The village of Longbridge Deverill is part of the Deverill valley. This encompasses six villages on the Wiltshire Downs where the western edge of Salisbury Plain dips into Somerset. Longbridge is the principle village and its parish includes neighbouring Crockerton. The other Deverills are Hill, now in Longbridge parish, Brixton, Monkton and Kingston
The name Deverill refers to the River Deverill, which flows through the whole valley. It rises to the west of Kingston Deverill and flows north, passing through the six villages. At Crockerton it meets the Shearwater Stream and becomes the River Wylye. The name Deverill literally means ‘diving rill’. There are points along its route where it peters out and flows underground, hence the disappearing rill or stream.
The names Long-bridge and Hill are obvious. Brixton is named after an early landholder. Crockerton is named after a person, or potters in general. Monkton means Monk’s Farm and Kingston goes back to the Conquest, after which the land was owned by the Crown.
The valley has been continuously inhabited by farming people since at least 3500 B.C. The first settlements were on high ground, as this was drier and easier to clear. Archaeological evidence has been found on Cold Kitchen Hill, possibly a Celtic name meaning Hill of the Wizard. Another suggestion is that the site was given this name after it was abandoned – a cold kitchen because no one lived there. There was also a settlement at Pertwood Down.
There are three long barrows in the valley. Two are over 100 yards in length, one on Cold Kitchen Hill, the other on Pertwood Down. The third is much smaller, on the lower slopes of Cold Kitchen Hill. A round barrow on Middle Hill in Kingston Deverill was found to contain a rare and beautiful necklace made of a glass-like substance found in the Baltic. This provides proof of trade between Wessex and the continent.
The first evidence of organised villages is around 600 B.C. An Iron Age site is on Cow Down at Longbridge Deverill. The settlement on Cold Kitchen Hill was occupied until c350 B.C. Another Iron Age site is near Keysley Farm between Kingston Deverill and Pertwood.
The valley continued to be both active and important during Roman times. Two Roman roads crossed at the ford at Kingston Deverill. One was the ancient lead road from Portchester and the other from Poole. The two join at the boundary between Monkton and Kingston Deverill. There were probably Roman villages at Longbridge, Hill, Monkton, Kingston and Lower Pertwood.
There is a strong connection with King Alfred, and his famous battle against the Danes at Ethandun. Alfred gathered his forces together at two meeting places, and it is possible that one of these was Court Hill at Kingston Deverill. There are three Sarsen Stones in a field next to the church, which were found by a farmer on King’s Court Hill. It is said that King Egbert held court here. Local tradition says that Alfred climbed neighbouring King’s Hill to view the enemy’s position. It is therefore quite possible that Alfred used these Sarsen Stones on King’s Court Hill as a meeting point.
Prior to the Reformation, the Church was the main landowner in the Valley. At Domesday William the Conqueror confiscated much land from the English nobility, but left the holdings of the Church well alone. Longbridge, Crockerton and Monkton belonged to the Abbots of Glastonbury from the 10th century. After the Reformation they were bought by Sir John Thynne and sold in the 1940s to help pay death duties. Brixton was held by the French Abbey of Bec. During the 1440s it passed to King’s College until 1941. The Ludlows owned Kingston and Hill from the 16th century and 15th century respectively. This family was to become well known as supporters of the Roundheads during the Civil War. Lt. Gen. Edmund Ludlow was one of the signatories of the death warrant of Charles I. Lord Weymouth bought these lands in 1737, bringing the whole valley into Thynne ownership.
Until 1970 there were churches open for worship in all five of the Deverill villages. These small communities had been supporting their own churches since the 12th century if not before. By the end of the 19th century there were also five chapels in the villages. It is a credit to the communities that the five churches survived so long.
The precise ages of the churches in the valley are difficult to ascertain. Archaeological evidence, Saxon charters and the Domesday Survey all suggest that wattle churches stood in the five villages during the Saxon period. The earliest documentary evidence tells us that the churches which stand today at Hill and Longbridge, albeit greatly altered over the many centuries of their existence, had already been built by 1130. The remaining three churches date from the late 13th and 14th centuries. As with most churches in Wiltshire, all five underwent considerable restoration during the 19th century. At Crockerton the Baptist community was the oldest in the Warminster area. The chapel was built during the late 17th century. A Congregational chapel was built for the Jupe family of Bull Mill in the mid 19th century. Holy Trinity Church was built at the same time.
Most of the cottages in Longbridge Deverill are situated on the road to Sutton Veny. The church, almshouses and site of the former Manor House are on the main road. The Almshouses were given by Sir James Thynne of Longleat in 1665, with rooms for six men and two women. The building has been made into three flats.
