The civil parish of Chilton Foliat lies in Kinwardstone Hundred and covers an area of 2,202 acres. Until 1895 the parish included lands to the east of its current boundary; these were transferred at that date to Hungerford civil parish in Berkshire. This latter portion of the original parish had been noted as in Berkshire in 1086 and 1341 and therefore the original parish, of 3,494 acres, straddled both counties for several hundred years. The transferred Berkshire lands remain part of the ecclesiastical parish of Chilton Foliat. The account here will deal only with the Wiltshire section of the civil parish.
The principal settlement within the Wiltshire civil parish is the village of Chilton Foliat itself which sits alongside the River Kennet as it follows its northwest-southeast course through the south of the parish. The village lies approximately two miles north-west of Hungerford; Ramsbury is three miles to the west and Lambourn approximately six miles to the north. From the river valley to the north of the parish the land rises gently to downland which, at its highest point at the northwest boundary of the parish, lies at 187 metres. From this point the boundary runs briefly eastwards to Ragnal Pit - one of a number of disused chalk pits - then southeast along the course of the dry valley of Wiltshire Bottom, and southwards until it descends to the east of the village. Continuing south-eastwards it crosses the Kennet then travels westwards, skirting the north of Firze Hill woodland, and crossing Brickkiln Copse and Cake Wood; in the southwest of the parish the land lies at 169 metres. At this point the boundary again turns northwards to follow an almost direct course to reach the northwest corner of the parish again, crossing Littlecote House gardens and Foxbury Wood as it does so.
The parish lies mostly on chalk, with clay-with-flints deposits on the higher downland of the northern area. Alluvium deposits lie alongside the river Kennet and there are gravel deposits to the north and south of the river. Extensive gravel deposits lie along the course of Wiltshire Bottom.
From the London to Bath and Bristol road (the A4) north of Hungerford a road branches north from the outskirts of Hungerford, following the south bank of the Kennet, to Littlecote House. Entering the east of the parish, from Leverton, another road follows the north bank of the Kennet and passes through Chilton Foliat village, continuing to Ramsbury, Aldbourne and Swindon. The section of this road which passes through the village was being called the High Street in 1704.
The parallel roads north and south of the Kennet were linked at Chilton Foliat village by means of a bridge, shown on the Andrews and Dury map of 1773. The triple-arched bridge presently in place was constructed in the 18th century and widened in 1936. In the 19th and 20th centuries the southern road, bridge link and northern road were increasingly used by London to Swindon traffic, leading to their widening and classification as the A419(T) road in 1946. Following the opening of the M4 motorway in 1971, the A419(T) was less used for London to Swindon traffic and was detrunked in 1977. It is now classed as the B4192.
From Chilton Foliat village a road, Stag Hill, runs northwards to Straight Soley Farm; at this point it divides, one section running in a straight course north-east past East Soley Farm to the parish boundary and the other meandering north-westwards to the parish boundary. The form of these roads may have resulted in the names “Crooked Soley” for West Soley and “Straight Soley” for East Soley; these names have been used since the later 18th century. To the west of the village, however, another road runs from the now B4192 direct to Crooked Soley. The development of the Soley settlements in the northern section of the parish will be described at a later point in this account.
A substantial number of archaeological finds have been made in the parish, including Bronze Age tools found south-west of Chilton House, and pottery fragments of the same period behind Chilton Foliat School. Mesolithic tools have been found at Chilton Foliat village and Soley. Romano-British coins and brooches have also been found in the vicinity of the village, as have Saxon, medieval and Civil War artefacts. A full listing of archaeological finds may be found on the Wiltshire Council Sites and Monuments Record accessible from this website. The extent and range of archaeological finds indicates the long history of settlement activity in the parish.
In 1066 King Harold held the land which, after the Norman Conquest, would comprise Chilton Foliat manor. In the Domesday survey, Rainbald is recorded as holding Chilton Foliat manor (“Cilletone” - the name probably deriving from “Cilla's farm”) of Miles Crispin, who also held Wallingford castle; consequently Chilton Foliat manor became part of the honour of Wallingford and those who held the castle also held the manor. Rainbald held a number of other North Wiltshire manors of Miles Crispin. In c.1167 the demesne lord was Robert Foliot, and it is presumably from his name that the second element of the parish name derives.
The Domesday survey also records that prior to the Conquest geld was paid for 10 hides.
