The present civil parish of West Overton formed part of the larger ancient parish of Overton which was composed of the tithings of West Overton, East Overton, Lockeridge and Shaw, and the chapelries of Fyfield and Alton Priors; the last of these a detached portion of the parish. Also included in the ancient parish was a detached portion of West Overton tithing, known as Overton Heath.
It has been suggested that the name "Overton" itself which was described in 939 as 'of ancient use' and which signifies "the upper farmstead," may have served to distinguish an earlier settlement from a "lower farmstead", possibly lying in the Lockeridge-Fyfield area.
The returns for the 1871 census indicate an overall population in the ancient parish of Overton at that date as 871 people. By the next census in 1881, however, boundary changes had led to the incorporation of portions of the ancient Overton parish into the new civil parishes of West Overton, Fyfield and Alton. That of West Overton included the settlements of West and East Overton and Lockeridge and there were 673 people in the whole of the parish;
West Overton civil parish has a largely triangular shape. From its northern apex located near Hackpen Hill the western boundary follows the route of the Ridgeway southwards passing to the west of Totterdown Wood and to the east of East Kennett village. To the south of East Kennett its boundary follows a number of right angled turns which are believed to follow the line of ancient field boundaries. The southern boundary follows the Wansdyke for a distance and then drops south of this to the parish's most south-easterly point. A large section of West Woods lies within in the south-east corner of the parish and, having crossed this the eastern boundary continues northwards with numerous further right-angled bends until it regains the northern apex of the triangular parish.
The parish is made up of two masses of chalk downs bisected by the valley of the River Kennet. The northern apex of the parish triangle stands at approximately 254m. above sea level and here Overton Down is scattered with sarsen stones, the so-called "grey wethers" from their likeness at a distance to a grazing flock of sheep. Other supposed derivations of the term "sarsen" have been postulated as "saracen" or the Anglo Saxon terms "sar" (troublesome) "stan" (stone) reflecting the hindrance they have posed to agriculture. One writer has described the landscape of Overton Down and the adjacent Fyfield Down as "one of the most glorious areas for walking in Wiltshire".
The southern chalk downs lie at some 213m. above sea level at their highest and are overlaid with clay with flints. In this southern upland section too sarsen stones litter the landscape, in particular at Pickledean and Lockeridge Dene where they have been under the protection of the National Trust since the early 20th century.
The northern chalkland slopes down southwards for some 4 km. and this land, previously the site of open fields, continues under the plough today. The southern chalk land, also primarily arable, slopes down northwards to the Kennet valley. Pasture land lies on the alluvium deposits south of the river; earlier extensive water meadows existed here but modern day extraction of water from the nearby chalkland has resulted in the riverbed of the Kennet being mainly or entirely dry for several months of the year. To the south of the alluvium deposits the settlements of West and East Overton developed on gravel deposits which formed a terrace approximately one kmilometre wide.
It is believed that the Ridgeway, forming the western boundary of the parish, had fallen into disuse as an important route by the first century AD. Traces of the Roman road to Bath from Mildenhall (Cunetio) are visible north of the current A4 road in a line between West Kennett and North Farm, West Overton. An embankment carried the road over the Ridgeway, indicating the lack of use of the latter route at the time of construction of the Roman Road.
Numerous ancient trackways run across Overton Down, one of which leads from the eastern exit of the Avebury circle to Marlborough and crosses apparently pre-existing field systems. In the course of this route numerous other tracks divide from the main trackway, which until the late 17th century formed part of a major London to Bath road; the trackway has been named a Herepath (Saxon highway) a designation which has been disputed by some historians. Numerous coach wheel ruts are still visible on Fyfield Down near Delling Copse close to the parish border, revealing the coach drivers' attempts to avoid muddy and churned ground. At Beckhampton on its western course from Avebury the track met the primary alternative route running from Marlborough along the Kennet Valley to Calne.
The Kennet Valley road, now known as the A4, was turnpiked in 1742/3 and became a major coaching route to Bath, although the downland track remained in use for pedestrians and light vehicles. In turn, however, major traffic carried on the A4 moved to the M4 motorway once the section between Reading and Chippenham had been completed in the mid-1970s.
