Modern day Codford comprises the two parishes of Codford St. Peter and Codford St. Mary. Together with the hamlet of Ashton Gifford they cover some 3,797 acres and have a population of around 700. The village is situated along the old Salisbury to Warminster turnpike road, though the village section of it was bypassed in 1990. It lies in the valley of the River Wylye, seven miles south east of Warminster, (fourteen miles north west of Salisbury), in the southern shadow of Salisbury Plain. Geologically, it is an area of chalk and river gravel, with one or two small outcrops of greensand.
The name Codford is thought to mean the fording place of Codda who was, perhaps, an Anglo-Saxon who owned the land on which the ford was situated. The oldest known recording of the name is in an Anglo-Saxon charter of land granted in the Wylye valley in the late ninth century; here the name is recorded as Coddan Ford. The exact point of the ford is lost today, since the course of the Wylye was altered when the bypass was built, but old photos show the crossing point and the footbridge which ran alongside it. The eighteenth century stone bridge over the Wylye carried a private road to Stockton House until the early 20th century. The only way for vehicles to cross the river, apart from going through the ford, was to go round by Boyton to the west, or Steeple Langford to the east.
The layout of the village consists of a High Street, running south east to north west, with another road, the Chitterne Road, meeting it at right-angles on its northern side. The village is now built around these roads and the New Road, which runs from the western entrance to the village to a point about three quarters of a mile north on the Chitterne Road. There are several small lanes and bridleways about the village. The parish itself is bounded by the Wylye to the south and by ancient drove roads to the west and east. The northern boundary roughly coincides with the Chitterne to Heytesbury road. The vast majority of the parish is contained in the valley of the Chitterne Brook and comprises lush pastureland, with arable land on the slopes of the downs to each side.
There has been settlement around Codford for thousands of years. In the valley of the Chitterne Brook, stretching north into the Plain, are numerous Bronze Age round barrows and in the same valley, evidence of early settlement and farming. On the top of Malmpit Hill, on the eastern side of the village, is Codford Circle, a Bronze Age enclosure of some nine acres. This is currently under local archaeological investigation. There is also evidence of at least one Romano-British settlement in the area and the numerous finds over the years indicate that there may be at least two other such sites within the parish.
Codford contains a range of building types, dating from the sixteenth century to the present, with continued proposed development. The older houses are constructed of chalk rubble, some of it coursed, with dressed stonework for the grander houses. At least three cottages are timber-framed and there may be more hidden beneath later layers. Brick has been used from about the eighteenth century onwards, but today, new houses as elsewhere are being built of breeze blocks, with cladding in a variety of materials. Most of the houses in Codford have slate roofs, though a few retain their thatch.
Water has always been important in chalk valleys, since water courses may disappear underground leaving dry valleys, typical of Salisbury Plain. The Chitterne Brook, which joins the Wylye at the east end of the village, is a winterbourne, drying out at its upper end in summer. During the last decade or so, its source has been tapped by the water authorities to carry water to the Mendips, greatly depleting the natural flow of the Brook and causing serious problems. Matters came to a head in the late 1990s and eventually a borehole was sunk to the north of the parish, tapping local aquifers and pumping water into the Brook where New Road crosses it. This continues today during the summer months.
Codford probably began as a large, early Anglo-Saxon estate, which was later divided into three manors. Ashton Gifford probably never had a church, but the two larger settlements each built a church, one dedicated to St. Peter (West Codford) and one to St. Mary (East Codford). Both churches have evidence of earlier constructions, though they were both heavily restored in the nineteenth century. Codford St. Peter houses the shaft of a possible Anglo-Saxon cross, engraved with an enigmatic depiction of a man and foliage. Many interpretations have been suggested as to the likely meaning of this decoration; but whatever its origin, it is a fine piece of Anglo--Saxon art and may be seen to the left of the sanctuary in St. Peter's Church.
Codford St. Peter was probably always a linear settlement, with the church situated on the slight rise to the west. There are several lanes running north and south of the High Street. To the north, these run up onto the downs. To the south, they used to go down to the river Wylye, but are now truncated by the bypass. The development of Codford St. Mary has been somewhat different. The church is situated north of the High Street, protected by the surrounding hills and approached by a narrow lane leading from the High Street. In front of the church is a large field, in which some evidence of earlier settlement has been found. It is likely that this was the site of the original village, which grew up around the church. Later settlement moved to the High Street, no doubt to capture through trade and custom.
In 1252/3, a market was granted by Royal charter to the Lady of the Manor of Codford St. Mary and this may have been held in the area known as Cheapside, now the southern end of the Chitterne Road. Nothing further is known of the market and it is doubtful if it had a very long life. Perhaps it was not well placed; certainly there were other markets in the area, which would have detracted from trade in Codford.
