The parish of Kington Langley is a relatively recent creation, having been formed out of part of the parish of Kington St. Michael in 1865. It was called Kington Langley to distinguish it from another village, Langley Burrell. The original hamlet was known as Langley Fitzurze in medieval times although other spellings such as ‘Langeleghe’ (11th century), ‘Langley Fearne’ (c.1513), ‘Langley Fernhill’ (1660) have been used. The village is situated on high ground two miles north of Chippenham and to the east of Malmesbury. It is 1.5 miles in length and is separated from Kington St. Michael by the main Chippenham to Malmesbury road. It is in the Diocese of Bristol.
The area of the parish is approximately 1,571 acres. The geology is mostly of the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. It is situated on a high water table and the soil is composed of sand with a sub soil of Oxford clay. Kington Langley is an example of a ‘squared’village with approaches from Chippenham, Swindon and Malmesbury. It has three greens. The common/village green is the focal point of the village and comprises 30 acres. It was used for pasturing animals, and there would have been pannage for pigs in the local woods. The pond on Middle Common would have been used for watering animals. The population has remained constant, at 600 in 1853, 556 in 1891, 501 in 1921, 483 in 1931 and 600 in 1961. It was often said that there were more cows than people in Kington Langley at the turn of the 20th century.
In 940 A.D. thirty households were given to the King’s Officer Wilfric. ‘Kington’ means it was an ancient crown property. Langley (as it was called then) was held by Glastonbury Abbey. There was reputedly a battle on Fitzurse Hill in Langley in Saxon times. The Domesday Book reports that Kington Langley and Kington St. Michael held 10 acres of meadow, 10 of pasture and a wood 1.5 miles long by .5 miles wide. At the Dissolution a large part of Langley called ‘The Heath’ was unenclosed. It is named ‘Abbot Beere’s Terrier’, measuring 310 acres. It was common to the Abbey tenants and owner of Fitzurse Farm. In the 1920s the Squire died and the whole estate was sold. Many houses were put up for sale; a thatched cottage was priced at £90. In 1960 land use was mostly pasture and there was no extensive woodland. There was no industry taking place in the village although weavers were said to have occupied houses in earlier times.
The primary building material used was local rubble stone and slate for roofs; the high class buildings were given ashlar dressings.
Ashe’s Lane- early 19th century houses, one on an earlier core.
Church Lane – A 16th century house, rebuilt 1750 with an imitation stone slate roof and an L-Plan. Other buildings date through to the late 18th century.
Day’s Lane – The Hit or Miss Inn, 17th century but extended in the19th century. The pub was originally next door and the present pub was a private dwelling. There are also late 18th/early 19th century cottages, a farmhouse and barn of late 18th century date but on an earlier 17th century core. This has a Bridgewater hipped valley roof and centre stack. The ground floor interior includes a stone moulded Tudor arched fireplace, 17th century.
Lower Common – The Manor House was built c.1700 but extended later in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It has ashlar dressings and a hipped roof. It was originally roughcast and had five bays. It was owned by the Coleman family of the Great House. It was the birthplace of the mother of the Diarist Francis Kilvert.
Middle Common – Ivy House has a basement and raised ashlar plinth. The Pound measures seven metres by five metres and the walls are probably 19th century rubble stone. There is a gate on the north side. It was restored in 1970. On the north side of the Common, opposite the school there are the village stocks and a house called ‘Stocks Cottage’. There is also a ‘Stocks Corner’ in the vicinity. In the 19th century boys thought it amusing to fasten themselves in to the stocks, but they had to trust others to release them! Fitzurse farm was a prominent building in the 19th century. It was once a prestigious manor house in the 17th century with a great hall and moat; part of the moat could still be seen in the 1930s. At this time a medieval barn still stood on the site in the grounds previously used as a sawmill yard. Reginald Fitzurze was said to have been one of Thomas A’ Beckett’s assassins at Canterbury in 1170. He built a church on land he owned near Cleeve, Somerset as penance and was one of the founders of Cleeve Abbey. He was also buried there. In 1859 the house was called ‘Pitt’s Hurst’ house, even though the village was known as ‘Fitzhurse’ at that time. It was remodelled in 1938. Behind the house was the post office and forge. Nearby was the toll house. Almost opposite Fitsurze House there is one of the oldest cottages in the village, previously a pub called ‘Jolly Butcher’s Tavern’ or ‘Velvet Tavern’. The village hall was built in 1926 and was taken over by the Parish Council in 1936.
