The parish of Coombe Bissett lies three miles south west of Salisbury and is situated along both sides of the river Chalk. The soil is of chalk and gravel with a subsoil of chalk. The locals call it the entrance to the Chalk Valley. The detached part of Stratford Tony parish was amalgamated with that of Homington in 1885 and the parish of Homington itself was amalgamated with Coombe Bissett in 1934.
The name Coombe Bisset has had many spelling variations over the centuries. They have included: Come (1086), Cumbe (1158), Coumbe Byset super Ebelesburne (1288), Combissett (1639). Cumb was the name for valley. Homington has been called Humming tun (956), Humitone (1086), Humintona (1130, 1190), Hominto (1244), Hommynton (1244), Humington (1236). The name means ‘Humma’s Farm’.
Where the line of the Roman road cuts the Shaftesbury road there are four barrows, and more can be found east of Drove Lane on the south side of the Roman road. The latter were opened up by William Cunnington in 1803, but the skeletons inside had already been disturbed. An iron sword, spearheads, knives, buckles, rings and glass cups were among the finds in a smaller barrow nearby. A broad flat-bladed dagger was found in a Homington barrow and is now in the British Museum. Other finds in the barrow included a skeleton and an urn. There is an earthwork called Grimsdyke or Grims ditch running from the direction of Standlynch westward through Nunton and Odstock. It forms a part of the boundary for Coombe Bissett for three quarters of a mile before crossing the parish and is also part of the county boundary. On the western boundary is an ancient track known as ‘Wilterne Weie’. It was probably used to move merchandise from Poole to Wilton and was later used by smugglers. In the 19th century the parish covered 2,392 acres.
The approximately 300 year old pack horse bridge probably marks the course of the main road towards Blandford. It was called Ponte de Cume in 1249. The River Ebble flooded regularly with melt water from the snows, right up until the 1950s. Homington Bridge was by the home of John ate Brigge in 1348 and by 1675 was called Hummington Bridge.
Coombe Bissett was a royal manor in the Cawdon Hundred at the time of the Domesday survey. Gytha, mother of Earl Harold and widow of Earl Godwin held it and there was land for 20 ploughs. The church of Coombe Bissett had half a hide and was held by Leofric the priest. Osbern the priest held Homington at the time of the Domesday survey; there was land for one plough. Alfsi held the land previously. In the 13th century the de Plessettis (or Plessys) held Biset and Colt Hoare notes that in 1275 ‘Hugh de Plessy and John de Wolytton, or Wotton, held one knight’s fee of the King in chief, in Cumbe, by reason of their wives; and they claimed to have gallows and the assize of bread and ale’. By 1303 the heir to the estate had changed his name from Wotton to Biset. The following generation saw Hugh de Plessetis and John Byset as heirs to the estate. Both were under age and wards of the King. During the reign of King Edward III the manor continued to be divided into portions. By 1394 the Knight Walter de Romeseye ‘held the manor of Combe in Wiltshire’. At the time of King Edward I the Warden of Maiden Bradley ‘claimed to have the assize of bread and ale in Humeton’. In the 15th century the Hungerfords held the estate, but upon Robert’s marriage to the daughter of Lord Molins he was commonly called by that name. The Earl of Radnor was also lord of the manor during this period.
The Domesday survey recorded that there was 60 acres of meadow and pasture that was one league long by one league wide, and 10 acres of small wood. Coombe Bissett Down was called Montem de Cumbe in 1279. In Homington there were six acres of pasture and three acres of meadow, and Homington Down was called Homington Downe in 1594 (there was also ‘Longford, The Downes’ in 1639). Standing close to Grim’s Ditch in the early 20th century was an ancient wood called Great Yews. In the medieval period the manorial flocks of Coombe Bissett totalled between 100 and 500 sheep. By the end of the 19th century the chief crops of both parishes were wheat, barley and turnips. A water meadow system was in use throughout the 19th century. By the end of the 20th century the water channels and sluice gate had become disused.
