The parish of Milton Lilbourne is in the Vale of Pewsey and is around seven miles south of Marlborough and two east of Pewsey. It is long and narrow, and the main street running through the village of Milton Lilbourne bisects it as it runs north and south. Milton Lilbourne is the main settlement, but the hamlets of Fyfield (encompassing Milcot) to the east, and to the north of the Pewsey-Burbage road, Clench and Clench Common, make up the parish. The Packway lane, running almost parallel to the main street, forms the barrier with Easton. It is said to have been a packway from Plymouth to London. The majority of the parish is chalk, although there is clay with flint present on Clench Common to the north.
William Cobbett, a well known pamphleteer and journalist born in the 18th century, enthused over the idyllic setting. In his "Rural Rides" published in 1826, Cobbett said:
"The shepherd showed me the way towards Milton (Lilbourne): and at the end of about a mile, from the top of a very high part of the down, with a steep slope towards the valley, I first saw this Valley of the Avon [Pewsey Vale]; and a most beautiful sight it was! Great as my expectations have been, they were more than fulfilled. I delight in this sort of country; I sat upon my horse and looked over Milton, Easton (Royal) and Pewsey for half an hour, though I had not breakfasted."
He also found it interesting to note that a large field on Milton Hill farm was planted with swedes.
The growth of Milton Lilbourne occurred mainly in the 19th and 20th centuries. In the middle of the 19th century, new lanes to the west of the village were laid, and several houses and cottages built around them. A total of 15 houses and seven bungalows were built by the rural district council between 1947 and 1954. Essentially, there is the main original settlement including the church, the 19th century vicarage and King Hall, and then the later residential expansion.
Before joining the Pewsey Poor Law Union in 1835, Milton Lilbourne looked after its own poor. In 1775-76 the Milton Lilbourne parish spent £148 to relieve the poor. Spending was at its height in 1812-13 when £838 was spent on 69 adults at regular intervals.
Clench was once known as Wick, or Bromham Wick, in the Middle Ages. By the 13th century the name had changed to Clench. Four or five farmsteads were here, reducing to three in the 18th century. The farmhouse at Clench Farm was rebuilt in the 1800s.
Fyfield, the small hamlet to the south of Clench and west of Milton Lilbourne, has a manor which has stood from the Middle Ages, and in the 16th century was the centre of several small farms. The farms were replaced with the red bricked Fyfield House in the late 19th century. As of 1999, no other new houses had been built in Fyfield since 1809.
Milcot, within the Fyfield tithing, was probably once known as "Mulecote", meaning "cottage by the mill." This was later corrupted to "Milkhouse", and indeed the ponds nearby are known as Milkhouse water. These are likely to have been built for a mill (known as Milkhouse) and there was definitely one (perhaps two mills) operating in 1773; a steam mill was still working in the 1930s. Milkhouse water was then home for watercress beds and later became a trout farm.
In the Domesday Book there is references to three virgates of land held by two men.. The current church is though to have been established in 1179. The parish had 107 poll tax payers in1377. The population was 573 in 1810 and 709 in 1841. An early name for the area was Milton Abbas, probably because of church came under the jurisdiction of Cirencester Abbey. In 1297, Milton Lilbourne and Fyfield were considered part of nearby Savernake Forest. .
Some sources say King Edward I granted Milton Manor to John de Neville in 1282, who in turn gave the wardship to William Lillebon. Another source (The Victoria History of England: Wiltshire) suggests that in 1086 Milton Lilbourne belonged to a William de Falaise and it and the manor were passed down the family (de Curci by marriage) until the name Lillebon appears. It was then sold to the Cowdray family.
The Lillebon name became a significant feature in the growth of the village and it is believed that it is the basis of the name Lilbourne. The Lillebon family were at Milton Manor until the 15th century. The "Milton" part of the village's name probably comes from being in the middle of Easton and Pewsey; it was the "middle tun" (town). The origin of the Lillebon family is Lillebonne in Normandy, between Rouen and Le Havre.
After the Lillebon family's tenure at the Manor, it passed to the Richmond Webbs, who were descended from the famous London architect Inigo Jones. On the north east side there is a farm house called Upper Farm. This used to belong to the Edmonds family, who were London merchants and are said to have introduced mother of pearl buttons to the country.
