The parish of Urchfont can be found at the south west end of the Vale of Pewsey. It lies five miles south east of Devizes and is located in the centre of the Swanborough Hundred. The parish of Stert was included under the ecclesiastical parish of Urchfont but was named as a tithing in 1881 and formed a separate civil parish. By the late 20th century the parish had been divided into the three tithings of Eastcott, Urchfont and Wedhampton which stretch from north to south across clay, greensand and chalk.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.
The north of the parish consists of gault clay which was once wooded; the south is of upper greensand, formerly used for market gardening. The topography includes deep valleys enclosed on either side by densely wooded ‘hangings’. The south also has lower chalk and arable fields. Urchfont Hill covers the northern scarp of Salisbury Plain. The ridge of Upper Chalk curves out over Great Fore Down, Little Hill and Urchfont Down. It was formerly sheep pasture and is treeless. The War Department bought 1,000 acres of downland south of the Ridgeway in 1897, 1900 and 1911. By 1969 the land formed part of the Salisbury Plain area firing range.
The river Lydeway marks the water-shed between the Bristol and Christchurch (Salisbury) Avons on the north western boundary. The head-stream of the Christchurch Avon is in the north eastern boundary. The spring from the Bristol Avon is to the north east of Wedhampton and rises to the south west of Rookery Farm. Urchfont derives its name from it and it is reputed never to fail, even in the driest season.
The Ridge Way runs on an east to west course on the northern scarp of Salisbury Plain. A Bronze Age socketed axe, iron brooch, Iron Age haematite-coated bowl and at least two bowl-barrows lie on either side of the Ridge Way at Urchfont Hill. There are two smaller bowl barrows on Great Fore Down and a field system on Penning Down. Settlement originated in Saxon times in the wooded clearings on the Upper Greensand.
The name of Urchfont is possibly derived from ‘funta’ meaning spring and the first element may be a lost personal name such as Eohric. The spellings of Urchfont are many and varied. There are meant to be over 100; here are a few: Lerchesfonte (1086), Erchesfonte(e) (1175, 1605), Erkesfonte (1175), Archesfunte (font)(1179, 1376, 1426), Ur(i)chesfunte (1242, 1289), Orchesfunte (1259), Orcheffunte (1428), Archfounte al. Urshent (1564), Urchefount al. Urshent (1611), Urshent al. Erchfont (1695).
Wedhampton seems to have begun as Quidhamtun, and then changes to Wedehampton (1543), Woddenton (1641), Weddington (1729) and Waddington (1773). The name may mean a ‘wood cleared for a dwelling or homestead’ or a ‘weed ridden farmstead’!
The course of the roads in the parish have changed little since the eighteenth century. The main track ran from south to east from Crookward Farm through Folly Wood to Wickham Green and ran south of Urchfont Manor to the Village Green. The road formerly known as the Lydeway in the 16th century was named as such because it followed the course of the river. It was turnpiked in the 1760s but was closed due to military manoeuvres. It was the main Devizes to Salisbury road. After this the main route ran to Salisbury and followed the road running via West Lavington, Tilshead and Shrewton. The main street through Urchfont was called ‘Dengestret’ in the later 14th century and ‘Molly’s Lane’ in 1547. In the later 16th century it became ‘The Street’ and has been called ‘High Street’ in more modern times. By the earlier 17th century the road which covered the area east of the High Street out to Townsend is a lane with different names along the course of it. West to east in 1784 was ‘Friar’s Lane, The Knapp, Ram Alley and Frog Alley. The road runs to Urchfont Bottom.
‘The Baish’ leads North West from Urchfont Bottom. It was known as ‘Fish Way’ in 1784. ‘The Green’ remained common land at enclosure in 1793 but during the 19th century became divided up into allotments. By 1969 it was traversed by ‘Romains Lane’. The name ‘Filk Lane’ is derived from former common land known as Volks Field. An avenue of oak trees was planted along the lane to mark the millennium.
The Berks and Hants Extension Railway opened in 1862. It ran across the far north of the parish and closed in 1966. In 1900 the GWR constructed a branch line off the Hungerford to Devizes line at Patney which passed through the parish on its way to Westbury.
