The parish of Broad Chalke lies on the southern border of the county, approximately ten miles from Salisbury. Rectangular in shape, the parish is nearly all chalk downland. The village is at the centre, with the hamlets of Stoke Farthing and Knighton to the east, and the hamlets or farmsteads of East Gurston, West Gurston, Mount Sorrel and Little London to the west. The river Ebble flows eastwards through the village and parish.
Today there is still a difference of opinion concerning the ‘correct’ spelling of the place name. Is it Broad Chalke or Broadchalke? As first recorded, Broad Chalke appears to have been combined with neighbouring Bower Chalke. The ‘Broad’ element in this case means ‘Great’ or ‘Chief’. ‘Broad’ or ‘Magna’ were probably used to distinguish Broad Chalke from Bower Chalke when the two villages were named separately. From the time of Andrews’ and Dury’s map of Wiltshire in 1773, the name has usually been presented as two words.
There is evidence of early human activity in the parish, including barrows on the northern downs, on Knowle Hill, on Knighton Hill, and near the western edge of Vernditch Chase. There are early Iron Age settlements south of Ox Drove and to the south east of Knighton Hill. The Roman road from Old Salisbury to Dorchester follows the south eastern parish and county boundary and cuts across the south-east corner of the parish. The northern boundary follows the Old Shaftesbury Drove and the Ox Drove cuts across the south end of the parish. These droving routes were in use in the 11th century and probably earlier.
In 955 Wilton Abbey was granted an estate called Chalke; this included land in Broad Chalke and Bower Chalke. At the Dissolution it was granted to Sir William Herbert (created Earl of Pembroke 1551). The Chalke manor remained in the family until 1919, after which it was gradually broken up and sold as individual farms. The Herberts had also acquired the manors of Knighton and Stoke Farthing by 1608. These were sold in the 20th century as farms. Mount Sorrel, Reddish, East Gurston and West Gurston were all held by different families.
The parish church of All Saints is built of limestone ashlar and some rubble. The oldest parts of the church, the chancel, the north transept, and part of the west wall, date from the late 13th century. One hundred years later the lower stages of the tower, the south transept, and the porch were built. By 1500 most of the nave had been rebuilt. Extensive repairs were undertaken in the mid 17th century and the church was restored in 1846. Until the mid 20th century there were two chapels in the village. The Independent Chapel, built in 1801 and rebuilt in 1864, closed within the last 20 years. The Primitive Methodist Chapel was built in South Street in 1843. It closed c.1965 and was demolished in 1970.
There are more than 20 listed buildings in the village, most of them 17th century or earlier. One example is King’s Old Rectory, which dates back to the 15th century and was acquired after the Reformation by King’s College Cambridge. It was occupied by the Prebendaries of Chalke until the late 19th century. In 1901 the head of the household was described as the wife of a tea planter in Ceylon.
Reddish House was built in the early 18th century for Jeremiah Cray, a clothier. It is built of brick on a limestone plinth. During the mid 20th century the house was occupied by Cecil Beaton who probably remodelled some of the interior. The house also has fine landscaped gardens and grounds.
The present Gurston Manor house dates from the 16th century. There has been a house on this site since at least the 13th century. Numerous families have occupied the house, including the Girrards and the Thynnes. The house is constructed of stone and flint and has been altered in the 17th, 19th and 20th centuries. It was completely restored between 1965 and 1967. The drawing room still has its Tudor arched moulded stone fireplace.
The main source of employment in Broad Chalke was always farming. The 1851 census shows that most men were employed on the farms. The Kelly’s directories for the late 19th century show a greater variety of occupations however. In 1885 for example, there were the expected trades such as grocer and shopkeeper, but there was also a basket maker. The 1901 census includes a bricklayer and a postman.
There were five mills on Wilton Abbey’s Chalke estate in 1066, one or more of which may have been in what became Broad Chalke parish. The Andrews and Dury map from 1773 shows two mills, one just north of Broad Chalke church and the other at Knighton. The mill near the church had been demolished by 1886. The water mill at Knighton was still in use in 1984. Housed in a brick building from the 19th century, it was electrically powered and used to pump water and occasionally to grind corn.
From the 1850s baskets were made in the village. In the early 20th century they were made from osiers grown in the parish and were used for packing locally grown watercress. Basket production ceased c.1920.