There is an indication that not all the land of the manor was in agricultural use as it is recorded that there was land for twelve ploughteams but only seven were in use, of which two worked on the demesne lands. The population was likely to be some 80 to 90 individuals. In addition there were two mills worth 4 shillings and meadow 402 metres long and 201 metres wide; woodland approximately 2 miles long and 402 metres wide plus an unspecified amount of pasture.
The fact that the demesne was apparently underused by ploughteams indicates that areas of uncultivated downland may have been assigned to found agricultural settlements at Soley in the north-east of the parish and Cakewood in the south-west. Consequently, by the early 13th century, Chilton Foliat's land had been divided into two or three agricultural units: Soley with 800 acres, Cakewood with 100-200 acres and Chilton Foliat itself with c. 1.200 - 1.300 acres.
Cakewood's open fields were cultivated by five tenants, each of whom held approximately 30 acres. This small hamlet was no longer in existence by the 16th century.
Chilton Foliat manor descended within the Foliot family to Henry, Lord Tyeys, who was attainted and excecuted in 1322. At this point the king granted the manor to Hugh le Despenser, later Earl of Winchester, who was himself executed in 1326. The manor was then restored to Tyeys' sister Alice. The population of the manor in 1327 comprised some 80 tenant households and the number of poll-tax payers (aged over 14) in the parish as a whole in 1377 was 87. There followed a chequered succession through the Lisle, Berkeley, Beaufort, Buckingham and Ros families but by 1505 the manor was again in the hands of the Crown.
In 1546 the king sold Chilton Foliat manor, Chilton Park and Leverton Manor (the latter now in Hungerford civil parish) to Sir Edward Darell of Littlecote House but he died in 1549 when only half the purchase money had been paid; consequently his heir, William, was made a ward of the king.
After 1549 a descendant of Edmund, Lord Ros named Henry Manners, Earl of Rutland, successfully claimed the estate and held it until his death in 1563. His son, Edward sold the manor in some eight portions between 1572 and 1574. Of these portions the largest was purchased by Thomas Rosewell who proceeded, between 1575 and 1578, to sell his portion in approximately 15 smaller lots. These lots subsequently descended separately.
William Darrell bought land south of Kennet and near Littlecote House from Lord Rutland in 1572 and also, probably c. 1578, a portion of Chilton Foliat manor, the manorial rights and demesne farm. By 1587 he also had two holdings at Soley. He sold the rights to Chilton Foliat manor to Sir Francis Walsingham who inherited after Darrell's death in 1589, but died himself the following year.
Much of the agricultural land of Chilton Foliat manor is believed to have been worked from Chilton House until Manor Farm was built on the north side of the Marlborough road, to the west of the House; this was in existence by 1791. On later Ordnance Survey maps of the 19th and 20th centuries this farm is named Chilton Farm but it is known as Manor Farm in 2013. Until enclosure was complete in 1813 there were two open fields at Chilton Foliat manor: North Field (141 acres) running north from the eastern part of the village and South Field (144 acres) lying east to west, south of the Kennet. There were also two common marshes beside the river, Upper Marsh (30 acres) lying to the south west of the village and Lower Marsh (47 acres) south-east of the village; the latter was converted to water meadow after 1813. Upper Marsh was added to Manor Farm; in 1929 Manor Farm comprised 273 acres.
The site of the medieval manor house of Chilton Foliat or its site, together with an enclosed demesne farm and former park, formed the nucleus of the Chilton House estate, deriving from a conveyance in 1590 by Sir Francis Walsingham to his secretary Francis Mylles. The original house was mentioned in documents of 1546 and was sited to the west of the church and demolished c. 1754. A new house, Chilton House, was built between 1755 and 1758 immediately north of the previous house site. The owner in 1834, Fulwar Craven, sold this estate, by then comprising 877 acres, to E.W. Leyborne-Popham and it was then incorporated into the Littlecote estate. The new house was demolished in 1965. Subsidiary buildings to the north of the house site were converted for residence after 1965. A photograph of Chilton House is 1950 is displayed in the parish church.
At Walsingham's death, part of the his estate, manorial rights and land at Soley were settled on his widow Ursula and later sold to Sir John Popham (d.1607), owner of Littlecote House, probably in 1591 by Ursula, her daughter Frances and the latter's husband Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex. The manor, much reduced in size, subsequently descended with Littlecote House. Littlecote Home farm, in the south-west of the parish, measured 159 acres in 1929.
In the north of the parish, there was possibly a nucleated settlement of Soley in the Middle Ages, resulting from the assignment, between 1086 and 1200, of some 800 acres of uncultivated downland for agricultural purposes. This resulted in the development of an East and a West Field, a common sheep pasture known as the Heath, and a common meadow whose divisions were decided by lot. In the 16th century and probably earlier, much of the Soley land was held by copyhold of Chilton Foliat Manor.