Until very recent times, Codford was a self-sufficient farming community, based on sheep and corn, mainly barley. The light soils of the downs were easy to work, but being thin they needed regular fertilising, provided traditionally by folding flocks of sheep on the fields. At the end of winter, however, there was little food left for them and many animals were slaughtered in the autumn, keeping only those essential to start new flocks. In the mid-seventeenth century, this problem was overcome by the cutting of water meadows along the length of the Wylye valley. This allowed an early bite of grass for the sheep, which could now be kept through the winter. Such was the improvement that the greatly increased yields of barley supplied the maltsters at Warminster, making it the most important corn market in the district.
One of Codford's major occupations, after agriculture, was connected with the wool trade. There were several fulling mills along the local stretch of the Wylye and the probate inventories of Codford for the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries record several weavers and numerous spinning turns (the forerunner of the spinning wheel). But in the late eighteenth century, an enterprising man from outside the village, one James Raxworthy, set up a wool sorting business. For this purpose he built a wool store which still stands today, and here the fleeces were picked over and according to type. They were brought in on wagons, which parked in what is now the Woolstore Theatre and the fleeces were distributed over several storeys to the wool sorters. These were skilled men, who learned to judge the grades of wool, and they were among the best-paid workers in the industry, but they risked catching wool sorters' disease, a human variant of anthrax. Nevertheless, many people in Codford were employed in the business, which continued well into the twentieth century.
During the First World War, the Army used Codford as a training camp and remount centre. Hundreds of troops passed through on their way to the Western Front and many more spent time in the Hospital erected here. The whole area outside the immediate village was covered with wooden army huts in a number of camps and a branch railway was built from Codford Station, up behind the village to the north, to bring in supplies and to carry troops to the main line. The Second World War saw much the same sort of use of the village, with its proximity to Salisbury Plain as a training area and its railway connection. In the First World War, the poet Edward Thomas spent the last few weeks of his life here, and in the next war, the artist Rex Whistler was stationed here. He decorated one of the rooms in the Officers' Mess.
The First World War also saw an influx of soldiers nom Australia and New Zealand, known as the ANZACs, and it was they who cut the ANZAC badge of a rising sun on the south-facing hill to the east of the village. Many of these men succumbed to the 1918/19 'flu epidemic and they are buried in the ANZAC Cemetery, situated in a peaceful spot near St. Mary's church. The Second World War brought Americans to the village and the Woolstore became a Social Club and Cinema for the GIs. In the 1930s it was turned into a theatre and remains a unique feature of village life today.
Today there is no industry in Codford. Recently, a small barn-type warehouse has been erected for the storage and distribution of musical instruments. There are two large farms and several smaller ones; a garage, at the west end of the High Street, which sells fuel and carries out maintenance and MOTs; and to the north, along the Chitterne Road, is a cold-storage depot, which employs a number of local people. During the First and Second World Wars, many small shops opened up along the High Street, mainly to serve the troops. All the shops and the Post Office have gone from the High Street, the garage having expanded to sell food and everyday commodities, with the Post Office at one end. At the opposite end of the village, near St. Mary's church, is the West Country Fine Food depot, with a butcher's shop attached. This is really a distribution centre for delicatessen and unusual culinary items, but employs a large team of drivers, mostly from the local community. Until a short while ago, there was also a motor-caravan showroom in the High Street, now removed to Warminster; the site will eventually carry a semi-detached pair of houses.
The railway arrived in Codford in 1857 as a stop on the Salisbury to Warminster line. The station was built in Ashton Gifford on the lane to Boyton and was an important feature in both world wars serving the army camp after military railway lines were built to the Codford Camp in the First World War. The station was closed for passengers in 1956 and for freight in 1960 and the site is now the headquarters of the Country Gentlemen's Association.
Services were slow to reach Codford; almost every household had a well, some had two or three, and this was the only source of water until the Second World War, when water was supplied to the troops. After the war, the Rural District Council took over water administration and made it available to villagers from 1949-51. Electricity arrived in 1934. Even today there is no mains gas and no mains drainage. There are two small sewage plants serving two of the housing estates, but most properties have septic tanks. Gas is used in the form of cylindered Calor Gas.
The river Wylye has always been susceptible to flooding and in the past the area to the south of the village was called the Great Marsh. The water meadows would have helped to control flooding to some extent, but even in modem times, both the Wylye and the Chitterne Brook have flooded extensively, most notably during the First World War, when the village was known as Codford-on-the-Mud, and in the winter of 1993/4.
The village has a large and fully-used hall, a surgery with a pharmacy, a purpose built veterinary surgery, a primary school, a large recreation field, tennis courts and a pub. It is served by hourly buses to Bath and Salisbury, which also stop at Warminster, where there is a railway service to Wales and Portsmouth, with connections to Salisbury, London and Exeter.
Find more information on Codford at www.englandspastforeveryone.org.uk/Counties/Wiltshire/Explore/Landing