That the parish of West Overton has been the site of extensive human activity and settlement since Neolithic times is evident from the substantial traces left behind on the landscape. Considerable research and debate has centred on the archaeological discoveries made both above and below ground. Barrows of diverse types and complexity together with artefacts from the Neolithic Period and the Bronze and Iron Ages have been located. Evidence of settlement from the Iron Age has been discovered particularly on the chalk uplands north and west of North Farm, while north-west of the farm house an Iron Age enclosure, covering approximately two hectares, is surrounded by a bank and ditch. A group of seven bowl-barrows on Overton Hill and another four near North Farm have given rise locally to the names "Sevenbarrow Hill" and "Four Hill Fields". Evidence of Romano-British settlement has also been discovered in the form of hut sites north of the Bell Inn near Down Barn and in the north of the parish on Overton Down. In the latter location funerary monuments containing cremations of the 3rd and 4th centuries have been discovered.
The primary settlements in the present civil parish of West Overton are the village of West Overton itself and Lockeridge. East Overton is no longer named as a discrete settlement. The buildings north and west of the church of St. Michael in West Overton represent, in fact, the remainder of East Overton. In 1377 there were 37 poll-tax payers in the tithing of West Overton and 63 in that of East Overton and the relatively larger size of the latter is further indicated by house platforms to be seen in the present day in the field to the south of the church. Census returns indicate that in 1801 both West and East Overton each had a population of 172 people. The declining presence of East Overton is indicated by its absence on the Andrews and Dury map of 1773, where only West Overton is marked.
In 939 Athelstan granted a nun, Wulfswyth, 15 mansae (land sufficient for the maintenance of a household) at Overton which, in 1066 and 1086, belonged to the bishop of Winchester; this land is identified as the later manor was known as East Overton. In 1066 East Overton paid geld for 15 hides (c.1,800 acres) and in 1086 the land supported seven ploughteams with approximately 1,040 acres in demesne. By 1086 the bishop had assigned the estate to support the monks of Winchester Old Minister. The population figure is omitted in the Domesday record but it is stated that they worked approximately 600 acres of ploughland and 15 acres of meadow; pastureland measured eight furlongs long and four wide and woodland five furlongs long and two wide. Durand of Gloucester held a small portion of the estate (approximately 225 acres).
At the Dissolution the estate passed to the Crown. In 1541 a royal grant of the manor was made to the chapter at Winchester, but it was subsequently conveyed again to the Crown in 1547. In the same year the estate was granted to Sir William Herbert, who would be created Earl of Pembroke in 1551, and it descended with the title until 1682 and then by sale to a director of the South Sea Co., Francis Hawes. East Overton formed part of Hawes's property which was confiscated by parliamentary trustees after the bursting of the South Sea Bubble and was subsequently sold to the trustees of John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough. The estate descended by inheritance and sale to the trustees of Sir Henry Meux, Bt. who died in 1883.
In terms of the agricultural activity supporting the population of East Overton from the Middle Ages, in 1210 the demesne flock at East Overton comprised 300 sheep; in 1299 the combined manor of East Overton and Fyfield supported a flock of 1,439 sheep and lambs. Open fields known as South, East and North fields in 1567 occupied chalk terraces north and south of the River Kennet; by 1728 the three fields had been subdivided into North, Yonder, South, Vicar's, Coneys, Long, Bittam, Hatch Yatt, White Barrow and Pound fields. In 1567 there was a common meadow called Broad Mead and common pastures called Prior's Ball, Full Ridge and Hursley which were estimated at a total of 100 acres. Some enclosure of the open fields and common meadow took place in 1719 and exchanges of land by agreement between the lord of East Overton and his tenants, the freeholders and leaseholders of Lockeridge tithing, the lord of Fyfield manor, and others also occurred. Reorganization of farms took place prior to parliamentary enclosure in 1821, including the division of the manorial estate, probably previously farmed from the Old Manor to the west of the church, into North and South Farms on either side of the London-Bath road around 1800.
