This village and parish lies at the foot of the north western scarp slope of Salisbury Plain, about five miles south of Devizes. It originally contained Easterton, now a separate civil parish, and Gore, now in West Lavington. The parish is long and narrow with Gault clay in the north, rising to a ridge of Upper Greensand at about 96 metres at Ledge Hill. This ridge is known as the Sands and was common land for many centuries. In the 18th century its light fertile soil provided suitable land for commercial orchards and market gardening. The Clays provided the raw material for a brick making industry from the 17th century to the mid 20th century. This area lay to the south of the village. Half the parish is on the chalk uplands that rises to about 200m on Lavington Hill. Many springs rise in the greensand in or near the village.Concise History: Wiltshire: A History of its Landscape and PeopleThis community has been included in John Chandler's on-going series and the full text is available here.
There are three important routes through the parish. The Ridgeway is at the top of the scarp slope of Salisbury Plain, half a mile south of the village, the Pewsey to Westbury road lies at the foot of the Plain, while the Devizes to Salisbury road went over the Plain until 1899. The village was originally Lavington, from the Saxon, but was called Steeple Lavington from 1242 at least, to distinguish it from West Lavington. This probably originally referred to the church steeple but after the market was granted it will have been ‘stapul’ a market, and was so referred to in 1316. By the later 14th century it was known as both East and Market Lavington. The main village now is along Church Street and the High Street, and there are several former farmhouses in, or near the village. This was chiefly a farming parish until the later 20th century, with sheep on the higher ground and corn grown on the clay and greensand. There was said to have been a good market for corn in the village in the early 18th century.
Evidence for substantial prehistoric settlement has only recently been discovered and this seems to indicate continuous occupation of the village since the Iron Age and maybe, near continuous occupation since late Neolithic times. Mesolithic flints and pottery had been found in the parish but the main area of settlement from Neolithic times is the springline on the Greensand ridge. Finds have been in the area of Grove Farm and the site of the church, to the west of the later medieval development of the village. Neolithic settlement is indicated by ditches at Grove Farm and artefacts from this area. Bronze Age ditches and boundaries also exist here and although there is, as yet, no evidence of Iron Age settlement the Roman evidence suggests such a settlement here before the Roman occupation.
Large quantities of Romano-British coins and other artefacts have been found in excavations to the north of the church, and although the occupation site was not excavated the indications are that it was of relatively high status, with quantities of high quality pottery remains found. Finds date from the third and fourth centuries and the indications are that the building was 4th century. It would be reasonable to suppose that this was the centre of a farming estate, similar to the one recently found at Bradford on Avon.
If this was the case then the estate was taken over by the Saxons as excavations in 1991 uncovered an Anglo-Saxon estate of the 5th century that was situated on the then western boundary of Saxon territory in this county. The economy seems to have been based on large flocks of sheep kept for their wool, but there is also much evidence of cattle kept for meat. The estate dates from the early occupation of the 5th century and there is a Pagan Saxon cemetery with burials from the 5th to the 7th centuries. A total of 42 graves were excavated but the indications are that there were more and other, probably later, cemeteries. Large amounts of pottery shards were recovered, indicating occupation in the early, middle and late Saxon periods. From evidence of the grave goods, and the fact that horses were kept, we know that this was a prosperous community of reasonably high social status. Bone finds indicate that cattle, goats, pigs, fowls and geese were all kept for food, while wild deer were hunted. Saxon settlement was on the brow of the greensand ridge and seems to have moved along it at different times. The areas of the churchyard and the garden of the Old House are settlement sites. There could well have been a wooden Saxon church on the site of the present one and it is also likely that there was a Roman building in this prominent position.
We can get a picture of the size of the settlement from the entry in the Domesday Book (1086). The manor was held by Robert Marescal (the Marshal) and had land for ten plough teams. There were two mills, 20 acres of meadow, 12 acres of woodland, and pasture of about one mile by one mile. The population of this estate was between 150 and 180 people and it is likely that many of them would have lived at the village site.
