North Wraxall, Upper Wraxall, Ford, Mountain Bower and The Shoe are all grouped together as one parish; that being North Wraxall. North Wraxall is the main settlement, as that is where the parish church of St James is located. However, it is interesting to note another church was built in Ford in 1896, yet it remained as a place of worship for less than 100 years. The parish borders Gloucestershire in the west and still stands as one of the smaller parishes in Wiltshire. The parish road uniting Upper Wraxall and North Wraxall runs parallel to the main road and crosses the Fosse Way midway between the hamlet and the church; the Fosse Way runs through the centre of the entire parish.
The name North Wraxall originated from ‘Wroxall’. It was derived from ‘wroc’ either meaning buzzard or a personal name and ‘healh’ seen as an angle or corner. It has also been titled Werocheshalle (1086), Wrockeshale (1229), Wrokeshal (1289), Wraxhal’ (1300), Northwroxhall (1468). The 1468 title signified the separation of Wraxall into North and South, the South now stands as a different parish some miles away.
North Wraxall is located away from any major towns and is quite sheltered by surrounding woodland, these being: Chantry Wood, Bond’s Wood (1513) and Cullimore’s Wood (1642). The latter named so after those who held the land: Court Close Farm, Manor Farm and Middle Farm in North Wraxall; Upper Farm in Upper Wraxall and Maggs Grove Farm in Mountain Bower. The Manor Farm was known as ‘Lower Farm’ 300 or so years prior; this unites with the still existing Middle Farm and Upper Farm and together these three would have constituted the ancient demesne of the manor. The emphasis in the area was evidently on agriculture and in consequence a farming community dictated the way in which people lived. This would explain why the settlements are scattered; the land that separated them was farmland. Another way to earn a living would have been working in the Malt House situated not too far from the Rectory of North Wraxall where barley from the fields would have been malted for brewing. Early Kelly’s directories also indicate a post office and school being in the village; however many of the buildings are now residential properties.
The Domesday Book states that the North Wraxall estate was held by Baldwin in the reign of King Edward prior to the Norman Conquest, but from 1086, when the population would have been around 140 to 150 people, it was held by Godfrey who ultimately received all the revenue. The name Godfrey de Wrokeshale often occurs in Wiltshire deeds. John Aubrey, the 17th century writer, took the meaning from the Domesday Book to imply that Wraxall was a commandery prior to the 1600s. However, that title was given solely to any dwelling and land that belonged to the priory of St. John of Jerusalem with the governor of the house being the commander. Unfortunately Aubrey’s authority for saying that there was one in Wraxall is not known and so it still remains ambiguous. At the time of Edward the Confessor the parish was assessed at 7 hides and successive generations worked this land throughout the succeeding centuries. By the 1870s the chief crops grown were barley and wheat; this had probably been the main cultivation since the 11th century. The population in 1871 was 483 which had fallen to 302 in 1931.
The Wroxhall family’s ownership of the parish (mentioned before in connection with Godfrey de Wrokeshale) appeared for the last time in 1351 when Ralph de Brokenbourough became Lord of the Manor, and patron of the church in 1361. In 1390 this was taken over by the Cervingtons of Longford. A son of the family then sold the manor and advowson to Thomas Yonge, M.P., Recorder of Bristol, and afterwards Chief Justice of the King’s Bench; he died 1477. Of this family were the Yonges of Colleton and Chief Justice Yonge had a son, Thomas. In 1506 the manor and the advowson belonged to William Malet Esquire of Enmore, in right of his wife Alice, daughter and heir of Thomas Yonge. Their son Hugh then became owner in 1525 followed by Richard Malet’s son Thomas in 1569.
There had been divisions of the original manor as early as 1406, when Edmund Ford of Swainswick, had received one third of it and was consequently presented to the rectory and chantry. This portion was then taken into the hands of the Blounts of Bitton and Magotsfield. Their heiress then married Sir John Hussey and from here the lands and advowson were purchased in 1530 by William Button of Alton Priors. William’s descendant, Sir Robert Button, sold everything he had (bar the advowson) to William Grove of Broad Chalk in 1667. In turn he sold it on to Mr James Wallis in 1682 and it was from here that it descended into the ownership of the Methuen family. The advowson was then passed by the heiress of the Button family to Mr Walker, and onto G.H.W Heneage of Compton Bassett. It then passed to Oriel College, Oxford.
There is a certain amount of evidence in the area suggesting early century settlements. Neolithic flint tools and Iron Age brooches were found in the surrounding area of Truckle Hill and Wraxall Park in 1985. Alongside this; medieval cultivation terraces, coins and the base of a medieval cross have also been discovered to the West of the parish in Upper Wraxall.
At the north east boundary of the parish, where it is separated from Castle Combe by a small valley, the remains of a Roman villa were discovered in 1859 on Truckle Hill. The site extends over 130 feet by 30 feet and contains 16 separate rooms with numerous passages covering an area of land over 2 or 3 acres. The site is in the field owned, at the time, by Lord Methuen and was commonly known as the ‘ Coffin Ground’ after the discovery of a Roman stone coffin being unearthed in the centre of the field and left for numerous years. Eventually a farmer in the 1850s decided to remove the coffin and hence the remains of the Roman Villa were discovered. The field showed remains of stone tile, burnt tile, black, red and blue pottery, all indicating buildings belonging to the Roman era. One of the main buildings showed evidence of 5 small rooms that contained hypocausts (hot air flues) which suggested Roman bathrooms. To support this, flue pipes of terracotta were found with patterns scored into three sides; whether this is for ornamental effect or simply because it made the mortar adhere better is unclear from the findings. Two furnaces were also unearthed which would have supplied the hot water to each of the bathing rooms and near to these, adjoining the main bath rooms, were discoveries of Sudatoriums or ‘sweating baths’. Of this same building, the eastern side of the grounds showed evidence of possibly having small open courts where guests would have been entertained.