Soley's open fields were enclosed between 1585 and 1603, although the Heath may have been enclosed already by the earlier date. The meadow, Soley Lot Mead, was enclosed by Act in 1813.
In 1791 there were three farmsteads at East Soley and five at West Soley. In c.1813 there were three farms of 169, 108 and 92 acres at East Soley and 135, 133 and 62 acres at West Soley. All these farms were predominantly arable. By 1835 the Soley farms had been reduced in number to four, at sites later known as East Soley Farm, East Soley Old Farm, West Soley Farm and West Soley Old Farm. The last of these comprised 148 acres and was probably held by the tenant of Manor Farm.
By the end of the 19th century, in 1896, two farms, of 218 and 191 acres were in existence at East Soley; these were held as one by 1910 and in the 1960s measured 608 acres, and at this date included Manor Farm. East Soley Farm, still including Manor Farm, was still mainly arable in 1995.
Kelly's Directories of the 19th and 20th centuries record the chief crops of the parish as wheat, barley, oats and turnips.
West Soley Farm, at the end of the 19th century, measured 376 acres; in the 1920s and 1930s West Soley Farm was held with Manor Farm, although the latter would later pass to East Soley Farm. In the 1960s West Soley Farm was held with Chilton Stud farm until 1978, together with land at Thrup in Ramsbury parish, and was mainly arable. In the early 1980s, however, the farm was split: a 135 acre stud farm was based at West Soley Old Farm from 1981 and subsequently enlarged. From 1990 Raffin Stud, based at Thrup, owned 48 acres in the north-west corner of Chilton Foliat parish.
The Andrews and Dury map of 1773 shows that woodland at Soley was limited to Nordin's Copse, north east of East Soley. By 1791 Briary Wood and Hitchen copse had been planted and between c.1880 and 1898 Queen's Coppice was also in existence. Nordin's Copse and the southern half of Hitchen Copse were taken up between 1813 and 1880.
Woodland elsewhere in the parish included three coppices in the south-west corner of it in 1572; this probably included the eastern part of Cake Wood and the western part of Brickkiln Copse. In 1813, and in the late 20th century, 50 acres in each of these woods were in Chilton Foliat parish. Cake Wood was held by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food from 1953, and by the late 20th century by the Forestry Commission.
The eastern section of Foxbury Wood, along the western boundary of the parish, measured approximately 46 acres in 1813 and had reduced by only a little by 1922 and 1995 when they measured 42 acres. Queen's Coppice and another small area of woodland to its east were planted in the 20th century. Elsewhere, in the south of the parish, between Chilton Foliat village and the river Kennet is Stew Close, now known locally as “Fairyland” and, south of the river at this point, The Plantation, between Littlecote Park and Littlecote Home Farm; these were in existence in 1878 and remain in 2012. The Littlecote House estate was sold out of private hands in 1996 when it was purchased by the Warners Hotel Group from Mr. P.J. de Savary, who had owned it since 1985.
Between Chilton Foliat village and the eastern parish boundary lies a section of another estate, that of Chilton Lodge. The house itself and most of its grounds lie outside the modern Wiltshire boundary. Chilton Park Farm, on the north western edge of the estate is believed to be the site, or close to the site, of a lodge recorded in 1546 and part of the estate from 1574. This is likely to be the site of a house known as Chilton Park, lived in by Sir Thomas Hinton in the 1620s and 1630s and by Sir Thomas Hussey in the 1640s; it was enlarged by Sir Bulstrode Whitlock in the 1660s. The house was demolished in 1789 and a new house commissioned of Sir John Soane by the owner William Morland between 1789 and 1793. Within five years, however, the owner from 1796, John Pearse, commissioned yet another new house to be built; this was designed by Sir William Pilkington and stood some 600 yards east of the earlier buildings. Once completed, the Soane house was demolished.
The restoration of the kitchen garden of Chilton Lodge to a condition that it would have enjoyed in the 19th century was the subject of a BBC2 television series The Victorian Kitchen Garden in 1986.
In 1086 the Domesday survey records two mills as being in existence. In the early 14th century a water mill (probably for grain) and a fulling mill were in existence in Chilton Foliat Manor; the latter remained in existence until the 17th century. The corn mill was rebuilt in the 17th century and remained in use until the 1930s, a miller's house having been added in the early 19th century. Mill House and Mill Cottage remain, at the north end of the bridge crossing the Kennet, where the mill leet can also be seen in 2013.