There was land for 20 plough teams at Urchfont in1086 when the estate was owned by the Church of St. Mary at Winchester.. Meadow covered 64acres and pasture was one league long by half a league wide. In the later 14th century a number of tenants were presented for the dilapidated condition of their tenements. Others fled from the manor. In 1385 the tithings of Eastcott, Urchfont and Wedhampton refused to nominate a suitable man to brew beer for Nunnaminster, an ancient duty. There was a sizable population on the estate in 1086 of between 310 and 340 people. In 1377 the parish had 310 poll tax payers (aged 14 years and over): 209 at Urchfont, 65 in Wedhampton and 36 at Eastcott. In 1545 the above three tithings provided the highest contribution in the combined hundred of Swanborough, King’s Rowborough and Studfold. In 1801 there was a population of 1,190 inhabitants. 899 lived in Urchfont, 173 in Wedhampton and 118 in Eastcott. Numbers continued to rise until 1841 when there were 1,711 (including Stert). After this the population declined. In 1951 there were 683 inhabitants and in 1971, 820; this had risen to 954 in 2001. In the Domesday assessment there were 12 free tenants in Eastcott in 1352. Eastcott Field (open field) was mentioned in the later 15th century.
In 1260 the parish economy was based on corn and sheep (which were tended by two shepherds). Sheep pastures belonging to Urchfont Manor in 1464 were called ‘le whythecroft’, ‘le mour’, ‘Gaveldoune’, ‘Otbreche’. There were 17th century pastures at Holcombe Down, ‘Rowdone’ and ‘Gavelsdowne’. In 1462 there was also a corn yield but the majority was barley. Barley continued to be substantially produced in the earlier 19th century. The land in Eastcott was mostly used for sheep and corn with some wheat, barley and oats. In 1784 Urchfont’s fields stretched southwards and in the later 20th century the area was still given to large open arable fields. Later in the 17th century most of the pasture was enclosed to the north, leading to the development of farms like Franklin’s and Dwellis’s in Northcombe. In the later 18th century the same occurred with Crookward Farm and Harris’s Farm (later Little Crookward Farm) in Urchfont Manor. Only 1,622 acres remained as common land in the later 18th century. Common fields in Wedhampton lay in part of the slope beneath Redhorn Hill, called Black Furlong. In 1793 Wedhampton, Yardland, Corset, Eastcott and Urchfont fields were inclosed. They formed Snook’s Farm, among others. Land known as Upper Green, Yardland Cliff, and Filk Mead remained as common. In 1842 land farmed from Eastcott Hill farmhouse included Blackheath Down sheep pasture. Manor and Manning’s Farms in Wedhampton and Eastcroft and Snook’s Farms in Eastcott were sold in the later 19th century. At this time over 600 acres in Eastcott were also sold to the War Department. Land at Peppercombe was marshy and overgrown.
In the later 19th century some villagers leased small allotments between Urchfont Bottom and Foxley corner on either side of the Market Lavington Road. They included Main Heath, Hagg’s Lane, The Breach and Beggar’s Bush (behind the cemetery). Potatoes, carrots, and peas were grown for the Bristol and South Wales area. This practice had declined by the early 20th century and by 1903 the land was consolidated in the hands of a few tenants. In 1969 most of the allotments collectively formed Hale’s Farm.
Much of the land in the parish in the later 20th century was used as arable with pasture to the north including dairy farming and a little stock rearing. The first combine harvester to be seen in the village was in 1944, owned by Mr Self. It caused great excitement.
There was woodland in the north of the parish in the Middle Ages. In 1461 it was called ‘Westrudying’, ‘Rudelfate’, ‘Okfrygh’, ‘Crowkwode’, ‘Hawkescombe’, ‘Whytecroft’ and ‘Inlond’. They were tended by a woodward. A great amount of replanting was done over the next 100 years. Oakfrith coppice in the 17th century amounted to 16 acres. Crookwood was broken up into a number of coppices including Burnodokes (18a), Stert (11a), Ruddlebat (20a), Wickham Cliff (8a) and Foxley Coppice (8a). All coppices totalled 100acres. Aubrey noted that in the second half of the 17th century ‘Crookwood, once full of well grown oaks, was then destroyed’. Oakfrith Coppice was replanted after World War I but was cut down again during World War II. There were also 12 acres of meadow and 6acres of woodland at Eastcott. It was called ‘Maggotswode’ in 1539. In 1610 the woodland was 20 acres (was there an underestimation before or a great deal of planting?) and encompassed Westham, Marshfield, Marshcliff, Eastcott Common and Maggot’s woods. By the 19th century there was 600 acres. In 1655 a ‘coal-finder’ was allowed to dig on the manor but tenants wouldn’t let him dig on their land. Aubrey assumed this was because they already had enough fuel from the surrounding woodland.
