The civil parish of Cherhill lies in Calne Hundred. In 1883 approximately 13 acres of Calne parish were transferred to Cherhill whilst detached portions of Calne and Calstone Wellington parishes lying within Cherhill parish were transferred to Calne and Calstone Wellington respectively. Following these transfers Cherhill parish comprised 1,904 acres. In 1934 the whole of Yatesbury parish (1,674 acres) and part of Calne Without parish were transferred to Cherhill. The civil parish now covers 3,795 acres. The village of Cherhill lies 4 km. and that of Yatesbury 7 km. east of the town of Calne.
In 1377 there were 98 poll-tax payers in Cherhill parish and in 1801 the population was 304, rising to 422 by the time of the census of 1841. There was a steady decline from that date into the twentieth century and in 1931 the population was 224. However, the incorporation of Yatesbury parish in 1934 and the construction of RAF Yatesbury and RAF Compton Bassett led to a very sizeable increase in the number of inhabitants in the parish to 6,359 in 1951. Following the closure of the RAF stations, however, the population fell drastically to 570 in 1971 but has increased gradually since that date, standing at 720 in 2001.
The parish of Cherhill lies almost wholly on chalk outcrops and the eastern part of the parish is crossed by the western scarp of the Marlborough Downs. The highest point of the parish, at 262 metres, is on its southern boundary where clay with flints overlies the chalk. The scarp face to the west and Cherhill Down are used for the pasturing of sheep and arable fields lie on the chalk to the north, south and east of Cherhill village.
Near the centre of the parish a stream named River's Brook rises and flows westwards; on Andrews and Dury's map of 1773 this spring is shown as Panhill Spring. In the former Yatesbury parish a stream of the river Kennet flows south-eastwards depositing a small amount of alluvium at the point where it leaves the parish in the east near Windmill Hill. The village of Cherhill lies primarily on the south side of the stream on a strip of Upper Greensand. The north-western, tongue-shaped part of the parish, formerly Yatesbury parish, is its lowest point at approximately 75 metres and here the Gault, Lower Greensand and Kimmeridge Clay are used for pasture.
The A4 London to Bath road crosses the formerly discrete parish of Cherhill from east to west. By 1675 the course of the road was over the high ground of Cherhill Hill in the east of the parish. The section of the road east of Cherhill Hill was turnpiked in 1743; the section south of the village and to the east as far as the top of Cherhill Hill in 1726. The road west of the village had been turnpiked in 1707. A new section of road was constructed in 1791-2 from the village to the east of the parish and north of the section over Knoll Down; this new section was on lower ground. The road was disturnpiked in 1870. Its increasingly heavy 20th century motor traffic diverted to the M4 motorway upon the latter's completion in the 1970s.
Considerable evidence of prehistoric settlement and activity has been found within the parish. Bronze Age tools have been found near Oldbury Castle, itself a hill fort of the Iron Age. An ancient north-south trackway has been identified passing close to the east of the Castle.
A long barrow and several other barrows lie on the downland in the south-east of Cherhill parish. Prehistoric field systems have been identified on Cherhill Down. A tessellated pavement which was apparently part of a Roman villa was discovered near Cherhill church in 1913 and is now held in the Wiltshire Heritage Museum in Devizes. Other pieces of pottery believed to be of Roman date have been found in the parish. In the former Yatesbury parish, a Bronze Age earthwork has been identified in the south of the parish; in the same area are two barrows; other barrows lie in, south east or and west of Yatesbury village. Settlement in the village has been apparently continuous from the Romano-British period.
On Andrews and Dury's map of 1773 a gibbet is shown to the east of Oldbury Castle. In approximately 1780 the figure of a white horse was cut on the scarp of the downs close to the northern perimeter of the Castle and facing north-west towards Cherhill village. This work was executed under the direction of Christopher Allsop, a physician of Calne. An obelisk erected by the marquess of Lansdowne, in 1845 or after, to commemorate his ancestor, Sir William Petty, who died in 1687, standing on the perimeter of Oldbury Castle, is known as the Cherhill Monument but in fact lies within Calne Without parish.