Watercress beds could be found by the bridge. They were seasonally repaired and planted by sprinkling plants on the surface of the water with a pronged fork to be harvested at a later date. Bundles were pushed up the track in an old wheelbarrow and in the 20th century were collected by taxi and taken to Salisbury market.
One of the 19th century landowners of the parish, John Pinniger, who owned Northend Farm (later renamed Manor Farm), was a central figure in the Swing Riots of November 1830. His threshing machines had been destroyed and he had been attacked and robbed. One of his accusers, James Lush, was sentenced to death. There was a public outcry and petition raised (James said that false oaths had been used against him) and the sentence was reduced to transportation.
Coombe Bissett had 159 tax payers in 1377 and Homington had 116. The population of the parish rose steadily from 271 in 1801 to reach 415 in 1851. By 1861 the figure had dropped to 337 (it is thought that migration to larger towns in the area was the cause) and steadily declined thereafter, to reach a low of 241 in 1932. The increase in 1951 to 425 can be attributed to the parish of Homington being transferred to Coombe Bissett in 1934. Population figures for Homington show that it too had a continual small rise from 148 in 1801 to 200 in 1831. There began a decline to 144 in 1871, with a recovery thereafter (aided by part of the parish of Stratford Toney being transferred to it in 1885). By 1921 number had declined again to 161, and the number in the early 1930s had reached 134.
The majority of buildings in the parish are made of Flemish bond brick, some thatched. Wheat straw still covered many roofs in the 1920s and was the cause of three houses burning down in 1925.
There is a cottage in Drove Lane dating from the early 19th century, of the above brick with a Welsh slated, half hipped roof and an attached chalk outhouse. In Houghton Road most of the buildings are 18th century. The Brines is of plastered cob and brick with a thatched roof. Church Farmhouse and The Old House have an L-plan shape. Palmer’s barn at The Croft has 18th century weatherboarding on a timber frame at the front and cob on flint and brick nogging to the rear. There is a 17th century detached cottage called The Foots which has plastered chalk rubble and timber framing with a thatched half hipped roof.
On the Rockbourne Road is a late century farmhouse, now two cottages. They are typical examples with Flemish bond brick, a thatched roof in an L-plan shape. An early 19th century limestone milestone can also be found, stating that it is twenty two miles from Poole and 6 miles from Cranborn.
In Salisbury Road lies Bridge House, a mid 18th century house which was enlarged and remodelled in the early 19th century. It is of Flemish bond brick with a tiled roof. There is an 18th century out shut to the rear and the house has some 19th century internal fittings.
Homington House lies just off Salisbury Road and was built in the early 19th century, with a west wing added in the later 19th century and east wing of c.1930. Of painted Flemish bond brick, it has an ornamental tiled roof and is L-plan in shape. There are moulded lion heads over the round arch of one window and on the ground and first floor.
Situated on this road is also the Old Mill House, an early 18th century building with a late 18th century addition. It is of English bond brick with a tiled roof, L-plan with an out shut. There are stone quoins and a tooth eaved cornice to the first floor. There is also a barn with a waterwheel attached on the south end. The barn is dated mid 18th century and the wheel late 19th. It consists of weatherboarding on a timber frame of five bays, a half hipped concrete roof, planked double door and a verandah which projects over the river to the stones on the east front. Fletcher’s is a late 18th century detached house of Flemish bond brick with a tiled roof. The first floor has the initials I. H. in vitrified headers over the door.
Shepherd’s Lane Close is the site of Frampton’s Cottage, of Flemish bond brick and dressed limestone. It has a double Roman tiled roof and a stone tablet over the door marked JH/1715. The first floor includes a timber framed partition.
In Shutts Lane can be found Minters, a detached 15th century cottage with 17th century alterations. It is a two and a half bay crucked cottage, of which the half bay is the remains of the open hall. Luther’s is a late 17th cottage with a mid 18th century bay to the east. It is of chequered flint and chalk to the earlier part and Flemish bond brick to the later. It is thatched with a thatched canopy over the central doorway.