The Abbey of St. Mary Winchester (Nunnaminster) held an estate at Urchfont until it was suppressed in 1536. Simon Watson-Taylor sold off a lot of the estate in the 19th century, mostly to the War Department. The remaining land was sold off in the 1920s and 1930s. Wiltshire County Council bought the manor in 1946 and since 1947 the house and grounds have been used as an adult education college. Urchfont Manor House was first mentioned in 1487. One major 16th century landowner was Robert Noyes who built up land in Urchfont and Eastcott. The land passed to William Pynsent who built the house around 1687. The estates of Northcombe and Wedhampton were owned by John Malwain in the 14th century. By 1918 the former manor of Northcombe had lost its separate identity. The Eyre family were established at Wedhampton as customary tenants of the Abbess of St. May, Winchester, in the 14th century. Land at Eastcott was included in the Domesday account for Urchfont and divided into at least two estates. It was acquired by the convent of Edington in the 14th century. The largest estate was held by the Abbey of St. Mary, Winchester, in the 14th century. The manor was dissolved in 1539 and in 1545 Nicholas Hames and James Tutt received a royal grant of the manor of Eastcott. The Hames family sold 250 acres of land to the War Department in 1900 and 1911. Eastcott and Manor Farms were sold off in the second decade of the 20th century.
The buildings in Urchfont mostly date from the 17th and 18th centuries and are of stone and brick with thatched or tiled roofs.
Chapel Lane - The Independent Chapel was built in 1817 in square red brick to the north of Urchfont Green. It was used by the Baptists and Plymouth Brethren at periods in its history. It was sold in 1969 and demolished in 1971.
Church Lane - St Michael and All Angels Anglican Church was made from local greensand rubble with ashlar dressings in the late 13th/early 14th centuries. It has a chancel, aisled and clerestoried nave, transepts, south porch and west tower (late 15th century). The chancel arch dates from around 1200. The vestry is 19th century. The Perpendicular south porch has a four centred panelled tunnel-vault. The church was restored in 1864 and 1900.
The field ‘Gallows Farm’ next to Church Farm is so-called because of a man who murdered the farmer of Little Cuckoo Farm. He had noticed the farmer’s takings from the sale of produce at market. He was hanged at the farm for the offence. The farm now forms part of Church Farm.
Crooks Lane – Farmhouses found here date from the early 16th century to the early 18th century. They are of brick and are timber framed, thatched or with slate roofs. Cuckoo Farmhouse has the remains of a jetty and Crookward farmhouse has the earthwork remains of a mill at the rear. There is also a barn, probably 16th century, timber framed and weather boarded with a cart way in the second bay.
Friar’s Lane – Has a late 18th century cottage of brickwork with a thatched roof. The lane is also known as ‘The Bottom’ and was the site for many dwellings not visible today. They were made of cob or wattle and daub and were ‘thrown up’ overnight by labourers on waste or poor ground. An 18th century estate map of Urchfont shows the existence of strings of little dwellings here and by The Ham, along The Knapp and rising to Ram Alley.
The Green – Mostly 17th and 18th century buildings of brickwork (one with brick noggings), thatched and slate roofs. West End House is of late 16th or early 17th century date, timber framed, with wattle and daub infilling. It was once a butcher’s shop. The barn is mid 18th century but incorporates fragments of an earlier cob structure with a timber frame, weather boarded with a thatched roof. The stone windowsills were dated 1751. Only the fireplace of the earlier cob structure survives (the last in the village).
The Green (formerly Back Lane) – There is an 18th century house of colourwashed stone, faced and quoined in brick with a thatched roof. The Lamb Inn is a 17th century timber framed building with a red brick facing and a thatched roof. There is a loading door to the basement from the road.