At the time of Domesday, Broad Chalke and Bower Chalke were surveyed as one estate known as Chalke, held by the Church of St. Mary at Wilton. It was a large and prosperous parish with an approximate population of 720-780. The two communities seem to have become divided into separate estates by 1327, when a taxation list refers to ‘Chalke Magna’. By the 1400s the village was known as Brodechalke
19th century population figures show that Broad Chalke was approximately 30-50% larger than Bower Chalke. It reached its peak of 821 in 1851: by 2001 there were 652 people in the parish. This is a very stable community, each decade showing only a small change in numbers. There were no major factors that affected the population figure, such as moving to the towns to look for work or emigration.
During the 19th century efforts were made to improve public health and relieve the poor. A workhouse was built at Wilton. In the 1860s the first doctor was appointed to the Chalke Valley, and a Friendly Society was formed where members paid a subscription to meet the doctor’s fees. In the early 20th century there were two elderly ladies who attended births and deaths in the village. When one of them died in 1917 the vicar’s wife decided that a trained nurse was necessary. The Wiltshire Nursing Association provided a nurse to cover Broad Chalke and Bower Chalke. Each household contributed a quarterly sum of 7½d entitling them to her services.
The doctor’s surgery was at Brook House from 1880-1988, apart from a short break. Until 1984 it was run single-handed by Dr. Brown who came to the village in 1947. The surgery amalgamated with Sixpenny Handley in 1984. A new surgery at Dove’s Meadow in Broad Chalke opened in 1988.
There were two charities in the village; Pryce’s Coal Charity and the Poor Patches. Charles Pryce left £500 in his will dated 1848; the money was to be invested and the interest used to buy coal for the poor. The Poor Patches were three allotments of land used to provide furze or other fuel for the poor. Change in economic circumstances during the 20th century meant that the allotments were no longer used for fuel and the income from the coal charity was greatly reduced. The two charities joined together in 1970 to form the Poor’s Charity. The income is used occasionally either to help individuals or for the general benefit of the village.
Broad Chalke has had many famous residents over the centuries. The 17th century antiquarian John Aubrey had family land here and came to live in the village in 1648 to manage Chalke, now Manor, Farm.
Rowland Williams was a 19th century priest and a brilliant scholar. The Bishop of Salisbury objected to Williams’s views on Darwin’s theory and suspended him from his office in 1861. A year later Williams was cleared of heresy by the Privy Council and allowed to return to his duties.
Maurice Hewlett was a successful civil servant and barrister, becoming keeper of Land Revenue records. In 1898 he published a novel, ‘The Forest Lovers’, which brought wealth and fame and enabled him to give up his job and write full time. In 1903 he and his wife Hilda rented King’s Old Rectory, where they entertained friends such as Robert Bridges, Marie Stopes and Sir James Barrie.
Cecil Beaton bought Reddish House in 1947 and transformed the interior. Beaton greatly involved himself in village life, and when not travelling the world he used his garden for village fetes and enjoyed the flower show and carol singing. Among his guests were Princess Margaret, David Hockney and Greta Garbo.
Clarissa Churchill, another friend of Beaton, moved to a cottage in Little London in 1948. She married Anthony Eden, but the couple continued to spend time at the cottage whenever they could, eventually moving in 1958.
A more recent well known resident was the actress and singer Toyah Wilcox, who lived at Reddish House from 1988-99.
At the beginning of the 20th century most of the village men were working on the farms. Wages were around 8 shillings (40p) a week and living conditions were poor. Many families kept a pig or two to help feed them all. A Pig Club was set up whereby members paid a small sum for each pig they owned; should the animal fall ill or die the club funds helped with bills from the vet. Other societies were the Friendly Society and the Clothing Club.
The villagers needed to be as self-sufficient as possible. The usual craftsmen were represented, as well as the shopkeeper, butcher, baker, Post Office and public house. The village doctor would look after their health, and by 1915 there was a resident policeman. There were a variety of social activities. A lending library was started at the Vicarage in 1901. There were regular dances, socials and musical recitals, a Flower Show and a Cottage Garden Show. A cricket team was established by 1901.
The Women’s Institute started in 1940. One of their early achievements was to produce 1,000lbs of jam at their fruit preserving centre. The 1960s saw the building of a cricket pavilion, the new Vicarage and houses and bungalows in Doves Meadow. Later changes in the 1990s included the closure of the Shop and Post Office. The latter quickly re-opened at the butcher’s shop. Also in the 1990s new low-cost housing was built at Newtown and Knighton Road. This was an important development, as it gave young people from Broad Chalke the opportunity to continue living in the village after marriage.
Today Broad Chalke continues to be a balanced, thriving community. It is fortunate enough to have retained its school, church, chapel, hall, pub, shop and Post Office, along with numerous sport and social clubs. To quote the Broad Chalke millennium book, ‘Most importantly we have retained [our] soul and sense of well being’.