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.
Biddestone lies in the hundred of Chippenham, three miles to the west. It was a Saxon village, its name most likely deriving from a Saxon settler Beidin. Other spellings have been Bedereston (1187), Buddeston (1215, 1428), Byddeston (1339, 1523), Biddeston (1339) and Biedestone (1297). The parish of Biddestone also includes the village of Slaughterford to the west. The parish is in the rural deanery of Chippenham, the archdeaconry of North Wiltshire and the Diocese of Bristol.
In 1085 'Bedestone' belonged to Humphrey de L'Ilsle (before this Alvanic the Saxon). It had two manors, two churches and two parishes. In the Norman to late Tudor period the manors appeared separate. In 1616 they had become one and all the land passed from the Mompessons to Sir Gilbert Prynne of Allington. It was not until a local Government Order of 1844 that the parishes of Biddestone and Slaughterford were amalgamated. Matilda gave the Church tithes of Biddestone St Nicholas to the Priory of Monkton Farleigh which also held the Slaughterford tithes. In 1316 Edmund Gascelyn of Sheldon held the Manor but not the priory lands. He sold it to Lord Hungerford who was executed by Henry VIII and the property was confiscated. In 1536 after the Dissolution all rights were held by the Crown and it was then sold to William Mountjoy in 1626. In 1661 Mr Mountjoy made a gutter from the springs and put the water from the streets into a pond. A spring opened near the Manor House which was called the 'Holy well'. John Cox was Lord of the Manor from 1739-51. He was Warden of Winchester and New College, Oxford. The Methuens acquired Biddestone property in 1785 and Corsham Court holds records of Biddestone from 1511 to 1855.
The administration of Biddestone was overseen by the churchwardens, overseers and way-wardens. Vestry meetings took place in the Church, School and sometimes the White Horse Inn. The church wardens' accounts were looked at and there were references to the maintenance of the roads. In 1555 way-men or surveyors of roads were appointed to look after the repair of the roads instead of the Lords of the Manor. Aubrey noted of the village "heretofore nothing but religious houses, now nothing but Quakers and fanatics. A sour woodsere country and inclines people to contemplation so that and the Bible and ease (for it is now all up with dairy grazing and cloathing) set their wills a running and reforming".
The soil is of brash with the subsoil blue marl. In 1742 the home fields were enclosed for Paul Methuen Esquire and the remaining land of Biddestone was finally enclosed in 1811. The County Council took over the running of the parish in 1888. Due to the Local Government Act of 1894 Biddestone had a parish council. In 1904 the chief crops were wheat, barley and pasture. The area was 1,845 acres and the population 457. There was a population of around 400 in 1915.
Biddestone is a squared village. Most buildings are two to three story Georgian facades in ashlar with stone tiled roofs. The village is within the Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Buildings on the Green include a 16th century private house which was once a cloth factory worked by Flemings. In Cuttle Lane there are 18th century cottages of probable 16th century origin and a 17/18th century farmhouse with early 17th century origins. It has ashlar dressings and the lower part has double Roman Clay tiles, partly demolished.
The 17th Century Elm Cottage to the west of the pond is thatched with a porch added, dated 1778 with an inscribed pediment. The Old Forge was an original seventeenth century blacksmith's shop and adjoining cottage. The original ground floor room to the west of the East porch was once a passageway giving access to the well. Pool House is a seventeenth century farmhouse with a very early original doorway, partially blocked up. It was completely refurbished in 1938. There is a gazebo in the east corner of the garden of early 18th century origin. The farmhouse has ashlar walls with a stone tiled pyramidal roof. The late 17th century Manor farmhouse has an L-shaped plan and a hipped roof. Platt mentioned a building near it called 'the barracks', Cromwell's troops were supposed to have been quartered there during the Civil War. In the early 20th century Blake HJD and Sons, farmers and malsters, owned the house. On the Corsham Road there is Cromwell House with a stone barn that has now become a dwelling.
Biddestone manor is an 18th century red brick house with stone dressings and gables. It has a gazebo, garden wall, dovecote, stable and priest's house of early 17th century with a possible earlier origin. The barn has a date stone '1705 Mover W and E for W and E Mountjoy'. The south elevation of the house is 16/17th century.