The curiously named King Hall is explained by the employer of a previous resident. The current building replaced an earlier residence of Sir Walter Lillebon, who was Clerk of the Exchequer for Wiltshire for Edward II (hence the name of the house).
Havering House was once owned by Doctor Christopher Greene who was president of Magdalen College, Oxford. He died at the end of 17th century. The house was left to a nephew - Mr Brown- on the condition that Mr Brown paid £45 every year to the College for the maintenance of six choristers. Between the years of 1940 and 1945 a residential school for deaf and dumb Jewish children was installed at Havering House.
To the west of Milton Lilbourne is the hamlet of Fyfield, which was once the property of the noble family of Hungerford. George Ferris, when writing on a hearsay history of Milton Lilbourne in 1929, said he believed it had been possible for the Hungerford family to ride from Bath to Salisbury on their own land. Their main home was the castle of Farleigh Hungerford, five miles east of Bath, now home to professional rugby team Bath rugby. Fyfield Manor has been in the past known as The Wilderness and The Vineyard. A well known former resident was Lord Avon, the former Sir Anthony Eden, who lived there in the 1960s.
There are also several listed buildings, including the church, which is grade 2*. 1 and 2, Brewers Cottages in Clench, Fyfield Manor, Havering House, Milton Lodge, the Upper Farmhouse, The Old Bakery and The Manor House are all listed buildings.
Even the brick wall leading to Fyfield Manor and the manor's dovecote is grade 2.
Clench Common has been the site of discovery of some Neolithic and Bronze Age artefacts. There are also several barrows here. On Fyfield Hill, south west of Clench, a 100metre long barrow was excavated by Thurnam in 1865. This was known as "Giant's Grave" and revealed eight skeletons, one with a cleft skull. In 1958, pieces of Samian and Roman pottery, though to be from the 3rd and 4th centuries was found nearly 300 metres north of Giant's Grave. They are now in the Wiltshire Heritage Museum in Devizes.
Near to a farm on Milton Hill to the south were found five Bronze Age round barrows and they were investigated in depth in 1958; ploughing during World War II destroyed parts of some of the barrows. The farmer of Milton Hill felt that "the large bell-barrows constituted an insufferable impediment to agriculture, (so) excavation was sponsored by the Ancient Monuments Inspectorate of the Ministry of Works…It was requested that all the barrows be examined during the time available and that partial excavation techniques should be employed." (Wiltshire Archaeological Magazine, Volume 80, 1986).
Cremated bones and pottery were found, and in one barrow, a timber coffin.
Farming in the parish has been fairly evenly divided between arable and pastoral farming. By the 16th century the open arable land had been divided into six fields. These were known as East and West Sands, East and West Clay, and East and West Down. They were shared among Milton Manor, Havering Manor and the Rectory estate. Milton Manor also had several pasture fields for cattle to the north of the village. To the south the manor had some rough pasture for sheep.
Enclosure affected the village in the 17th and early 18th centuries, with the land in the northern portion divided up. In the later parts of the 18th century, Milton Lilbourne had around 440 acres of open fields. There was a milk round delivered by horse drawn float until 1930, run by a Mr Nelson. Milk was carried in a bucket to the door of houses. This was succeeded by Martin's Dairy.
Pre-World War II, there were several shops and businesses across the parish. In the 1920s and 1930s there were saddlers, undertakers and even a slaughterhouse. This slaughterhouse closed in 1939.
A regular feature was the charmingly named "muffin man" who travelled from Devizes to Pewsey and would walk over the fields to Milton Lilbourne to sell his wares. He arrived in the village with a tray of muffins on his head, ringing a hand bell to gain the attention of any hungry locals. He last appeared- perhaps poignantly- in 1939.
During World War II, a battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment were billeted in the village. The officers of the regiment stayed at Havering House. They gave a Christmas party in the village hall in 1944 and put on a pantomime for the locals. The regiment eventually went to fight in France, with many wounded. Some German POWs were sent to work at Lawn Farm, and were welcomed for their hard work and good English.
Homes in the parish were connected to electricity in 1953 and to mains water in 1956. The villagers had to wait until 1963 for mains drainage. The main street running through Milton Lilbourne became a conservation area in 1985 (this excluded Forge Close). This conservation area also applied to Fyfield. In 2006, the population of Milton Lilbourne was 512, according to Kennet District Council.