By the later 19th century the Meux estate included not only South Farm and North Farm but also Fyfield, Lockeridge, Glebe and Clatford Park Farms. In addition it included 718 acres of West Woods. Both Overton and Fyfield Downs were used for gallops in racehorse training. By the late 19th century also large rabbit warrens were maintained on Overton Down and the adjacent Fyfield Down, the warrener lodging at Delling Cottage east of Delling Copse. Many rabbit carcasses were sent from here to London meat dealers. The widow of Sir Henry Bruce Meux, the son of the first Sir Henry, sold most of the estate in 1906 to Alexander Taylor, racehorse trainer of Manton House, Preshute. When rabbit holes presented a danger to the racehorses on their training gallops over the downs, the rabbits were destroyed. Gallops continue in existence today. Mr. Alexander Taylor subsequently sold the estate to the Olympia Agricultural Co. Ltd. The company's farm manager, Frank Swanton, bought North, South and Fyfield farms in 1925; he had already taken a tenancy of North Farm in 1914. After his death in 1971 his sons R.G.F and R. Swanton farmed as F. Swanton and Sons. Some 800 acres of land on Overton and Fyfield downs were retained by the Olympia Agricultural Co. Ltd. and in the 1970s these were owned by Mr. J.V. Bloomfield as part of his estate at Manton. In 1928 the Company disposed of 1,008 acres of West Woods and in 1931 these were acquired by the Forestry Commission.
Manor House dates partly from the early 17th century, the older west range having walls of sarsen rubble and timber framing. A later eastern wing was added and remodelled in the late 19th century. The whole house was remodelled in the later 20th century. North Farmhouse dates from the late 18th/early 19th century.
The thatched roofed Church Hill Cottage dates from the 17th century or earlier with later additions. Two other cottages on Church Hill date from the 17th century with 18th century and later additions. .
The vicarage house, first mentioned in 1588 was rebuilt in the early 19th century and enlarged later in the century. The house was sold in 1939 and became known as Overton, and then West Overton, House. A new house for the united benefice of Overton with Fyfield and East Kennett was built on the south-eastern edge of the village.
In West Overton in 972 King Edgar granted Alflaed ten mansae identifiable with the manor known later, in 1275, as West Overton. At Domesday in 1086 the estate was held by Wilton Abbey and it was recorded that "...in King Edward's time geld was paid for 10 hides [some 1200 acres]". In 1086 there were some 850 acres in demesne worked by two ploughteams and two serfs. The population of the estate was approximately 50 people. The Domesday Book also states that there was a mill paying 10 shillings, 5 acres of meadow, 20 acres of pasture and 20 acres of woodland. The estate was worth 100 shillings.
West Overton manor continued to be held by Wilton Abbey until the Dissolution when it passed to the Crown. It was subsequently granted to Sir William Herbert and his wife Anne in 1544. In 1567 the demesne contained 168 acres of arable land and seven acres of meadow; a large flock of sheep was also maintained. The estate, which included a detached portion at Overton Heath in the south-east corner of the parish of Overton, then descended with the Pembroke title. In the earlier 17th century the Kingman family were tenant farmers of the demesne and for most of the 18th century the Cooke family. In 1784 Edward Pumphrey became tenant and his family continued to work at West Overton Farm into the 19th century. Elsewhere on the estate land tenancies were small and numerous: In 1794 seventeen tenants held some 560 acres, approximately 30 acres each; a few worked larger farms of 50-100 acres.
The first Pembroke survey of the estate shows that in 1631 West Overton's arable fields lay on the chalk soil north and south of the village and were named North, West or Little, and South fields. Common meadow lay in South and Little Meads and Northside and Southside Meadows. A 30 acre common known as Common Woods provided herbage and pasture to the tenants and another of 40 acres named Heath or Abbess Wood was shared with Pembroke tenants in North Newnton and its tithing of Hilcott. The arable fields north of the London-Bath road had been subdivided by around 1794 and were named Upper, Middle and Lower fields; those south of the road were Ditch Hedge, Double Hedge and Windmill fields. At this date there were 177 acres of pasture called Cow and Tenantry downs, Mill Ham and Church Ditch.
Enclosure of 551 acres of the open fields and common meadows and pastures took place in 1802. By 1818 the farmed land of West Overton had been consolidated into two farms: one the former demesne, called West Overton Farm, of 330 acres and another of some 200 acres believed to be the later Park Farm at Overton Heath; this farm also held 10 acres of water meadows beside the River Kennet. It has been suggested that the original manor house of West Overton may have been located opposite West Overton farm. West Overton Farm house was known as Overton House in the late 19th / early 20th centuries and dates from c.1825.
