Broad Town is in the north of Wiltshire, approximately four miles south-east of Wootton Bassett, eight miles south-west of Swindon and six miles north of Avebury. It became a civil parish in 1884; prior to this its land was shared between the parishes of Clyffe Pypard and Broad Hinton. It had been an ecclesiastical parish since 1846; Broad Town was once a tithing of Clyffe Pypard. The main street in the village lay on the eastern boundary of Clyffe Pypard while the manor of Broad Town lay to the east of this boundary and so was part of Broad Hinton with Broad Town Farm and Upper Ham Farm being in Broad Hinton.
Broad Town received civil parish status in 1884, so cleared away the anomalies of parts of the village existing in separate parishes. Thornhill, a former tithing of Clyffe Pypard, became part of Broad Town when the parish was created but Thornhill Manor Farm remains within Clyffe Pypard. At the time of the Domesday survey Thornhill was known as Tornelle and belonged to a Gilbert de Bretville. The parish of Clyffe Pypard was reduced from 3,985 acres to 3,271 acres when Broad Town was removed.
Broad Hinton is found directly to the south east of Broad Town.
The parish is wide and rectangular in shape and extends for two miles north to south and just above two miles from east to west. It is made up of 2,040 acres and lies on clay. The southern boundary runs across a lower chalk escarpment and takes in some bands of Greensand.
The population of the parish has not varied much over the last century, although it must be remembered that we only have population figures for the parish from 1891, which was the first opportunity to count people living in the newly created parish of Broad Town. If there were figures available for the rest of the 19th century a different picture may be painted. In 1891 there were 483 people living in the parish and this had increased to 543 by 1951. The population at the time of the 2001 census was 584. Broad Town has had its own parish council since 1893.
Two roads run through the parish; both run north to south. The road which runs down the main street is known as Broad Town Road and links Wootton Bassett with Broad Hinton. The other road runs parallel and goes through the hamlet of Thornhill.
There is evidence of sporadic settlement at Broad Town since before Roman occupation; Mesolithic flints were found in the parish in 1999 and a Bronze Age axe was found in a garden in the village in 1998. This small axe or chisel was found in the garden of The Laurels on 31st May 1998 by the owner. The Laurels is a thatched house which was built in around 1540; the axe is thought to date from 2000-1800 BC.
The axe is around 85.5mm long. Another archaeological find was a skeleton in the south of the parish, found by a pair of walkers in October 2001. The site which is on a north west facing chalk escarpment, to the south of Broad Town, was excavated on November 11 and 12 by the Broad Town Archaeological Project and the partial remains of a male were found, thought to be between 35 and 45 and 5ft 7in tall.
This find was considered especially interesting not just because of the age of the skeleton, which radio carbon dating put at between 540 and 680 AD, but for the position of the grave. It was found on an escarpment at the coming together of two tracks and is at a high and prominent position. What is thought to be the remnants of a motte and bailey castle, known as Bincknoll Castle, is found in the south east of the parish.
Broad Town was noted as an estate in the Domesday survey of 1086. By the middle of the 13th century Broad Town was held by Alan Basset, who was lord of the manor of nearby Wootton Bassett. The manor of Broad Town passed through the Basset family for the next 120 years. It was in the hands of Hugh le Despenser when he died in 1326 and subsequently was forfeited to the Crown. It then went back into the hands of the le Despenser family until the 15th century. Then was briefly in the hands of Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, brother to Henry VIII's third wife Jane Seymour and uncle to Edward VI. The manor then passed through the hands of the earls of Somerset until Sarah, Dowager Duchess of Somerset died in 1692. She set up the Broad Town Charity.
The majority of settlement in Broad Town is centred along Broad Town Road which cuts through the village. Some council houses were built on this road in the 20th century. Thornhill Manor Farm, to the east of the parish, is a T shaped house thought to have been built in 1596. Broad Town Manor Farm is to the east of the main street and was built in the middle of the 19th century. Broad Town Farm, lying on the opposite side of the road, is though to date from the 17th century.
There are several listed buildings within the parish; farmhouses in particular. Lower Ham Farmhouse, Bincknoll Farm, Broad Town Farmhouse and Great Cotmarsh Farmhouse are all Grade II listed buildings. Some 17th century cottages on Broad Town Road are also Grade II listed.
In 1587 a survey showed that there were seven tenants with small holdings and two freeholders.
Broad Town is probably best known for being home to one of the famous Wiltshire White Horses that looks down upon it from the downs above the village. It is on the left of the road which links Wootton Bassett with Marlborough and can be seen from all nearby roads and even from the railway line, around half a mile north east of the village of Broad Town. The horse is sometimes referred to as the "Wootton Bassett Horse", but this is inaccurate. One theory as to the origin of it is that the horse was carved by a farmer in 1864. Williams Simmonds was the occupier of Littleton Farm at the time and was potentially the artist. He is quoted as saying that he intended to make the horse bigger over time, but had to leave the farm before he did so. However, doubt is cast on this theory by the reminisces of the man who was in 1919 the curator of the Imperial War Museum. He claimed that as a child in Wootton Basset in 1863 he had visited the horse.He said he understood from a relative that the horse had already been there for 50 years and could not have been created by William Simmonds. The horse measured 78 feet by 57 feet.By 1936 the horse was in a really poor condition and badly needed restoration. Grass had grown over the ears, tail and legs and the body of the horse was no longer white but grey. In 1991 the Broad Town White Horse Restoration Society was created for the upkeep of the horse and they now clean the horse every year.
Broad Town was home to three well known residents; Geoffrey Grigson, the writer and poet, and his wife Jane Grigson, the cookery writer and cooking editor of the Observer. Their daughter is the potentially even more famous food writer Sophie Grigson. Geoffrey Grigson was born in Cornwall in 1905 as the 7th son of a clergyman. He became an extremely well known poet and literary critic. He and his third wife Jane lived at Broad Town, at the 17th century Broad Town Farmhouse, until his death in 1985 and hers in 1990. They were both buried in the church yard at Christ Church. Geoffrey Grigson was probably best known, alongside his poems, for his founding of the poetry journal New Verse and his role as a reviewer and critic for the New York Review of Books. Geoffrey Grigson obviously felt extremely strongly about his adopted county of Wiltshire. In "The Wiltshire Book" he wrote: "Wiltshire has a delightful emptiness, a landscape windy and suggestive, stimulating and soothing."
The Broad Town Charity was established in 1686 by Sarah, the Dowager Duchess of Somerset. Sarah's second husband was Lord John Seymour, who became the 4th Duke of Somerset but she had no children. She owned the Cotmarsh estate, which comprised Manor Farm, Ham Farm, Goldborough Farm and Broad Town Farm; rents and profits of the estate were meant to be used for apprenticeships for young boys. In 1834 these lands were bringing in £597 every year. The agreement reads: "The rents and profits from thence accruing, should be ever employed in an apprenticing to some honest trade or calling poor male children, which should be born, and at the time of such apprenticing, should actually reside in the county of Wilts".
Young boys from the local area, namely from Broad Town, Thornhill, Wootton Rivers, Huish and Froxfield, were preferred. These farms that were part of the charity were sold by the trustees in 1920, raising £20,000 which was invested for future use. The Dowager Duchess of Somerset was also the founder of the Froxfield Alms Houses which looked after the widows of clergyman. The first trustees of the charity were Henry, Lord Delamere, Sir Samuel Grimstone and Sir William Gregory. By the 1960s the charity dealt with around £2,000 in grants every year. In 1961 there were 86 boys benefiting from further education because of the charity. By that point, the charity was known as the Broad Town Trust.