The modern civil parish of Atworth was formed in 1884. It consists of Atworth (formerly a tything of Bradford on Avon), and the parishes of Great and Little Chalfield, plus Cottles. Atworth’s northern boundary follows the course of the Roman road and Wansdyke. This boundary is also part of the local government boundary dividing West Wiltshire from North Wiltshire.
The soil in this area lies on a thin layer of limestone over Oxford clay. It is fairly easy to drill through the limestone and tap the water lying on the surface of the clay underneath. Water has always been readily available in the village. At one time there were 76 wells and six public water pumps in the parish.
The name Atworth has had various spellings down the centuries, examples being Ateforde, Attewarde and Ateworthe, meaning ‘Aetta’s farmstead’. The modern spelling was established as late as 1858. Chalfield refers to a ‘cold or exposed open space’, and Cottles (or Cotel) is an old family name.
The Roman villa at Atworth is one of six within approximately a three mile radius of Box. It is not possible to accurately date the development of this building due to the fact that it was excavated before modern dating methods were available. However, most sections were in evidence by the late third century, and a coin found locally was dated AD270-390.
The Atworth villa was a long ‘L’ shape and developed in four distinct phases. The first stage was a dwelling house and east wing comprising was two separate buildings. Next a corridor was constructed to provide a covered walk way to protect bathers going from the main building to the bath house. The third phase took place when the villa was at its most prosperous. The roof and walls were rebuilt, further baths added and many of the passages were re-paved with stone slabs. There was a hypocaust to heat the house and the baths.
By the early 400s the building was in decline. Some of the walls were knocked down and there is evidence of burning. The former is likely to be the work of successive farmers rather than theft of the stone.
The manor of Atworth was originally part of the estate held by the Abbey of Shaftesbury. Records after the Dissolution are scarce, but for a short time Atworth farm was in the hands of Sir Francis Walsingham. It is probable that this farm was the forerunner of the present Manor Farm. During medieval times Atworth was a prosperous area supporting three manors. The second manor was held by Agnes Bourton in 1431. Again, records are scarce, but John Aubrey mentions it in his ‘Topographical Collections’ as having been sold by Hope Long c.1670. He describes a fine 14th century house, but there are no remains of any great house in Atworth. This manor was later to merge with that of Bradford, but was retained by Lord Methuen when he sold Bradford c.1854. The third manor is Cottles. It was first held by Robert Cotel c.1102 and its descent can be traced down to the present day. The current building, Cottles House, is of 16th century origin and has been occupied since 1939 by Stonar School.
A chapel dedicated to St Michael was first built here c.1070. Its nave was partially destroyed by fire during the 12th century and subsequently rebuilt. In 1451 the whole church was rebuilt and enlarged, the existing tower being all that remains of this building. By 1831 the old church was in very poor condition and it was decided to demolish all of it except the tower. The new ashlar church was built the following year and looks very chapel-like inside. All Saints church at Great Chalfield is approached through the gatehouse to Great Chalfield Manor. It originates from the early 14th century, when it consisted of a chancel and nave. In c1480 the chancel was rebuilt and a chapel added. Further alterations took place in 1775.
Non Conformist worshippers have been served by three chapels over the years, but only one remains. The Congregational or Independent Church was built c.1790. Although unable to support its own pastor since 1816 the church continues to be served by visiting preachers. The Baptist Ebenezer chapel opened in 1864. Its congregation was always small, but it remained active until 1979. It is now a private house. There was also a Free Church in Atworth. It is mentioned in Kelly’s directory for 1907 but had gone by 1956.
Atworth is rich in listed buildings, with many houses, cottages and farmhouses dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. The oldest farmhouse is at Poplar Farm on Bradford Road. This dates from the 15th century, although it was extensively altered in the 18th century. One of the farm buildings contains a pigeon loft and is now home to Atworth Museum. One of the oldest cottages is also along the Bradford Road. Built c.1650 it was originally The Three Horseshoes Inn and later became a forge. Another listed inn is The White Hart on the Bath Road which is late 18th century.
The Clock Tower was built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s reign. In 1897 a Queen Victoria Jubilee memorial appeal was launched, looking to raise approximately £100. In later years the tower also served as the village war memorial.
Although separated from the village and lying about half a mile to the west, the Cottles Estate has always been part of the parish of Atworth. There is some evidence that there may have been a small monastery on this site. It was supposedly founded by St Aldhelm in 1001 and given to the nuns at Shaftesbury Abbey. The first Cottles manor house was owned by Sir Robert Cotel in 1102 and stayed with this family until 1309. The present building dates from the 16th century, and there is a large Elizabethan stone chimneypiece inside bearing the Paulett family arms.