High Street – Various buildings from the 15th to the late 19th century are situated here. Church Farmhouse is the left and only surviving bay of an original three bay 15th century open hall house. There is wattle and daub infilling with smoke blackening to the hall side. Again, other buildings are brick with thatched or tiled roofs. Manor Farmhouse also has 18th century gate piers and an early 19th century granary. It is brick and timber framed, raised on five by four straddles with a central boarded door. It was once used as farm worker’s accommodation. The upper floor plasterwork in Friar’s Cottage is dated 1633. The Forge (mid 18th century) has a bow oriel window and two flat roofed dormers. Inglefield Farmhouse was formerly a butcher’s shop. The Old School was a mid Georgian house, built in 1822. It was converted to a National School by 1833 but was superseded by a new school in 1974. It stands opposite the Nag’s Head pub.
Lydeway – Contains a mid 18/early 19th century house, brick, with a thatched roof. Belle-Vue cottage is probably 17th century, of brick with a thatched roof. A clay brickworks stood near the Bell Inn at Lydeway. It had closed by the end of the 19th century.
Townsend – Urchfont House, late 18th/early 19th century. Number 5, Townsend Cottage is of 17th or 18th date but incorporates the gable of a 15th/16th century cottage. There is also a 17th century house, timber framed with brick noggings and a rendered thatched roof.
Uphill – There are some late 17th/early 18th century cottages, timber framed and colour washed with brick noggings and dormers.
Along Stonepit Lane is the site of the old village stone pit.
On the side of the B3098 – Urchfont Manor was built in c.1680 for William Pynsent. It incorporates parts of a 15th century house and was altered in 1700 and 1767. There is Flemish brickwork with stone quoins and dressings and seven bays with a hipped roof. Pevsner regarded it as one of the best houses of its type in Wiltshire. The annual rook shoot was held at the Manor on May 12th in the 19th century. Other 18th century buildings have colourwash and brickwork on stone foundations with thatched roofs. White House was once a cooper’s shop.
In 1086 there were three mills, possibly those at Peppercombe, Crookwood Farm and Crookward Mill Farm (which used an overshot wheel made in 1910) in the early 20th century. Peppercombe Mill was fed by the Urchfont Bottom stream. The Peppercombe Mill had been newly built in 1768 and remained in use until the early 20th century. Parts of the site were still visible in the undergrowth in 1969. Mills at Eastcott were established later in the 14th century. They may have included the mill which later became part of Crookward Farm. This remained in use until the early 20th century. One mill at Eastcott, beginning in 1498, was known as East Crook Mill in the 16th and 17th centuries. It was known as Crookward Mill in the 18th century and in 1773 was called Cook’s Mill after the name of the tenant at the time. Crookward Mill Farm was described as newly built in 1677 and is timber framed, partly re-built in brick. It is colour washed with a thatched roof and has an L-shaped plan. The water mill had fallen into decay by 1802. A new one was built just after this. It closed in the early 20th century but still stood in 1972.
In the earlier 19th century there seemed to be about seven alehouses in the village. In the mid 18th century The Wheatsheaf could be found at Foxley Corner. The Roebuck was in Friar’s Lane in part of the building called ‘The Sawmills’, as can be seen by three bottles set into the walls. It was named The Sawmills due to the local sawmills once situated there. The two remaining pubs are the Lamb Inn which has been a licensed since the 17th century and the Nag’s Head , which was at Lydeway and was owned by Mr Watson Taylor of Urchfont Manor until 1909 when it was sold to Usher’s of Trowbridge. In the 18th and 19th centuries The Shepherd and Dog was at Lydeway. An inquest was held there in 1842 in response to the discovery of bodies associated with murders approximately 85 years before. It was said that pedlars staying at the inn or who had just left it were murdered in the pub or on a road that ran near the brick field where the bodies were found. After the innkeeper died the licence was withdrawn. The pub has gone now but is thought to have stood opposite the more recent Clock.
Council houses facing the Lavington Road were built just after World War I on the part of The Green that previously had allotments. After World War II lots of private housing development sprang up. Manor Close was the first private housing estate at the south west corner of The Green. Another council estate was built east of Rookery Farm in the 1950s. Other newer development was built in the 1960s. The new primary school was built at Cuckoo Corner in 1974, approached by Blackboard Lane. The name ‘blackboard’ refers to the former road surface of tarred elm boards rather than the school.