The road leading from the main London to Bath road towards the north-east end of Cherhill village, past the east of Bell Farm, was known in the 19th century as 'Rubble Lane'; this name apparently arose from the road's use as a route for carts bringing chalk rubble from the downs to the village. The road is now known as Park Lane since it skirts the field later known as The Park, east of Bell Farm. The road west of Bell Farm leading from the main road to the church was known for many years as Maiden Lane; the reason for this name is unclear.
The narrow lane leading from the London to Bath road to The Street, between the vicarage and Elm Tree Farm, is known as Broth Lane. In the 19th century soup was prepared at the vicarage for those in need, a bell being run when its preparation was complete.
Cherhill does not appear in the Domesday Book but is believed to have formed part of the king's estate of Calne before and after the Conquest. Lands identified as being in Cherhill are first mentioned during the reign of Henry I (1100-1135). In a pipe roll of 1155, early in the reign of Henry II, Cherhill itself is mentioned by name, as 'Ceriel'. In 1130 John FitzGilbert, the king’s marshal, owed the sum of £22.13s.4d. to the king for land which was possibly Cherhill manor; it is known that John held the manor of the king for a rent of £22 by 1156. In c.1215 Geoffrey de Mandeville’s estates, including Cherhill manor, were confiscated because of his opposition to King John. This confiscation was short lived and the lands appear to have been restored in 1217 to William de Mandeville, earl of Essex. The manor subsequently passed by inheritance to Thomas, earl of Warwick, in 1369 and continued to descend with the earldom - from 1445 the dukedom - of Warwick. However, from 1478 the manor was held by the Crown. In 1487 parliament restored the manor to Anne, countess of Warwick, who gave it to the King.
The Crown continued to hold Cherhill manor from 1487 to 1628 when it was granted, with the exception of a mill, to the City of London. In 1630 the City sold the demesne lands of the manor, later known as Manor Farm, to Henry Grubbe; it then passed to Samuel Ashe in 1692, Peter Warren in 1734, John Walker in 1767 and in 1777 to John Walker Heneage, who was the owner of Compton Bassett House. Until 1918 Manor farm descended with the Walker Heneage family along with the Compton Bassett estate.
In 1631 the City of London sold the remainder of Cherhill manor to John Grubbe and it then descended through the Grubbe family until 1824 and the death of William Hunt Grubbe. By 1824 the estate comprised only 880 acres, the remainder having been subsumed by Compton Bassett Estate. It was sold in 1824 to George Walker Heneage and also descended as part of the Compton Bassett estate until 1929. In that year, or 1930, the estate was acquired by A.H. Bond and T.J. Wilson and was subsequently sold off in portions.
In 1918 the Compton Bassett and Cherhill estates were acquired by the Co-operative Wholesale Society Ltd. The Wheatsheaf, journal of the CWS, described the estate in August 1919 as extending over 4,600 acres. In 1929-1930 the estates were offered for sale and were purchased by a syndicate which offered tenants their holdings.
The land of Manor Farm north of the village of Cherhill, but excluding the Manor House and adjacent buildings, were purchased at this time by Guy Benson who also acquired Compton Bassett House; the Cherhill land was incorporated in Home Farm, Compton Bassett. The farm was sold to D.W. Pickford in 1948 and descended with the Pickford family who, in the year 2000, owned 1,020 acres in Cherhill, Compton Bassett and Yatesbury, all farmed as Upper Farm.
The Manor House and grounds were acquired in the 1930s by Mr. E.J. Walsh.
The publication The Manor and Village of Cherhill contains a rich collection of information on the history and individuals of Cherhill. From 1930 J.H. Blackford, the author of the work, acquired much of the land south of the London road. In 1960 this land was sold as Bell Farm and in 1979 was sold off in portions. At this date 138 acres, which included the scarp lying to the south-east of Cherhill village and the section of Oldbury castle lying within the parish, were bought by the National Trust. Some 110 acres of Cherhill Down in the south-west corner of the parish were given to HM Government by Lady Rothschild in lieu of tax; this land was also subsequently given to the National Trust.