A stone church was built in the 12th century and it is possible that around this time the settlement shifted from the higher ground near the church to the present Church Street and High Street to the east. The manor was divided between the de la Mare and Rochelle families and despite one dispute the families seem to have been amiable. It seems likely that the Rochelles held the land that included the village as a market charter was granted to Richard Rochelle in 1254 along with the right to hold a fair on the eve, feast (15 August) and morrow of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. By 1830 the fair was held on 10 August and it still exists. The market place is some distance to the east of the church and it seems reasonable to suppose that it was created among the new building plots of the medieval expansion.
In the early 14th century a possible manor house was built, the hall of which is now incorporated in the Old House. There was a chapel at Gore where there were 12 poll tax payers in 1377. Market Lavington was prosperous in the 14th century and the number of 252 poll tax payers (people over 14 years) here was only five less than Chippenham. There were merchants in the parish and the settlement can be regarded as a small town. From 1368 Edington Priory held one of the manors. By the 15th century a fulling mill was working in the parish and cloth working was carried out in the 16th century, although not a great deal of evidence for this remains. After the Dissolution both manors were in the hands of the Baynton family.
Several houses in the High Street date from the 16th century or early 17th century and were refronted at a later date; these include the King’s Arms. The eastern end of the village has been known as Townsend from at least the 16th century and was probably settled at an earlier date. By 1620 there were eight inns or alehouses and brick making was a village industry by 1662. Bricks were sold at 1/4d (about 7p) per 100 and brick making continued in the parish until the mid 20th century.
By the 18th century there were orchards and market gardens on the light fertile soils in the parish and prosperity was aided by a thriving malting industry. Many houses were refronted in local red brick and the village houses took on their present day appearance instead of the timber framing of earlier centuries. Clyffe Hall was built in 1737; the wings were added between 1812 and 1850 while there were more additions in c.1899 and 1904. In 1756 there were eight public houses and these included the Angel (known as the Green Dragon by 1822) and the Bell (burnt down in 1880). Towards the end of the 18th century Lord Radnor acquired both the Market Lavington manors.
By 1817 Fiddington House, between the villages of Market Lavington and Easterton, had become a private lunatic asylum, housing comparatively well off patients. Palm House in the High Street, had previously been used for this purpose on a smaller scale. By 1822 the Kings Arms and the New Inn (renamed the Drummer Boy from 1972) had appeared in the village. There were still extensive malthouses (the last one closed c.1883) and a brewery, which closed in 1920. By 1838 a post office had been established in the Green Dragon. Agricultural implements were made from c.1835 to the end of the 19th century. Local roads had been turnpiked in the 18th century but opposition locally to the charges, led by Amram Saunders of Russell Mill, achieved the removal of the turnpike gates by forming a subscription list to buy out the gates.
The population was increasing and in the 1840s the parish vestry was very concerned about the insanitary state of the village, forming itself into a board of health to cope with the problems. Population peaked in the 1851 and then went into decline until 1921, when it began to rise again. The market was last held in the 1850s, although it had been a very small one for many years as Devizes had been the main local market for some centuries. New buildings were going up in the village in the 1860s. Edward Pleydell-Bouverie built the Manor House, in a rambling Tudor style in local red brick with stone dressings, at a cost of £67,000. He was the first lord of the manor who we are certain actually lived here. The Manor House was designed by Ewan Christian and is now a part of Dauntsey’s School. Estate cottages were also built and a rackets court (now ‘Fives Court’) in Parsonage Lane. In 1865 Edward Saunders built the Workman’s Hall stipulating the strictest temperance rules in its usage. In 1867 the Manor Estate installed a hydraulic ram at Broadwell to provide water to the manor and some farmhouses. This was to cause problems of supply to other users over the next 60 years.