Martin’s is situated on the Stratford Toney Road and is an early 19th century house. The walls are of painted Flemish bond brick and the hipped roof is of Welsh slate. There is a wrought iron verandah with decorated posts and cresting to the corrugated iron roof and whole of the ground floor. Manor Farmhouse is of late 18th century; the single story wing was heightened in the 19th century. It has English brick bond walls and a tiled half hipped roof. The shape is L-plan. The building was renovated in 1975.
At New Farm there was a donkey wheel housed in a shed and used to draw water from a deep well.
The village of Homington has a couple of 16th century buildings. There is a two bay farmhouse with rendered 17th century walls and original timber framing including a jettied first floor (now encased by the 17th century rebuild). The Manor is of the late 16th century. The associated granary is 18th century, timber framed with stretcher bond brick, a pyramidal tiled roof and staddle stones. The Manor was refaced in the 17th century and is in an L-plan shape with a fine plaster ceiling in the 18th century wing. In the 17th and 18th century it was probably owned by the Wyndham family who may have added the west wing c.1730. The 17th century buildings in Homington include a timber framed cottage with brick nogging and another cottage of chalk and flint chequers with a thatched roof. Another has a tablet over the door inscribed WOR/1726. Homington Farmhouse was built in the mid 18th century, altered in the 19th and in an L-plan. There is a 19th century barn attached to the rear, forming an enclosed courtyard on three sides. The Church of St. Mary the Virgin lies on the south side of the village and dates from the 14th century. It is of flint with limestone dressings and has a tiled roof. The Countess of Radnor resided at Homington House in the 1930s.
In Coombe Bissett itself the church of St. Michael and All Angels is built of stone and flint, its earliest features dating from the 12th century. It is situated close to the old turnpike road leading to Woodyates. The national school was built in 1845 and enlarged in 1889.
The first evidence of a smithy in the village was in the will of John Lambe, 1671. In the 17th century the smithy premises included a brewhouse, milkhouse, buttery and blacksmith’s shop and 1801 the smithy was situated opposite the church. The village smithy finally closed c. 1918 but a smithy in Homington continued until 1953. The blacksmith Cornelius Cure made the 19th century gate that is at the entrance to a small field on the Stratford Tony road (in situ in the 1980s). It is thought the field was used to keep freshly shoed horses awaiting collection by their owners. George and John Farris started up a steam ploughing works in the village between 1871 and 1881. ‘Foundry Cottages’ mark the site.
In the 1851 census the majority of the population of Coombe Bissett were farm labourers. Of the rest, 18 were general servants and nine famers’ shepherds. Other occupations included ostler, carpenter, carter (8), assistants (11), coal and wood merchant, blacksmith (2), drillman (3), mason (3), farmer (6), dressmaker (3), house keeper (3), cordwainer (2), groom (2), errand boy (2), common carrier (2), laundress (2), retired labourer and/or on union relief (7) and retired shoemaker. In Homington the vast majority of inhabitants were agricultural labourers and there were a few paupers (one listed as bedridden).
By 1891 most Coombe Bissett inhabitants were now employed as agricultural labourers with other occupations recorded as gardener (6), servant (7), cook (6), housemaid (6), nurse (2), coachman (2), governess (1), house keeper (2), errand boy (2), courier (2), dairyman (2), carter (14), blacksmith (3), ostler, iron moulder (1), carpenter (4), pauper (3), shepherd (8), farm bailiff (2), dressmaker (2), thatcher, needlewoman, organist, plough boy, caretaker, coachman, farmer, hawker, shoemaker, laundress. The variety of occupations had extended slightly but most were still employed in agricultural work. It appears that the farmers may have moved up in the world or that some higher status families had moved into the parish as there were cooks, gardeners, housemaids and a governess by the late 19th century. The 1891 census also recorded a retired stock broker from Middlesex, aged 42 with his 25 year old wife who had been born in Queensland! In Homington the variety of occupations had extended to look a little more like those of Coombe Bissett.