Throughout its history the inhabitants of Cherhill parish have been sustained primarily by agricultural activity. The number of poll-tax payers in 1377 was 98 and these and other parish inhabitants cultivated some 840 acres of open field arable to the north, south and east of Cherhill village. This land was worked as two fields, North Field and South Field. Some 445 acres of the chalk Cherhill Down in the south-east corner of the parish was used for rough pasture – presumed to be usually for sheep. On the lowland clay and sandy soils north-west of Cherhill villages were meadows and pastures where villagers had the right to take hay and to feed their animals in common.
The demesne of Cherhill manor - later known as Manor Farm - is believed to have included 228 acres of arable in the open fields plus 18 acres of additional arable, 23 acres of meadow and a pasture called The Gore, estimated to measure 20 acres.
By 1265 Cherhill Down appears to have been divided between pasture for demesne sheep (reportedly sufficient for some 500 sheep) and pasture for the tenants' cattle. A small proportion of the downland (18 acres) was ploughed as part of the demesne.
To the north-west of the village, in the late 16th century, the Marsh was common pasture for cattle and horses; Ball Mead was common meadow of some 6 acres and Penn was pasture used in common probably by Cherhill, Calne and Compton Bassett inhabitants. Cherhill's part in Penn remained commonable when by 1628 it was separated from the rest. By this time North and South fields were of roughly equal size.
In the early 17th century the field known as Low was used in common by Cherhill and Calstone for the pasture of horses, cattle and sheep. At this date Abberd Mead was still in use by Cherhill and others in common
The approximately 145 acres of The Marsh were apparently enclosed, divided and allotted between 1599 and 1616. Marsh Lane remained in place across the Marsh as a route for cattle to be driven to and from Low, Abberd Mead and Penn. By 1728 Low had been divided with 57 acres remaining commonable to Cherhill and the remainder to Calstone. At this date the 263 acres of Abberd Mead were shared by Cherhill, Calne, Calstone and, to a small extent, by Compton Bassett. Plots were marked out; the holder of each plot taking the hay from that plot; after all the hay was taken the whole meadow was grazed in common. Penn and Low were grazed by cattle in summer and autumn and by sheep in winter.
An Act of 1820 led to the enclosure the following year of North and South Fields, and Penn, Abberd, Low and Marsh Lane pastures and meadows. The approximately 840 acres of North and South fields were divided into 70 closes, the largest being 103 acres allotted to Manor farm. Some 50 closes comprised less than 10 acres. In addition 17 allotments totalling 91 acres were formed in Penn, 41 (103 acres) in Abberd Mead, 18 (62 acres) in Low (62 acres) and 33 (22 acres) in Marsh Lane.
Allotments of 5 acres and less in Low and Marsh Lane remained commonable after haymaking for 65 cattle in summer and autumn and 251 sheep in winter; the allotments remained commonable until the end of the 19th century.
The number and limited size of the open field and common grassland enclosure allotments resulted from the large number of small copyholds and leaseholds for life of the land holdings, with the exception of Manor Farm.
In 1843 there were c.940 acres of arable, c.335 acres of meadow and lowland pasture, and 445 acres of downland in the parish. Manor Farm extended over 498 acres, the later named Upper Farm over approximately 225 acres at the eastern end of the village and Oare Farm over some 185 acres at the western end. The land and buildings of Oare Farm were bought in 1857 by Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, marquess of Landsdown and subsequently descended with the Bowood estate until they were sold in 1919.
Part of Nolands Farm lay in Compton Bassett parish. Kelly’s Directory of 1885 records the chief arable crops of the parish as wheat and oats.
Between 1843 and 1885 other farmsteads came into being: Bell Farm, with the former Bell Inn as its farmhouse, lay on the London-Bath road at the east end of the village; Lower Farm where a malthouse was in existence in 1843, was at the west end in 1885.
By the early 1930s the proportion of arable farming had reduced greatly and most of the former open fields had become grassland.
Two mills are known to have existed in Cherhill parish, both powered by River's Brook. One was part of the demesne farm of Cherhill Manor, located near the church and known as Upper Mill. J.H. Blackford notes the alternative name of 'Morgan's Mill'. In the 18th century this was a corn mill; it was subsequently converted for leather dressing but by 1786 was a corn mill once again. It was apparently still in use in 1813 but had been demolished by c.1827. The second mill, Lower Mill, was part of the Prebendal estate and was located near the west end of the village. This was also a corn mill, although it was erroneously described as a flax mill in the 18th century. It continued in operation until 1896. A new, three storey, mill was built in the early 19th century but subsequently part of the building was lowered to one storey. This mill was converted to a house.