The 18th century Biddestone Arms pub is whitewashed. There is an oolitic limestone paving outside the door. Willow House was built in 1730 by Samuel Albourne, a malster. It was made of good quality Bath stone but of modest architectural design and extended in 1908 and 1982. There was original 1730 panelling in the dining room. The 1908 library was built as a smoking room. Parts of the outbuildings were sold off in the 1960's and the original house fittings were destroyed. It is gradually being restored in the late 20th century. Gable cottage is of 18th century design with three gables added in the 1920's. There was also a reading room on the Green. By the 1920s it had become a private house. The Butts takes its name from the archery butts just beyond Mountjoy farm. 18th century estate cottages of rubble stone with brick chimney and thatched or stone tile roofs are found there. Mountjoy Farm has its origin in the 18th century but there have been 19th century extensions. It is of squared rubble stone. There is also a 17th century barn. A pair of 18th century cottages occupy the lane leading north from the green. During WWII it was the village HQ for the Home guard (LDV). Other 18th century houses include one with a hipped slate roof with a malt house to the rear with a mansard roof and the White Horse Inn. There is also a mill cottage dated 1720 of squared rubble stone. Presumably it originally housed one of the saw mills in the village.
The school was built on glebe land in the 1840's when the tithe barn was demolished. The school cottage is again of ashlar blocks and a slate roof. It was originally an 18th century barn. The 19th century Elm Lodge is a four square Victorian House at the west end of the Green, marked 1878 on the porch. Opposite is the turnpike cottage, built in the 18th century. Next to it is a circular roofed shelter built over a pump. It is stone tiled with a wooden frame. The Church Row houses are mid 19th century cottages of oolitic limestone and Bridgewater tile roofs. The Church itself had Saxon foundations but it mostly of Norman design with work in the Chancel arch, Font, south doorway. The original church is the present chancel. The sanctuary was built in the 19th century with stone taken from St Peters. The Rectory is built of oolitic limestone and ashlar with a slate roof. The original garden dates from the 1930's and has been restored in the late 20th century. In Cuttle Lane the Baptist Chapel is dated 1832 and made of ashlar and rubble stone with a slate hipped roof, unusual for the local area. The 19th century Ebeneezer Baptist Chapel, now known as the Biddestone Baptist Chapel, is situated on the Green.
The pond provided water for animals, steam engines and wagon wheels to soak in warm weather so that the iron bonds didn't come loose.
Houses for agricultural workers were built from 1937 to the 1940's. The council houses and bungalows were built in the 1950's, all away from the centre of the village.
In 1907 charity of £18 yearly was left by Lady James for clothes and coal at Christmas. W Little left £5 for the poor at Christmas. Industry in the village included farmers, malsters, corn merchants, basket maker, saddler, baker, shop keeper, saw mills, timber merchants, carpenter, agricultural implement maker, smith and ironmonger and the sole manufacturer of Attwood's prize ploughs! The shop keeper for part of the nineteenth century was Mrs Mackie, but the shop was so small she could only have two customers in at a time. By the mid 20th century there was no baker, basket maker, saddler, carpenter or wheelwright. Forty men were employed making agricultural implements. Electricity was installed in 1937. In 1956 there were no shops and the farms and saw mills were the main employers. Other villagers worked in Chippenham and Corsham. There was still a post office in the 1970's and a sports pavilion was situated on the Yatton Keynell Road. The school closed in 1998.
Village events such as the Choral Festival occurred every year when wagons were decorated with poles and wreaths of lilac and laburnum. They journeyed to Grittleton, Yatton Keynell, Corsham and Chippenham with tea and a drive home. The Forrester's and Oddfellow's Societies marched to Church in their sashes and badges and had a dinner, held at the school. On the green were swing boats, merry-go-rounds and coconut shies. There was a Harvest Thanksgiving Festival on the green with apples, pears, walnuts, hazel nuts and blackberries.
In 1864 to 1881 Miss Mary Fairbrother lived with her grandfather the Reverend John Emra, Rector of Biddestone. She wrote about Biddestone and Slaughterford, its churches and people very fondly. She loved the primroses in Beccles Wood, the snowdrops on Slaughterford rocks and the bluebells at the back of "Bushy Barrows".
The name Slaughterford is a compound of old the English slah-pom, meaning sloe thorn/bush and ford. Others suggest it may have meant 'Ford of Slates', from the limestone strata where the tiles or slates were made. There have been other spellings of the name, Slactoneford (1176), Slaghteneford (1298), Slagtonford(1395), Slaghtynford (1446), Slawztenford (1532), Slawtenford (1552, 1590) and Slatterford (1682).
An old Roman settlement was situated on the site of Slaughterford, and it is reported to be the scene of King Alfred's victory over the Danes after their defeat at the Battle of Ethandun (possibly at the ford). Slaughterford lies at an angle of the valley between Castle Coombe and Box, above the By Brook in a wooded valley.