Parker’s Lane – Two cottages with a 17th century core, timber framed and thatched, and an 18th century house with a steep hipped Bridgewater tiled roof.
Plough Lane – The Plough Inn has late 17th century origins but is mostly 18th century, and extended in the early 19th century. There are ashlar dressings and red brick end stacks. The original sign had words painted below the plough image. On the Chippenham side:-
‘By hope we plough,
By hope we sow,
By hope we are all fed.
We who live here
Sell spirits and beer,
And hope to get our bread.’
On the Malmesbury side:-
‘Arise, get up; the season’s now,
Drive on, my boy, - God speed the Plough’
It was removed to Dyer’s carpenter’s shop, Kington St Michael, in the early 20th century. It has been said that Oliver Cromwell slept at The Plough on his way to attack Malmesbury. A late 18th/ early 19th century farmhouse called ‘The Ridge’ belonged to the Meredith Brown family in the late 19th century. It features in the diary of Francis Kilvert. In the 1930s a toll gate still existed on the corner next to the Plough Inn and a gate post next to Lipgate Farm. The name comes from the term ‘Lypgate’ or ‘leap’ gate. A Saxon Charter of 940 gives the boundary ‘from the Lea to Gate of the Deerleap’. At a corner near the top of Plough Hill was ‘Chapel Field’, once a burial ground for the village. There was a chapel there, built by Walter Coleman, but nothing remains. Influential etcher Robin Tanner and his wife Heather built a house on the site. Beyond Plough Hill is Morrell Lane which was once called Mar Hill. At the head of Morwell Lane/Barbaran’s Lane was the site of a gypsy encampment. By the 1930s the camp was being used less frequently but Robin Tanner still recalled their wooden caravans. They used to make wooden clothes pegs from the hazel bushes in the lane. The nearest constable was always told of their arrival and they were usually ‘hustled’ on the following morning. Sam’s Lane led off Middle Common between the school and the Union Chapel towards Jackson’s lane but has now disappeared.
Sutton Road – two late 17th/early 18th century houses, painted with half hipped thatched roofs.
Swindon Road – The Great House was built in the late 17th century and has a 9 bay front elevation. It was extended in 1910. It has service wings with a courtyard plan and tall ashlar chimney stacks. The house was reportedly owned by the Coleman family (William Coleman died 1738) from c.1700, the Lord of the Manor whose family later moved to the Manor House. The Great House became a farmhouse until restored by Charles Garnett in 1907-10 and is now a Leonard Cheshire Foundation home. It was supposedly at one time a weaver’s factory. A nearby lane is called ‘Weaver’s Lane’ where three cottages of late 18th/early 19th century date can be found; it was said they were built for weavers. Sundial House is a late 17th century farmhouse, altered in the 19th century. It has ashlar dressings and a Bridgewater tiled roof. The sundial over the door is dated ‘AWPW 1685’. ‘Chestnuts House’ was the site of a malt house and an off licence.
Upper Common – early 19th century house, altered c.1900, rendered on the front. It may have a 1695 date stone. ‘Greystones’ house is of late 18th century date with ashlar dressings. The house was the Rectory in the later 19th century. In April 1866 half an acre of land was measured off in Bright’s by Mr Wood as the site of a Parsonage. There are also cottages from the 17th to the 18th century, some thatched and some with Bridgewater tiled roofs, and a 17th century farmhouse, refronted and extended in the later 18th century. It was originally roughcast, and has ashlar dressings.
