Easterton is a parish with a street village found in the centre of Wiltshire, on the northern edge of Salisbury Plain, in the Vale of Pewsey. It is approximately two miles north east of West Lavington and six miles south of Devizes. The parish is made up of 3,045 acres of land and comprises the village of Easterton and the hamlet of Eastcott, including the areas known as Easterton Sands and Eastcott Common. The parish is a strange shape; it takes in Easterton and Eastcott in the north, and then spreads downwards on a south eastern direction for five miles. It is sandwiched between the parishes of Market Lavington and Urchfont and the broadest section of the parish measures only one and a half miles. The parish lies on greensand in the north and chalk in the south with the majority of the village of Easterton being in a conservation area.
The main road passing through the parish is the B3098. The Ridgeway, an ancient and famous track way, runs through the parish along the top of a scarp slope.
Prior to 1874 Easterton had always been part of the parish of Market Lavington, although it had become a distinct unit in 1742 for Poor Law purposes. It had operated as a tithing, and also included in the parish were the village of Market Lavington (also known as East Lavington to distinguish it from West Lavington) and the tithing of Gore. In 1874 Easterton broke away and became a separate ecclesiastical parish, and soon became a civil parish in its own right. Easterton had been relieving its own poor since the 18th century, so was considered as now totally separate from Market Lavington. In 1884 Gore was transferred to West Lavington, meaning the parish of Market Lavington took on a whole new composition. In 1934, Eastcott, a hamlet, was added to Easterton. It has formerly been part of Urchfont parish.
The population of Easterton can only be looked at from 1881, which was the first time a census recorded it as a separate civil parish. In that year, there were 384 people living in the new parish. This remained fairly steadily in the 300s until 1951, when it jumped up to 427 from 301 in 1931. In 2001 there were 583 people living in the parish
Local author John Chandler was rather disparaging when writing about the parish in 2003. He said: “Lying as it does between Urchfont and Market Lavington, two parishes of great topographical interest, Easterton comes as something of a disappointment. Despite a surprising number of good timber frame houses, the village lacks cohesion and appears to consist of little more than three concentrations of buildings; around Easterton Manor and the Royal Oak; near the church and at Eastcott strung alongside a secondary road and interspersed with modern housing.” Easterton perhaps suffers from being a very new separate civil parish.
Easterton was probably only referred to as such from the 14th century; before this it was considered as part of (Market or East) Lavington. Lavington was called “Laventone” in the Domesday survey. Eastcott at that time was part of Urchfont. The name Easterton is thought to derive from the fact that it was 'the most easterly farm' (from Market Lavington). In the middle of the 19th century, an urn was excavated somewhere in Easterton which held Roman coins from around 350 AD. However the coins were sold and where the urn was dug up is not known. In the 19th century a trench was dug in the grounds of Kestrels, a large red brick house which was at that time owned by a Doctor Lake. Within this was found a skeleton and some Roman pottery, so it seems that there was some form of Roman occupation in the area at the start of the 1st millennium.
It seems as if Easterton became part of the duchy of Lancaster after Maud, heir of Patrick of Chaworth (who owned some kind of manor in the Lavington area), married Henry, Duke of Lancaster in 13th century. Patrick's manor must have included what is now Easterton, but it is not exactly clear because “Lavington” seemed to be something of a loose term at that time. The manor of Easterton was given to Sir Walter and Elizabeth Beauchamp for their lives in 1401. It was granted to Elizabeth, queen of Edward VI, later in the 15th century. The manor was in the hands of a succession of families for short periods of time until the 16th century. The parish was essentially divided into two manors at some point in the 16th century. The east side was known as Easterton Kingside and the western Easterton Gernon, after James Gernon, a resident of the parish in the 13th century. The two sides were united in 1615 when John Burley gave the manor to Thomas Grubbe, who came from Potterne. John Grubbe later in the century was sent a letter from Charles I, asking for £200 for the Royalist cause. Grubbe was clearly a Royalist, for he sent the money. The manor stayed in the Grubbe family (who became Hunt-Grubbe) until 1820, when it was sold to Henry Stephen Olivier, of Potterne. The manor and its land were sold in 1866, although Easterton manor house was sold separately in the 19th century, to the curate of Imber, G. B. Rogers. He gave it as a vicarage to Easterton when it became an ecclesiastical parish in 1873. Eastcott had been separate to the manor of Easterton and was owned by the rector at Edington, but this priory was dissolved in 1539. After this, Eastcott belonged to Sir Walter Ernle in the 17th century and it remained with his descendents, who became the Ernle Drax family, until the start of the 20th century. .
To the west of the main village street, around which most of the houses are clustered, runs a stream, which is a symbol of great affection for the villagers. There are several small bridges crossing the brook in gardens or just outside front gates. On King's Road, which leaves the main road and goes towards the church, is an old pump from where residents used to get their water before mains water was installed in the middle of the 20th century. Most of the houses in the village of Easterton are two storeyed and made from red brick with slate or clay tiled roofs. The road was widened after World War Two which caused the loss of many of the parish's older houses.