The tithes and Manor of Slaughterford were granted by King Stephen to the foreign monastery of Mortigny and then transferred in exchange to the Priory of Monkton Farleigh. The Cluniac Monks had a courthouse and mill there. In 1391 John Gore, Sir Thomas Hungerford and John Marreys held estate and the Gore's arms of a bulls head cabossea can be found over the south door into the church. After the Dissolution the Estate and Manor were granted to Edward Seymour and afterwards to the 'Protector', Oliver Cromwell.
The church itself was wrecked by Oliver Cromwell's troops and lay in ruins for 200 years. The Slaughterford people worshipped at Biddestone instead. A gallery was built in the Church at Biddestone so that the Slaughterford people could sit apart with an outside staircase! There is a painting that survives showing the staircase. The Slaughterford church roof was supposedly removed for firewood and later the building itself was used for artillery practice. The church was rebuilt in 1823 in the early English style and restored in 1883. There is a very old elm tree growing in the churchyard with a stone seat positioned around the trunk which is reported to be 14 feet in circumference!
The population of Slaughterford was 132 in 1871. In 1880 the village contained two farmhouses and thirty cottages. By 1915 there were two farmhouses and twenty cottages in Slaughterford with a population of 81. The village had two shopkeepers, Little and Sons Brewery and the Dowding paper manufacturers. By 1956 the brewery had become a private house. Manor Farmhouse is dated 1753 and is of rubble stone with a stone tiled roof. It has been extended on both ends and also has a barn. Weavers Cottage (previously called Manor House Poultry Farm) has fifteenth century origins and is also of rubble stone with a stole tiled roof. It is of L-shaped plan and the main range is a two bay cruck design. A wellhead, barn and dovecote are also in the grounds of the property. The former eighteenth/nineteenth century house and brewery of rubble stone has now become a house. The brewery outbuildings surrounding it also include a prominent industrial chimney. Rose Cottage is a rubble stone house with ashlar dressings, dated 1766. Rock Cottage is dated 1761, possibly with earlier origins, again of rubble stone with a stone tiled roof. Honneybrook Farmhouse has an L-shaped plan and is late 17th/early 18th century, rubble stone with a tiled roof. Other cottages were built in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
There was a dame's school in Slaughterford in the nineteenth century and Warburton described it as: 'there is a small dame's school in this village, attended perhaps by 10 children, but the elder boys and some girls attend the national school at Castle Coombe'. Later in the nineteenth century most children attended the school in Biddestone.
Mills on the By Brook are of Saxon origin. In Norman times they were probably corn mills. Weavers arrived in the 14th century and by 1630 a new 'medley' cloth was produced in the By Brook area. The making of this white cloth was in decline in Wiltshire by the 18th century. Paper mills sprung up from disused fulling mills; the chalk in the limestone of the By Brook area created the best quality of paper.
Rag Mill was the first of three fulling mills on the stream in the Biddeford parish in the late 16th century. It was a three bay building built of stone with tiled roofs. Inside the walls were whitewashed direct onto unplastered stone walls. The mill was situated on a flat valley bottom with the back of the mill against the hill. The site contains a waterway, tanks and barns, a boiler house and fuel store. It had the earliest paper machine in the By Brook valley, early 19th century. The fibrous paper material for making paper came from Bristol to Chippenham or Corsham by rail and then to the mill by cart. It became economically unviable in the 1960's.
Weavern Mill was probably named for the meanders in the stream. It was known as 'Veverne Mill' in the 16th century. In 1595-1608 three water mills were housed under one roof; one ancient fulling mill, one recent corn mill and one recent fulling mill. This mill was also making paper in 1802. It had two engines and two vats when converted in 1794. It ceased working in 1834 and there is now only a disused leat to the east of By Brook to tell of its existence.
Chapp's Mill was originally a fulling mill. In 1737 some woven fabric was stolen from the racks but never found. A paper mill was run there until 1815 when it was offered for sale as a cloth mill. The Dowding family came to Chapp's Mill in 1859 and in 1915 produced paper bags. When more goods became packaged in plastic they moved to manufacturing wrapping and packing papers. It was closed in 1993 and all the machinery was transported to South Africa.
In 1604 Thomas White, formerly the Curate of Slaughterford, left the ministry and began preaching in a private home. In 1673 George Fox the eminent Quaker visited and preached in the village. The Society of Friends had a meeting house and churchyard in the woods opposite Chapp's Mill which was used from the seventeenth century onwards. Before this the congregation used to meet in the workshops. Bronze Age bones were found at the site of an old stone quarry overlooking the mill.