Byde Mill was situated below Southsea Farm. Old arches and streams were found there in the 1930’s. Shipways Leaze is the old term for sheep pasture. ‘Blunder’ House got its name because it was originally built with no staircase! Raglan’s Cottages were named after Lord Raglan, a Crimean War commander.
Newer housing development is situated to the far west of the village near the Chippenham to Malmesbury road. Forty eight private houses have been built since 1921.The council built twelve houses in 1930 and thirty six since 1948.
Kington Langley was without a church for many years. A chapel of ease once stood in the village but was turned into cottages in 1670. What was once probably the nave is St Peter’s cottages, just below the village hall. There was a cellar beneath old St Peter’s Chapel with what appeared to be a small crypt – the door to the staircase was bricked up. The chapel bell was removed to Fitzurse Farm. It was never the parish church but served the inhabitants of the Langley part of Kington when the two parishes were one. From 1670 parishioners had to travel 1.5 miles to Kington St. Michael to attend church. The footpath past the school and Fitzurse House is called ‘Church Path’. The new St Peter’s Church was built further up the road in 1856 by Mr Miller of Seagry. It was designed in the Early English Style in squared rubble stone with ashlar dressings, a stone slate roof, coped gables and an ashlar gabled bellcote at the west end. There are lancet windows, shallow buttresses and a stone slated timber porch. The interior includes a four bay nave roof of 1906, and east window of 1861 and a south nave window of 1906. Its first vicar was the Reverend John Jeremiah Daniells. A Primitive Methodist Chapel was erected in Silver Street in 1844 and rebuilt in 1848. It was a small stone building with a hipped roof covered with slating. The present Union Chapel in Middle Common was built in 1835 in coursed rubble with ashlar dressings and a slate roof. Inscriptions in front of the gable read ‘O come, let us enter, in to the house of our God’. A square tablet above is inscribed ‘Union Chapel 1835. J Pinnegar Builder’.
In 1875 the primary occupations in Kington Langley were farmers, shopkeeper, baker and malster, blacksmith, butcher and farmer, beer retailer, wheelwright. By 1901 there was a post office and wall letter box, plasterers, carpenters, masons, farmers, a horse breaker and dealer, a haulage firm. In 1920 there was also a physician and surgeon (the Medical Health Officer for the Chippenham area), carpenter, baker and beer retailer, florist and nurseryman, timber merchant, laundry and dressmaker, blacksmith, boot and shoe dealer, shopkeeper. Not much had changed by 1939 except for the addition of an auctioneer and loss of the physician. Omnibuses passed through the village between Chippenham and Swindon and Malmesbury daily. In the 1950s Parnell’s Stores were grocers and general provision merchants; they had been serving the community for many years, from as early as 1899. In the 1950s the Pearce Brothers were building contractors, running since at least 1935 . A factory near the bridge in Malmesbury was bought in 1833 by Simon Uncles Salter and Isaac Salter of Kington Langley, Clothiers. A steam engine is first referred to in that year and they may well have fitted it. In 1838 and 1848 they were described as clothiers and wool staplers; the business survived in some form until 1852 when both died.
The village Revel was held on the Sunday in the Octave of St Peter’s Day in June. In the 17th Century Aubrey noted that it was “one of the eminentest feast in these parts”. There was a ‘Peterman’ (chosen by the parish at the Festival of Dedication to the Chapel) to collect money for charity and to keep order. Festivities occurred around the Plough Inn. As the years passed with no church in the village it became ‘less respectable in character’. In 1822 the Revel led to a riot between locals and a party of young men from Chippenham. On the 7th of September 1822, 30 to 40 Langley men went to Chippenham with bludgeons at 10.30 p.m. They called for people to come out and fight but attacked anyone they met. Police assembled with the Chippenham men to drive them back. Two Constables were wounded and one died. Thirty one men, women and children were injured. The chief perpetrators fled the country and others escaped prosecution after a long confinement in the Salisbury Gaol. But it was not just the revel that had become unruly. In 1860 Abraham Cole threw a plate at his wife and ‘broke her head’. He was let off at his wife’s request.