In one of the grander chambers of this Roman Villa occurred a small space, possibly for a cupboard, and it was here that an earthenware lipped bowl and glass funnel were discovered. The lipped bowl would have been a common implement used for grating down grain or mixing paste whilst the glass funnel is very rarely met with; in 1859 not even the British Museum possessed one from the Roman era. In another chamber, three undisturbed pots or pipkins were found of the black variety, suggesting they had contained some kind of food and were placed upright for culinary purposes.
Overall several different remnants of human life were found at the site. The first body was buried full length within a stone sarcophagi fitted with a heavy cover, lying north to south; the second lying East to West buried in a grave dug 5 feet deep into the rock in a wooden coffin; another was a cremation found in an urn, while three found within the well shaft. All of this indicates a lapse of time between the burials and between the construction of several tombs. Interestingly, the well shaft also produced rubble of stone architecture resembling the Lower Empire style and many buildings would have had such decoration. The Romans did in fact chose to build using heavy stone tiles from the schistose sandstone of the coal formation from the Vale of Severn instead of the lighter forest marble that was readily available. This was evidently done on purpose to ensure the safety and protection of their buildings and family by using a stronger stone.
To date, findings from the site have included plenty of pottery, 20-30 Roman coins, numerous medals, working tools, wall monuments, several rings, two spoons, and a hair pin.
In 1801, the population was at 304, rising to 324 by 1811 and 345 in 1821. There was a sudden boom by 1831 to 415; this population continually rose up to 483 in 1871 when it peaked and then steadied with 454 by 1881. In 1891 there was a drop to 371 possibly due to movement of people into the towns and larger villages after a time of agricultural depression. There was then a steady increase at the beginning of the 20th century, however this declined to 312 in 1921 following the casualties of the First World War. The rest of the 20th Century remained fairly constant with the population being 348 in 2001.
Ford, recorded as Forde (1249), is so called for being a road or passage, whether over a stream or on dry land. Anglo Saxons adopted it to solely mean a road through water. It is the second largest settlement of the parish and was once a vital part of the working community for it is here that the brooks meet. Of the two Domesday mills one, probably both, would almost certainly have been at Ford. Originally used for grinding corn one is likely to have become a fulling mill for the cloth industry by late medieval times.. However, with the introduction of the steam engine in the around 1800 and the concentration of the cloth industry in towns, the mill’s purpose changed again to be used for grinding corn. By the early 20th Century there was a depletion of any industry and the hamlet became reliant on the brewery and paper manufacturer in the neighbouring parish of Slaughterford.
Many buildings here date back to the 1800s, built to accommodate the workers of the village. The pub, The White Hart Inn, dates even further back to the 17th century with some 19th centurye xtensions and alterations The ‘White Hart’name is one of the earliest pub names and can be tracked from the reign of Richard I. Most of the industrial buildings have now been converted into residential use.
There is also a sense of ambiguity surrounding the road that passes through the centre of Ford; it is unclear when people began using this A20 route. Possibly it was a turnpike road with a toll being received from the 17th century onwards. When roads such as these were created, many settlements moved to accommodate the route; however, this does not seem to be the case in Ford as many of the houses face the smaller by-road.
Upper Wraxall occupies the far west of the Parish; it is often referred to as ‘West Wraxall’ in many ancient deeds, and is on the direct with Gloucestershire. It is situated just a mile from the church of St. James in the centre of North Wraxall, measured along a parish road uniting the two hamlets. The houses here are positioned around a pond and to the west of this communal area is the base of a medieval cross. Francis Harrison, a man who was devoted to North Wraxall and the church, believed that it was one of the crosses assembled to mark the spots at which St Aldhelm’s body rested for a night when, after his death at Doulting; it was being transferred for burial at the Abbey of Malmesbury. Although only the base remains, it is clear to see that the structure would have been grand.
Just on the outskirts of Upper Wraxall lies Wraxall Park, here there is ‘Keeper’s Cottage.’ Dated from 1847, the cottage was built for the Methuen Estate as a gamekeeper’s cottage for the use of the family when they partook in hunting.
Mountain Bower and The Shoe
Mountain Bower, along with The Shoe, are the two smaller hamlets of North Wraxall. Mountain Bower, also spelt Mouneton, Monuton or Moninton (1608), is ultimately derived from Monkton and aptly named after the monks who owned the land before the monasteries were dissolved under Henry VIII. The hamlet is about a mile from the church of St. James, away from the main roads, and on the very edge of the parish. Interestingly it is not marked on the 1773 map, however another small settlement named Shrub is present. In the height of the parish’s peak population Mountain Bower was at 65, however this had declined to 32 by 1901.
The Shoe is named after the Inn, ‘The Horse-Shoe’ that once provided accommodation for travellers and refreshment for the village. It is situated three-quarters of a mile from the church of St. James, and lies at the intersection of the Fosse Way and the main road from Bristol to London. Like Mountain Bower, it was not marked on the 1773 map.