In 1688 a broadweaver was recorded as living in Cherhill parish.
Historically important houses in Cherhill include the Manor House, in which the tenant of the demesne farm lived in the early 19th century. Until 1956 a 14th century tithe barn stood close to the church. Tudor Cottage, in Park Lane, dates from the 15th century. A number of houses built of chalk and thatch and dating from the late 17th or early 18th centuries stand in and near The Street, in Maiden Lane and Middle Lane. At the north-east end of the village Upper Farm, built c. 1800 on the site of an earlier farmstead, had disappeared by 1728. The stables buildings of Upper Farm have now been converted to residential use. Oare Farm, off Marsh Lane, was built between 1820 and 1843. A rectory was built in the 19th century by the London to Bath main road.
Inns known as the Bell and the Black Horse were beside the London road by 1745. The Bell was still in existence as an inn in the 1870s when it became a farmhouse. The Black Horse may have been rebuilt on a different site from the original between 1765 and 1768 but remains in existence today. The London to Bath road to the west of Cherhill village is known as 'Labour in Vain Hill' after an inn shown on a map of 1763 to stand south of the road at the junction with Marsh Lane.
Details of life in Cherhill parish during much of the second half of the 19th century were recorded by the Rev. William Plenderleath, who served as rector from 1860 to 1891. His accounts of parish life have been published as Plenderleath's Memoranda of Cherhill. They include information on the locally notorious 'Cherhill Gang' of the earlier years of the century:
There was also a society of foot-pads known as "The Cherhill gang", who relieved many a traveller of the purse with which he had intended to pay his reckoning at the Bell or the Black Horse. Two old men who were said to have been members of this society lived on into the period of my residence; and any one noticing their venerable white heads bowed over their big prayer books would have taken them for very village patriarchs, thus piously ending their simple and blameless lives. One of these men is reported to have sometimes gone out upon his marauding expeditions in the summer time without a stitch of clothing, as he said that not only did such an apparition frighten people on a dark night, but also that a naked man was less easily recognized than one who appeared in the ordinary costume of the period!
At the beginning of the 20th century there were 62 houses in Cherhill. In the course of the century a considerable number of new houses were built. Four council houses were built between 1922 and 1934 at the west end of the Street; a further six were built alongside the main road in 1939 and 14 more were built in 1952-1953. An estate of 11 bungalows was built in 1967-8. At the east end of Middle Lane further council housing was built in 1977.
In 1920 a Memorial Hall was erected in the Street; this wooden building had been used at Yatesbury airfield during the First World War.
In the former Yatesbury parish, incorporated into Cherhill parish in 1934, the flat and well drained land lying on a plateau at the western edge of the Marlborough Downs is suited to arable cultivation. In the Middle Ages large areas of open field lay north, south and east of the village, with common downland pasture for sheep in the north and south corners of the parish. To the west of the village pasture may also have existed.
There were 55 poll tax payers in 1377. In 1801 the population was 234, falling to 218 in 1811. In 1831 the population was at its peak at 274. Between 1881 and 1891 the population declined sharply from 211 to 148 but there was a general decline between 1831 and 1901 when there were only 129 inhabitants. When the parish was absorbed into Cherhill parish in 1934 the population stood at approximately 140 people.
Apart from the London to Bath road running across the southern tip of the former parish, a road ran north-west from Avebury to the south of Yatesbury village. At the south and west of the village this road was known as the Avenue in the 20th century.
Barrow Lane, which was another road to Avebury to the south west of the Avenue, was in existence by 1795 and possibly earlier. A road to the north of the village ran from Broad Hinton; this was called Corten Lane in 1728 and Yatesbury Lane in 1828. A road running along the south-eastern boundary of the former parish dates from between 1773 and 1828 and was known as Golden Ash Lane in 1885.
