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.
With All Cannings you are in a very ancient landscape, where farming has taken place for the last 5,000 years. The parish contains areas of both the Vale of Pewsey and the Marlborough Downs, and some notable archaeological sites, while one of the two highest points in Wiltshire, Tan Hill at 294 metres above sea level, is within its boundaries.
The geology reflects the varied landscape to be seen here; there is alluvium and greensand in the Vale of Pewsey, and this was used solely as pasture land until around 1800. Middle and lower chalk is to be found at the edge of the Marlborough Downs and this was the arable land to about 1800. The higher up we find middle and upper chalk, stretching to Rybury. Tan Hill is covered with clay with flints and the Wansdyke cuts across the northern parts of the parish.
Apart from the village of All Cannings there were settlements at Allington and Fullaway in the ancient parish, which seems always to have been well populated. Until the early 20th century nearly all the population was concentrated in the villages. All Cannings itself is a long street village that has maintained its original structure. The main street is parallel with the minor road that runs southwards from All Cannings Cross to Patney and is connected to it by two west to east roads at the north and south of the village. Most of the earliest buildings, many of them former farmhouses, lie between these roads. When standing in the village you have the impression of being in the bottom of a bowl, with hills enclosing all the horizons . An unusual situation in Wiltshire.
Within the parish there is evidence of occupation from most periods of prehistoric man. Evidence for Neolithic occupation comes from Rybury, All Cannings Cross and Tan Hill. Much of the area would have been cultivated at this time but traces in the lower areas have been destroyed by later use of the land. From finds of domestic animal bones it would seem that cattle predominated with some sheep and arable. In the Bronze Age there was activity in the early and middle periods on Allington Down and Tan Hill. The settlement at All Cannings Cross (650-400 B.C.) was excavated by the Cunningtons and is well documented. At this time the animal bone evidence suggests a livestock composition of 50% cattle, 25% pigs and 25% sheep and goats, along with corn grown in small fields.
This farming continued through the Iron Age and objects from this period have been found on Allington Down. A field system from the later years of this period can still be seen on All Cannings Down and the banks of these fields enclosed the growing corn. A more obvious feature is the hill fort of Rybury Camp. It is unlikely that the Roman invasion caused great changes in this part of Wiltshire. The existing field systems probably continued in use, while new ones were created, but the area was some distance from the large villa estates and the population probably remained British. Objects from the Romano-British period have been found on All Cannings Down and on the Downs above Allington, probably indicating farms in these, and other areas.
In Saxon times Cannings, including both Bishop’s and All Cannings, was a royal estate. It was given to the nunnery of St Mary at Winchester (Nunnaminster) and remained in their possession until 1536. By the early 10th century a fair sized settlement called Cannings existed and it reasonable to suppose that this was on the site of the present village. Its origins are likely to have been some centuries earlier. A village at Allington, on both sides of the Moor Brook, existed by the early 11th century and again it is reasonable to assume that its origins were at least a century or two earlier. The area is recorded in the Viking invasions as in 1010 the Danes reached Cannings Marsh, but then retired eastwards. The Marsh was the low lying area to the north of the village.
At the time of the Domesday Book (1086) there was a large village at All Cannings and a smaller one at Allington. At All Cannings there was land for 15 plough teams, five operated by serfs for the Abbey of St. Mary, and 10 owned by the Abbess’s tenants. Meadow land covered 108 acres, there were large areas of pasture and small amount of woodland. The Moor Brook supported a water mill and the whole estate had increased by 50% in value since the reign of King Edward, from £20 to £30. The population is likely to have been between 230 and 270. Allington was held by Alured of Marlborough who kept four plough teams on 7½ hides. The tenants had only one ploughteam between them and a knight, who held 2 hides, had another. There were 20 acres of meadow and a smaller amount of pasture than at All Cannings. The population would have been between 70 and 85.
In early medieval times there were houses on both sides of the village street, and there had probably been houses on these sites since Saxon times. Some of these were occupied by the tenants who had land in the common fields, and working farmhouses remained on these sites into the 19th and 20th centuries. By the early 14th century taxation returns indicate a reasonable sized village, while in 1377 there were 192 poll tax pages in All Cannings (a large number for the Vale of Pewsey) and 68 at Allington (an average number). A windmill seems to have been built by the early 15th century, possibly because the amount of water power available was insufficient for the watermill to grind all the grain growing in the area. Until the early 18th century part of the South Field was known as Windmill Ball. An important event at the end of the early 15th century was the granting of the right to hold a fair on Chalborough Down to the Abbess of St. Mary in 1499. The annual fair was to be held on St. Ann’s Day and the day following (26th and 27th July). By 1541 the hill had become known as St Ann’s Hill, corrupted to Tan Hill by the late 17th century. From 1792 the fair was held on 6th August. It was a large sheep and horse fair that is described by Ida Gandy in Wiltshire Childhood (1929).