In 1600 a Manor House stood on the Warminster Road, just north of the church, built by the Thynnes. No trace remains except the rear wall. It is a sturdy wall, kept in good repair, as local tradition states that the Thynne family will flourish as long as the wall is cared for. The story is that a Jewish pedlar cursed the family, threatening them with extinction if the wall is ever allowed to collapse.
At Hill Deverill there is a Manor House which was occupied by the Ludlow family in the 17th century. Their coat of arms is still visible on the Tithe barn, built c. 1500. It is also over the door of 86 Monkton Deverill.
Among the buildings of interest in Crockerton is Bull Mill. This is a large house of rubble stone, built mainly in the 15th and 16th centuries. It belonged to the owner of the Mill across the river Wylye with the same name. There are also numerous listed buildings in the villages, including several cottages and houses built in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Until World War II the main source of employment in the valley was farming. The chalkland is excellent for growing corn, and large numbers of sheep were kept to fertilize the soil. By combining the growing of crops with keeping cows and sheep, making cheese and butter and selling milk, the farmers have always managed to make a living.
The residents of Crockerton, as its name suggests, made their living mainly from pottery. The village is situated on an area of Gault clay, and there were potters in Crockerton as far back as the 13th century. During the 19th century the industry declined and two families moved to brick making. One of the clay pits was on the site of the ornamental lake at the Lakeside Garden Centre. Bull Mill, also in Crockerton, was a successful cloth and later silk mill, which ran from the 15th century until 1894, employing 200 people in 1848 and 300 in 1855.
At the time of the Domesday survey the estimated population figure for the whole valley is 680. The largest community was Monkton with approximately 285 residents, and Kingston Deverill the smallest with only 34. Hill Deverill was divided into five separate holdings, and supported a population twice that of Longbridge, although both were of similar size and value. Monkton was twice the size of Kingston and had land for nine ploughs as opposed to Kingston’s three. The whole situation had changed greatly by the time of the next survey in 1676, when Longbridge was by far the largest community, with Kingston in second place. This pattern has remained constant ever since. Reasons for the larger size of Longbridge could be its position at the lower end of the valley, adjacent to the north –south river valley, the greater amount of flatter land, the influence of the Thynne family, or a combination of any of these.
During the 18th century the population figure for the whole country rose dramatically, and the end of the Napoleonic Wars produced a large number of discharged soldiers. The result was a huge labour surplus, to which the Deverill valley was not immune. Wages were reduced, and many families suffered great hardship. The Parish Officers decided that one option was to help people to emigrate. This began in the 1820s with 100 people going to America. More left in 1861, some going to Canada or New South Wales. Longbridge alone lost 181 people. Despite this emigration and some people moving to the towns, village life in the 19th century for those left behind remained essentially the same. The valley continued to be self sufficient with its farms and dairies, and villagers exchanged goods such as eggs or vegetables. In general this was a healthy place to live, although there was an outbreak of cholera. The doctors visited once a week, coming from Mere or Horningsham. The introduction of the road wagon during the late 18th century saw the arrival of carriers and village shops. Two turnpike roads were built one from Heytesbury to Bruton, the other from East Knoyle to Warminster, meeting at the George Hotel.
As the 20th century approached, life continued at a steady, unhurried pace. The summer of 1914 changed this forever. With the loss of so many young lives in the Great War, small village communities were deeply affected. However, day to day life in the valley changed very little. Farming was still efficient and jobs were available, if not particularly well paid. Plenty of men were happy to accept the benefits of a cheap house and garden. Things changed in 1922 when the price of corn slumped. Agriculture went into depression and many men left the land. The arrival of the telephone and the charabanc both helped to broaden horizons. Mains water and electricity were brought to the north of the valley in the mid 1930s, but did not reach the south until after World War Two.
The Second World War brought great change. The country needed to produce more food for itself, but the lack of manpower meant that farming methods had to be improved. The engine quickly replaced the horse, and American equipment was easily available on the lease-lend scheme. The result was that farms previously employing 30 men could now be run by six. A lot of men left the land. Not only was the work not available, but they were no longer content with such a remote lifestyle. Those who stayed expected better living conditions, which prompted a new house building programme funded by farmers and the council.
Today, many villages lack a community spirit simply because they do not have enough willing volunteers, and because people do not stay in the village long enough to help create a sense of community. However, the Deverill valley still has three churches, two pubs and a school. There is a garage with a Post Office, two small trading estates at Crockerton and nearby Sutton Veny, and a vineyard.