A number of manors have formed part of the history of the former Yatesbury parish, and the account of their progress will be greatly simplified here: It is believed that Yatesbury was part of the large estate known as Calne held by the king from the 9th or 10th century. The holding of the estate was disputed in 1086 and it is likely that some lands passed with Calne church to Salisbury Cathedral. By 1210 Yatesbury Prebend had been endowed with Yatesbury Manor and this remained with the Prebendary until 1853 when it passed to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. In 1839 the manor comprised some 365 acres. In 1853 the Commissioners sold the land to John Tuckey and the estate was subsequently divided and bought by Lucy Tanner to form part of Yatesbury House estate and by Charles Tanner as an addition to Yatesbury Manor Farm.
Yatesbury House Farm was a manor which probably also formed part of the estate subject to dispute in 1086; it lay in the east of the former parish. A Mr. Tanner purchased the estate in approximately 1789. By 1810 the manor was held by William Tanner and descended to his son and then his grandson John who died in 1864. In 1839 Yatesbury House Farm comprised 751 acres. In 1894, when it comprised 910 acres, the farm was sold by John's widow Lucy Tanner, his son, J.A.C. Tanner and other members of his family to trustees of Charles Harris of Calne. In approximately 1930 it passed to F.C. Carr and in the late 1930s some of the land was sold for the development of RAF Yatesbury. In 1995 the remaining c.700 acres of Yatesbury House Farm belonged to Mr. and Mrs. G.R. Gantlett.
In the west of the former parish the manor known as Wescourt, probably the third part of the Yatesbury estate disputed in 1086, was held in 1199 by Reynold of Calne. Westcourt manor descended with Studley manor in the mid-eighteenth century to George, the nephew of Walter Hungerford. In 1839 the manor was sold to John Tanner and the c.429 acres passed to his son Charles and his mortgagees Sir William Fairfax, Bt. and W.J. Pawson, (d. 1890). The latter's interest passed to W.G.H. Pawson who owned the land as Yatesbury Manor farm and sold it in 1907 to George Cowing. Of this land 169 acres were sold for the development of RAF Yatesbury in 1939.
The estate recorded in 1086 had land for 4 ploughteams and there were 20 acres of pasture. Following the division of the estate into three manors it is likely that each had a set of open fields.
The open fields of the parish remained in existence until the mid 19th century: Bourne Field lay north of the village in 1795 and comprised approximately 150 acres; Hill Field lay extended into the southern corner of the parish; this comprised approximately 175 acres. Sheep pasture included North Leaze in the north of the parish and a common flock belonged to both Yatesbury Manor and Yatesbury House Farm. Some common pastures and meadows had been enclosed by 1648 and North Leaze by the 18th century. The downland in the south corner of the parish was shared for the use of sheep pasture by the three manors; this had been enclosed by 1795.
By approximately 1839 some two thirds of the parish was devoted to arable cultivation and a third to grassland. At that date Yatesbury copse, covering five acres, was the only woodland in the parish but by the mid-19th century an additional eight acres had been planted and remain in existence.
A windmill stood on the land which was to become Yatesbury House Farm in the early 14th century and a small amount of iron-working took place to the south-east of Yatesbury Manor Farm in the later Middle Ages. A cloth worker is known to have lived in the parish in 1683 and in the early 19th century trades carried out included straw plaiting and woollen stocking knitting.
In the First World War an aerodrome was built south-west of Yatesbury village. In 1938 a hutted camp, RAF Yatesbury, was constructed south-east of the airfield and a signals school was built south-west of Windmill Hill. RAF Yatesbury was closed in 1964 and the buildings were removed by 1969. Between 1970 and 1972 Wiltshire County Council restored the site to agricultural use.
RAF Compton Bassett, which was in existence between 1940 and 1964, was built on land to the west of Marsh Lane. The camp lay on some 120 acres of Cherhill and on adjoining land in Calne parish. The huts were removed between 1964 and 1969; 67 acres of the Cherhill land were purchased by the County Council in 1970; these were also restored to farmland by 1972.
In the 19th and 20th centuries sand from sandpits in Low field was transported by donkey for sale over an area said to cover a 50 mile radius from Cherhill. In the late 20th century mechanical extraction of sand took place from land in Low and in the western section of Cherhill parish which had formed part of RAF Compton Bassett, and from adjoining land in Calne parish. The sites from which sand had been extracted have been used for landfill and composting purposes, the latter to fulfil 21st century aims of resource recycling.