The hamlet of Eastcott was separated from Urchfont by Wickham Green and has no recognisable centre, just a few buildings along the Market Lavington Road and lane which runs northwards.
The buildings in Wedhampton are situated around a semi-circular road formed by High Street to the south and Greengate to the north. Greengate Road was originally called Green Yat Road (yat is the local word for gate). Leading off to the east are Plum Lane and The Cartway. There is a Wesleyan Methodist chapel in The Cartway, built in 1867 of red brick. It was used until c.1964 and in 1969 was converted into a house. There are also 17th and 18th century buildings, timber framed with brick noggings.
Wedhampton House was built in 1701 for Henry and Susanna Eyre (date and initials E/HS 1701), altered in 1722. It has stone quoins and dressings. Wedhampton Cottage has a jettied upper floor. There are also early to mid 19th century stables with a tall central arched carriageway. Fleece Cottage was built in 1860 and has the initials ‘WR’ in the coloured bricks. It was thought to have been built by William Romain, a bricklayer and the Parish Clerk, as a wool-staple. It was later a village shop. Castle House was rebuilt and remodelled by Seymour Wroughton in 1758. The house stood north of Folly Wood. It formerly had gardens, fishponds and a gazebo. In 1789 it was probably known as ‘Folly House’ and had garrets, cellars and an outhouse. There were six bedchambers. After Seymour’s death in 1789 it became ruinous. The foundations were visible in the 19th century meadow, then wooded, called Maggot’s Mead. In 1973 only the sites of the drive, fishponds and gazebo were left.
The Hundred courts met at Foxley Corner on the Salisbury Road. Sessions of the medieval courts were held in the court-house as at 1461. Only one court was held per year in the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1592 the Church House was used as a house of correction but three weekly courts of the hundred were also held there in 1651. The poor rate was introduced around 1724 and by 1832, £400 was being paid out weekly. Urchfont became part of the Devizes Poor Law Union in 1835. ‘More’ gave £50 to be invested for the benefit of the parish before 1786. In 1834 no payments had been made for the previous 25 years. In 1903 the charity was deemed lost. In 1816 Mrs Sarah Parry gave £50 in trust to be invested; the interest given in loaves to needy widows on Christmas Day. By 1903 no bread had been given for at least 40 years. In 1879 Eliza Compton gave £1,000 in trust, the interest to be used on fuel, food or clothing for the poor. In 1903 the income was £25 yearly. The Vicar and Churchwarden met to choose the recipients which included most workers in the parish. Coal and fuel vouchers were distributed at Christmas. In 1903 there were 170-180 beneficiaries. In 1969, £25 was available yearly for pensioners at Christmas – 50 received vouchers redeemable at the village grocer’s or butcher’s shops.
The book ‘Urchfont by any other name: A History of the Parish’ by The Urchfont Parish Millennium Group gives a very good idea of trade and industry within the parish. Harry Fuller owned a saddlery and harness manufacturers in the 19th and early 20th century. He built his own home and shop on the corner of Bulldog Lane. General goods and provisions were sold at Townsend, on The Street and at the top of The Green on the corner of Chapel Lane. Corn was ground at Peppercombe Mill and bred made from the flour baked at a house known as ‘Two Chimneys’ in the High Street in the late 19th century. Earlier bakeries could be found at Rose Cottage in The Bottom and The Old Bakehouse. There was a bakehouse in Wedhampton in 1397 and this continued in the 17th century and still existed in 1900. During harvest time workers would gather short ears of corn in their pockets which they would get ground. Bakers in the village would set a day aside (usually Friday) for the village women to bake their own bread in the bakery oven while it was still hot. There were wheelwrights present in the village until the mid 20th century. There was a blacksmith in Wedhampton and another at The Green up to the mid 20th century, but a working blacksmith has been operating out of the village since the mid 1990s and into the 21st century. There were two staple barns (wool sorting warehouses) in Wedhampton in the 19th century. There was a ‘salter’ (manufacturer or dealer in salt) in Urchfont as early as 1687, a grocer in 1704, along with a ‘purveyor of victuals and provisions’. Other later occupations included a bacon factor. Cordwainers ( boot and shoemakers) had worked in the parish from at least 1703 and this practice carried on into the 19th century, when there were also shoemakers recorded. In the 20th century people would go to the saddler’s shop for shoe repairs.