In the 16th century there were brewers, butchers and a miller, apart form many other trades, and we know of the existence of an inn or ale house from the fact that the owner was prosecuted for allowing gaming tables in his house, probably backgammon. Rustic Farm dates from the end of the 16th century while Cliff Farmhouse is 17th century as are some timber-framed cottages and a timber-framed yeomans house at Allington. In 1642 the rectory was built by Dr. Robert Byng on the site of an earlier one. At some point in the 17th century the mill, on the site of the one recorded in 1086 near Etchilhampton Water, feel into disuse. Despite the number of farmhouses in the street there was only one large farm, eventually known as Manor Farm, in All Cannings until the 18th century. Open fields seem to have been enclosed throughout the 17th and 18th centuries; most being already enclosed by the time of the enclosure of common land in 1799.
An open area of land near the church had been gradually encroached upon but continued to be used for village events. The maypole remained here until the early 19th century; the last one being erected in 1819 and was blown down in a gale in 1829. In 1839 this open area did become the village green. The pound for detaining straying animals was here, as were the village stocks for the punishment of local malefactors; both were removed after 1850.
Allington remained an average sized village for the Vale of Pewsey, but after its population reached a peak of 188 in 1841 it fell into a decline and by 1921 only 55 people lived here. As the population fell many houses were demolished in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; those that remain tend to be the more recent from the 18th and 19th centuries. The 19th century was a time of change in both villages. The parish was affected by the agricultural Swing riots of 1830 and a threshing machine was destroyed by a number of labourers at Allington on November 21st. The school was built alongside the village green in 1833 and the King’s Arms was rebuilt in 1880 and commemorated by a date stone.
Numbers of village shops and trades remained fairly steady during the latter half of the 19th century, except at Allington, and decline did not set in until after the First World War. All Cannings in 1867 could boast three shop keepers, one of whom was also a beer retailer, and a grocer and beer retailer. The miller, James Maslen was also a farmer, a butcher and received all mail for the Post Office. There were a carpenter, a saddler and harness maker, and two shoemakers, while the landlord of the King’s Arms was also the blacksmith. Apart from the Miller there were seven other farmers, one of whom was a maltster. At Allington there was a grocer, who was also a carpenter, a tailor and a bricklayer. A higgler (a general dealer who bought and sold produce and items in the area) lived here, while of two farmers one was also a cattle dealer.
By 1903 there were now four shops in All Cannings besides the grocer, who now also ran the post office. One of the shopkeepers was also a builder and there were also a carpenter, thatcher, blacksmith and shoemaker. A carrier took goods and people to and from Devizes and while there were now only six farmers there was a horse trainer at Bridge House and the farmers were supported by a cow keeper. At Allington, apart from 3 farmers, the only craftsman was a carpenter,
Until the early 20th century most of the land of All Cannings was owned by the All Cannings estate but in 1909 this was split up and auctioned in lots. During the First World War there were few younger men left in the village and those commemorated on the war memorial, erected in the church yard in 1920, did not return to their families and jobs. At the end of the war, in 1918, Mary Watney left the former grocery store and telegraph office for a parish reading room, which was the village social centre for many decades. It was converted into the village hall in 1971. Tan Hill Fair attracted fewer and fewer animals in the early 20th century, although it was still a very important date in the local calendar, and the final one was held in 1932.
All Cannings was still surprisingly self sufficient at the end of the Second World War and villagers had the service of a baker, butcher, general stores, cobbler, carpenter, blacksmith and builder. By 1970 the only shops were a general store and sub post office, and an antiques shop, although the villages were visited by a baker, coalman, butcher, milkman, a hardware and paraffin supplier, a laundry van, domestic gas supplier and a mobile library. In the 1970s a mains sewerage system was provided for the 139 dwellings, about half of which were owner occupied.- 25% of the employed men were still working agriculture.
Various individual houses were built from around 1950 to the 1980s but from 1988 onwards several small developments were constructed; Mathew's Close was begun in 1976, The Glebe in 1988, and Chandler’s Close in 1990, while Grangefields and Walnut Cottage were also built. By 1994 there were 210 houses in All Cannings