In 1917 West Overton Farm (665 acres) was sold to J.H.E Poole; Park Farm (116 acres) at Overton Heath was sold to F.W. Harvey and some 257 acres including Pickrudge and Pumphrey woods to F. Spearman. The Forestry Commission acquired 180 acres of woodland on the estate in 1940. In the late 1970s Mereacre Ltd. owned West Overton Farm.
In 1086 a mill on the Abbess of Wilton's estate at Overton paid 10 shillings yearly. In the late 15th century a water-mill existed within West Overton manor and paid rent to Wilton Abbey and was still in existence in 1631. It is known that in 1730 a farm with water-mill and windmill attached at Overton was sold to a Stowell Smith and passed by inheritance until they were sold in 1806 to Richard Matthews of East Kennett. West Overton water-mill was owned by Edward Pumphrey in 1821 but appears to have become out of use by the mid 19th century. It stood north of Wet Overton Farm by the River Kennet. The site of the windmill was in "Windmill Field", approximately 1.5 km. south west of the village.
In the 20th century new housing in West Overton village included a small estate of council housing dating from the 1950s and a private development from the 1970s. The latter was built on the land on which had stood three cottages known as "Peacock", the name deriving from a peacock-shaped hedge in front of the building. The development retains this name. Also dating from the 1970s is a small development at Southfield, south of South Farm house.
The significance of the London to Bath road running along the valley of the River Kennet and turnpiked in 1743 has been noted above. Two inns stood on the south side of this road at either end of the West/East Overton combination, each at the corner of a lane leading over the river Kennet and crossing riverside meadows to the village itself. On the west side of the lane leading to East Overton and south of the London - Bath road, the George Inn was in existence in 1736 and appears on Andrews' and Dury's map of 1773. No further mention of this inn has been located after an Alehousekeeper's Recognizance for 1826-7. However, the bridge at this point is named "George Bridge". On the corner of the lane leading from the main road to West Overton, the New Inn appears on a map of 1819; the name of this inn changed in approximately 1823 to the Bell Inn and remains in operation under this name today. A third path from the road existed midway between the two lanes on the tithing boundary between East and West Overton, a footbridge carrying the path over the River Kennet.
The derivation of the name "Lockeridge" is believed to be "ridge marked by enclosures". It is a hamlet located along the bottom of a small of a small valley running south-westwards from the River Kennet. The land later identifiable as Lockeridge manor was held in 1066 by Elmar; this comprised 2 hides (approximately 240 acres). By 1086 it had passed to Durand of Gloucester and then descended to Durand's great nephew, Miles of Gloucester - created earl of Hereford in 1141. The Domesday survey found a population of about 15 people there. There was one ploughteam, 1 acre of meadow, 12 acres of pasture and 6 acres of woodland. The value of the estate was 30shillings. Between 1141 and his death in 1143 Miles granted the land to the Knights Templar. Following the suppression of the order of Templars in 1308 the estate, the later manor of Lockeridge, passed to the Knights Hospitallers and was subsequently administered until the Dissolution from the preceptory at Sandford in Oxfordshire. After the Dissolution the estate passed to the Crown and was then granted in 1543 to Richard Andrews; it was forthwith conveyed to Christopher Dissmore and his wife Jane, or Joan. Upon the death of her husband Jane held Lockeridge for life until it reverted to Dissmore's cousin, John Dissmore, from whom it was purchased by Henry, Earl of Pembroke (d. 1601). It descended, with East Overton, with the Pembroke title to 1680 when it was sold to Edmund Naish. By 1768 the manors of Lockeridge and Upper Lockeridge were in the ownership of the Duke of Marlborough.
One virgate (approximately 30 acres) of the two hides held by Durand of Gloucester in 1086 was held by lease of the church of Winchester - unlike the main holding of 210 acres which were held freely of the same church. This small portion also passed to Miles, Earl of Hereford and descended by inheritance with the holdings of the earldom. The estate was last mentioned as part of the holdings of the earldom in 1402. The land descended by sale and inheritance until in the early 18th century Richard Smith of West Kennett sold the land in two portions. In 1768 one portion was sold to George, duke of Marlborough, who in 1763 had acquired the other portion. Thereafter both portions descended together with the manor of East Overton.
It is known that in the earlier 12th century two hides of unknown provenance were held at Lockeridge by Walter de Beauchamp, who died in 1131. Between 1155 and 1169 it was passed to the Knights Templar and it is presumed that it was merged with their other land at Lockeridge as another hide granted by Robert of Ewias had been in the early 12th century.