Clockmakers were also living in Urchfont in the 19th century. In the 20th century the clock repairer who lived at Green View had his house partially destroyed by fire. The Chapel clock was reported to have been destroyed too as it was being repaired at the time. Thomas Keyte of Eastcott, in 1710, made a 30 hour clock.
The butcher in 1885 would slaughter animals in his thatched slaughterhouse behind the shop (next to the Nag’s Head). Arthur Price built his shop in Lowlands in 1919 but later moved to The Retreat and used a slaughterhouse opposite. The shop moved again to Pear Tree Cottage opposite the school; children in the 1950s could remember hearing a lot of noise from the pigs which was very distracting! Most households had a pig or two in a sty at the back of their house; a travelling specialist would slaughter it for them and then the joints would be preserved in salt.
In the early 20th century there was also a chimney sweep, coach operator, flour mill, haberdasher, hairdresser, ironmongers, shoe repairer, tailor, thatcher, and undertaker. In the early 21st century there is a Post Office, newsagent, dentist, garages, osteopaths and electrician, among others. The last general store, at Townsend, closed in 1999. A newsagent was originally based at Veranda House but it moved to a small shop at the side of Mulberry House.
In the 19th century there were two forges, a saddler, cooper and a tailor in Eastcott. In 1969 there were two builders and a thatcher with most residents working outside the village.
Rabbit catching was very important in Urchfont in the 20th century. The local baker organised other rabbit catchers so that they could bring their catches to him and he would send them up to London during WWII. When the rabbit supply had diminished the baker turned to poultry processing. The business grew to become the largest employer in the mid to late 20th century. It was transferred to Wales in 1995.
Urchfont had a post office from at least 1875. It has moved several times but was always located on The Street. In Wedhampton there was a Post Office at South Cottage. As early as 1840 a policeman was stationed at Urchfont and Wedhampton. A doctor has been resident in the village since the late 1920s at Mulberry House and later in The High Street.
Electricity was put into the village in 1931. Mains water was connected in the mid 1950s and the sewage works was opened in 1959 at the site of Peppercombe Mill.
The village hall was built in 1929 at the instigation of Mr Hamilton Rivers Pollock of Urchfont Manor. Money was raised by local voluntary subscriptions and a fete. All the work was done by voluntary labour. In 1977 an extension was added to provide a doctor’s surgery, kitchen and committee room. The money raised was through donations and a small loan. Clubs such as the Badminton Club (established in the mid 1930s), Short Mat Bowls Club (1991), Scouts and Cubs, Guides and Brownies (all established in the 1930s, originally held in the Urchfont manor basement, guides and brownies were disbanded in the 1990s), Tennis Club (played in fields behind the hall before WWII), the Tuesday Club (began life as the Urchfont Young Wives Group in 1955), the Youth Club (started in 1999), Urchfont Mother and Toddlers Group (began in 1984). Other clubs include: The Urchfont Players (started in the 1930s as the Erchfont and Chirton Players), The Urchfont Friends and Neighbours Club (1964), Embroidery and Fine Sewing Group (1991), Sewing Group (the group was established in 1984 – a wall hanging by the group to commemorate the millennium is on show in the village hall), Croquet Club (1994), Mother’s Union (1922), Cricket Club (1981), Friends of Oakfrith Wood (1994) among others. The Scarecrow Festival Group started up in 1996 to raise money for the village hall refurbishment and produced figures and a quiz sheet with clues. There were a great many celebrations undertaken to celebrate the millennium including a musical evening, medieval fayre, tree planting, writing a book on the history of the parish, etc. The Working Men’s Club was held in the club house and later in the village hall between the wars. There had also been a club in a building behind Veranda House which had burnt down in the 1920s. At the end of the 19th century one daily newspaper was delivered to the village club house. The village pond was a great source of amusement for children when it froze over. A new playing field was opened in the 1960s and included a grass tennis court.