The house was extensively rebuilt by the Hale family during the 1770s and 1830s. They were also responsible for rebuilding the church and founding the school. By the 1870s it was in the hands of the Fuller family, who made a generous contribution towards the cost of the Clock Tower. The last member of the Fuller family to live at Cottles House was Norah Forestier-Walker, who died there in 1935. The house was then left empty and began to deteriorate. In 1939 Stonar School were evacuated there from Sandwich, and they have been there ever since.
Great Chalfield Manor was built c.1470 by Thomas Tropenell, and is described by Pevsner as being ‘one of the most perfect examples of the late medieval English manor house’. During the Civil War it was garrisoned for Parliamentary forces, being occupied by approximately 200 men and 100 horses. The house was bought by the Fuller family in 1878. After carrying out a full restoration, they gave it to the National Trust in 1943.
Like most villages in the early 20th century, Atworth was largely self sufficient. All the usual services were available, such as the grocer, baker, dairy, blacksmith, carpenter, wheelwright and butcher. There was also a Post Office. Over the years there have been three public houses. Farming was a source of employment – within the parish boundary there are 15 farms marked on the map. There were various quarries in the area, such as those at Corsham and Neston, which were also local employers. However, the two biggest employers were the Neston Estate and Dowty’s.
Neston Park employed a large staff of more than 100 craftsmen and others. Masons, tilers, decorators and carpenters were in demand, and since transport depended largely upon horses, grooms and blacksmiths were also needed. Dowty Fuel Systems Ltd was established in 1922. It had existed earlier than this, under the name of the Mendip Motor and Engineering Works. The firm was responsible for designing and planning the Mendip Car, eventually producing 500 cars. After the death of the owner, when the firm was in Bristol, the Thatcher brothers started up in Atworth again. They were soon producing high-class engineering materials. The firm expanded rapidly in the Second World War, providing components for the aircraft industry. Its workforce had now grown to 600. The business was sold to the Dowty Group in 1948. In 1991 Dowty New Mendip finally shut down production after 69 years.
As Atworth was originally a tything of Bradford-on-Avon it has no entry of its own in Domesday. The ancient parish of Bradford included the town of Bradford, with Trowle, Leigh, Woolley, Cumberwell, Holt, Atworth, South Wraxall, Winsley and Limpley Stoke. The estimated population for this large area at the time of Domesday is 750. The first figure we have for Atworth is the Poll Tax for 1377, when 57 people, aged over 14 years were recorded. In 1428 the village appeared on a list of parishes with less than ten households.
The three Medieval Manors played an important part in the agricultural development of the village. The land was farmed intensively and the amount of land under cultivation was increasing all the time. Expansion continued until the 18th and early 19th centuries, when the wool trade brought increasing prosperity. The population in 1811 was 549, rising to 824 in 1841. In 1891 the figure was 676. In 1885 the new parish of Atworth was created. The 1891 figure therefore included Great and Little Chalfield, giving a population for the whole parish of 767. By 2001 the population had risen to 1,280.
Modern amenities reached Atworth in the early 20th century. The first of these was the telephone, which was first installed in 1884. Mains water did not arrive until the 1930s. Prior to this the villagers relied on the plentiful supply of wells and water pumps. Electricity was brought to the village in 1933.
An important village institution is the Atworth Institute, which opened in 1914. This had three rooms, a reading room, a games room and a room for juniors. They were opened up into one large room for events such as dances. There were also three slipper baths, which remained popular until their removal in 1963. The Institute, recently renamed the Village Hall, is still an important focal point in the village, as most major indoor events take place here.
Sports clubs and other leisure activities have been in existence since at least 1897, when there were cricket and football teams. A tennis court was available on the recreation ground by 1930, and more recently there was a flourishing judo club. There was an Atworth Friendly Society in the 1890s, and also a Girls’ Friendly Society. In 1898 200 girls gathered at Neston for the day and later attended a service in Atworth church. Other popular annual events were the Bible Class and Sunday School Day at Neston, and the Church Choir’s visit to the seaside.
The Women’s Institute was founded in 1945 and is still in existence, as are the Guide and Brownie troops. A Branch of Toc H was established in 1939 and met for 12 years. More recently a ladies Spinning Group and a History Group have been formed. Atworth is a thriving community, and its clubs, groups and events have always been well supported and enjoyed.