A further, small, estate was held at Lockeridge in the earlier 13th century by the Macy family and in 1281 William Macy granted 60 acres of land to the priory of St. Margaret in Marlborough. This priory was also granted 40 acres more of land at Lockeridge, by Philip Francis. This estate, later called Upper Lockeridge, was held by the priory until the Dissolution.
The 1801 census records the population of Lockeridge as 194. By the mid 19th century most of the land in the Lockeridge tithing north of the River Kennet had been included in North Farm at Overton. The remaining 177 acres of Lockeridge Farm south of the river and an allotment made in 1821 representing tithes and glebe and leased from the vicar was worked in the later 19th century by the Rebbeck family. By 1906 however, Glebe Farm, composed of the former glebe was amongst the freeholdings of Lady Meux.
There was a mill in Lockeridge manor in 1564 but no further reference has been found.
Lockeridge House is brick-built and dates from the early 18th century, with additions of later 18th and 19th centuries. Cottages built in the 17th century include the sarsen stone Myrtle Cottage and Jay's cottage, built of sarsen with some timber framing. Hillside and Castle Cottages were also constructed of sarsen in the late 17th or early 18th century. Much of later 19th century building was at the north end of Lockeridge, built by the Meux family in conjunction with the C.E. Ponting who was architect and agent for the Meux estates. These buildings include estate cottages, a school and the Who'd a Thought It Inn. The house eventually received a full 'on' licence in the early 1930s, while in 1906 the village public house was The Masons' Arms, previously called the New Found Out, which was at the south-west end of the hamlet's main street and closed c. 1956. Lockeridge Cottage, on the road from Lockeridge to West Overton, was built c.1800 and was the home of C.E. Ponting. In Lockeridge Dene stands the 17th century Dene Farmhouse, and cottages of the 18th and 19th centuries. All are built of sarsen stones. It is believed that Dora Carrington stayed in a house named "The Latchet" in Lockeridge Dene when she visited this part of Wiltshire. Council and private residential housing added to the village in the course of the 20th century and modern houses are located along Overton Road towards the Kennet Valley Hall, built in the 1970s and serving as a community hall for West Overton, Lockeridge and Fyfield.
The now deserted village of Shaw lay in the southwest corner of the parish and was transversed not only by the Wansdyke but by the parish boundary between Alton Barnes and Overton. The term "Shaw" is Saxon meaning "small wood" or "thicket" and it is therefore likely that the village dates from this period. Its church was located in the Alton Barnes section of the village, which was apparently deserted by the earlier 15th century. In 1066 Shaw paid geld for approximately 285 acres and was worth 20 shillings. In 1086 the estate supported one villein and two serfs. There were 30 acres of pasture, and woodland 1.5 miles long by 1 furlong (approximately 220 yards) wide. In 1086 its value was £2. It is believed that the lands in the section of Shaw in Overton had been consolidated into one farm by the 14th century which had a small acreage of arable cultivation but functioned primarily as a sheep rearing hill farm. In the 1670s its flock numbered some 600 sheep. At the enclosure of Shaw Down in 1674 the owner of Shaw in Overton, Sir Robert Button, was allotted certain woods and 150 acres south of the Wansdyke. By 1834 the acreage of land under arable cultivation by the farm had increased substantially, perhaps as a result of woodland clearance. From 1907 to 1918 the farm was worked together with a farm at Alton Priors by Arthur Stratton, who established a "pioneer school for Land Women". The brick built, two-storey Shaw House Farmhouse dates from the early 19th century. From 1907 to 1918 the farm was worked together with another at Alton Priors by Arthur Stratton, whose establishment of a “school for training women in farm work” at Shaw was recorded in the report of his death in the Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette of 5th September 1918. The brick built, two-storey Shaw House Farmhouse dates from the early 19th century
West Overton, East Overton, Shaw and Lockeridge were included in the Marlborough Poor Law Union in 1835. By the time of the 1881 census of the new West Overton civil parish in 1881 there were 673 people in the whole of the parish; ninety years later in 1971 there were 478. In the early 21st century the populations of Lockeridge and West Overton village are almost equal in size and the population of the parish as a whole has increased again, standing at 629 in 1991 and 660 in 2001.