The two largest houses in the village are probably Easterton (Manor) House and Kestrels. Both are found to the north west of the village. The intriguingly names Kestrels was once owned by a Mr Benjamin Hayward, who was interested in falconry. The name is explained! Kestrels is an L-shaped house built red brick in the 1730s. It is a Grade II* listed building. From the 18th century onwards, any new houses were usually made with bricks from a clay pit at Spin Hill at Market Lavington. This included Kestrels, and also Jubilee Cottages. These were rather soft bricks, bur very attractive. Easterton House was once the rectory and is a Grade II* listed building. Although it was often referred to as the Manor house, it was not actually connected with the Manor of Easterton. It is rumoured that an original building on the site was once a hunting box of King John. The house was sold at auction in August 1972.Between Easterton and Eastcott lays land once known as Maggots Wood and Maggots Mead. This intriguingly named land was the scene of the building of a house in circa 1750, ordered by the Wroughton family who owned the land. It was known as Folly House and was a very grand affair, with a carriage way, stables, fishponds and ornamental walls. This house is of interest because, although it was a big and expensive house, within a few years the house became totally derelict and abandoned. Why this occurred is not clear, but it is perhaps because one of the fishponds was built in a way that is described as “under” the house and in the first winter the house was damaged badly by water. The area where the house was built, near to Easterton Common, is now known as Wroughton's Folly. To add to the mysterious feel of the area, there are many ghost stories locals attach to it; one is that Seymour Wroughton, who built the house, broke his neck after crashing his carriage one night and that a carriage and horses are sometimes heard on dark nights. The foundations of the house remain.
Later development in the parish was rather different. Being situated as it was just to the north of Salisbury Plain, some of the parish was taken over by the War Department from as early as the 19th century. This meant existing farmhouses were pulled down and grazing land for sheep was no longer available. New housing, post 19th century, was rather spasmodic and scattered. King's Road is the area where most new housing has been focused. An estate was built at Hayward's Place after World War Two. At this time, three timber cottages in the centre of the village were demolished to allow for widening of the road.
There are several listed buildings within the parish. Halstead Farmhouse, dating from the 18th century, Court Close Farmhouse and Willoughby's are all Grade II listed buildings. In 1902 a railway line was built through the very north of the parish and a station was built at nearby Littleton Panell. The line and station are now closed. The line was also used to send milk to London.
The common land and pasture lay to the north of Easterton and was enclosed ahead of enforced parliamentary enclosures. The sandy land in the north was used for market gardening in the 19th century; with peas and potatoes being the best crop. By 1820 the produce was being sent by train to Bath and Salisbury, as well as supplying local markets. Market gardening was carried on in the parish until after World War Two. The area where market gardening was once common is known as “The Sands”. In 1840 the largest farm was Manor Farm and was made up of 538 acres. Land to the south of the parish remained open until an Act of Parliament in 1798. The parish was affected quite badly by a foot and mouth outbreak in 1938. Farms which had had foot and mouth on their premises were shut for three months and their cattle destroyed and burnt.
Fiddington House became a private lunatic asylum around 1817 and continued as a private hospital for people with mental disorders until 1962. It was then demolished.
The best known industry at Easterton was jam making. The sandy soil in the parish was good for market gardening, and was therefore good for growing fruit for this industry. The first attempt was by Samuel Sanders in 1868, who built a small preserving machine. Although when he did in 1908 the business closed, the notion of making jam had clearly gone down well with residents in the parish, and in 1918 Samuel Moore expanded his kitchen based jam production and began to buy more up to date equipment. The business did well and after he died in 1937 and his sons took over; the production of mincemeat and lemon curd was added. It was taken over in 1972 by a large company from Surrey but was closed in the 1990s. John Chandler says: 'Visitors to the village are no longer greeted by the all-pervading aroma of warm strawberry jam.' Princess Anne opened an extension of the premises in the summer of 1985. Samuel Moore donated a piece of land to the parish on which a village hall should be built, and this was competed in 1955.
By 1881 residents of Easterton were working as a game-keeper, dressmaker, grocer, baker and engine driver (of a steam plough). Farming of course remained as a key employer. There was a forge, owned by Enos Maynard. It was sold in 1910 only to be burnt down a few years afterwards. An engineering business was started in 1909 by H.E. Wells; he repaired farm machinery. He put in the boilers and other machinery in Samuel Moore's new jam factory. This business morphed into a forge after Wells' death, run by Oliver Webb, whose wife was the local midwife. In the mid -1800s Easterton was served by two inns. These were The Cow and The Royal Oak. The Oak (as it is referred to by local residents) is now the only remaining public house. It was built in the 17th century, although some parts are thought to date from the 14th century and it is a Grade II listed building. What was once The Cow is now a house, The Grange.
Until the 1980s there was a Post Office and general stores combined. The Post Office had arrived in 1885 with the first post mistress being Anne Draper. The building which housed the Post Office moved to the opposite end of the village in 1905.At one point there had been two shops in the village. There was for a long time a bake house at Easterton, built in the 18th century, but it is now a private residence.
Easterton Parish Council first met on 15 December 1894. In 1930 when the notion of a merger with Market Lavington was proposed, the parish council called a meeting, but was met with a negative response from residents of Easterton. They were clearly proud of their own parish. Four years later, the hamlet of Eastcott was added to the parish, but today Easterton still remains distinct from Market Lavington. Indeed, Eastcott had been unofficially considered as part of Easterton for some time.
After World War One, it was noted that 17 men who had left for war did not return. This included the only son of the vicar, the Reverend Gilbert King, who was killed in 1917. A war memorial was built in the church and was officially unveiled on 5 Febuary 1920. Names of those who died in World War Two were added after the end of that conflict.
There were many evacuees who arrived at the outbreak of the war. Many of them stayed at the Vicarage. The vicar at that time, the Reverend Stacey, had no family and therefore a lot of room in his large house. His home later became Easterton House (see above) and is now a private home.
Water was connected to the parish in the 1952 and sewerage added in 1958. Outside privies were soon demolished.
The Village Hall was built in 1955, on land owned by Samuel Moore of the jam making business. The hall was built by local man Tom Jeffries. It was extended in 1968. and is a source of great pride for residents; in 1968 it won an award for 'Best Kept Village Hall'.
Concise History: Wiltshire: A History of its Landscape and PeopleThis community has been included in John Chandler's on-going series and the full text is available here.