alehouses seem to have been concentrated in Shrewton. The George, on the old London road, is first mentioned in 1607 and would have served travellers. In the early 17th century Shrewton Manor was built, replacing an earlier house, while later in the century Homanton House was built. Towards the end of the century Maddington House was erected. Maddington village was also expanding with houses on the western side of the Till by 1773. The latter were built opposite the Shrewton houses on the eastern side and created a proper village street. Even though they were separate villages, the two villages were growing together. Apart from this there was little expansion of Maddington from the mid 18th century to the mid 20th century. Maddington Manor had been burned down in 1741 and replaced by a larger house in 1742.
The road from Amesbury to Warminster was turnpiked in 1761 and a new road created through the village south of the old one. This also aided the union of Shrewton and Maddington villages and brought about the opening of The Catherine Wheel on the new road. The blind house, or lock-up, is said to have been built c.1700. It is by the river bridge in Maddington Street and probably used mainly to house prisoners overnight when they were on their way from the Assize Courts in Devizes to Fisherton Gaol. The blind house was damaged by a tank during the Second World War and rebuilt afterwards, while in the 1980s it was moved back from the road edge to prevent further damage by lorries. Between 1773 and 1793 another wind-mill was built. This was a thatched timber mill and was sited north-west of Nett Road. It continued working until around 1827 and had been demolished by 1899. In the late 18th century the present Rollestone Manor was built using 16th century structural timbers, presumably from the earlier manor house.
In the early 19th century many Shrewton houses were rebuilt in red brick and the population of Shrewton, as opposed to Maddington and Rollestone, rose rapidly. There were 269 people in 1901 but 399 in 1811 and the rise continued until 1871. Conversely, the larger Maddington had 327 people in 1801, which rose steadily to 445 in 1841 and then declined for the rest of the 19th century. Between 1800 and 1811 The Bustard was built on the downs to the north-east and Shrewton itself became a minor centre of trade and commerce for the area. Maddington Manor was rebuilt in 1833 but there were few other new buildings in Maddington in the first half of the 19th century.
In 1841 came a disastrous event that has been long remembered on the Plain and was commemorated in two poems and a relief fund. At the beginning of January there had been heavy snowfall and the ground was frozen solid under a thick covering of snow. On 13th January a thaw began with snow melting rapidly but the ground still frozen. The melt waters had nowhere to go but downhill over the still frozen ground to the River Till. This rose quickly until it was eventually 7 to 8 feet deep, sweeping along the valley. Fortunately people had warning and no lives were lost but 28 houses were destroyed and 300 people made homeless. An appeal for relief brought in money from a wide area. Homes along the banks of the Till were rebuilt and there was enough money to build an extra 14 cottages in local villages. The rents from these provided money for clothing, fuel and groceries for the local poor. Four of these cottages are in Salisbury Road and two in Maddington Street.
There had been private and dame schools in the villages in the early 19th century and by 1841 there was a schoolroom in Maddington, and one in Shrewton by 1855. By 1864 the Old Hawking Club was established at The Bustard and used the facilities at the Catherine Wheel (now closed) at Shrewton for much of the year, but also the Crown at Everleigh for four to six weeks around March, and the Red Lion at Avebury during the lark hawking season. The Club continued until 1924 Well-known and titled people were members of this falconry club that concentrated on rook hawking. Two more public houses opened in the latter part of the 19th century: The Royal Oak in 1867 and The Wheatsheaf on the London Road c.1886. The latter did not survive many years. In 1898 the London and South Western Railway were empowered to build a branch line to Amesbury and Shrewton but they only got as far as Amesbury. However, a narrow gauge military railway was built as the northern part of Shrewton parish was acquired for artillery ranges between 1897 and 1902. The railway was used from 1923 to 1958. In the early 20th century most of the downland in Rollestone parish was also taken over by the Army, and later the Air Force. This did not affect the village itself but RAF Rollestone continued until 1946.
During the 20th century Shrewton village doubled in size while Maddington has also increased. Another public house, The Plume of Feathers, opened in Shrewton c.1910, and a range of council houses were built in London Road (1927 and 1933) and Chalk Hill (1936). By 1931 the Shrewton Laundry had opened and this became a substantial employer in the village during the 20th century. In 1934 an administrative change brought about the formation of one village. In practical terms this had been the case for some services and activities for some time. The civil parishes of Maddington and Rollestone were added to Shrewton and the new parish called Shrewton.
Military activity increased greatly during the Second World War and between 1940 and 1944 land to the west of The Bustard was used as a military airfield. Later many of the pavements were edged with metal to prevent damage from tracked vehicles. Many more houses were built after the war with nearly 100 local authority houses east of Upper Backway, in The Butts and The Hollow. In the 1960s about 30 old people’s bungalows were built to the west of Upper Backway and a further 16 in Hinde’s Meadow in the 1980s. There was also much private building from the 1960s to the 1990s with houses in Meadway (about 50), Copper Beech Close, Highfield Rise (45) and Chapel Lane. Bungalows were built between Highfield Rise and Nett Road and near Maddington Church. There has also been infilling in the late 20th century.
From the 1870s farming had been mainly arable and sheep with very few cattle. Pastureland increased from the late 19th century and there was an increase in cattle rearing in the early 20th century. In the late 20th century arable and mixed farming predominated with sheep and beef cattle being reared. From 1980 about 70 acres of Parsonage Down was made into a national nature reserve and stocked with sheep and cattle, including some rare breeds.