A tannery was located in the village from 1620 or earlier, as was an inn. A wheelwright was in the village in 1608 and wool merchants in 1618.
Kelly's Directories of the 19th and earlier 20th centuries indicate a busy community. In addition to the listings of farmers there were, in 1848, a National Schoolmistress, two shopkeepers, button maker, two inns - the New Inn and Stag's Head Inn, a carpenter and wheelwright, three tailors, four boot and shoe makers, a butcher and maltster, blacksmith, tanner and currier, baker, grocer, post office and miller. In addition there was, of course, the parish church of St. Mary's which had been founded c. 1300, and a Wesleyan Methodist Chapel.
By the end of the century, in 1895, the number of tradespeople had reduced somewhat, but there were still two shopkeepers, a post office, a carpenter and wheelwright, a blacksmith, a boot and shoe maker, jobbing gardener and seedsman, water miller, and two public houses, the Wheatsheaf and the Stag's Head.
By 1939 trade in the village had reduced further, with a wheelwright, dairyman, shopkeeper and sub-postmaster, blacksmith (Oliver Dobson, a third generation village smith, who continued working until his death in 1969), bootmaker - and still the Wheatsheaf and Stag's Head public houses. The Stag's Head gave its name to the adjoining road to Soley immediately to its east, although the public house itself would close in the 1950s and is now Stag House.
The decline of trading and craft activities in the village is mirrored in the population decline from the mid-19th century onwards. In 1841 the population of the Wiltshire section of the parish was recorded as 627 people. A steady decline ensued until 1981, when it had fallen to 282. This may be explained by wider employment opportunities available in relatively nearby Swindon and in the increased facility of travel by means of the Great Western Railway whose station in Hungerford opened in 1847. In the 20 years from 1981 to 2011 population began a climb again, reaching 363 in the latter year's census, and the village's website, at www.chiltonfoliat.com indicates an active community.
In 1974 much of Chilton Foliat village was included in a conservation area designated by Wiltshire County Council, now Wiltshire Council. This designation reflects the number of buildings of architectural and historic interest in the parish. The Conservation Area extends from the bridge at the eastern end of the village to west of the church. Manor Farm to the north-west of the village is included.
In addition to buildings noted above, those listed by the Department of the Environment for their historic and architectural interest include the earliest extant building in the village, Chilton Cottage. This was previously three cottages and dates from the early to mid-15th century, according to carbon dating. The same process dates the thatched roof dates at 1580-1670. The cottage is of one storey and an attic with five bays, the central one of which was a parlour and later a bootmaker's workshop. The building was restored between 1975 and 1977.
A cottage at Skates Corner was formerly two dwellings, built in the 17th - 18th centuries. The single storey construction is of brickwork and flint, with a thatched roof.
The village contains numerous listed buildings of the 18th and 19th centuries and these include
Bridge House, described intriguingly by the Department of the Environment as “Assembly room or villa, now house. Built 1766 but incorporating earlier work. Built of brick with a tiled roof. 2 storey and attic. Inside: Piano nobile on first floor 16ft. high”. Nikolaus Pevsner's architectural study of Wiltshire questions whether the house could have been an inn, which was given an assembly room in 1766.
The Old Rectory dates from the mid-18th century, but incorporates 17th century elements, and is built of brick with a tiled roof. The house is now a private dwelling, having been sold in 1963 and a new rectory house built.
Chilton House Barn is also listed and dates from the 18th century. Other listed agricultural buildings are a barn and horse gin near Chilton Park Farmhouse; these date from the early 18th and 19th
Manor Farmhouse dates from the early 19th century and is described as redbrick with blue vitrified brick façade and tiled roof.
The thatched Wheatsheaf public house dating from the early 19th century is also a listed building. There had been an earlier inn of this name standing in 1767 and 1776 but this had been demolished by 1792. The current Wheatsheaf is now the only public house in the village. Descriptions of numerous other buildings in the parish listed by the Department of the Environment may be found at http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/england/wiltshire/chilton+foliat.
Unlisted buildings include the village hall, dating from 1895, and the former Methodist Chapel which was built in 1796, enlarged in 1932, but, having closed in 1988, is now a private dwelling.
The preponderance of brick, or brick and flint as construction materials in the parish may be explained by the presence of Hopgrass Brickworks south of the village and outside the parish boundary at Furze Hill, shown on the 1882 and 1900 Ordnance Survey maps.
Twentieth century residential development has taken place on an infill basis along the main road of the village, and along Stag Hill, leading northwards to Soley, where a new school was built in 1970.