The Harvest Festival Feast was also held annually. In 1863 54 people attended and £10.10 shillings (£10.50) was contributed. They had roast beef, boiled mutton and potatoes, turnips, and parsnips. On the second night the pudding felt short as there were 68 present. The ladies who waited ay table on the second night laid aside their crinolines to be more comfortable. On the third night the ladies sang a song to entertain. The remnants made up 17 gallons of prime soup and the cost ended up being under 1/6 (7½p) a head.
Kington Langley inhabitants upon their deaths also left money for charity. Miss Sadler, who died before 1680, gave £6 a year to be distributed in both villages. ‘Taylor’s’ Charity in the 172’s gave £1 year. Both were to be distributed on December 21st which is St Thomas’ Day. Mrs Sarah Bowerman gave £5 a year for both village schools. Annually in December old men and women were invited to supper.
In the middle of the nineteenth century a farm worker received 8 shillings (40p) a week. One man used this to care for his wife and thirteen children in a ‘very clean’ house in the village which had a large garden in which he kept three or four pigs. Hides of bacon were hung up in the chimney corner, which provided for meals of boiled bacon and apple dumplings.
The village had various societies including a clothing club. There was a village football club in the 1960s, which had been founded many years before. Locals noted that 'When Kington Langley played Colerne at football before the First World War they went by horse and cart. If Langley were winning, the cart had to be moving to get them safely away on the final whistle'!There were cricket matches on the Green. The Wiltshire Working Men’s Conservative Benefit Society had been around since at least the 1930s. Men would have paid a subscription which would then have given them financial help if they became unemployed or unable to work. The Chapel Choir met in the middle of the nineteenth century at a Chapel goer’s house on Sundays – the cottage opposite the Chapel near Stock corner. They also had a band and used wind instruments such as flutes and violas. They had tea at the cottage and then walked over to attend Chapel. When it was dark the adults used to go in front carrying tallow candles.
The Sunday School had an outing in the summer; in the 1958 they went to Cheddar and Weston. Fetes were held too, with barbeques, skittle competition and dancing on the lawn from 8.00 – 11.00 p.m. The Church also held whist drives and guild nights to raise money for charity. The Mothers’ Union was formed in 1906 and listened to guest speakers. They also went on outings, such as that to Windsor and Runnymede in 1958. The parish magazine was begun before 1915. The village hall held a Junior Church Guild evening for children aged 5 - 12 years in the 1950s. The hall also housed the Women’s Institute meetings. Various talks were given by guest speakers e.g. the NSPCC, but they also held competitions such as that for homemade marmalade and their favourite Christmas card!
Robin Tanner and his wife became residents of Kington Langley in 1931. He was an artist and etcher, born in 1904. His grandfather lived in Fitzhurse Farm but never married his grandmother, who was many years his junior. His father later became a craftsman in wood. His grandmother lived at a cottage in ‘The Barton’, Kington Langley. During the first half of the 20th century Robin’s grandmother’s two daughters lived at the Post Office which took up the front room of the house. ‘The counter was draped with a green plush cloth with tassels. Various official papers and packets were arranged along the mantelpiece along with family photos’. His aunt, only 5 years older than himself, delivered the post. Tanner spent his teenage years living in the village. He was majorly important in the development of British Art Education for children (he also worked as a teacher at Ivy Lane School, Chippenham). Both he and his wife (who was a writer), encouraged the work of children to be viewed as art in their own right. Many of Robin’s etchings were done at his house in the village and were of local scenes, such as the wicket gate into Sydney’s wood where the poet and clergyman Francis Kilvert often walked.