The brick and tile making industry was still thriving and in 1868 Samuel Saunders established a small fruit preserving factory at Easterton; this expanded later in the century. Another local industry was dewpond making, with Tom Smith in the later 19th century and Charles Smith in the first part of the 20th century. Two substantial events affected the village in the second half of the 19th century. In 1862 on 2 September a violent storm caused a flash flood with water six feet deep in the High Street for a few minutes. In 1881 the great Wiltshire snowstorm lasted for 36 hours from 18 January and left snow three feet deep in the village. Changes in the parish included the opening of a horse drawn bus service to Devizes in 1872, Easterton becoming a separate parish in 1874, and Gore being transferred to West Lavington in 1884. Between 1897 and 1911 over 2,000 acres of the parish was acquired by the War Department for artillery ranges on Salisbury Plain. In 1899 this caused the closure of the main Devizes to Salisbury road across the Plain and its re-routing through West Lavington.
Another form of transport came to the parish in 1900 when the railway line from Patney and Chirton Junction to Westbury was opened across the northern part of the parish. Lavington Station was built in West Lavington. The Black Dog, which was open by 1841, closed in 1900 and its licence was transferred to the new public house at the railway station. Early in the 20th century Charles Awdry, of the Manor House, laid out a cricket ground at South Park and several first class matches were played here. The village hall was built in 1912. Market Lavington responded patriotically to the Great War and in 1915 the Weekly Despatch proposed presenting a medallion to the village for having such a high percentage of men at the front.
After the war council houses were built in the village. Eight were put up at Townsend in 1924 and a private village refuse collection was introduced in the same year. Mains electricity was brought to the village in 1927 and street lighting provided in 1928. Also in that year the Alban private housing estate was built on the Spring. The Manor House became part of Dauntsey’s School in 1929, while in the 1930s there were council housing developments on both sides of Spin Hill and at Northbrook. There was still no mains water supply, although it was said that there were 150 wells, apart from the supply at Broadwell, and in 1935 the residents voted 211 to 45 against a mains water supply. However this was provided in 1937. After the Second World War council houses were built at the foot of Lavington Hill, at Townsend and at Northbrook. In 1948/9 street nameplates were put up in the village centre and village name signs on the village approaches.
In 1950 the agricultural engineers A. S. Wordley & Co. came to the village. Expansion followed and c.1967 they became Wiltshire Agricultural Engineering Co. Ltd. In the 1950s the M.O.D. bought part of the grounds of Fiddington House and built married quarters. By 1958 houses around the Market Place had been demolished (only two remained afterwards) and council housing and old people’s bungalows were built by 1959. The local fire brigade was superseded in 1953. In 1956 the whole village was connected to mains sewerage; a boost for future housing developments. Big changes occurred in 1962. South Park and the former cricket ground became the site for the new secondary modern school, while Fiddington House closed, was demolished, and the site used for more housing, renamed Fiddington Clays.
After much dispute as to its ownership the old Market Place was tarmacked for use as a car park. Between 1968 and 1970 private houses were built at Bouverie Drive, and the eastern side of Parsonage Lane. A playground, with play equipment, was provided. In 1970 the brickworks’ site was bought by Systems and Components Ltd. A new primary school for Market Lavington and Easterton was built near the parish boundary and the two original schools closed. Also that year yellow lines to prevent parking appeared on the village roads. A youth club opened in the old school in 1974 while a playing field with sports pavilion opened at Drove Lane at a cost of £19,000. From 1978 the parish council provided a Christmas tree in the Market Place. In 1984 the old school became the Market Lavington Museum and has been very successful ever since, with Peggy Gye being the leading figure in its creation and expansion. Also in 1984 the playing field was renamed Elisha Field, in memory of Mr. W. Elisha, who had been chairman of the parish council for 23 years. The village hall was disposed on in 1991 and in that year the largest housing estate in the village was started with work beginning on the Grove Farm estate. Today Market Lavington is a thriving populous village, with several shops, a library, a museum, and many local organisations.