There was a beer house run from a cottage in the village, run by Mary Meaden. The building was demolished in 1945. Next to the bridge could be found a shop and post office in the 20th century. In 1851 the Fox and Goose pub could be found on the Turnpike Road, where the toll collector also resided (at the Toll House). There was also a beer house on Coombe Street where the ‘retailer of beer and cider’ resided. By 1891 the Fox and Goose pub was found on The Street, a change to the street name rather than the site of the pub, I would think. Homington appears to have had no public house. A police constable appeared on both the 1851 and 1891 census, but in 1891 there was also an ‘inspector of nuisances’! Homington had a police station by 1885; the sergeant in charge was William Jarvis. The early years of the post office were recorded in 1851 with a ‘letter receiver’ called William Brooks residing at the post office in Coombe Street. By 1891 the address had changed to Cross Stone Street where the sub postmaster was also a thatcher and had a post office assistant working with him. Also listed in the 1891 census were two bakers near Wing’s Farm, and a baker and grocer resided at a shop in The Street. In 1898 there was an agricultural implement manufacturer and steam ploughing proprietor resident, still showing the community’s links with agriculture. The village baker was called George Lush Spicer! By 1891 Homington had a shopwoman working from a shop based in The Street. There was a blacksmith in Back Lane and George Farris, an agricultural implement manufacturer and steam ploughing proprietor, resided at ‘The Foundry’. Some more unusual residents included a retired medical student at Homington House and one man ‘kept by club’ A. O.F which we believe to mean the Association of Ancient Order of Foresters; he was registered as being blind.
Street names in the 1841 census included Turnpike Road, Barbers, Coombe Street, Brook’s Lane, Cooper’s Lane, Chalk Pit, Marsh Gravels, Salisbury Lane, Mill Way, Bottle Hill, Drove Lane, Blandford Turnpike. By 1891 the names had changed to Cawdon Lane, The Street, Cross Stone Street, Water Lane, Back Lane, Homington Road and Totton. There were far fewer street names for Homington; in 1851 they consisted only of Street and Down Farm. In the 1891 Census they were stated as The Street, Dairy Farm, Back Lane, The Hollow and Down Barn.
Hancock’s Charity of 1725 distributed relief to the poor of the parish on the festival of St. John the Evangelist (December 27th). It was more recently called ‘Farley Charity’ owing to its being a rent charge arising from land in Farley. Mr Feltham left a bequest in 1862 for bread to be given to the parish poor and the interest accrued from the £100 the Misses Fleetwood bequeathed was used to provide coal for the aged poor every January.
In the early 20th century, if not before, Whit Monday was club celebration day. The club itself met regularly at the Fox and Goose. There was dancing to a prize band from Broad Chalke and at the entrance to the field holding it was a Russian who made his bear dance to Rule Britanna for coppers. There was also a boxing booth, coconut shy and shooting at a rolling bottle. A youth club was running in the village in the early 1950s.
There was a village carrier service between Coombe Bissett and the Rising Sun in Salisbury, called the “Coombe Express”. Its two donkeys Jack and Jane always stopped at the Fox and Goose pub in the village and at the Royal Exchange in Salisbury for their ‘pint of beer apiece, served in mugs especially kept for them’! By 1928 a bus service running from Salisbury to Shaftesbury came through the village, operated by the Wiltshire and Dorset bus company. Charabanc outings took place to Bournemouth in 1922. Nellie Farris, resident in Coombe Bissett in the early half of the 20th century recounts that the best outings were organised by the Primitive Methodists. The events were also shared by the wider community. The Wilts and Dorset Motor Services Ltd passed through Coombe Bissett daily on its way to Salisbury.
A clown suit was made to celebrate the return of the British Army from the Boer War in 1901; it was covered in Union Jacks. A procession of school children held flags of the British Empire for the peace celebration of August 1919. There was also a Thanksgiving dinner for returned soldiers and sailors in August 1919, five years to the day after war was declared. A war memorial stands outside the church, erected c.1924 when a trust was set up for its continued care and upkeep (following a meeting at the vicarage in November 1924). It was called the Lady Caroline Benson Trust. The names of the fallen of WWII were inscribed on the back, c.1949, by G. Soper.