In the 1570s a permanent minstrel could be found in the parish; he was occupied with music and storytelling. The ‘Urchfont Feast’ had originally been held at Michaelmas but after the calendar changed in 1752 it was usually held on the first Sunday and Monday after the 11th October. In the 19th and 20th centuries there were stalls in The Street. They would have a ‘real feast’ of a dinner after Church and then would participate in fairground events such as the coconut shy, swings etc. Locals would also sell sweets and food. At the turn of the 20th century horses shied at the noise in The Street, so the event was moved. Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in June 1897 occasioned huge celebrations in The Field and 500 Urchfont and Eascott residents had a celebration dinner. They had beef, cured ham, and beer followed by baked plum puddings and then bread and cheese. The waiters were volunteers. Many said they ‘had never enjoyed so good a meal before’. A meal like it was also sent out to the sick and infirm. Other events such as George V’s coronation were also celebrated. There were charabanc outings which took place from the early 1920s. The bus also gave regular services for shopping in Devizes and to Bournemouth to take people on holiday. There was a Whit Monday fete held by the Wilts Friendly Society in the 1920s. A similar event was held by the Oddfellows’s Society. The summer carnival was held annually and there were dances at the village hall on all of the festive nights. The village band ‘The Moonrakers’ would play. There was a children’s Christmas party held by Mr Rivers-Pollock of Urchfont Manor every year beginning in the late 1920s.
The War Memorial records the names of 17 men who died in World War I. Canadian troops were billeted in the village in January 1918 for three months. Their artillery was placed in a field still known today as Gun Park. Another field to the east of Foxley Corner was known as ‘Little Canada’ as it was used as the Canadian camp. Local people in Urchfont and Wedhampton helped nurse troops training on Salisbury Plain who had become ill with trench-foot and pneumonia. Showers were erected in the Nag’s Head car park to enable soldiers to wash mud off themselves. Troop horses were tethered on the eastern side of the Old Coach Road to the Bustard Inn.
There were four names added to the War Memorial for the Second World War. The War Memorial can be found in the Parish churchyard. Nissan huts were built in the Village Hall car park and ‘Hardaston’ for use by the military as billets. The village hall was their dining room. A Royal Artillery Survey Unit from Essex was billeted around the village. The army requisitioned houses such as Stanley House (Officer’s Mess), Manor Cottages(Sergeant’s Mess) and military stores were kept in a row of cottages at the end of Church Lane. Events were held in the village hall to entertain the troops. An RAF Hurricane Mark 1 fighter aircraft crash-landed in Dunfurnlong field in 1940. The pilot was not hurt. A bomb fell on a privy at Lydeway in August 1942 and a rack from another was found in The Orchard. The evacuees arrived from London on 1 September 1939. They were taken to the village hall to be billeted by Mrs Rivers Pollock from the Manor. They attended the village school. Urchfont Manor was loaned to the London County Council in World War Two for use as a hospital school for evacuated children with tuberculosis. The older children had lessons in the breakfast room and the younger group in the converted stables. The afternoons were usually spent walking in the village. The house and garden were kept in good order. All the old staff were retained and the best china and furniture was stored at Christies. The school was disbanded after D-Day and the house was returned to the Pollocks until 1946 when it was sold to Wiltshire County Council. It then became Urchfont Manor College (an adult residential college) and was the first of its kind to be opened by a local authority in the country.
Land girls were organised by Lady McNeile. Other agricultural work was done by Italian prisoners of war, some of whom were billeted in the village (they used the Nissan huts in the village hall car park and the hall itself). Others came in daily from the Westbury camp.
The E Company Home Guard (later made into the G Company with the Marden and Canning’s Platoons) had exercises at Lavington Halt, at a shooting range near Calne and near ‘Marden Cowbag’ on the Salisbury Plain. There were posts at Foxley Corner, on top of the Church Tower and at Redhorn Hill. There were firing ranges in the paddock of Manor Farm House as well as at Peppercombe Mill. There was a checkpoint opposite White House and a sandbag shelter at the top of the High Street and at the bottom of The Croft. The Auxiliary Fire Service was also formed; when the siren sounded they collected their pump from the shed. The Army Cadet Force (for boys 11-16 before joining the Home Guard), headquarters were in the Old Schoolroom.
The route-marches of the American troops took them through Urchfont and they would entertain the village girls in the evenings and at weekends. On D-Day the villagers could hear roaring aircraft engines from the local airfields at Keevil, Upavon and Netheravon.